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I wrote an article on parapsychology for a local newsletter and someone else (Gothic romanc writers?) picked it up for a reprint, so I thought the Genre Benders might be interested, too. Enjoy…

Parapsychological phenomena fall into two categories, Psi-gamma (cognitive) and Psi-kappa (active). Both were the subject of significant scientific scrutiny in the 1970s, but almost all parapsychology laboratories were shut down before 2000. Apparently ghosts and mediums are currently in fashion. Go figure.

Cognitive Forms

Telepathy is mind reading, the ability to tell what someone is thinking. It’s not all that difficult to fake with a working knowledge of psychology and a subject who isn’t crazy—people tend to think about the same things and body language can be highly informative.

Precognition is the prophet’s talent, knowing what is going to happen in the future. Prophetic dreams are considered forms of precognition—but memory of dreams tends to be selective. I once dreamed that Sting, the rock star, was chasing me around a convenience store, trying to kill me. It wasn’t precognitive, although it was memorable.

Clairvoyance is knowledge gained without communication. The two most interesting forms are psychometry and remote viewing. Psychometry is the ability to glean information from objects—get a piece of the kidnap victim’s clothing and a psychometrist can tell where said victim is being held.

Remote viewing is the ability to see a location without being there. I hate remote viewing, because it’s so very easy to fake by cold reading. I see a grassy area….near a parking lot next to a building…with a stream. Or a ditch. Maybe with a bridge. Yeah. Right.

Are any of these actually possible? Take telepathy, for example. All living humans have electromagnetic fields created by their brains and bodies; someone might have a particular sensitivity to those kinds of fields and be able to decipher thought patterns from particular EM field patterns, sort of like an inner EEG interpreter. But it would be overpowered by the nearest light bulb.

For the rest, you need to go into quantum mechanics and probability fields, and I can’t format for the math here. Let’s just say that sorting the quantum probabilities of a future event or a remote location would take a super-savant. And it would most likely drive him or her crazy.

The Active Forms

The active forms of psychic phenomena all fall under the category telekinesis.

Psychokinesis, the ability to move things with the mind, has been studied by many parapsychologists because results are unambiguous: the object either moved or it didn’t. However, I haven’t been able to find any record of telekinesis performed in a controlled environment. Somehow, people just can’t reproduce it in the lab, using the scientists’ equipment.

I would say psychokinesis is a lot of hooey, except for one thing: my husband.

He’s a gamer who can make dice—mostly 20-sided dice—bow to his will on a regular basis. If he needs to roll a high number, he almost never rolls something less than 15. Conversely, if he needs to roll a low number, it comes up less than 6 at least 70 percent of the time. Statistically, his results are highly improbable—yes, I’ve done the math. Probability math is a lot easier than quantum mechanics math.

I can use the same dice he does without being able to replicate his results, so it’s not the dice. He can replicate it with different dice, though. And he refuses to be scientifically tested—or to go play craps in Vegas. Sigh. If I hadn’t seen him do this with my own eyes, for years, I wouldn’t believe it.

Pyrokinesis is the ability to control fire using only the mind, which was popularized or possibly coined by Stephen King in the novel/movie Firestarter.

Other forms include psychokinetic explosions (possibly a form of pyrokinesis); thermokinesis, or temperature manipulation; magnokinesis (including computer information); aerokinesis; and mind control. There might be other subdivisions, but I haven’t found any scientific explorations of these, let alone anything more esoteric. Most of these subtypes came from comic books.

Scientifically, well, it’s theoretically possible. Matter and energy are different forms of the same stuff; that’s why e = Mc-squared. We routinely use matter to manipulate energy, every time we flip a power switch. Maglev trains use energy to manipulate matter by raising the train cars off the rail. So a human energy field might be able to affect matter—but, as with telepathy, the electromagnetic field of the nearest light bulb would flood out the human signal.

Hey, even my spooky husband has to be touching dice to make them behave strangely.

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It takes a different kind of person to make their own dreams come alive. Not everyone is prepared to put in the long hours and hard work it takes to bring a novel to the store shelves in non-traditional ways. I’m one of those crazy, annal retentive, ego centric fools who just has to do things his own way. I’m not content to let others tell me how my books are going to look or even if they get published. That’s just not in my character.

As a youth, I saw the movie Star Wars. Not the Jar-Jar Binks version, the Han Shot First version. It captured my imagination and made me curious about how movies were made. I was all of thirteen years old when I started making my own movies and finding creative ways to reproduce the fantastic special effects showcased in that film. I didn’t just dream of being a film-maker, I rolled up my sleeves, inspired my buddies and together we made movie magic in Super-8 film. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about how films are made, I even majored in Film Production in college. In fact, you can find my name in the credits of some feature films I worked on.

