Goals Bloghop: Setting Reachable Goals

Do You Have Goals bannerThis is a post in the Goals Bloghop AKA Big Dreams bloghop AKA Do You Have Goals bloghop. Follow the link to find others on the bloghop and/or join yourself.

Setting goals— long term, medium or short term— is not like making wishes. You might have a wish to win the lottery in the coming month, but since there is nothing you can do to work towards making that happen, it’s not, properly speaking, a goal.

Setting a writing goal, especially if you are an aspiring writer, an indie writer, or simply an insecure writer, sometimes feels like making wishes. And so it’s not surprising that when we make our goals, we may make some that are more like wishes.

Take the money thing. If you look at some great writers of the past such as Herman Melville, you will see that writing a great book doesn’t guarantee making money from it. The writer doesn’t have much control over the dollar amount.

If you are already making money from your writing, it’s very likely that by writing more and trying higher-paying markets you can set a goal that is money-related that is a doable goal and not making a wish. But if you are a beginning writer who not only hasn’t made a dime writing, but you haven’t even submitted your work to any market yet, making the kind of dollar-goal the first type of writer can is merely wishful thinking. Set a smaller goal such as getting published, and/or breaking into a paying market.

Another problematic goal regards the best seller lists. Many fine writers don’t make it onto the best seller lists. Many published Christian writers have yet to top the Christian best seller lists. And some of us— such as Catholic writers who write faith-based fiction that doesn’t quite fit into Evangelical publishers and booksellers worldview— probably can go a whole career without hitting any best seller lists.

You have no direct control over the best seller lists. Worse, young/new writers who write not what they love, but what they think will sell well tend to sell very poorly if they can even get published at all. So best seller list related goals are, for most of us, more wish than goal.

A good goal is something you can do, but that is a challenge. For a writer who has published three books at small-press publishers, a good five year goal might be to publish a certain number of additional books, to complete and publish a trilogy, or to submit to larger publishers.

For an absolutely-beginning writer, goals must feel doable— finishing and editing a NaNoWriMo novel, perhaps. Or writing a certain number of short stories and submitting them to short story markets— without worrying about whether any get accepted, at first.

In my own case, I have been writing many years but am plagued with writer’s block when it comes to novel-writing. And my mind doesn’t run towards short stories. My problem, precisely, comes in finishing novels. So my goal is aimed at working on the finishing thing. I’ve set myself the goal of finishing 2 works of fiction— short stories, novellas or novels. I would kind of like for one of them to be a novel, but I’d settle for 2 decent short stories.

My progress has not been great so far. I think my next work will be a short story set on my ‘Kirinia’ fictional world that’s sort of a prequel to my later Kirinia stories. I’ve written a story-beginning yesterday which is more like a writing exercise to get to know some of the new characters I’m developing than anything which will be in the actual story. I’m needing to set up a notebook with my up-to-date worldbuilding and character notes, which requires me to buy new ink cartridges for my printer because I used the last ink printing out a Wikipedia article on the Roman gens Julia (and I need to print out the one on Claudia, since my characters include Romans from the Julii and the Claudii.)

Once I have printer ink, I can feel more like I’m making progress as I can start generating printed-out pages to go in my notebook for the project. It just doesn’t seem like I’m getting anything REAL done when it all stays in the computer!

So— how about you? Set any good goals lately? Or even some not so good goals?

Was Spartacus a Thracian or a Thracian?


Recently I was reading Colleen McCullough’s ‘Fortune’s Favorites’ from her series about ancient Rome. In the latter half of this long book, she retells the story of Spartacus, but with a different perspective. In particularly, she questions the common wisdom that Spartacus was born in Thrace.

Historical sources refer to Spartacus as a ‘Thracian gladiator’. But that phrase can have two meanings. It can mean that the gladiator known as Spartacus was a man born in Thrace. Or it can mean he was a gladiator who fought in the Thracian style— one of two combat styles used by gladiators in the era of the Roman republic.

McCullough, whose Roman series seems to be VERY well researched, presents Spartacus as a non-Thracian, a former Roman legionary who got in trouble with his superiors and was as punishment made a gladiator. In her fictional account, the new gladiator Spartacus (not his real name) was too aggressive with his trainers and ended up being sold to a more punitive gladiator school. Life was so horrible there that he and his comrades slew their tormentors and escaped— and without meaning to, accumulated a massive following of escaped slaves and others who looked to Spartacus to give them hope for a better life.

