Friday, February 4, 2022

Story Threads Birthed From ????

I had just graduated from high school. Afghan Girl was THE cover of the year for National Geographic. Maybe of the century. Maybe forever. Those eyes. Go ahead click on the link. The image is famous enough to have its own wikipedia entry. Anyway, I remember those eyes on that cover. Intense. Entrancing. The girl is too young to convey hopelessness, but the reader/viewer knows what happened to millions of people in that time and place. Which would be Afghanistand in the late 70s +/- several years either way.

The simmering mash of my memory holds on to the strangest of things. Just as strange is the way that every day objects serve to remind me of those strange things being held in that simmering memory state.

Something came along in recent daily life. And Shazam!!! Magic happened. All of a sudden I knew how to work in a major thread that winds throughout my book series. All of a sudden, instead of the typical suspense thriller action adventure overuse of violence and action, I could attribute a key factor to something else. Something mysterious and different. Not the WAY overused kinetics of just about every action/thriller one stumbles across. Nope. That humble lost waif of an Afghan girl with those absolutely amazing eyes is my inspiration.

I love it when a plan comes together. Or at least when a memory pops up and actually serves as something useful.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Start with a Bird

It all starts with a hoopoe.

Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

My book series ecosystem is fleshed out. The skeleton is established. Muscles, flesh, and a beating heart are in place. End of that analogy. I can see the way from beginning to end(ish) now. As in the prior post, numerous research accidents led to additional inclusions of relevant people, places, and things that were (are) too good to pass up.

Which is how we arrive at the hoopoe and 28 ways to translate a two letter word. Read on for a complete(ish) answer.

This book series originates way back in time, tracing the monk's story line to his starting point. The monk began life in River and Ranch, as a character standing on in a monastery driveway, waiting for my main characters to pedal by. That happened because in real life (my own) there is a Buddhist monastery out in the country and I have pedaled by it numerous times. It is a nice, tucked away place, the kind that makes a good neighbor because it is so quiet and unseeking of attention. And it is such a unique piece of the world plopped down in an unexpected place. The monk's presence is part of the answer for my growing interest in kuan yin. This is a thread that is pulled way more in the books. The whole sweater gets unraveled (my favorite analogy).

It turns out that historical King Solomon was a wise man, or possibly a bit of an anal orifice (to keep things family friendly). Anyway, history (biblical folklore) has him relying on a hoopoe to act as a sort of spy to help him out in his efforts to be a wise and just king, or even more of an anal orifice, depending on which version you choose to believe.

That's it in a nutshell. You'll have to wait for the details as they get revealed in my book(s).

By the way, here is an absolutely superb blog from the Santa Monica Bay Audobon Society and a post on the hoopoe, its role in religious history, including a Solomon story, AND an ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING discussion of the many ways translating ancient text and language can take a left turn when maybe a right turn was called for. a Hoopoe, Solomon and 28 ways to translate 'on'

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Am I a writer or a Researcher?

For years now, I have been toiling away on River and Ranch and a series of non-fiction books that are in my ecosystem but in a separate space from this, my ongoing love affair with memories of my youth compounded by two amazing road trips through empty country ‘out west’.

How's that for what must be a compound sentence laden with dependent clause and who knows what else? I do love knowing the ASCII code for curly quotes (both double and single), btw.

But I digress.

The River and Ranch world has steadily grown over the years as I have researched certain specific topics. The original intent being to develop back stories for characters and book themes. This has proven difficult to manage as the surprises and interesting bits have steadily piled up and suggested additional book themes.

For example, kuan yin has grown from a little understood ‘voice’ in Cale's head, to a raison d'etre for both Cale and Lane. How? Simple research into Buddhism opened up small and large ideas and issues that invited changes to the direction my book series was heading.

On a related note, the monk, who for a long time was a character on the edge of my ecosystem with no clear reason to be in the books, somehow stepped up and became much more than I had originally held in my head. Researching this monk character led to Zhang Qian, a famous Chinese explorer, very much the equivalent of a Marco Polo, but one who started on the east side of the continent and worked his way west, the result of which was the foundation of the Silk Road.

