About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three cozy mysteries, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at https://kaydibianca.com.

Iron Sharpens Iron — The Wright Brothers

“Before the Wright Brothers, no one working in aviation did anything fundamentally correct. Since the Wright Brothers, no one has done anything fundamentally different.”

– Darrel Collins, US Park Service, Kitty Hawk National Historic Park

* * *

The incredible story of the Wright brothers is well known to all elementary school students. At least it used to be. Two men, neither of whom had completed high school, solved a problem that had been around since the time of Icarus. A problem so complex that it had befuddled some of the best engineers and scientists for centuries — the invention of controlled, powered flight.

How did they do it?

A March 2020 article in Scientific American aimed to answer that question:

Aviation pioneer Octave Chanute predicted in a speech in 1890 that “no one man” was likely to possess the imagination, mechanical acuity, mathematical capability and fundraising skill necessary to solve the problem of flight. “It is probably because the working out of a complete invention requires so great a variety of talent,” Chanute said, “that progress has been so slow.”

Chanute was correct. It did take more than one person to solve the problem of flight. It took two. Working together to solve the hundreds of issues that stood in the way of the first flight, the Wright brothers proved to be the perfect team, combining intellectual curiosity with mechanical expertise, hard work, and dogged determination to find the solution.

But in addition to all the natural talent and discipline, the brothers had another attribute that may have been the catalyst: they argued with each other.

But wait. Isn’t argument always bad? Apparently not.

The Wright brothers’ respect for each other made it possible to work together and argue every aspect of the project without having it affect their personal relationship. This may have been the deciding factor in their success.

Back to Scientific American:

They often argued about the technical specifications of their craft late into the night. After one particularly heated argument about the proper construction of the propellers, they found themselves in the ridiculous situation of each having been converted to the other’s original position in the argument, with no more agreement than when the discussion began. They argued because they sought truth, not because one brother desired to win a victory over the other.

The Wright brothers achieved their remarkable success because of their arguments, not in spite of them. I think there’s a lesson here for all of us.

* * *

I’ve had the good fortune to have worked with software development teams to design several systems. I’ve found the best teamwork is enabled when team members leave their egos at the door and engage in robust discussion about how to get the job done. Ideas are floated and team members are encouraged to poke holes in them and find alternate solutions to problems. Disagreeing without being disagreeable is the goal.

* * *

How does this apply to writing? Authors often find themselves on the receiving end of criticism and rejection. Feedback from editors, agents, critique partners, and even spouses can feel like cold water thrown on a writer’s best effort. And then there’s the occasional less-than-glowing review posted after the book is published. But sometimes even the harshest criticism given in a positive way will culminate in a better product and a better writer.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” –Proverbs 27:17

* * *

So TKZers: How do you handle criticism? Do you see it as “iron sharpens iron”? What advice would you offer new authors on the subject?

 

TIME AFTER TYME

Murder with a dash of humor

 

Second Chances and Parallel Plots

I recently re-watched the movie Seabiscuit, a film adaptation of Seabiscuit: An American Legend (1999) by Laura Hillenbrand. I had seen the movie several years before I picked up a keyboard with the intention of writing my own novels, but seeing the story for the second time gave me a chance to analyze it from a writer’s perspective.

* * *

SECOND CHANCES

The movie is set in 1930’s depression-era America, a time when many people lost everything except their longing for a second chance at life. The plot follows four independent characters who had suffered in different ways, but whose paths converge to result in a surprising accomplishment.

AND PARALLEL PLOTS

Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) was a wealthy and powerful automobile magnate, but the loss of his only child in an automobile accident destroyed his marriage. On a trip to Mexico with several friends, Howard became interested in horse-racing, though he knew little about the sport.

Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) was an over-the-hill trainer known for his unusual methods and devotion to rehabilitating injured animals. He uttered a crucial line in the film, “You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.” Although Smith was referring to a horse, the quote clearly referred to all the main characters.

Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) was a young man from an educated family whose parents were ruined by the depression. Bitter and angry, Pollard’s love of horses pushed him into becoming a jockey even though he was considered too big for the sport.