Spartacus is shown as acting not as a modern crusader to end slavery and oppression as he is sometimes portrayed, but as a man who acted as he did mainly in attempts to feed his followers and bring them to some place of safety.

The ending McCullough gives Spartacus, where both Spartacus and his wife possibly escaped the final battle to live peacefully in hiding, gives a rather hopeful note to the story.

Now, the source for the story of Spartacus as ethnic-Thracian does come from ancient Roman sources. But I wonder how much the ancient Romans knew about him? Surely there were no detailed records kept of the life history of every slave gladiator. And Spartacus was never captured alive and interrogated about such things as his life history. So that leaves the true story of Spartacus with a lot of mystery.

My Current Roman-History Phase

While Roman history is a Special Interest of mine, my current attempts to study it are actually part of worldbuilding, for a story-world I call Kirinia. Kirinia is a large division of a world called Erileth, which can be reached from our world through gateways. The tween-worlds gateways go to and from different time periods without necessary chronological agreement— so people from the Middle Ages can come through, build a society for a thousand years, and then a gateway can open up that leads to ancient Rome.

Which is the origin of Kirinia. A thousand years or more before the story begins, Koreans from the period of the late Middle Ages or so came over from our world to Erileth and build a society. Some of them settled in the land that would one day be Kirinia. As the story begins, the Korean-descended population has been devastated by a war, with only handfuls of refugee women left as survivors. A new gate opens up which connects to Earth in the era of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Roman legionaries go through the gate and start to transform an abandoned city into a Roman colony. Unknown to the Roman leaders, a number of Christians, with their presbyters and two bishops, have gone through the gate as well. And then, the gate closes. And the Romans meet the enemy that emptied the city….

Escape from Camp 14

Escapecamp14Book Review of: Escape from Camp 14

Author: Blaine Harden

Publisher: Viking/Penguin

Year: 2012

I picked up this book almost by accident in the Stephenson (MI) Public Library, mainly because it was on the shelf next to the True Crime. Which is understandable, because this book is about a Crime against Humanity not dissimilar to the Holocaust— the labor camps of North Korea.

This is the story of a boy born into one of those labor camps, Shin Dong-hyuk. (Shin is the family name, Dong-hyuk the personal name.) He was actually bred in the labor camp. His parents were rewarded with the opportunity to marry. They were NOT given a choice of spouse. Women who get pregnant outside of marriage in the camps— even if they were raped by the men in charge— are executed.

Why were his parents in the camp? Dong-hyuk never knew about his mother, but his father was in the camp not for anything he did, but because he had two brothers who escaped North Korea.

In Korean tradition family loyalty is incredibly strong. But the harsh condition of the labor camp breaks that down. As a small child Dong-hyuk thought of his mother as a competitor for food. He stole her lunch every day when she left him behind in their shelter to go to work.

School was mainly about memorizing the camp rules, and learning to inform on one another to survive. Dong-hyuk witnessed a child being beaten to death. And of course he had to be there whenever a prisoner was executed. Even when the executed prisoners were his mother and his older brother.

For years after Dong-hyuk’s escape from the camp, he told no one, but hid the guilt that he might have been the cause of his mother and brother’s death. He overheard them plotting escape, and informed on them. (Had he failed to do so and had that failure become known, he would have been executed as well.) He didn’t understand how horrible this deed would be perceived to be by normal Korean people who had a strong sense of family loyalty. When he did learn what families were about, he felt guilty and hid the fact of his informing for years.

There is much more about Dong-hyuk’s amazing experiences that is of great interest. This book will help you understand the mystery that is North Korea. But be warned, the things Shin Dong-hyuk experienced will hurt your heart, and perhaps move you to pray for the suffering people of North Korea.

Asperger Syndrome: Being Invisible in Church

aspergerWhen you have Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum ‘disorder’), you can not only count on regularly being bullied and mocked, you also find that in church where you get a bit of a break from the bullying, you are invisible.

I went to Mass today, and no one talked to me. I waited around in the foyer to give people a proper chance, but still— invisible. Now, you might say I go to the wrong kind of church if I want people to talk to me and offer even ME Christian fellowship. But I don’t choose my church for social reasons but for correct doctrine.

