Archive for the ‘author’ Category

An Astronaut's View

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on EarthAll I can think of is those astonishing photos from the ISS (International Space Station). Seems I clicked "like" immediately on visuals posted by Col. Chris Hadfield while he was up there. I watched his YouTube videos, singing with kids, giving science lessons and patiently answering for the hundredth time how astronauts use the bathroom in a weightless environment. (That question must get SO old!)
Space Oddity is bookmarked because I listen to it whenever I need an attitude adjustment. It always works. There is something about music delivered by a floating guitarist while the earth passes by the window that just stirs my imagination, adjusts my focus and makes my heart happy.
Same can be said for reading An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by - you guessed it! - Chris Hadfield. He is a surprisingly modest person, incredibly focused and determined. He says the same about his wife, to whom he gives plenty of credit for his career as an astronaut.
  • When in my life have I ever raced outside to see a celestial body pass by? (Now - I subscribe to Spot The Station - which tracks the ISS!)
  • Why did I find the astronaut evaluation process interesting?
  • What is it about space travel that reels me in?
How did I become so hooked on space? Maybe it was my brother, who taught science, and had his classes create capsule mock-ups to learn astronomy, geography and science all rolled into one fun but painstaking project. Maybe my choice of reading material has something to do with it; I'm racking up these astronauts turned authors:  Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut by Mike Mullane and Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys by Michael Collins.
And just maybe it was Col. Chris Hadfield's frequent Facebook posts (with great photos!) while he was on the ISS that ignited this fascination within me. My friends know I am a hopeless Trekkie, and I've never missed seeing a Star Wars release in the theater.  YouTube is full of astronauts now, and I always have to look. Even the book promos are funny.
Hadfield's book is chock full of his self-depreciating humor, his "don't-do-what-I-did" way of helping adjust a viewpoint and his hard-won ability to encourage those around him. I was encouraged just holding his book in my hands. To be my best self. To work toward my dreams and make them reality. To trust the good and be ready for the worst at the same time. You might be surprised. This book is an enjoyable read.
Don't just take my word for it. See Carolyn Kellog's "Ten Awesome Things List" about it in the LA Times.
Trying to remember the original 1972 Space Oddity by David Bowe? Click here for a refresh.

The Key to Short-Story Writing

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Deciding among the shoes to pack for a trip requires the same approach as does writing short stories.

Take only the essentials and not a pair for every possible season and whimsy.

Writing short stories, like packing shoes, is done in a small space confined to the basic elements of storytelling.

The length of a short story varies depending on the writer, editor or publishing house doing the defining. The definitions I’ve found describe short stories as 1,000-5,000 words or anything up to 7,500 words or up to 10,000 words.

Because there are fewer words, a short story has to be limited to a specific time, place, event and interaction.

Whereas a novel can span a day or a year or more, a short story’s timeframe typically covers days or weeks. The short story cannot include too many places or events without feeling strained or scattered, or like a list.

A novel, because it is larger scale, offers more pages to develop ideas, plot, character and theme. At most, a short story can handle a plot and a small subplot, or a plot and a half.

Short stories get to the point and don’t have the time or space for long setups. They begin with a crisis or conflict right away and avoid describing how the conflict came about.

Stories, as a snapshot into the lives of the characters, avoid long character histories and descriptions. They have a few characters, so that the reader can identify with each character and keep them straight. Too many, and the story can become confusing.

Here are a few other rules about writing short stories (though rules are made to be broken, of course):

* Show, don’t tell with the action.

* Use one or very few settings.

* Use first or third-person, or two characters shifting point of view.

* Express a single theme, or message to get across to the readers.

Novels, which are 50,000 words or more from the definitions I’ve seen, include more material – characters, settings, plots and details – to sustain readers’ interest over several reading sessions, unless they are willing to sit for hours or an entire day. A short story, alternatively, can be consumed in one sitting in a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Wat If?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

What if every time you updated your computer you saved a life?

What if every time you pressed the call button on your phone you saved a tree?

And if each time you tapped your Ipad escape button, you freed an innocent hostage.

Negotiations galore; No I don’t think so.

Made up scenarios; Perhaps.

