Tag: Reading

I’m Not Saying It Was Aliens, But…

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.” – Stephen Hawking

I believe there are many influences we have at a young age, particularly some books and movies that might be too much for our young minds to comprehend much less fully rationalize yet I wouldn’t discourage the practice provided they are discussed with an adult. Through my parent eyes, I do have some exceptions to this thought process that would include certain books and movies. There is an age appropriate criteria that should be set for some content or subject matter. That’s my job as a parent.

When I was young, I read two series of books that I was probably too young to read. One was a series of books by Carlos Castaneda in which he wrote about his training in shamanism under the tutelage of a Yaqui man named Don Juan. Some of this training introduced Castaneda to the use of psychotropic plants such as mushrooms and peyote in order for Castaneda to enter a reality in which he could better understand Don Juan’s teachings. My mother had been reading these books for a college class and talked openly about the books. She was convinced that Don Juan lived somewhere along the Mexican border where we lived (the Mexican state of Sonora having many border towns adjacent to small towns in Arizona). I didn’t find out until years later that much of what Castaneda wrote was questionable and disputed in some scholarly circles but by then, I had long forgotten much of what I had read. I would like to re-read the books as an adult and see if I feel differently.

Nasca - Parrot

Nasca – Parrot

The other series of books I read were by Erick von Däniken suggesting alien influences on earlier cultures. These books fascinated me then, and admittedly fueled an interest in ancient cultures. Had it not been for these books, I might not have been introduced to some of the amazing feats of construction that are prevalent in both Central and South America. Sure, we were all taught about the Great Pyramid of Giza and other wonders in Europe and Asia in grade school but not much was taught about many of the same wonders that existed directly south of us. I was twelve years old when I read Chariots of Gods? and thirteen when I read Gods from Outer Space.  Erick von Däniken tried to connect it all in his books and for a young reader, the theory was plausible. Did I believe aliens influenced or supervised these cultures, allowing them to accomplish things that were supposedly not possible with the technology and tools of that time? Absolutely.  Do I believe this now? Read on…

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During my later teens, I camped out in the desert near my house. While on a peyote induced trip to find my spirit animal, I had the chance to seek answers to many of the questions the books I had read a few years earlier had left me with. While flying, and I’m not sure what type of bird I was, I was abducted by a passing aerial craft of some sort. To my surprise, it was manned by aliens. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to have my questions answered, I asked them if they had anything to do with all the great mysteries I had read about only a few years earlier and they said they hadn’t but did admit to crashing at Roswell. So there I had it, firsthand knowledge directly from my abductors.  Alright, before you think I’ve completely lost it, yes I am just kidding. Actually, they couldn’t understand my question because I was bird and couldn’t speak (yes, maybe I was too young to read Castaneda or von Däniken).

Enough funny business and I will get back to the question: do I believe this now? I do believe that in a universe as vast as the one we are in, or other universes that exist, both known and unknown,  we would be very vain and naive to think we are the only intelligent life form. It comes down to numbers as Hawkins suggested in the quote I shared at the beginning of this post. Having said that, do I believe aliens influenced or helped the cultures of the past. No, I don’t. Not because it isn’t possible but because there is no proof. That doesn’t diminish my fascination with the possibility that it could have happened but the technical side of me demands proof and to my knowledge, there is none. The technical side of me knows enough to understand that many of these mysteries exploited in such books or television shows are easily disputed by an understanding of math, which we now know many earlier cultures were very proficient in.  A basic understanding of geometry for example, allows the construction of very detailed and exact shapes. Take a crop circle, or some other seemingly perfect geometrical shape, that supposedly could only be done with access to an aerial view. A group of people with a few stakes, long ropes to construct lines, and an understanding of right angles and arcs, could theoretically create most any shape. This has been proven numerous times by hoaxers. Toss in an understanding of astronomy and agriculture and it should be no surprise that ancient civilizations were able to accomplish many of the engineering feats we are fascinated with today.

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What I love about books that make us question things, both fictional and non-fiction, is the fact that they should spark interest in learning more. I can honestly say I am fascinated with ancient civilizations and the engineering feats they accomplished.  I believe I can attribute that fascination to a few of the more controversial books I read as a kid along with the not so controversial follow up reading found in other more scholarly books or magazines such as National Geographic. Thankfully, my mom encouraged both.

It’s all good.

Bill

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Google images 

Fact, Fiction, or Both?

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“There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing.”  –  David McCullough

I’ve ventured down that black hole we call research.  Although I’m not much of a betting man, I would bet that both new and established writers find themselves making the same journey.  Who can blame us? Many of us are perfectionists, many of us have set the bar too high based on our own perceived view of good writing, and many of us simply enjoy research.  Yes, yes, and yes. Regardless of the reason, and there are many, research can be just as much of a time suck as social media can be. But it’s so much fun.

