Volcanoes are Cool…at Least From a Distance

Volcano erupting

Volcanoes are one of those things that are kind of cool.  At least as long as you’re not near them when they’re erupting.

They’ve been a staple of many TV shows, like on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’s “And Five Were Left.”  Five men from World War II are stranded in a cave under a volcano that’s about to explode.  Lots of explosions, steam vents venting, and rocks falling.

And of course, the heroes escape as the volcano blows up.

The show had two other episodes with volcanoes, “Night of Terror” and “Fires of Death.”  Gilligan’s Island had a volcano episode, too.

Oh, and my personal favorite, Airwolf.  The helicopter got caught in the ash cloud of a massive eruption and had to set down.  It put them in the middle of corporate greed and corruption from a mining company.

Hawaii’s volcano has been erupting for at least a month now, making more of the island with lava.  The people there generally have a lot of warning, since it’s not the kind of volcano that blows its top like Mount St. Helens.

The scientists are busy studying the eruptions.  One of the fascinating things from the eruption is olivine being brought to the surface.  They’re green gems.  They’re the same gems that make up the Green Sand Beach, also on the Big Island.  This link has a close up of the green crystals.

The science of nature is pretty cool.



Crying Planet, the first book in my GALCOM series was accepted for a military science fiction bundle from Story Bundle.  It will be coming out on June 27.


Rogue God

Cover for Rogue God, showing a tiki face on a surfboard.


Beneath the island beauty lurks deadly magic.

Magic booby-traps waiting years to kill, and worse.  Like making monsters

Anton Keymas, member of the Vai, a magical Special Forces, launches on his most perilous mission.  Two soldiers missing.  Probably dead.

Keymas may not be able to stop the killing spree.

A twisted fantasy of magic and monsters.

A fantasy novel available from your favorite booksellers.

Women of Pearl Harbor – 75 years

When I was growing up, I remember headlines on December 7, honoring the loss of lives at Pearl Harbor.  Now it largely feels like an afterthought, getting a passing mention if it’s a slow news day.  I got to see the memorial back in the early 80s, when I visited Hawaii.  I could see the very top of the wreck just under the surface and oil bubbling up.

And we always heard the stories about the men who were there.

Not the women.

I didn’t know there were women, until I saw this article.

“The women had to be single. The minute they were married, they were out the door,” Woll said, noting that the need for more nurses eventually led to a rule change. “In 1943, that was the first time you could marry and still legally be in the military — until you had your first child. Then you’re out again.”

Times really have changed!

Gratuitous Volcano Pictures

Volcanoes are one of those cool things that make for a great action story (real life, not so much).  There’s nothing like a character trying to escape as the volcano is rumbling and shaking and vents are opening up.

These are some awesome photos of the Kilauea Volcano spilling lava into the sea. 

Monster Ships: Aircraft Carriers

When I went to Hawaii back in the 1980s, there was an aircraft carrier in the harbor. This was pre-military for me, and the first time I’d ever seen a Navy ship that wasn’t part of a museum (a World War II submarine in Wisconsin).

I think it was one of the smaller ones, but I looking up at this enormous ship standing so tall and high and going, “Holy cow!”

This is a video of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, otherwise known as the Big Stick. Watch the size of the sailboats that pass it by.

Details a Matter of Character

I wrote this post on having trouble with details over a year ago.  It was really hard for me for quite a long time getting even basic details into my stories.  In fact, I had to keep hitting at it with a battering ram.  Sometimes I have to hear something that seems obvious to everyone else before it starts to make sense (though, in this case, I think that a lot of people don’t get that obvious piece).

I’ve found that a lot of the writing advice approaches description from the outside looking in, and often portrays it as frippery, something that is always excessive and should be deleted.  I’ve heard this from the writers on message boards:

“I hate description.”

“All description is boring.”

“I’d rather leave it to the reader’s imagination.”

And from a recent blog:

“Editors hate description.”

That one was from a published writer with three or four books out.

The message seems to be that description isn’t important to the story.

What’s missing from pretty much all of the advice is that the description is done through the character’s eyes and is a function of the characterization itself.  It shows who the character is and where they are at that point in the story.  How could that get left out of everything about description?

Maybe it’s because description is often treated as an exercise, rather than a functioning part of the story.  I’m not sure how much of that steeped into my brain over the years and influenced the dysfunction.  But understanding this at least helped give me a better foundation for getting the specific details into the story.

