After a long hiatus while working on other things, I’ve finally reached a place in my schedule where I can focus on a novel again. I’m not exactly starting from scratch: I have a 3000-word chapter that was thoroughly critiqued by some writer friends a couple of years ago and a fairly solid idea of where to go next. I went on a research trip to an important location a couple of months ago and took along the video camera to film the locale. I know the main character quite well, because I’ve written about him before, though only one short story featuring him has been published, and that in a fairly obscure anthology.
This isn’t my first time at the rodeo. I’ve written four or five novels already, one of which I worked on extensively with my agent over a period of about two years. That was a learning experience, even if the manuscript ultimately didn’t attract any publishers. However, I’m going to approach this book a little differently from my previous efforts. One of the biggest changes is the tool: instead of using the old tried-and-true Word, I’ve decided to shift to Scrivener. I’ve had the program on my computer for a long time, but until now I haven’t taken the time to explore its features. Now, after watching a few tutorials, I’m hooked.
It’s just a tool, little different from a pen and paper in the end, but it has a few attractive features. The one that caught my attention in the first place was the fact that it’s more than a word processor—it’s a workspace. Once you’re inside the program, you don’t have to leave it to pick up your research files or other related documents. You can attach them to the workspace so they’re all in one place. You can open up a pdf or an image or even a video and overlay it with what you’re working on. You don’t have to rummage around on your hard drive to find the document. Even if you’re really organized, that can take some doing. Here’s a screenshot of my workspace, which is in its infancy:
The “Binder” on the left is your project. Everything under “Manuscript” is the work in progress. But there are also sections for character sketches and place descriptions, plus the Research folder, which in my project currently contains the video from my trip and an image.
Note the main area of the window, which resembles a cork board. In Scrivener, you write in scenes which are collected together into chapters and, ultimately, the entire manuscript. This cork board display makes it easy to move scenes around until you find the optimal order. My cards above are currently blank except for a caption, but once I get to work they will contain short descriptions of what happens. You can also have Scrivener automatically create a synopsis of the scene, though I haven’t tested that feature yet to see how effective it is.
When you get down to the writing, you click on your scene and type. You don’t worry about formatting—only content. Formatting is the last thing you do, when you assemble the manuscript for output in one of a myriad of supported document types. Just type. Write. Put down words.
You can split the screen (horizontally or vertically) and open the document twice so that you can refer to text earlier or later in the scene without constantly scrolling back and forth, which can be quite helpful. Or you can open a second document in the split screen for reference. Got a web page that you keep referring back to? Simply drag the URL into the reference area and the whole page will be imported into your workspace. Or export it as a pdf and add the pdf version to the reference area, which ever works best for you.
Do you use real people—actors or actresses, for example—as models for some of your characters? I’ve been known to do that in the past, creating folders of images I culled online. In Scrivener you can create a pinboard to which you add these images randomly, along with whatever notes you want to insert. Have you ever seen one of those boards on TV created by a character who is obsessing over something? Messy affairs with strings connecting items from different parts of the board, everything haphazard to a casual viewer, but which has an internal logic to the creator? You can do that in Scrivener.
Stuck coming up with a character name? Scrivener has a built-in name generator with a ton of options, including specifying whether you want a common or rare name or a name in a different language.
Another nice feature is the fact that you can go into full-screen mode, which really keeps your head in the game. Once you have everything you need set up, all your research and images and related documents, you can blank out the rest of your screen and tune out such distractions as email, Facebook and Twitter.
For me, this latter aspect is one of the most intriguing. My writing time is limited, so I want to make the most of it. The software is intuitive and you can get going quickly without doing much more than watching a 5-minute intro video. Then it’s game on. Avoiding distractions, not having to search for research documents, being able to overlay images when I want to describe something…everything about Scrivener is designed to make it easier to get the job done without venturing into the Internet during your writing session, where all manner of traps and lures await to distract you from the manuscript.
Check back next month. If all goes well, I should have an update on my experience with this new (to me) program, which is available for both Mac and Windows users.
Who says the cost of education is out of sight? All you have to do is write a Q&A column and readers will send you a Doctorate’s worth of stories and thought-provoking new Q’s. A writer couldn’t ask for more education than that. Here are some of your most interesting posers, including straight writer Qs, generalities about this here scribe, and at least one intriguing corker I found challenging to answer.
Q [Brooklyn, NY]: Which do you like writing best, humor or horror?
A: Humor. But that’s just who I am. If you break the labels down, the gap narrows. One of those labels is dark (horror/negative); one is light (humor/positive). The dark one causes tension; the light one relieves tension. But when done effectively, they each use contrast, and what greater contrast can there be than playing off each other? The contrast isn’t specifically humor to horror or vice versa, rather it’s the lightness and darkness, the positive to the negative. Want to create intense horror? Create lightness first, something positive — innocence, vulnerability. Let Frankenstein’s monster discover the little girl by the lake; tie the fair maiden named Pauline to the railroad track. Want to create humor? Create the negative first – sit-com angst or insoluble dilemmas or misperceptions. Set the table with everything going wrong until it all comes together in the end. In each case, the incongruous and the unexpected carries the rise and fall of the story. The difference is the emotion that is evoked by the incongruous. A man slipping on a banana peel is funny. A spider with intelligent eyes is scary.
Q [Arras, France]: Have you ever cried while writing a scene?
