Archive for May, 2007

Not classic enough?

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , on May 29, 2007 by Trina

No, I did not finish editing the historical portions of my young adult novel. I made steady progress, though, so I’ll have to be happy with that.

I ran across the following entry on Romancing the Blog:

I gave a friend of mine a copy of my book the other day, thinking she might like it because she’d expressed interest in my latest title. She took it, but then said she’d probably never read it.

Her reason?

She only reads the classics. She’s trying to read “good” fiction, she told me. Of course, she added, she meant no offense, and I pretended none was taken. I also bit my tongue and didn’t tell her that Dickens was paid by the word, and considered a hack in his day, and that his own friends wouldn’t read his books. That Shakespeare’s friends laughed at him. That a good chunk of the “classics” authors were destitute because most people in their era turned their noses up at their work. It wasn’t until they died that they got interesting to mainstream readers. Read entire entry.

I would have snatched the book back and fast. Why bother giving it to someone who won’t appreciate or even read it.

Why would anyone think that they can learn only from the classics? I learn something from every book that I read, probably more so from contemporary writers. Perhaps one day, my favorite authors — who can write amazing words, with deep thinking and layered themes — will someday be considered classic writers.

A friend once told me he would only read fiction if he felt he could learn something from it. But he had the preconceived notion that he would only learn from historical fiction. He wouldn’t think of reading a romance and even my thrillers and especially horror were beneath him. He wouldn’t even pick up a Stephen King book. Having never read a word that King had written, my former friend judged King’s writing as not worthy of his time. Then when Stephen King was published in the New Yorker, he reluctantly read the piece and admitted it sounded just like the other fiction pieces he’d read there. Although, he admitted he rarely even reads the fiction in the New Yorker.

Fiction writers who are successful do their research, especially Stephen King.

I’m off to enjoy the sunshine with Harry. Happy Tuesday.

History amended: Introducing Katharine Taylor

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2007 by Trina

Let me introduce you to THE MAGIC QUILT, a historical fantasy for young adults that is set in 1775 Colonial America. The novel is a historical fiction story about the time before the Revolutionary War, but more importantly it is also a fantasy that I believe will capture adolescent minds.

Brief summary:
Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother. But all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels through time portals in her magic quilt to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

I have researched 1775 Boston so much, the world of 1775 seems as real to me as this time and place. As I mentioned in the last entry, this is my first attempt at writing a novel and I probably shouldn’t have started with a historical fantasy. I didn’t realize when I started it the amount of historical reasearch I’d have to do. After all, science is my field, not history.

I’ve spent several months correcting the historical portions of the novel. I’m finally done with that, whew. But the trickledown of minor changes in the history affected the plot so that I had to go back and rewrite about half of the novel.

My writing critique group has just reviewed one of the central chapters to the book, “The Midnight Ride,” and the last historical chapter. Katharine accompanies him on his famous midnight ride. As always happens with critique groups. You walk away with insights and sometimes more revisions. One of the women in my writing group wondered how the men of 1775 would react with Katharine accompanying Paul Revere and suggested that Katharine disguise herself as a boy – now why didn’t I think of that. The section starts with Katharine as a cat and Paul Revere as a dog. Another member said she kept waiting for Katharine and Paul Revere to change back into animals and she thought it would be more fun for kids to read with another scene with Katharine and Paul Revere as cat and dog.

So, as always after attending my writing critique group, I’ve got some revising to do. My goal is to finish editing “The Midnight Ride” over the long weekend — I’ve taken Tuesday off work —and then write the ending of the book, which has been hanging over my head for months. I wrote an ending that I thought was pretty good, with flying dragons and a battle with the evil Dr. Ziegawart, but Katharine didn’t play a large enough role in the end, so I’ve got to revisit it.

Blogging is bad for fiction writers

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , on May 24, 2007 by Trina

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. ~ Carl Sagan

A new title for this blog coincides with a new focus on the worlds that can be reached with the imagination.

After some soul searching, and after reading an entry with the title that I stole from the Beautiful Stuff blog, I decided to change the focus of this blog.

