Thursday, February 26, 2015

Amazing Young Minds

Inventing Tomorrow

I substitute teach at a high tech academy--The Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Technologies, Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High School System in New Jersey, USA. 

Yes, that's a mouthful for sure. Students in the school have two career choices: Electrical Engineering or Mechanical Engineering. The school is located on the campus of the Middlesex County College and students often take college courses along with their regular high school classes. 

Blue Ribbon
MCVTS Academy Awarded this honor
These young people are amazing scholars with excellent skills and bright futures. "Proof of the Pudding," so to speak was the High Tech Expo competition they held on campus today. Groups of students presented projects they had designed for the Expo through PowerPoint presentations and explanatory speeches. 

You want to see impressive? You should have been there. Students competing were from all grade levels and every single one was well-spoken, well prepared and an innovative thinker. 

Their views of tomorrow's world and their ideas to conquer its challenges with technology was impressive. 

Each group of presenters selected a problem in the world and set about finding a solution. They proposed an original invention and then set about designing it. They all had budgets, development plans, research to back up the proposals' merits, the technology to develop the projects, marketing analysis, and just about every aspect a good inventor needs to successfully launch a new product. Some had working prototypes and all had some good solid proof that their ideas would actually work in the real world. 

Here are a few examples:

An automatic programmable device to administer medications to patients in hospitals on a preset schedule designed to free nurses and caregivers from constant attendance. The problem cited was that the patient to nurse ratio in most hospitals was at critical levels and this device could provide patient care without an attendant present. 

A solar panel power supply for a car producing far more efficient and economical electric power. 

A next generation water purification system based on using artificial membranes simulating natural protein filtration. This system is an efficient and economical alternative to current desalination and water purification plants. 

A new, lightweight in inexpensive headgear camera. 

A new system of brake lights for cars designed to signal following drivers of the intensity of braking to help avoid rear end collisions. 

A radio frequency based sensor that can be robotically used during fires and other catastrophes to help rescue personnel find victims trapped in dangerous places. The sensor essentially has the ability to sense life when sent into the danger zone. 

Every one of these proposals used real world technologies and certainly had some good marketing potential. 

If you are ever skeptical of where the next generation of innovators is coming from, all you need to do is drop by our campus or one of the hundreds of similar high tech schools around the country. 

US News
Another Honor for the Academy 
As far as I'm concerned, the future is in good hands. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Language Has Rhythm

Poetry in Prose 

Let me start off by saying I love Shakespeare. His stories are great, but what lures me in his language. In case you haven't noticed, it's poetry.  I won't go into the complexities of iambic pentameter here or rhyming couplets or the sheer brilliance of how language defines a character's status in his plays. After all, this isn't a blog about Shakespeare. It's a blog about Magiskeep and in this case, the writing of the Magiskeep novels.

I tend to be a bit of a poet at heart, at least where words are concerned. I "hear" what I write and often that makes demands on the language I use. First and foremost, I want to portray a scene vividly for my readers. While I might go into a long description of a place or character's situation, as some writer's do, I prefer trying to get the scene created through action. Verbs are my friends.

How much better to say "Jeanna skipped across the room, laughing as she chased the kitten." Instead of "Jeanna was happy as she played with the kitten."  "Skipped" and "laughing" clearly show that Jeanna was happy, so there's no need to use an adjective when the verbs do just fine.

But there's more to writing than that as far as I'm concerned. Language to me needs to have a "flow" a rhythm, a sound that works.

Take these examples:

"It's not, My Lord, the way of the world."
"My Lord, it's not the way of the world."
"It's not the way of the world, My Lord."
"My Lord, it's not the world's way."
"It's not the world's way, My Lord."
inkwell pen paper - vector illustration. eps 8"It's not, My Lord, the world's way."

Now, all those sentences have the same meaning. But each one has a different rhythm pattern. I'm voting for the first one as it is a bit more iambic, but that's where the poet in me demands something. It may not be the easiest to read of the choices, but I like the pattern the best. The third line would be my second choice with the second line coming in for show.