A: Hmmm. What a strange question. But somehow too honest to ignore (you must’ve done this, right?). Yes, I have reached that point while writing. Not that I’ve written anything so profoundly moving, but sometimes you just get too close to the bone, you know? And probably every writer tries to purge painful things now and then, or maybe falls in love with their characters, or – it must be admitted – just gets carried away with illusions about what they’ve created. I don’t think it can be a bad thing to write with that much passion, as long as you don’t drop it in an envelope or hit SEND before you get a good night’s sleep and re-read in a cold frame of mind. Footnote: it is always affirming to me when someone tells me that something I wrote moved them to tears.
Q [Portland, OR]: Are you a vegan? What’s your favorite veggie?
A: Hahahahahahahah! I’ll eat any vegetable if it’s prepared right, which is to say vaporized. That way you can just exhale the stuff in the same breath that lets it in. I mean, you are what you eat (“it ain’t easy being green”). … OK, truth be told, I’ll eat corn, peas, green beans, lettuce, cole slaw – a few others on the side. Not a guy to make a meal out of a cucumber doused in carrot juice and topped with one perfectly shaped fava bean wrapped in a strand of kelp. Vegan? Where did that come from? I thought that was an Indian word for bad hunter.
Q [Prescott, AZ]: I just finished reading THE WATER WOLF. Did you visit Egypt, Ireland and Peru before you wrote the book?
A: Peru, long before I wrote TWW. Don’t remember if I ever saw the Inca pyramid Sacsayhuaman that’s in the book. Was a mere Niño, and we didn’t live there long. Egypt and Ireland? Well, they were both only a tour by mouse over the Internet. Hope to have THE WATER WOLF out in e-book in the near future, if promotion like we got last summer for DUST OF EDEN shapes up.
Q [Tuckahoe, VA]: I love your romantic writing, especially when you write about relationships. Are you so certain others don’t share your views? I believe many do.
A: Mercy! My brand of romantic is not normal, mature or realistic. I don’t recommend it for anyone. I suppose I could look at it oh-so intellectually and say that if my romanticism is not normal, mature or realistic, it is also true that divorce is normal, and idealistic expectations are immature, and lasting passion is not realistic. Not a world I want to pitch my tent in. And I’ve already found out the most important thing I need to know – that a soulmate is possible for me – so you might say that an intensely romantic take on life is a proven point to me. For sure, such a woman justifies everything I ever wanted to believe in and keep faith with. Should I accept that as enough? Maybe my soul will shrug its shoulders and tell me, “OK, you know what could have been and there’s nothing more you can do about it, so live like everyone else now.” But I still like to feel my heart open up with a blood rush that unites everything I know, every recognition, every trigger inside the total me, and every unblemished, uncompromised dream anchored in my instincts. Whatever strange mix of idealism and realism I accumulated from, it is right for me…a strategy, an imprint of things that I can love without limit. A romantic view in all things is fidelity to one’s dreams.
Q [Castle Rock, CO and others]: Well did something happen to you on around March 17 this year? You haven’t written or posted anything that I saw.
A: Ah, you’re referring to the Miracle Curse that has followed me since before the Earth was flat and Joan of Arc was my poly sci teacher. On or about March 17th almost every year for decades now something life-changing has happened to me. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s ambiguous or TBD. Something did happen this year, but I’m not sure how it will shape my life or future events. I’ll know when I see which Karma pulls into the station.
Q [Shaker Heights, OH]: I know you write across many categories, but what is your favorite genre to read?
A: It’s called “good writing,” and it’s the only genre I recognize, really. If it’s great writing, I’ll tap my foot to the music, emote with the verbs, and savor the adjectives until they melt in my memory. In addition to wordsmythery, good writing always tells a compelling and insightful people story within the thing-and-event content. I’ll read anything in fiction that is strong enough on those two counts.
Q [Windsor, Ottawa, Canada]: I read what you wrote about rejection and still loving someone, but I think I disagree. How can you still love someone if their actions are a betrayal of your love?
A: It’s not that I don’t understand that degree of crushing pain. Quite the opposite. I was writing about dealing with it in that January column to which you refer. When someone hurts you in a relationship, you can either try to hurt them back (which is pointless because it amounts to a band aid on your pride), or you can find a way to work around your pain. If you simply accept all the suffering, you eventually go numb, because you have lowered the standard of what you will endure – lowered your self-worth. You cannot hate yourself and survive. That’s the root problem. But pure love isn’t complicated. It can live in a vacuum or on a one-way street. It’s the expectations and testing that follow love that get complicated. All I was saying was that if you can alter those expectations, you can survive – your ability to love outside yourself can survive. This can be difficult because of a perceived lessening, but it doesn’t have to be reductive. If shared love is self-proving, love without reciprocation is self-healing. And it doesn’t have to be without reciprocation. Sometimes people get it right in the beginning, but then reach beyond that, then have to return to where they started. Dreams should not be demands. They flow like oxygen and cannot be shared by two people who are suffocating each other. Think sanctuaries…think communication sustaining moments lived outside the box.
