Friday, April 3, 2020

KEEPING BUSY DURING THE SHUTDOWN


I’ve never been much of a journal-er. Whatever I see, hear or otherwise experience is absorbed, then comes out transformed is some unusual way later on. But these are strange times, and the historians of the future may want to know how we all spent our days during our enforced time at home. Or, at least, we all may just want to compare notes on how not to go stir-crazy with only our mates, family members and technology to distract us.

Me and a friend in the dojo (studio).
So, what have I been doing to avoid cabin fever? Well, fortunately I have almost 44 acres to wander around in, and the weather has (mostly) been nice. I’ve been walking and gardening and practicing my taiji and qigong outside whenever I can. It helps, believe me.

I had to put my weekly qigong classes on hold for the time being since my town of Marshall is under a stay-at-home order. So I uploaded a video of some immune-building exercises to a website called Vimeo, then posted the clip on my Snowbird Taiji and Qigong Facebook page. You can see that video clip here

I tried to hold class on Facebook Live, but that was a total technical fail! The Evil FB Gnomes have complicated the procedure lately and, of course, lots of folks are now trying to use the platform for everything at the same time, too. I plan to do more Vimeo videos for my students if you’re interested. I’ll be posting on the Snowbird Taiji and Qigong page.

I’ve been working hard on my screen review podcast, My Moviehouse My Rules. Recent episodes have reviewed classic and new TV medical dramas and classic post-apocalyptic films that show us it could always be worse! Episodes run from ten to fifteen minutes—you can catch up on two or three while you’re walking or working out.

Of course, I’ve had lots of time to work on my latest WIP, too. That would be Book Five in the Interstellar Rescue Series, tentatively titled King of Pain. I’m a dreadfully slow writer, but progress is progress, so I’m grateful.

My family—husband, two daughters and their husbands—had a virtual Happy Hour on Facebook Messenger Live Chat last weekend. We had such a blast we stayed online for almost two hours! Some friends I used to meet for cards every week and I are going to try another platform (House Party) to play games together when we can all get set up. I saw an interview with the governor of California recently in which he said he preferred the term “physical distancing” over “social distancing,” because we really don’t have to be socially isolated from each other. We just have to stay physically separate. Makes sense to me.

Flash in a rare quiet moment.
The biggest news from our secluded house, however, is that we’ve added another furry family member. Flash is a 10-and- ½ -week-old kitten, so named because she moves as a little streak of constant activity. The plan was to keep her in my office for a few days so our older kitty Shadow would have time to get used to her. Well, that lasted less than 24 hours. Flash would not be contained, and, as it turned out, Shadow was pretty mellow about her. There were a few hisses when Flash attacked Shadow’s tail, but that had little to no effect on Flash, so Shadow stopped. They are taking naps together now, and Shadow is grooming the new baby. Next targets for Flash’s charm offensive: the dogs, who are insanely curious about what this thing might be!

So, what are you all up to during your time at home? Is it situation normal, or has the order to stay home disrupted your extroverted routine? Share!

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Projects for self-isolation


Many of you, like me, will be stuck at home at the moment. I'll admit it's not a huge drama, I'm happy with my own company. But that's my choice, not because I've been told I have to. It's a great time to be getting on with the latest work in progress but I'm finding it hard to concentrate on the new novel. To try to get past that, I've signed up for Campnanowrimo, which is like a mini version of Nanowrimo. You can check it out here.

In the meantime, I've been mucking about with Photoshop. I've had the Creative Cloud version in the past when I actually earned some money from writing but these days I can't justify AU$180 per year for something that's an occasional toy. I bought Photoshop Elements years ago and I'll stay with that (although I have upgraded to the latest version). It can do almost everything that PS CC can do – just not the really fancy stuff like manipulating smart objects. That's a shame because I came across some great ways of creating 3D covers.

Here are some examples, all created using Covervault templates. You'll find videos on how to use the templates in a section called "tutorials". I can recommend this resource – but you do need PS CC.


However, there are lots of other things you can do to support your writing projects. For instance, you can create posters using just about any simple graphics software that lets you add text to pictures - and you can have fun browsing the stock photo stores for suitable pictures.

This one is simply a bought stock photo with a teaser. Great for things like Twitter if you add a buy link.


This one is a combination of a background with a snippet of text – a quick way of inviting readers to look at your book rather than having to click over to a website to read the snippet. Again, don't forget to add that buy link.

And then there are online tools that let you create fun posters. Photofunia is one I've used several times. Just upload your cover and the software does the rest. You don't need any skills and it's free.

Here are a few of my results.