Here is a small portion of the Literary Friendships discussion between Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon in which they talk about why they feel blogging is bad for fiction writers:

I got sucked into the screaming vortex of the blogosphere. It was incredibly fun, but it’s a bad thing for a fiction writer to do … I decided.

Because one of the things that you do as a fiction writer is … you take the experiences of your life and your memories and you kind of wait for them to gel into something and transform into something that you then write about in a very different way. And when you have this new medium of the web, there’s no gel time — it’s just all liquid. It just all comes out right away. And I was taking all these things, these moments and thoughts and experiences, and just putting them right out there. And once they’re out there, once they’re expressed, they’re gone — I think. I think, for a writer, once you’ve put something down, it sort of both freezes it and expresses it, and you lose it from yourself. And it wasn’t just my memories and experiences.

Back in September of 2006, I needed a break from the long, seemingly endless task of the final edit of THE MAGIC QUILT, the historical fantasy novel that I’m writing for young adults. It is my first novel, and I made several mistakes in writing it, one of which was not doing enough historical research until after I’d written the first two drafts. I kept Paul Revere’s first older wife Sara (she was thirty after all) alive after she had already died, perhaps at Revere’s hand — a topic for another entry. So, I thought blogging would give me a break now and then and I could finish my novel. Now, it is May of 2007 and I still haven’t finished THE MAGIC QUILT, but I’ve managed to write a blog entry every couple of weeks about science topics that I found interesting.

So I have made the decision to focus my blog posts on my fiction and historical fantasy writing from now on. I do love science, and I won’t promise science won’t find its way into this blog from time to time, but I’m going to start writing about my fiction work both as a motivational tool for myself and a way to share the experience with others. Check out the new categories to get a feel for the content that will be posted here.

I’d like to end with the words of John Sandford about writing the first novel in his Prey series starring detective Lucas Davenport:

I pretty much wrote it (Rules of Prey) in a trance. Because I had to work if I wanted to feed my family, I was reporting all day and writing the novel all night. I would walk like a ghost through St. Paul’s skyways, failing to recognize friends and familiar politicians, bumping into posts. I’d lose my car in the parking garage. I couldn’t hear people talking to me; I’d go to political event and make notes on the book.

Here’s to memory loss and bumping into posts.

Al-Gebra The New Terrorism Threat

Posted in All posts on May 17, 2007 by Trina

This arrest must have been as easy as pi.

NEW YORK –
A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

“Al-gebra is a problem for us,” Gonzales said. “They desire solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute values. They use secret code names like ‘x’ and ‘y’ and refer to themselves as ‘unknowns’, but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.

As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, ‘There are 3 sides to every triangle’.”

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes.”

White House aides told reporters they could not recall a more intelligent or profound statement by the president.

This hilarious E-mail was sent to me by a coworker. You don’t have to be a math teacher or a nerd to enjoy this. I don’t know the source. If anyone does, let me know. I poked around Online and found it in numerous blogs and Web sites, one of which is in Colophon from 2004, under “Made Up Stuph” by Stephen Samuel.

Thank you Mom

Posted in All posts, Life on May 13, 2007 by Trina

MomTrina

Today I’d like to thank my mother for the things she did that helped me become the person that I am. My mother-in-law passed away in March, so I don’t want to let another moment go by before I tell you, Mom, how important you are to me.

You married my father when you were still in high school. You and dad lived in a small one-room cabin when I was a baby. You took me there several years ago. I was startled to see how small it was. What it must have been like for you in that small room with a baby, I can only imagine. Yet, I’ve never heard you complain. You talk about that time almost with yearning. It must have been a happy time for you and Dad.

I have some of my happiest memories of later, when we lived in a small singlewide trailer until I was five. I remember falling asleep in my bunk bed listening to you doing the dishes and singing or talking with Dad. I felt safe and warm and wanted to live in that trailer forever. You never complained when you hauled our clothes to the ringer washer in the trailer court and then hung them on the line. I remember playing under the clothes strung from one end of the trailer to the other, the smell of laundry soap heavy in the air. As a young child I thought it was fun running through those clothes, not able to walk from one end of the trailer to the other. I never asked you how you managed to raise five kids living so simply. I’m so proud to call you my mom.