Seabiscuit (10 different horses played the role of Seabiscuit in the film) was a grandson of the great Man o’ War, but hadn’t amounted to much as a race horse. He was considered lazy and untrainable by those who tried to turn him into a winner. Besides, he was small for a thoroughbred. Hardly the stuff of champions

COMING TOGETHER

The four characters lived in parallel universes until Howard considered getting into the horse-racing business. Deciding against the well-known, successful trainers, Howard hired Tom Smith, and Smith, in turn, opted for the unlikely Seabiscuit as the horse to train. Then he went even further afield when he hired Pollard as the jockey. This was a team of misfits, all looking in different ways for a second chance at life. As Howard explains to a crowd in a memorable scene: “The horse is too small, the jockey too big, the trainer too old, and I’m too dumb to know the difference.”

You can see where this is going. Seabiscuit began to win races, and soon the horse was heralded as the best racehorse on the west coast. But the real horse-racing establishment was housed in the eastern United States. And it was there that the magnificent stallion War Admiral reined supreme. (Pun intended.)

In 1937, War Admiral won the Triple Crown, only the fourth horse do so, and was also named “Horse of the Year.” A majestic animal, War Admiral inspired awe in any who witnessed his races. So, of course, Charles Howard wanted to match his upstart steed against the best.

Samuel Riddle, the owner of War Admiral, had no interest in committing his champion to a head-to-head contest with Seabiscuit. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose. But Charles Howard took his message to the masses in 1938, and convinced people who were themselves yearning for a second chance at life to see a match race through the lens of the underdog. Howard’s strategy worked, and Riddle finally agreed to the match race, though on the terms that it had to be run on War Admiral’s home track.

The “Match of the Century” was held on November 1, 1938. According to the Wikipedia entry on Seabiscuit, 40,000 people showed up at Pimlico for the race and another 40 million listened to it on the radio! Since Pollard was still recovering from a broken leg suffered in a training accident, George Woolf, a well-known jockey and friend of Pollard’s, was aboard Seabiscuit for the showdown.

THE RACE

Knowing War Admiral liked to go immediately to the front, Smith’s strategy was for Seabiscuit to jump out to an early lead and set the pace, which he did. Smith also instructed Woolf to let War Admiral catch up in the backstretch, which he also did. Running shoulder-to-shoulder, the two horses rounded the final turn.

In a charming bit of moviedom that I doubt actually happened, George Woolf turned to the jockey astride War Admiral as the horses entered the homestretch and said, “So long, Charlie.” Then Seabiscuit pulled away and won the race by four lengths.

* * *

So TKZers: What do you think of the use of parallel plots? Have you used parallel plots in your novels? Do you ever knock your main characters down and give them a second chance at success? Have you ever used both parallel plots and second chances in the same story?

* * *

Two teams of female sleuths follow parallel plot lines to decipher the clues and discover a killer. But the only thing waiting at the finish line is more danger.

Time After Tyme

 

 

The History of Mystery

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” – Proverbs 25:2

“Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt. Nothing’s so hard but search will find it out.” — Robert Herrick

* * *

Since all human beings (not just kings) love to figure things out, I thought the Kill Zone Blog might be a good place to examine the history of the sleuthing mystery genre. A look back in time may even give us clues to facilitate our own successes. So grab your flashlights and let’s enter the dark and web-encrusted chambers of crime. The game’s afoot!

* * *

The format of a mystery novel is straightforward. The story usually begins with a crime being committed. It can be a murder, a suspicious death, a disappearance, even a theft. The rest of the story involves the search for the truth and ends with answers to the questions: who committed the crime, how, and why.

Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) is generally considered to be the first modern murder mystery, and its detective, Auguste C. Dupin, the first fictional detective. There was no monkey business in Dupin’s analysis of the horrific crime and identification of the murderer.

