Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Research the Unfamiliar

Good Research Tips
When you're not writing what you know

There were certain lines I never planned to cross when I started thinking of myself as a professional writer. One of them was to keep the genres I loved separate from attempting to make them my work. My theory was based on keeping my play time safe and respected. I am a historian but don’t spend a lot of time writing fictional history. I broke that line for a very good reason early in my career for the sake of my love of local history and to keep stories in the forefront that might otherwise be lost. I’d also planned to support local societies with the earnings, but that means one has to earn something first. The idealism was long gone by the time the children’s books came out. I stuck a toe over the historical fiction line one other time for a novella in my "protest the prairie cover" days—again, mostly for fun and to help my fellow writers, which was the result of that project.

My secret passion is fantasy…not going there! My not-so-secret reading passion has always been science fiction, ala Robert Heinlein who got me through the traumas of middle school and Ray Bradbury who I still think is the most brilliant writer of the twentieth century. It’s basically stories of the human condition put on trial in the most brutal ways. I have been heavily influenced by a movie called The Abyss and a newer one called Arrival. The first story has nothing to do with the aliens who abide deep in Earth’s oceans and use water like we use elements of the Earth’s crust; likewise the second has not much to do with why they are here at this time and in those places. The films have everything to do with relationships and how we treat each other.

When I started thinking about the third story in my Forces of Nature series which began firmly planted on the planet with exploring a younger man-older woman relationship and what marriage is all about in Meander Scar, and moved next to study lost love found and life secrets that color everything about a mother and daughter who reach out to both repel and cling to a man who betrayed them unwittingly in Centrifugal Force, it was a series title that flung me toward the sun. Outer space is not a place I wanted to take my characters but they will not stay grounded. My characters even forced me to meet and describe a race of people from a different solar system and test my world-building skills, which I thought were fairly well grounded (worksheet here).

These off-worlders keep secrets from me, like how they got here, but so far I’m okay with that. After all, the story isn’t really about them. It’s about making choices based on who we are and how we practice our humanity, no matter what heavenly body we call home. At some point in each of the films I mentioned earlier, the main characters realize they don’t have to know everything. Too many details and technicalities can mess with story, depending on your audience.

Image result for argonThe off-worlders showed up in a scene that technically took place before this story starts—something I didn’t realize when my male protagonist, Harry, meets them. How am I going to figure out what’s happening? I approach research with the same exactly detail I put into all of my work. Most of the facts of how something works aren’t going into the narrative, but I need to understand them to give my readers a reason to accept their disbelief for a short time. Harry got a whiff of chlorine when he met Tarlig, who at first glance doesn’t look all that different from any other odd-looking scientist. The chlorine odor was explained by his perception that it was associated with cleaning solutions. In reality, Tarlig’s world and make-up use more chlorine than humans use other elements of Earth’s crust and atmosphere. I kept trying to exchange argon, the third most abundant gas that makes up part of our atmosphere after nitrogen and oxygen, but argon is a noble gas, an element that stabilizes, and chlorine is not. What kind of a creature that essentially exists much like a human would be like if it respirated a different atmospheric and planetary element than argon? As I studied the atmosphere and the elemental properties of the noble gases further, I attempted to replace chlorine with a noble gas like xenon or radon, but they don’t have an odor. Come on…it’s so early in the book, I can set this character up any way I want without having to reweave story elements. Besides, it’s fiction! Who’s going to care?

I am. And so should my readers who I want to trust me. It’s not so much a matter of making copper-based hemoglobin so a Vulcan bleeds green or an Andorian whose skin is blue from cobalt. We didn’t care back then how science fiction worked. But now we have space stations where people can live for years, and reusable rocket boosters and all kinds of science that was once fiction but no longer. (They can bury my flip phone with me.)

Tarlig and Verdun’s existence is important to my story only so much as they add to my story arc in a way nothing else can, and move my people to prove their quality…their worth, and why they act and react the way they do. I’m the only one who will care that Tarlig and Verdun will need to have extra heavy lungs to expel what on Earth is an extra heavy element that will burn the lungs of a human. I only care that they smell vaguely like chlorine and want to sell you, the reader, on this tiny little thing that will make them believably different.

There’s plenty of other stuff in the background which involved research—little things like DNA, military stuff, and a pesky little detail about how to put a colony on the moon, but you only need to read the finished project.

