Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don't let your Brain get in the Way of your Mind

What writer doesn't want to write more efficiently? This is not about the part of actually writing but getting into the general state of being that enables efficient writing. It is similar to my old posts on inspiration but is geared more towards the physical state of the writer than their mental state. I'm talking about non-caffeine methods of gaining the energy, stamina and clarity of mind necessary for writing.

1. Water

Staying hydrated is a big help. Just plain and simple tap water can do the trick. It helps with fatigue and clears away fog. I think it has to do with blood flow. A well hydrated body keeps the blood moving smoothly instead of like syrup and so oxygen is better delivered to the brain which invigorates the mind.

2. High Energy Music

I use music that is fast and energetic. It is stimulation for my mind. I believe others call this "epic music". I find that high energy music can push through fatigue. It can clear blocks when I am "not feeling it". A few certain songs can also aid focus by acting as white noise and/or creating a rhyme.

3. Food

As Sora from No Game No Life said, "The brain can function as long as it has glucose".
Mixed nuts and granola are my writing snack of choice. Whole grains are good for sustained energy; it think its the combination B-vitamins and fiber that helps produce energy and stabilize blood sugar. Nuts are for protein, oils and stuff. Sugar is also good but in limited amounts to avoid a crash. Dark chocolate with only a little bit of sugar has worked the best for me in that case. For this to work you don't want "snicker bar level" sugar (20 or so grams per bar) but more like "Honey Nut Cheerios level" sugar (9 grams per 3/4 cup) and preferably less. This is not endorsement or warning of either product but more of an example. What you want is just enough to get that zing benefit.

4. Stand up desk (specifically how I created my own)

Standing up is great. I get drowsy if I sit too long. Seriously, ten or twenty minutes of it makes me yawn. I find that standing up enables more fluid movement while I write which then aids my thought process. You don't have to buy anything for this. I didn't. The stuff I found on the market was either too expensive or had some flaw like the keyboard tray bounces or the structure as a whole was unstable. So instead I took a cheap plastic trash bin that I had on hand, flipped it upside down and placed it on top of my desk. If I want to adjust the height then I use a couple big and thick books. For the mouse, I have a cardboard box that is placed next to the trash bin. This set up is sturdy, stable, and easy to remove if I want to sit down for some reason.

5. Activity (martial arts personally)

This is similar to the stand up desk. Motion is great for writing. It helps the blood flow, increases respiration, gets some internal chemicals moving and all of which helps with sending more oxygen to the brain. I do techniques for a couple minutes and I am refreshed.

6. Deep Breaths
From the diagram! Both during acticity and writing itself, breathing deeply increases that all important blood flow. From the diagraph to get the deepest breath until you can't suck in anymore.

When following this advice, one needs to keep them in mind holistically. The stand up desk and activity can be tiring without enough snacks and water, and no amount of high energy music is going to work if the user is sitting all day. The goal is to achieve a "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" effect.

Those are my methods. What do you use to get into a writing mood?



Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

New Release: Xenogeneic - First Contact

Lance Erlick released a new book today and I offered to help spread the word.
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Xenogeneic: First Contact is a science fiction thriller about first contact with an alien race that lost their civil war and wants to take over Earth.

Dr. Elena Pyetrov’s father vanished in space 18 years ago while searching for extraterrestrial life. As an aerospace engineer, Elena travels into space to search for answers and to continue his work. Her ship is pulled off course and crashes.

The alien Knoonk lost their civil war in a distant star system and fled to Earth’s neighborhood to hide and regroup. They fashion themselves as persecuted pilgrims in need of a new home—Earth. Unable to live in Earth’s toxic environment, the aliens kidnap and use humans to genetically modify their species to adapt.

Surviving the crash, Elena and her shipmates are transported to a closed cave system where the Knoonk monitor and control everything. Elena tries to make a connection with her hosts and find ways to work together, but Knoonk leaders rebuff her and force the humans to submit as slaves. The aliens use illusions, distractions, and social experiments to learn from their hostages and keep them off balance. Resistance by captive humans brings swift punishment to break the human spirit.

While Elena continues to look for ways to cooperate with the Knoonk, the aliens want to capture Earth for their species. With time running out, Elena must dig deep to uncover the alien plan and find a way to stop them before the human race faces enslavement and extinction.

LINKS





XENOGENEIC BUY LINKS:




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Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Read for fun: In defense of SAO volume 4

In defense of SAO - Volume 4

Once, the original light novel makes clear that "OMG! Kirito is so overpowered!" complaint is baseless. This is over and beyond what the anime shows and the anime shows a lot. There's his attempt at soloing the Grand Quest at the World Tree, which fails just like it does in the anime and in the light novel we get an inner monologue of him berating himself for being so stupid and arrogant as to attempt something like that. Also, during the detour into Jotunheimen, he has to twice rely on a friendly monster to win a battle. The only way he manages to reach the top of the World Tree tower is with a lot of help from a lot of powerful people. Even then he would have failed if not for help from Yui and Asuna.