Wilkie Collins was a contemporary of Charles Dickens and is credited with the first novel-length mystery, The Woman in White (1859). The book doesn’t just stop at murder – it also touches on insanity, social stratification, false identity, and a few other themes. Collins considered the book his best work and instructed that the phrase “Author of The Woman in White” be inscribed on his tombstone. He also lays claim to the first detective novel, The Moonstone (1868).

Arthur Conan Doyle published A Study in Scarlet, the first story featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, in 1887. In total, Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four novels featuring the famous detective. When he killed off Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem (1893), the public outcry was so severe, Doyle had to bring him back in later works.

 

Maurice Leblanc began a mystery series in 1905  featuring the gentleman thief Arsene Lupin, a character who’s been described as a French version of Sherlock Holmes. In all, Leblanc wrote 17 novels and 39 novellas with Lupin as hero. Check out Joe Hartlaub’s excellent blog post about the books and recent TV series based on Leblanc’s hero.

G.K. Chesterton is credited with creating the cozy mystery genre with a series of 53 short stories begun in 1910 featuring the Roman Catholic priest and amateur detective, Father Brown, who uses his intuitive understanding of human nature to solve crimes. The character was so popular, it inspired the Father Brown TV series that began in 2013.

 

The Thirty-nine Steps (1915) by Scottish author John Buchan was the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay. a man on the run who had been unjustly accused of murder. There are a couple of movie versions of The Thirty-nine Steps, but my favorite is the 1935 Hitchcock film starring Robert Donat.

 

Cozy mysteries became very popular in the 1920’s and 30’s with several great British authors. Agatha Christie’s first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), featured Hercule Poirot, a sleuth who used his “little gray cells” to solve mysteries. Poirot showed up in 33 novels and over 50 short stories. (I will have much more to say about Dame Agatha in a future post.)

 

Dorothy Sayers introduced her own hero, the elegant but troubled Lord Peter Wimsey, in her 1923 novel Whose Body.  Sayers wrote 11 novels in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.

 

 

Younger readers joined the mystery caravan with the Hardy Boys series which began with The Tower Treasure in 1927. Several authors contributed under the collective pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon.

 

The Nancy Drew series entered the parade in 1930 with The Secret of the Old Clock. Again, several authors contributed under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Many of us credit the Nancy Drew books with our own interest in creating mystery stories.

 

Hardboiled detective fiction became popular in the 1920’s and extended through the 20th century. Dashiel Hammett became famous for his character Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1929). He also created the sophisticated couple Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1933). Strangely, Hammett wrote his final novel more than 25 years before his death. Why he stopped writing fiction is something of a mystery in itself.

Raymond Chandler was forty-four years old when he began his journey as an author. His first novel, The Big Sleep (1939), introduced the world to private detective Philip Marlowe. In addition to his short stories, Chandler wrote seven novels, all with Marlowe as the hero. His prose is widely admired and his use of similes is famous. Here’s an example from The Big Sleep: “The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.”

So that completes this survey of the history of mystery. I selected these twelve examples from articles about the subject on various websites including biblio.com and wikipedia.com. Did you notice anything interesting about this list? Almost all of the wildly successful mysteries are series. Food for thought.

* * *

Back to our original question: Why do people love mysteries so much? Maybe it’s because a mystery novel is an example of mankind’s search for truth pared down to its most elementary format and delivered in a 6X9 inch package. The reader knows he/she will be satisfied at the end of the book with the answers of who, how, and why. And justice will be served. That’s a lot to accomplish in just a few hours of reading!

* * *

So TKZers: What is your favorite mystery novel? And who is your favorite mystery novelist? What books or authors would you add to my list?

 

Running and Writing – The 800-meter Novel

“Pace doesn’t mean speed; it means the right speed.” – Reginald Hill

Some people think the 800-meter race is the hardest track event to run. Why? Because the race is twice around the track which equates to roughly a half-mile. Pace is the key. There’s a tendency to run the first lap too fast and run out of steam on the second lap. On the other hand, running the first lap too slow could mean falling so far behind the leaders that you can’t catch up. Each runner has to find their own pace within the field to run their best time. Can we apply this knowledge to writing a novel?

