The sounds that make harmony in our minds

Music can be an inspiration for many people. It has been part of human history since before we kept history. It is something almost everyone can relate to at least in some part. People have even tried to quantify the most pleasing sounds scientifically, and as a person with a degree in chemistry, I applaud the endeavor to better understand the human brain and how it functions.

When I am writing, I almost always have some music playing in the background. Sometimes it is the same song on an endless loop, other times it is a playlist on the loop. I admit that as I am working, I pretty much tune out a conscious awareness of the music, but it does allow me to set my mood for what I am working on.

But that got me thinking about what my brain really is doing with that sensory input and how I am treating it very much like a machine. I push in a specific input (the chosen music) to achieve a specific output (a particular mood).

Switching gears slightly. Something that you may not have heard of is Hatsune Miku, which according to the Wikipedia article and Crypton Future Media translates into “the first sound of the future.” She is a hologram with a computer-generated voice developed by Crypton Future Media.

Below is a YouTube video from an Expo in 2016 where people watched the hologram performance.

While I know some people will scoff at the idea of people paying money to listen to a computer, I actually find it fascinating to see just how far computer technology has come since I got my first computer. Plus, I will remind you that we joke about pet rocks while wishing we had come up with that ourselves.

The idea of machine learning, and the eventual rise of our new masters (I fully support you), is not new to writers and storytellers. We’ve had tales of our eventual downfall to the machines (or other advanced/magical constructs like golems) for thousands of years. Some of my favorite modern examples are things like Terminator and Terminator 2 (okay, not exactly modern as they are getting older, but still great).

There are other subtle hints of more sophisticated and cunning examples of computer technology impacting our lives and fooling our eyes and ears. This again is not new in writing or movie; however, the CGI ending with Princess Leia at the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great example of being able to make a very real representation of a person outside of their time and place. Compare that with Max Headroom, an AI from 1984 (and worth a watch).

A possible implication of all this is framing someone in the court of public opinion when so many people are easily swayed by first impressions and skeptical of evidence. In the future, I imagine a period of time were digital forensics might have a hard time telling truth from fiction if one technology outpaces another.

And getting us back to music, this weekend CBS’ Sunday Morning talked about the fact that several stars that are no longer with us today will once again be making an appearance on stage, which relate in part back to Hatsune Miku. Here is a CBS news article about bringing back Maria Callas as discussed on Sunday Morning.

I find the technology fascinating, and as a reader and writer, I see the fantasies of yesterday becoming today’s reality, and from that, my mind jumps to the next great world ending scenario (because dystopian stories have always had an audience). I just hope that in the future, when I come back as a hologram, they give me Dwayne Johnson’s abs.

Galvanizing Events

Galvanizing Events

Galvanizing CliffsA galvanizing event is one that fixes thought process, emotion, or decision to some particular course of action. Events that galvanize can be subtle, having built slowly over time, until a mere phrase or observed action will become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, spurring action. Or galvanizing events can be sudden and powerful, such as experiencing an unexpected loss or dramatic change in a person’s life.

Not all people experience truly galvanizing events in their lives. Others may experience them, but not be consciously aware (either due to the level of intensity of the event or as a result of a lack of self-awareness). Some who are more clinical in their appraisal of their own thought processes may recognize the exact moment in time that an event fixes a course of action in their mind and know that was a galvanizing event.

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Gaming and Writing

Gaming and Writing

Dungeons & Dragons Gaming DiceI’ve played D&D for years, starting back when it was not the popular thing to do. I’ve always found it a very pleasant pastime and a good way to express creativity. Sure, there are rules (more guidelines really) and getting a handle on the complexities of the system can be daunting, but if you are a creative type, it is definitely worth giving gaming a chance.

So, you may be asking, what does gaming have to do with writing? Well, for many, when you play D&D, you are telling a story. Sure, there are stats and numbers and random dice rolls to make decisions, but for most, it is less about the stats and more about the adventure that unfolds.

The Dungeon Master

For most of my gaming life, I have been the Dungeon Master (or DM). For those not familiar with D&D, this is the person who acts somewhat as a narrator that sets the scenes and guides the players on their journeys as well as an arbitrator of the rules. However, the best DMs ignore the rules (or dice rolls) when doing so tells a better story. After all, the DM’s goal is not to kill the players, but to challenge them and help them create an interesting experience.

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In high school, my wife divorced her husband when…

Telling Lies

dishesLast week I told some people the story of when my wife was in high school and she divorced her husband because he refused to buy her a dishwasher. I enjoy watching people react to that leading line, and the best part is, my statement is completely true.

However, as in life, characters in stories don’t have to be truthful. They can be deceitful and manipulative and try and influence people to do what they want, or react in a certain way, as I had intended by my high school divorce statement. In fact, a story is often better when it includes that kind of behavior because telling lies mirrors real life. Unfortunately, this aspect of storytelling is too often overlooked.

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Writing Tip: Keeping positive

Glass Half EmptyIn my last writing tips article, I talked about that long slow period you might encounter at a show. This week I wanted to offer some suggestions at how to stay positive if things have gotten you down. I know, that is kind of an odd article to come from me. After all, I coined the phrase:

The glass is not only half-empty, the water is dirty.