Why not the last three choices? Simpler indeed, but not enough "beats" to the line and while not as complex, they don't match the style of the first three. "The way of the world," sounds like something special, a rule, a law an edict of some sort with a long history behind it. It has weight, intent and sounds as if it has the force of law. The "world's way," on the other hand, is simply something less significant, more like a casual manner of doing something.

This may sound farfetched to many readers, but to a writer, such things matter. We want to command our words to say exactly what we want them to say, exactly as we want them to say it.  They must sing to us, or we will not write them.

Is there poetry in prose? Absolutely. Words are magic.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Get 'Er Done

Why Things Don't Work

While this may seem slightly off topic, I do need to say something about Washington, DC and our non-functional government. It really does relate to my writing in a way as there are numerous political conflicts in my novels. The only saving grace is that ultimately, in my novels, Magic can solve most of them if need be. However, most of the time good common sense and a healthy dose of reasonable governance works just as well.

Reasonable governance--a term not often recognized in Washington today.  "Reasonable" suggests that some good thought has been put into policies and proposed legislation so that good laws will be passed to the betterment of the country.

Driving in to work this bitter cold morning, I heard the news that Congress had put forth a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, but that there was little chance it would actually pass. With an upcoming break in business, it looked as if funding would run out for the Department next week without any resolution to what was proving a legislative stalemate.

No matter what we might think about Homeland Security, I do tend to believe most of its functions are pretty vital to the safety of the nation. So why the hangup on much needed funding?

It's one of those special "additions" to the basic bill.  This time it is the Republicans who decided to add something they wanted--a set of laws designed to negate nearly all the immigration reforms President Obama had put in place with Executive Orders. (Please note: This is a common tactic used by both parties to try to push their agendas, so I'm not making a partisan statement here.)

Now, the Democrat legislators whose votes are needed to pass the funding bill, simply will not vote for a bill with the "immigration canceling" provisions attached. Surely, the Republicans knew that when they attached the offending provisions.

So why? What's the point? So one side can blame the other when the Department of Homeland Security closes down due to a lack of money? To try to blackmail the other party into doing something is doesn't want to do by threatening to close down a vital arm of the Government?

Whatever the motive, once again it seems playing politics is far more important to Washington legislators than good governing.

If destroying the President's immigration edicts is so important, then why not challenge them directly with legislation specific to the problem?  Offer up a "cancellation bill" all on its own and fight the clean fight to try to pass it.  Don't risk the very safety of the nation based on an issue that really has an indirect relationship to the larger issues Homeland Security must deal with.

At times like this, it's no wonder readers want to escape into the fantasy worlds we authors create where Magic and fix most anything.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Do You Like Me?

Or Not? Reviews

Putting a book out for the public is a daring adventure in many ways.

If like most writers, the author has a close and loving relationship with the book, this is the moment she's "kicking it out of the nest" to send it off for a life of its own. No more rewrites, no more second guessing, the book needs to find its own way in the world.

Some books try to take flight and simply crash land, forgotten on the bookstore shelves. Some take short flights with hard landings and some soar, landing happily in homes of readers everywhere.

It's always nice to have a successful flyer, of course. But the world of readers is filled with people of many tastes and they all do not see the words the same way the author does.

Hence, the consequences of  "The Reviews."

Sooner or later, some reader out there is going to need to express his opinion about the book.

Good reviews are always a pleasure for all. A Five Star on Amazon makes most authors glow with pleasure. Even a Four Star makes them smile. Three Stars? Well, OK, not so bad.

But what about the Two Star and One Star critiques that pull apart plot, character, writing style, and just about everything the author has labored over for months and years?

Hey, it happens. And every reader has a right to his opinion. Should the author be crushed by negative reviews? Sure, they can hurt ego and damage pride. "The pen can be mightier then the sword."

It's not always easy to take negative feedback in stride. But even William Shakespeare had his naysayers in his time and there's certainly no question about his legacy or ability to write.

