Monday, April 15, 2024

Whatever happened to etiquette? - by Vijaya Shartz

 Raised in Europe, I remember learning to set a table as a child, and I hated all these useless conventions. Who cared about where the water glass or the wine glass went. How close to the plate, on which side, and in what order the knives, spoons, and forks should go. But knowing it served me well when writing historical stories.

The British still keep many rules of etiquette, from what temperature to serve tea, how to curtsy, or what “fascinator” to wear for each occasion… probably due to the Monarchy.

Japan still honors the “Tea ceremony,” a complicated ritual to make the perfect cup of tea to show appreciation for someone special.

Japan also adheres to a stringent etiquette and applies it to their business dealings. Here, again, maybe it’s a lingering remnant of the Samurai and of the Imperium. Like walking to the left of, and one step behind a superior, a teacher (Martial arts) or a husband (for a woman).

The Samurai cast used to not just bow and obey without question, but they would lay down their lives for the honor of their overlord… even committing Seppuku (ritual suicide) taking the blame to preserve their lord’s honor.

My mom used to say that punctuality was the politeness of the kings, their only way to show respect to others. Ever since, I like to be punctual, if not early for every circumstance. Maybe it’s a sign of self-importance on my part? It makes me feel like royalty.

In the US, however, except for a formal dinner at the White House, etiquette seems to have vanished from daily lives. There used to be a dress code to board a plane. Not anymore.

If I believe the dating sites, not showing up or showing up late for a date is common place. No one seems to care anymore. Is this a lack of respect for others? Or just a sign of the times. Our hectic lives give us all kinds of excuses to skip formalities.

I used to send good wishes to friends and family for the new year, a letter, a card. Now, they are lucky to get an email every other year. Still, some of my friends keep making hand-made cards and sending them in the mail for special occasions. She says she enjoys making them, and it’s like a relaxing hobby.

I feel guilty for not reciprocating, but who has the time? Still, I keep these hand-made cards, like precious relics of a tradition which will soon disappear. You can’t stop progress, but maybe we should sometimes look back and consider what we lost in the bargain.

I use many details of cultural etiquette in my books, even in Science Fiction, even with strong heroines and brave heroes. 

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Happy Reading!

Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo FB

Monday, April 8, 2024

Solar Eclipse by Four Writers Who Were There


On April 8, 2024, much of North America will experience a solar eclipse: an alignment of Sun, Moon, and Earth. The Moon’s shadow path will begin on the Pacific coast of Mexico, pass from Texas to Maine, then leave North America through Newfoundland and Canada, before continuing into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court 

It grew darker and darker and blacker and blacker, while I struggled with those awkward sixth-century clothes. It got to be pitch dark, at last, and the multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold uncanny night breezes fan through the place and see the stars come out and twinkle in the sky. At last the eclipse was total, and I was very glad of it, but everybody else was in misery; which was quite natural. I said: “The king, by his silence, still stands to the terms.” Then I lifted up my hands—stood just so a moment—then I said, with the most awful solemnity: “Let the enchantment dissolve and pass harmless away!” There was no response, for a moment, in that deep darkness and that graveyard hush. But when the silver rim of the sun pushed itself out, a moment or two later, the assemblage broke loose with a vast shout and came pouring sown like a deluge to smother me with blessings and gratitude; and Clarence was not the last of the wash, to be sure. 

Virginia Wolf 

But now the colour was going out. The clouds were turning pale; a reddish black colour. Down in the valley it was an extraordinary scrumble of red and black; there was the one light burning; all was cloud down there, and very beautiful, so delicately tinted. Nothing could be seen through the cloud. The 24 seconds were passing. Then one looked back again at the blue; and rapidly, very very quickly, all the colours faded; it became darker and darker as at the beginning of a violent storm; the light sank and sank; we kept saying this is the shadow; and we thought now it is over— this is the shadow; when suddenly the light went out.We had fallen. It was extinct. There was no colour. The earth was dead. That was the astonishing moment; and the next when as if a ball had rebounded the cloud took colour on itself again, only a sparky ethereal colour and so the light came back. I had very strongly the feeling as the light went out of some vast obeisance; something kneeling down and suddenly raised up when the colours came. They came back astonishingly lightly and quickly and beautifully in the valley and over the hills— t first with a miraculous glittering and ethereality, later normally almost, but with a great sense of relief. It was like recovery. We had been much worse than we had expected. We had seen the world dead. This was within the power of nature.