Back when I was a teenager, blowing up cardboard models of space ships that I had designed, I also started writing a story that would languish in my mind for the next twenty years. It was my homage to Star Wars and all the fun times I had making movies as a kid. Eventually, I decided that the only way that story would get finished was to write it as a novel. At least that way I could control the lighting, script, camera and special effects just like a Hollywood director does in a film. After completing the novel, I shopped it around and was routinely rejected from everyone in the publishing business. I felt like I was at the mercy of an establishment that was not really interested in fulfilling my dreams. So I trunked the novel and went on with my life.

Eventually, technology started to catch up with my do-it-yourself attitude. First came the Internet and I saw the potential in HTML to bring my story directly to the people. So I created a website to showcase my novel and all the drawings of space ships and aliens my friends and I made when we were kids. The novel was on display for many years until once again, technology caught up with me. Through Print On Demand services, I could now make my own novel and sell it directly to the people without bothering to go through the traditional publishing process. But there was a problem. I didn’t know how to make a book. I was well versed in screenplays, storyboards and film editing, but I knew nothing about interior design, cover art or copy editing. So I rolled up my sleeves and started to learn.

I’ve now published two books on my own and each new book I write, edit and print; adds to my knowledge about the publishing business. I don’t know everything yet, nor will I ever. But I keep working at it and I keep learning as I go. In a way, it’s no different then when I was a kid and spending my allowance on five minute rolls of film. I was just an amateur back then, and I’m pretty much an amateur now, but I still have that desire to do it myself and make my own dreams come true. My latest book is in the process of being forged into awesomeness with the help of my friends, just like those short films I made as a kid. I have started my own press label to release my books and the books of my friends. Together we will make our dreams come true by taking our publishing future in our own hands. Will we sell millions of books and become house-hold names in the publishing industry. Probably not. But the one thing I have learned is that most of the fun in life is in the journey, not the destination. As long as we have the means to follow our bliss, we should not be afraid of the journey.

Boise Novel Orchard

Boise Novel Orchard is sponsoring a contest! With prizes! For North-West writers and artists!
What do you need to do to win? First, you need to enter. To enter, you’ll need to write something using the theme “bridges.” Fiction and non-fiction should be between 3,000 and 5,000 words, poetry no more than 22 lines. We’re looking for black and white cover art too! There’s a $10 entry fee, with one entry per person.

What are we offering up? Winners will be published in a chapbook, due to be released in May. There’s also a cash prize. Entries are due no later than March 20, 2010.

There are more details here, on the website.

WIlliam Jones talks about what it means to be “published” and the differences between “self-published” and what that means for book store penetration. And here he unveils the work of the distributors (and regional sales people, when book publishers had actual regional sales people) and how critical they are to your success as an author. He also touches on the rise of the “pay for print” business model within “traditional” publishing houses and why the probably aren’t going away.

Barbarienne’s Den on why ebooks really aren’t that much cheaper to produce. I’ve tried to make this similar point in many places, but I feel it’s fallen on deaf ears. Here is a little backup on the subject. Hint: ink on paper, in quantity, isn’t all that darn expensive. Cost per unit is a measure we use to try and get our customers to order in a quantity that actually makes economic sense for them (but, hey, if you really want to go to press every quarter to print exactly the same thing and re-incur all the setup costs four times instead of once, since I’m now on the press side of things, by all means please do so). Now, just as devil’s advocate, she doesn’t cover fulfillment costs (shipping, storing, distributing, returns, remainders, and rot), but it doesn’t add all that much (when you factor in economies of scale). Really, much of the cost of the individual book (cost per unit) is not in the production. This is why I get sorely pissed when presses get cheap with paper and stock material (sure, when you’re printing 10,000 units, scrapping $.05 off each unit adds up, but the benefits of those “extras” are well worth it, I had to debate buying my latest Ray Bradbury purchase because the production values were so cheap). But anyway, yeah, what they said. (Grokked from Jay Lake)

Pier Anthony talks about some common misconceptions about writing humor. Seeing as one of the things I’m getting psyched about ending the current novel is that I might go back to writing the Post-Rapture romantic comedy novel. (Grokked from Todd Wheeler)

S.C. Butler holds forth on writing what you like. While the often given axiom is “write what you know” (which, just like the sound of one hand clapping, really isn’t about what you might originally think it’s about), I’m hoping that as I progress in this here career and I get to help youngsters, “write what you like” escapes my lips far more often than “write what you know.” There’s been plenty of side conversations I’ve had lately with other writers, some open, some personal, and I’ve always come back to this point. You have to love what you’re doing, because that’s always, always, always going to be your greatest reward. If you think Dan Brown, JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King or any of them are thinking, “Oh boy, this is going to make the bucks roll in” while they’re writing, you’re fooling yourself. Or, as another person I respect (Joseph Campbell) once said, “Follow you bliss.”

