Today’s Writing Tip

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The last complaint was directly related to style and the skill of the author, i.e. too many adverbs. While useful, they shouldn’t be overdone. Before using one, see if you can find a better verb. More often than not, this can be done and eliminate the need.

For example, instead of saying “she walked slowly” how about “she trudged”, “she strolled”, or “she moped, dragging her feet”? See how the verb also implies imagery and mood? Economy of words increases their impact. Verbs are powerful. Make sure you use them to make your story more vivid. Scrutinize every one to see if you can replace it or really need it.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Here’s a reader gripe that definitely drives me crazy, this one #7: Similar names! Avoid having them start with the same letter or rhyme. One example that comes to mind is from the TV show “The Big Bang Theory”, where we have Howard and Leonard. These two are very different characters who look and act entirely different, but the names are too much alike. If your reader is the slightest big dyslexic, it will drive him or her crazy.

Your story should never have a Shelley, Sherry, Susan and Stacy. Be more original! Give some thought to naming your characters. Bear in mind that those who read quickly are most likely to stumble over this form of thoughtless writing.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Another complaint that keeps a story from getting 5-stars is too many characters. I would amend that by saying too many extraneous characters. Every person should be tied into the plot in some way and stand out as an individual. If they don’t, ditch him or her. If you really like the person, you can always use him or her for another story.

This is not to say that a meaty plot shouldn’t have a vast array of characters. However, the number should be proportionate to the complexity of the plot and length of the novel. Populating the story with a bunch of people with no story function only keeps the reader wondering what they’re doing there in the first place. For example, if your protagonist’s job is one of the settings, you don’t have to give everyone a name unless the person relates to the story.  In fact, if their place of work doesn’t relate directly to the story, why is it included, anyway? The movie “Nine to Five” certainly was an exception, as well as the TV show, “The Office.” But if it’s not directly related to the plot, minimize it or leave it out completely.

If you do have a long cast of characters and you can justify their existence, then include a dramatis personae in the beginning to help your readers keep them straight as far as where they fit into the story and relationship to one another. A confused reader is inclined to become a lost fan.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Next on the list after typos for reasons why a story didn’t receive a 5-star review was too many “he said/she saids”. It’s obviously not necessarily to include who said what with every piece of dialog. Again, balance is the key. When it’s a clear “dialog” with one person speaking, then the other, you can go on for a while, as long as it’s reasonably apparent who’s speaking. Nonetheless, an occasional reminder is good, too. If a conversation goes on for a couple of pages, it never hurts to insert either a “s/he said” or perhaps some action, such as a facial expression or gesture, to indicate who’s speaking.

When readers have to go back and figure out who’s speaking, it interrupts the story flow and throws them out of the story, which is something a diligent author should avoid at all costs.

Today’s Writing Tip

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A saw a blog a while back that addressed reasons why novels received reviews below 5 stars. This should be of interest to all writers since we all crave those lovely, ego-boosting, 5-star reviews. We should all realize that reviews are subjective, but there are a few things readers often grumble about. I’m going to go over them the next few days, so get ready to be as objective as possible as you decide if you’re guilty.

The first one, which drives me crazy as well, is spelling errors. Seriously people, how hard is it to run the spellchecker? If I see a review that mentions typos, I will not buy that book. Some will slip past a spellchecker, but those I can forgive, at least a few of them. However, there is no greater pleasure than reading a book where your engagement with the story is never interrupted by a misspelled word or grammatical error. Some readers may not notice or even mind, but anyone who takes their craft seriously will.

What is Your “Spirit Animal”?

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I first learned about spirit animals while in Santa Fe, New Mexico for an astrology workshop a few years back. While we were there, a friend who was also a fellow attendee wanted to check out this little shop that sold Zuni fetishes. If you’re not familiar with fetishes, they are small, stone carvings of different animals that are then typically blessed by the tribe’s shaman. The shop was a pretty amazing place with a surprisingly reverent feel. To be honest, I’ve been in churches that felt less holy. Patrons within were examining these amazing works of art, seeking those with which they felt a spiritual connection.

I guess you could call this the original “self-help” program, where you identify the animal that has the characteristics that reflect your situation, then meditate on that animal so you can acquire (or in some cases release) the traits represented, thus making that animal your “spirit animal”.  You won’t necessarily have the same spirit animal throughout your life, but rather turn to the one most relevant for your situation at the time.

cougarandravenI wound up buying two that I was drawn to, a cougar and a raven. Oddly enough, I already had a picture of a cougar on my wall (shown above) that I’d had for years. It was a notecard sent by a dear friend that I liked so much I framed it and put up in my office. I’d nearly forgotten about it until I got home and noticed how much my newly acquired fetish looked like the picture. Later, when I read about the fetishes’s meaning, they were spot-on.

Spirit animals are associated with the Native American Medicine Wheel, which includes the mountain lion (cougar), black bear, badger, white wolf, eagle and mole, which represent each of the six directions (four cardinal, i.e. north, south, east, and west, plus up and down). The meaning of each animal is based on the characteristics it displays.

