On the Strange Side of Musical Pleasure

Last post (that didn’t involve an internet protest) I introduced you to some of my more normal writing pieces.  But occasionally I get into writing weirdness that prevents me from writing to those songs.  I don’t know, my brain is suddenly like “We’ve heard this before, pick something new and different!”

Thankfully, new and different is not a difficult task when perusing my itunes.

So without further ado, I present to you ‘the more different songs on the playlist’ (also, I found embedding!!)

#5 Szerelem, Szerelem

I think I might have mentioned that my parents are international folk dancers (as in, the dance international dances, not dance internationally).  In any case, part of the side shoots of that is collecting some music that growing up in a western culture says is really strange.  I actually sang a song from this region in the choir.  Having grown up with this kind of music as one of my lullabys, the strange dissonance didn’t bug me; but some of the choir was convinced that we were singing the wrong notes.

This particular song is from Hungary (for @rhiannonMcCall on twitter, for indulging my curiosity about the Hungarian version of Bibbity Boppity Boo).  I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the regional songs in the least, but I know the words to a few, and listen to them when I’m feeling nostalgic.  Usually I listen songs from this region when my brain needs a break from the other stuff.

#4 Baby Gramps

Last summer we went to the Oregon Country Fair.  If you’ve never been, try and go once in your life.  It’s a trip.  Anyway, as is tradition in my family, My mom and grandma, dad, and me sort of said “meet here at X time” and wandered in our own directions to take in the fair.  I later ran into mom and grandma, but we didn’t see dad all day.  He’d bought one thing: the CD of this guy with the craziest voice and a wicked sense of humor.

I listen to this guy when I need a character.  Because if you watch him, this guy is a Character with a capital C.  I mean seriously, listen to his voice!  If you can find it, find his version of Surfin’ bird.  It’s pretty fab.

#3 Canta Per Me – Noir OST

I haven’t even seen this show.  I keep meaning to, life just happens.  But my friend introduced me to the music and I listened to it while biking to school every day.  Randomly, I recalled this particular song and the rest of the album with it and turned it on.  Suddenly I had my Steampunk Rapunzel soundtrack, something I’d been struggling with for the last week.

I like songs in other languages.  It lets me focus on the music.  But check out the translation in the description of this vid. Gorgeous.

#2 Ashkon Farewell (with Sullivan Ballou Letter) – Ken Burns

I’d hazard a guess that about half our readership is from the US and Canada, and the rest from just about everywhere else.  This guess is based on last year’s report doohickey that wordpress gave me and could be totally off.  I mention this because this song is particularly cultural to the United States, and the letter read in the foreground a part of our history.  Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife the week before the Battle of Bull Run, a particularly bloody fight in the Civil War.  I remember listening to this letter when I was young and thinking that that must have been true love in both forms: country and spouse.

I admit, I’ve never written to this particular song – I’d find the letter terribly distracting.  But I know that this letter partly inspired the importance of love in my writing, and the concept that there are greater causes for which sacrifice is necessary.  Everyone should hear it.

#1 Laiska – Varttina

This song has a history, that’s why it’s number one.  Around the time that we started dating, Michael asked me for suggestions on a female character name.  I asked him for the general description, he said an ambitious bookworm with a streak of temper.  I was listening to this song and looked up the lyrics.  Laughing, I suggested ‘Laiska’.  Michael was rightfully curious, and asked what it meant.

Roughly, ‘Laiska’ translates to ‘Lazybones’.  We appreciate irony here, and so changed the ‘s’ to a ‘z’ and thus we have Laizka, a reasonably important character in Sleight of Spirit and The Athele Series as a whole.  I really love Laizka – she’s the girlfriend of Morgan’s best friend and really good at keeping him in line.  She’s witty, gutsy, and her temper legitimately gets her into trouble.  Later in the series, she takes a very important place in the world.  All that, and her name is a joke that up to now, only me and Michael knew.

I’m very sad that the one time Varttina was at a place I could go to, I was out of town.  I first heard them on a ‘Nordic Roots’ album, which has collected a great many awesome groups and songs.