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

I once thought I was a SF Writer. Then I tried fantasy and my voice got stronger. Then I tried horror and it got even stronger. And now I mix into dark fantasy and I’m having a lot of fun (even if I might question that my writing has gotten a little too close to my military past which makes me a little squishy) and my voice sings out. It also does the same when I write bitting humor (can you tell). I’ve told all my nieces and nephews that simple phrase, “Follow your bliss.” It’s, IMHO, one of the greatest lessons we can impart. (Get me talking about programming and career choices one day if you don’t believe me on this, also look at the pay rate for short fiction and the average advance for genre novels, if you aren’t doing this because you enjoy it, you might want to rethink your strategy).

A SFWA Journal article by Chuck Rothman on hunting for an agent. He also outlines some reasons why you want an agent and how to find one (just a hint, he goes on about “sending the full manuscript”, however I advise you to follow the submission guidelines for the agency you’re trying to land, playing by the rules is something your agent will appreciate and wants to know you can do). Also with agents, John Scalzi is pimping his. Frankly, looking at Scalzi’s career, one could do worse than having Ethan Ellenberg representation. If I had my manuscript 1) finished and 2) in a submisible condition they would be seeing a package from me. And just in general, I follow a bunch of agents’ blogs (not all are prospects for me) so I can learn what to do and what not to do. I don’t often comment on their blogs, but it’s a good place to learn the industry. Just saying.

And here I’m assuming you’ve all seen the bruhaha surround Peter Watts and the US Border Patrol. Let me just point you to Dave Kletcha’s take on it. What he said.

One writer’s break: poetry

Well, poetry doesn’t appear to be something most writers seem to choose to write unless they must but it does have it’s place in my toolbox.

Perhaps because I’m totally deaf, perhaps because I’m stubborn, or maybe just because of music’s siren song but when I write I usually try to incorporate music into my writing in some form.  For me, writing poetry is a way of writing the music I hear.  It’s a way of capturing the rhythm of an internal music, using words to evoke not only the imagery, but more importantly the flow, the rhythm, and the dynamics of my music.

Yes, I write a lot of poetry.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  I have no idea, because for the most part I haven’t shared it outside my immediate family unless I wrote it specifically for someone else.  I’ve only recently begun posting my poetry online for others to read and comment on.  And as a result of doing that, I’v been challenged to write a sestina, of all things.  I thought it would be easy, but it’s very definitely not easy to write one of those the way I want to do it.  For my first attempt I wound up with a seven stanza poem that’s most definitely not a sestina.  Free-form poetry doesn’t appeal to me as it does not seem to evoke that internal music I “hear” when reading a good poem so I can’t use it as a form for the sestina.  My definition of good means to me a free-form poem is a cacophony.  So, my sestina has to follow not only the rules of writing a sestina, but also conform to the structure that I see as necessary.  This means that writing poetry can be a very good exercise of the mind, will, skill, and discipline.  Never mind knowledge.  I mention this because it illustrates the focus and concentration necessary.

So, why do I say poetry has a place in my toolbox as opposed to being my preferred writing format?

The reason I bring it up here isn’t to discuss writing poetry, but a way of using poetry writing as a tool.  When I am actually working on my stories, if I forget to feed the muse and she wanders off to one of you for a while instead of hanging around, I can lure her back with poetry.

Often when I get stuck or just can’t seem to make any real progress on a story I’m working on or I lose interest in the story I’m writing, I find that if I leave off the story and start writing poetry I come away from that poetry writing rejuvenated.  It may take only one poem, say a haiku or even an epic poem, or it may take several.  The thing is, it seems to give my mind a break from what has become the job of writing and to get the creative juices flowing again.  The poetry I write as a result naturally still has to meet my requirements and so demands my full attention.  As this poetry does not focus on or belong to the writing I was doing, the mental exercises resulting from writing unrelated poetry effectively takes my mind completely off what I was working on, giving me a true break.  For me, this allows my brain to properly re-boot into the mode needed to resume writing that story when I return to it.  Mentally having completely dropped everything related to the work that was giving me so much trouble, I return to it with a renewed perspective.  Often I find that what was blocking me before is no longer a block, my mind readily finds a solution and words are once again flowing into that story.  Ideas that I’d not thought of come into being, storylines appear that I’d not seen before, characters seem to have new aspects to them that had been hidden before, and the story seems fresh again.

