Monday, January 20, 2014


What am I re-thinking?

This blog.

And my other blog.

I'm out of ideas. The last several posts on this one I struggled to come up with something to write about. I'm sure those posts reflect that lack of ideas. My other blog at least has my writing life for the subject, so I can get a stream of post ideas from that. This blog, not so much.

Rather than fight it, I'm going to back off. I have three or four people who read this either regularly or semi-regularly. To you I'm sorry for this. Perhaps a break will do me some good, and it can't depress my readership any more than it already is. I'm tired today from being sleep deprived. That no doubt is affecting my thinking. But that's what I'm doing, regardless of the reason.

Maybe I'll see you back here after a while, or at my other blog. We'll see.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Calm on a Windy Day

Yesterday I went to church alone, as Lynda had a bad night. We received a call in the night from the police saying that paramedics were en-route to her mom's apartment, having been called by Lynda's brother, who happens to be staying here right now. All is well; it was a low blood sugar attack, and she recovered quickly. I was able to get back to sleep, but Lynda wasn't.

But I prate. As I say I was alone at church. When I left the car at the church parking lot I was amazed at the strong wind. When I know there's not going to be any severe weather I tend not to pay a lot of attention. I listen for the predicted high and low, and the chance of precip, but not a whole lot else. Consequently I wasn't aware we were going to be in a windstorm.

There I go, prating again. When I left church almost three hours later the winds were even stronger. Now it seemed like a normal day on the Kansas prairie. Yes, when we go back to Lynda's hometown, out near Dodge City on the Kansas High Plains, the wind is constant. So different than in Arkansas, at least northwest Arkansas where I live and work. Most of the time we are calm, or at most have light breezes. That's especially true in Bella Vista. We are a community built on hills and valleys, about you would expect in the foothills of the Ozarks region. Bentonville, where I work, about fifteen miles from the house, is in contrast on an "upland" plateau, and can have a little more wind. Still, it's not much more. Most of the time when I walk around the commercial subdivision on noon hours I don't have wind to fight.

I'm prating again. Can't stick to the subject today. So yesterday, Sunday, we had this unusual sunny day wind storm. Yes, by the time I arrived home after church it was a full out windstorm. Maybe 30 mph sustained winds with gusts to forty or more. Lynda was sleeping when I got home, or at least in bed and quiet, so I stayed quiet. Took my tie off, fixed a sandwich, added some Cheetos to the plate, and headed to The Dungeon. My plans were to eat slowly over a half hour or so, and begin writing early. I would listen for Lynda and go upstairs and see her when she got up.

Outside the Dungeon windows, looking into our backyard, the wind blew and blew. A.A. Milne would call it a blustery day, and would have to have Pooh help Piglet from blowing away. My friends in Rhode Island would call it a wicked wind, and expect it to be along the shore. I tried to think of a good adjective to use for the wind that was causing branches to dance outside my window. A howling wind? Perhaps, though I think of that more at night. A fierce wind? It was that, though without the precipitation and with the cloudless sky fierce didn't seem right.

Alas, I had nothing to do but write. The day before, Saturday, I had spent mostly on personal paperwork followed by paperwork for our home business, stock trading. I left myself with around two hours for writing. Still, even though I wasn't sure about what my scenes were to be, I dug in. Re-reading what's I'd written last weekend, my memory came back and realized I had to complete a scene I left hanging. A Chicago Cubs' player had been mugged outside a restaurant in downtown Chicago. The reporter, John Lind, didn't think it was a random mugging and was to confront the player in the hospital to find out what was going on. Lind was already suspicious about this player. I wrote that scene, which gave me an idea for another in the same chapter. When my time was up I had about 1,300 words added.

That's not a bad production for that amount of time. I had set a goal of 3,000 words on Saturday and 3,000 on Sunday, knowing I almost never achieve that kind of production. Also knowing I was to be working on the sagging middle, and not having any clue what was coming next. By sagging middle I mean that part of the novel between the first and second plot points. It's supposed to be rising action, where the hero is going through trials and growing as a result, but with the big trial coming at the second plot point. This is one of the hardest parts to write. How do you keep the action going without topping what's to come? How do you keep the reader's interest. How do you pace it so that you have scenes and sequels, action and reaction?

That was Saturday. Now, on Sunday, I really didn't have a clue of what would come next. I had just had a chapter where everyone was talking; not much was happening in terms of bodies moving, people physically interacting. What do I write next? This has happened to me before. In this book, where I have about eight different points of view with four or five main plot lines, I knew I needed to see what plot line I'd dropped and get back to it with a point of view I hadn't used for a while. To do that I had to read. So, with sandwich in hand, chips at the ready, the wind howling outside, but feeling amazingly calm within, I began reading the last few chapters and reviewing notes I'd taken.