Any super weird songs you’d like to share with the class?  Have you heard any of these songs/groups?  If you want to embed, go to the end of a video, click share in the top right of the video screen, and then scroll to where the description is and click embed.  Have a great weekend!

Playing to your Audience

…and we’re in Korea!  We don’t have internet at our apartment yet (we have to register as aliens first…*snicker*). 

On the plane from San Francisco to Seoul there was a bunch of movies, and one was a Chinese version of Mulan. Live action, lovely music and costuming and great acting.

…and really really different from Disney’s Mulan.

And you know what? That’s probably a good thing, given that Disney Mulan was geared to little girls, and Chinese Mulan was geared toward an adult audience. I’m going to bring in one more female in a man’s world into this comparison. Morgan, who is focused to a slightly different adult audience. Don’t get those mixed up now; we’ve got D-Mulan, C-Mulan, and Morgan.

D-Mulan is for kids. She is brave and true, loyal, and loving.

Also: Mushu.

D-Mulan hides her identity until it is accidentally revealed in saving the prince. In the end, she gets to marry him. Cute story. It’s a good example of putting your whole heart into something, and actually, I don’t have too much of a problem with the movie as a whole. Mulan doesn’t have to give up fighting just because she’s marrying the prince, in facts that’s specifically what he loves about her. It’s a great message to send to kids, especially little girls who might have a lot of trouble meshing their reflection and their true selves these days.

C-Mulan is D-Mulan, except better. Go watch this movie. Mulan doesn’t just have one awesome battle and save the prince, then the kingdom in a thwarted ambush. She spends twelve years on the front lines, leading soldiers, and creating a name which is feared by her enemies and revered by her countrymen.

Interesting side note: D-Mulan is Faa Mulan, C-Mulan is Hua Mulan.

 And get this. She never takes a lover. Yes, she is in love, but she has no lover, that whole time. Her loyalty to her country, to the men she leads, and her ideals are amazingly inspiring. But her sacrifice goes further and deeper than D-Mulan’s, and shows some of the reality of ‘doing the right thing. Sometimes, it sucks. Despite her love of the prince, the prince’s love of her, the years they’ve spent fighting for and beside each other… the do not marry. The prince must marry the enemy’s princess in order to stop the war.  He can’t marry Mulan. And it’s Mulan who points this out. 

An amazing movie, and a painful, if true message. It requires a decent amount of experience with life and love of something bigger than yourself – something like a country or an ideal – to accept this ending as correct, and indeed the only ending that would feel right. Thus, C-Mulan is aimed at an audience willing to accept truth, an audience that wants to believe in love and yet knows love hurts.

Morgan is most similar to C-Mulan, but she still stands apart. For one thing, Morgan does not hide her gender. It never even occurs to her to try – she is proud, if frustrated, to be a woman, and only wishes to be judged on her merits. She lives in a society which is ruthless but willing to give her that chance… sort of.

Unlike C-Mulan, Morgan is not a leader. She had inclination towards leadership as Melissa, but it was a victim of the demon’s possession. However, she still inspires loyalty, an important distinction when looking at the people she surrounds herself with. These people don’t follow in her footsteps, but use the strength and passion with which she walks her path to enhance their path; to give it more meaning, or appreciate meaning which is already there.

Morgan is aimed at an audience who is willing to follow her with similar loyalty, one who is looking for a figure that makes mistakes and is knocked around, but just keeps standing up and staring down the path ahead. You see, Sleight of Spirit is essentially an origin story. It is the product of Michael and I looking at The Athele Series as a whole and deciding, almost instantaneously, that not only does Morgan begin the story, but her story is one that absolutely must be told from as close to the beginning as possible. We’re excited to bring it to you guys, and hope you’re excited for it too!

What are some character adaption pairs like Mulan which are aimed at vastly different audiences that you guys like?

On Being Nattered At About Nanowrimo (Or Part 1)

Although my track record with Nanowrimo doesn’t go back quite as far as my wife’s history, I also have a past going back many a year with Nanowrimo. Likewise, I wish I could say that I’ve been as successful in those endeavors as she has been, but sadly things just haven’t worked out that way.  Regardless, I’d like to tell you a bit about my past with the event.  I really don’t have enough space to get through the full thing in this post, but I would at least like to tell you about the beginning.


