A better word than hope?

Soon after I began writing my third novel, I realized that it was going to center around the theme of hope. I’d already gone with such lofty themes as peace and joy in my first two novels, so when it came to the big words in life, I felt like I was on a roll. It helped that my protagonist was an aging athlete, and I wanted to him to find the one thing that I’d noticed aging robbed humans of most often.

But hope wasn’t quite the word I meant, any more than peace and joy had been with the first two books. I was trying to talk about refusing to let go of fears and animosity from the past, and refusing to give others a chance based on old experiences. And I was talking about the belief that humans cannot change, that they cannot learn to be, or choose to be, better.

Having already written two stories that took place on opposite sides of the globe, I decided to place this third tale more or less halfway in between. That took to me to the southern reaches of North America; to Belize, Guatemala and Southern Mexico. It also to took me to my own home in Houston. “Hope” looked to be a perfect theme as my research led me to the history of the civilizations and their clashes in this heated part of the globe.

By now, I knew I was doing a rainbow with my books. This was fueled by my love of physics and my fascination with light (or more correctly the electromagnetic spectrum) and I was already planning to give light waves a starring role in this third story. The fact that rainbows had been used over the years to symbolize racial harmony, and LGBT acceptance, was an added plus.

The rainbow thing meant that this book had to be yellow, which was perfect. Yellow is for bright sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day. Yellow is for the first flowers poking through the winter snow. My book was bright yellow for a word that means

the belief that the ills of the past are not an inevitable part of the future, and the knowledge that life can be better, and will be better, if we do our best to make it so.

We do need a word for that.

 

(For more thought on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?, A better word than joy? and A better word than courage?)

 

Point of View

I violate one of the basic rules of storytelling. I do it often, I do it on purpose, and I like doing it.

The rule is to pick a point of view and stick to it, at least for a full chapter. But because the stories I tell myself are never told from a single point of view for very long, how could the stories I tell others ever be? One of my greatest fascinations with a tale is how differently the events appear to various characters. So if you read something I write, be prepared to hear the plot unfold through several sets of eyes.

My latest book is providing me with new challenges in this regard. As the sixth and last book in my 46. Ascending collection, it features a dozen characters with five unusual powers as they learn to work together. I’m having fun changing the point of view, but am also striving to find new ways to do it so that it doesn’t leave my readers’ heads spinning.

My character Alex, who can slow down or speed up time, reacts to save his wife Lola while they are aboard a cruise ship in a storm at sea. I tried this technique for showing how they both experience what happens.

About twelve minutes later, or so it seemed to her, a series of sharp knocks on the cabin door woke all three of them. A pleasant young man brought in a tray of dry snacks, cartons of water, more motion sickness treatments, and extra pillows, cushions and even bungee cords for securing people and things.

“We are in a bit of a lull now,” he cheerfully informed them “and the rain has stopped. The captain says that if you want a spot of air on deck at all today, now would be the time to take it.”

“I’ll pass,” Maurice muttered without moving. “But I will take a look at your pill selection.”

“I could really use the fresh air,” Lola said. She looked at Alex hopefully. He knew how hard it was for her to stay in the enclosed cabin.

“Let’s both go get a breath of it,” he agreed.

After that, their recollections would always be different.

She would remembered wanting to leave the cabin quickly before he changed his mind.

He would remembered wondering why she didn’t stop to put on something besides those stupid cheap slippers she’d bought in Ushuaia.

She would remember hurrying down the hall because she wanted to catch the heavy metal door before it latched completely behind a couple coming back inside.

He would remember being annoyed because he had to speed up to join her as he felt a large gust of wind blow through the open door.

She would remember bounding outside, then looking up and being overwhelmed at the sight of the unusually large wave on the other ship of the ship. She would recall the roar of it, the froth of it, the fear of it as she started to slide backwards with the tilt of the deck.

He would never even see the wave. As he reached the door, he would be looking down, watching her momentum carry her into a slide as she slipped along an improbably tilted deck towards a rail that was clearly inadequate, coming only as high as her thighs for christsakes but sticking out way over the ocean, and what the hell kind of guard rail was that?