Thomas “Sully” Sullivan
You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage. I also try to post news on Facebook:
This month – a little quiz. My favorite column in The Writer each month is HOW I WRITE. In fact, I flip straight to the back of the magazine while carrying it in from the mailbox because HOW I WRITE is always the last thing to be found between the pages. Like the name implies, a featured author (different each issue) answers a series of simple questions and takes you step by step through their own personal method for creating new work, which usually includes spilling the beans about their daily habits and writing schedule. This passing glimpse into another writer’s world is comforting to me, regardless of how much my own process may vary. After all my years of reading it, this is what I’ve learned from HOW I WRITE: Celebrity or newbie, moneyed or broke, seasoned or still sorting it all out, we all put our pants on one leg at a time, and it’s often pajama pants.
In the end, it’s a very intimate and diverse thing, where we write, how we write, and what we drink and/or eat while we write. I’d love to hear how you get the creative juices flowing so today I’ve created my own little HOW I WRITE.
Here are my questions, as well as my own answers. Thanks for sharing your process with me! I greatly appreciate it.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
ME: Have to! It’s like hunger. I would shrivel to nothing and blow away if I did not write.
WHERE DO YOU WRITE?
ME: At my computer in my wonderful half-sloppy/half-organized home office. The half-organized part is my husband’s part.
WHERE IS THE CRAZIEST PLACE YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN?
ME: On a rotted sofa in Death Valley surrounded by dusty running burros and rusty bedsprings and a smoky potbelly stove in the sagging shell of an old miner’s cabin, rumored to be the burial ground of Manson’s unfound victim.
DO YOU WRITE EVERYDAY?
ME: Monday – Friday, unless I’m on vacation, and sometimes even then.
WHAT IS A TYPICAL WRITING DAY LIKE FOR YOU?
ME: I put my daughter on the bus at 6:30, pour a bowl of cereal, and head to the office. I deal with email and social media first, then, if I can tear myself away from that, I dig in. I devote a great deal of my time to marketing these days and spend less time writing, but that’s all part of the job, right? I work until 3, when school lets out, having polished off several cups of coffee and lunch and maybe a snack or two over the course of my workday. It’s difficult for me to accomplish much after my family gets home. I love my writing time but I love family time even more so it’s usually by choice that I clock out for the day at 3.
DO YOU USE OUTLINES WHEN YOU WRITE?
ME: Not a proper outline, no. I do a lot of my pre-writing inside my head. I’m a note-jotter. My first draft is kind of an in-depth outline. I often write out of order just to get the important bits down on paper while they’re clear in my mind. I do a lot of editing and switching things around once I get the whole story hammered out. If I write an outline, it’s usually because I need one to sell the piece.
WHICH COMES FIRST FOR YOU WHEN RESEARCH IS NEEDED FOR YOUR WORK: DO YOU WRITE AND GO BACK AND FILL-IN THE NEEDED FACTS AFTERWARD, OR DO YOU DO ALL OF YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU START?
ME: I do a combination of both but most of the research gets done after the fact or as I’m going along. I LOVE research. Often times I find that I don’t know what I’m going to need until I get the story sketched out.
HOW DO YOU REVISE YOUR WORK?
ME: Often and repeatedly. It’s probably my worst writing habit. I’ve gotten better at leaving things alone but it’s a constant temptation to go back and switch words around. It’s hard for me to ever feel like a piece of work is completely done but there comes a point when you really do have to type the words THE END and mean it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF WRITING?
ME: I love creating characters and giving them a voice and building a home for them.
WHAT DO YOU WEAR WHEN YOU WRITE?
ME: You know ☺
Carole Lanham is the author of The Whisper Jar, The Reading Lessons, and Cleopatra’s Needle. Visit her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/carole.lanham?ref=tn_tnmn
In the process of writing fiction as we know it, things have always been in flux – what comes first, the plot, the idea behind the plot, the problem, the setting, the character?? Which single one of those informs all the rest to the point of being given first billing, of
being considered the most important, the most essential, tool?
One of the basic definitions of a story (and there are many) is A Character With A Problem. And essentially this is where I pause and nod my head slowly – because for
me, that is precisely correct, exactly the order in which things tend to come to me. I am not saying that this is the only way, the One True Way, and I daresay there are thousands out there who have put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) who would disagree with me
emphatically? but for me, it starts with CHARACTER.
Readers and aspirant writers have asked me how I ‘create’ my own characters – and my less-than-satisfactory answer has always been, I don’t. I meet them fully formed, complete with the problems they carry. They tend to step out of the woodwork and essentially grab
my hand, shake it firmly, tell me their name and rank (as it were) and then march me smartly to the first writing platform available and demand I take dictation.
This is partly why I never have real problems with a character’s individual voice, or at the very least, the only times I do so occur when I try to make the character do or say
something that that particular character does not want to do or say, or in other words try to make the character act against itself.
So long as I listen, and obey the instructions I am given, my characters tend to assume a certain three-dimensional reality, at least to me, and I very much hope to my readers also by the time they get to meet them. Wearing my reader or viewer hat, I have had occasion to meet characters like these, characters who were so vivid and so alive that it remains impossible for me to think that they have never existed, that they were always just a product of some other writer’s imagination.
As it happens, I have a couple of perfect characters in hand – NOT mine – to begin to explain this phenomenon. I’ve been re-watching Babylon 5 in its entirety (I own the whole series on DVD, one of the very few that have merited such a distinction) and no matter what ELSE the show was about, in the broader sense of the story arc, it crystallises as the story of two exceptional characters and their relationship.
Londo Mollari, and G’Kar.
