Write and Change the World

A replay of a post from 2015. Amidst all the unpredictability today, a few things are entirely within our control, and one of them is kindness. ❤
***

JeffersonMost of us have days filled with small acts of kindness. We smile, kiss hurt elbows, throw tennis balls for our dogs. We pay for a coworker’s coffee and leave a big tip. We call a friend in need, chauffeur teenagers, cook a favorite meal, or pick up ice cream on the way home. These small invisible acts often go unacknowledged, but they travel around in overlapping circles, keep our lives balanced and relationships healthy. We see the results in strengthened bonds, deeper commitment, and abiding love.

87230b4a08df4def07bae73905d9319bBut what about those times when we don’t see the ripples? When we toss acts of kindness and compassion into a seemingly bottomless well of suffering and despair? When we perceive no reward for our efforts? When we don’t know if we’re making any lasting difference in our world at all? Some strangers we’ll meet face to face, but most we’ll never know. The poignant tales of their lives will play out in other neighborhoods, other cities, and other lands, unseen and unheard.

download (1)In our political landscape, acts of kindness and compassion are often labeled as weak, a waste of time and money, conciliatory, poor investments, and unpatriotic. In a culture that values money over lives, the manipulations are intense.

Yet, I would argue that when we ordinary folk commit small everyday deeds of kindness and compassion, the ripples are there even though invisible to our eyes and silent to our ears. Those random acts are cups of water that we pour down that deep, collective well. They blend and build, until over time, the bottomless well holds a limitless reservoir from which a garden grows. I have faith that no act of kindness or compassion is wasted, ever.

gandalf quoteI’m not really surprised that Gandalf sits up there with some of the greats when it comes to quotes regarding kindness. Does it matter that he’s a fictional character? Not really. Through Gandalf, Tolkien’s wisdom reached millions. Such is the power of the written word. Books can and do have the power to change the world…

 

Why to avoid “ing” words in fiction

A few weeks ago, I had a blog-conversation with Jacqui Murray of Worddreams about editing out “ing” words. I’ve heard many times that these words should be avoided when writing fiction but never understood why. While some writing no-nos stab me in the eye every time I read them (such as filter words), “ing” words never really bothered me.

So, a little research later, here’s the scoop:

“Ing” words do three things:

They express ongoing action when combined with auxiliary (helping) verbs:
She was washing her hands.
The snow will be piling up all night.

They act as nouns:
Vacuuming kept the dog hair to a minimum.
Walking helps me stay healthy.

They act as adjectives:
The falling apple bonked her on the head.
A failing grade won’t get me into college.

Opportunity #1

Present, future, and past progressive verb combinations

When combined with little “helping” verbs such as am, are, is, was, were, been, have, has, had, “ing” words express ongoing action.

He is working every day.
He was painting on weekends.
He will be gardening after work.
He has been looking out the window since he came home.

Now, all of these sentences are grammatically correct, but they all have extra weak little unnecessary words.

Avoid weak helping verbs and write tighter.

For example:

He is working every day.
He works every day

He was painting on weekends.
He painted on weekends.

He will be gardening after work.
He will garden after work

He has been looking out the window since he came home.
He has looked out the window since he came home.

Caution: Sometimes the progressive action is necessary. Note the difference in meaning below:

He was shooting his gun when the sheriff killed him.
He shot his gun when the sheriff killed him.

Of course instead of “was shooting” you could try something like this:

He peppered the bar with bullets until the sheriff’s aim zeroed in and blasted a hole in his chest.

Which brings me to the next opportunity…

Opportunity #2

Replace weak “ing word” and helping-verb combinations with more powerful verbs.

While searching your manuscript for your “ing” words, look for opportunities to replace common “ing” words with more descriptive verbs in the simple past tense.

For example:

He was looking at the lawn for an hour.
He inspected the lawn for an hour.

She was turning over the burger with one hand and making a salad with the other.
She flipped the burger with one hand and tossed a salad with the other.