Yes, the supposed "Damsel in Distress" was instrumental in her own rescue. This is part of Adaptation Dissolution I suppose. The light novel makes clear how Asuna ended up in Sugou's bird cage and how long she's been there. Furthermore, it talks about how she's already tried everything short of the escape plan in the main narrative and the massive difference in power between her and her Game Master captor. Just because she's not a butt-kicking guild sub-leader all the time doesn't mean she's useless.

Sugou's minions using slug avatars still doesn't make any sense so that infamous scene doesn't appear to have any in-universe justification to make it any less icky, however, it is just one scene. It is not the whole novel and certainly not the whole series. Also, the novel shows how Asuna used the scene to acquire the Admin Access card critical for her ultimate escape.

There's also this theme of "real power" that I quite enjoyed. All through this volume and the previous, Kazuto has been using what amounts to a New Game Plus in ALO which gives him a tremendous advantage when he starts playing. However, he himself recognizes that this is not "real power" because it is just game code. Compared with Sugou in both the game and the real world, he can't compare because the man is a game master and an adult executive at the company hosting the server that contains Asuna's mind. Suddenly Kirito's sky high stats don't mean a thing. Then he gets a pep talk from "Kayaba" of all people on this subject and the idea of "real power" shifts; Sugou is just piggybacking on Kayaba and his "real power" doesn't belong to him. Then the theme is extended further with combat in real life and even with ALO players banding together to purchase ALO's servers from the bankrupt RECT Progress in the epilogue.

One thing I particularly liked about the 4th volume is how Suguha is viewpoint character. She gets a lot more development here than in the anime. The reader can see the "Kirito is Kazuto" reveal from her perspective and it is much more powerful than the anime, which, by its nature, is more limited in this regard. This is not to say that the anime does a bad job, but that, in my opinion, the light novel gives it greater room and weight.

The conclusion of the Grand Quest of Alfheim didn't get enough closure in the anime, in my opinion. Here we get a long scene confirming that, yes, everyone gets eternal wings as a result of the successful attempt on the World Tree. Leefa spends twenty minutes flying around at top speed. She loves flying which is entirely separate from her Kissing Cousins plot thread.

This volume marks another great entry into the series.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Sword Art Online Volume 4" an A+

Click here for the next book review (a request): Veil of Darkness

Click here for the previous book review (a request): Hidden from the Face of Humans


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Answering review request: Hidden from the Face of Humans

Susan Slack asked me to read her novel "Hidden from the Face of Humans". It is a historical fiction centering on the 30th Egyptian Dynasty (three generations). I don't want to call it a mystery because this is not really a mystery but more of a chronicle but I'll get to that later. I will examine plot, character and polish.

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PLOT

I like to call this a "dramatized and abridged version" of history. There aren't any dates (I had to go to Wikipedia for those). The characters and their relationships to each other are paramount here. Instead of a paragraph about, for instance, Chabrias being recalled to Athens from Egypt before Persia invades the later and the reasons why, there is instead an emotional and confrontational dialogue between Chabrias and Pharaoh Nectanebo I. If that conversation ever really took place, I don't know. I assume that Miss. Slack has done enough research to create a suitable facsimile because I doubt there was someone in that meeting recording every word. It's kind of like Thucydides. He admits to having created from whole cloth conversations between people based on the events that happened before and after the conversations that he knew for a fact took place but wasn't privy to.

The historical research aspect, as a whole, looks good. It is interesting enough that I did my own casual research and she hit every point. I found it fascinating that there was a rumor/legend etc. that Alexander the Great's birth father was Nectanebo II by way of his mother, Olympia, having sex with him after marrying Philip II of Macedonia. When I first read that in the book I was like "no way! She must have made that up" but then I looked it up and it was there. This is why I call it a historical fiction but not a mystery.

There isn't any mystery going on other than court intrigue and the reader is privy to all of that via Third Person Omniscient. Likewise, there is no investigation into Thermafi's murder. In a paraphrase of the words of one of the characters, "they just buried her and moved on". This murder happens in the first chapter but it is a disguised In-Media-Res sort of thing because the next chapter goes back decades. I was really confused when Thermafi appears later in the story. I thought she was the apprentice that was introduced at the same time. Furthermore, the murder itself takes place over halfway through the story and then the plot thread is dismissed except for one (at the time) minor character wanting revenge on someone specific. I forgot about her until the epilogue. There is no mystery.

The ending is a mixed bag in my personal opinion. There is closure on all points and some characters got surprisingly happy endings, all things considered. Although I have to wonder why it stopped where it did. After all, if this book holds that Alexander the Great is the illegitimate son of Nectanebo II, doesn't that still count as part of the same dynasty? After all, there was an "oracle" proclaiming him to be the "Son of Amun" and all that. The final ending is the second thing that I take issue with.

All of a sudden, the book breaks the Fourth the Fourth Wall. By itself this is weird and it gets more so. It talks about how, because the reader has read the book and discovered why this original character was killed, the gods of Egypt are free to leave the world so humans won't bother them anymore. This is a weird thing because the gods had been treated as fictions maintained by the priesthoods since the beginning of the story.