One of the most famous 800-meter races of all time was the 1972 Olympic final in Munich, West Germany. Eight world-class runners toed the starting lines. The favorite was Yevhen Arzhanov of the Soviet Union who had won every race he had entered for the previous three years.

The lone American in the race was Dave Wottle. Although Wottle had won the U.S. Olympic Trials race, he suffered injuries prior to the Olympic Games, and there was some question about his fitness. Here’s a two-minute video of the race. Arzhanov is wearing a red shirt and is in Lane One. You can easily spot Wottle – he’s the one wearing the golf hat.

***

Several weeks ago, Reavis Wortham wrote a blog post on pacing within a story. I’d like to explore the subject further by mapping Wottle’s race to a novel format. We’ll make Dave Wottle the protagonist in our story. Although I’m sure Yevhen Arzhanov is a very nice man, he’s going to be our antagonist for the purposes of this post. All the others are secondary characters in the story.

I suppose the inciting incident in this story is the start of the race. The gun goes off, and seven of the runners fly around the first turn.

My husband and I heard Dave Wottle talk about that race years later. He said he was surprised at how fast the other runners went out, and he was afraid he wasn’t up to the task. (Refusing the call?) Wottle could have stepped off the track after the first turn, claiming injury, and would have avoided disappointing his friends and family at home. But despite what he thought was a poor performance at the start, he decided to answer the call.

The backstretch, like the middle section of a novel, is usually not the most interesting part of the race. But in this race, there’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on in the first two hundred meters that focuses our attention on the secondary characters leading the race. At the same time, our antagonist, the favorite Arzhanov, slips back into anonymity at the middle of the pack.

As they come around the turn to complete the first lap, Wottle is still trailing. Running in last place at the midpoint of an Olympic final doesn’t bode well for our hero. Wottle must have asked himself if it was worth the pain to keep trying.

Down the backstretch for the second time, the tension ramps up as the competitors bunch up and jockey for position. Wottle moves ahead of a couple of runners. Now our attention shifts to Arzhanov as he takes off like a bullet to pass the leaders.

The race is now a 200-meter sprint. The finish line is in sight. The runners accelerate down the homestretch. The crowd senses the drama. Everyone yells for their favorite.

Our hero starts to pick off runners one at a time. It’s like figuring out clues in a mystery – with each new insight, he moves one step closer to catching the bad guy.

The tension is palpable as they approach the climax of the race. When Arzhanov realizes how close Wottle is to him, it’s too late to do anything other than fling himself forward, hoping to cross the finish line first, but Wottle clips his opponent at the line to win by three hundredths of a second.

In a mystery, the criminal always makes a mistake. In my book Dead Man’s Watch, the killer takes the watch off his victim, thinking no one could ever trace it to him. In the 1972 Olympic 800-meter race, Arzhanov started his finishing kick too soon, thinking no one would catch him. Both were wrong.

Maybe we can add a corollary to Reginald Hill’s maxim:

Writing a novel isn’t about producing words. It’s about producing the right words at the right pace.

***

So TKZers: How do you handle pace? Do you make your protagonist suffer an almost-certain defeat before finding that fire within? How do you prevent a sagging middle section? Do you pick it up in the last chapters heading to the climactic scene? What advice do you have about setting the right pace in novel-writing?

***

 

The Watch Series of cozy mysteries

Watches that tell more than the time.

Happy Pi Day!

 

In our ever-changing world, it’s nice to have something constant that we can point to, so I’m happy that March 14 is celebrated as National Pi Day.

Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and it’s a constant. (It’s also an irrational number, but that’s another story.) It doesn’t matter how big or small the circle is, the ratio of circumference to diameter is constant. The actual number begins with 3.14, hence our celebration of pi on 3/14.