The first time I ever heard about Nanowrimo was in the first half of 2006 from a girl I met online.  We were both on the same writing board and I had contacted her with the premise of a plotline that I wanted to follow up on.  Why did I pick that girl?  She knew how to put together a sentence and could cruise her way through a paragraph without looking like she knocked over a thesaurus and riffled around its pockets for loose vocabulary (you know, sort of like what the English language does to other languages?).  Lucky me: she proceeded to immediately natter at me about something called ‘Nanowrimo and was I doing it this year?’

Nanowrimo?  I’m sorry, did you just sneeze?

Oh, no, she assured me.  Nanowrimo was this huge, great event that happened in November where you tried to write a whole book in the space in the space of a month! (It was funny that she mentioned it, as I could remember doing something similar all the way back in 2004, long before I had ever heard of such a wierd and crazy event.  It was even in the same month.  Nowadays, I do not actually remember if I managed to hit the mystical 50,000 words.  I do know that I went through about three or four notebooks writing it all down and prompted more than a couple of jokes from my older brother when I complained about my wrist hurting.)

Now, I actually had very little idea of what she was talking about.  Alright, I stop with the fronts: I had no idea what she was talking about.  However, I gave the text version of a nod and a smile and just kept the conversation moving until we reached a different topic.  (To be fair, I went back later and asked her about Nanowrimo again.  This time, I made sure she talked nice and slow, breaking it down into simple words until my caffeine starved, college-abused brain had kicked into gear again.)  Luckily for me, she was nice enough to go right on ahead and tolerate my general tiredness until we finally reached the topic I was familiar with and could manage with the semester exam for Spanish lodged in second gear in my brain.

In case you haven’t figured out yet, the girl that told me about Nanowrimo is my wife, Kaitlin.

There’s a hidden lesson that can be taken away from this for all men: even if you have no idea what your woman is talking about, just smile and nod.  And under no circumstances, offer your opinion on said matter – let her finish her thought and then go on with whatever you have to say.  To quote comedian Jeff Allen, “When you’re married, you got to ask yourself if you want to be right or if you want to be happy.  I’ve been married twelve years and I ain’t been right since.  But, just ask my wife, I’m a HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY man.”

And I am.  On occasion, my wife is even gracious enough to let me be right.  (Which is probably why I love her so much.)  But I’m getting off-topic.

The face of a HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY man

Just think: Another fifteen years and I'll look like this guy.

That year, she asked me to join her in doing Nanowrimo.  She was doing a story about this guy who was in charge of a kingdom and he was slowly being driven insane.  I could get onboard with that: figuring out what was the thin line between sanity and where to push it to send it spiraling over the edge is one of my guilty pleasures, almost as much so as figuring out if and how I can redeem such a conflicted soul.  Now, while it was my first time doing Nanowrimo as an official event, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to work on and I was pretty sure that I had at least 50,000 words that I could get out on it.

As it turned out, I was right.  The story was called The Blood-Dimmed Tide and it was about this little girl with strange fire abilities who was being hunted by a religious cult who thought that she was a monster.  The story, and the four stories that followed it, are special to me because I basically came up with the characters, plot and world system of it in the space of reading a single poem and about thirty seconds of reflecting on it.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I came up with five books in roughly three minutes.  That was the easy part – filling them in tends to be a little harder.  None the less, I got a rough draft of this story done and have not allowed a single soul, including myself, to look at it since.  Half of it was because I’m such a perfectionist.  Half was because I was trying to keep Kate from going ‘oo-shiny!’ over it and missing a week of writing (at the time, we were working on a plot involving our characters’ deranged father-in-law trying to kidnap their son).

If the Athele Series does well enough, I’m more than sure that I’ll be dragging this book, and the others like it, out of storage and polishing them up, as that series (which I alternate between calling The Second Coming, after the poem that inspired it, and The Veruman Equation, which is my own petname for the project) served as backstory for several fairly important characters later in the Athele series.  Even if I don’t look at the actual text, I still constantly refer to the plethora of notes I wrote out for the novel (as I implied I do sometimes) to assist me in figuring out what some of these guys are thinking and why.