James Fennimore Cooper 

At twelve minutes past eleven, the moon stood revealed in its greatest distinctness—a vast black orb, so nearly obscuring the sun that the face of the great luminary was entirely and absolutely darkened, though a corona of rays of light appeared beyond. The gloom of night was upon us. A breathless intensity of interest was felt by all. There would appear to be something instinctive in the feeling with which man gazes at all phenomena in the heavens. The peaceful rainbow, the heavy clouds of a great storm, the vivid flash of electricity, the falling meteor, the beautiful lights of the aurora borealis, fickle as the play of fancy—these never fail to fix the attention with something of a peculiar feeling, different in character from that with which we observe any spectacle on the earth.

Annie Dillard: Teaching a Stone to Talk 

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world… We got the light wrong. In the sky was something that should not be there. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, and old, thin silver wedding band, and old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars. It was all over. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Stuck in the Middle By Dan Baldwin

Yes, I'm stuck in the middle with you
And I'm wondering what it is I should do…

That lyric from the Steelers Wheel hit expresses well the writer’s dilemma of facing a dragging mid-section, chapter, or scene. The mid-book slump is a frequent topic of discussion among writers. “I’m stuck! How do I get out of this mess!” The answer is to stop stressing out, find the problem, address it, and move on.

The following are common problems:

Clarity of Action. Does the character have a clear focus that drives the action? Can the reader comprehend this focus or is he left wandering in the wasteland of the author’s prose? Every scene must have a purpose, and that purpose must be clearly stated through word or deed.

Too Much Dialog. Dialog should inhabit as many words or pages as necessary to move the story forward. Provided readers are kept aware of who is saying what and are inspired/entertained/interested, they’ll continue reading. That being said, a character’s occasional ear-scratching or foot-shuffling helps keep the reader grounded.

Too Much Back Story. Authors often provide detailed information even when it bogs down the story. For example, Jill discovers that her husband is unfaithful and confronts him. Rather than writing a lengthy paragraph or page about her frustration, her growing anger, her sense of betrayal, you could show the same thing in a couple of lines of action: Woodrow sauntered through the front door, placed his briefcase on the floor, and sniffed a burned something or other from the kitchen. “Jill, honey—” Jill stepped out of the hallway, suitcase in hand. She slapped his face. “How could you! With her!”

Too Much Pacino. Al Pacino is an American treasure but, often, his emotional level is far too high for a scene. It’s easy to mistake going over the top for grand literature. Beware the tendency to create “art” when you should just be telling a good story.

Not Enough Teasing. A scene, and especially a chapter, must lead into the next scene. For example, at the end of Chapter One your detective knocks on a door. As Chapter Two opens, he steps in only to hear the “click” of a revolver being cocked. Why not end Chapter One with the sound of that click? The reader is compelled to turn the page…

Losing Your Place. Sometimes minor characters become so interesting that there’s a tendency to follow their adventures. That’s okay, provided their story lines lead back to the main character and drive the story forward. A good secondary character who drags the writer from the core of the story may need his own tale in a separate piece.

Making Their Story Your Story. The story is what happens to your characters, how they feel about it, and how they act within it. When the writer takes over, it’s robbery. In my western novel, Caldera III – A Man of Blood, I had meticulously planned out some important action to move the story forward. Fortunately, my protagonist jumped out of my computer screen, grabbed me by my brain, and said, “I’d never do it that way, Dummy!” He was right. I followed his advice, wrote it as he described the incident, and the novel is much better for it.

If you’re stuck in the muddle, consider the above possible causes. Most important, listen to your characters and you’ll find your way out.