Along the way, the monk became the son of Zhang Qian and the Xiongnu woman who was forced upon Zhang by his Xiongnu captors during his main ten+ year long voyage of discovery across the heart of Asia. The Xiongu woman is never mentioned by name in the research I have done. I find reference only to her being a Xiongnu, and likely a slave, which seemed to imply that she had been captured by the Xiongnu, thus giving her an even more unknown origin. Like Sacajawea, she is lost, as so many other unwritten bits of history that have fallen out of oral traditions. But - that leaves me with a largish slate of potential angles to take. And take them I am, as the monk's story has expanded into more than he had in his first iteration in the original River and Ranch.

One area of fascination springing from this research is the Xiongu. No one knows what happened to them. Or where they may have gone. Turns out the Huns disappeared in much the same manner as well. The Huns, at least, I had heard about. But I had not heard about how they disappeared from the earth, like the Xiongnu, leaving a trail that no one has been able to follow.

In this time of COVID, their disappearance can possibly be viewed as pandemic events in their time, the results of which were devastating to the cultures that originated them, somehow, and for which those cultures had no cure or answer. Only mass death and rapid disappearance, leaving no trace for history to find.

Interesting speculation, for which there will never be an answer.

All of which is just a small bit of the written trails I have wandered over the past couple years. All of which is to say my world, which is Cale and Lane's world keeps getting bigger and more fascinating. My intent is writing a story, but the research takes me down these rabbit holes that are proving to be endlessly interesting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

curly double quotes o’plenty

For the longest time, I've been going with straight double quotes around dialogue. This " . Hold down the shift key and bam - quick double quotes around the dialogue I wanted to write. No extended ASCII commands for that bad boy, just a simple direct keyboard key. There is an entire ‘dark’ world of characters that do not appear on keyboard keys. Yes, the murky shadowy space known as the “extended ASCII” set of keyboard commands. Supposedly, one can insert a character simply by typing in the command.

It's true.

The first one I learned (and memorized) years ago now, is the accented e; - é - because one of my character names included that sound. Ready? alt 0 2 3 3 gives you é. Just hold down the alt key while you type the numbers.

That's the only one I have memorized, but there are many other extended ASCII keyboard commands for Latin letters, the ones you'll find yourself using if french or spanish words come up in your authoring.

But I still always just used straight double quotes. The clean simplicity fit with the simple formatting of an ebook. Then, I read a blog that went into ebook formatting. That author wrote that improving the appearance of an ebook, aka raising the production values used in making that ebook, was/is a good thing. That writer persuaded me. One of the first things mentioned was converting straight double quotes to curly double quotes.

And so here I am. I now have more memorized keyboard commands and all my dialogue is different. The simple “ and ” do make a bit of an appearance difference. More class? Classier? I guess beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But for now, I'm running with it.

The article I found that explains it best is here. Full URL =

Cutting to the chase - left side curly double quote, for opening your dialogue, this character - “ - is: alt 0 1 4 7 - hold down your alt key (I use my left thumb) and while holding that down, press 0 1 4 7 over on the numeric keypad (on my laptop keyboard). The closing dialogue, right side curly double quote, this character - ” - is alt 0 1 4 8.

Also there are single curly quotes this - ‘ - and this - ’ -. Left side (opening) single curly quote is alt 0 1 4 5. Right side (closing) single curly quote is alt 0 1 4 6.

I've also now read about the dark art of inserting a glyph (I always think of filigrees) in lieu of an extra space when I want to signal a scene change or a passage of time. Images inserted in an ebook. The horror. But I like the thought. Now I just need to find glyphs (maybe filigrees who knows??) that I can legally use. Guess I am back to evolving. Here I thought crawling out of the water on my fins was enough.

P.S. For those of you that know and love Sigil, like I do - you'll be happy to know that there is an updated version available. I'm at version 7.x I think. The new version is in the 9.x range. Someone took over the project and has updated it. I like my stable trusted workflow, so I have not yet downloaded the update, but it's there........

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Pinyin - the ultimate translation tool ?

As always, it is amazing where a bit of online wandering takes you. This morning my efforts were wandering around in the world of language learning. First Urdu, which led to Pashto, which in turn led to Mandarin Chinese. Pinyin is pretty much the tool of choice when it comes to westerners trying to do anything with Chinese.

It turns out that not only do westerners have great difficulty with learning Chinese, but native Chinese do as well. Prior to the development and adoption of Pinyin within China, there was an estimated 85% illiteracy rate. Today that rate hovers nearer 5%, with most people crediting pinyin.

The 111 year old man who developed it died today. His story is a good one and well worth the read.

