Spoiler Alert: The Humans did it.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from The Sixth Extinction, it’s that were one of the worst species on this planet, or at least worse than I initially thought and that’s saying a lot. I have a background in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (primarily in Atmospheric Sciences, aka meteorology), and anyone who’s anyone in this area knows about climate change and the kind of horrors it presents for our future. This book not only openly acknowledges who’s to blame for it, spoiler alert―it’s us, but goes on to describe some of the catastrophes as they relate to the biodiversity of this planet. And me being a natural-processes kind of girl, I wasn’t even aware the kind of changes we wrought on our animals, except for maybe the dodo bird. Thank you Ice Age: the movie.

Within the first chapter, Elizabeth Kolbert describes the Panamanian golden frog as a symbol of good luck in the town El Valle de Anton in central Panama, even if the frogs themselves are toxic, with enough “poison contained in the skin of just one animal [that it] could kill a thousand average-sized mice–hence the vivid color” (5). Although if I’ve learned over the years in the shadow of my herpetology-obsessed brother, it’s that anything that brightly colored is poisonous and is so colored to warn you. And at one point in time, these frogs were so common, they were often found sunning themselves on the bank of a creek in El Valle, appropriately named the Thousand Frog Stream. Then in the late 1990s, a blight began to spread, wiping out not just the Panamanian golden frog, but nearly all frogs, although the golden frog is said to now be extinct in the wild since 2007 (Wikipedia).

Then there’s the little brown bats, a dominant bat in the northeastern U.S., not more than five inches long, considered once “ubiquitous in Vermont, [it] is officially listed as an endangered species in the state” (216), and probably a million more other species facing the same kind of extinction. Even though we’re not the direct cause of these species extinction, since most of these deaths were due to some kind of fungus, most of these extinctions can be traced back to us. For the American Chestnut tree, it was wiped out due a fungus imported to the U.S., probably from Japan (Kolbert 204). For the bats, it’s probably from the introduction of a fungus at a commercial cave in upstate New York, and has since been traced to Europe, where Greater mouse-eared bats are found to carry the fungus and aren’t bothered by it (215). And for the frogs, it’s probably the same thing, since multiple theories suggest that the same chytrid fungus was probably carried over by shipments of African clawed frogs or North American bullfrogs, for either pregnancy tests or human consumption (18).

These are the secret ways we kill. They’re not as obvious as habitat removal through deforestation or construction, and they’re not as flamboyant as the poaching for elephants or rhinos, but it’s still a sort of murder. Kolbert writes scientists saying as many as a minimum of 9 to 13 percent of species disappearing by 2050 (in the hopeful ‘universal dispersion’ scenario) or a maximum of 38 to 52 percent of all species (in the pessimistic ‘no dispersal’ scenario). This still averages out to about a quarter of all species on the planet disappearing in 33 years, and I haven’t even mentioned what happens regarding our oceans’ waters yet.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of The Sixth Extinction, I highly recommend you do so. I am for one usually never to read a book of non-fiction, but not only is this book highly motivating and eye-opening, it’s also entertaining in a morbid sort of way. Elizabeth talks of facts and figures almost like a history professor, making this an informative read, but she also writes as a reporter, an entertainer, using her personal experiences in each of these information-acquiring endeavors as a unique and personal experience in the progress of the sixth extinction. Did I mention it’s won a Pulitzer Prize?

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction. New York, NY: Picador, 2014. Print.

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What are we without our memories?

If there was one thing I would say about our species, it’s that were highly vision-dependent. This is apparent when you read a book. The imagery is always very conducive of sight with descriptions like “the rotting bridge sagged under its own weight, leaning perilously to one side so that if I were to step onto it, it would collapse under my feet.” There is very little that conveys to our other senses such as hearing, feeling, or taste, and yet the novel I just read breaks many of these boundaries.

The Chimes by Anna Small.

The chord is death and sorrow and torture. Like millions of people all screaming at once. Just when I think I can’t stand any more, the harshness fades and crumbles. It doesn’t resolve. That is the wrong word. It doesn’t move into harmony, but it breaks, and as it breaks, it shows the possibility of change. It walks forward. It carries the pain into the next chord, but it softens there and there is sweetness again. (276)

Because it’s hard to translate sound into a book’s structure of visual text, this book makes a lot of comparisons between sound and images. It creates metaphors and similes, anything to translate music into something that we can comprehend because this is how the book’s whole world communicates: Through music, sound, and voice. And this is where I partly love the book. I’ve never been one who can understand music. I can’t play instruments. I can’t sing (well). So to ask me to comprehend music is a large jump for me to make especially since each character in this book is given an instrument to learn and master beginning at their childhood.

I love their language, how everyone communicates by song, tunes, and verses.