The author of westerns, mysteries, thrillers, short story collections, and books on the paranormal, Dan Baldwin has won numerous local, regional, and national awards for writing and directing film and video projects. He earned an Honorable Mention from the Society of Southwestern Authors for his short story, Flat Busted, and was a Finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards with Trapp Canyon and Caldera III – A Man of Blood. Baldwin was a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards for Sparky and the King; his Bock’s Canyon won their 2017 Best Book Awards. Baldwin’s paranormal works are The Practical Pendulum – A Swinging Guide, Find Me as told to Dan Baldwin, and They Are Not Yet Lost, among others. They Are Not Yet Lost won the New Mexico-Arizona Book Competition, and How Find Me Lost Me won the Best Book Awards 2017 competition. Find Dan’s tips for writing and more at 

Monday, March 25, 2024

How to Interview Celebrities by Jack Hawn

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Penny Orloff, the new editor of the AAA Digest, thought this subject might be of interest to members, so I Googled it. Surprise! The Web must have several thousand suggestions. It never occurred to me there are so many options. At my age, I don’t want to start another book. So, I’ll just focus on how not to interview a celebrity, if that singer is Eartha Kitt or anyone like her.

Even though I’m old enough to remember Eartha, I had never met her before my wife and I were ushered into her dressing room where she was preparing for her performance at the Vine St. Bar & Grill in Hollywood. 

 Wearing a drab, unflattering, wrap-around robe and smudged sneakers, sipping red wine and smoking a cigarette, Eartha Kitt was far from a glamorous celebrity. 

 Her hair was pinned up at weird angles, and a makeup artist was darting in and out with brushes and eye pencils between her words—no simple task. Kitt’s words often came with machine-gun rapidity, particularly when the subject was heavy.

I had arrived with a list of questions I was anxious to ask Kitt, who was noted for delving into controversial issues, particularly racial issues. 

 Having just finished editing the article I had written about Eartha more than 40 years ago for the Los Angeles Times, I’m going to lift a few paragraphs from “Nostalgia: Stars of Yesteryear,” my current project nearing completion. 

 Before typing a word of my own, I decided to quote a poem Eartha had composed that morning. It was a perfect start for the article—an angle that hopefully would hook my readers. It did, at least, hook me.

A published author working on her third book, Kitt said she writes something every day, “even if it’s nothing.” Her poem was something. It impressed me. 

 “I am not white enough to pass, and I am not black enough to be. I’m caught in between. But still I have to be me.” 

 I don’t recall my response to the poem, or perhaps a question about it, but whatever came out of my mouth should have been left on a back burner...way back. It was an uncomfortable few moments. I thought the interview had concluded before it began.

But there was so much more she wanted to express, mostly racial inequality from using kitchen doors to perform in Las Vegas to breaking rules in South Africa. She remembered drinking champagne on stage, then passing the glass to front-row spectators, black and white, each taking sips and passing it on. 

“It was not permitted,” she said, “but I did it. When you break a precedent, the precedent is broken.” 

 Okaaay…so what came next? The short reply: a flood of other admirable examples of how she would have liked to change the world. But it was almost show time. My wife and I found our reserved, up-front table, ordered drinks and soon, there she was—a glamourous celebrity. 

Almost magically, her appearance and personality had changed as effortlessly as changing gears. 

 Makeup in place, hair suitably styled, a sexy, black-sequined gown and heels replacing the drab robe and sneakers, Eartha Kitt batted her lashes and began purring those familiar sounds heard for decades. 

 And I learned something of value that night: Save the tough questions for last, folks.

