Jeanne: A Whole Different Kind of Writing

20817926 - vintage wooden door in the old part of jerusalemAwhile back, the preacher at my (teeny-tiny) church approached me about giving a sermon. He was interested, he said, in having different voices represented in the church, more than just white guys.

I declined, explaining that I’m not a speaker, I’m a writer. A couple of months later, though, he approached me again. We’ve been doing a series on the broken heroes depicted in the book of Judges and we were coming to Judges 11, the story of Jephthah. He knows how fascinated I am by the story of Jephthah. (In the early 2000’s, I wrote a book with this story as the underlying theme (though not the story).

The story of Jephthah and his daughter is the saddest story in the Bible. It makes Romeo and Juliet look like the pilot for a sitcom. I’ll spare you the theological analysis, but I thought I’d share my retelling of the story itself.

Jephthah was a great warrior from the land of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. His father had other sons by his legitimate wife and when he died. Jephthah’s brothers said, “You are the son of a whore. We are not sharing Dad’s estate with you.”

So Jephthah left Gilead for the land of Tob, where he gathered a band of ne’er-do-wells and malcontents and they lived off the land as bandits.

And life was good. Continue reading

Jeanne: The Ladder of Inference

The following is based on a workshop given to RWA Chapter Leaders at this year’s national conference in New York.

Take action

Adjust Beliefs

Draw conclusions

Make assumptions

Add meaning

Filter input

Observe stimuli

Human perception functions like a ladder:

Observe stimuli—We are bombarded by millions of stimuli—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches—at any given moment.

But the human brain possesses the bandwidth to process only about five to nine pieces of data at any given moment. This forces us to filter out the extra stuff, keeping only the 5-9 bits we believe, based on our current interests and priorities, to be useful.

Then, based on past experience, we add meaning to the observations we decided were worth keeping.

Next, again based on past experience, we make assumptions about what we’ve perceived.

Then we draw conclusions.

Then we adjust our existing beliefs to take into account this new data we’ve experienced.

Finally, we take action based on the perception arrived at in the previous step.

Much of this processing takes place in the basal ganglia–an older part of the human brain that has evolved to process information swiftly, based on past experience. The basal ganglia is very efficient and requires minimal energy to do its job.

As we reach the top of the ladder, though, there’s an opportunity to re-inspect and rethink our conclusions using our pre-frontal cortexes, a more recently-developed part of the brain that’s designed to handle new and unique situations. The pre-frontal cortex requires a lot more energy to do its work, which is why solving complex problems (or developing plots!) is so exhausting.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of room along this ladder for things to go awry, causing us to react in a less than optimum manner.

There’s a great video on YouTube on this Ladder of Inference.

I suspect that Add Meaning is where the conflict lies in most stories. It seems to provide a whole lot of opportunity for a character to completely misjudge what another character is doing, based on their own back story.

This happens a lot in my demon books. Demons have witnessed Bad Behavior from humans (and Satan) for so many millennia they tend to always assume the worst.

 

Jeanne: Taking the Bees out of Baseball

Recently, a Cincinnati Reds ballgame was delayed for over a half hour due to swarming bees. I don’t own the picture, so I can’t post it, but you can see one here.

bee-705412_640This could have had a very bad outcome in the form of a quick-acting pesticide. Or a neutral outcome in the form of a strong mint spray, which doesn’t kill bees, but which they dislike heartily enough to fly away. (That’s what I use on carpenter bees at my house to keep them from chewing up my porch railing.)

With the world’s honeybee population currently undergoing severe population declines, though, even breaking up a community would be an unfortunate thing. The fact is, whether or not you personally like bees (I do, but I have a granddaughter who is phobic about them), we need them.

So what happened was pretty cool. Continue reading

Jeanne: Spring Fever

Front Porch Flowers 2019
I meant to do my work today—
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
So what could I do but laugh and go?                                                 Richard Le Gallienne

I usually write my blog posts on Sunday afternoon, but this Sunday, after a week of rain and cold, the weather turned beautiful. So, instead of hunkering down at my desk, I bopped up to the garden center around the corner and bought geraniums and begonias to fill my front porch planters. And then I spent a happy afternoon playing in the dirt.
We’ll categorize this post as “Work Life Balance.”

Justine: What to Give Your Book-Loving Mom on Mother’s Day

happy mothers dayDon’t worry! You haven’t missed Mother’s Day…it will be celebrated in the US and 84 other countries on Sunday, May 12th (so you still have time to get a gift or send a card!). Almost every country in the world celebrates Mother’s Day; however, not all on the same day.

Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908 by West Virginian Anna Jarvis, in memory of her mother, who had died a year earlier. Although Jarvis pushed for a national holiday, it was until 1914 that US President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

However, Jarvis would come to resent the holiday… Continue reading

Jeanne: Telling Parallel Stories

Like Jilly, I have been spending time judging contest entries lately. Unlike Jilly, some of rails-3309912_640mine have been pretty good. One, in particular, interested me because the story paralleled the romances of three different couples, which is what I’m trying to do with my third demon book, The Demon Wore Stilettos.

I was especially interested because every time I tell other authors what I’m working on, they say, “That’s way too complicated. You need to get rid of some of that.”

And it may come to that, but I really want to keep all three stories, so I was happy to see someone else had tried the same thing with, I thought, some success. Her stories were all set in the same small town and used the marriage-of-convenience trope for all three.

Mine are all set in Minneapolis-St. Paul and all revolve around the second-chance-at-love trope.

Where I thought the contest entry could have been stronger was in cohesion. The stories run along side-by-side like train tracks, never crossing, never even approaching each other. In mine, the three couples are, respectively, demons, humans and angels. All three couples have had past romantic encounters and all are now, for various reasons, no longer in those relationships. Continue reading

Nancy: In Praise of Rest

Last week at this time, I was on day five of a virus from hell. A little less than three weeks ago, I was in a doctor’s office learning that, according to some X-rays of my hip, I have an issue that requires a change to my workout regimen for the foreseeable future. And a few weeks before that, I’d had a stiff neck/pinch nerved – possibly related to having my alignment thrown off by the bum hip – that made it difficult to climb out of bed. What all of these ailments have in common, other than making me feel like I’m approximately one hundred years old, is they were, to some extent, preventable.

Given these circumstances, a normal person might think, “What am I doing that’s making me so physically vulnerable?” I, on the other hand, thought, “When will all this be over so I can get back to my normal, totally unrealistic, and probably unsustainable schedule?” At some point, maybe it was around day three of the virus, I knew it was time to abandon my mind-over-matter mindset and listen to what my body, my orthopedist, and the universe were trying to tell me. Assuming you’re less obtuse than I, you can probably see where this is going.

It’s time to slow down a bit. Not forever. But for a while. And probably time to come up with a more sustainable long-term approach that builds downtime into my plans.

So today I present myself as a cautionary tale. Behold what happens when you set up unmanageable expectations. I’ve spent the past nine months riding hellbound for leather to reach a multitude of goals in 2018. And I’ve met most of them, so yay! But follow my lead at your own peril, because you could break something. Quite literally. Continue reading