Both of them began almost two-dimensional. Cartoons, almost. Mollari as the effete buffoon courtier, G’kar as the blinkered and violent thug whose first instinct was to whack something. There was an early scene between the two of them, in the cartoon days, bickering while they are waiting for an elevator, and getting so carried away at trading insults that the elevator arrives and leaves before they quite realize it and then they look at each other and blurt, in comically identical annoyance, “LOOK what you made me do!”
But they didn’t stay caricatures.
Their choices began to take them in unexpected directions.
Londo, who is essentially all heart, someone passionate about things and letting all those passions hang out, ANSWERS the question that the Shadows put to him, the inspired “What do you want” which goes on to define so many of the B5 characters.
Londo’s passionate response is that he wants to see his people, the proud Centauri, up “where they belong”, as the Lords of the Galaxy. And he is given that, in spades. At least on the surface. But he gradually comes to know the cost of his answer, and of the thing that he was given when he asked for it. I will never forget the appalled dawning understanding of it written on his face as he stands at the window of a Centauri warship watching the destruction of the Narn homeworld – something he never wanted, that he himself would
never have condoned, but that he is nonetheless in a very real sense utterly and personally responsible for. He then finds himself defending all of it when his people are brought up to face the consequences of it all. He cannot step up to accept his own guilt because doing so would admit guilt by the Centauri and he will not do that to his race.
We see him developing, in the aftermath, and grappling with the consequences of the choices that he has made – right until the final choice that he makes, at the end, when he willingly surrenders his body and his soul – his self – to the Drakh Keeper parasite in order
to keep his world and its people ‘safe.’ He tells G’kar, in one of his last moments of freedom, that once he had all the choices in the world and no power and now, now that he is about to become Emperor, he has all the power he could ever want and no choices at all.
Mollari is the martyr. In a powerful moment when the parasite takes control of
him we see none of it except his hand, lax by his side, suddenly clenching into a fist – and we know that the Mollari we (or anyone in his own universe) have known is now gone and in his place is a puppet who will dance to a tune others command in order to preserve what is left of that thing he so passionately believes in, the Centauri place in the universe and their pride, and in this instance their very continued existence. He does what he must, and in this moment he earns our most profound pity as well as our deepest respect. It’s a long way from the original caricature.
G’Kar’s journey is an even greater one. If Mollari is all heart, then G’Kar is the soul, the spirit. His passions are no less deep, and certainly no less volatile, than Mollari’s – but they are the crucible in which his ultimate nobility is forged, in fire and in pain.
It seems, with G’Kar, that the more he loses… the more he gains in return, the more he grows, the more he becomes a towering figure who is a true leader, and perhaps even a true saint. He is occasionally portrayed as brash, sometimes even buffoonish, but underneath it all is a kind of iron nobility and the closer we come to the core of him
the more we learn of what he truly is.
In a moment at which I always weep, just before Londo is about to go off and surrender himself to his fate, he goes to say farewell to his old enemy and his old friend, G’Kar. And as he is about to leave, G’Kar calls him by name and as Londo pauses by the door G’Kar says to him that too much has passed between their races -
“My people,” he says, ” can never forgive your people. But I…can forgive you.”
And Mollari’s face changes, just for a moment, as the two old foes clasp hands and exchange a last long look – because here, maybe, lies a glimmer of that salvation that Mollari has sought for so long and has almost – almost – given up on finding at this point.
When I heard that the actor who had portrayed G’Kar in the series had died, I wept – I felt as though I had lost a brother. But it was not the actor whom I was mourning, may those he loved and left behind forgive me for that – it was G’Kar. The indomitable. The irascible.
The funny, the tragic, the wounded, the triumphant, the glorious, the inspired. The character who never really existed, who could not exist, and yet who was as real to me as though I had grown up in his physical shadow. There was a video made in his memory, and I watch it and weep, even today -
Such can be the impact of character on someone who is immersed in that character’s story.
I remember my own characters who came to me and let me tell their stories.
The lost heiress of Miranei who turned into a goddess known as the Changer of Days, my Anghara Kir Hama, heroine of my “Changer of days” fantasies, who was such a pivotal character for me that I have borne some form of her name as my online identity for as long as I’ve had a presence on the Internet.
The girls who strolled onto the stage as the eight main protagonists of “Secrets of Jin Shei” – the poet, the healer, the gypsy, the warrior, the alchemist, the sage, the rebel leader, and the Empress who dreamed of immortality and nearly destroyed them all. Or the one who followed them, the many-times-granddaguther of my little poet from the first book, and the other characters who shared her story in “Embers of Heaven”.
My girl-mage, Thea, from the Worldweavers trilogy, and the people who helped shape her world.
The five people who make their choices on the eve of the projected end of the world in “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”.
I didn’t create any of those people. They had stories they wanted told. They came, they introduced themselves to me, and they began to talk. It was all I could do to keep writing fast enough to keep up, sometimes.
For me, for this one single writer, that is what it comes down to. It’s a question of character, in a HUGE and important way, and it’s the character who drives the story arc forward. The arc that Londo Mollari took to its extreme – the arc of going from the beginning, where you have all the choices in the world, to the end, where all the choices you have made have herded you into a place where there is only one way forward, only one thing left to do, and there are no choices left other than that one. For better or for worse.