The ogre was giving the princess a long-winded explanation.
The ogre bored the princess with a long-winded explanation

Common “Ing” Mistake #1

Simultaneous versus sequential action

Did you know that participial phrases indicate simultaneous action? Not sequential action. This is a very common mistake, and another reason to look closely at those “ing” phrases!

Participial phrases aren’t actually verbs. They’re something called verbals, and they can act like adjectives. Verbals aren’t the action verbs of the sentence, instead they tell us something about the action. What the heck does that mean? Well, read on, and I’ll try to explain.

Here are some examples of incorrectly used participial phrases. Note that the structure implies that the actions are happening simultaneously, even though that would be impossible:

Peeling off his pajamas, he turned on the water and stepped into the shower.
Sprinting down to the lake, he dove in and swam to the other side.
The gymnast landed the dismount, dancing with her fists in the air.
The cat jumped to the window sill and curled into a ball, sleeping in the sunshine.

Yeah, those are wrong. I’m not kidding. Clearly, the actions need to be sequential, but that’s not what the sentences indicate.

Here are examples of those sentences with sequential action:

He peeled off his pajamas, turned on the water, and stepped into the shower.
He sprinted down to the lake, dove in, and swam to the other side.
The gymnast landed the dismount and danced with her fists in the air.
The cat jumped to the window sill, curled into a ball, and slept in the sunshine.

Can participial phrases be used to indicate simultaneous action? Sure. Here are some cases where it’s done correctly:

Peeling off his pajamas, he tangled his feet and fell on the bed.
Sprinting down to the lake, he waved to his sister and her friend.
The gymnast landed the dismount, her feet snapping to the mat.
The cat jumped to the windowsill, knocking over the vase.

Common “Ing” Mistake #2

Dangling participle phrases

We’ve all enjoyed reading these literary bloopers, and many of them can be tied back to those “ing”-phrases.

A dangling participle phrase functions as an adjective and unintentionally modifies the wrong noun (or a missing noun) in a sentence. They’re often found at the beginning of a sentence.

When the modifier or participle is not attached to the correct subject, it “dangles.”

Incorrect: After finishing my homework, the teacher gave me an excellent grade.
Correct: After I finished my homework, the teacher gave me an excellent grade.
Correct: The teacher gave me an excellent grade after I finished my homework.

Here’s another one:

Incorrect: While snacking on trail mix, a rainbow brightened the horizon.
Correct: While we snacked on trail mix, a rainbow brightened the horizon.
Correct: A rainbow brightened the horizon while we snacked on trail mix.

I hope this was helpful. In summary, “ing words” are useful and they help us vary our sentences and paragraphs. But, they require vigilance!

 

February Book Reviews

I’m still buried in editing, but I figured I’d better make an appearance on the old blog!  February was a fun month of reading. I hope you enjoy browsing my 4 and 5-star reviews. Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Life Lines by Sue Vincent

This collection of 52 poems by Sue Vincent is a gem. I’d give this book 6 stars if I could. It’s hard to put into words how moving I found Vincent’s poetry. The poems are free form reflections on the profound moments of life, the deep emotional wells of love, loss, and memories, the rhythms of nature reflected in our journeys, and the poignant journeys themselves.

It was almost impossible to pick out a few favorites, but I’m giving it a try: “I See You” is an exquisite poem about aging and the lasting echoes of youth that we carry inside our memories. “Flowers” (which makes me weepy just thinking about it) chronicles a woman’s life-stages in flowers from birth through death. Two touching poems are told from the point of view of someone watching a loved one sleep. They’re both gentle and heartachingly beautiful. “Just for a Moment” is a rare syllabic poem in the collection about the peace of love, and “Memory” about love lost.

Though the poems can be read in an hour or so, I would suggest savoring them. Highly recommended.

*****

Vanished by Mark Bierman

This story kicks off the action on page one and doesn’t let up. In fact, when I was about ¾ of the way through, I needed to sit back, take a deep breath, and work the tension out of my shoulders. Bierman’s ability to write non-stop, intense, dangerous action is noteworthy. And though in many ways, I’d characterize the story as plot-driven, there’s some deep emotion when it’s called for.

