Dental Work Update

Those who read this blog regularly will know I had oral surgery yesterday. As such, I will keep this short.

Here is an excerpt from my ongoing Sci-fi serial about the Galactic Consortium.

 

Bakala slid the plate over to Madsen and returned to the kitchen. The baby on Nicole’s lap fussed and cried. “She’s been teething,” Nicole groused.

Jensen started laughing. “You know I lost four teeth in the blast, hit my head on a stair railing? So when we came on board the healers poked around in there and then stuck these patches or something in there. Said ‘you’ll be fine.’ And off I went. Every couple days they make me open up and they inspect them, or pull them off and replace them. I didn’t think nothing of it, just do what they say, right? So this morning I wake up sweaty, with my jaw aching and drool all over my pillow.”

He paused in telling his story to accept a plate from Bakala. “So I go to the healer and ask what’s up. He’s like, ‘oh, your new teeth are coming in. Once they break the surface you’ll feel better.’ So tell our daughter I know what she’s going through.”

 

Damn, I wish we had that technology. It would save me a lot of pain and time healing.

 

Here is my funny story from the dentist:

As they were putting me under, with gas and IV sedation, I kept thinking that I should remember this feeling. It would help me write the character of Cheyenne Walker better, to understand what it’s like to be lost, not sure what’s fully going on.

The problem is that when I came out, all I can remember is thinking about how I should remember what it felt like for writing, but I can’t recall what it felt like. Sigh.

 
Update: Actually it went really well. I have to give a shout out to Iowa Oral Maxillofacial Surgery for really good work. If you need teeth violently ripped out of your body and you’re in Central Iowa, give them a call. 

Technology, OpenDyslexia and Asym

Life is funny sometimes. We create technology to solve a problem, only to create a new problem. Then we create more technology to solve those problems.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by a difficulty reading. It is not a sign of laziness or low intelligence. In fact many dyslexics are very bright and highly creative. The list of famous people with dyslexia is prestigious.

Dyslexia is a brain disorder. It’s not that they can not see or read the letters in front of them, it’s that they have trouble converting those symbols into words. Dyslexia runs in families. Their brains are slightly different on MRI scans and they use different portions of the brain to compensate for the way their brains are. (Please note, different does not imply better or worse.)

Dyslexia is a man made disease. Writing is a technology and a recent one at that. Our brains simply didn’t evolve to read. We have to learn to do it. There is nothing natural about the process.

How recent is writing?

Sumerian cuneiform is generally recognized as the first written language, originating around 3100 bce, over five thousand years ago. There is a yet undeciphered Harappan language that might predate it by a few hundred years.  Counting and trading tokens predate actually writing and may go back nearly nine thousand years. While nine thousand years is a long time in history, it’s a blip in human evolution.

This kind of symbol processing is new to our brains. If you do not have dyslexia, that’s pure luck. You happened to have the right neuro-pathways in your brain to complete a completely unnatural mental task. You should really quit telling dyslexics they have a disorder and admit you got lucky.

Even though writing has been around for more five thousand years, widespread literacy is much newer. For most of history, writing was kept for an elite few. Broad public education for the masses was a notion that only became common in the 1700’s. Even then many labor class children dropped out of school early to work. Throughout the 1800’s for example, literacy in Great Britain hovered around fifty percent.

The biggest change in the last century, the change that has led to a rise in dyslexia in the western world is not just a rise in literacy, but a rise in it’s importance. The dwindling labor economy and growing service economy of the late twentieth century and today require literacy.

This is not only true of dyslexia, but also for ADHD, Asperger’s and many learning disorders. A hundred years ago having a learning disorder limited your academic life, but there were many other avenues to having a good life. Gone are the days of apprenticeships, learning skills hands on from a master craftsman. Gone are the days of making a decent living without an education. My point is not that people didn’t suffer from dyslexia before the twentieth century, but that it wasn’t the same barrier to success that it is today.

None of these disorders are diseases in the medical sense. They are differences in brain chemistry or make up, but they make it incredibly hard to succeed in our highly specialized society that demands reading and academic achievement of every citizen.

So what are we going to do about them? That’s always a good question. Technology has recently provided some interesting answers to the question of dyslexia.

open-dyslexia-is-a-font

Dyslexics often have difficulty translating letters into the correct mental meaning in their minds. Certain letters offer a greater challenge than others. Flipping letters, perceiving a b as d or vice versa, is a common symptom. It was probably not surprising that someone would decide that maybe we should look at the letters themselves, instead of the brains of dyslexics. Open Dyslexic is a font created for dyslexic readers. The letters of Opendyslexic are shaded in such a way as to help readers avoid flipping or inverting them. The creators admit that it doesn’t work for every single dyslexic, but it can be a godsend for some. If you or someone you love has dyslexia, you can download the font here.