Here are a few interesting facts about pi that I gleaned from piday.org:

  • The notion that there was a constant ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter has been known for about 4000 years.
  • Pi is such a fascinating concept that it inspired a style of writing called Pilish, where the number of letters in each word match the corresponding digit of pi (e.g., “Buy a girl a watch” corresponds to the first five digits of pi: 3.1415.) Software engineer Michael Keith wrote an entire book, called Not a Wake in this language. (The ebook sells on Amazon for $3.14.)
  • The Greek symbol for Pi wasn’t always used to represent the mathematical concept. It was introduced by the Welsh mathematician William Jones, a friend of Sir Isaac Newton, in 1706.
  • In 2015, Rajveer Meena memorized and recited pi to 70,000 decimal places.
  • Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879.

***

But there are other celebrations on March 14. Have you ever used the National Day Calendar? It’s a great source of information about everything we celebrate in this country (as well as good fodder for blog posts). Today is also the national day of:

Write Your Story Day (This one should motivate us all.)

Learn About Butterflies Day

Potato Chip Day

***

It’s fun to look up birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions in the National Day Calendar. I just looked up my husband’s and my anniversary. Oh – it’s today! Time to make dinner reservations at a restaurant with really good pie.

So TKZers: Take a moment to look up your special days in the National Day Calendar and let us know what you find. Extra credit if you write a few words in Pilish.

A Creative Idea

Creativity – noun – the state or quality of being creative; the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.

***

As writers, we’re all creative people, or strive to be. The creative process is part of who we are. So, if I could give you one simple thing to enhance your creativity and improve your writing, as well as making you healthier in the long run, would you be interested? I thought so.

Recent studies reveal some surprising findings about the relationship between exercise and creativity.  We’ve all heard of the benefits of aerobic exercise to strengthen our bodies and reduce stress, but there’s more.

According to a 2016 online article in Quartz by neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki, exercise encourages the growth of cells in the hippocampus area of the brain. This is advantageous no matter how old we are since the hippocampus is one of only two brain areas where new brain cells continue to be generated throughout our lives. And research has shown the hippocampus is important in enhancing long term memory and even possibly – listen to this, writers – creativity. Dr. Suzuki writes that “… this discovery suggests that exercise might be able to improve the imaginative functions of the hippocampus …”

Further evidence appeared in an article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2013: “Anecdotal literature suggests that creative people sometimes use bodily movement to help overcome mental blocks and to get deeper into a problem.” They even quote the philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “The moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow – as if I had given vent to the stream at the lower end and consequently new fountains flowed into it at the upper.”

As recently as February 2021, The New York Times published an article about exercise with the subtitle “To spur innovation and ideas, try taking a walk.”

Runner’s World magazine expanded the list of benefits in its August 2018 issue with an article that states, “Studies have shown that running can help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, some cancers, and a host of other unpleasant conditions. What’s more, scientists have shown that running also vastly improves the quality of your emotional and mental life. It even helps you live longer.” More time to write!

Of course, there are many ways to exercise: brisk walking, swimming, biking, jogging, zumba classes, and more. The benefits of aerobic exercise are so enormous, we can’t afford to ignore them. We can live longer, happier, healthier lives and be more creative if we do just one simple thing: exercise to get our brains moving along with our bodies.

Be strong and write long!

TKZers: What exercises do you do to keep in shape? Have you noticed an increase in your creative output after exercising? Have you found a brisk walk or other exercise helps to overcome a mental block in your writing?

 

“DiBianca’s motif of time, clocks, and watches—evident in her previous novels—is a superb gimmick, and the idea of two teams of smart female detectives working almost in parallel is equally clever.” – Kirkus Reviews

Limited Time Sale – 99¢

Our Love Affair With Books

“Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.”

                       — Arnold Lobel

Lately, I’ve been reading For the Love of Books by Graham Tarrant, and it occurred to me that this was an excellent subject for a Valentine’s Day post. Much of what follows I gleaned from that book.

***

A brief history of tomes. Books have been around for thousands of years, of course, but they weren’t for everybody. Some of the first ones were the real hardbacks – clay tablets that were inscribed and then dried in the sun. Durable, but not terribly convenient.

