5 Interesting Links for 12-06-2019

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Photography (Art)

Art is usually about creating something, but it can also be found in recognizing the perfect moment. This is the talent of a photographer who doesn’t stage the shot as these examples show.

History (Bicycles)

Ten ways bicycles helped change the world, advancing social, racial, and even medical arenas.

Management (Finances)

While aimed at seniors, this article offers several ways those who are able to set some money aside for emergencies can plan ahead to support financial stability, both in their later years and from the start.

Exploration (Intelligence)

A look at the concept of “gifted” and whether the focus on innate talents has encouraged a system that leaves students behind. While I don’t agree with the article on all points, it’s an important question to ponder as is the bigger goal of assessing ways students learn so education helps each achieve to the best of their ability. The current system expects everyone to learn the same way, only cordoning off a select few for different approaches.

Holidays (Marketing)

Some clever ideas for getting your books before readers during the holidays. It’s written by one of the major book advertising companies, BookBub, so some of the suggestions involve their offerings, but the article is broader than just those. It also contains visual examples that demonstrate how the ideas can be implemented.

Life and Law Sharable

Posted in Art, Music, Crafts, etc., Education, History, Interesting Links, Marketing, Psychology, Research, Science | Leave a comment

Skythane by J. Scott Coatsworth

Skythane by J. Scott Coatsworth

When I picked up Skythane, I thought it was a gay romance set in a science fiction world. But while there’s a “destined mates” thread throughout the story, I found the book more like a science fiction car (or hovercycle) chase with gun blazing. The characters must act fast or lose the chance so must comb through the pieces later. The real story comes out in dribs and drabs. I had as much guesswork as facts through much of it despite one of the three point-of-view characters knowing what’s going on. That said, the way Quince spoke and thought of the mission, including through memory dreams, didn’t bother me. She never hid information. More it was so huge, and painful, she couldn’t dwell on it. And she needed to bring Xander and Jameson along slowly or they’d have her committed, or whatever the equivalent on Oberon.

This is a rich book with a lot to offer. The universe is vast with humanity spread out on far-flung colonies. Oberon has the additional complexity of remnants of an ancient, non-human society with technology far advanced of humanity. Then there are two different waves of human colonization: the skythane, who genetically adapted to the planet by growing wings, and the more recent landers, who detest the winged ones. Even looking past the multiple cultures, including corporate overreach, there’s the strange geology that plays a vital part in the story.

Their mission is at the junction of forgotten history and folklore rooted in the ancient beings. Xander, a product of the underside of Oberon, and Jameson, a trained psych raised on a rigid, Christian colony, find this hard to accept. Quince has her hands (and wings) full trying to keep both her charges alive as she brings them to where they’re willing to consider the role they must play. All this while the world around them shudders to pieces.

That’s the adventure part. The romance starts when Xander and Jameson meet and are drawn to each other against their wills. Jameson resembles Xander’s long-lost lover while Jameson has been raised to the man-and-woman standard of relationships, burying his attraction to men deep enough even he isn’t sure it’s there. He’s an excellent example of how indoctrination can make people ignore parts of themselves just to conform to what they’re told. Despite the draw, Xander finds Jameson uptight and ignorant of the darker side of life while Xander’s brash arrogance provokes little more than annoyance in Jameson.

As a reader, I found Quince easiest to identify with because she had a worthy goal, but Jameson’s culture clash also caught me. Xander took longer to grow on me for much the same reasons that repelled Jameson, but part of what makes Skythane so appealing is how all three characters develop and change not just in their own actions but also how they see each other. It’s fascinating to see their upbringing and expectations stripped away as they discover more about what’s going on and the company they now keep.

The well-developed world building made the fantastical parts seem integral while the description also balanced out the wilder elements with simple, mundane actions. For example, when they forgot they’ve lost access to something. The characters don’t think about it but rather they try to use the tech multiple times as they always have before, only to remember when it’s not there. The strong description has a lot to do with making the reader part of the story rather than separate from it. Whether describing Xander’s attractiveness while rejecting it in Jameson’s point of view, or showing the extent of distances crossed when the characters notice a consistency in the terrain, it’s possible to see through their eyes.

This isn’t always a strength, though. There are places where the description or thoughts become repetitious, where later thoughts mirror earlier ones or the same place is described through multiple viewpoints. Still, it’s more a minor hiccup in an absorbing story, especially when compared to the successful description.

There are a couple of barely open-door, gay sex scenes and a number of tragic stories told (or shown in the memory dreams) as they venture to carry out a plan set in motion twenty-five years earlier. It’s not all life and death adrenaline rush. The reader comes to understand the mission, and what suffering lies beneath it. The guesses I made based on hints in the story were largely accurate, but I enjoyed seeing the story unfold even when I’d misread the clues.