And that was my first Nanowrimo.  To date, it is still probably my most successful one, both in terms of successful completion of Nanowrimo and the usefulness of the material produced.

What about you?  What are some stories you have about hearing about Nanowrimo for the first time?  What about trying it out for the first time?  Be sure to comment, like and share it, because we want to hear your responses!

A Nanowrimo Carol (or, pt. 3)

In part 1 of the great string of Nanowrimo posts, I spoke of the many people that Nanowrimo had given me.

In part 2 I talked about the ideas and the sheer joy of just writing with complete abandon.

In part 3 I’m gonna get all personal and selfish on you people.  Hey, wait, don’t go anywhere, it’ll be fun; it’s about the ghosts of Nanowrimos past!  Let’s begin at the beginning!


I was a wee freshman in college, looking for something to do in my dubious free time (so I could avoid studying).  Nanowrimo was a great solution.  I’ve described what the experience was like.  The story had no title, ha.  I still can’t think of one now.  It was sci-fi fantasy (by the end, it was VERY fantasy) and a complete mess.  Seeing as I’ve spoken a lot about it, I’ll leave that as is.


This was a fantastic year for Nano, probably because I knew what the heck I was doing!  The story was originally called Portal to Hell but I renamed it Blood Crown cause I kinda hated the original title – I just had no other ideas.  I first wrote the story in high school with nothing more than the concept of working the seven deadly sins into a test of sorts which would culminate in slaying the Devil.  The first version was, well, high school.  Thus, I was real’ impressed when I forced it to double in size and get a better plot (and way better tests!).  In a way, this is the story I don’t want to leave alone.  I know I could do it justice some day, I just have to sit down and fix it. (again!)  This was also the year that I did Nanowrimo while trying to take Organic Chemistry.  …whoops.  My final years in college I was quite a bit more careful about Nano vs. Classes.  I can still recall the sweet taste of victory as I checked my word count for the final time and found the magic numbers there… and the ensuing jumping around the commons area while people wondered what the heck I was so happy about.


Emboldened by my success at re-appropriating old ideas, and cementing the idea that I like multi-novel cycles, this Nano was called Tide, Torrent, Wave: The Glass.  In all, I really still like this story, and I could probably turn it into something if I decide to.  I think it might need a re-write… or at the least a really thorough edit.  The basic idea was ‘peasant mage changes course of the entire kingdom by exposing the crown prince as a madman’.  I wrote the second book in high school, which had two lone lines explaining why things were the way they were.  I read those two lines and went “well, why the heck didn’t I start back there?”  So I did.  And then I discovered something perhaps a bit disturbing about myself – see, I really like to write characters that go stark raving mad for a bit.  I don’t get to do it often, but this was one of those times, and it was awesome.  


This was the second of Tide, Torrent, Wave, with the book name of The Crystal.  The original title of the book was The Crystal Reader.  It was a foray into prophecy again… or at least the original version was, I kinda erased that and gave the MC different powers.  It also presented a unique challenge.  My MC had taken a vow of silence and was illiterate to begin with.  Believe me, I didn’t want to make her illiterate… it’s just that, as mentioned before, she was a peasant, and if I wanted to be remotely believable, well, she had to stay a peasant.  Thankfully, I found someone who taught her to write about half way through, which eased up on things.  It was a really fun book to write, and when I finished I thought “Wow.  I could actually publish this one day.”


I had just moved to Peoria, IL and found this fabulous group of Nanoers!  It was great.  Plus, this was the year I wrote the first third of Sleight of Spirit.  Thus, it has a bit of a special place in my heart.  Suddenly, Morgan wasn’t just a floating character.  She was on my pages, in all her wrathful, snappish glory.