Next came the scrolls written on papyrus. The Egyptians and Greeks liked this medium. But leave it to the Romans to come up with something useful: the codex written on individual pages of parchment or vellum and attached along one edge so that pages could be turned.

In the Middle Ages, books were still confined to the elite classes of priests, scribes, and nobility. Monasteries housed buildings or rooms called scriptoria where monks laboriously hand-copied texts. Often the books in the scriptorium were chained to the shelves so they couldn’t be stolen. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is set in such a location.

The printing press. Then came Johannes Gutenberg and everything changed. His invention of the printing press along with his process for mass-producing movable metal type, provided an economical means for the mass production of printed books for the first time. Many scholars consider Gutenberg’s printing press to be the single most significant invention of the second millennium CE. The Age of Information had begun.

Because of Gutenberg’s invention, books were not only produced in great quantities, they began to be printed in the vernacular languages rather than just Latin. Literacy spread. Knowledge and ideas became available to the common man and woman through books. Some of the works produced in this early era were the King James Bible (1611), First Folio (1623), a collection of Shakespeare’s plays, and Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) in which the scientist explained his laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation.

By the eighteenth century, demand for books was so widespread that subscription libraries sprang up in Europe, and soon after public libraries came into being. Books were now available for all.

The novel. The novel adventure began with Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes which was published in 1605. It’s considered to be the first great modern novel.

As we fly through the next centuries, we find Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719), Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749), Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1837), and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

Closer to the TKZ home front, the first modern detective story was Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue short story (1841). However, Wilkie Collins lays claim to the first mystery novel, The Woman in White (1859), and the first detective novel, The Moonstone (1868).

It seemed that people couldn’t get enough of books. In 1935, Penguin Books became the first mass-market paperback endeavor. One of its first ten published works was The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie.

Soon paperbacks became so popular and inexpensive they could be found in drug stores and newspaper stands in addition to libraries and book stores. Detective stories and crime novels were especially popular and made authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Erle Stanley Gardner household names.

Today our books come in hardback, paperback, digital print, or audio, and the publishing industry continues to grow.

***

So that tells a little of what happened over the last few millennia, but the question remains: Why do we love books so much? Is it the desire to acquire knowledge or increase understanding of times and places we can’t experience ourselves? Perhaps it’s just to be entertained. Personally, I believe the best books are those that make us think and feel, that make us go beyond ourselves to empathize.

Consider this small group of novels that all deal with young women growing up in vastly different circumstances:

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen shares her humorous tale of Elizabeth Bennet growing up in manners-conscious England during the early 19th century.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee tells the riveting story of young Scout Finch learning hard lessons about life as she comes of age in a small town in Alabama during the Great Depression.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith captures the joys and heartbreaks of Francie Nolan growing up in difficult circumstances in early 20th-century Brooklyn.

West with the Night – Beryl Markham captivates the reader with this memoir of her adventurous life in the wilds of Kenya during the first half of the 20th century.

Although these four books differ in times and places, they each resonate with themes of family, community, adversity, and determination. The circumstances and personalities of the main characters may be different in each book, but the stories enable us to see ourselves in them. Such books influence who we are and how we interact with the world around us. No wonder we love them so.

***

How many books are there? As of Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 8:26 AM, the Google Books Project counted 129,864,880 unique books. According to a November 2021 article on Market Research Telecast, that figure had grown to about 170,000,000 by 2019.

I don’t know how many books there are today, but I’m honored to have friends who have added to that total, and I’m happy that I’ve contributed a few myself.

***

TKZers: What books do you love? Why do you think people love to read? What books should I have added to this post that I missed?

Your Favorite Word

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling

Words are an author’s best friends. They give us pause to examine ourselves and refine our thinking. They’re not only the tools we use to build our stories, they are the machinery that runs the enterprise of civilization.

* * *

Do you have a favorite word? I do, and I’ll tell you how I came to love it.

In the 1980’s, my husband, Frank, invented and patented a medical imaging device which he named the Kinestatic Charge Detector (KCD). If you’re interested, you can read the abstract of the original paper here.

