Category Archives: Commentary

Expand Your Vocabulary With Android Apps

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As writers, having an extensive vocabulary is a great tool in our toolbox. The right word choice can excite a sentence and shift it into nuances that can create a memorable passage. Learning new words and how to best use them comes from reading the classics and books in your chosen genre, but in our modern age of electronic learning, apps can be of assistance as well. Being an Android user for the most part, I took a look at various apps that help with learning vocabulary. The reviews are my own and none of the app creators compensated me for my opinions.

Cram
FREE

This android app brings your custom flashcards to your phone. They have an apple version too. It allows you to study your chosen subject on the go and works hand in hand with cram.com. At the website, you can find educational resources to load into the app. You can learn a foreign language, practice your math tables, or pop in new vocabulary to memorize. Memorization is a good way to bulk up your word choice or to beef up your knowledge on a subject you might be writing on. One of the fun aspects of their website is the essay topic generator. When you have writer’s block, it is fun to look through this repository for inspiration. As a blogger, I find this to be helpful.

Quizlet 
Free or Pro ($19.99 annual fee)

This is another flashcard app that can help you memorize a variety of subjects such as languages, history, science, and vocabulary. The basic version is free. You create your own flashcards using the Quizlet flashcard maker or choose cards from fellow users. Part of the fun of this app is the Match game where you beat the clock to gain the right answer. There is another function called Test that helps you prep for a pop-quiz in whatever class you are studying for. If you find you like the app, you can go pro for a small fee and upload your own images, get faster customer service from quizlet, and study ad-free. It would be easy to create vocabulary flashcards with this app and then take it on the go with your phone.

Vocabulary.com
$2.99

I really enjoy this android app. Vocabulary is learning designed to be a game. As you answer the questions, the algorithms conform the game to you as you go along to help make the learning process more fun. It can become addictive! You accumulate points, achievements, and badges as you compete with other users around the world. The app has won a few awards such as Time’s 50 Best Websites of the Year, PC Magazine’s Top 100 Websites of the Year, and more. While this is not a free app, the value it offers to expand your vocabulary is worth checking out.
Words, Words, Words
FREE

While this vocabulary builder is not as fancy as some of the others or as extensive, I like that it included audio pronunciation of the new words along with the text. This is a great aid in learning how to use the words for speaking, not just for writing or reading.

Test Your English Vocabulary
FREE

This vocabulary app is more for people learning English as a second language than for native speakers. It is geared toward helping you master language so you can pass tests such as TOEIC, GMAT, SAT, GRE, MCAT and more. It gives you the correct pronunciation and translation of the words into your mother tongue. It has word games to keep things fun. Play games such as Anagrams, Codewords, Millionaire, Puzzle and StopWord.

As a writer, it pays to become a wordsmith and develop your vocabulary. The best way to do this is to read more books, but these apps should be a great way to supplement your practice of finding and using new words as you interact with the world around you. I hope you check out the apps and find them useful.

San Francisco Planner Meetup

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Bullet Journaling has been my method of keeping track of my writing business for the past three years. My journals have evolved from simple lists kept in a composition notebook to my current fountain pen friendly A5 grid journal where I store a full year of task lists, publishing plans, travel details, and habit trackers all illustrated with zentangle doodles on practically every page. Not only does my bullet journal keep me on track, it provides a space to practice my artwork. It is a flexible system that I find much more rewarding than the system I used in my former Filofax. I keep my old Filofax, but it has become the editorial calendar book for my blog, No Wasted Ink.

pen-and-ink-drawing-pen-show-2016In August of 2016, I attended the San Francisco Fountain Pen Show that was held at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay Hotel. One of the featured events of the convention was a Planner Meetup. Normally, my bullet journal never leaves my desk, but for this event, I packed it into my luggage and carted it off with me to the event.

The Meetup was well attended by at least 30 avid paper planner enthusiasts. All of them were stationary hoarders and most used fountain pens in their notebooks. I was greeted to a plethora of Filofaxes of many kinds, leather bound notebooks, moleskines, and other planner systems. There were boxes of scrapbooking supplies that were dumped into the center of the tables for everyone to look through and take a few samples. One of the attendees had put together packets of scrapbooking supplies and gifted them to everyone that came.

notebook-plannersThere were a good number of men who attended, but most did not reveal the inside of their planners. I believe that there were daunted by the decorators in the crowd and did not wish to show off their simple task lists and notes. I had to prod a few of them to see inside their planners. They should not have been embarrassed. What I saw inside was functional and all of their journals were of fine quality leather and paper. Sometimes less is more.