Born in 1930 in Nebraska, Jack Hawn later spent four years assigned to the army’s public information offices. In civilian life, he then found work as a copyboy at a Hollywood newspaper, was paid $5 to review plays and nightclub acts, and—a year later—filled a sports desk vacancy. Working for the LA Times, Jack Hawn’s journalism career covered sports and entertainment. He earned extra income as a television dramatist and wrote TV and radio scripts for sportscasters. During his 43-year career, he covered Muhammad Ali title fights, boxing at the 1984 Olympics, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and other celebrities until his retirement from the LA Times in 1991. His books include Blind Journey: A Journalist's Memoirs and Insomnia: Two Wives, Childhood Memories and Crazy Dreams 

Monday, March 18, 2024

New Release: Her Wild Yellow Roses by Sally Harper Bates


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How could a single woman with seven children survive in the territory of New Mexico and the early statehood of Arizona? With guts, and grit and a lot of prayer! Born in a covered wagon in New Mexico in 1900, she lived to see men walk on the moon!

Follow the path of this brave, bold woman as she works her way through stocking shelves in a general store for five cents an hour to finishing school and becoming a registered nurse.

Seven children, unique in every way, cause heartache and grief, bring joy and love, grow through a depression, and find their way into the twenty-first century.

Sally was born in Prescott, Arizona, and has never lived more than an hour’s drive from the county she grew up in. Her roots run deep into the state; seven generations deep on both sides of her family tree. Raised on ranches and remaining involved in the livestock industry has provided much fodder for her books, poetry and photography.

She’s been writing most of her life, but only seriously began publishing for the past ten years. She started a small publishing company just to help friends get their books in print, and to date there are over 50 books on her website. She’s honored and amazed at the awards on her wall from Women Writing the West, New Mexico Arizona Book Awards, and five author/publisher awards from Will Rogers Medallion Awards.

She and her husband, Pat, have a small home in Chino Valley where she continues to write and create when she’s not helping with family. She’s a mother of two daughters, a teacher and a nurse practitioner, with four granddaughters and six great grandchildren.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Introducing Tai-Chi in my next series - by Vijaya Schartz

  As I’m writing the last book of the Blue Phantom series, set in the Azura Universe (Angel Revenge – October 2024) I wonder about the theme of my next science fiction series. There will be a little fantasy, of course, (Magic is only science we do not yet understand). A strong heroine is a must and I already have her. As for my next hero, I’m thinking of making him a Tai-Chi man.

I have been practicing Tai-Chi daily for over a decade, and teaching it for years, and for some reason I never used it for a character in a book. So, for the start of my next series, one of the protagonists will be a Tai-Chi practitioner.

In a violent universe often at war and fighting back evil forces, the art of Tai-Chi, a soft and graceful martial discipline might offer a different perspective. Tai-Chi works with energy gathered from all around us.

Long ago, in imperial China, this secret Marcial Art was practiced by the feudal Chen and Yang families, hence the two main different styles. Chen is more aggressive, and Yang more flowing, but both are deadly.

Intrigued by this secret technique, the emperor summoned the heads of the Chen and Yang families and ordered them to teach his guard the secret art of Tai-Chi. Since they could not refuse the emperor, the two clans taught Tai-Chi not as a Martial Art, but rather as a dance or an exercise for health purposes. So, the fighting applications of each movement were lost in the official Tai-Chi spread through imperial China.

But through the centuries, the Chen and Yang families kept the secret fighting techniques for themselves. Today, with all the dissemination of information, many of these secrets have resurfaced, and although most Chinese masters are reluctant to teach these techniques to Westerners, a few of their students have come forward to teach in the West.

I was lucky to find a teacher who knew about these fighting applications, and as a practitioner of many other martial arts over the years, (Aikido black belt and instructor, Karate, Judo, sword, etc.) I jumped at the opportunity to learn this technique.

Tai-Chi is for everyone, young or old. It has been called stillness in motion. The health benefits have been studied at Harvard Medical School and definitively proven. It’s a long list. Find a Tai-Chi school near you. There are videos on U-Tube. Or watch movies like “Man of Tai-Chi” on Plex with Keanu Reeves as a villain, or “Shang Chi and the legend of the Ten Rings” with Simu Liu.

SHANG CHI and the legend of the Ten Rings

Through my next series, it will be my privilege to open a window on this ancient Martial Art, and maybe inspire some Westerners to try it. The health benefits alone are worth it.