Sun%20dog%201-7-15%20photo%20from%20Chris%20Detrick%20Feehan%20via%20WQAD%20FacebookOh, the title? Parhelion sundogs, you might know them – those beautiful columns of light on either side of the sun, glittering with ice crystals. (Photo from Iowa, 2015, Dave Chesling)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Good Research Tips

Good Research Tips 
Gathering from Several Sources

Remember, good research is gathered from primary and secondary resources, and occasional other means, tertiary and so forth, points of origin. See this post.

Keep in mind that all resources are biased in some way and are faulty in some way (double check everything possible). Aim for the nearest to the original source of information possible (cite the source and the retrieval date).


When weaving your research into your fictional account, go gently. Yes, you spend fourteen hours searching for that perfect quote, that one fact about a disease, the interview with the inventor, the way the engine works that will shape your story…but be careful about dumping all that precious energetic verbiage on an unsuspecting reader who honestly doesn’t care. Consider yourself richer for the knowledge and hope that one reader will be impressed enough to look up the information for herself.

For my latest novel, Centrifugal Force, three important pieces of information had to come together from very disparate sources to make the story work. A stolen piece of antique jewelry handed off for protection by Jewish Germans during World War II in Germany, a genetic disease, and German everything—history, contemporary (2011) politics and world affairs, scenic background information, timetables and airports, as well as some language.

Free Golden ring
Jewelry—not just antique, but a unique piece of antiquity—was central to my story. Collectors who loaned items to museums and for other purposes had to come up with a plan to safeguard their valuables when they knew the Nazis would show no mercy. Why did I choose this particular era and type of jewelry? I visited a museum in which unique gold from long-lost cultures was on display. Because I was entranced, I chose to do further research. This museum where I witnessed original items was my primary source of information. These pieces existed. Their history, then, I took for my own. I wanted something invaluable and unique enough to be identifiable and irreplaceable.

As in all good story technique, the question of what type of conflict and how far-reaching or universal the effects attracts a wider audience. For example, more people will be affected by the collapse of the European Union than by a local beautification committee or corrupt youth athletic organization. These local tragedies make for interesting experiences but bespeak a different level of reader.

The question of how durable or effective your character’s goal, then, is always, what will happen if the character doesn’t get what he or she is after? What is your main protagonist willing to do or sacrifice in order to reach the goal?

In Centrifugal Force, the male protagonist, Gervas Friedemann, is desperate to find and return a piece of jewelry his family protected since World War II. After the war, the owners did not return, so Gervas’s mother decided to enjoy the jewelry given for safekeeping by her Jewish neighbors and gave it to her sons. Decades later, when a person claiming to be a descendent of the neighbors and rightful heir of the missing valuables steps forward, Gervas must find a ring he’d allowed to slip out of his hands. The descendant is using blackmail for a larger purpose on Gervas’s family, who are prominent in the German government.
Free No Camera Sign
Now, I was not allowed to take photographs in the museum, a temporary display of gold artifacts at the National Archeological Museum in Athens some years back, and I didn’t buy any kind of souvenir about the collection. You have to trust that I saw the pieces and I used what I learned for a crucial aspect of my story. I am now an unreliable witness until my claim can be verified. To back up my story, we can go to the internet link directly to the museum, but it is somewhat faulty and has numerous links that say “under construction.” It also only has a few of the past temporary exhibits listed, and few pictures. The fact of whether the display was held at a particular museum is not all that important except to my general character if I choose to share the story of what motivated me to write Centrifugal Force. The fact of whether such jewelry exists might tempt more cerebral readers to do some research. And here we can the secondary resources of more photographs, Etruscan history, and history of jewelry. It is secondary information because I am relying on the interpretation of facts from the compiler of those facts and reinterpreting what I learned for my story.

These are a few of the links I used to piece together the history and look of the jewelry. While I studied a great deal about the history of jewelry, I settled on this type because it was identifiable through testing, and because it was in a museum catalog now, could conceivably be missed and labeled stolen by Nazis immediately post-WWII—no end of trouble for Gervas’s family.

For the history of the Etruscan people, this link (one of many, most were from major universities) was helpful: http://www.mariamilani.com/ancient_civilisation_civilization/ancient_etruscans.htm
For the history of the jewelry, these links were helpful: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/e/etruscan_jewellery.aspx
For museum photographs of the collection, this link was helpful: http://ancientpeoples.tumblr.com/post/32881147070/set-of-etruscan-jewellery-late-archaic-period

When gathering information from sources, always question the integrity of the site and its compiler. National sites, such as those sponsored by governments or well vetted large organizations are in general more trustworthy than individual sites unless that person is a recognized and accepted expert in his or her field.

clipart is free for use from 1001freedownloads.com

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Perfect Gluten free complete pancake mix

Gluten Less Lifestyle - Pancakes

I love pancakes. More than that, I love not having to run to the neighbor's house to borrow an egg to make pancakes for my kids before school. When I found complete pancake mixes came in a box, the kind where you just add water...and voila! you cook a pancake, I was enthralled. As the kids grew up and left home, the complete pancake mix meant I didn't have to make a batch of pancakes, I could make just one without having to gather all the supplies and having leftovers.