The NY Times (link below) tells a great story both about the tool and its author -

Thursday, December 29, 2016

World Building - everyone wants 'to know where they are'

I've always viewed worldbuilding as a sci-fi kind of thing. Since I've not been writing science fiction or fantasy, I never put much credence in that ' world building ' word. In my view, it didn't fit the fiction I was writing.

Finally, one day it occurred to me that 'research', the word I use most often to describe writing, is much the same thing as world building. Different genre and outlook, but pretty much the same end result.

In pursuit of some validity with new thoughts, I often look at what has passed. In this case, I review my favorite books from my favorite authors for clues as to how much of my like for their work is derived from world building? In other words:

Why do I like the books I like?

Robert Crais and his books (e.g Monkey's Raincoat) come to mind right away. Why do I like this author, his writing style and his books? In part I like them because I like the world that Elvis Cole and Joe Pike inhabit. I like the description he writes of the A-frame house that Elvis lives in up the narrow canyon filled with laurel and eucalyptus. I like the description of the freeways, the restaurants, the grit and grime of LA and its myriad suburbs. Clearly (to me anyway) Robert Crais is a master when it comes to world building. He makes his settings so realistic I am left wondering if they are realistic because they're REAL. That may not even be world building, maybe he's just adept at putting his characters and plot in a setting whose reality is good enough to pass for fiction?

Clive Cussler is one of my earliest finds. For my taste and reading preference, I've come to realize he doesn't quite work as well as Robert Crais. Cussler goes big. Big as in over the edge - into places and settings that are a bit too far from the reality I now know that I've come to prefer. I've (re)read all of CC's books and loved them, but his world building is a monster swing for the fences, that simply goes beyond my subjective preferences. Not really right or wrong, but a question of individual preference.

CJ Box (e.g. Open Season) is another author whose work I vastly admire and consume. Again, In looking at why I like what I like, Mr. Box writes about a setting I like. The game warden, his wife and three daughters live in Saddlestring, Wyoming, a small town on the edge of wild space type of setting. I can picture the setting and have been in that exact part of the state, but never in Saddlestring, which I'm still not sure exists. But it could and that's part of what makes his setting and world building so cool.

There's some corollaries to this world building notion that also work. Myron Bolitar, another of my all time favorite characters, is plopped down in New Jersey. Author Harlan Coben (e.g. Deal Breaker)does a great job with making NJ seem like a reasonable place, but what he does that I like so much is make Myron a former NBA player. Basketball is one of my favorites when it comes to watching and playing, so having a character with basketball as a big part of his backstory is a great piece of corollary world building.

Maybe fiction is at its best, when the world building is so good and so in sync with your personal preferences that it gets hard to separate real life from fictional life?

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Wonders of Research and...Serendipity

Time marches on stopping for no one and...I like research more than ever.

Love of terrain suggested that I dally about in my writing with using real places. So my books are all placed in real locations. The first two books River and Ranch and New Grass Growing, are Idaho books along with some Montana, some road trip and a little bit of Midwest. Mostly it is Idaho because that is where I spent the most time as a river guide back in the day.

View of Kooskia internment camp, 1944, Idaho. Courtesy of PG 103-02-2, Kooskia Internment Camp Scrapbook, Historical Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library, Moscow, ID

Somehow (this is the first serendipity part) I came across the fact that one of the side creeks to the Lochsa river was the site of an internment camp during WWII, for Japanese residents of the US. There were about 20 of these camps spread around the country to house the 120,000 AMERICAN citizens of Japanese descent during WWII. A dark blemish on WWII history. fwiw, the men who lived in this camp on the side creek of the Lochsa, were the primary road builders of the stretch of Highway 12 running up to Lolo Pass, through the many long uphill miles of the narrow Lochsa canyon.

Sometime later I was again on my way to something and enjoying the pleasant process of discovering other things along the way (is this not the definition of serendipity?) when I found that George Takei, as a child, had been a resident of one of these US internment camps during WWII. While I'm not a particularly big Star Trek fan, I have watched them and recognized Takei, mainly because he possesses one of the most fabulous deep voices in the history of acting.

In the world of writing styles, there's an authorly discussion regarding how one writes. Inquiring minds bring up the question of an author being a 'plotter' or a 'pantser', as in seat of the pants. I identify most with being a 'pantser', because this luck of serendipity showing me all these random and fascinating gems hidden away in our culture, keeps my plots veering off in unexpected directions as I stumble across topics that are simply too good to pass up.

George Takei (amongst many other links)