A plaintive three-note cry from a sweet-potato man who sings as he pedals a bellow wheel. A tune of golden meat pasties sung by a fat woman with a wink. There are tunes for sandwiches and potatoes fried in goosefat, and there is a seabrimmed song sun by a boy with dark hair and a shucking knife. A song with a gleam of pearl in it for the oysters he sells. The oysters are from Essex, the song says. Like me. (7)

I love how music is something that can’t be forgotten even when each person loses their memories each night, driven out by some unseen force. Almost like how modern music refuses to abandon our minds and digs in its own unrelenting claws. People use these tunes to hawk their wares, to give directions.

The boatpeople are already traveling downriver to trade from Richmond. They sing the sightlines of the river and the meter of the tide upstream and down. Their melodies follow each curve of the banks so if you listen close, you can almost see it. Voices low and wordless in the half-song of navigation, a sort of la la leia la that is almost the sound of the river itself. (27)

It speaks of how when an individual’s unique experiences are removed, we become nothing but labor, with no more purpose beyond baker, musician, pactrunner. Even the people within the novel recognize this, always giving out their best piece of advice: To find a prentisship. Their  second advice, more tradition than advice at this point–to hold your memories close–is to relish in the fact that it is only with the addition of our memories that we become individuals, who believe and feel whether that’s pain, happiness, love, tragedy.

This book is unique and original and lyrical, which makes it one-of-a-kind.

Small, Anna. The Chimes. New York, NY: Quercus, 2015. Print.

Edit: I will say as a side note, that it is very interesting to relive average days with the main character as he tries hard to remember, which is very difficult to do given the fact that nobody else within the city can. 

5 Levels of Editing

So I’ve finished another book, and now I’m stuck with my neck craning back, aching, a wall looming before me, and I just can’t bring myself to figure out: What is the key to editing? Being a perfectionist, there seems to be so much looming before me, but I feel like if I break it down, then it doesn’t seem that bad anymore. So tad-dah! Here’s the 5 levels of editing:

5levelsofediting

1. Plot’s ARC

This is the broadest, most general pass I do while editing. Here I’m looking across my entire story, examining it for an arc, explained earlier here. I want to make sure it has all the general pieces of a story, specifically a climax, and I want to make sure it smoothly increases and decreases in tension. Bobby shouldn’t be dying before readers know he’s fallen down the stairs, or that he’s fallen down the stairs because he has a loose peg leg, which his brother unwittingly loosened for him after a fight over their favorite game.

2. Chapter Editing

At this point, I’m no longer looking at the entire book but each chapter, and there’s a few things I’m checking for:

  • Looking for a purpose/conflict so that the story moves itself ahead
    • If the chapter is missing one or the other, I need to change it so it has both
  • Checking for realistic dialogue
  • Editing transitions between chapters so that you don’t lose focus/tension

3. Paragraph Editing

Here are stylistic changes, which means adding more character reflection or imagery. My goal is that every chapter comes alive and that can’t happen unless you’re connected to the characters (through internal reflection) or until you can see the story (which means more detailed imagery, using as many senses as possible). Currently, I’m not here, but later I’m going to find my ideal paragraph and use that as a standard to measure up against the rest of my writing.

4. Line Editing

Here focus is narrowed until you’re looking at individual lines. Your always asking yourself, is there a better way to say this? Is it awkward? A good test at this point is to start reading your whole story aloud. Read it to a partner or friend. What can sound good in your head can sound really awkward aloud, and usually your mouth is already fixing the sentence for you. Try it.

5. Word Editing (aka proof-reading)

This is more like copy-editing as this point with CUPS, ensuring you have good spelling. Changing your word choice when you think of a better word. Etc. At this point, you should be feeling happy with the story, and if not, you need to go back and rethink at what point are you not happy? Maybe there’s something you need to fix.

Question

While I was watching my kids test today—may their grades rest in peace—I got distracted, thinking about how my kids are good at asking questions. And it’s sad sometimes to think that this is overlooked as a skill, a valuable one at that. Unless you’re asking questions, you’re not really learning, which is why I always push my kids so hard to ask when they’re confused. If they don’t ask, they’ll always be wondering what if…And until you try it, you’ll never know, which got me to thinking…

You’re not a student until you start asking questions. Until then, you’re only an observer.

Of course, now I’m stuck on the idea of wanting to slap that quote on a poster and hang it up in my classroom. And of course I want to put my name on it, because who wouldn’t be proud? It takes me so long to come up with anything, and I feel like lately it’s so rare, that I’m extremely proud of myself. I want everyone to see I can say smart stuff too, especially when the words seem to just congeal and spill out of my mouth in math. But I guess I can’t put my name on the poster…that would sound too conceited. So why can’t my excuse be because I’m a writer. And, isn’t that what writers do? Obsess over words?