All this happens because I use poetry to completely refocus my mind, writing, and creativity onto something totally different from what I was working on.  Poetry is thus not only something I enjoy writing but it’s a way to hone my wordsmithing and to give myself a true break from the job of writing.  Not only that, but while doing it, I’m still doing what writers do — writing.  Not just writing, but writing stuff I can provide to my readers.

So, yes, writing poetry belongs not only in my credits but also in my toolbox.

More Writerly Links

Jim Hines is starting up his holiday book drive to benefit a local domestic violence shelter. I full endorse this. Our local shelter is our main charity. Over the years we’ve given clothes (new as well as used), bedding, toys, household products, an Xmas tree, paper and office products, and money. If you have new books to give (this year Jim is cutting the used book portion, as he explains that the shelter’s bookcases are bursting) I highly recommend this.

A Making Light post with a letter from the RWA (Romance Writers of America) concerning Harlequin’s new business venture into vanity/subsidy press work with ASI Solutions. As Jim Macdonald says, “They really do take their role as author advocates seriously over there.” Let me reiterate that RWA is an excellent organization. They don’t do everything right, but they do the vast majority of things right. Back when we were all discussing SFWAs problems, RWA was the organization plenty of people pointed to as to how to structure and run a Genre Authors Advocacy Organization. RWA are good people. They care about what they’re doing and, my God, do they give support and encouragement to new writers (I’m one).

SC Butler is musing about the future of brick and mortar bookstores. The more I learn about this business the more I learn just how screwed up the distribution model has become. Instead of “we sell you what you want” it’s been turned around to “buy this crap everybody else is buying.” What would be very good for bookstores is to have a new player in the distribution and big box store (who gets “local tastes” and understands cooperative cross marketing, ie. your sales don’t have to be just in your store). Unfortunately the barrier to entry is exceedingly high, so I doubt that will happen, or than Ingram, B&N, and the other one (I forget what it’s called) dump their idiotic MBA approved business plan and get back to the business of actually selling books. Because, yeah, if I need to order the damn book, I’m going to Amazon (they typically have a lower price, and their shipping policy is better).

The incomparable Justine Larbalestier and her equally incomparable married significant other Scott Westerfeld continue with the NaNoWriMo tips (which, BTW, aren’t just for NaNoWriMo). I admit I’ve fallen behind in keeping up with them, but the ones I have read are good stuff (even if the advice doesn’t work for me individually). Again, the generic “try it, if it works, keep it, if not, dump it” applies. And what works (or doesn’t) for me might not work (or be fabulous) for you.

Now back to fixing Chapter 32 and maybe getting on to 33.

“Want a child-friendly way to introduce your little one to the traditions of the Old Cult?” So begins the Adventures of Lil’ Cthulhu Had to watch this without sound, but what a friggin’ excellent cartoon. Much laughing was had. (Grokked from John Scalzi)

Scott Westerfield give some tips on writing for NaNoWriMo, Tip 1 Dialog Spine, and Tip 3 Dialog Spin Analysis. Justine Larbalestier wrote and hosts Tip 2 The Zen of First (Zero) Drafts and Tip 4 Word Count Is Not Everything. Lots of good stuff there. I’ve done the Dialog Spine thing for short stories (although I didn’t know it had a name). As for the Draft Zero thing, yeah. It certainly helps. As to word count, I put my own up here as a personal whip to do more. It’s also a way of saying, “Hey, I don’t do 1500 words a day, but I am finishing my stuff and sending it out.” If I can find time with two jobs and a freelance gig, most people can (the one thing I don’t have is kids, they would take up a lot of that time).

Joshua Palmatier discusses the dread monster, exposition. He ties it into POV and a few other things. Exposition is one of those things I end up doing around the third draft, although I’m getting better and including some of it earlier. I know for my writing it leads to my first reader(s) going, “I don’t get it.” Take for example, the “cell” in my WIP. Yes, it is based around a cell phone, but that’s not all it is. One of the commented I received in the first round of edits was, “This is supposed to be in the future, but I’m not seeing a lot of future tech” (well, that’s the paraphrase). Well, in this world Silicon Valley never happened (California, mostly destroyed and economically crippled, remember?). So tech went a different way. The “cell” as I envision it is like an iPhone, but is a real computer. Making calls on it is the least of it’s capability. When we encounter actual computer towers we call it “server porn” because most people, as they have personal computers now, use their cell. And I hope the flashback chapter worked well. People seemed to like it, although without italicizing the kata moves, it left some people a little confused.

A cartoon’s humorous take on NaNoWritMo. Ha! I like NaNo, never been able to participate, but I think at heart it’s a good idea. But, yeah, this is funny.