Mom TodayTrina 5th grade

Mom, you had a huge influence on my success. Here are a few things that you did that helped make it possible for me to pursue my dreams.

• Because you were so young and cooped up with my sisters and I, you extended your only childhood. You played games with us. When I was very young, we played, “I’m thinking of something green.” We begged you to play “the color game” and others, endlessly. Later it was cards, yahtzee, and even Barbies. I still love games because of you.
• Mom, you made the time to read us stories. You hauled us to the library every week, where I checked out as many books as I could carry. Because of you, I still love reading today. You will find me at my happiest with my nose in a thriller.
• You played the piano and sang and encouraged all five of us to play an instrument. You forced us to practice, which we hated. Although none of us pursued it, the experience taught us persistence and a good work ethic.
• You made our clothes, for all five of us. You also made all of the clothes for my dolls and Barbies. You taught me to sew, which is a skill that I found so valuable later in life.
• Mom, you instilled a work ethic in me that has brought much of my success. I would not have been a good teacher without that skill. The attention to detail and drive for success that helps me now as a science education researcher I owe to you.
• You are not afraid to stand up for yourself. That one example has probably helped me more than anything else. I’ve watched you march up to a receptionist or make a phone call where you were relentless in getting what you needed, either for your husband, your children, or yourself. You are an inspiration to me.
• Mom, you show me that you love and care for me every time that I talk to you. I treasure our walks together and our long talks.

So thanks, Mom! You have helped me by your example and your caring. I love you.

Reducing the can from comment spam

Posted in All posts with tags , , , on May 12, 2007 by Trina

My blog has a new look because I got up this morning to 48 comment spams, everything from real estate tips to sites promoting drugs to increase my erection – like I need that. While I was mucking around in the blog settings, I decided to give the blog a new look as well.

Why are they spamming me?

Apart from because they can, the need to raise page ranking in search engines gives rise to the need to create a lot of links to a web page so the search engine thinks that page is important. From WordPress’s page on Combatting Comment Spam FAQ.

Because they can. Let’s take the can away from comment spam.

I painstakenly deleted the comment spam — all 48 of them. Then I tried one of wordpress’s tips. I clicked “An administrator must always approve a comment” box and my e-mail inbox was soon full of spam comments to delete.

I didn’t realize spammers were clogging up blogs until now. Upon doing some researching I found that the explosion of blog spam is a besetting problem for the blog industry.

A splog is a “spam blog”, a blog that copies content from other blogs without permission (though there might be a link back), using that content as if it was their own. It’s a little more complex than that, as some mix and match content from many blogs, or mix and match content from different posts into one post. The key to identifying a splog is that the content is not their own, and typically there is no original content to be found.
Splogs tend to have content unrelated to the title and reported purpose of the blog. They also may use content taken from other blogs and stuff their own keywords into the post, promoting whatever they are selling like ringtones, porn sites, drugs, dating, casinos, etc.

For the most part, it is easy to spot a splog, but much harder to get it shut down. Reporting Spam Blogs – Splogs « Lorelle on WordPress

Here’s to reducing the can from comment spam!

Are you smarter than a fiction writer?

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing with tags , , on May 6, 2007 by Trina

The answer may surprise you.

Tess Gerritsen, one of my favorite thriller writers, has this to say:

Do you have to be smart to write fiction?

Recently I was asked to contribute my thoughts about this topic, for an upcoming book about creativity and intelligence. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is no, you don’t have to be smart – not if by “smart”, you’re referring to the sort of intelligence that’s usually measured by IQ tests. I know a number of doctors and engineers. These are classicaly “smart” people – the straight-A crowd who dazzled their classmates in college and graduate school. They’d probably ace a Mensa qualifying exam. They excel in logic, they’re up on current events, and they know all the nuances of grammar. They know how to spell. Every so often, one of them will write a novel, and beg that I take a peek at their first chapter.