Tai Chi in the park on Tai Chi Day, a few years ago.

In the meantime, you can read about my fighting angels, as they confront evil and demons bent on subjugating the universe. Be prepared for epic space battles.

Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats

Monday, March 4, 2024

New Release: CANYON COWBOY - by Sally Harper Bates


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The fun story about a young cowboy who grew up riding mules. When it came time for him to leave home, where would he go and what would he do where he could remain in the midst of his favorite animals? He finds his way to the great Grand Canyon in Arizona, and spends his life doing what the cowboys do who work at the Grand Canyon Mule Barn.

Sally was born in Prescott, Arizona, and has never lived more than an hour’s drive from the county she grew up in. Her roots run deep into the state; seven generations deep on both sides of her family tree. Raised on ranches and remaining involved in the livestock industry has provided much fodder for her books, poetry and photography.

She’s been writing most of her life, but only seriously began publishing for the past ten years. She started a small publishing company just to help friends get their books in print, and to date there are over 50 books on her website. She’s honored and amazed at the awards on her wall from Women Writing the West, New Mexico Arizona Book Awards, and five author/publisher awards from Will Rogers Medallion Awards.

She and her husband, Pat, have a small home in Chino Valley where she continues to write and create when she’s not helping with family. She’s a mother of two daughters, a teacher and a nurse practitioner, with four granddaughters and six great grandchildren.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Penny’s Two Cents by Penny Orloff

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 Is it already 2024? Another year rides off into the sunset... Six years, and I’m still procrastinating on my book, Who Would You Be If You Had Nothing to Bitch About? 

Oh, what to do, what to do… 

Although we feared their individual wrath, my siblings and I really made an effort not to displease both of our parents at the same time. For, in their ire, together they dreamed up ever-more-dastardly tortures to get us to toe the mark. By far the worst one The Parents could think of, the one that really got our attention and kept it, was “NO TV FOR A WEEK!!!”

Aaarrrgghhhh! No Mickey Mouse Club, no Leave It to Beaver, no Superman? Even if joy was certainly not what Joe and Ruetta Orloff had in mind with so heinous a punishment, those television-less weeks were the birth of my passion for costume design, the germination of my playwriting skills, the perfection of my double pirouette. After all, I suddenly had hours of boredom to kill, and kids are nothing if not creative.

So, why not try it—how ‘bout I turn off the TV for a week? That goes for Netflix on the ol’ computer, too. And the endless scrolling through Facebook and Twitter feeds on the iPhone. 

I—who have “no time” to finish that book, practice the piano, become fluent in French—how much time will I have suddenly exhumed? Might I have found even an hour a day? Half an hour?? If I’m watching TV and/or vegging online anywhere near the national average of four hours a day—and I am—I’d have more than a thousand hours a year. Writing at the slow rate of half a page an hour that’s still a pretty hefty book, even after my customary slash-and-burn editing.

How badly do I want to finish this third book, to see those who believe in me rejoice over my accomplishment? To revenge myself on the people who doubted me… Resolution for the New Year: Right now—RIGHT NOW!!—I commit to one measly week without television and Facebook and Twitter and Netflix and YouTube, no matter what might be happening on ESPN+ or Murder in Boston. I may like my freedom so much that I never go back. (Yeah, that’ll happen…)

Every book seems the struggle of a whole life. And then, when it is done — pouf! Never happened. Best thing is to get the words down every day. And it is time to start now.

John Steinbeck

Penny Orloff was a working actress and dancer in LA when she relocated to New York on a Juilliard opera scholarship. She played featured parts on Broadway after 7 seasons and more than 20 Principal Soprano roles at New York City Opera. Her solo show, Jewish Thighs on Broadway (based on her award-winning novel, available on Amazon), played off-Broadway and toured the U.S. for a decade. Her new show, Songs and Stories From a Not-Quite-Kosher Life, is currently touring. More at 

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Siren Call of Music to Write by Robert Ronning


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I can’t abide silence whether I’m reading or writing. I’ll take music every time, if it offers a pleasant buzz as I write. I seldom listen to ballads or lyrical works: a singer’s words distract me from the words I’m trying to write. The challenge of conjuring up a story with the right words is best met with pure instrumentals floating in the background like a pacifier. I do listen to occasional opera; an aria by Renee Fleming or Kiri Te Kanawa in a language I don’t understand can be a positive distraction.