I quickly saw it was time to have a scene in Sarah's point of view, and that whatever was going to happen with Ronny's and Sarah's reconciliation it was time to bring it up. Or to complete it. I'd alluded to it a couple of chapters back. So those two matched, though I needed to make it happen with some conflict. I figured out what I needed to do, and began to write. I heard Lynda moving around upstairs, but waited until I finished the scene to go up and see her and get some coffee, the sandwich and chips long gone.

Coming back to the computer, I noticed the wind still howling, still moving tree branches—big tree branches. Still looking for action, I realized I hadn't yet wrote about a retaliatory murder by one Mafia organization against the other. Or rather, on Saturday I alluded to this murder and introduced the character who would do it. So now I had the murder take place, off camera, and added a scene in the next chapter where the suspect was cornered by S.W.A.T. teams and the FBI. I wrote that, and completed a scene about Ronny and Sarah. I then started a scene from Ronny's point of view where he is going to make an important decision.

I looked out at the wind, and realized the sun had set and it was getting dark. Close to 6:00 p.m. now. Time to close up shop for the day. If Lynda had been gone I'd probably have written another hour and done the scene with Ronny. But as it was I had another 2,500 words written, with a weekend total of just over 3,800. I was happy.

So what does the wind have to do with all of this? Absolutely nothing, except that it was so strong I decided not to go for an afternoon walk, giving me full time to work on the book. It was blustery outside, but calm inside. I'm satisfied with all that I accomplished. On the book, with my paperwork, and being able to be in corporate worship with fellow believers I know and love.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book Review: In the Blink of an Eye - Part 1

Some time ago I read and wrote a review of Andrew Parker's The Genesis Enigma. I asked a man at church if he wanted to read it. He said yes and I brought it to church, but he said he checked his library and found he had it, but hadn't yet read it. He offered to lend me Parker's earlier book, In the Blink of an Eye [2003, Perseus Publishing], which he had read. I jumped at the chance, and began reading it in August. I finished it last night.

Since I had read the later book, I had an idea of what the first book was about even before I read it, since Parker mentioned it frequently. Parker's premise, based on his research as a...I'm not exactly what to call him. Wikipedia describes him as a zoologist. The book jacket says he worked in marine biology. Essentially he's an expert in ancient biology—the biology of evolution. His interest is animals, not plants.

But back to his premise, which relates to what is called the Cambrian Explosion. That was a time when the number of species in the world, based on the fossil record, increased rapidly (i.e. exploded). At the same time the nature of animals changed as they acquired hard body parts, either exoskeletons or internal skeletons. What caused that explosion, Parker wanted to know. The dominant species of this time is the trilobite. But his research was in other species. He says what it is, but I'm not going to go back into the book to lay it out.

It had to do, however, with colors in animals. Why were there colors? Why did they evolve? He tied this to the evolution of the eye. The eye has always been a stumbling point for those who doubt the theory of evolution. It's too complex a system, some say, to ever have evolved. It must have been created. And, it would require too many steps and too long a time to evolve into a functioning sense and organ

Parker disagrees. The main premise of his book is that the eye could have evolved in a mere 500,000 years, a nanosecond in evolutionary time. I'll get to that part of his theory in a supplemental review. For this post, it is sufficient to say that Parker's theory, which he calls the Light Switch Theory, is that the relatively sudden development of vision is what caused the Cambrian Explosion. Because of eyesight, those pesky trilobites could see their prey, and became dominant hunters. So other species had to evolve ways and means of camouflage and stationary and mobile defenses. As a result, you "suddenly" had many species.

Without getting into the merits of the theory, just discussing the merits of the book, I have to say that it was a good book, though very tedious to get through. Parker attempted to write what I call a popular book that will appeal to a non-academic readership, rather than a scholarly scientific book. However, in my mind he has way too many names of species, way too much text, and way too few illustrations to make the book "popular". I'm no dummy, but I got bogged down in the scientific names.

He also mentions existing species of animals that I've never heard of. I know; I can go to an encyclopedia or go on-line and find something about them. Parker assumes a significant zoological knowledge of his readers. This book may not be a scholarly work, but it was written for someone with a degree in zoology. I don't have that, have never taken a course in zoology, or in whatever the name of the science is that studies evolution (paleontology?). Hence, while I completed the book, it was of less value to me than I hoped.

At Goodreads I gave the book 4 stars, though in my review I said it was really 3.5 stars. In a couple of follow-up posts I'll go into more of why I gave it that rating. For now, I'll say the book is worth reading, but be prepared to do a lot of outside, supplemental reading or read through a lot of stuff you don't understand.