Between Nanowrimo 2008 and 2009, I continued on in the Sleight of Spirit vein, putting an additional 50k words (under the name Empress of Shadows) or so and editing a bit of what I had as well as making plans for the last 1/3rd of the book.  I took that baby all the way to the end as Meratain.  Have I mentioned that the Sleight of Spirit being published is long?  At about 170,000 words, it’ll give more than a few nights of bed time/break time reading.  (Or one really, really, intense day… maybe two.  I can read Jurassic Park in one really intense day, so some super human’ll probably manage Sleight of Spirit in one.)


For this Nano, I was in Korea.  I had a lot of options for writing, ranging throughout most of The Athele Series.  

At this point, I’d like to pause and explain the layout of The Athele Series.  There are five ‘Cycles’, with about 3 books to a Cycle.  Each Cycle is named based off one of the books in the Cycle.  Therefore,  Sleight of Spirit is both the name of a book and a cycle.  I call it a book most time because, well, it’s all in one book so hey, let’s call it like we see it.  The Windsinger trilogy (By William Nicholson) did something similar if I recall correctly.  I finally settled on book 2.3 (or, book 3 in the second cycle) after toying with book 2.1 and 3.2, and even 4.1 (because the 4th Cycle may be my favorite, I’m not sure yet.)

In any case, the book is called Illumine and considering that I was writing it first, when it technically appeared last in the cycle, it turned out shockingly well.  Recently I finished book 1 in that cycle (remember all the moaning about k-pop for my fight scenes?  That’s the one.)  Michael is toying with the idea of finishing off book 2 of Cycle 2 this November – he’s been so busy doing silly things like graduating and working and plotting for The Athele Series that he hasn’t gotten to do Nanowrimo in awhile, so I’m super excited to have a writing partner this year!  (Ok, he’s always my writing partner, but a writing partner in Nano solidarity!)


This year I’ll be doing book 1 of cycle 3, called The Dark Days.  I’m excited.  It’s Morgan doing what she does best – getting into, stirring up, and causing trouble while being pretty much my favorite character ever.  Sorta.  It’s like choosing children.  Or Bacon vs. Chocolate.  How could I choose!?

So for you, gentle readers, I ask:

What are your plans for Nanowrimo this year?  What have you done in the past?  Plus, I challenge you to take a walk down memory lane in your own blog, going through your own novels/Nanos – makes for a great blog post!  (Be sure to link me to it in the comments!)

Steve Jobs and My Journey to Writing

‎”You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

– Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement address, June 2005.

Don’t fret, everyone, I’m not about to talk about how Steve Jobs changed the world and will be missed.  We know that, and other bloggers will say it better and with more background knowledge than I.

But a friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook today, and it got me connecting the dots – backwards as it’s supposed to go, according to Jobs.  And you know what?  He’s absolutely right.  Here’s a few connected dots which led to The Athele Series.  

I went to brunch with a friend on Sunday.  We got coffee cake, coffee, and sat around talking and watching a ludicrously cute little kid eat a cupcake and get her picture taken with chocolate frosting all over her cheeks.  This friend, Sarah, has been close to me since we met freshman year of high school.  She’s the type of friend who pretty much could blackmail me into oblivion if she really wanted to.  Of course, I could too, but that’s not the point.

The point is, I hated English in elementary school.  I hated spelling, and grammar, and sentences, and the little orange English books with the pencil on the front that we worked from.  My hand writing was atrocious, and while I was always pretty much awesome on my spelling tests (except squirrel and exercise) any other form of writing was like cyanide.  I had no patience for it.  In middle school, English classes were a little less about writing words over and over, and a little more free in assignments, and so it wasn’t quite my most hated class; but it wasn’t enough for me to dare enrolling in Honors English for high school, even if my teachers recommended me for it.

I got to High School.  I met Sarah.  Sarah introduced me to fanfiction.

And that was the end of the ‘Kaitlin hates English’ era.  Suddenly, I had reason to write, and write correctly.  All of those words they’d thrown at me in elementary school?  I got to apply them, now!