Then, in my fifties, I developed an intolerance to gluten. It's not a digestive issue but a bark-like-a-Baskerville Hound-cough. I found several online sites dedicated to gluten free cooking, and the forums have been wonderful to share ideas and recipes. Lately, I've been experimenting with gluten-free recipes for breads and pancakes. Back to the batch...or hey! There is a gluten-free complete mix in a box. But, it has candy in it. Candy that is not chocolate chips. The texture of the product left something to be desired. I continued to research and experiment, and came up with this recipe. What I love about dehydrated products is that they travel easily. If you camp, they're perfect.

Note- while this recipe is not vegan or dairy-free, it is easily adaptable. It doesn't even need milk, but you can substitute your favorite liquid for reconstitution and leave it out of the dry mix. You can substitute dry ground flax for the egg in the dry mix. You can make or buy dried egg product--Youtube has a number of videos that show how fairly easy it is to make dried eggs if you have a dehydrator. I bought my dried egg mix. Dried shortening is also available on line, where I purchased a can. Please also note that the base of this mix is ground oat flour, so it doesn't have a nice fine even tan exterior when cooked,although again, experiment with temperatures for frying, and the texture is more mealy and chewy, depending on the grind. I made my own in a small blender from rolled oats.

Batch of Complete Dry Gluten Free Pancake Mix
Makes 16-20 pancakes depending on how large (4-6 inches) and how thick or thin you like your batter

2.5 cups ground oat flour
.5 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 T sugar or your dried sweetener (optional, but I added it after experimenting without)
equivalent dry mix of 2 eggs
equivalent dry mix of 2 cups milk
equivalent dry mix of 4 T shortening (also optional, but I added it after experimenting without)

Mix all ingredients and keep in an airtight container. I use a zipper top bag.

This recipe does not need any thickener like xanthum gum as the oat flour has a good texture.
Other additions to the recipe can include vanilla, cinnamon or other flavorings.

To cook, about .25 cups mix to equivalent of water, makes one pancake, 5 inches or so. Start with a little less liquid if you prefer thicker pancakes, add more to make them thinner. They cook quickly and I've found they burn a little more easily, so use a lower heat with your griddle or pan. Fry as you would any other pancake with your choice of oil and any other additions to the mix, like fruit or chocolate chips. Turn when bubbling, one to two or two and a half minutes per side. Below, shown cooking with blueberries and chocolate chips.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Regency Romance by Susan Baganz

Lord Phillip's Folly (Black Diamond)

Lord Phillip’s Folly
Susan M Baganz

Christian Regency
November 2017
Pelican Ventures

Buy on Amazon

Ebook $5.99

About the Book:
No good deed goes unpunished. Lord Phillip Westcombe is a younger son and sufficiently independent. He has no need upset his tidy life with the messiness of love, but when he comes to the rescue of the lovely Lady Elizabeth Follett, and the two are found in a compromising position, his life takes an unexpected turn. Barely knowing each other, they are forced to wed. Embarking on a new life they must learn to trust God as they face an evil which threatens their lives and the security of the British Empire. Will the minions of the Black Diamond--the bounder who owns the soul of Elizabeth's father--succeed in their evil plans? Will Phillip and Elizabeth's new love and faith survive the test that awaits them? Or will they all fall to the Black Diamond?

My Review:
The undercurrents of Regency England are fraught with a plot to aid the enemy, and forces of evil influence the vulnerable. As the second son of an earl, Phillip’s older brother has the title and privileges thereof all wrapped up. Phillip will not inherit a title or much responsibility and earns a reputation as a reckless young buck in Regency England. When he does inherit a small country estate and turns his life around, his parents don’t believe he could change and set their hearts and minds to bear him from a distance. When he makes another reckless decision during his sister’s coming out ball and rescues a fair damsel in distress, he further inherits a boatload of trouble.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of plots with its twists of creepiness. A young lord who turns his life around takes responsibility for a young lady who’s been victimized for most of her life. As devastating as Elizabeth’s life has been, she is in possession of a fine spirit and courage to beg rescue from a handsome stranger. I would think a woman who’s been through the terror hinted at might be more leery of strange men and wifely duties, but this young couple’s growing faith and mutual love for each other was clearly portrayed.