I go through phases and different styles of music. Recently I’ve been dipping into New Age, but I’m rather picky: I adore Ann Sweeten’s romantic piano pieces that stand out from the musical herd of New Agers. Her distinctive style is recognizable on the first few notes, emotive and dreamy but never soppy. Her siren chords are pleasant and soothing, a muse to write by. Recently departed Tom Barabas was rather similar—a romantic and distinct pianist.

Of course, I have my daily go-to music, mostly NPR’s classical music covering a whole gamut of musical styles and periods—its list is long in “long-hair music,” as my dad called it.

I’m currently in a more upbeat mode and going back to the nineties of Willie & Lobo and their lively blend of flamenco guitar, gypsy riffs, and Willie’s brooding and racing fiddle. How a violin and guitar put out the sound of a rich ensemble is stunning. Since I write adventure stories, they give me a lift even as I hold to my desk and write. They even make me feel young again … almost.

Robert Ronning writes about wildlife and conservation, and published his adventure novel, Wild Call to Boulder Field in 2023. He and wife Kathleen live in Tucson and summer in a cabin in Arizona’s White Mountains, a few minutes daily dog walk from National Forest and wildlife. He considers his proudest achievements rescuing and assisting the rescue of lost dogs. A recovering golfer, now an avid Pickleball player, he likes to unwind with a crossword puzzle. More at 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Science fiction needs a hint of romance


Find these and more on my BWL page HERE

My love of science fiction started early, when I read DUNE by Frank Herbert. But I always found that these books were written by men and for men. They relied heavily on the technical aspect, and they portrayed male protagonists, with very few female characters. Even the new movie versions of Star Trek are still men-oriented. Star Wars made progress with the last trilogy with Rey as a female Jedi, and more females in the new Disney series. It's about time.


As an avid reader, I scoured the library for sci-fi and fantasy novels by female writers, like Ann McCaffrey (Dragon of Pern series), and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Then, I discovered the Dock 5 series, by Linnea Sinclair, the undisputed queen of Sci-fi with romantic elements. Linnea’s books even had cat-like animals called furzells. Her stories contained plenty of action, strong women characters as ship captains, and they navigated the stars, making no apologies. I had found my niche.

This kind of science fiction written by women does not focus on the engineering of the spaceship, or the weapons, nor does it explain how people traverse intergalactic distances. It is set in a future where space travel technology exists and is commonplace, where man has met alien cultures and spread throughout the universe... like in Star Wars or Star Trek.

So, when I decided to write, I wrote what I love, space adventure with strong women as protagonists. Of course, there are brave heroes, and often cats in my stories as well. Write what you know, right?

As for the angels in my books, they are a select group of gifted people with supernatural talents, in charge of keeping the balance of good and evil in the universe. This said, they are still people, with a body and a heart.

The Blue Phantom glows like a beacon in black space, appears and vanishes, and never registers on scanners. Rumors say it will save the righteous, the oppressed, and the downtrodden… and slay the unworthy without mercy. The space pirates fear it. Their victims pray for it… but its help comes at a price…

Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats
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Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Building a Galaxy by Daniel Dickinson


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PART 1: Tolkien and Middle Earth

Gas, matter, and energy erupt and expand at an amazing rate of speed, sending seeds of discovery and growth to every corner of your sci-fi/fantasy galaxy. And all it takes is a spark of imagination to get it started. Maybe it even arises with a simple question: Where do I even begin? 