Unfortunately, my grammar hating days came back to bite me.  Noo, i nevur rot liek dis… but there were some major issues with my dialogue and comma usage.  And Sarah, bless her poor high school heart, was my beta, my editor.  Seeing as I was writing terrible, high drama, mary-sued up epic… I make sure to buy her coffee every once in awhile.  And then Ipromptly blame her, because in the end, I’m reasonably certain it’s all her fault I’m where I am today.

You see, from fanfiction fun, I moved on to creative writing classes in my free periods.  Two years of high school, I wandered into my creative writing classroom and raised heck, along with a rag tag group of girls and boys, most of whom I’m still at least facebook friends with.

My writing fanfiction led me to join a role-playing forum, which led me to meet Michael, which led me to start work on The Athele Series.  See?  I wasn’t kidding, it’s all her fault.

And here was the conversation we had over coffee last weekend:

Me: You know, if you’d told me in high school I’d be doing this kind of thing, I’d have slapped you across the face.
Sarah:   If you’d told me in High School you’d be a published author you’d slap me across the face.
Me:  No, I’m pretty sure that if I’d said I’d be published, you’d have slapped me and told me to quit hitting enter with every quote.
Sarah:  …yeah, you’re right.

The point is that I never set out to be a fantasy author.  In fact, all of my ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ assignments for every grade wound up as ‘I want to be a veterinarian.’ and then ‘I want to be a zookeeper.’  I majored in biology and interned at a zoo and a preserve (both were awesome experiences, by the way).  I’m not saying that, knowing where I was going, I would take it back and do it again.  As a matter of fact, I’d keep things exactly as they are.  Those experiences were things I needed to understand the world around me in the way I do, and the people and places I saw were important in shaping how I understand things today.

As Steve Jobs said, one never knows how the dots are going to connect until they look backwards.  You have to use your gut and your faith, put on the blindfold which life hands you and just start walking.  Rocks, gutters, people tripping you, they’ll all happen.  Find a direction and walk.  The trick is, you aren’t allowed to take off the blindfold until you’ve already done the stumbling around.   On the bright side, you’ll be amazed how far you’ve traveled.

I got this far, and I’m pretty sure I’m still stumbling along in the right direction, connecting dots in a pattern I won’t recognize for a good long while.

How have your dots connected in ways you didn’t expect?  What’s your favorite Steve Jobs quote?

Through the Lens of Spoken Word

Today I decided to check out the Freshly Pressed and found a post on the Spoken Word.  It’s an excellent post and I suggest you all check it out because it’s got some really great youtube videos I’ve been working my way through.  It’s making me think about the role of the spoken word in novels.

Generally, after about first grade, we’re taught to stop reading our words out loud.  While there is merit in this, I think that it’s a skill which should be retaught somewhere around middle school.  Spoken word is critical to our culture, and in general spreads ideas much faster than the written word.  (Ok, I could get into an exception with twitter and the internet, but I won’t).  Most of us have never read a book out loud longer than, say, a children’s starter chapter story.  Even though most books are meant to be read silently these days, there is a lot to be garnered from actually speaking the character’s words and actions.  It makes one slow down and visualize, rather than barreling through just to see what happens (I admit, I’m guilty of this).

As I was thinking about this, I figured that here are three types of novels when looked at through the lense of the spoken word.  The ones that are written from the spoken word, those that are written with the spoken word, and those meant to be interpreted to the spoken word.

Novels written from the spoken word are generally simple to pick out.  These are the stories which started as spoken word stories and much later were adapted to paper.  They are often terrible to read, sloggy and confusing.  My favorite example is the Odyssey.  I took a Greek literature course and our teacher had us buy a translation with no novelization.  It was still in its poetry form and lines repeat over and over and the names go on for two or three lines at a time.  It’s a terrible readand before we’d even opened the book, our professor acknowledged that.  He went on to explain, though, that the Odyssey was never meant to be read in the first place.  It was a collection of stories which people told around fires, at celebrations, in boredom.  The repeating lines (‘When dawn with her rose-red fingers shone…’) and descriptive names (‘Odysseus, the ingenious hero’) helped the speaker keep their place in the story and gave them a touch point for their story to return and regroup.