For this one I uploaded a poster I'd made.
Even if you can't get your head around writing, you can have some fun with these projects.




Monday, March 30, 2020

Living the Reality of my Heroine's (Once) Fictional Time

The past week has been downright unsettling. Not just because of social distancing, virtual lockdown, and an economy teetering on meltdown, but because I suddenly realized I'd experienced this scenario before.

But it was all in my head.

I'm now living in my heroine's time--in Lissa Bruce's era--and it's a bit freaky how her fictional world is becoming our reality. Life imitating art? Considering this book isn't published yet....nope. Just one writer's eerie projection of a future that is looking much too possible.

I say "the future" because at the time I wrote the original drafts, it truly was.

I'm really not supposed to admit this, but The Outer Planets has been in the hopper for over 30 years. When the story originally began to take shape in my mind, the 2040s seemed like a very long way off. Not so anymore.

The novel is currently in edits, but now, with everything going on around us, I'm not sure just when I may be ready--or willing--to release it.

Here's the lowdown.

When I started writing this novel, my heroine's totally sci-fi sounding birth date was the far distant year of 2012. A future that is in our past! So yeah, this year she'd be turning eight years old on 9/9/2020. Her parents are wealthy. In fact, her father is a politician. She still carries deep guilt about all the things she had as a child while her friends and their families were starving.

The story opens when Lissa Bruce is 27 years old. In the year 2039, the next couple of decades in our future are her past tense. The world is experiencing a new dawn, emerging from borderline dystopia, where a global economic collapse and continuing climate change resulted in a scramble to survive.

When did it happen? In the 2020's! That's looking a little less Fi and a lot more Sci at the moment.

[Honestly, I'm not making this stuff up! Do a search for "Outer Planets" on this site and you'll see my blogs about it that date back many years.]

In this fictional future, the melting ice sheets decreased the salt content of the oceans and partially altered the currents of the Atlantic Conveyor, throwing weather patterns into chaos. While the oceans rose, drowning coastline cities worldwide, drought turned former breadbasket regions into dust bowls. The effects on Lissa's society are dire.

Water riots became commonplace. Mobs formed to loot stores—not to steal goods and electronics to resell on the street--but to take the food they need for themselves and their families to survive.

In rural areas, communities formed raid gangs that stripped crops clean and butchered livestock on neighboring farms. [Particularly unnerving, since this is happening right now in other parts of the world--with gruesome recent news reports coming out of South America and Libya.]

Moral principles took a back seat to survival. Outbreaks of disease and anarchy prevailed. The United Nations disbanded as ineffective and costly, and governments refocused these resources on maintaining order inside their own borders and protecting their citizens. Police states and martial law became commonplace.

It's a frightening scenario considering where we are at this moment in time, but even this grim fictional setting is not a future without hope.

By 2030, the climate begins to stabilize, thanks to an enforced planet-wide scale back in greenhouse gas emissions, and the world returns to more normal conditions, socially and economically, leaving mankind still shaking in its boots at what could have been.

And what might be again in their not too distant future.

It's painfully clear to them that the human population has far exceeded the resources of their home planet...and after a worldwide population reduction during the cataclysms, is again growing exponentially.

The Nations is formed, a multi-national entity with a focus on expanding and diversifying our species' interests beyond the “all the eggs in one basket” scenario of having the fate of the humankind tied to one planet.

International resources are pooled to re-ignite a global space exploration program. As part of that plan, ASP—Armstrong Space Port—with its orbiting shipyards, begins construction in orbit in 2030 and is completed by the close of 2035. A year later it houses a population of over 15,500 international military, corporate and support personnel, and the ability to build large ships that are no longer limited by the problem presented by gravity and massive fuel tanks required to overcome it.

With regular shuttle flights from ASP, temporary bases are constructed on the Moon and Mars as the first step in establishing permanent mining operations. It doesn't happen without tragedy. The characters refer to one such catastrophe on Mars Station One more than once in the story.

Once ASP is online, Project Destination follows. Spearheaded by The Nations, it’s an ambitious multi-national exploratory mission to the Outer Planets—Jupiter and Saturn, and more specifically the 100+ moons they share between them—to identify resources, future colony sites, and launching points for interstellar missions to other solar systems.

Construction of the Nations’ Star Ship—NSS Destination—starts. And the debate about crew selection begins...

Whew! Let's hope most of the fictional scenario of this "here, now and about to be" stays just that. Fictional.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay positive!


Friday, March 27, 2020

LATEST COSMOS PROVIDES ESCAPE, HEROES


In this grim time a little escape and new heroes to admire are certainly welcome, and this week’s recommendation for where to get them cites a familiar source. Neil deGrasse Tyson, everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, is back on the Fox Network with his second re-imagining of the popular Cosmos television show first created by Carl Sagan and wife Ann Druyan in 1980.