The Mountain Lion or Cougar is Guardian of the North. She represents wisdom that comes from experience, our successes and failures, the recognition of life’s cycles and forces greater than ourselves.animal-276002_1920

The White Wolf is Guardian of the East. He represents our quest for higher knowledge. The East, where the Sun rises each day, is the place of new beginnings, and the direction from which great teachers arrive.white-wolf-1903107_1920

The Badger is Guardian of the South.  I remember seeing a documentary on badgers and being surprised at how aggressive they are. They represent the needs of the ego and physical body and how we may destroy or injure others as we pursue what we want when we’re obsessed with our basic human needs.badger-940509_1920

The Black Bear is Guardian of the West. She signifies personal strength and introspection that will lead to wisdom through spiritual understanding.black-bear-50293_1280

The Eagle, Guardian of the Upper Regions, represents pursuing the heights. This is taking time to view the big picture, forget the moment, no matter how difficult, and absorb the greatness around us.adler-2386314_1920

The Mole, Guardian of the Lower Regions, burrows within. Blind to all other than the perception of stark dark and light, the mole gathers information through the other senses–vibrations, smell, taste, sounds, touch. These heighten awareness of the Earth itself, plant life that nourishes us, aquifers, minerals.animal-1347755_1920

Ideally, you would have a fetish representing each of these animals and you would arrange them all in their respective directions in a circle, all facing inward to represent the proper integration of these principles. You could use a picture instead so as to have the visual image, though having the fetish, which you can hold and feel its energy, is more effective.

Ponder each of the above pictures individually and see if you react to any at a visceral level. If not, don’t worry, there are other options. Any animal that comes to mind can function as your spirit animal provided you understand its message for you.

medicine-wheel-444550_1920You can have more than one spirit animal and add them as needed. You don’t have to have an actual fetish carving to do so, but they serve as a visual aid or talisman. There’s a bit of a ritual that goes along with it, where you “feed” the fetish, usually consisting of ground blue corn, which they will give you when you buy a fetish. Each day you’re supposed to do so, which of course is a reminder to ponder the animal and whatever characteristic you wish to emulate from its example.

Other animals include the coyote, snake, raven, falcon, owl, rabbit, fox, armadillo, turtle, frog, deer (also bison), and horse. You can add these to the wheel as your intuition dictates. In my case, the raven represented a time of transformation. I had recently retired and was letting go of my previous life to start a new one. Transformations are a death of sorts. As an astrologer, this concept is represented by the planet Pluto and, at that time, I was in the midst of a “Pluto transit” as well.horse-2324584_1920

It seems no one is trouble-free these days. Even the Earth herself is unhappy, reflecting through this insidious heatwave and volcanic action the collective anger and abused power all around us. This is clearly a time when this Native American wisdom can benefit each of us and hopefully return our planet to peace and sanity.

The Southwest Indian Foundation has some fetishes for sale in their catalog. If you want to know more about spirit animals and use of the medicine wheel, a really good book on the subject is “Zuni Fetishes: Using Native American Objects for Meditation, Reflection, and Insight” by Hal Zina Bennett. Last I checked, they have it on Amazon.

[Animal pictures courtesy of Pixabay.]

 

Great Fodder for my Inner Geek

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4.5* for The Mystery of the Higgs Boson by Bettina Roselt  & Axel Ewers

This is the first volume in the Science Quest series. As a physicist and science fiction writer, I need some brain candy from time to time to clear out the dust bunnies collecting in my brain and this book was my snack for the summer. It refreshed my knowledge, albeit somewhat limited, of particle physics, but my favorite part of that field has always been Einstein’s infamous E=mc^2.

This book did an excellent job of getting into that quite nicely by explaining particle collisions and the various “decay channels” observed through research at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and how they eventually found the Higgs boson. It provided details and information I really enjoyed on the process for looking for such things. There was also a sprinkling of humor here and there, which is always appreciated in an otherwise dry read.

There is still so much we don’t know, which it seems is often forgotten, especially for people who are not scientists. While some scientists can be rather arrogant regarding the lay public, in reality it seems that those who know the least out there seem to think that all the mysteries of the universe have been explained. Yet, it took around a half-century from when the theory for its existence was put forth in the 1960s until  scientific evidence for the Higgs boson was found. It’s situations like this which make me roll my eyes as a physicist and professional astrologer when skeptics dismiss astrology.

For instance, take gravity. We all know it’s there, can calculate its effect, but still don’t understand its mechanism on a detailed, scientific level. Quantum mechanics and the possible link between consciousness and matter is a fascinating field about which we still know relatively little. No telling what’s lurking in that domain along with psi phenomena.  I loved it when they stated, “The discovery of the Higgs boson is a striking example of how much we have to stretch our imagination to reveal nature’s secrets just a little bit more.” Another jewel is, “In fact, the current physical models and theories aren’t sufficient enough to explain all the phenomena we observe in the universe.”