Reading the Odyssey in English is a matter of the translator and how they chose to walk the line between technically correct and flow.  However, read aloud with a good translation, the story comes alive and is easier to keep track of.  It is meant to be heard this way.  To find this in modern things, just read the lyrics of a song or a spoken word poem.  There’s something to be said with reading aloud, but the emotion and grit a speaker can put into the right poem means that there’s a huge disparity between only reading and only listening.

Novels written with the spoken word are easy to find as well.  These are prose novels which can be read aloud but were not written specifically for such a treatment.  Many, many books fall into the category on one side or the other (from ‘wow, that works really well read out loud’ to ‘eh, it’s fine out loud.’)

I know this category the best because of my father.  When I was very young, our ‘father-daughter time’ was right before bed, where he’d take me a snack, sit down next to my bed and read to me.  I’m not sure how we graduated from kids books such as The Boxcar Children to heavy duty material such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I like to think that dad just got bored and figured I could handle it.  He got through all of The Lord of the Rings, as well as Jurassic Park and, if I remember rightly, The Lost World before I finally started reading myself to bed.

Neither The Lord of the Rings nor Jurassic Park were written to be read aloud by any means.  However, they are both very well written.  They work with the flow of words and not against them, keeping the direction of the story consistently aligned toward the goals of the story.  In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien keeps us focused on the sweeping effects of the war and the trials of each character.  Jurrassic Park guides us through the process of pride and mistakes which led to the loss of control in the park.  Good writing is good writing, though.

That’s not to say that books in the last category, those meant to be interpreted to the spoken word, are badly written – not at all!  These books have a different goal, and in general, that is to educate.  They are greatly detailed and highly ordered, using extremely precise language.  Books in this category are often non-fiction, but fiction books sometimes stray into this category.  They are not meant to entertain, but to inform.  Some people I know believe that The Lord of the Rings strays into this category, and as it is sort of a historical account of the war of the ring, I can understand where they would get that.

The reason I call these interpreting books is that while you are not meant to read straight from the text, there is information in the text which is meant to be shared.  In textbooks, it is the role of the teacher to interpret the text to the students the first time, reword it to understandable measures, and then allow the student to rehydrate the text into its original detail through reading.  Essentially it’s as if the book is a sponge filled with knowledge.  The teacher wrings the sponge out and presents it to the students empty and ready to fill.  The student takes the sponge and mops up the knowledge remaining in the book with it.

That was a really, really involved metaphor but I’m going to hope it gets through.

So, to recap:

Books written from the spoken word were originally oral stories, and are still better that way.
Books written with the spoken word are where many good books fall today – while they are not written to be read out loud, can be enjoyed that way with ease.
Books written to be interpreted to the spoken word are created dense with information.  They are meant to be simplified first, and then read again to fill in understanding.

Where do the books you’re reading these days fall?  What kinds of books do you enjoy?  Have you ever tried reading your favorite books out loud to someone or by yourself?

Mad Science!

In college, I studied a bit of English.

I studied an awful lot more Biology.

I was always a nerd.  I love science a lot.  Even though my current career (Author, ESL teacher) has only the barest iota of relevance to my major, I will never regret the 4 years I spent getting that Bachelor of Arts in Biology.  Because darn it, Biology has some of the best, most important, most fascinating stories in human history, and I don’t even mean science fiction.  I mean real live, it actually happened stories that literally changed everything.

I’m sure this is news to some people.  Heck, this might even be news to people familiar with biology, but to me the stories in science were always glaringly obvious.  My father is a neurological and genetic researcher, and I was given many children’s books with the history of science all pictured up and explained in the ways I can understand.  They were pretty amazing books, such as Cells Are Us and Microbes Bugs and Wonder Drugs.

It may have given me a bit of a warped view of the world.  I admit, my favorite horror film is Outbreak.  The one about the e-bola virus that a monkey brings to the United states and the scientists all have to rush to find a vaccine, and then a cure too.  I don’t do well with aliens, monsters, and zombies.  Just ask my husband (who still makes fun of my reaction to Alien) and his left hand.  But I can totally get into pandemics, partially because of the implications which go behind them.