This story offers much to enjoy, and despite being the first of a series, Skythane has a solid ending. But don’t despair. The epilogue opens up a new set of crises to address for those not ready to walk away from this fascinating world just yet.

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Post-NaNo 2019 Ruminations

This year has been rough, and I know I’m not the only one to feel that way. By the time NaNoWriMo (NaNo) rolled around, I had broken pretty much every pattern I used to keep moving forward and was a muddled mess. Deciding to try NaNo in those circumstances was probably not the best course, and if I’d continued on the traditional path, I would have failed. I often point out the progress of those who don’t cross the finish line, but I have trouble applying that to myself.

However, when my brain forgot the middle of the month (assisted by my main hard drive eating itself), I turned to my daily log to see what I’d done. Thanks to the file being stored on the cloud, I’d written every day but the first. I had succeeded in re-establishing a writing pattern even if it wasn’t for my NaNo project.

With the year I’ve experienced, this is huge. My daily log not only reminds me to write but also gives me a record when my memory is missing. And yet, even that had started to fail me as November 1st shows.

When I realized every day since had an entry in what, for all practical purposes, is a memoir I had an idea. It might be as far from the letter of NaNo law as it comes, but I folded the cape of NaNo around my shoulders, and wrapped in the spirit, I collected every bit of creative writing into a work I call Scatterings.

Below is my word count chart. Some days I jotted the bare minimum, and not a NaNo minimum, into my journal. Others, my mind and hands raced through. The end became a desperate scramble, and though I tried for words without fine tuning, even when desperate, the words didn’t count until they reflected my intent clearly. And yet, late evening on the 30th, my wild collection crossed the 50,000 word count line once again.

What did I get out of this NaNo? Traditionally, the answer has been a novel or at least a solid head start. This year the results were different on all fronts, but no less important.

  • I established the habit of maintaining my journal again.
  • I learned though my brain was unable to maintain focus, I could follow it from story to story and make something resembling progress.
  • I also found the capacity to manage my bursts of energy into something productive at least in the short term.

Here are the notes I took for this article at the very end of NaNo. I’m including them with only the slightest editing for effect:

This year my project was to see if I could still focus long enough to write a lot. I struggled at the beginning, but once I realized the best way to manage my lack of focus was to work with it instead of against, I managed to get it done. Sure, it took an all-nighter and going almost to the last minute, but I both reached the goal word count and made progress that will help me in the future. A collection of creative projects from memoir to world and character building for a variety of novels. I set up 40 ideas [my novel estimate was off] to write on and actually added to at least 4. There’s even a poem in the mix.

The consequences of those discoveries have been measured out in minimal awake time since November and severe displacements. So, not what I should be doing every month, but still I made important discoveries.

For the curious, here’s the complete breakdown of content then my daily word count.

When I figured out how I would rescue this NaNo, I set up 23 books from 10 different series in my Scrivener file. I ultimately wrote on only four of those, with world and character building blending into scenes and back. Separating actual outline from usable scenes is going to be fun. When I wrote a poem out of the blue, I couldn’t waste words, so created an “Extras” category which contains 1 poem. I moved my daily log into Scrivener as well, considering this portion memoir. Finally, I included the non-fiction articles or partials I wrote during the month, largely for my blog. The breakdown comes to this:

Fiction: 24,674 (including supporting materials)
Poetry: 171
Memoir: 15,180 (I had no idea it was so much!)
Articles: 10,616
Final Total: 50,641

Oh, and the four books were two in Seeds Among the Stars (the most going to a post-Apprentice bridging novella) and the next two novels in my sweet contemporary romance series Foster’s Way. I also added some notes to a shifter series that’s been building in the back of my head.

DayNew WordsRunning Total
Posted in Challenges, Goals, NaNoWriMo, News, Outlining, Writing Process | Tagged , | Leave a comment

5 Interesting Links for 11-29-2019

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

U.S. Law (Copyright)

There are many beliefs about copyright in the United States that are incomplete or just wrong. This review of the most common misunderstandings helps clarify the problem areas. (Via Jean Joachim, Author)

Automation (Disability)

A well-expressed breakdown of the need for including disabled voices in creation and decision making regarding automation and other innovations starting from a personal example and expanding to consider a more global need. While automation has the potential to benefit the disabled community, implementation decisions that don’t take disabled people into account could offer negatives to undermine the positives. (Via EDEN)

Psychology (Happiness)

An examination of how some people successfully weather emotional highs and lows improves the understanding of happiness and reveals four methods that can help.

Interesting People (Musicians)

Half interview, half history, this article with video clips looks at Carlos Santana’s musical career and how he changed the definition of popular music by reclaiming the influences that built his individual sound.

Health (Sleep)

A newly uncovered way deep sleep is tied to long-term health advances our understanding of the physiological effects of slow-wave activity.