By nature, I’m usually more of a realist, not an optimist. However, I have learned how to find the positive in things if I take the time to do so.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that may help you remain positive, be it at an event or anytime you are writing or trying to do get something done.

1. Avoid the trap of worrying about something that has not happened yet

Unless it is inevitable—like being in an out of control car sliding toward the edge of the bridge—things may not turn out as badly as you fear. Which means you don’t want to waste your time now lamenting a tragedy before it has occurred. Do not become paralyzed with fear, instead, use the time to your advantage.

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Writers: That long slow period – writing tips

KC Comic ConWe’ve all been there: we’re at the Con or the show or some event and for whatever reason things are just going slow. Perhaps we’ve talked to a number of people, maybe not. However, we just aren’t making the sales numbers we want.

When that happens, my advice is: Stay Positive!

It happens. Every show or event has ebbs and flows. People start the day looking around, perhaps they are waiting to make their purchases because they don’t want to carry things all day. Perhaps the bulk of the crowd is hearing an excellent panel and so the floor is nearly empty. You see that group you know will be interested, but something else catches their attention just before they reach your table and now they are heading the other way. You have something to say and you know people will want to hear it, if only they will stop and listen!

The key is to not let it bother you. Don’t take it personally. Doing that can be hard; sometimes very hard. You’re putting in a lot of time and energy and it is natural to want everything to go well the whole time. But I want to warn you that the last thing you want to do is broadcast a negative vibe. Once that happens, you will just compound your problem. People come to the shows to have fun. They want to interact with fun and exciting people. They do not want to stand and hear sales pitches from unhappy artists and creators.

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Writers: Where are we?

Map of MidlandI get a lot of positive comments about my maps and while I do enjoy making things my readers really like, I must confess that my maps are as much for me as they are for my readers.

When I want to know how long it will take Stephenie, Henton, and Kas to travel to the next city, I can pull up the map and measure the distance. When I want to describe the terrain, I can look at the map and get an idea if the land would be rocky or swampy based upon the features I have drawn. When I want to know if my beloved characters are traveling through hostile lands, I can look at the borders and get an idea for what kind of political issues might be a factor.

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Writers: Who’s dead and other important details

When writing, keeping track of things is important.  This is especially true when it comes to your characters.  You never know when it will be important to recall the date someone died and you don’t want to accidentally change your character’s physical attributes.  Those kind of problems can cause a break in continuity for your readers.

To avoid looking back through all my writing when describing a character, I created a spread sheet to save my sanity.  It was a cheap (a.k.a. free) and easy solution to organize the characters in my stories.people-list-image

I call it my People List spread sheet and if you are interested, here are copies in Open Office and Excel formats.

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Writers: Last minute tips for events

With Planet Comicon just a couple of days away (it starts this Friday) I wanted to talk a little more about what I am doing to prepare for the event.  In prior articles, I mentioned having mats to stand on and actually standing up to greet people.  Today, I wanted to go down through the list of things I am bringing, including the items I have to give away.

First and foremost, I am bringing copies of my books to sell, including Daughter’s Search, which just came out.  However, I am also bringing things for people to take with them for free.  Having something for people to walk away with is a great way to make sure they will remember you.  In today’s market, you don’t want to miss out on the people who will go home and buy the ebook instead of the print copy.

  • The primary item I am giving away is a bookmark (with the back side pictured in this post).  I’ve found more people are interested in bookmarks than in business cards and with the cost not that much more than a business card, I order 2500 at a time.  Last year I gave away almost all of the box I had ordered.
  • I do have business cards, but as I mentioned, I found that once I started giving out the bookmarks, fewer people were interested in the business cards.  However, they are easier to put into a pocket and I still hand some out both at the convention and other places.  (They also make great small bookmarks.)
  • I have copies of my world map and Antar castle.  These are 8.5 x 11 on glossy 100 lb paper, so there is some substance to them.  I find a lot of people like the map (gamers and just people who are into maps) so it is one way to draw in some interest.
  • I have brochures that contains information on the books.  I’ve found that these are quite popular as well, though they are more expensive and generally only people who are actually interested in the series take them.
  • Plastic shopping bags.  I have four books now and I want people to be able to carry away a whole set without them getting damaged.  The bags are clear so that other people might see the books (a little free advertisement).  I meet another author once who went to the expense of getting bags custom printed with the cover of the book and he had one of those ‘doh’ moments when I suggested the clear bags.

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Writers: Be someone else

Photo ©  SergeyNivens

Photo © SergeyNivens

Not the advice you were expecting?

The last two weeks I have shared a couple of things I have learned or observed with regard to doing public appearances.  Last week, I talked about standing up and changing your physical presence to help change your mental state (Amy Cuddy’s “Fake it ’til you become it” message).  This week I wanted to offer another suggestion on how you might change your outlook and project more confidence.

Public speaking for many can be a very daunting task.  I’ve mentioned this before, but for writers in particular, we tend to be introverted in nature and that causes us to stand off to the side and watch things as they occur around us.  We can be the great observers and use that to make powerful stories, but often we avoid the spotlight.  However, marketing and getting your book out in front of readers requires having a public face and drawing attention to ourselves.  We have to let people know our stories exist.

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