Monthly Archives: August 2019

Phenomenal Physics

Do you ever get the urge to just pick up a book looking to learn about something, an impromptu, unofficial class on a given subject? No, just me? If I could be a professional student, I think I would.

I bought Isaac McPhee’s Phenomenal Physics last year on a whim (and a science book buying binge, but that’s a different topic). I wanted to learn more about physics, because I really didn’t know anything.

McPhee starts with the basic question, what is physics? Once he’s explained that physics is pretty much the study of everything (the simplest description might be something like, the study of how our universe works), he then takes readers through a crash course of physics, starting with ancients like Aristotle and Archimedes, and working his way through the eras of physics, up to modern day physics. McPhee includes brief profiles on some of physics’ scientific stars, as well as breakdowns of specific theories and ideas.

For the most part, I found McPhee’s breakdown easy to follow and understand. It wasn’t until we started to get into the quantum realm and quantum mechanics that I started to think I’d really need a degree to understand even the basics. Which is OK, because at the moment I’m not planning on making a career change into physics.

McPhee’s book by no means makes you an expert (and if you thought you could become one with only one book, and a 140-page book at that, you’re in for a surprise), but I think it does a good job of giving an overview of the topic and answering some general questions adults, or even kids, might have about our universe and why certain things happen. If you’re looking for a little something to whet your appetite for physics, McPhee’s book might be just the ticket.

The Pen Versus the Keyboard

I’ve been hand writing for the entirety of my project so far.

I had discovered that, when snatching a few minutes throughout the day, I’d have more success hand writing than trying to write on my phone (I’m easily distracted). However, for the full project, I’m wondering if I’m allowing myself to be a little lazy by hand writing.

Although my project is coming along, I find that I can sit down to write for an hour, and still only get two or three pages written. Without a word count, I don’t really know how it compare to typing, but it feels like I’m not making as much progress as I could be if I were typing.

Typing can also allow me to stop thinking and just let the story go, I think. Whereas when I’m writing, I find myself pausing a lot, not getting quite as deep into the story during a sitting. But then, that could also be because I’d gotten into the habit of outlining more and having a chapter by chapter guide to work with, whereas this project I’m just letting the story do it’s own thing.

I found myself debating if writing out the story in a notebook was really the best way to go. But when I did have time to write, I still physically wrote. So, for now, I guess I’ll keep going with that.

I didn’t carve out as much time this week as I intended to, and this coming week will be tricky with my work schedule, but I’m committed to making it work. I keep saying it’s important to me, but not making a point to set aside time. That’s something I intend to remedy, starting now.

The House at Riverton

I’ve wanted to get back to Kate Morton’s books for a while. After the pile of thrillers I’ve gone through, I was ready for something with intrigue and drama. The House at Riverton was the perfect book.

Grace Bradley is nearing the end of her life when she’s invited by a movie director to visit the set at Riverton House, the same manor where Grace lived at worked as a young girl. Grace was close in age to Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, and throughout her years working in the house, and finally as Hannah’s lady’s maid, Grace becomes almost like a sister and confidant. As Grace uncovers her connection with the Hartford family, she finds herself tangled up in the lives of the sisters, helping to keep their secrets and protect the social front they present.

But when a young poet associated with the sisters is shot at a summer party, only the three women know the truth. And it’s a secret Grace is prepared to carry with her to the grave.

Kate Morton writes in such an easy-to-read way. You slip right into the story, walking the gardens and hallways with the characters, invested in their lives and desperate to learn their secrets. And while some of the secrets Morton reveals are easy to see coming, the way the characters respond, what they choose to do with the knowledge, is often less easy to anticipate, and that just adds another layer to the intrigue.

I wasn’t prepared for how The House at Riverton ended. While everything is neatly wrapped up, you find yourself wondering, as Grace certainly does as well, how things might have changed had she made different choices. Morton leads you right along to the climax of the story, right at the very end. I expected a chapter or two of aftermath, even though I knew Morton had already shown us what happened after. It’s the kind of book where you sit and process the storyline once you’ve finished, arranging the pieces into order to get the whole picture in one glance. And if that sounds confusing and like the story’s out of order, it’s not. It’s told from the point of view of a 90-something year old woman. Sometimes they tell the story a little out of order, but it all makes sense in the end.

Morton does an excellent job of transporting readers back in time to the early 1900s, creating realistic characters who deal with all that comes in the early decades of the century.

I’m trying hard not to visit any more used book sales for the time being, but you can be sure that if I do, I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything by Kate Morton.