A story is simply and solely an account of the winnowing of those choices – and the writer can only hope that the character who is making them will be strong enough to pull in the reader right along, strong enough to trigger strong emotions, because those emotions will serve to make that reader remember that character – remember some of that character’s lines of dialogue, even, verbatim sometimes – long after they have closed the book of that character’s story.
Because they live on, in our memories. All the characters who once walked down the roads in that strange country in our mind’s eye, and let us follow them on their journeys. It is the privilege of the writer to create characters like that, the ones who live long after a
particular snatch of their story which the reader might be privileged to directly know is done and dusted. It is the privilege of the reader to find such characters, and to treasure them, to keep them alive, to keep them immortal, to shield them from the fading and the oblivion which comes with the passing of the years.
I hope that some of my own characters will live on, in YOU, the readers. It is only then that my work here will be done.
NOTE: Bob Jones does not have access to SU and so he sent his column to me (Sully) to post on my page. I’ll try to manage comments from here, but the following is wholly Bob’s excellent work:
FORENSICS 164: UNWELCOME VISITORS
by Robert C. Jones
April 19, 2013
This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.
Nogales is a city located on the southern border of Arizona, just north of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. It is the main entry port for Mexican produce and is one of the busiest land ports in the United States. In 2011, 2,641,068 cars, 287,091 trucks and an uncounted number of pedestrians passed through it. Through the combined sea port in Guaymas, Sonoro, Mexico and ports of entry in Nogales, Arizona, some $26 billion of international trade makes its way into Arizona every year. Nogales is thus a logical place to test a lie-detecting device to help identify persons trying to enter or to smuggle illegal items into the United States.
Following the discovery that physiological responses often accompany stress caused by lying, many devices and procedures have been developed in attempts to detect deceptive answers to questions. Polygraphs have been around since their advent in 1921. They measure and record such physiological indications as pulse and respiration rates, blood pressure and skin conductivity, the latter responding to perspiration. Polygraphs operate under the theory that deceptive answers to a series of questions will result in indicationss that can be differentiated from indications resulting from nondeceptive answers. In spite of their questionable reliability, many government agencies and police departments reportedly use polygraphs to interrogate criminal suspects and to screen prospective employees.
In view of their unreliability, however, results of their tests are usually not allowed as evidence by many courts. Also, procedures used to pass polygraph tests while lying have been discovered and put to use–sometimes by persons with access to sensitive information related to national security. As a case in point, In 1986 and 1991, Aldrich Hazen Ames, a former CIA counter-intelligence officer and analyst, passed two polygraph examinations while spying for Russia and the Soviet Union. Ames is believed to have compromised the second-largest number of CIA assets. Robert Hanssen compromised the most, and he also reportedly passed periodic polygraph exams.. Ames claimed that all it took to pass an examination was confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner.
In view of the poor reliability record of lie-detecting devices based on a few measurements of physiological responses, it was thought that an increase in the number of responses measured would provide an accompanying increase in reliability. Devices measuring many of the following have been constructed:
Blinking rate (high-speed camera)
Blood pressure (laser focused on a carotid artery)
Brain activity (thermal camera)
Breathing rates (camera)
Delayed verbal responses (microphone)
Eyebrow elevations (high-speed camera)
Eye movements (high-speed infrared (IR) camera)
Facial expressions (high-speed camera)
Facial temperature variations (thermal camera)
Head movements (high-resolution video camera)
Overall body movements (3-D camera and weight scale)
Pulse rate (laser laser focused on a carotid artery)
Pupil dilations (high-speed infrared camera)
Respiration rate (camera)
Retinal responses (infrared camera)
Rubbing (high-resolution video camera)
Scratching (high-resolution video camera)
Stiffness associated with trying to prevent physical changes (camera)
Shoulder movements (high-resolution video camera)
Voice changes in pitch and inflection (microphone)
Weight shifting (high-speed camera and weight scale)
Responses are analyzed to identify persons that should be ushered to an interview with a human.
A lie-detecting device capable of sensing and recording most of the listed measurements was installed for a test at the port of entry in Nogales, Arizona. It was named AVATAR. The device was not related to a worldly form of a descended, Hindu deity, but a lifelike image of a person did appear on a computer screen. The word “AVATAR” is an acronym for Automated Video Agent for Truth Assessment in Real-time.
A border protection official posed as a person trying to pass into Arizona from Mexico. He stood before the lie-detector device, which was about the size of an automatic teller machine (ATM). He pressed an image of a large red button to start an interrogation process. The image (avatar) of a person appeared on the screen and “asked” him a number of questions requiring yes or no answers. The questions and their answers included such as the following:
Are you a citizen of the United States of America? (Answer YES)
Have you ever been arrested? (Answer NO)
Have you been employed in the past five years? (Answer YES)
Is your address the same as the one you entered on your entry sheet? (Answer YES)
His answer to the question about his address garnered special interest. He had a home address at one location and had another residence near his office in Washington, D.C. The duality caused him to pause for just a bit. AVATAR caught that and recommended that it be a subject of discussion with a human interrogator.
As lie-detection technology continues to improve, more persons will probably find themselves face-to-face with devices such as an AVATAR.
Variations of facial temperature during questioning are detected in areas around eyes and cheeks, which are highly sensitive to temperature rise.
Brain activity changes when someone is making up a story on the spot.
During conversations, nervous liars have been found to use more filler words such as “ums” and “ers.”