So why am I lost in research? Maybe it’s because I work in a world of technical exacts. Deviations from those exacts can mean the difference between failure and success.  Design changes to current products or the introduction of new products go through rigorous evaluations and testing to ensure they meet the designed intent.  I could write with a level of authority when it comes to engineering or manufacturing and comfortably blend fact and fiction. Maybe I will at some point.

Maybe it’s because I am so impressed with authors I read, and the level of factual detail they present in their writing. More importantly, the level of factual detail they include that I know was researched.  The works of James Rollins might be a good example to use here with his Sigma Force series. Rollins was a veterinarian yet writes adventure/thriller novels blending historical mysteries and cutting edge science into fictional works. He writes with such authority. Maybe it’s his fault.

Maybe it’s simply because I’m writing a mystery/thriller and I want the law enforcement procedural parts of it to be accurate. I’ve had family members, now both deceased, who were in law enforcement. I could use their help now but all I have are personal memories involving stories they would tell and our family feelings about those stories. I can still use that but it doesn’t help with the procedural aspects. For that, I’ve enlisted the help of a friend of mine who is a detective with the State Police and another friend who is a local cop. I’ve also bought a few books on homicide investigation and have explored a number of websites that offer an overwhelming amount of information. All helpful and now I’ve become too detail oriented.  Maybe it is my fault.

The reality of it all is the procedural part of what I’m writing will probably amount to a small percentage of the whole. At some point, my research needs to be enough. I think I’ve done enough research and reached the point where I can now blend both fact and fiction harmoniously, and where there is doubt, I have enough resources available that I can improvise.  Just write…

For now, that’ll do.

 

If We Were Having Coffee #7

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If we were having coffee, I would only have a breakfast blend to offer you today. I’m having coconut creamer in mine. I never knew coconut creamer existed until the other day when my wife brought some home. I think I like it.  I wish I could offer you a new coffee we have been drinking over the last week by Lavazzo. It was an Italian Blend and has to be the best coffee I’ve had yet in our Keurig. It’s gone now and our local market is already out of it.

It feels good to say hello this morning because I haven’t posted in a few weeks.  The week before last, I worked in Houston for the entire week and had a lot do there in a short amount of time.  I got there on Memorial Day and was there for all the big storms and flooding. I was fortunate that the only flooding I witnessed was an underpass near my hotel where two freeways intersected.  A slight detour for me the first morning of work was my only inconvenience.  So many others there weren’t so lucky.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I got back in time to see my youngest son play baseball on Saturday and a county scholarship event for my oldest son on Sunday. I’ve traveled enough to know I should leave a day buffer for important events.  There was a second scholarship event at my son’s high school on Tuesday night this week and between the county and local scholarships, my son did well.  He won three different scholarships. The one I was most proud of him for was the one awarded to the top two girls and top two boys of his graduating class.

We live in a small community in one of the less affluent counties in New York yet between the county and his local high school, we witnessed well over three hundred thousand dollars being awarded to kids. At just his high school, almost fifty percent of his graduating class received something. That is amazing and a continual reminder to me of how our community gives back. We are truly blessed.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I’ve been making time to read but haven’t been writing for the last month.  There’s just been too much going on. I’m OK with that. No self-imposed deadlines to stress me out.  I will make time in a few more weeks after my son’s graduation.  I have a short story to wrap up and send off to my editor than back to work on my novel.  I read a great article on the plane last week about outlining and decided to try a few of the author’s suggestions. Winging it has been somewhat of a departure from my technical training (day job) and I can see where a little more structure could save me time. Even with an outline, there’s always room for creative tangents.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I need to cut it short today because I really should mow our yard. I would put it off until tomorrow after work but the forecast is for rain. I love sitting on our back porch during the rain and there’s just something about a freshly cut lawn that enhances the experience. Everything is so green right now and the woods behind our house are full, leaving only little openings where we might catch a glimpse of a deer or two. Birds are another story and this time of year we see, and just as importantly, hear so many. I’m not a bird watcher but I am starting to become familiar with their chirps. I think I successfully talked back to one the other day. Well, at least in my mind it was a success.

I’m also taking the time today to sit down with one of my son’s classmates who is also a dear family friend to us.  Just a little guidance through the whole college application/financial process to help her see how it’s very doable. Thankfully I’ve learned quite a bit about this over the last seven or eight months and she still has time.

I hope you have had a wonderful weekend!

Until next time…

Weekend Coffee Share is hosted each week bPart Time Monster

Over 110 Million Copies in Print

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What writer wouldn’t want to see that blurb in their bio along with #1 New York Times Bestseller next to the title of their latest book? To the average writer, the reality check of this happening might rank up there with winning the lottery. But yet the writer continues to write.

I’m thinking about this because I just finished a book a few weeks ago by David Baldacci. On the back cover I happened to see the “over 110 million copies in print” comment.  Yet the following week, I found myself reading a book by a much lesser known author. There’s no mention of how many copies in print or #1 NYT Bestseller, yet I enjoyed it as much as Baldacci’s book.  Wait, did I say as much as?  To be honest, I enjoyed it more and left her a review that stated that.