No Quitting Allowed

Last week I set myself a goal to set aside specific time to write, to use a couple bigger time chunks and really make some progress.

I wrote for one hour one day, and some half hour chunks a couple times throughout the week. What I discovered (not really so shocking) is that when I commit to longer periods of writing, I get more involved in the story. When the story is moving along, and I’m on a roll, I don’t actually want to stop. That’s an exciting mindset to be in, and one that I’ve missed, without even realizing it.

I’ve been handwriting my story so far (when I’m stealing a few minutes at work, I’m more likely to focus when I’m literally writing), which definitely has slowed down progress a little. But I’m OK with that. I’ve considered switching back and forth, but I think I will do the whole draft in this notebook (or at least as much as I can before it’s full). Transcribing it will be an editing opportunity.

I didn’t mention it in my last post, but I chose to go with story idea number 1: the girl living a double life, extroverted to the outside world, but truly very introverted. Already, things have been changing a little. She’s maybe not so introverted as me, which is OK. Also, the double life thing might be more of a background story, as what takes prominence (or has so far) is not allowing yourself to be molded into who someone else wants you to be. I’m not very far in. She’s still just meeting her biological family and trying to fit herself in with them. So we’ll see where the story goes and what direction it takes.

I’m not doing any outlining. Right now, it’s more of a free writing exercise, allowing the ideas that feel important to me to show themselves as they will. As I said, already things look a little different than I’d imagined. But that’s part of the process I love. It makes the stories I write as enjoyable as reading a really engaging book–I have a few ideas where the story could go, but I won’t know until we get there.

This week is going to be a long week, but I’m going to make a point to lose myself more in the story. I can feel it’s important for me to get out. I’m not going to allow myself to give up on this one.

The Da Vinci Code

When this book was turned into a movie, I remember it being highly controversial. In the church I grew up in, it was immediately identified as a no-no. At 13 years old, I didn’t really know a lot about it, just that somehow it used DaVinci’s art work to make claims about Jesus being married. I felt a little rebellious when I watched Inferno shortly after it was made into a movie, and then I began getting into Dan Brown’s books. It’s been about two or three years now, and I’ve finally gotten to The DaVinci code (after reading the whole series wildly out of order…).

Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is supposed to meet with the curator of France’s Louvre Museum, but after being stood up, Langdon is woken in the middle of the night and learns that the curator was murdered that very night– and it seems Langdon is implicated in the murder.

Working with the curator’s estranged granddaughter, Langdon finds himself on a quest for the Holy Grail. But the grail is more than the common stories, and a secret society has been protecting it’s secrets for hundreds of years. As they work to keep the grail out of the wrong hands, they have a choice to make: reveal the secrets they discover, or continue to let the world go on with partial truths.

I definitely see how this, more than any other of Brown’s books, would be controversial. Brown’s characters make some startling claims, and while they reference real documents to back them up, each person would need to investigate themselves to uncover the truth. What becomes clear with even just a little research (thanks, Google) is that while documents exist that make the same claims Brown’s characters do, those documents themselves are subject to skepticism.

Taken as a work of fiction, the book is enjoyable (though not my favorite of his. Maybe it’s because I was keeping alert for all the bits of controversy, or maybe because this, out of all of the Langdon books, is the most aggressive in its attacks on Christianity and religion). If works of fiction are where you’re going to search for fact and truth about anything, religion included, perhaps you ought to rethink your choices. And if a work of fiction challenges your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions, do some research (or do it anyway, knowing you’ll probably someday encounter someone who falls into the former category and may want to discuss or argue with you about it).

That said, the book is in keeping with Brown’s style of fast-paced action, puzzles and clues, and secret societies. It’s a well-written conspiracy thriller, and he clearly did enough research to make his characters knowledgeable about their claims (even if they aren’t so well supported in reality. Keep in mind that you can find a website to back up any claim, anymore. It requires more work to authenticate information, and when it comes to religion, at some point you choose to believe or disbelieve).

In short, I can think of several other books I’d recommend before The Da Vinci Code, including others by the same author.

Setting new goals

I have a confession: I have a hard time making myself set aside time to write.

I love writing. I love uncovering the story, planning and outlining. But I have a hard time making myself sit down and put it on paper.

I think maybe in part because lately I’ve been using stories to process my life, which makes it less of an escape than I might be looking for.

It may also just be that I’m lazy, and writing is work. But I don’t want to think about that.

This week, I didn’t set aside a lot of time, just some stolen moments. This week my goal is to actually set aside time. At least two days this week, I’m going to sit for at least an hour and just write, see where the story goes.