To find the details, I do some research — not extensive.  If I know there’s going to be outdoor scenes, I try to get names of some of the local plants and trees that most people would know.  That’s actually harder than it sounds, because most sites and books focus on the scientific side and list everything.  Tour books can sometimes be helpful, and sometimes be terribly unhelpful, so it’s like a gold mine when I find something.  A visit to local Fort C.F. Smith mentioned White Pines and Magnolia trees, so I grabbed that for a future story set in Virginia.  If I can get three names, I’m happy, though I may search for additional ones as I write.

I also look at photographs.  I was writing a scene on a Hawaiian trailhead with a waterfall at the end of it, so naturally, I headed for waterfalls.  If I have a specific picture, I can build the details better; if it’s just a picture in my head, it’s very easy for me to go vague and fuzzy.  When I was originally doing the scene, I planted this waterfall in front of the characters and had a stream flowing out, and that was about it.  There was also a kind of a clearing because I needed a place to have a fight scene.

Once I got a picture I liked — I was focusing on terrain — then I started building the details in based on the main character’s situation.  This is an incredibly beautiful place, and he’s thinking about the danger that’s coming.  How does that play into how he describes it?

Indoor locations are a lot harder for me.  Rooms tend to go fuzzy for me.  I’m working on a scene in a living room, and I keep wanting to leave it at “sofa, some chairs, and there’s a door to another room on the left.”  It’s really forcing me to stop and think about what this character has in this room and why.  What kind of art does he like?  Does he like heavy furniture or modern furniture?  If you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, we’d go into most of the character’s quarters, and they’d be pretty spartan.  White room, neutral colors, clean lines.  Then we’d go to Worf’s quarters, and it looked like a dungeons.  Dark, weapons on the wall, flickering candles.

I also don’t necessarily try to get all of it at once.  I move back and forth in scenes, adding to them as I do more research, or just get further into the story and realize something else is needed. (Breaking another rule here: I continue to make changes all over my story as I create.)

So the details are a matter of a bit of research, but mainly a matter of the character.

When You Hate to Research

That’s me, by the way.  I don’t really enjoy research and am never going to get lost in it and forget to write a novel.  In fact, what Advanced Fiction Writing says is absolutely true:

If you hate research, then [you] are probably not doing enough of it and your fiction writing is going to suffer in various ways.

* Sigh * Yup, it’s true.  It also doesn’t help when I see another writer produce a huge list of questions about details to research and all I want to do is hide because I’ve instantly gotten overwhelmed.  Don’t mistake this — I like some of the information I find because it does inspire creativity, like researching Chinaman’s Hat in Hawaii:

Chinaman's Hat

Screen reader: Palm trees and grass frame an island shaped like a hat the Chinese immigrants used to wear.

Butt the process of research is at the opposite end of creativity.  I’d almost rather do proofreading.

Almost.  Proofreading is pretty boring!

So it starts with making the research as efficient as possible.

I have to know exactly what I need.  What I’ve been doing is identifying details in scenes that I need to research.  Like if the scene is set outside, “What are common trees in Hawaii?”


Screen reader: Shot of a monkeypod tree in Hawaii, which resembles an umbrella.

Then all I have to do is bring the list of questions with me and hunt down the information with a fast scan through.  I also have to make sure I take good notes so I don’t have to repeat the research. Been there, didn’t want to do it, but got stuck doing it anyway.  I’ve always had a problem with being able to take useful notes, so I’ve been experimenting with visual note taking.

The time to do the research is also a consideration.  I ran across a reference in a book where a non-fiction writer would do footnotes when he wasn’t feeling particularly inspired.  So I try to do the research when I know I’m probably not going to be writing.  That way, it doesn’t feel like it’s cutting into the writing time.

Do you hate to research?  What do you do to make the process of it less painful?

Cover for A Princess, A Boatman, and a Lizard showing a silhouette of a princess holding a lizard.How do you take these three diverse subject — a princess, a boatman, and a lizard — and make them into a story?  My short story “Six Bullets” turns the princess into a soldier who has to fight an army of warriors of a river.  Check out the Forward Motion anthology, A Princess, a Boatman, and a Lizard.

Temples and Worship in #Hawaii

One of the most fascinating things I discovered in researching Hawaii as a basis for my fictional country in Miasma is that there was a unique culture that developed there.  The Hawaiians loved being out of doors–no surprise, considering how beautiful the islands are.   The Hawaiians believed that gods were in everything around them, and their worship was conducted in open air temples.  There were two types:

Simple: This temple consisted of an altar, consecrated images, and a raised platform.  The “consecrated images” are the tubular images Hawaii is famous for.  There’s some great photos of them on Travelographer.