And the story isn’t a picnic. Though the author maintains that it’s fictional, he also states that it centers on a very real and tragic situation – child slavery. Tyler and John are two likable Americans who team up with an anti-hero in Haiti. The story follows their attempt to rescue a Haitian’s young child from a mine worked by kidnapped children. The difficulty of this plan is skillfully complicated by cultural barriers, corruption, poverty, and, of course, the ruthless adults who treat children like disposable tools – use them until they break and then throw them away.

Even though the book is plot-driven, I felt connected to Tyler and John. It was hard not to feel for them and root for them when things weren’t going well (which was the whole book). In a way, they are ordinary men who, as things got worse and worse, had to keep remaking decisions about what they’re willing to sacrifice, including their lives. They give it their all and it was very heroic. I’d read more about the characters and will read more of this author. Recommended for anyone who loves an intense action-packed adventure/thriller.

*****

Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine by Teagan Geneviene

Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine is a sweet short story set in the Victorian age with several steampunk gadgets, a mischievous pet duck, and a masquerade ball. What better way to spend an hour of reading? Fiona and her adopted brother Steele are delightful, and the duck steals the show as the ultimate matchmaker. As a short story, the pace is brisk, but not lacking in fun details. The mood is light and all ends well. Highly recommended.

*****

While the Bombs Fell by Roberta Cheadle & Elsie Hancy Eaton

This story reads like a memoir, and I loved it. It follows the daily life of Elsie, a 4-5-year-old growing up on a farm in England during World War II. The story starts with the family listening to an air-raid siren and climbing into their shelter beneath the garden. And though the war is the backdrop to the story and impacts daily life in significant ways, this isn’t really a story about war. At heart, this is a story about the resilient spirit of children growing up within a strong family.

The details of daily life are incredibly well-researched, and this book could almost serve as a guide to rural life in England in 1942 when rationing required adults to make some careful and creative choices. At the same time, the story is filled with delightful anecdotes of family life and the perspectives of a child, including a fear of Jack Frost, the trials of a stinky outhouse, and a trip to the movie theater to see the Three Stooges outwit the Germans.

The story unfolds in an omniscient point of view, and there’s not really a plot (thus the feeling of a memoir), but from beginning to end, the book is thoroughly engaging. I read it in one sitting. As an added bonus, the author included a few wartime recipes. Highly recommended to readers of memoirs, historical fiction, WWII fiction, and warm family stories.

*****

She Who Comes Forth by Audrey Driscoll

France Leighton and her beloved cello, Eudora, arrive in Luxor, Egypt to take part in an archeological dig. It’s not quite the adventure she expected, but she hangs in there. After a cello performance, she meets the mysterious Adam Dexter, who turns out to be far more than she expected, and not in a good way. Egyptian mythology comes alive as France must find a way to save the world from destruction.

This book is well written, the kind of writing that disappears into the background and therefore leaves the reader fully immersed in the story. I loved the setting, the details about Egypt and its mythology, the elements of the dig, and France’s interest and reverence for the magnificent tombs. In the afterword, Driscoll points out that she’s never been to Luxor, but as a reader, you’d never know it. Her research shines.

Told in first person, the story is wholly France’s. She’s a rich and thoroughly believable character, and her struggles were relatable to me. Secondary characters are beautifully three dimensional as seen through her eyes. I loved the advice of her “talking” cello and totally fell for the relationship.

The story moves at a moderate pace, a slow burn, with hints at something supernatural at play dropped here and there along the way. At the 75% mark, there’s a giant leap into the paranormal/occult that I wasn’t quite ready for, though in hindsight I could see the preparation. A compelling story that I highly recommend to readers of literary fiction and to those who enjoy a strong female protagonist.