She wouldn’t even remember a guard rail, just a second of terror, a realization that she was going over board.

He would see her slow down, way down, almost stopping as she hung there.

She would remember Alex grabbing her arm so fast she thought he’d dislocated her shoulder, then both of them slamming onto the deck and sliding backwards towards the door, with Alex grabbing on to something as the boat made a high-angle lurch the other way and then a few more frightening tilts back and forth.

He would remember time speeding back up as she cried and shivered with the cold and the shock, and thinking that he had almost lost her again.

She would only remember thanking him and telling him that she loved him.

He would remember silently holding her to warm her, and hoping she understood how much he loved her too.

(For more excerpts from my new novel visit Am I sure I’m Sherrie?, Worry about those you love and write about what you know, Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know, and The Amazing Things I Get to Do.)

Have you ever broken a law?

I used to teach a class in ethics as part of a training program for my company. My co-instructor liked to start off with this question. Have you ever broken the law? Most people would shake their heads.

Didn’t borrow any of the down payment for your first house from you parents? Never tried recreational drugs? Underage drinking? Never saw any of it occur and failed to report it?

By this point much of the class was shrugging or looking sheepish.

guidelinesNever ran a stop sign? Crossed the street on a red light? Exaggerated the value of your clothing donations on your income return?  Never double parked or jaywalked or even drove a single mile over the speed limit? Ever?

She had their attention then, and we generally went on to have a pretty lively discussion about what it means to be a law-abiding citizen. I liked to talk about Jack Sparrow’s famous quote that his pirate code was really more of a “guideline.” The fact is, we all consider some laws to be guidelines, particularly when we believe that consequences of our breaking them will not hurt anyone. The perception of which laws this applies to changes over time

In this class we talked about bank robbery versus littering. When I was young my parents would never have considered robbing a bank, although they did habitually take towels from hotels, assuring me that it was included in the price of a room. I later learned otherwise. My parents certainly considered laws against throwing trash out of the car to be a suggestion, along with any requirement to wear a seat belt. Like I said, times change.

Laws change, too, as do penalties and enforcement. When society begins to deem that “this law is serious” the hope is that the increased scrutiny and greater fines are made public first, not used as gotcha fundraising, and that the changes are uniformly enforced among all income levels and ethnic groups. (I know. That’s the hope.)

insider-tradingMuch of the purpose of our particular class was to end up in a discussion about business ethics. My company worked with many different countries, all of which had laws against bribery, but many of which had cultures that considered those laws as guidelines. We also talked about insider trading, and how its acceptability has changed over time. I like the example from the 1980’s movie The Big Chill, when Kevin Kline tries to help his close friend William Hurt by tipping him off that a company is about to be acquired and its stock will shoot up. A friendly gesture? Or ten years in jail? You be the judge.

nutshell I’m remembering those lively discussions and wondering how my former co-workers back in the Houston area are feeling about illegal immigrants. It’s an emotional topic, today more than ever. Because z2 is partly about immigration, I did a fair amount of research on the subject as I wrote. My main source was a wonderful book called “Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell” by David Weissbrodt and Laura Danielson, which used humor and antidotes to help illustrate the changes in both law and perception over the decades.

My one grandfather was brought here at two years old and never knew the country of his birth. I’m pretty sure that all eight great-grandparents of mine arrived from Russia with no paperwork; some of them didn’t even know what country they were going to. Half of one family ended up here, half in Argentina. Oh well, at least they weren’t in Russia, where authorities were cracking down on them for having immigrated from Germany a century earlier.

taboojive2You see, at one time the world was a place where people fled danger, hoping and expecting that those elsewhere would allow them to start a new life if they just worked hard and didn’t make trouble. Paperwork was a guideline. As long as they didn’t hurt anyone, it was really okay.

We live in a different sort of world now, but not everybody has caught up. We have people who were brought here as children by well meaning parents who didn’t think they were doing something that awful. We have those who came here even recently believing that the worst a generous and kind country like ours would do to them would still be far better than what they were facing from tyrants where they were.