Complex: This type of temple includes all of the above, plus a refuse area, burial grounds, and oracle towers.   The tower might be 20 feet high and covered with kapa, which is a type of cloth made in Hawaii.  Since these were more elaborate, they were often built at the direction of a powerful chief who could recruit the people to do it.

After reading up on the culture, I could easily imagine the Hawaiians setting up a temple near a waterfall like my picture to worship the god that made it.  Or certainly, in my case, the people of my fictional country!

What imaginary travels have you found in your research?

Also check out my other posts on this setting for Miasma:

Magic Not Volcanoes

One of My Settings


Hawaii Five-0: Action in Paradise

Hawaii was a great initial reason to tune into the TV series Hawaii Five-0.  It’s a Hawaii 2.0 of the original series which starred Jack Lord.  One of the comments made at the time of the new series premiere was that the original version was an average detective show with Hawaii, a great theme, and Jack Lord’s hair (hair makes people watch a show?).

It’s still a detective show, but it has Steve McGarrett now as a Navy SEAL (that’s a very elite military role that only a few attain), so there’s lots of action in episode.  But it’s a fun kind of action, meant simply to entertain.

My favorite characters are not the main stars, but the Asian actors who play Kono (Grace Park), Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim), and Wu Fat (Mark Dacascos, who is also appearing on Iron Chef America).  First time Mark Dacasos appeared on the screen, my response was, “No way!”  His casting made me want to see more.

Thankfully, one thing the show has stayed away from is dressing Grace Park as often as possible in skimpy clothing or bikinis in every episode.  There’s some of it, yes, but we viewers don’t see with regularity in scenes with the guys.  Many of those scenes have clothing that is appropriate for for climate and locale (sleeveless t-shirts).  Whereas, on Charmed, which had all an women cast, the way the characters dressed made me wonder how the women could be respected for anything.

Kono has a pretty decent role in the show — it doesn’t feel like she’s a token female the networks told the producers to add (Caitlin on Airwolf), especially since the show also has two other semi-regular women characters.  Kono’s had some storylines about her, and she’s — my own personal favorite — had some action scenes of her own.

But I have to say, one of the things I like best about the show is simply that’s in Hawaii. Since Magnum P.I. went off the air years ago, nothing’s been filmed there, and it’s such a great location.

What’s your favorite part of the show?  Tell me about it!

I hope you’ll have a look at my story Grateful for a Gift to ‘Any Soldier,’ published in The Washington Post.

Action, Adventure, Earthquakes — 3 Interesting Facts

An earthquake makes a great action scene.  Hollywood’s done a number of movies, including Earthquake and 10.5.  More recently, the TV series Bones had what looked like an earthquake but turned out to be a water main break.  As the shaking starts, Booth says something like, “Washington DC doesn’t have earthquakes.”

A year later Virginia was struck by a 5.8 earthquake that damaged the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.

Hollywood is all about making the earthquake exciting, so moviegoers see the ground splitting open and then snapping shut after it swallows a hapless Red Shirt.  Or the ground splits open and follows the fleeing heroine (hmm — Didn’t know earthquakes could see and think).  Of course, the reality is quite different.

These are some interesting facts I discovered while researching earthquakes for my contemporary fantasy, Miasma:

Richter Scale

The Richter Scale is no longer used.  According to the Southern California Seismic Center:

Because he [Richter] defined his scale in terms of these torsion seismometers, once these instruments were replaced by more modern equipment, the conversion used to turn seismogram readings into a measure of magnitude was no longer the exact same scale established by Richter in 1935.

Thank goodness fore research.  This would have been easy mistake to make.

Taking Cover

When I was growing up in Southern California, we went through earthquake drills.  One of the things taught was when an earthquake starts to get into a doorway.  That’s now outdated advice, according to the US Geological Society:

In past earthquakes in unreinforced masonry structures and adobe homes, the door frame may have been the only thing left standing in the aftermath of an earthquake. Hence, it was thought that safety could be found by standing in doorways. In modern homes doorways are no stronger than any other parts of the house and usually have doors that will swing and can injure you.


When the word ‘earthquake’ is mentioned, we immediately think of California.  The state has been the site of several very destructive major quakes — I’ve been in two.  For Miasma, I based my story on Hawaii, and that state has earthquakes.  In the last week, there were 14.  Just for a comparison though, in the same time frame, California had 398!

What kinds of interesting facts have you run across in your research for your book?  Tell me about them!

I hope you’ll drop in for a visit with my article Writing a Novel When You’re Right-Brained on Vision: A Resource for Writers.  I also have a guest blog on setting on Sue Santore’s blog on October 28.