*****

Wham! by Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

This book has some fresh and unique worldbuilding that I thoroughly enjoyed. The story takes place in a dystopian future. The air is poisoned, the land withered, and there’s a clear sense of Big Brother ugliness about the place. The ruling class, a mega-powerful organization called the Alliance, controls the world and monitors everyone’s lives through surveillance orbs called Skinnies. The main character, Tess, is a disgruntled teen with a green-mohawk and combat boots. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s also a fairy with magical powers. Her barber is a troll, and her friend’s pet crow is a skinshifter.

The story starts with the government brutally whisking away Tess’s parents and sister, Nia. Nia is taken to the Capital and is forced to be a sex-worker for the Potentate (the main antagonist). Despite this role, there isn’t any explicit sex in the book, and her role quickly changes. Tess is assigned to live with a couple of mean-spirited derelicts, the Warrens. Book One focuses on Tess’s and Nia’s adjustment, as well as Tess’s discovery of her heritage and her attempt to rescue her parents with the help of the underground.

The characters all struck me as three-dimensional and authentic with full emotional lives and flaws. Maxi, the troll, has a unique way of speaking which I found incredibly creative. There is also some fairy-speak, which was difficult to read and understand, but short in duration (thank goodness). As part of the world-building, it was all a lot of fun.

Great pace and clever writing with vivid descriptions. The plausibility suffers a tiny bit when all the magical beings come together for the big showdown, but it’s well-down overall, and things don’t go magically well, of course. The book ends smack dab at the climax of the action. Be prepared to read the next book or you’ll be left hanging. If readers can deal with the abrupt end and plan to continue with the series, I can highly recommend this fantasy novel.

*****

Swords of Destiny by Sue Vincent

In this modern-day adventure, the world is in peril, and the immortal Merlin (of King Arthur fame) has gathered four ordinary people with extraordinary heart and courage to stand against the destructive forces. Their mission as the Champions of Light is to acquire the four swords of destiny and bring balance to the world.

The tale draws heavily on the legends and myths of the British Isles, the sacred places, and the beliefs of those who were intimately connected to the spirits of the land. The Fae are alive and well, trolls hide out in caves. There are unicorns, elves, and mountain giants. Most of the story unfolds in conversation/exposition, though it does have some action scenes that are quite intense and emotional. There is also quite a bit of romance, and some fun humor.

What I enjoyed most was the characters, not only the human champions, but Merlin, his brother Heilyn, and the fairy queen Mab. Point of view is shared by most of the main characters with pov shifts in the middle of scenes. The dialog is witty, including sections of clever banter. There’s mischief, for sure. Recommended for lovers of ancient British Isle mythology who will likely recognize some of the sacred places and characters.

*****

Mind-Shaft by S. Burke

This collection of six short stories focuses on the dark side of speculative fiction from paranormal romance and revenge to good old horror. Each of the stories is unique with a well-developed plot and engaging characters. My favorite was A Place So Cold which had me on the edge of my seat even though I could predict the ending. Other stories were less predictable with fun twists. Definitely bloody, evil, and entertaining. There are a few formatting particularities in kindle, but they don’t impact the reading so I’m going with 5 stars.

*****

Visitors by W. J. Scott

Brody and Tom are sent to live with their aunt by their ailing mom. Aunt Sally is a recluse in a town that doesn’t take well to visitors, at least to one kind of visitor. When the boys find out what’s really happening at the lake, they learn why everyone in town is so secretive. A sci-fi short story full of kindness and hope, and though predictable at its conclusion, a sweet read.

*****

Happy Reading!

At the Mirror: Just So

I’m taking a wee bit of a blogging break to prep for draft 3 of my WIP (focusing on characters).

I leave you with some breathtaking prose by Violet Lentz. Notice the exquisite choice of details that brings her character, Willard, beautifully to life. I’ve closed comments here; please click over to Violet’s blog for a writing treat. ❤

Just So

by Violet Lentz

Though Willard had always pictured himself in the subtle gray pinstripe, he decided against it at the last moment. Years of maintaining a keen edge on the trouser crease that was once the definition of a well groomed man, had weakened the fabric and left what now appeared to be a light gray chalk line running dead center down the front and back of each pant leg.