Infrared radiation comes in three flavors (spectral regions): near-infrared, mid-infrared and far-infrared. The wavelength of near-infrared radiation is just outside the range of visible red light, and those of mid-infrared and far-infrared radiation are just beyond that. Although you can’t see it, you can feel the warming effects of the far-infrared region of solar radiation on the back of your neck on a sunny day. What warms your food and smooths your clothes is far infrared radiation from gas stoves and electric irons. Radiations of other wavelengths also transfer thermal energy, but your skin is more sensitive to wavelengths of far-infrared radiation.
Having a temperature, you, yourself, radiate at an intensity dependent upon your temperature. Infrared detectors can thus be used to reveal your presence in the dark. Since infrared light passes through smoke, dust and fog, infrared detectors such as IR cameras are being used by searchers to locate trapped persons in burning buildings, hiding criminals and lost persons. Military peronnel are using them to locate both enemy personnel and their vehicles.
Remote-control devices for television sets, indoor saunas and such use near-infrared radiation. Laser pointers concentrate infrared light into a narrow beam, the energy of which represents a potential danger to one’s eyes. Reportedly, Class 1 lasers are relatively harmless. Classes 2 and 3 lasers are used for pointers. A study revealed that Class 3 lasers might cause eye damage if pointed at the same retinal spot for 10 seconds or more. Both Classes 2 and three must carry a warning to avoid pointing them at anyone’s eyes. Class 4 lasers are not used in laser pointers, but have been found useful by medical, military and industrial personnel.
Don’t confuse infrared radiation with ultraviolet radiation. The latter is at the opposite end of the visible light spectrum and is the one that can damage skin cells and cause cancer.
According to a recent study, until recently, chronic infrared exposure, below a level that would burn, was known to cause only one skin problem. The legs of persons sitting too close to fireplaces were subject to a form of dermatosis (a noninflammatory skin disorder) . It has now been discovered that persons sitting for prolonged periods with a hot laptop computer on their legs are also beginning to experience the same, uncommon problem.
If you have seen the 1951 movie, DAVID AND BATHSHEBA, you have seen portions of Nogales. Most of the location scenes of the 1955 film, OKLAHOMA, were shot there. Nogales was also the main location site for the 1995 film, THE FANTASTICS; and portions of the documentary, BORDER WARS, were filmed there.
While OKLAHOMA was being filmed, the governor of Arizona ordered that the filming location be made an honorary part of the state of Oklahoma.
Roger Smith, star of 77 SUNSET STRIP and husband of actress Ann Margret, called Nogales home for a time. Actress and second wife of Marlon Brando, Movita Castaneda, was born in Nogales, as was wig-maker to the stars and secret mistress of Humphrey Bogart, Verita Bouvaire-Thompson.
I’ve been trying my damndest to clear off my desk so I can devote my attention to a novel I’ve been aching to write for months—nay years. The problem is that I keep getting sucked back into all these little projects that keep me from turning my attention to the book. This relates back to a post I made here over four years ago, called Of course I will.
One problem is that it’s such an honor to be asked to do things sometimes that it’s almost impossible to say no. Other times, cool opportunities come along and I actually volunteer to write something. Over the course of the past couple of months, both of these things have happened. Plus I had to do revisions for a new edition of a forthcoming book and proof the new pages. Then I got sent to Japan for a business trip for a week. And I had a new book come out, which meant that I had to pay attention to reviews, do interviews and watch sales ranks and all the other things that happen when a book is published.
Mind you, these are all good problems to have. I’m not complaining. And, yet, I really want to work on that novel. I went on a research trip with my wife several weeks ago and came back with an hour of video to use as a reference as I write. I have one full chapter already written that dates back at least two years. The chapter has been extensively critiqued, but it’s going to get a major overhaul because I discovered finally what the book is going to be about. I think. I won’t really know that until I start working on it again.
I was going to start on March 1. Then it was going to be April 1. Now it’s looking more like May 1 is the big day. May Day. Maybe that’s appropriate. Between now and the end of April, I’m going to write one more essay (beyond this one), finish up one more short story (well, okay, maybe two), get all the fallow stories I have back into circulation, and review three books (okay, maybe four). That’s it. If an interesting set of story guidelines come my way, I’m going to close my eyes and pretend I didn’t see them. If someone invites me to submit to an anthology, I’ll dig around in my archives to see if I have anything that might fit. Otherwise, I’m going to say sorry. At least, I think I will. I hope I will.
It really is hard to say no.
Come to think of it, I have another invitation to write an essay outstanding. Did I say yes already? I’m not quite sure—I didn’t exactly say no, though.
How many days are left in April? Maybe I can squeeze it in…
If only there were more hours in the day. More days in the week. More weeks in the month…
Q&A rules this month, as it seems to be my most popular format, and a lot of interesting questions are accumulating. Also, I’m trying to catch up from a trip to the northwest, and using your ideas means Q&A is half written already!
Q [Jordan, MT]: What are you best known for as a writer?
A: Stealing pens.
Q [Rapid City, MI]: I need some writerly advice. I can feel my mind going very stagnant on me. I try to make up stories and my mental monkey has me going over bills. My mind just isn’t functioning as it should. It’s scary. I know part of it is the monotony of the everyday but ….. Do you have any suggestions to get my mind functioning again? I’m going to start doing crosswords again. Any help would be most appreciated.