But they are all subjective and open to opinion.

In a world where less should be more, we follow rules and the rules here are enter and execute.

The power of the finger aligns with a keyboard, is all energy, which floats through the air via satellite, mixed with ones aura. And it comes back and tries to save us all.

We have moved into an age of obsessive behavior, because our present inventions have turned us into drones that follow their rules.

We have become a society of conditioned beings, that are told what to do and with what device to do it.

And since there is really nothing wrong with that, why not think of it as a true save. One which is a chance that mankind can heal itself.

So go ahead and press that key.

You might just do some good after all.

Recycling for Writers: or, New Life for Old Words

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Jewish-American author Isaac Bashevis Singer once said that the waste basket is the writer’s best friend. But these are more enlightened times, and writers these days don’t throw unnecessary words away; we recycle them. A block of text that might be superfluous in one novel might just be the seed that germinates and grows into another.

Several years ago, when preparing a workshop on writing the historical novel, I wrote a scene, hoping to show attendees how historical detail could be incorporated into a scene without creating an “information dump.” The scene I wrote showed a man on his deathbed, dividing his estate between his two sons. One son would inherit his title and estate; the other son, who was illegitimate, could not legally inherit the title or the entailed property, and so was bequeathed a certain amount of money instead. The purpose of the scene was to show how I could give readers a working knowledge of British inheritance law without interrupting the flow of the story.

I liked that scene enough that I kept it long after the writer’s conference was over, thinking I might expand it into a novel—part regency romance, part “buddy story” as the two half-brothers were forced to work together after the old man died. That book was never written, but years later, that scene provided the “bones” for the Kirkbride family in my work in progress, a third John Pickett mystery with the working title Family Plot.

As for that regency romance/buddy story, who knows? I may still write it someday. After all, I’ve already got the first scene written.


Confessions of a Confirmed Bibliophile

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Long before I was a writer, I was a reader. I still am. I love books. Not only do I love them for the stories that dwell inside them, I also love the physical sensation of holding—no, of experiencing a book. I love the sleek covers of a new paperback, the faint crack of the spine in opening a new hardcover. I love the crisp white pages with their sharp corners, and the smell of binder’s glue.

But a recent reading of  Nevil Shute’s Australian classic The Far Country reminded me of the more subtle joys of old books. This was a sixty-year-old library book, and it showed. The boards were covered with thick, coarsely woven fabric treated with something that would presumably withstand a nuclear blast. There was nothing remotely attractive about this sort of binding; it was bound with durability, not beauty, in mind. Still, there was something about it that I found appealing. Maybe it was the way it fell open in my hand—and stayed open at the same page, even when I laid it down. Maybe it was the way the once-sharp corners were rounded with wear, the edges of the once-crisp pages furred velvety soft by dozens, even hundreds, of hands. Other, newer books might be more glamorous, but there’s something comforting about old books.

In a way, every old book is a mystery, regardless of genre: what child, long since grown to adulthood, scribbled with a red crayon on the front endpaper? Who was the H. Colby who received my copy of Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow for Christmas in 1947? Was he/she pleased with the gift? What series of events transpired to move the volume from H. Colby’s bookshelf to mine?

Maybe this is why my feelings toward ebook readers are so ambivalent. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see so many out-of-print books finding new life through this medium, and of course I’m delighted to receive a royalty check each month for sales of my own backlist, now available in electronic form. And yet even though I have a Kindle, I still prefer print books. Part of the problem, I believe, is the sameness of ebooks: no matter how different the subject matter, every book looks alike on my Kindle. The text appears in the same font, with the same spacing between lines, paragraphing, and all other formatting. All identical except the stories they tell.

But that, of course, is the most important part. And that, in the end, may be what will eventually make me fall in love with ebooks too. After all, my love of books had to come from somewhere, some book in my now long-forgotten childhood that made me hungry for more of that. Maybe I just haven’t yet stumbled across that story, unavailable except in electronic form, that sends me to the computer determined to clutter up my Kindle’s memory banks with more. Maybe the next electronic book I read will be the one to have me devouring ebooks like a junkie in search of his next fix.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Because I love books.