Sir Phillip’s Folly is another fine addition to the wily Black Diamond series. Characters intertwine and add to each other’s stories, but each book stands as a story on its own. Recommended for those who enjoy inspirational Regency romances. Told in multiple viewpoints with flair and drama and good period accuracy.

About the Author:
Susan M. Baganz chases after three Hobbits and is a native of Wisconsin. She is an Acquisitions Editor with Pelican Ventures LLC specializing in bringing great romance novels and novellas to publication. Susan writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view. Website: www.susanbaganz.com

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sci Fi Soap Opera MM Perry

The 13: Mission's End Book One

Mission's End series, book 1: The 13
buy books 1 & 2 $6.99
c. April 2017

Buy on Amazon

About the Book
After an epic 700 year journey, the 13 ships of the colonial fleet are nearing their new home. One of them isn't going to make it.

While everyone around her celebrates the end of their generations-long mission, Naomi frets. She knows a disturbing secret few are privy to. One of the ships in the fleet has gone dark. No one knows why.

Mike is an obedient soldier, but if his commanders knew the doubts he was harboring, he'd be the next one spaced. When he accompanies Naomi to the fleet's silent ship, his worst fears are confirmed. Naomi's life is in danger and he's the only one who can save her.

As they uncover the mystery of the unresponsive ship, they soon realize there's only one way they'll make it to Mission's End. One ship must fall. Mike and Naomi will do whatever it takes to make sure that ship isn't theirs.

My Review
Well thought-out science fiction soap opera, ala Future Shock, The Giver, and many other sagas of humanity in search of a new home. We don’t know why these people are sent off or what happened to Earth, but the fact that some 10-15,000 humans on thirteen generational ships know Earth and its customs makes for good connections without the author having to teach us too many new and strange things.

Perry has created a cast of memorable and well-fleshed characters. From floor waxers to different class engineers to genetically enhanced caretakers, societal structure is strict protocol on the ships. How else are thousands of people going to hold together for a 700-year journey?

But the truth of the matter is…not very well. One ship, the Magellan, the ship of this tale and its main characters, has maintained a very happy but restricted standard of living to keep its infertile placeholder humans pleasantly occupied during these last years before landing on a chosen planet. Everything during these many generations has been pre-programmed, from expected death and repopulation rate, to food, oxygen, medical needs, work and play, education and nurture. Redundant society has been programmed into three levels which don’t interact: command, general population, and military. All three are necessary for the survival and establishment of a new planet-bound colony. But things don’t go as merrily on other ships, which experience catastrophic accidents and/or mutinies.

Things really aren’t what they seem, especially when two ships join forces. I found the story exciting and page-turning. I love science fiction and appreciate enough detail to make a journey believable without getting stranded in too much tech talk. I did wonder at why so many people were necessary to “live” during the many, many generations it took to travel to the new world, when their real job was to build the new world and care for and nurture the first generation of fertile embryos when they reached mission’s end. The author chose to head-hop throughout which led to some confusion upon occasion about who was talking, though most of the story is told through a female engineer, Naomi Tesla. I thought her society was interesting, especially when seen through the eyes of others. It’s a lengthy saga, and you’ll want chunks of time to spend in Perry’s world when you pick up this book. I had to get the second one too.

About the Author

An image posted by the author.M.M. Perry has published ten books. By day, she is an expert cat and dog wrangler, a nacho connoisseur, and writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror. By night… she does the same things. She is hard at work editing her next novel. She’s equally busy teaching her pug to sing along to the Muppets. She is known for saying, “No task involving a pug is impossible, just highly improbable.”

Read more about M.M. Perry at authormmperry.com

Friday, February 2, 2018

New Young Adult from Susan Miura

Healer by Susan Miura
Young Adult Christian paranormal
Releasing January 31, 2018
330 pp
Print $16.99
Ebook a42.99

Buy on Amazon US
Publisher, Vinspire Publishing

Read my review below.

About the Book:
Hovering just below the surface of Shilo Giannelli’s average existence lays an amazing spiritual power. Late one night, her world erupts with the revelation that, like her great-grandmother, she has The Gift. But the power to heal isn’t something she can share with the soccer team, her genius little sister, or her boyfriend, Kenji. Definitely not Kenji.