The Captain's Chair, a Seeds Among the Stars short story

Posted in Health, Interesting Links, Interesting People, Psychology, Publishing, Technology | Leave a comment

Space Train by David Bridger

Space Train by David Bridger

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States, and what better time to share a novel where family, found and birth, is a strong theme. While the local tribes rescued the pilgrims from starvation, in Space Train, the Russell family is on a rescue mission as well. They enable resettlement away from the oppressive, nepotistic, race-divided regime that dominates the planet Main. What makes theirs a rescue is how they keep the new location a secret Main will kill to uncover. Their passengers may not be the refugees Captain Tom rescued during the last galactic war, but they are still in danger.

The large cast is peopled with distinct characters, so while I had some trouble tracking them at first, each character soon became an individual with their own stories. The Russell family is small after an attack on their home planet of Willerby during the war. Their piece is split between Tom and his crew on route to the new colony called Red, and his sister Rain and cousin Ellen, back on Willerby. Several Clears, the first alien species we meet, earn a narrative role, starting with Nene who develops a personal connection with Tom. Saxe is the ghost who haunts Tom with his cruel acts during the war–only he isn’t dead and buried. Then there’s the religious leader who doesn’t lead with a troubled past and a growing affection for Ellen that she wants to ignore; Richard, the husband of Ellen’s brother; and Zac and Kym, two of the passengers.

It may seem like a big list, and I haven’t mentioned them all, but this is a big book. Having so many points of view offers a well-rounded perspective of a complex, multi-layered story. The characters become real because they are full of history and intensity. My comments, which I use to write my review, are spare simply because I kept getting caught up in the story and forgetting to make any.

Nor are the characters clear-cut. The best example of this is Zac, a disabled veteran of the galactic war who lost both legs and his will to live. He’s coasting through life until he secures the future of his wife and son while shutting both out. That is both noble and horrible. Characters like Zac drew me into their struggles, so I rooted for different answers even when none seemed forthcoming.

The beginning is stronger than the later chapters, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book to the last page. Still, there are some scenes that happen off screen I’d prefer to have been present for and some layers don’t merge as smoothly with the main plot. It’s hard to explain without spoiling, but there’s enough meat in this book to fill more than one. Some later scenes felt a little like the author wanting to share aspects of the world that wouldn’t otherwise get a mention. That said, overall, the disparate plot threads worked together and strengthened the whole, especially in the first half of the novel, but even in the later parts.

The novel gives the consequences of war a close look, not only during action but in the survivors. A built-up military finds it easy to see itself as the solution to every problem along with the way that mentality enables leaders to ignore the problematic nature of attacking civilian targets, for example. We also learn firsthand how accounts of events may be swayed to support one side at the detriment of the other, setting good people unknowingly against their personal morality.

Another example of how the large cast builds and strengthens is in personalizing the events. The war is not a matter of the past or history. What Saxe did to a ship of refugees Tom had been flying still haunts Tom. Zac’s life is worthless (in his mind) due to his injuries. Ellen lost her family and sees finding love again as a betrayal.

We experience these consequences with the characters. It’s not a roll call of endless strangers, but rather connected to people we have bonded with. The treaty might be signed, but the war wages on in its impact.

I found Tom’s crew a little naive, possibly because I had more information than they did thanks to the opposing viewpoints working to undermine their operation. The way the situation is set up made me suspicious of everything, though, and there are many vulnerabilities the crew takes on faith. That said, I also found myself too hopeful at times, buying into their optimism.

Don’t think this is a grim war novel full of bad choices, disaster, and desperation, though. There are moments of lightness, love, and connection tied in. Losses from the war bring the mourners together as much as dwelling on the past traps them in it. Actions have consequences, sometimes deadly and other times amusing, and several characters have stunning insights that are delightful on many levels. Teasing between various family members and coworkers also deepens our understanding of the characters.

The novel comes to life in a universe with more depth than even the characters are aware of. Glimpses of how the diverse cultures work were fascinating while the tech often sprang from what we now know is possible though we haven’t yet succeeded in harnessing those elements. Nor is the tech always helpful as the characters struggle to adapt to some innovations the Dowl have made.

Ultimately, this is a strong novel with a lot to share. It is peopled with a broad, interesting cast, and tells something new while throwing a reflection on modern times. I was engaged with the characters, bought into their struggles, and wanted better futures for them. The universe fascinated me, especially with the similarities and differences between species, both in culture and ability. The hints of technology like ours, along with different possible paths to develop them, intrigued me.

This is science fiction as it should be: a commentary on where things are going wrong and offering possibilities to change that direction. The cast represents people of many races, abilities, and backgrounds, nor is it a simple split between alien species and human. Space Train offers an intense, deep read. Be prepared to engage…far more than just the engines.

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