I’m not doing a lot of planning or outlining. I’m trying the fly by the seat of my pants approach, to see if it taps into my creativity in a different way.

But, despite not getting as far as I wanted, I did make a start last week, and that’s what counts. Beginnings are hard. I always feel pressure to start with something incredible, but that never seems to happen. But I chose to dive right in, and the story is already compelling (to me).

So, here’s to this week and accomplishing goals.

The Lost Symbol

I return to Dan Brown’s writing and his character Robert Langdon. Part National Treasure and part Indiana Jones, Brown’s Langdon stories are fast-paced and full of adventure.

Robert Langdon is woken early one morning by a close friend’s personal assistant requesting a huge favor– for Langdon to give a lecture that very night in Washington D.C. Langdon agrees, but finds himself suddenly caught up in a mystery he wasn’t expecting. Instead of presenting a lecture, Langdon is racing against the clock, trying to rescue his good friend and protect the hidden secrets of the Masonic brotherhood.

Brown writes his books with short chapters that draw you in and encourage you to keep telling yourself, “just one more chapter.” His character, Robert Langdon, is reminiscent of Indiana Jones, but in a more National Treasure type setting, always following clues and riddles to uncover the truth, usually dealing with secret societies. And each story is completed with a female partner turned love interest.

While you definitely get the feeling that Brown isn’t a fan of religion, particularly Catholicism and Christianity, the views taken by Langdon, a symbology professor, feel in keeping with the skeptical nature of the character.

With this character and series, Brown proves himself a master at conspiracy theory thrillers.

Choosing life, choosing ideas

It’s strange to think it’s only been about two months since I last really engaged in writing. It seems like it’s been so much longer.

While I was trying to use writing as a ladder to climb my way out of some darkness, I really just sort of tumbled deeper in. I’m in a better headspace now, and each week I’m learning and growing more, and I’ve found myself actually wanting to start writing again.

I’ve been plotting out a couple of ideas at week, and I’m excited about both. I need to choose one to start writing, and this time I’m actually going to write until the story is done (a draft, at least. I’m trying to be realistic). I’ve found that I’m still very drawn to the same kinds of things I’ve been wrestling with myself–identity, purpose, feeling stuck and reckless, mental health. Both the ideas I have right now deal with a lot of these topics, but in quite different ways.

Idea no.1 is the story of a woman who essentially lives a double life. On the outside, she’s pretty outgoing and likes to party. But this is a persona she’s created because she thinks it’s who she needs to be to feel accepted. What people don’t see are the various ways she has to cope with the effects of living as someone she isn’t. Somehow, she will have to uncover and accept her true self, regardless of who others want her to be and build the life she wants.

Idea no.2 is almost a fleshing out of one of the short stories I published this summer, but with some significant changes. A young woman is feeling very stuck in her life, and impulsively volunteers to be part of a colonization mission to a nearby planet. Her boyfriend refuses to go with her, so she goes alone and finds that all the same problems–feeling stuck, feeling alone, lacking purpose and dreams–followed her through space. She’s forced to accept that in order to see real change, she has to take charge of her life, make choices and take action instead of letting life happen to her.

The common theme in both these ideas is that these women have to accept who they are and what their lives are in order to take charge and enact change (I’ve been learning a lot about this over the summer). These are stories of self-acceptance, strength, personal growth, and ultimately choosing life over existence.

The problem now is choosing which one to write first. When I get into the story of one, I think it’s surely the one I want to write… right up until I add some notes to the story of the other idea. Then I think surely that’s the one I want to write. So I’ll ask for a bit of input for you, my readers (let’s call it proof that you’re there, ok?): which story would you be most interested in?

Water for Elephants

Something about circuses is inherently enchanting. From a young age, I think, many people are captivated by the idea of the circus. In her book Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen captures that feeling.

Jacob Jankowski was on the cusp of success when his life was turned upside down. With nothing left and not sure what to do, Jacob hops a train and finds himself in the middle of a circus train. Trained as a vet, Jacob is allowed to join and care for the animals. Things go smoothly until the circus gets an elephant who won’t listen and Jacob admits to himself that he’s in love with one of the performers. Suddenly everything is complicated, and while the circus is joyful on the outside, the inner workings grow more and more sinister.

Gruen writes a gripping, quick read that gets behind the scenes of the circus. Drawing from real-life stories, she creates realistic characters that draw you in and make you lose yourself in the story. The magic and the drama move the story right along. Gruen’s prologue makes you believe one thing about the story, only to turn the tables in the end.

Water for Elephants is a fun, quick read that sprinkles drama, romance, and comedy liberally throughout the story line.