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.

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.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Scheduling Changes for the Season Avatars Series

My original plans for this year were to publish a short story collection called Young Seasons in the first part of this year and Summon the Seasons the second half of the year. Both projects are currently in the revision phase; however, I'm spending more time on Summon the Seasons than I am on Young Seasons. Since the novel is much longer than the short story collection, that only makes sense. I've also thought about it and decided that it might be better for the readers to put the novel out before the short story collection. Summon the Seasons is the final book in the series, while Young Seasons is supplemental. I don't have dates for either publication yet. I had to rewrite the opening chapters of Summon the Seasons, and they may still need some tweaking. There are some other major edits needed in other parts of the story as well. I'd rather take a little longer and make the story as good as I can at this stage of my writing career than rush it and spoil the whole series. Now if I can just be more productive at the end of the day, that would help too. Better get back to it!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Twitter and Triberr Troubles

I've been using Triberr to promote my blog posts, but I may not be doing so for much longer. It seems like using Triberr causes problems for my Twitter account.

Normally, one of my morning "digital chores" is to log onto Triberr and either tweet a bunch of blog post links or add them to my queue. I think the fact that I do so many at once must make my account look suspicious. My Twitter account has been locked about three times now in the last couple of months. There must have been a recent policy change to limit how many tweets you can send in a short period of time. It's possible my account looks strange because I seldom use it for anything other than posting other people's posts. I guess I have too much to do in my real life to spend a lot of time composing my own tweets.

For now, I'm going to continue using Triberr, but I'll only tweet a couple of links at a time. This will mean having to log on more frequently to clear the queue, and I don't know how I'll be able to manage that, especially during the week. I suppose I should create a tweet of my own now than then too, just to prove I'm a real person.

Do you use either of these services? If so, do you like them, or do you feel they're more trouble than they're worth?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

IWSG--Reworking Old Stories

It's hard to believe it's already March, isn't it? Only one month left before the 2017 A-Z Blogging Challenge begins. I already have all of my blog posts written for April, which makes it ironic that I don't have this month's blogging planned.

Anyway, it's time for another post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This month, our co-hosts are Tamara Narayan, Patsy Collins, M.J. Fifield, and Nicohle Christopherson.Our question this month is this: "Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?"

I feel like much of my work would qualify for this question. I have no idea how many drafts I went through for Lyon's Legacy and Twinned Universes, and they changed significantly from first draft to final. However, I don't think they sat around as long as some of my other stories. So I'll focus my answer on two projects: "Letters to Psyche" and the Season Avatars series.

I'm not sure how old the original version of "Letters to Psyche" is. The original idea was inspired by a writing prompt for a now-defunct magazine, and the working title was "Antidote for a Family Feud." The story is about Cupid's involvement with the Montague and Capulet families prior to Romeo and Juliet. I don't think I ever submitted the original story to the magazine, but I workshopped it online. One of my reviewers made me realize Cupid didn't have any personal stake in the story events, so I found a way for a mortal to curse a god. Since Cupid was separated from his wife, Psyche, I rewrote the story to make it a series of letters from him to her. "Letters to Psyche" has been well-received by readers, so I think the revision worked out. You can determine that for yourself by checking out the story through this link.

Even older than "Letters to Psyche" is my Season Avatars series. I wrote the first version of the first book (then called Day of All Seasons) over twenty years ago. Even after revision, this book was over 170,000 words long. It's no surprise that it got rejected by traditional publishing. (An editor who's no longer with Tor did request the full manuscript, but he never got back to me with comments as he promised to.) I finished the second book in this series and started a third, then shelved this project until self-publishing came along.

When I decided to return to the world of Challen, I kept the characters, concept, and setting, but ignored my drafts and started over. I wrote Seasons' Beginnings as a prequel to explain how Chaos Season started and to expand on the relationships between the characters. Day of All Seasons showed both how the "Fem Four" quartet came together and how they tamed their first storm. I finally managed to split this part of the story into two books: Scattered Seasons and Chaos Season. Part of how I managed that is by limiting my point-of-view character to only one per book. (The original story had multiple POV characters.) Books Four and Five (Fifth Season and Summon the Seasons, which is currently being edited for publication later this year) have the same titles as Books Two and Three in my original plans, and they cover the same parts of the overall story. However, they're told differently, and I followed a different path to the same ending I had in mind so many years ago. The series may not be a big seller (perhaps that will change once Summon the Seasons is published), but I'm happy with how it worked out, and I hope readers are too.

If you've reworked old stories, what did you change and why? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

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