Deep beneath Misty Morning’s tough fa├žade is a lifetime of abandonment, foster homes and broken dreams. When her two-year-old son is abused by her boyfriend, her fragile world shatters…until Shilo prays for Tyler, and he is healed, leaving Misty grateful but incredibly curious.
Shilo can’t give Misty the answers she needs; she only knows she has a God-given destiny, and despite facing strained relationships, impossible decisions, and the threat of being hounded day and night for her abilities, she will fulfill it.

The journey Misty and Shilo take together unites them as friends but invites danger into their lives. And it will take a miracle for these unlikely friends to elude a gang bent on revenge, keep The Gift a secret, trust God in extraordinary circumstances, and hold on to the people they love.

Susan, what do you love about this book?
The growth in the characters, the unlikely friendship that blooms between Shilo and Misty, the romance between Shilo and Kenji, the relationship between Shilo and her little sister, and Shilo’s determination to use the amazing gift God gave her despite the challenges and heartache inherent in doing so. 

Introduce us to your quirkiest character.
That would be Julia, Shilo’s little sister. She’s a genius and vegetarian who loves astronomy and geology. She does not have an athletic bone in her body, unlike Shilo. In short, she’s everything Shilo isn’t, and even though she drives Shilo crazy, they have a very close bond. Julia provides a little comic relief from time to time.
~I agree--I loved her, too!

Share two things you learned either about the era/genre or about publishing while writing this book.
Regarding the genre, you really have to make yourself go back in time and remember the thoughts and feelings you had as a teen, while keeping the setting and social scene current. As for publishing, the actual writing part is only half of what it takes to be a published author. At least, it feels that way to me. Marketing makes up the rest. It would be great to just write and not promote, but that would be a career killer.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on Healer Book 2, though I don’t know yet if that’s definitely happening.  I’m also writing my first young adult sci/fi and trying to get a contract for a women’s fiction manuscript that has always been special to me. It’s about a woman who accidentally kills her best friend’s five-year-old daughter, so it starts out with a pretty hard tug on the reader’s heart.

How do you overcome your biggest challenge to publication?

Prayer and walking is my way of overcoming any challenge. I’m also blessed with a great support system of family and friends. If I’m having a tough time with something, I take it to Jesus first, usually while I’m walking by the lake. I figure, if he can make a way for sinners to get into Heaven, he can help resolve my little challenges. Then I move on to people with skin. 

My review:
A young lady on the verge of adulthood is thrust into a lifestyle of secrets at a vulnerable time. Just when she can see an inviting future filled with college, music, faith, and especially a wonderful, almost too-good-to-be-true boyfriend, Kenji, Shilo learns of a fearsome and awe-inspiring family secret that’s been passed down through the generations. Under dire warning from her mother, Shilo must never, ever tell anyone. But it’s a secret Shilo can’t hide.

Sixteen, ready for the best summer of her life, Shilo experiences her second use of a God-given Gift when she accidentally heals a child. She learns early on, though, that the Gift cannot be taken lightly or for granted. Despite her mother’s warnings of becoming a media frenzy or even delusional with power, Shilo is put in an uncompromising position when her boyfriend’s life is at stake. Under the influence of enormous family stress, Shilo has pushed Kenji away, something that’s tearing her apart. Their reunion and subsequent revelations may not result in all that she or her family wish, but the words and actions cannot be undone.

Miura’s story is a nicely shaped and paced young adult story that’s well defined. The real angst of teenagers and tweens is lovingly created with a cast of characters that will leave a mark on the reader. Told through multiple first-person viewpoints, Shilo’s appeal as a young lady in love, mature, yet vulnerable, is a great story to share with young people. This is a lengthy book for young adult, so although I recommend for seventh grade and up, younger readers should be good readers. Younger readers should have parental supervision regarding some mature situations (teenage pregnancy, abuse, drug running, some violence, and serious injury).

The theme of obedience running through the story, speaking to trust, conscience, responsibility, obedience to authority figures such as teachers and pastor, parents, and especially to faith in God and acting on that faith, is wonderfully illustrated.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Month Long Multi Book Giveaway for February

Want to find a new writer, learn what novels some of your favorite authors are reading, or find new book reviewer and blogger recommendations?

Visit www.nnlightsbookheaven.com
 to participate in this new launch beginning in February. All genres are included whether it’s novels from debuting authors to award-winning/bestselling authors with multiple books and/or series. The best part -- it's all free for readers to enter, as authors are generously donating copies of their books each month to help find new fans and build up their reading communities. Be part of this wonderful new group right now! I’m excited to participate in this month’s giveaway and can’t wait to share with you all that will be offered in the coming months. You never know which surprising authors might just show up on the list this year!