Creative minds need a trigger—perhaps a title, an idea of a character, even a simple theme or emotion. Whatever your stimulus, you will certainly need to create a viable world in some capacity. Whether that world is a subdued, Tolkienlike secondary world or a hyper-real world like Neil Gaiman’s, your story and characters will need a cosmos of their own to explore. The size and scope of that universe is entirely in your hands. My role is to hand you the scales needed to balance the mind-staggering amount of effort needed to build a galaxy of your own, to provide contrasts between smaller worlds and bigger ones, and to illustrate how knowing the difference will save you a lot of work. To that end, I offer this 3-Part examination of different techniques for world-building.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s original unbridled vision of Middle Earth is the main focus of Part 1. It is also the most copied example of world-building. People have dived into the technique of Tolkien’s craft so often that it’s used as a ruler when measuring other worlds. Robert Jordan, Terry Brook, and even R.R. Martin have taken to copying aspects of Tolkien’s fantasy world-building.

The world of Middle Earth began with a hole in the ground, out of which grew the race of small, fur-footed creatures that would carry the entire narrative of the story. The Hobbit, the first of four novels in the Lord of the Rings series, was published by Allen & Unwin in 1937; the remaining titles followed nearly twenty years later. With millions of Tolkien’s books in circulation for eight decades, it’s rare to come across anyone who doesn’t know the story of the Hobbits and their quest to end the dark lord Sauron’s reign of terror.

“I now wanted to try my hand at writing a stupendously long narrative,” said Tolkien, “and to see whether I had sufficient art coming or material to make a really long novel which would hold the average reader right through.” 

With a plan set up and basic guidelines for his world and how its inhabitants would interact, Tolkien set about making up the history that would later define and govern the race and the daily lives of those in Middle Earth. However, there are a few missing pieces to the puzzle in the Lord of the Rings series. Absent are religions, beliefs, and historical temples that would increase the size of the mythology into other levels of existence. Within the original Tolkien stories, there are no direct correlations to the greater cosmos outside of Middle Earth. Reading through the series, the reader is led along the narrative in a closed view of the world and its inhabitants; and, while the world they do interact with is detailed and complex, the story is limited to small sections of Middle Earth. There is a limited scope to the world around the Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, and men as the reader travels along the path of adventure. They are tightly packed within their own borders with only minor hints of outside lands such as Valinor, the retirement home of the Elves. As readers, we are never really treated to it and are kept at arm’s length.

The original trilogy also does this with other cultures within Middle Earth. For example, we are never brought to the lands of the Harad, or told much about them outside Tolkien’s narrative: “Tis said that there were dealings of old between Gondor and the kingdoms of the Harad in the Far South; though there was never friendship. In those days our bounds were away south beyond the mouths of Anduin; and Umbar, the nearest of their realms, acknowledged our sway. But that is long since.” (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Book 4, Ch. 3 – “The Black Gate is Closed”).

(Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Book 4, Ch. 3 – “The Black Gate is Closed”) Historical information is tightly packed into a few lines of dialogue about the Far South and its history. In these instances, the mythology of the world and the cosmos outside only exist to serve the narrative. The world never seems much bigger than what Tolkien wants it to be at any given time. The cosmology is boiled down to character focus, and it becomes an emotional journey. C.S. Lewis, a good friend of Tolkien, once commented on the storytelling aspect of his companion: “The Hobbit is merely an adaption to children of part of a huge private mythology of a most serious kind: the whole cosmic struggle as he sees it but mediated through an imaginary world.” (p. 630, The Collected Letters, Volume II, HarperOne).

This streamlined aspect to Tolkien’s world-building works for his narrative. As a reader, however, I never get the full breadth of the world. There is history but, despite the colorful descriptions, it never seems to go beyond the current scene or setting. We’re given information that the world is old, based on those living there now—Elves, Gandolf, Tom Bombadil are all aged, wise, and completely timeless

And that’s when things start to become a bit weird. If we stop and study the time frames and history within The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series, we find time and the greater cosmos take a back seat to the story and adventure. When asked about time in a 1964 BBC interview, Tolkien pointed out that he couldn’t associate the time on Middle Earth with time as we know it “because it had been impossible. Because you would completely interfere with and trammel one in a free invention of history and an incident of one story.”