CHARACTERS

This is an ensemble cast. While the major focus is on the three men forming the 30th Egyptian Dynasty, it goes all over the place. There are chapters for the high priest of Ptah, for Athenian generals, for the many children of Artaxerxes I, his satraps and his various minions. To Miss.Slack's credit, I found them all to be sufficiently developed to avoid being plot props. Sometimes this can be done quickly and with minimum fuss, such as Mentor of Rhodes, and the character can go on to be useful. Other times there is a more extensive background thing or side story. In either case, it has the effect of making the story longer and expanding the scope.

In this dramatization, I have to question the intelligence of many people involved in these schemes. For instance, Artaxerxes I doesn't appear all that clever from this account. Although the "fake family" thing would be hard to discount, who would agree to a plan that says "support a rebellion against your enemy by emptying your treasury and sending it in one fleet, with a Persian messenger onboard it, to the rebellion directly, and then send your armies to another location and wait for the rebels to join up with you"? Even more so when the chief benefit for you is "once the rebels win, the country will stop invading you". I can only assume that the real account was either simplified for brevity or that this is a real life example of an Idiot Ball.

Thermafi, being absent from the historical record (i.e. an original character of the author), is exempt from most of this. She is portrayed as the wisest and most sensible of the characters to the point where she holds her own in a debate with Plato and is appointed to a brand new position "Overseer of the Throne". She claims that she doesn't have any magical spells or powers and yet she does stuff resembling a Jedi Mind Trick on occasion.

I like her character. She is not annoying like the OCs of fan fiction can be and she has flaws of her own (such as the dislike of any and all violence even there are attempts on your life and invasions of your country).  Yet, the men of the 30th dynasty rely on her to such a degree that it makes me wonder if someone like her were truly present at this time. This story would be remarkably different if she weren't. Maybe she was Unpersoned like Akhenaten.

POLISH

I didn't much in the way of spelling or grammar errors. Maybe a handful, but that's all.

It is the frequent and unannounced time skips that bother me. There is nothing in the first or second chapter that IDs the first chapter as In Media Res. I think it's an attempt at Once More With Clarity. Every chapter after that seems to skip forward in time. Nectanebo I's kids grow up between chapters; one chapter he's leaving his son with Theramfi as a legal guardian sort of thing and then a couple chapters later, the kid is a grown man with his own kid. There's another chapter where this one guy is putting a rebellion into motion and the start of the very next chapter says, in an offhanded way, that the rebellion has already been crushed. Not even the aftermath is shown, just talked about. It's like the story gets stretched out the further it goes. Alexander the Great only has one major scene. The rest is summary.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Hidden from the Face of Humans" a C

Click here for the next book review (for fun): Sword Art Online volume 4

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Tenryu the Dragon Cycle volume 2

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organic Growth in Novels

Today I want to muse on the benefits and joys of organic growth in novels. This will be a stream-of-conscious thing so it may be a little disorganized. Anyway,

The organic growth that can occur in a novel's development is quite delightful. To find those surprises in development is like receiving a present spontaneously on a normal day. Seeing everything come together...it's like gears meshing and creating harmonious music.

 Circumstances that I never ever expected will turn up as natural as you like. I roll with those. For instance! There was a moment in the first draft of "Looming Shadow" where I realized that there were only two possibilities going forward: 1.) Eric is killed by his current enemy or 2.) Eric defeats this enemy but, by way of Geo Effects and Dangerous Forbidden Technique, he turns into a monster.  I had already ruled out "convenient rescue by a deity" in-universe and this was an important plot point so I couldn't overrule it. Likewise, Eric's allies were either occupied elsewhere with no idea where he was or unable to help if the previous two conditions were not present. I was scrounging for a way out of this apparent corner that I had written myself into when I thought, "if the most likely outcome that still allows for Eric's survival is mana mutation, then he will become a monster." So I let the story follow its natural course and Eric transformed into a savage beast known as a "grendel". This one decision led to tremendous character development for my protagonist, splendid world building, and, most significantly, the entirety of the following book "Mana Mutation Menace".

Characters! Characters that I created to be minor expand their scope as more is revealed to me. Others that I had planned to be important, even the central villain, don't materialize. The organic progression of the story determines the characters that are important. Put into another phrase, the characters determine their importance by pushing forward the story on their own narrative weight. Another example is Zettai. When I introduced her into "Looming Shadow" it was to demonstrate Ceiha's harsh "justice" system. Then she and The Trickster bamboozled me into adding her to the main cast. Then she plays a critical role in book 4, Transcending Limitations. I even have story ideas where she has the staring role.

The prewriting sees this happen a lot. There's this one story that I'm working on (which, in fact, inspired this blog post) where I thought that the protagonist would be this character. Then, as I continued creating possible characters for this world, I thought "no, it will be that character...". Then AGAIN I notice the enticing possible chemistry between a second pair of characters and thought "I would have to make them the primary characters to fully develop this" and that's where I am now. This second pair also provides opportunities to develop the original idea for this particular story and in a richer and more direct way as well. I love it when that happens.

It's not easy. It takes many drafts to see the connections and how everything will play out. It takes an open mind and flexibility. It's fun.

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).