Father Earth’s been missing it

“The path that the Moon naturally follows. Instead of letting it pass again, lost and wandering, bring it home. Father Earth’s been missing it. Bring it straight here and let them have a reunion.” (390)

In the previous book, The Fifth Season, I learned about orogenes—people who can manipulate the kinetic energy around them, usually in relation to dirt and rock. This means that they can fix the energy released during an earthquake, or can manipulate the rock around them. In the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, I learned something new. Besides there being a new kind of beings called Stone Eaters, called such since their skin and hair resemble stone, I find out that Father Earth is alive. And he’s fighting a war.

This book makes me excited because of the layers that Jemisin has again woven into its plot. While still focusing on Essun and her search for her daughter Jija, the book begins to weave the story of a war going on between Father Earth and the residents living on his surface. It tells the story of a two-sided war, those who would like to stabilize the Moon to bring it back into orbit, to end the seasons, and those would like to bring the Moon home and end all humanity. This plot line gets me excited mainly because it is similar to a book I want to write, one that contemplates how the Earth feels about people living on its surface, because surely if it was alive, it wouldn’t be happy with us.

One thing I didn’t like, which was more something I had to get used to was the unusual second-person perspective. I have seen authors use “you” before in order to insert the reader into a specific viewpoint, but this book is written using this POV for Essun’s perspective, and it’s very jarring starting out. Mainly because I think it breaks the norm. Once you get used to reading it, I think it’s very interesting. And it really separates the reader from Jija’s perspective since it flips back and forth, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. I might have to think about it a little more.

Jemisin, N.K. The Obelisk Gate. New York, NY: Orbit, 2016. Print.

Revealing your background

They followed him, just a short distance behind, the monk continually glancing back at them over his shoulder.

The monastery buildings were now dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace. (147)

This is an interesting paragraph, not because of the lack of dialogue and constant motion, but because of the method of how it draws your eyes. And thus reveals one of my weaknesses.

I love to focus on the movement of a character, so if we cut everything down to just the character, the me-version would read as follows:

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

It’s like it paints half a picture, just like the old television shows where Scooby Doo and Shaggy were painted in these bright pastels, always moving since they were in the foreground, while the background was dark and shadowy, never changing.

And, if I wanted to add the background, I would use the movement of the character to draw the reader’s attention to it.

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, which prompted them to turn back and stare at the monastery buildings behind them, dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

Of course, it gets very repetitious when I have to keep saying stared, looked, watched, peeked, glanced, gazed…their eyes followed… It’s much easier to do it just as the way Ishiguro did. When you expect a character to turn and look at something, don’t start with the character, immediately jump into the imagery instead. Just like Ishiguro.

There is an alternative, and I almost prefer this one…

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, watching in case anyone left the monastery buildings behind them, in case anyone was following. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

I like this one better for 2 reasons: 1) the character is interacting with his environment and 2) there is some reflection on the action itself. Right when I mention”in case anyone was following,” you can see the characters are worried and careful. I think this draws a reader more into the story, although Ishiguro’s way can be described as a more artful way, since it really shines on the imagery.

But I guess it really depends on which effect you like the best.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Organizing your story

I want to donate a technique I’ve been using that helps me write and focus on the story. (Mainly because I have a tendency to slow down and focus on the realism of the characters.)

Meet my standard format for outlines!

 Chapter #  Purpose  Conflict
 Here, I write the chapter number. And will outline each chapter in my book – this helps if you think of each chapter like a mini-story, each with its own purpose.  Write the purpose of each chapter here. What do you want to show your readers? How does the plot advance in this chapter?  I’m always worried about a slow story. If you’re reluctant to read, it’s not engaging your interest. What conflict is there to up the tension in the story?

I will do this for every book, every chapter. Lately, I’ve been using this to go back and edit my stories, but lately, I’ve also been using it while I’m writing (for longer stories). It helps me focus on the big picture.

Your death or others

I had a weird dream last night. And I just want to start off by saying if you don’t like disturbing things, then you probably shouldn’t keep reading. But if you want a creepy story prompt – go for it.

Suppose you’re on a lake. Not literally on it, as in sitting in a boat or what not, but you’re standing at the edge, your head tilted back, waiting for the sunshine, except these huge storm clouds are growing. Hulking grey giants, they quickly spawn several tornadoes.

Now you’re wondering where to run because it’s not like there are several buildings around, and the most you can do is follow the sidewalk, which somehow has a ladder spawn in the middle of the grass. Not knowing what else to do, and realizing underground is much better than above ground, you climb inside, finding a half open area still exposed to the weather. You can feel the wind picking up, and although you’re happier being somewhat covered, all you can think is lower. I must go lower. After all, these could be F5 tornadoes. They could destroy everything in their path.