First of all, illness is not an evil.  It’s not even sentient.  It doesn’t care.  In some ways, epidemic movies and stories share ties with any disaster story – tsunami, hurricane, tornado, whatever, none of them are necessarily evil.  The difference is that while a natural weather disaster will destroy property and leave a town obviously in ruins, an epidemic does not.  In a classic disaster movie, people are just trying to get to safety, escape the storm, find the safe haven.  But often part of the problem with a pandemic movie is that no one knows anything is wrong.  Until it’s too late, obviously.   There is also the fact that unless you’ve put a mastermind behind the release of the virus (in which case it kind of becomes a terrorist story) your antagonist is non-sentient.  Certainly this doesn’t shoot the story down, but it does limit the variation on  the antagonist.  Finally, straight disease stories often remove the human element from the danger .  There is no convincing a microbe that its actions are unjust, no chance of redemption from the real villain, because it isn’t a villain at all.  Just a little bug trying to survive in the big bad world.

But science doesn’t even need the movies to have cool stories.  When was the last time you were sick?  I mean really sick, enough to go to the doctor.  The doctor may have prescribed you something ending in -cillin.  You took all your pills and felt better.  Hooray!

But prior to the 1940s, you wouldn’t have been so lucky, especially if the problem was something serious.  Cue Alexander Fleming, the first to officially note and pursue the effects of the blue mold Penicillin notatum.  I say note and pursue because while penicillin had been used in various ways before (including being grown on bread during the Civil War), Fleming was one of the first to actually conduct the experiments necessary to bring it into the spotlight.

But it wasn’t by hearing rumors of ancient Greeks growing mold to treat wounds, or reading Civil War histories that Fleming discovered the properties of the mold.  It was actually complete accident.  Fleming was cleaning up his lab.  This included tossing a few petri dishes of Staphylococcus into antiseptic solution.

Or not.  Maybe one of the dishes really didn’t sink, even though he threw it in the sink.  Maybe he just got lazy and left it out.  Either way, when Alexander Fleming left that day, one of his plates was still out at room temperature to incubate.  And when he came back, this is about what he saw:

On his dish, mold had grown.  Normally that wouldn’t be surprising, but then he noticed that around the mold, where bacteria had been before, there was nothing.  The mold had killed the bacteria!

This one accident and then observation set the ball rolling towards the wonders of antibiotics, and that pretty much changed everything.  By the time penicillin was able to be mass produced, the US was gearing up for World War 2.  Combat was rarely the biggest killer of men – disease was.  Disease in the water, in the trenches, in otherwise non-threatening wounds.  Doctors now had a very powerful line of defense and offence.  Single handedly, penicillin and the lines which arose from it lowered infant and mother mortality, stabilized population, and just in general changed the world.  Most of us have probably had a better life some way thanks to this quirk of medicine – whether because we’ve taken antibiotics or someone in our family has.  I for one, have penicillin to thank for getting me through several rounds of strep throat in my elementary school years.

It was a big deal.  A huge deal.  Paradigm changing.  We take antibiotics so casually these days.  Some countries don’t even require a prescription for the low-level ones any more.  We barely pay attention to our medicine.  But there’s a story there – a huge, staggering story which goes around the world from the point of discovery, and the story isn’t just Fleming, but the scientists who struggled to purify, then mass produce penicillin, and the doctors who conducted trials to see how far it would go.

There’s even modern continuations of the story, wherein many types of anti-biotics have been created and used to target many different bacteria.  And the bacteria have begun to fight back, becoming resistant to certain antibiotics, forcing us to find new ones.  It’s a sweeping story taking place everywhere around us and who would have thought it way back when Alexander Fleming realized that his petri dish was full of mold?

This is the kind of story I really like.  Seemingly innocuous beginnings with roots further back than anyone can comprehend that are slowly opened into something which changes the world’s paradigms.  I like to think that Sleight of Spirit will be that kind of beginning.  That when the entirety of the series has been published, people will go back and read again and go “Oh wow!  I never would have thought, but it was there all along!”  I believe that these are the stories which stick with people.  After all, penicillin’s stuck with me.