He chose instead a polished silk blend, in charcoal. He had always loved the tapered waist on the jacket and hand carved ornamental buttons on the sleeves, but felt the tri-pleat on the front of the trouser insinuated a pauchiness that distracted from the otherwise clean cut of the suit and therefore was never comfortable wearing the jacket open.

There would be no reason to wear the jacket open today.

Scrupulously shaved, and every hair oiled into place, Willard chose a muted striped tie that would neither add to nor distract from the sheen of the suit, and…

(Continue reading Just So)

Storm #Writephoto

Storm – copyright Sue Vincent

The First of Chaos strode into the Borderland, summoning the rains with his raised palms. Would their thunderous return drown the land and all those toiling in its dust? He harbored little doubt of that outcome. Would they quench the thirst of a parched and dying land to foster new life? Of that end, he was curious. Chaos wasn’t devoid of hope, but it was always unpredictable.

He turned to the peaks, the land of goblins and raptors, of hooved climbers and burrowing rodents. Towers crumbled. Ridges eroded, swept down by torrential rains. Giant trees toppled like kindling, hillsides laid low by mud-clotted waves, pummeled by sand and stone.

The storm crushed all in its path. Caverns collapsed. Tunnels flattened and filled. Goblins died. Changelings died. Elves died. The noble and treacherous, the innocent and immoral, the young and old. By chance alone, others would survive. They fled down the mountainside on his mighty heels.

He strolled the perimeter of Ka Radiff, a once-thriving center of commerce, an open and welcoming city. Now, a crater, a receptacle of his brown deluge and a raft of bloated bodies. To the west, ash and dust shrouded the land in a ghoulish film the color of old bones. Soot joined with the billowing smoke of the forests where the inferno raged, consuming all in its path—human, plant, and animal, the common and plain, the rare and beautiful. Gone, gone, gone. A waste. He would wander in that direction eventually. But first, he’d satisfy his curiosity.

There was a war on.

***

A cheery snippet for Valentine’s Day from my WIP ( book 3: Lords of Chaos), slightly modified.

In response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday #writephoto prompt. Thanks, Sue!

And Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

pixabay

 

Filling Magical Plotholes

Elanalue Windthorn (Alue). An elf and one of the three protagonists.

I’m about 40 pages from completing my 2nd draft of a new trilogy… Unraveling the Veil. It’s been a bumpier ride than usual, my laptop jouncing on my knees as the story’s wheels plunge into plotholes on the long and winding road to publishing.

A few of them required me to rock the old tale back and forth while gunning the engine. A couple of times, I had to back up and try again, turning in a slightly different direction to get around a sinkhole. I’ve been known to add an extra gallon of coffee to the tank in order to jack up the imagination and fill in a whopping crater.

Magic is a big part of the problem.

Fantasy authors can easily find themselves mired by their magic. To be honest, I’ve struggled through a lot of “oh, shit” moments where I’ve put a character in a treacherous situation, and then realized (on the second draft) that they can easily escape. Yes, you guessed it, by using the powers I granted them.

A shapeshifter who can turn into a beetle can escape most confined spaces. Uh oh.

A shapeshifter who can transform into a bird can just fly away from a dangerous situation. Darn!

A pyrokinetic elf doesn’t have to worry much about being stuck in an ice storm. Duh.

A goblin who can rearrange earthen matter should be impossible to keep locked up in a stone cell. Gah! Rats!

The list goes on and on.

My characters aren’t all-powerful, but they have talents. And their abilities change over time, so I have to keep track of where they are in their magical evolutions.

The point is, writing, rewriting, and editing fantasy requires a unique analysis of every action scene. We, the creators and purveyors of magic, have to question our logic in order to keep the story plausible. Can my characters use their magical abilities to get out of this terrible situation?

If the answer is “yes,” it’s time to put on the brakes and check the old map. Then fix the road or plot a detour. The journey must go on.

WIP working cover