And even when I went to more outgoing churches in the past (Lutheran, Baptist, Evangelical, LDS, and Christian Science) it wasn’t much different. Oh, people said words to me, but they were exclusively the polite nothings people say in church to people they don’t know and are not really trying to know. Sometimes folks would try to evangelize me because I was new, but after they were sure I was properly saved— invisible.

It hurts my heart to go to God’s House as one of God’s children and find that because of my Asperger Syndrome, the whole Christian fellowship thing is marked ‘not for me’.  Sometimes I feel like standing up on a pew and screaming ‘I’m here! I’m human! I’m a child of God! Won’t anyone offer me a little love and kindness!’

Only of course I’d never do that and so no one knows that I go through the motions in church and I’m really dying inside because I’m alone and have no real-world friends and never have a conversation with a human being other than my mom and my therapist.

It’s not easy being a friend to a person with Asperger Syndrome. People talk to me and I guess I send off ‘don’t bother me, go away’ vibes when what I mean to send off is ‘I’m so desperate for the tiniest hint of friendship I will let you boss me around’ vibes. And even when people say things like ‘call me anytime’ I don’t do it because I don’t know when an ‘anytime’ will come along when I’m not bothering them.

I guess what I’m really dreaming of is that someone will come along and decide to be my friend whether I like it or not, and invite me to their house and not take the first 7 ‘no’ answers seriously and call me and talk to me even when I sound grumpy and not notice that I’m too poor to reciprocate their kindnesses to me. I know that will never happen, but that’s what I hope for because I know there are some good Christian people out there who do things like that, and many more who WOULD if only they knew how much some people around them needed it.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Douay-Rheims Bible

It is better therefore that two should be together, than one: for they have the advantage of their society:

  If one fall he shall be supported by the other: woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth, he hath none to lift him up.

Hebrews 13:5 DRB

…for He hath said: I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee.

Ancient Roman References in The Hunger Games

Hunger GamesI didn’t get very far into The Hunger Games before I noticed it: ancient Roman references everywhere! Perhaps not surprising since author Suzanne Collins is said to be ‘Roman Catholic’ (which could mean anything from ‘faithful Catholic’ to ‘angry anti-Catholic’.) Ancient Rome is alive in the minds of Catholics even more so than Evangelicals/Protestants, since we Catholics are more likely to seriously study the Early Church, or to hear it mentioned in homilies or Catholic books. For those of you who didn’t grow up with your nose in a Roman history book, here are some references you may have missed.

Panem – That’s the name of the country in which The Hunger Games takes place. It comes from the Latin for ‘bread’. In one of the books it’s mentioned clearly that the name ‘Panem’ comes from the phrase panem et circenses, meaning ‘bread and circuses’ (‘circuses’ meant sports such as chariot racing and gladiatorial games, not our circuses). I can’t imagine any country naming itself that, can you? Particularly since at the very beginning, the few survivors of whatever-all destroyed the United States probably had very little in the way of panem and no time off to enjoy circenses.

The Capitol – It sounds, the way the Capitol is spoken of in The Hunger Games, as if the whole of Panem was designed to service that one city. It was the same with Rome— it sounds as if the world served one city during the Roman empire. In fact, ‘Rome’ also included the surrounding agricultural land that made the city possible, and in the centuries after the founding of the city, there were Roman citizens in many places other than urban Rome. Logically, the Capitol in The Hunger Games would have included a whole Capitol ‘district’.

Roman Names – The citizens of the Capitol have names taken direct from ancient Rome— Cinna, Seneca Crane, Caesar Flickerman, and Castor and Pollux.

Tesserae – In ancient Rome, tesserae (singular: tessera) were little tags used for various purposes. One type of tesserae served as tickets to public entertainments, including gladiatorial games. In The Hunger Games, tesserae are allotments of food that a young person from the districts can sign up for, if they are willing to put their names in for the Reaping extra times.

The Games – In ancient Rome, their bloodsport, the gladiatorial games, started out as a funeral custom— a wealthy family would order two of their slaves to fight to the death at the funeral of their family member. The blood shed was a sort of replacement for the rejected practice of human sacrifice which earlier cultures practiced at funerals. Romans rejected customs of human sacrifice, and that was one reason they were so appalled by the Druids, who burned human beings alive in large wicker baskets. In The Hunger Games, the Games were a long-term punishment for the rebellious Districts. And just as a successful gladiator got money and fame, the winner of the Hunger Games was promised riches for life.

