Monday, March 27, 2017

Museums in Milwaukee

Milwaukee may not seem like a glamorous Spring Break destination, especially when the weather all weekend turns out to be cold and rainy. It's a good thing we were there to visit the museums. We went to the Milwaukee Public Museum, Discovery World, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Thanks to reciprocity agreements with Chicago museums, we only had to pay admission to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Here are a few pictures from the trip:

This mammoth was found in the general area of the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The butterfly exhibit is my favorite part of the Milwaukee Public Museum.

 Part of the Crossroads of Civilization exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

 New residents at the aquarium at Discovery World.

Glass reflections at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

  Part of a paper art exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide

Both fantasy and science fiction often deal with people or animals who are either transformed into a different species or are hybridized with another species. When I saw the book Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster at my library, I thought it might provide me with some insight into animal senses or behavior. Unfortunately for me, the author took a completely different approach that didn't provide me with useful tidbits of information.

Foster set out to live like five different types of creatures: a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer, and a swift. Among other things, he digs out his own badger home in the dirt, eats worms, scavenges garbage, spends hours in a river during all parts of the year, and allows himself to be tracked by a bloodhound. I should point out Foster is British, as I doubt his escapades would be tolerated so well in the United States, especially when his children are involved. Foster takes a shamanistic approach to his communions with different animals, and he describes his experiences in poetic language.

Can anyone really enter the mind of another creature, particularly one whose senses are much different from ours? By the end of the book, Foster reports he's learned much more about sorting out various odors and navigating the world by smell. However, he still seems to impose his own human interpretations on his experiences, and I suppose that's impossible to overcome. For writers writing from an animal's point of view, this book might make an interesting supplement to traditional research on an animal's physiology and habitat. At the very least, you won't have to crawl in the dirt and eat worms yourself.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Blogging A-Z Challenge--Theme Reveal

Happy first day of spring--and Happy Birthday to my character Gwendolyn lo Havil, the Spring Avatar! It's supposed to be warm but rainy by me today. I hope you have better weather for your vernal equinox.

With spring here, April isn't far behind, and that means the A-Z Blogging Challenge will start next Saturday. Yesterday was the official theme reveal. I realized that in the evening, so I decided to share my theme today. (I normally don't blog on Sundays.)

My theme this year will be my fantasy Season Avatars series. There are currently four books available: Seasons' Beginnings, Scattered Seasons, Chaos Season, and Fifth Season. Each day, I'll discuss at least one character, place, or idea important to the series. There will be sales and possibly some giveaways during the month, though I haven't worked out all the details.The posts are all written and scheduled, so I should have time to visit plenty of other blogs during the month. Hope you'll stop by Monday through Saturday to learn more about the Season Avatars series.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Right Conflict at the Right Time

When writers get stuck, they're encouraged to throw an obstacle into the story. The typical example cited is to have someone with a gun enter the scene. (There was a recent meme making the social media rounds suggesting most stories would be improved if the second sentence was "And then the murders began.") That suggestion may help writers get through the first draft, but after that's done, it's imperative to reread the story and see if the conflict works with the whole or is a distraction.

I'll offer some examples from Summon the Seasons, since the revisions I'm making inspired this post. The rough draft had three places where characters went off on a side quest. Two of these were seen through the protagonist's eyes, and in the third one, she waits for other characters to return. I wrote these scenes to make things more difficult for my heroines, but after rereading them, I felt that the first and last scenes didn't contribute anything important to the overall plot. In fact, the last one felt as if it was dragging the pace just when the characters should be preparing for the climax. I already removed the first scene and will remove or drastically rewrite the final one. At another point in the story, the characters rescue a minor character from a bad situation and cart her around with them for a while. However, her skills duplicated those of the main character, and she didn't contribute anything to the story afterwards. She'll be removed too.

I mentioned before there were three side trips in this story. I'm currently revising what was the second one. The protagonist lost something that would help her accomplish something vital to the overall plot, so she's on a quest to replace it. In the rough draft, I spend a couple of pages having her look for a key, then a few more on finding where the item she needs is hidden. In the revision, the key hunt will remain the same, but the search time will shrink. In addition, what Kay finds--or doesn't find--will be much more unsettling in the revision than before. It will tie in with her character arc, and, since I'm changing the setting, it will provide a new perspective on something that happened in Fifth Season. 

By making all these changes, I plan to end up with a shorter, better-paced story with significant obstacles, not just random ones. Have you cut scenes or characters from rough drafts? If so, do you think it helped the story, or did you prefer the rough draft? Feel free to share in the comments.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Citizen Science and Scistarter

I've been reading three interesting science-related books from the library, though I've been slacking on finishing them because one's too big to read on the treadmill and the others aren't competing just with eBooks but with everything else going on at home. However, I did finish the first one a couple of days ago. It's called Citizen Science, and it examines the ways in which ordinary citizens not only contribute to science but can also direct the direction of scientific research. 

The book is divided into three main sections. The first section covers disciplines such as astronomy, meteorology, and ornithology where ordinary people report their observations to scientists. There's an interesting chapter about convicts who raise monarch butterflies in prison and release them. In some fields, particularly in astronomy, amateurs with good equipment can be in a position to make discoveries on their own. The next section of the book features ways in which people can help scientists analyze data or models. Computer games can be designed so that the players learn how to fold proteins and predict their structure. (I think I tried one of those games several years ago but didn't play it for very long.) In the final section, citizens not only assist scientists with their projects but come up with their own. For example, a group of people monitoring sea turtle nests and hatchings were inspired to collect and catalog the trash they found. They actually needed to document the trash to prove how much of it had been left behind. By looking at the amount of plastic in the ocean, these volunteers became motivated to reduce their own use of plastics. In the last chapter, gay and lesbian rights activists at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic used their collective power to convince scientists to research this disease.

If all this talk about citizen science makes you want to try it yourself, you can visit All you have to do is enter your location and an area of interest, and it'll match you up with several projects that meet your criteria. I might try it myself--if I can squeeze the time in with everything else I'm already doing.

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