The KCD worked on the principle of ions moving in one frame of reference, but stationary in another. To illustrate this principle, Frank coined the word “kinestatic” by combining “kinetic” (moving) with “static” (still). What a great word! To our knowledge, this word had never been used prior to his conceiving it.

Frank has often compared kinestasis (the noun form of the word) with walking up a down escalator. You’re moving in relation to the steps, but you’re stationary in relation to the outside world.

There are lots of other situations in everyday life that are kinestatic.  Do you walk on a treadmill? You’re kinestatic. In another context, do you ever find yourself rushing around all day doing things but accomplishing nothing? Kinestasis!

Of course, I was proud of Frank’s work, but I was especially amazed at the word he came up with. I asked him once if we should pursue getting his word into dictionaries, but he was busy and I was busy, so the matter dropped.

Fast-forward ten years or so. We were in England and stopped by Oxford one day when we serendipitously met an assistant to the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary! As a great believer that Providence steps in when we are too lazy to get something done ourselves, I of course assumed this was the moment “kinestatic” would find its rightful place in the English language.

I eagerly explained Frank’s beautiful word (he was too modest to self-promote), and the editor’s assistant thought it sounded interesting. However, she noted, “the word has to be in common usage.” Hmm. I wondered if biomedical engineering academia would qualify as “common usage.”

She and Frank exchanged contact information and over the next couple of months, they emailed back and forth so he could explain more and she could research. Unfortunately, “kinestatic” didn’t meet the lamentably rigid usage standards of the OED. So there.

But it’s still my favorite word, and I’ve decided to include it in every novel I write. It’s sort of like an Easter egg. I plant the word in a sentence, and every editor that sees the manuscript says, “that word is not in the dictionary.” Then I explain why it’s there, and everybody’s happy.

I’m still waiting for the day when the OED and other dictionaries will recognize the genius of Frank’s word. Every now and then I google “kinestatic.” Google changes the search to “kinesthetic,” and I change it back to “kinestatic.” There are a few entries now outside the medical imaging field, so maybe the word is moving toward widespread usage.

Who knows? Maybe 2022 will be the year when the OED editor will step off his treadmill and wonder why we don’t have a word to describe running in place.

* * *

TKZers: Tell us about your favorite word or words. Have you ever made up a word? Or used a word that’s not in the dictionary because it fits the occasion? Tell us your experiences.

Christopher Columbus and the Discovery Method

 

Discover: verb. to see, get knowledge of, learn of, find, or find out; gain sight or knowledge of (something previously unseen or unknown).

Before I begin, let me note that I’m not addressing the issues of the treatment of indigenous peoples by the early explorers. I’m simply looking at the accidental discovery of the Americas.

One might argue that Columbus didn’t “discover” the New World since people already lived there. Others may point out that Norsemen landed in Newfoundland hundreds of years before Columbus. But the discovery in 1492 was the singular event that led to a worldwide understanding of the geography of our planet and resulted in an exciting new age of exploration.

In the fifteenth century, many European leaders longed for quick access to the riches of the Far East, but land travel to Asia was perilous. The only known sea route was by sailing south along the west coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean and on to Asia. But that was a long, slow journey.

Into this moment in history stepped the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, and as we all know, he proposed a different solution to the problem: sailing directly west from Europe to Asia. Columbus wasn’t the only person who believed the Earth was round – most educated people of that era agreed – but he was the one who was willing to risk his life on it.

Columbus was an excellent seaman and one of the most experienced navigators of his time. However, the data he used to calculate the length of the voyage was faulty. The circumference of the Earth was considered to be much smaller than it actually is, and the Asian land mass was thought to extend much farther to the east than it does. Using these data, he calculated the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan to be about 2,400 miles. Actually, it’s more than 10,000 miles. One can only wonder if he would have attempted the voyage if he had known the true distance.