Once the font is installed on a computer, using it with any word processors should be a snap, so if you can get editable files from school or wherever, you can convert them to this font. For ereaders it might be tougher. The Kobo allows custom fonts. Epub files, like Apple and Kobo can include custom fonts. If you are a little bit of a geek, you can use Calibre to add Opendyslexic to your favorite epub books. As of right now, Kindle doesn’t allow custom fonts but maybe someday they will, or at least include Opendyslexic in their fonts.

This page will show you how to change your fonts on most web browsers. With so much of our reading being done digitally these days, there is hope that we can adjust that reading to suit the reader, rather than forcing the reader to adjust themselves.

But there is more to reading, and reading issues, than the shape of the letters. Another interesting development is Asymetrica. This article talks about how the spaces between letters affect reading comprehension and engagement. A web browser tool can be found here.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-4-35-20-pm

Human beings have a real knack for changing the environment around us. Unfortunately we often create as many problems as we solve in this way. Writing has been one of our greatest inventions of all times, and has revolutionized our world many times over. However for an estimated one in ten people that have dyslexia, it has made life a lot tougher. They struggle to learn what is increasingly an essential skill. They may be told they are stupid or lazy; lies that simply hold them back.

Hopefully the same knack for changing the environment can be turned to good. As we learn more about this disorder and as we come to rely more on digital technology, changing the reading environment to make it easier for dyslexics to read seems like a life changing idea. Hopefully we can get the word out about these projects and others like them.

In my science fiction serial The Galactic Consortium, humans living in the consortium don’t have dyslexia, ADHD, or any of the learning disorders common on earth. At first they wonder why this is, they aren’t so different from us after all. The truth is buried so deep in their history that they’ve forgotten it. Their educational system and digital environment was adjusted millennia ago to accommodate a wider range of human neurology. Their script has been optimized for comprehension and their educational system is flexible and works with many different learning styles. I can only hope our real world systems will learn the same lesson in our near future.

Read more about the Galactic Consortium here.

Read more about the Galactic Consortium here.

Aliens are Coming!

The aliens are coming!

Well, they’re sort of aliens and they are sort of coming…

To my Wattpad page.

My next Wattpad project is going to be the first season of The Galactic Consortium.

The Galactic Consortium

This is a sci-fi serial about first contact with an alien race, except they are not truly alien, rather Simian — from the same genetic line as humans. They arrive in space above us in the present day, announcing that they terraformed our planet, sent settlers (us presumably) and now they are back, ready to begin the exploration of our galaxy. What happened in the last forty thousand years, why we don’t know any of this, is a mystery.

The Girl in the Tank

My Working Cover*

My Working Cover*

Less than five months ago, lights appeared in the sky. Days later the ships started to arrive. They call themselves the Consortium. They are human, or at least Simian, descending from the same genetic line as humans. They terraformed this planet centuries ago, sent settlers a mere forty thousand years ago. Now they are back, ready to begin the exploration of this galaxy.

For Cheyenne Walker, Chief Petty Officer aboard the Cambridge, a USS destroyer, the arrival of the Consortium is just one more obstacle to finishing her final tour of duty and getting home to her kids. The political upheaval forces the US into an uneasy alliance with the Consortium against China, and puts the Cambridge on the edge of a nuclear blast.

Cheyenne wakes to find herself aboard the Corelean, a Consortium Medical Evacuation ship. Floating in a medi-tank, she wonders if they really can’t repair the wreck of her body, whether these newcomers are friends or foes and most importantly, will she ever make it back to children?

I will be posting on Sunday, Wednesday and Fridays. There are eight episodes, ranging from 12,000 words to 25,000 words. Each episode has it’s own storyline but they build on each other. Eventually this serial will be published on Amazon and elsewhere, but for now the only place to read it is on Wattpad. Enjoy this exclusive sneak peek.

*The above cover is a working cover. When I go to press I hope to have the funds to hire the wonderfully talented Aidana Willowraven.

Scrivener and the Pseudo-pantser

I’ve always hated the old saw about how there are two kinds of writers, pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, letting the story take them on a journey of it’s own choosing. Plotters plan out their novel. The term is often synonymously with outlining, which is another reason I dislike this saying so much.

I object to the notion that it’s so black and white, that all writers must either be creative free spirits or studious planners. I also object to the notion that writing a detailed outline is the only way to plan a novel.

I have tried dozens of different approaches to writing novels and I’ve written entire novels in different approaches. I tried pantsing when I was younger and it didn’t work for me. I’d write myself into a corner within twenty pages and get stuck.

I finished my first novel with the marshal plan. Then I learned how to storyboard and things really took off for me. I’ve relied on storyboarding software like Storybook or Scrivener to help keep my stories structured and on track.

One “Plotter” stereotype that was true for me for several years was that I refused to start writing until I have the entire story in front of me. I couldn’t. I had to know every scene, every side plot and every twist or turn before I could start. Once I started, I wrote from opening to finish in one long monolithic document.

Two years of using Scrivener exclusively, I’ve been noticing a shift in how I write. It’s been a slow process.