We have every right to make our borders completely non-porous today if we so choose. Cost versus benefit, compassion versus safety; these are debates worth having. But when it comes to how we treat those already here, it would serve us well to remember.

choicesThe text we used for our ethics class was a wonderful  book called How Good People Make Tough Choices by Rushworth Kidder. It talked about the main ethical dilemmas facing moral people. Loyalty versus truth. Short term thinking versus long term thinking. Individual rights versus social responsibility. And my personal favorite, mercy versus justice. Our most passionate discussions were about this last one, as we tried to get our participants to understand how often we as humans want mercy for ourselves, our loved ones, and those like us, and how stridently we demand justice for everyone else.

I’ve been thinking about that class a lot these past three weeks, and wondering if I could try just teaching it to passing strangers on street corners. Would anyone stop to listen?

Time Traveler looking for a Good Time

x0 tshirtI truly appreciate the friends, relatives and strangers who for one reason or another have read through my novels before publication and offered suggestions and back-up proofreading. After I published c3 I came upon a way to say thanks. I made t-shirts.

It seemed like kind of a goofy thing to do, which I suppose is why I liked the idea so much. I didn’t want the shirts to contain blatant advertising — that’s not exactly a gift, is it? — but rather to be something fun that tied into the whole 46. Ascending collection idea. I finally settled on the shirt shown above, inspired by the first novel in the collection, x0.

Well, it’s a year later and now I’ve got thirteen folks reading the almost final version of the soon-to-be-published novel d4. Nine are first time beta readers. Eight are people I’ve never met in real life and probably never will. How does one thank nine women and four men with ages that range from early twenties to late sixties and who call six different countries on three continents home?

tshirtEasy. You send them a t-shirt. At least I hope that the shirt to the left, inspired by the novel z2, will make them every one of them smile and will even start a few interesting conversations for each of them.

Yes, I would like to do a t-shirt for the intermediate novel y1 as well, in a suitable chameleon shade of orange, but the right tag line just would not come to me so I skipped on to the next book.  Perhaps someday a clever reader will suggest the perfect words. And of course there will eventually be a green tee inspired by the intrepid Teddie of c3.

Those who have heard me complain about how much I hate marketing my books may notice how much fun I am having creating these little thank you gifts. It’s true. I like doing this. It goes to prove that there at least some marketing skills that even a strong introvert like me can embrace.

(For more on this, check out my thoughts on using family and friends as beta readers and my observations about whether strangers make the perfect beta readers instead..)

Try not to care about reviews? Yeah, right …..

Jeffrey KeenI’ve read a lot of discussion lately about how reviews are meant for other readers, not for the writer of the work that is being reviewed. I understand the point, of course, but think that almost anyone who pours their heart and soul out for months (or years) into a book ends up craving some feedback. Sales only provide a cold, dry number, and if you’re self-published like I am, it will seldom be an encouraging one.  Friends and family can and will give opinions, but of course they are biased and usually they aren’t part of the target audience anyway.

A writer wants to know what total strangers, ones who like the kinds of books she writes, think about her book. So yes, reviews matter to a writer, whether they should or not.  I imagine they must mean as much to an actor, or a musician or anyone who puts themselves out there to entertain and amuse the world, and there is no way around that. Once a books has hundreds of reviews, I suppose that individual ones matter less. I hope some day to find out.

One knows that one shouldn’t respond to any review personally no matter how badly one wants to, and no matter how much the review has made your spirits soar or forced your mood into a deep abyss. I’ve been doing a virtual book tour with Reading Addiction Blog Tours these past few weeks and four reviews have been posted so far.

The first, on A Life Through Books, appeared on April 22nd and it begins with “This novel was quite surprising in the fact that it was much deeper than I was expecting from a Science Fiction novel. We are giving everything we love from a good Sci-Fi novel as well as focus on the deeper family/drama aspects of life.” Talk about a reason to jump for joy. “Yes, yes” I wanted to shout. “You got it. You understand.” But of course I didn’t shout anything. I try to be a well-behaved writer.