By 1484, Columbus had drawn up plans for a westward expedition into the Atlantic Ocean to fulfill the dream of finding a faster route to Asia and its riches, but his request for support was turned down by every government he approached as being too risky.  Undeterred, he kept trying, and eventually he secured funding from several sources including the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Perhaps we can define Christopher Columbus as the first hybrid plotter/pantser. (Okay, now you see where I’m going with this.) There are a lot of similarities. Columbus had an end goal in mind, but he didn’t simply hop in a boat and head out. His persistence and hard work got his voyage funded. He used the knowledge that was available to him at the time to plan his voyage (albeit his calculation of the length of the trip was woefully mistaken). He was a skilled navigator who had made many successful voyages around the coasts of Europe, and he wisely decided on the starting point from the Canary Islands to take advantage of the favorable trade winds. Still, to set sail into the unknown was an act of courage and faith that I suspect few had then or have today.

Of course, he could not have foreseen the magnificent surprise that awaited him some weeks after he set sail.

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The Discovery Method in writing is often defined as pantsing or “writing by the seat of your pants.” But maybe it’s closer to the Christopher Columbus hybrid method. Is using this approach a way to happen onto an idea or a phrase that we wouldn’t have come upon otherwise? Will the discovery method offer us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves by launching into the unknown with a partially-developed plan? Is it possible to produce a work that is new and revolutionary through the discovery method?

So, TKZers: Are you a plotter? A pantser? Or a hybrid plantser? Have you happened onto any unexpected discoveries in your writing? Maybe you’ve experimented with a new idea to extend yourself beyond the safe haven of what has always worked for you.

Is the possibility of discovering something new worth the risk of failure by launching out into the unknown?

 

 

 

The Adventure Begins Anew

I’m honored to be the first to welcome TKZers to 2022! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, filled with family, food and fun, and ending with a resolution to begin a new writing adventure in the new year. Consider this quote by Winston Churchill:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy then an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then it becomes a tyrant and, in the last stage, just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

While I can’t relate to every one of the phases Mr. Churchill describes, I love the metaphors, and he made me wonder how I would describe.my own adventures in my limited experience of novel-writing. Here goes:

When I begin a new book, I spend some time searching for ideas. Is there some message I want to convey? Or a character who’s anxious to make his/her debut? Is there a particular mystery I want to challenge readers with or a basic theme I’m interested in? I spend time reading good novels and craft-of-writing books. I go for a run and play what-if games. I try not to force the issue, but let my brain relax, hoping for inspiration.

 

Then it happens. Something bubbles up and captures my imagination. Oh, happy day! Now it’s time to get to work.

 

 

I pull on my virtual hiking boots, strap my laptop in place, and head out to First Draft Land. Although I have a good idea where I’m going, I’m not entirely sure how to get there, so I wander around for a while. (A long while.)

Even though I made it to the end of the story, it’s just a mess, so I go into revision mode. Applying lessons learned about plot, structure, dialogue, tension, and other TKZ topics, I straighten out some of those detours and rabbit holes. I weed the prose, kill my darlin’s, and heartily eradicate the dreaded adverbs. (Just checking to see if you’re paying attention.) Now we’re getting somewhere:

 

Having reached what I believe is the end of my writing adventure, I gleefully ship the manuscript off to my developmental editor, convinced she will be delighted with the almost-perfect story. My editor has a very direct approach to feedback as you can see by her response to the manuscript.

Maybe she was just having a bad day, but I trust her judgment, and I take her critique to heart and work some more. The adventure resumes, and we loop through each leg of the journey to clear away the debris so the reader won’t stumble.

Finally, the editor gives it a green light, and I begin the last mile to the finish line. Beta readers come alongside to offer their wisdom, then it’s off to the line editor and proofreader for the final changes. (Who knew it took so many people to write a novel?)

What started as a joyful romp through the garden ends with a quiet sigh of relief and gratitude. There’s only one thing left to do: launch it out into the world.

Success! Adventure complete. Dragons slayed and townspeople rescued. After a short nap, it’s time to start another adventure.

Now where did I put that book on marketing?

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How about you, TKZers. What writing adventure are you planning for 2022? What phases will you go through? How will you manage the long trek to publication?