Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Lifetime of Books

Mental Floss posted an article on Monday predicting how many books a person can read in a lifetime. It's actually a series of tables taking into account a person's gender, age, and reading habits. An average person reads twelve books a year, while a super reader tops out the Mental Floss scale at 80 books per year. That level sounds low to me these days. Since eBooks are so much more accessible and portable than paper books, I've been able to squeeze in more reading time since getting my first Kindle in 2010 or so. I joined Goodreads in 2012 or so and started tracking my books then. Since 2013, I've averaged about 200 books a year, as you can see if you check out my annual reading challenges on Goodreads. (My official goal is lower this year, but I'm currently on pace to reach 200 books again.)

I'm not sure how many books I read every year prior to joining Goodreads. There were times in my life where I had a lot of time to read (one college break, I read four books in a twelve-hour marathon), and times where I was busier with other things. To be conservative, let's say I averaged about 50 books a year prior to Goodreads. I started reading at age three, so I read about 1,900 books before joining Goodreads. In less than six years, I've read 1,067 books, which is more than half of what I read in the previous 38 years! Talk about a change in reading habits! If I continue to read 200 books a year for the next 40 years, I'll add another 8,000 to that. Ten thousand books in a lifetime sounds pretty good to me.

The point of the Mental Floss article was to say reading time is short, so you should only read books you enjoy. While that's good advice, I also think you should read a variety of books to make the most of your reading experience. (While my fiction reading is mostly SF/fantasy these days, I read more widely when I was younger.) Measure your life by books instead of years, and you'll experience more lives than you can live on your own.

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.

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