For the last year, I have been reading a number of books by authors most people have never heard of. Some are indie authors while others are represented by smaller publishers. I have found most of these authors through social media and a few were found in the bargain books section at Barnes & Noble. In between reading popular authors such as Baldacci, Silva, Kellerman, Rollins, and Gardner, I have found authors like Dena Rogers, E.L. Wicker, Lori Lesko, J.S. Snow, Wendy Tyson, C.L. Pauwels, Mark Rubenstein, Brendan DuBoise, J.D. Ludwig, and the book I just finished reading last week by S.S. Lange.  As a reader, I’ve enjoyed reading every author I just mentioned. Famous or not.  As a writer, I am inspired by all. Famous or not.

I tend to use music, art, and sports analogies when trying to express my thoughts.  I might do that more than I should but those particular arenas are enjoyed by many and at some level, I would hope, familiar to most.  So my thoughts on music, art, and sports? Some of the best music I have ever listened to might have been in a bar or on a street corner. Some of the best art I have been privy to appreciate has only been seen by a few. Some of the greatest sports moments I have witnessed were at the amateur level or with participants just competing for the love of the sport.  To me, it’s always about passion and sincerity and that performance will always shine; a permanent marker in my mind.

I can say the same about the written word.  There are some amazing writers out there and I am grateful to have experienced their work whether they’ve sold 110 books or 110 million books.

So take in a good bar band, explore a starving artist fair, or watch an amateur sporting event. And while you are at it, discover a new author.

Congratulations to the following authors who have new releases out within the last few weeks:

  • Paige Randall (@ThePaigeRandall) who can be found HERE
  • Wendy Tyson (@WendyTyson) who can be found HERE
  • Lori Lesko (@LeskoLori) who can be found  HERE

Until next time…

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Pick a Genre

By reading a lot of novels in a variety of genres, and asking questions, it’s possible to learn how things are done – the mechanics of writing, so to speak – and which genres and authors excel in various areas.” – Nicholas Sparks

It’s been a very interesting last few weeks around my house and things are finally starting to wind down. This is my first post of the New Year and first post of the month so I decided to write about something that has been relevant to me as of late: genre.

I’m presently writing a mystery/thriller. I’m only calling it that because it seems I need to place it under some genre, and by definitions I’ve read, my story seems to be heading that direction. I read a book last year about writing and there was an entire chapter about all the various genres and sub-genres within works of fiction. We tend to compartmentalize everything and I was not surprised to find anything different in the writing world. Looking at the majority of what I have read in the past, most of it would fall under some sub-genre of mystery or thriller. That doesn’t mean I don’t like other genres, it just means mysteries and thrillers are my favorites. Much like hard rock is my favorite music despite listening to everything from Ice Cube to Johnny Cash.

I tend to be that way with most things in life. Mexican food is my favorite but I enjoy most any ethnic food. Action movies? I love them. December however is devoted to both traditional Christmas movies and sappy Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. One of my favorite movies of all time is an inspirational movie called “Rudy” about a kid’s dream of not only attending Notre Dame but playing football there. Another is a silly kid’s movie called “The Goonies.” Neither of those is an action movie but for whatever reason are two of my favorites.

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A few years ago, my oldest son asked me to read Eragon, a book he was reading by a very young author named Christopher Paolini. It’s about a dragon rider and his dragon and I couldn’t honestly say without some research what genre it falls under.  I remember laughing at first, saying a very polite “no, that’s not my thing” and most likely continued reading the next available Daniel Silva or John Grisham book. My son was persistent and before I knew it, I was hooked on The Inheritance Cycle by Paolini, an amazingly well written series by the way for such a young author. Last year, at my son’s urging, I did the same thing with The Hunger Games.

I think if we limit categories in our reading, or listening, or tasting, or watching, we miss out on so much of what it is out there. I’ve thought about that a little over the last month as I read two new books over the Christmas/New Years Holiday. Both books were not in my chosen genre to write in; one a wonderful NA (and no that’s not Narcotics Anonymous) book about vampires and the other a contemporary romance about a second chance romance. Both were wonderful, well written stories by two very talented writers I am lucky to have as friends. Although I read them purely for pleasure, there were takeaways with each, both with style and two different approaches to romantic scenes.

I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone years ago when it came to reading. I do it with everything else in life so it should be no surprise that I’ve done it with reading. I know that reading books in my genre helps make me a better writer within that genre, obviously important with my current project but I’m also convinced reading anything makes me a better writer. It’s a craft, and like most any craft, it can be expanded and improved upon by stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing other genres.

Do I need to pick a genre? For writing, I believe I do but only because I have a grand master plan. For reading? Absolutely not.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite genre to read and/or write?

© 2019 W.C. Cunningham

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