Tolkien went on to explain that he did not want to use Earth time, nor would Earth’s land masses make sense; he wanted his world to be free of the constraints of pre-conceived history. Time and space are fed to us in small, nutrient-packed bites that fill out the narrative with lively background for the characters to live in and interact with: “The Hunter’s Moon waxed round in the night sky and put to flight all the lesser stars. But low in the South one star shone red. Every night, as the Moon waned again, it shone brighter and brighter.” (Fellowship of the Ring)

This works for Tolkien’s stories and the way they flow. Keep in mind this densely packed world-building is not a bad thing—there’s a reason Tolkien is so often copied and studied. 

The question of where to start when developing a focused world becomes much easier when you’re concerned with the characters, instead of the greater cosmos around them. By developing the characters and their world as you travel along, you can explore it with them, learning new things as conflict arise, like orcs from the mist.

Beginning at the age of ten, Arizona native Daniel Dickinson has spent a lifetime inventing realistic realms for his fictional characters. His fantasy world, Xonthian— created during his teen years—is an entire domain that allows his characters’ journeys to unfold in a diverse setting. He enjoys giving educational presentations about world building and fantasy genres, in general. Daniel’s published works include the short story, Escape from Ogre Island; a two-story horror book, Don’t Close Your Eyes: Two Thrilling Tales of Terror; Aggression Factor; and Gathering Tide. More about Daniel at and 

Monday, January 8, 2024

Is there an "X" conspiracy? by Vijaya Schartz


Find these and many other novels of mine on the BWL site HERE

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, only a curious writer, whose creative mind notices clues and patterns. I’m always looking for fresh angles and new stories everywhere, and lately, I can’t help but notice the proliferation of “X” in everyday American lives. Is the X part of a secret equation? X = ?


It started years ago with the “X” Files, “The truth is out there.” Ominous, but not so far from reality, since in recent years, many governments around the world have opened up about an alien presence in our skies, and a few even claim to have reverse-engineered some alien technology.

As a result, more and more NASA and other astronauts, as well as Air Force and commercial pilots, are opening up about what they saw in space and in our skies. The US government finally admitted to the existence of Area 51, and briefed Congress about UAPs (Unexplained Aerial Phenomena), in 2023, in a secret session, which somehow leaked to the press, and contained military footage of UFO encounters.

Recently, we’ve seen Twitter become “X” under Elon Musk’s new ownership. Why? The symbol is ugly and gives me the shudders. Not a very good marketing move. The man also owns SPACE”X”. Is he signaling that Generation X is taking over the reins of technology? Or is there an X-File alien technology connection? Musk has also been accused of endorsing antisemitic posts on X, causing many advertisers to leave the platform. X was also accused of favoring white supremacist groups. Coincidence?

Many other companies in recent ads are prominently displaying the “X” factor. From pharmaceutical labs, AnolonX, AreXvy, or media companies like “X”finity internet or manufacturers like the X-chair, and TV shows like the X-Files and the UneXplained.

Celebrity X cruises displays an X that is not part of their name. When the public suggested it meant X-rated cruises for adults, their official rebuttal was: The big “X” on the funnel of the cruise ships represents the Greek letter chi for “Chandris.” Maybe it does… then again… maybe it means something else.

Conspiracy X is an RPG (Role Playing Game) based upon a secret invasion of Earth by aliens insidiously taking over the world. It is set in a world of dark secrets and hidden agendas where nothing is what it seems.

According to others, Disease X is the next pandemic.

Are we facing a new generation of X-men identifying themselves to each other? Or is there a secret “X” society manipulating governments toward an unknown destiny? It wouldn’t be so farfetched, since secret societies have been running the world from the shadows for millennia.

I guess we will find out… eventually, if we live long enough. In the meantime, I’ll keep watching for clues.  

My novels are full of intergalactic conspiracies, villains, strong heroines, brave heroes, and cats. Find them here:

Happy reading!

Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats
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