A: Think of it this way: we’ve got two modes inside us – protection and growth. Protection puts up walls to shield you; growth tears them down to let you expand/escape. Protection trumps, ‘cause when the lion is attacking (stress), you have to focus all your resources there immediately. And thus you have no assets available to give to growth mode, which is more discretionary and leisurely and is where you can turn outward and be creative. You describe yourself as fighting stress. But not all stress is an immediate crisis (the lion attacking). Moreover, we tend to dwell on even non-immediate stress for its own sake and out of habit. If you really want to get to growth mode (creative) on demand, you have to learn to go a step beyond just anesthetizing this kind of less immediate stress. You have to leave protection mode entirely. The only way I know to do that is to focus in the right direction. Do not look inward. Look outward. At the world. Forget yourself as best you can. Get absorbed as an observer in what’s going on outside yourself. Doesn’t matter whether it’s something positive like watching ants build an anthill or something negative like observing someone else’s marriage fall apart, as long as it’s on the other side of the glass. It may take time to get out of protective mode – over-protective mode really. It may take practice. But you have been there before, you can get there again. The key thing is to get outside yourself. Your personal problems will still be there when you look inward again, and your life will express itself in whatever you create in growth mode anyway – though it may be by metaphor – never doubt that. You don’t have to force that as a theme. Stay focused outside yourself and see if that works. Works for me. But I know it’s a hard sell when you are under stress. Still, for me, it’s a kind of pay me now or pay me later thing. And so I accept that the answer is to get outside myself, and that I may as well get there as quickly as possible rather than wasting days of depression and thrashing around in pain. Works for boredom too, which is that uninspiring monotony you mentioned.
Q [Vyskov, Czech Republic]: Who was the exiled Prince you wrote about?
A: Just getting around to using this question that refers to a Q&A that ran in late 2012. This was in Argentina, probably when I was about three or four, and my memory of him is of just a kind of easy-going man with a sad smile (I wouldn’t have known what a prince was at the time). I grew up in a tight-lipped family – my sister used to swear I was two weeks old before anyone told her she had a brother. My father had semi-paralyzed vocal cords and hated to talk, but he was also a secret intelligence officer during the war (found a commendation to him from the Secretary of State after he died), and of course that’s what we were doing in South America. So, the reference to an alcoholic prince whose family sent him money to stay out of Europe was all I ever gleaned. I remember him taking me to the circus, and I still have some broken lead soldiers with British bonnets that he bought me, so I suppose he could have been English, though he had a Mediterranean complexion and slicked back black hair. I think I may have thought he was with one of the naval crews (my father was a Lieutenant Commander) who showed up regularly and whose attentions I enjoyed.
Q [Palatine, IL and others]: What is your writing workspace like?
A: 28,000 miles around at the equator. In fact, why stop there? I spend a lot of each night staring up at stars. Point being that much of writing takes place at the POI (Point of Inspiration), as well as the manual writing of notes on the back of shopping receipts or cell phone memos or calling it in to voice recording. I’ve even written with my own blood and borrowed pencils from strangers. If you’re missing a pen, I probably have it. But if you’re asking about the mainframe nuke-powered pc where typing takes place, that would be my Creatorium (no “m” in the middle, please). For starters it overlooks a beautiful lake, and the room is painted Mexicali rose with framed pictures of trees on three walls. The brass lamp is raised to the right height on worn-out rollerblade wheels, and one of my headsets uses a dish sponge for cushioning. In fact, there’s a photo somewhere in an archived Sullygram of the Spongehead shot and another of the computer, including a Desktop highlight moment-of-my-life.
Q [Lordstown, OH]: Have you ever been married?
A: 23 orbits around the son. I mean sun.
Q [Bathurst, New South Wales, AU and many others]: I love the photos you post on Facebook. You certainly have an interesting life. You should do a book of just photos.
A: Like I wrote in this month’s Sullygram, I’m blessed with adventures that make my life a yellow brick road, and every stop is another Oz. Too many Emerald Cities to put all their photos on my website, but you’ll find a lot of them there ( http://www.thomassullivanauthor.comm ). Most are under the heading Sullygrams & Columns rather than Photos. Just click that page, then click the newsletters to view the photos at the end of each one.
Q [Tallahassee, FL]: Saw your FB stories this month about your travels out west and enjoyed them. So what was the most mind-blowing thing you did?
A: Finding a pure white feather in a surreal setting of Yellowstone (for those of you who remember…). “Blew my mind” because I always imagine the light of my life with me on every adventure, and there I was standing in a secluded sanctuary that was almost a clone of one of our most magical spots, and there it was looking rather like it had just arrived.
In the last month, we lost Rick Hautala. Some wonderful people, authors, artists and editors, are trying to help his family with the sudden fiscal hardship that has accompanied his death. Richard Chizmar, Glenn Chadbourne, Brian Freeman and Ray Garton all stepped up immediately with a book whose proceeds will benefit his wife. Others have tried to pitch in where they can, including direct donations at email@example.com. Sadly, Rick’s death isn’t the only devastating news this year.