Most of these people can’t write worth beans.

What is about writing fiction that’s beyond these brilliant people? How does it happen that a high-school drop-out can write a bestselling novel, while a PhD can’t even write an interesting query letter?

If anything, it’s been my impression that people who are highly educated in the sciences have a disadvantage when it comes to fiction.” Read entire blog.

Gerritsen touched on several issues involving our perception of intelligence in these first paragraphs.

What is intelligence?
Intelligence is hard to define because there is no universally accepted definition of intelligence, and people continue to debate what exactly intelligence is. According to Encarta, many words in the English language distinguish between different levels of intellectual skill: bright, dull, smart, stupid, clever, slow, and so on.

Intelligence is what intelligence tests measure. Could we find a more circular definition? Intelligence tests are used to verify the existence of intelligence, which in turn is measurable by the tests. Second, many different intelligence tests exist, and they do not all measure the same thing. Finally, the definition says very little about the specific nature of intelligence.

It is easier to define what intelligence is not. Intelligence is not the amount of information that people know, which is a common misconception. The ability to memorize facts does not mean that you are smart.

In the early 1900s, Spearman observed positive correlations among performance in different mental tasks and suggested that these correlations could be explained by a single general factor, the ability to deal with complexity.

Nearly a century later an article in the Wall Street Journal proposed this definition of intelligence: “Intelligence is a very general mental capability that … involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.

Thus, intelligence is not merely memorizing facts, a narrow academic skill. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings — catching on, making sense of things, or figuring out what to do. I call this skill “with-it-ness.”

As a sidebar:
“Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader” does not test intelligence, or with-it-ness. The contestants are asked recall questions that do nothing more than test what they know, not their cognitive ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, or learn quickly.

People who are truly cognitively gifted are not people who memorized well and know information. Conversely, such cognitively gifted people have rich, advanced vocabularies and are able to think creatively — outside the box. They do not necessarily do well on routine tasks but can produce amazing projects.

It follows that what we mean by intelligence is general cognitive functioning as assessed from a battery of cognitive ability tests. But, what cognitive ability should those tests measure?

In a 1983 publication called “Frames of Mind,” Psychologist Howard Gardner created seven types of individual strengths to help teachers and students understand the strengths of individuals:

1. Verbal – the ability to use words

2. Visual – the ability to imagine things in your mind

3. Physical – the ability to use your body in various situations

4. Musical – the ability to use and understand music

5. Mathematical – the ability to apply logic to systems and numbers

6. Introspective – the ability to understand your inner thoughts

7. Interpersonal – the ability to understand other people, and relate well to them

In other sources, there may be nine different types of intelligence. The other two that are not included on the list above are:

Naturalist Intelligence “Nature Smart” – Sensitive to living things. (Gardner added this to his original list of seven years later).

Existential Intelligence – the ability to tackle deep questions about human existence such as the meaning of life, how did we get here, and what happens when we die.

How is intelligence measured?
IQ stands for intelligence quotient. It is a score that tells one how intelligent a person is compared to other people over all of the different types of intelligences. The quotient does not separate out the different types of intelligences. It is also a measure of how well a person will do on similar tests. Seen from this perspective, the college degree is not a credential but an indirect measure of intelligence.

The average IQ is by definition 100. Scores above 100 indicate a higher than average IQ and scores below 100 indicate a lower that average IQ. Half of the population have IQ’s of between 90 and 110, while 25% have higher IQ’s and 25% have lower IQ’s.

Is there a correlation between occupation and Intelligence?
Yes. The IQ gives a good indication of the occupational group that a person will end pursue.