April 30 A Shelf Full of Books published a review that said “Z Squared is a multi-faceted novel not only about a teacher with the ability to manipulate the speed of time, but about the mystery of the treasure related to a Mayan artifact and racism with overtones of the Klu Klux Klan. There was definitely more to this novel than the synopsis implied.” Another reader who got it. I’m squirming in my chair now, but I’m still not saying anything.

May 1 Pure Jonel reviewed z2. She only gave it three stars (sigh) but her words were so positive that I hardly cared. Her review begins “What a unique story. It took me a bit to warm up to the story, but once I did I was hooked.” I’m so glad that she stuck it out!

Then yesterday Mommasez reviewed it and she said “Being interactive was the first highlight of this book. The second was that the story was so well-written and entertaining.” Okay at this point I have to do something. This is so exciting for me. So I figure one little blog post here, mentioning how happy these reviews make me, is surely within the bound of good taste.

(Thanks to writer Jeffrey Keen on Facebook for sharing the image above.)

How not to name a book ….

Authors note: z2 is currently on blog tour through the fine folks at Reading Addiction Virtual Book Tours. The post below is part of that tour and it appeared a few days ago on a blog called Clutter Your Kindle.  My thoughts were inspired by a post I wrote here back in 2013, two whole books ago. A lot has changed for me since then, but apparently other things haven’t changed much at all.

vampireI confess, I never got into the thrill of the whole dragon phase that fantasy lovers went through a couple of decades ago when I was a young adult reader, and maybe I shouldn’t tell you this but I’ve never been all that into vampires either. Hey, different things appeal to different people. I do confess to a certain lingering fascination with werewolves, however, and maybe it is because they helped me figure out how much I just don’t like the dead guys. So enter the whole zombie fascination. Okay, to each their own, but zombies turn my stomach.

Which does make the fact that I called my third novel z2 a little problematic. Zombies showed up a few years ago and they are still around. Brad Pitt even stared in a movie called World War Z last summer. Every search I do that starts with a z continues to turn up zombie books, zombie movies, and just plain more zombies. We really do have a zombie problem.

cake-topper-xoSo why did I pick that name? Well, I had already made the mistake of naming my first novel x0, only to discover that you can’t make superscripts appear on a blog or anywhere else that matters. I wanted to name my second novel x1, but my love of X-men got me to change it to y1, not wanting to seem like an imitator. So it looked like my third novel needed to be called z2. You know, x0, y1, z2…..

It fit the story well for the book’s hero Alex Zeitman to form a club at the high school where he teaches, and for him to call the club z2. He pronounces it “zee squared” and it is for those who can warp time like himself and for others fascinated by time travel. I refer to the book as “zee squared”. Everyone else calls it “zee two” because you can’t tell it’s a superscript. This was definitely not the way to name a book. Worse yet, some readers have told me that they thought my book was about a second coming of zombies. Good grief.

Have I learned my lesson yet? No. Of course not. The last three books in the 46.Ascending collection have superscript titles too. c3 came out in Kindle a few months ago and d4 will be out this fall. I guess I like the consistency. Maybe I like doing things the hard way. Maybe it just fits to have superscripts for super heroes. Yeah, that’s it. Superscripts for super heroes.

Time enough to take my time

growing bolder 5The last few weeks have flown by with the publishing of my fourth book c3, and I have been overwhelmed with the demands of trying to get this latest book the attention and publicity it needs for a successful launch. Should I do blog tours? How many? With who? I’ll use my free kindle days. How best to publicize them? How much dare I spend?

Blogging, normally something fun I do to relax, has become a chore to tired hands and even tireder eyes. I need at least twenty-six hours in day. Maybe thirty right now.

However, I’ve been through this before and I know that it will pass. My frantic response to a new book will subside, and what will be will be.  I’ll be back here soon posting about confederate flags and puzzles and the nature of time and hope for the future. I’ll have enough time to take my time, and enjoy the journey.

Please will check out this new creation of mine, c3, available on kindle here. Please like the Facebook page Growing Bolder. The image above came from them.