The one drawback of Storybook, I’ve always said, is the lack of a robust internal editor. In other words, Storybook is great for planning your story, but you end up doing the actual writing in a word processor.

Scrivener has a great functional editor pane and it’s a snap to actually write in scrivener. Still I went on doing what I had grown accustomed to doing with Storybook, planning the novel in its entirety and then writing it in one long slog. For the first few scrivener based novels I would finish the novel and the export it into libreoffice to edit and format.

Then I started to study Scrivener and learned that some of it’s greatest features are only apparent in the editing stage. I started learning to use documents notes to make notes on things I wanted to re-write later. I started using meta-data to track point of view, characters in a scene, sub-plots, etc. I realized it was possible to use Scrivener to accomplish a deep re-write, the kind of rewriting that would have scared me before. I could add and delete scenes, alter characters and then go re-write every single scene with them in it.

That’s when I noticed my writing strategy had shifted. I was becoming a pseudo-pantser.

My current WIP started as a fifty thousand word science fiction novel. I realized one day that the same plot line would work as the backbone for a serial. I took the scenes I had already written and parceled them out over eight episodes. Then I’ve gone back and added in scenes and characters to make each episode it’s own story. Now I am “layering” it, adding small scenes and fleshing out side characters and subplots. It will be well over two hundred thousand words when it’s done.

My latest work in progress started as a novel, then I decided it would work as a serial. With Scrivener the switch was easy.

My latest work in progress started as a novel, then I decided it would work as a serial. With Scrivener the switch was easy.

Layering is not something I would have even considered in the past. The thought of adding a new character or subplot after having written a story was absurd. How could you possibly go through a four hundred page word document and add new scenes and references to this new person wherever necessary to make their inclusion seamless? With Scrivener such work is a snap. Use meta data to track which scenes need rewritten with the new character. Click and drag to add scenes where you need them.

In the past I would have gotten so far into storyboarding an idea and thought, “do I have enough?” This was always a tricky question. Is the story fleshed out enough? Are there enough side plots and story action to make a satisfying read? I’d agonize over the answer and refuse to write until I was sure I had the story complete in my head.

Now when faced with this same dilemma I think, let’s just write it and see. There is an incredible freedom in being able to write the portion of the story I know, confident that I will be able to add to it when the rest of the story floats through my brain. When the developers at Literature and Latte claim that they built Scrivener around the creative process, rather than forcing the creative process to conform to the software, they weren’t kidding.

You can check out Scrivener for yourself here:

Arranging words in Scrivener

Regardless of whether you use Scrivener or something else, whether you define yourself as a plotter, a pantser, or something entirely different, you shouldn’t let others shame you for the way you write. There are hundreds of ways to plan and write a novel and none of them are. You should keep an open mind, there’s always new things to learn.

What is your writing process? How has it changed over time? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading.

 

You got your peanut butter in my chocolate

For starters if you don’t get the title to this blog:

A) you just made me feel old

and

B)

 

The point is that sometimes completely unrelated things happen to go together and make something new and wonderful.

I have been plotting out a series of science fiction books about the Galactic Consortium. The Consortium arrives in space above Earth in the present day (our timeline diverges from reality at 2013). They terraformed Earth eons ago as a base for their expansion into this galaxy. They sent settlers, humans, to this planet thousands of years ago. What happened to cause us to lose this history and their technology is anyone’s guess.

The series mostly deals with the cultural and political upheavals that occur when this much older and powerful culture shows up on our doorstep. These upheavals are seen through the eyes of ordinary people whose lives are changed by the unfolding events.

Lately I have been watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix. One of the subjects that has always fascinated me is cults. So I’ve watched a number of good documentaries about people who have escaped from cults. I am particularly interested in how the children from very restricted groups adjust to life outside the confines of their practice.

And like peanut butter and chocolate, my next work in progress is starting to come together. The main character is a young transwoman. She has fled from a polygamist cult to become herself. Finding the world outside only slightly more accepting of her, she takes her chance on Shoshone Station.

Shoshone Station was a gift from the Consortium to the people of America. In geosynchronous orbit above Denver, Colorado, the station has a huge solar array, which produces an incredible amount of energy. The station is tethered to the ground via a nanotubule cable and a space elevator hauls people and goods up and down.

The station arrives with a skeleton crew of Consortium people onboard. It’s supposed to be under joint control of the Consortium and U. S. authorities. Due to diplomatic issues and mistrust, most Americans are hesitant to embrace the station and it is mostly empty as Zoey arrives.

The Consortium has sophisticated medical technology and long familiarity with transgender people. Their culture has a complex system of gender that includes a broad spectrum of gender expression for both men and women and numerous traditional groups and categories that fall outside our narrow concept of male and female. (There are seventeen basic genders. I charted them. I’ll share that in a later blog post, perhaps.) For Zoey, becoming a woman is only the first step, she must also figure out what kind of woman she wishes to be.