Listed are typical IQ ranges for various occupations:
Medical occupations with MD or equivalent: 105-135
College professors: 95-135
Legal occupations: 98-135
Natural science: physical, life, and math: 92-135
High school teachers: 92-125
Creative occupations: 90-125
Finance, insurance, real estate: 88-128
Clerical: 82-112
Mechanics: auto and other: 75-115
Truck drivers: 76-98
Janitors: 73-112

A more complete list of occupational groups ranked by IQ can be found at: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/cde/cdewp/98-07.pdf

Since the IQ ranges above do not take into account multiple intelligences, it would be better to look at the types of intelligences that drive certain occupations. I found the following descriptions at: http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/b/x/bxb11/MI/MITypes.htm

Multiple Intelligences Types

Verbal-linguistic learners have highly developed auditory skills, enjoy reading and writing, like to play word games, and have a good memory for names, dates, and places. They like to tell stories, and get their point across. You learn best by saying and hearing words. Poets, writers, and people who speak a great deal in their jobs (like teachers) probably have a high degree of verbal-linguistic intelligence.

Musical-rhythmic learners are sensitive to the sounds in their environment, including the inflections in the human voice. They enjoy music, and may listen to music when they study or read. They are skilled at pitch and rhythm. Learning through melody and music works well for people with high musical-rhythmic intelligence. Singers, conductors, and composers obviously have a high musical-rhythmic intelligence. Anyone who enjoys, understands, and uses various elements of music probably has a high degree of musical-rhythmic intelligence.

Logical-mathematical intelligence is often linked with the term “scientific thinking.” Logical-mathematical people like to explore patterns and relationships, like to experiment with things you don’t understand, ask questions, and enjoy well-ordered tasks. They like to work with numbers and relish opportunities to solve problems via logical reasoning. They learn best by classifying information, using abstract thought, and looking for common basic principles and patterns. Many scientists have a high degree of logical-mathematical intelligence.

Visual-spatial people work well maps, charts, diagrams, and visual arts in general. They are able to visualize clear mental images. They like to design and create things. They learn best by looking at pictures and watching videos. Sculptors, painters, architects, surgeons, and engineers are a few professions that require people with well-developed visual-spatial abilities.

Bodily-kinesthetic learners use bodily sensations to gather information. They have good balance and coordination and are good with their hands. Learning activities that provide physical activities and hands-on learning experiences work well for them. People with highly developed bodily-kinesthetic abilities include carpenters, mechanics, dancers, gymnasts, swimmers, and jugglers.

Intrapersonal learners are aware of their own strengths, weaknesses, and feelings. They are aware of self, being a creative and independent, and reflective thinker. They usually possess independence, self-confidence, determination, and high motivation. They may respond with strong opinions when controversial topics are discussed. They learn best by engaging in independent study projects rather than working on group projects. Pacing their own instruction is important to them. Entrepreneurs, philosophers, and psychologists are a few professions where strong intrapersonal skills are a benefit.

Interpersonal learners are “people-persons.” They enjoy being around people, like talking to people, have many friends, and engage in social activities. They can develop genuine empathy for the feelings of others. They learn best by relating, sharing, and participating in cooperative group environments. The best salespeople, consultants, community organizers, counselors, and teachers have a high interpersonal intelligence.

Naturalist. The so-called “Eighth” Intelligence, Naturalistic learners are in touch with nature – the outdoors in terms of geography, animals, conservation, etc. They sense patterns and are good a categorization. They are also good planners and organizers of living areas. Naturalistic learners learn best studying natural phenomenon in natural settings, learning about how things work. They may express interest in biology, zoology, botany, geology, meteorology, paleontology, or astronomy – fields directly connected to some aspect of nature.

Information in this blog was modified from:
http://tessgerritsen.com/blog/2006/09/05/do-you-have-to-be-smart-to-write-fiction/
http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761570026/Intelligence.html
http://gsmweb.udallas.edu/iep/immweb/seven_intel.html
http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/cde/cdewp/98-07.pdf
http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/b/x/bxb11/MI/MITypes.htm
http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/Occupations.aspx
http://iq-test.learninginfo.org/iq04.htm
http://jobsadvice.guardian.co.uk/tests/story/0,,1181166,00.html
http://www.macalester.edu/psychology/whathap/ubnrp/intelligence05/Mtypes.html