The one thing about this book that bothered me slightly was the fact that in a few places it was obvious that its author is not a native English speaker.  Far be it from me to criticize people who are bilingual; I have tremendous admiration and respect for those who speak more than one language. And chances are the version of English the author knows is UK, not USA, so that also throws some differences in there. However, there were a few places where the syntax, and in some cases, word choice, made it a bit more difficult to understand. Fortunately, there were only a few places where this was the case.

Face it, this is pretty heavy stuff that only geeks like myself would read in the first place. Furthermore, expressing something in words which is usually expressed mathematically or perhaps via Feynman diagrams is difficult enough in your own language. Nonetheless, when you’re occasionally tripping over word choices and general sentence construction, it makes it more difficult to follow. As a physicist and writer myself, I could probably do a pretty good job editing it. But the author certainly did far better in English than I would with German where what little I know, thanks to my German neighbor, comprises spinnst-du, bitte, kartoffel, auf weidersehen, sauerbraten, and a few others, some of which aren’t appropriate for polite company.

If you have a rudimentary knowledge of particle physics and want to get into the sordid details of how they figure this stuff out at the LHC, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It definitely satisfied my scientific appetite for the summer and the insights will come in handy in writing my current science fiction novel. I do look forward to more books in this series.

If you’re a geek or nerd looking for a pretty good science fix presented with a slight German accent, you can pick up your copy here.

“In the Shadow of Lies” by M.A. Adler: Outstanding Depiction of California in the Early 1940s

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5stars

This book reminded me of butter, the writing style was so rich and smooth. It is one of the most skillfully written books I’ve read in a long time. The prose was like ambrosia, the imagery vivid and memorable. I always appreciate an author who can render emotions properly and thus draw the reader into the characters. Again, Adler did a stellar job.

This story is far more than a murder mystery. Its coverage of the early 1940s, i.e. the historical period during the early days of WWII, was outstanding. That was such a different time and so much has changed since then. I was particularly drawn in because I have personal connections to the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area as well as that time period through family and in-laws.

For starters, my father was in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He had fond memories of his time on leave in the Bay Area, so much so that many years later, in 1960, our family moved from New York State to the East Bay. However, it did not turn out to be the Utopia he had imagined. He’d been a diesel mechanic for the New York Central Railroad in New York for a decade and assumed he’d be able to get a job, possibly with a trucking company. As it turned out, however, the labor unions at the time made this impossible. To get such a job you needed to be a union member, and to be a union member you had to have a job. The ultimate catch-22 supported by pure nepotism. As the cliche says, it’s not what you know but whom you know. My father had a few insignificant jobs, like working for a lawnmower repair shop, then eventually transitioned from unemployment to retirement. This had a devastating effect on our family.

But I digress.

Back to the story. Even though I was a teenager in the 60s, I had no idea how bad racism was a few decades before, much less that the KKK had been so active there. I also had no idea how badly Italians were treated during the war, due to their assumed sympathy toward Mussolini. I had in-laws who were Hungarian and some married Italians. Now I understand why some of them were so resistant to providing information when I was doing genealogical research back in the 70s. It’s sad they didn’t share their stories, but they may have been too painful for them to recount. On top of it all, some were Jewish, and had fled Europe just in time; some left behind were exterminated by Hitler.

I’ve never been a history buff. The way it was taught when I was in high school was a horrible bore. Even as a child, I preferred to learn about history through historical novels and this one definitely provided a treasure trove of information for a period I didn’t know much about. For that I am most grateful to the author for her meticulous and comprehensive research. This made reading the book an actual experience that had a strong impact on my understanding of the world at that time.

There were a lot of different characters in the story. I mean LOTS. So many that they were a bit difficult to keep track of. Fortunately, the author included a dramatis personae in the beginning, but this was not that easy to access with an ebook; I wish I’d read this in a print book, where I could have flipped back to refer to it more easily. I know I would have been doing a lot of highlighting and dogeared many pages in an actual book. Since I don’t exactly have what you’d call a “steel trap” memory, I probably should have taken notes while I was reading. LOL. Okay, I’m weird like that, when I really get into a book. This one and some others I’ve read recently (more specifically the “Finding Billy Battles” series by Ronald E. Yates) have reminded me of why I should be reading more historical novels; usually I prefer science fiction.

The one thing about having so many characters with their own prejudices and agendas is that it does make the story seem very real. My familiarity with the East Bay Area added to this, especially when references were made to streets and other areas with which I was familiar. This made it very easy for me to connect to this book.

I’m grateful the author used multiple viewpoints in different sections to get into the characters’ heads as opposed to omniscient, which would have been entirely mind-boggling. She is a very skillful writer. The story did wander about somewhat, yet it added to its rich texture and sense of real-life as opposed to one with a classic, straight-line plot. She broke some rules, but did so in such as way that it worked, which is exactly how it should be done.

This book would not be for everyone, especially those that want to whip through a story and not wander about, really getting into the time, place, and people. However, if you appreciate a well-written, complex story with considerable historical significance, I highly recommend it.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.