Bob Booth, founder of Necon, has stage four cancer. I’ve never been to Necon, but I have long since lost track of how many people have insisted I go. It’s less a convention than a weekend celebration of horror fiction for the pros and associated folk of the horror field. No awards, no panels, just a chance to get together and enjoy the company of others who won’t look at you oddly when you bring up Harry O. Morris, Frank Belknap Long or Wrath James White. If you want to tell him thanks, or just offer him support, use firstname.lastname@example.org online, and physical cards and letters can be sent directly to: Bob Booth, 67 Birchland Ave., Pawtucket, RI 02860.
Of course, it’s not only horror that’s had it’s share of trouble. Over on the SF/Fantasy front, Jay Lake is fighting cancer, and despite a lot of money being raised for the bills associated with some longshot (but possible) medical procedures and the best efforts of some of the most beloved sf/fantasy writers to raise awareness, he’s still facing very bad odds in beating the disease. Here’s his latest on it. http://www.jlake.com/2013/04/11/21916/ You can find places all over the web to donate to help, if you’re willing and able.
And in the past few days, Dave Wolverton’s sixteen-year-old son has suffered a near-fatal accident that has left the author with almost a million dollars in medical bills. There are a handful of authors who can cover a million dollars of bills even after selling off everything they own. Dave Wolverton is not among that handful. If you want to investigate and perhaps help, here’s a link: http://www.helpwolverton.com/.
All of this tragedy will undoubtedly be compounded as the year progresses. Just as we have things in life that bring us cheer, there are things that depress us or even leave us despondent. There are two important takeaways, as far as I can tell:
1) Life happens. Try to prepare. It’s absolutely impossible to predict when a terrible event will come out of left field. You can take actions to minimize your risks, but things still happen. People who eat healthy and never smoke still get hit by cars. An apparently safe investment might wind up being run by someone with the morals of Gary Coleman’s dad. You never know. But insurance helps. Socking away some of the money you get on a breakout novel in something revenue-generating helps. Live for today, yes, but consider the future. Your future self might appreciate it greatly.
2) No matter what else may occur in your life, never underestimate the value of friends and family, well-wishers, co-workers and fans. Just as there are a lot of scumbags (sometimes, sadly, among the groups I just mentioned) there are also a lot of wonderful people out there who are eager and able to help.
I’m away on vacation this week but I wanted to ask this question of any writers or readers who check in at Storytellers this month. Some people tell me they never watch them, but I personally love sitting down and checking out a few from time to time. I’ve definitely bought books based on what I’ve seen in a good book trailer.
It’s my belief that it’s almost always a combination of things that sell a book. I prefer to use a variety of tools when marketing. If I sell a few books a month thanks to one of my book trailers, I think it’s a tool that’s worth the effort. But I’m sincerely interested in hearing what others have to say on the subject. I have a new book trailer out myself, so I’m doubly curious to know what you think.
Below are some book trailers that really work for me. They’re also quite entertaining. I’ve included my own in the mix because I think Sonicatron did a swell job with it and I’m excited to have a trailer for The Reading Lessons.
Please take a minute to let me know what you think about trailers as a reader and/or writer and thanks for visiting Storytellers Unplugged.
Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters
The Reading Lessons by Carole Lanham
Carole Lanham is the author of The Reading Lessons, The Whisper Jar, and Cleopatra’s Needle. Please visit her at carolelanham.com or horrorhomemaker.com
This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.
Whether or not they deserve it, pit bulls have a bad reputation. Owners of the breed might take some pride in reading about a pit bull mix that gave his all to defend his family when three masked men invaded their home in Barberton, Ohio and robbed a woman and her son. The dog chewed some on one of the intruders and was shot and killed for his effort.
The police were left with no evidence. Catching the perpetrators appeared to be hopeless. but an inventive detective had an idea. Not knowing if his idea would work or not, he used his laptop computer to search the internet for information. He then swabbed the inside of the valiant pet’s mouth and submitted a collection of skin cells to a laboratory for analysis. DNA was found that was not only human it matched that of a criminal whose DNA was on file.
Unfortunately, before the burglar was arrested, he had broken into a home in Akron, Ohio. He shot and wounded a 19-year-old girl and shot and killed a 16-year girl who was four months pregnant.
An event also involving a dog and DNA occurred when a would-be burglar in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England picked the wrong house to burgle. The back door of the house had a cat flap; and the burglar reached through it, apparently trying to open the door. Nobody was home at the time, and he must have felt he could get inside without being noticed. His choice of houses to burgle was definitely a bad one because, in addition to a cat, it was the home of a large Rottweiler named Missy. The police not only found more than enough of the burglar’s blood on the door and its surroundings from which to extract DNA, they also found enough still on Missy’s teeth to enable them to trace the burglar.
A lesson to be learned from the foregoing is that DNA can be found in some unusual places.
Surprisingly, there is actually a canine DNA sample collection kit available. It includes swabs, envelopes to hold used swabs and an envelope in which to hold the envelopes containing the used swabs while being transferred to a laboratory for analysis. It also includes instructions for its use. Many persons use collection kits to have their pet’s DNA analyzed to determine their genetic backgrounds.
PERSONAL NOTE TO READERS:
During the few years that I have been posting these essays, many of you have sent me comments via e-mail. I very much regret that there have not been enough hours for me to respond to every one. I want you to know, however, how much each comment has meant to me. Knowing that you have taken the time to read my pieces and to send me your comments makes the time I spend researching and writing them more than worthwhile. I don’t regard you as fans. Rather, I think of you as friends with a common interest.