This time the show is titled Cosmos: Possible Worlds, and uses the fictional trick of the “ship of imagination” to take us both back in time to view our Earth’s creation and our human species’ rise, and out into space to explore other possible life-nurturing planets in the galaxy. The ever-optimistic Tyson is our host for these journeys, explaining everything in a way that’s scientifically based, graphically displayed and easy to understand. Ann Druyan serves as lead writer on the series. She’s also an executive producer, along with comic Seth McFarlane, well known as a space geek.

I hope you have a decent television set at home to watch this show, because the visuals are stunning. Whether you are in a location here on Earth, or looking at the stars, everything is awe-inspiring, which I imagine is the point.

I do have one criticism of this latest iteration of the Cosmos franchise. The various historical segments are done in a kind of weird stop-action-looking CGI animation rather than using real actors. This, combined with Tyson’s tendency to lecture in maddeningly simple terms, made me think I was watching a science special aimed at fourth-graders at times, rather than the Carl Sagan show of old, which always pitched the material way over my head. 

Unfortunately, I think there’s a reason for that. We no longer respect, value or bother to learn science (or history) in this country. A show like Cosmos: Possible Worlds has to dole out its information in small, easily digestible bits or risk losing the audience. That doesn’t exactly explain why real actors couldn’t have been used instead of CGI for the historical parts, but I can understand that the producers might have wanted to reserve a limited budget for more WOW-factor location shots and onscreen recreations of exploding stars.

Nikolai Vavilov
A recent episode provided an example of the show’s underlying philosophy, and its ultimately uplifting inspiration, even though the production aspects were frustrating. Episode Four, titled “Vavilov,” told the story of an unsung hero of science, Russian agronomist, botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. In the years before World War II, Vavilov traveled the world collecting seeds and roots in a search for the earliest, purest genetic forms of common food crops. He believed knowledge of these base forms would provide a starting point for improving the seeds used for agriculture. 

Vavilov wanted to build on the theories of Gregor Mandel and Charles Darwin to solve the age-old problem of crop failure and famine in Russia. To that end he established the world’s first global seed bank in Leningrad and began work in genetics that became recognized throughout the world. But in the poisonous political atmosphere following the death of the revolutionary Lenin and the rise of the authoritarian Stalin in the USSR, a young man Vavilov had taken under his wing turned on him.

Trofim Lysenko began to denounce Vavilov’s theories and put forward his own, nonscientific ideas. The politically astute Lysenko found easy favor with Stalin, a man with no patience for learning or science. But Lysenko’s simplistic theories only encouraged Stalin’s foolish political ideas with regards to state agriculture. The result was mass famine on a scale seldom seen even in Russia. Millions died in 1932-33 in an event the Ukrainians named the Holodomor (death inflicted by starvation).
 
Vavilov, by contrast, lost favor with Stalin. By 1939, the famous scientist had lost the right to travel abroad, and in August of 1940 he was arrested. A year later he was condemned to death. The sentence was later commuted to life in prison, but in reality, Vavilov was forced to slowly starve to death. He died in prison in January, 1943 at the age of 56.

During the two-and-a-half year siege of Leningrad by Nazi forces, during which approximately 1.5 million citizens of the city starved to death, a handful of Vavilov’s colleagues lived in the basement at the Leningrad seed bank and guarded the a cross-section of the precious genetic material Vavilov had collected with their lives. Nine of the scientists themselves starved to death, but none of the staff touched the seed compilation, though it contained rice, wheat and other edible food grains. (Today’s Global Seed Vault, the modern embodiment of Vavilov’s idea, exists in Svalbard, Norway within the Arctic Circle.)

The Global Seed Vault in Norway

I knew about the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s famines and the Global Seed Vault, but I had never heard the name of Nikolai Vavilov before this episode of Cosmos: Possible Worlds. And I had certainly never known of the heroism of Vavilov’s fellow scientists in Leningrad. It was worth putting up with the irritating CGI production on the episode to gain this useful knowledge and a historical reminder that a refusal to accept the facts of science in the pursuit of a political agenda can lead to death and destruction.

  

There was another upside to this episode. Viggo Mortensen provided the voice acting for Vavilov’s character. If you’ve seen the excellent movie EASTERN PROMISES, you know he can do a terrific Russian accent. (The man speaks five languages, after all!) That makes it even more disappointing, though, that we didn’t get to see Viggo act the character. 

Cheers, Donna






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