So the next you thing you do is eye this hatch that looks like it’s made for a submarine, except it’s sitting in the middle of the wall, and thinking this looks safer, you open it up.

And…

There’s ash. Mountains and mountains of ash.

And bones.

What you’ve stumbled upon is an old cremation oven for human bodies, except these bodies don’t like they were fired all the way because some of the ash is still holding their shape, and some of that ash looks like bone, and you can barely make the shape of a few skulls holding themselves together.

You can’t stop thinking about the Holocaust anymore. How there’s too many bodies crammed inside, too much ash had collected for this to be a legal, medical thing. And standing there for a moment, slowly the aura builds. This huge creeping invisible cloud that sits like a weight on your lungs, and you find yourself struggling to breathe. But it could also be the wind picking up, starting to rip the air off your breathe.

You have to make a decision. Now.

Do you stay outside – die by tornado? Or do you go inside – and sweat among bodies that you know were probably murdered alive?

***

This dream has made me think a lot. It’s made me ask myself, am I more disturbed by death or the death of others? It’s also made me wonder, why are we as a species so concerned with macabre topics? Does the constant exposure dull the edge of the fact that are lives are finite? I know this is probably a highly researched topic, but it’s one I think all writers should consider.

What would you do in this situation?

Halfway through SLEEPING GIANTS

So I had a bit of a fan girl moment at comic con at Seattle. Everyone was waiting half an hour to an hour to meet their favorite actors and actresses, and I could waltz to the front of my line because no one wanted to get the autograph of some well known writer.

Thank you Brent Weeks and Kevin Hearne. You made my week!

Also thank you Sylvain Neuvel not only for your autograph but for your new and first published book, Sleeping Giants, which was an obvious attempt and marketing but I didn’t care because cool! Advance Reader’s Edition!

Right now I’m on page 201 out of 302, having read most of the book on my flight, and I have to say it was interesting, even if this was my only means for entertainment.

This book follows a very predictable timeline pattern: linear consecutive flow, excusing the initial prologue where the story is introduced two decades in the past. After that what follows is a series of dialogue within interviews and reflective diaries from three/four characters.

And firstly, I like the interviews. I would say Neuvel definitely has his dialogue down. What I like most of all is how the interviews are always conducted by the same character, this mysterious main whom we never know the name or position of, except that he holds control over the president and NATO’s bank. This is my favorite part.

I do like the little diaries, except they seem like necessary scene breaks in order to break up the dialogue, which doesn’t get boring but seems almost required in order to get descriptions of actions or visuals, especially if the giant which is integral to the story.

The characters do have a good voice, and you can see the gender and age differences between characters, even their personalities just by their voice. But what I felt was lacking within the characters is a real dimension. Maybe it’s because they felt like stereotypes, overused archetypes: motherly overseer,  angsty pilot, etc. They didn’t have too much history or purpose behind them besides curiosity for the job driving them forward.

And right now, that’s all I can see driving this book forward: curiosity. So far what’s played out has consisted of “Ooo. Robot! Let’s find it!” to “This robot is a deadly murder machine. We’ve got to hide it!”

Seems like transformers except more technology advanced, it’s own hardships, and it’s own looks.

I’m waiting to read what happens next. What’s the arc?

Delivering a moment

If you haven’t heard of Moss yet, it’s an online journal found here.

Anyways – I went to APRIL, which had a small convention at the Hugo House, letting small indie presses sell their wares, and Moss was one of companies. Apparently, they just made a new first-time-ever print edition, and me having known about them for a while, and being irresistibly excited by print, I bought a copy.

First story – “Family Life and Sexual Health”

After I finished this story, the first thing that comes to mind is a motif about brothers, siblings. You can tell from reading this story that the main character, Elle, really wanted to be something other than an only child. And this is a great feeling to focus on – I feel like a lot of children/people can relate to this feeling.

And for its one positive to focus on – pacing. This author’s style is similar to mine as of late. At least when I’ve been riding the bus, and writing in between bus stops, I find myself favoring the quick, jumping scenes, ducking in and out of the story, and Texeira has successfully accomplished this.

She writes, What do you mean by and stops.

Elle keeps her eyes on the paper, “Sex?”

A few uncomfortable attempts and she finally figured out the angle at which something could go inside. (4)

A lot of scenes are like this, cutting in and out with dialogue or some concrete imagery, with each scene not being more than a moment, maybe a few minutes at most, before continuing on with the story. I think this makes a short story really successful, delivering only the most crucial details. In this case, Dan’s repeated visits to Elle, always eating pie, always asking for a fork, sharing a timeless moment, is something you would see between siblings, quickly getting the motif across. It makes me wonder if Texeira wanted one.

Guy, Connor and Alex Davis-Lawrence. Family Life and Sexual Health. Seattle: Moss Volume 1, 2015. Print.