One thing that is not a parallel with ancient Rome is the matter of religion. Rome kept order by creating a national religion of revering the genius (guiding spirit) of the current Emperor. Christians, who would not burn incense to the emperor, were for that reason condemned to death in the arena— for refusing to be ‘good citizens’.

In The Hunger Games, it seems that the authorities of Panem have achieved what dictators of Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China only dreamed of— the obliteration of all religion. Not even in the Districts is there any trace of hidden people of faith, or even of remembered folk-hymns. It is all bleak, hopeless, and rather impossible to credit— unless you take into account that books that have no religion sell better to the officially-atheist American government-run schools.

For the writer who bothers to learn history, ancient Rome is an excellent source of inspiration for world-building of many kinds. It is a culture distinctively different from our own, and yet it contributed much to our world.

For Christians, knowing about ancient Rome is essential to understanding the world of the New Testament. I remember that reading Robert Graves’ ‘I, Claudius’ and ‘Claudius the God’ helped me a lot in my college level New Testament courses at Fresno Pacific College. I discovered that Graves’ work, though they were novels, were very much based on the existing ancient sources.

After reading some basic books on Rome, the Christian writer might consider learning about the Early Church Fathers. These are the writers of the very earliest preserved Christian materials other than that in scripture. Some of these works, like the Didache, were considered by some to be scripture before the Church defined the official Canon of the New Testament.

In my own vast supply of Works-in-Progress that are not making enough progress, I have one world in which stray Romans went across a barrier between worlds, found themselves trapped, and build an enduring culture. This idea predates my reading of The Hunger Games, but has changed considerably based on ideas I had reading The Hunger Games. (Being contrary, my world is more of a ‘what if the Capitol were mostly in the right?’ take on the whole thing.)

So, what about you? Are there any fictional works inspired by ancient Rome that you really enjoy? Have you ever written a Roman-influenced story?


Can Writers with Aspergers write Likeable Fiction?

aspergerThe most stereotypical concern of writers with Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) is that we can’t write social interactions because we aren’t good at them. But I’m not going to write about that today.

Instead, let’s look at the likeability factor. Aspies tend to go through life pretty well friendless, or having people we call ‘best friends’ who call us acquaintances at best. It’s because we don’t make eye contact properly, or we send off non-verbal vibes that we aren’t interested in friendship when actually we are, or we make mistakes and say something tactless.

But if we ourselves are perceived by others as unlikable, won’t our fiction be unlikeable too?

Well, all I can say is ‘I hope not’. But writing fiction is a different animal than winning personal friendships. Once you have a book out there that has been accepted as a standard, normal novel by a publisher (or by a community of readers, for indie writers), your book gets judged on what’s inside it.

As Aspies there may be something ‘missing’ in our writing because of our condition, but there is something added as well— an intensity due to our Special Interests. If we use our Special Interests carefully in our fiction, and don’t overdue it, we bring a passion to our writing that neurotypicals may lack.

An example of a probably Aspie who became well-regarded as a writer is Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick. I loved that book as a teen— probably because I read it on my own instead of having it forced on me in school. He gave a lot of detail on life on a whaling ship— I detect Special Interest there— and that added to the appeal of the book as a whole, at least for me.

So I think we Aspies can write fiction readers will like. We just have to get out there and get trying.


The Great WordPress experiment

writeitBlogger annoyed me today. Which is not a rare thing. But finally the Blogger-annoyance made me decide to start a blog on WordPress to see how the other half blogs.

This is that new blog. It might end up being a replacement for The Lina Lamont Fan Club on Blogger, or it might not. It depends on how it goes, how long it takes me to learn how to blog on WordPress, how long it is before WordPress starts annoying me the way Blogger does….

Anyway, I’d like some feedback: is blogging on Blogger better than blogging on WordPress? What do you think of the new blog, Nissa Annakindt: My Antimatter Life? What do you think of The Lina Lamont Fan Club?

My current intent is to keep both blogs going for a while, just to see how it goes, and then when I know what’s what, discontinuing one blog or the other. If I keep the new blog, I’ll lose all the history of the old one. But if I keep the old, that history may end up being a burden.

I’ve added a poll to this post just to see what the readers of the new blog think of the Blogger vs. WordPress thing.