I think competing my horses taught me more about coping with negative criticism and losing better than anything I've ever done. I've had my ups and downs with plenty of first place ribbons in my collection and just as many empty slots where no ribbon of any color sits.

My current little herd of horses has been a humbling experience that way. Because my two competition horses could never quite be trusted to be on their best behavior in the competition arena, I learned to accept small victories in place of winning the class. Sometimes just getting safely into the arena and finishing the class was enough of a success to keep me happy. Most of the time, I knew my failings even before I saw the scorecard from the judge.

My books are a little different in that I don't know their failings until I get the scorecard. Each negative comment is a learning experience leading me to think about what I might do next time to make it better, or whether I've still done the best job possible and that judge just doesn't like my style.

We all like to win and usually prefer it to losing, but taking the bad with the good can only make us better. Learning lessons from the negative review can just make better writers.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Voting Now Open

Kingdom Beyond the Rim at Bookbzz

Voting is now open at Bookbzz for the 2015 Prizewriter competition. As you know, Kingdom Beyond the Rim was selected as a finalist.

Now it's up to the public to decide the winners. Voting is now open at:

BookBzz Fantasy Novel Voting

Please vote for my novel and ask your friends to vote too!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Movie in My Head

Seeing is Writing

I was thinking the other day about how I write my novels and realized, I am a scriptwriter at heart.

For good or ill, as I write, I have a "movie" going in inside my head. I picture my characters moving about in their world, speaking and doing. In essence, I am in control of their actions, the film director if you will, trying to get them to act out their roles according to my game plan.

As I wrote in an earlier post, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, the characters take on lives of their own and do the unexpected, but I'm still in charge of writing it all down. I think it's truly important that I "show" rather than "tell" most of the actions and emotion within the book.

For instance, if Salene heaves a big sigh and shakes her head, it's pretty clear to the reader she's not too pleased with something. I could simply say she was upset or exasperated, but she becomes more alive in the story if I let her "show" what she's feeling.

Actors on stage know this well. Their body language, the little things they do, the items they may carry, or simply the way they walk across the stage tells the audience a great deal about who they are and what they're feeling.

It's the same with a written character. Body language, gestures, and actions often make characters much more alive to readers than long passages explaining how someone in the story feels.

Dialogue can be effective too. What character's say and how they say it is another important element in defining who they are, how they're feeling, and what's going on in the story.

I can still remember the opening of Shakespeare's Hamlet and how with just a simple question, the mysterious, puzzling theme of the play is set up in the first line. "Who's there?"  The actor playing the guard who says the line sets up the uncertainly and uneasiness of the play to follow.

How much better to hear a conversation between characters rather than a report of the conversation.

For example. consider this scene
Jamus wanted a horse of his own but when he asked Sagari, the Master of Magiskeep scoffed. He told Jamus he wasn't old enough or skilled enough to properly take care of and raise a horse of his own. He told him it was time to stop dreaming and do some hard work in the stables before thinking he was grand enough to own a horse as fine as Coranth.

Well, there's certainly some conflict there. But does the story live?

How about this version insead?

"My Lord," Jamus asked as he watched Sagari saddling his great white stallion, Coranth.  "do you think I might be able to have one of Coranth's colts to ride someday? I would take good care of him and train him to be a fine horse like his father."

"You?" Sagari asked hardly bothering to look down at the boy. "What makes you think you could handle a horse like that?"  He stroked the white stallion's muscled neck. "Takes a master's hand to train an animal like this and you're about as far from a master as the Keep from the Aberdalian Sea.  Look at yourself, all scrawny and weak. Get those foolish dreams out of your head and earn your keep here in the stables first. Learn the hard truth of being a horseman first and then maybe I'll find a fat little pony for you to ride."

Jamus the dreamer, the small boy demeaned by the hard Master of Magic, has his answer. And we, the reader see the relationship between the two of them sharply defined.

Action and dialogue tell the story and reveal more of the conflict than direct description ever will.

Just like a movie, readers need to see and hear the story unfold. It's the author's job to bring it to life .