my-bullet-journal-2016My journal was the only bullet journal in the meetup, which surprised me. Everyone else used preprinted calendar style planners. My hand drawn illustrations were thumbed through by many appreciative planner nerds. I found myself answering questions about zentangles and how difficult it must be to illustrate my notebook. I assured everyone that practice is all that is needed to draw zentangles and that tutorials are all over the internet for free. This was the first time that anyone other than myself has seen my illustrated bullet journal and the response to my work was gratifying.

planner-meetup-tableThe Planner Meetup at the San Francisco Fountain Pen Show was a great success. Although we were allotted a scant ninety minutes for the meeting, most of the attendees stayed longer. There was simply too many journals and notebooks to see and conversations about planners to enjoy. I am sure that a planner meetup will be on the agenda for next year’s convention. If you are a planner or fountain pen enthusiast like myself, I hope you’ll consider joining us in San Francisco next year at the convention.

A Fountain Pen Odyssey by Wendy Van Camp

sf-pen-show-ws

Fountain pens have been my hobby for the past few years. I tend to remember details better when they are written via a pen and paper, but my hand would grow tired after long sessions of writing in journals. When you write with a fountain pen, only a tiny amount of pressure is needed to glide the ink onto the paper and it allows you to write for longer periods of time. I started out with inexpensive chinese-made pens to see if I would like writing with one and ended up falling in love with the look and feel of the pens. Now I own a small collection of pens and inks that I use for different purposes. A year after I got started down the fountain pen rabbit hole, my husband did too. Now we enjoy going to fountain pen conventions together and exploring our hobby together.

Location

This is the third year that the San Francisco Fountain Pen Show has been held at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay Hotel and our second visit to the convention. It is nestled in Redwood City, near many big name silicone valley corporations and is a short journey from San Francisco International Airport. Driving there can be tricky due to all the “goose crossing” signs leading up to the hotel. Yes, flocks of Canadian Geese make the immediate area their home and can step out into the road without notice. Behind the hotel is a lovely lagoon with walkways to facilitate moonlight walks with your significant other. The interior is modern with a French twist. The hotel was as lovely as we remembered, with comfortable rooms and a pastry shop that tempted us with goodies.

pastry-shop-in-sofatel-hotel

The pen show is held in the ballroom and uses a few of the conference rooms nearby and on the floor above for workshops and meetings. The majority of the vendors were in the ballroom where their wares could be locked up securely in the evening, but this year there was an overflow of a few more vendors into the hallway.

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Exhibitors

There were a large number of exhibitors this year, many more than the first time we came to the San Franciso during its opening year. These are a few that I frequented:

Anderson Pens
This was their first year at the San Franciso show, but I hope it will not be their last. They had a lovely assortment of bottled inks, notebooks, pens and pen cleaning supplies. My husband had placed a pen order for pick-up with them before the show, but we found ourselves returning for more goodies. I bought an inexpensive Plaisir Fountain Pen there and several bottles of ink.  Working the booth was blogger extraordinaire, Ann Reinert from The Well Appointed Desk.  It was a pleasure to be able to meet her in person. I’ve enjoyed reading her blog for many years.

Franklin-Christoph
Always a staple at the main fountain pen shows, Franklin-Christoph is a manufacturer of fountain pens, nibs, ink, notebooks and leather pen accessories. Both my husband and I own pen cases from them and my husband is a convert to their nibs. He will often match a pen he purchased elsewhere with one of the Franklin-Christoph nibs. While I did not purchase from them this year, I was glad to see them and will keep them on my A list when it comes to purchasing nibs and leather goods.

Curnow Bookbinding and Leatherwork
This is the first time I have seen Curnow Bookbinding and Leatherwork. I purchased a lovely leather travelers-style notebook cover from them. Their table also had handmade traveler’s notebooks with Tomoe River paper at a decent price. The workmanship from this artisan is superb and I hope to see them at other pen shows in the future.

Peyton Street Pens
It was my first time at the Peyton Street Pens table. My husband had suggested that I look at their Ranga line of pens since I was interested in gaining a pen with a Sheaffer nib. They had plenty of vintage Sheaffer pens, but my eye was caught by a beautiful turquoise resin pen newly made in India, but paired with a vintage 1970’s American made Sheaffer nib. I was able to pick the nib I wanted and match it with the pen body. They even threw in a converter and free fountain pen friendly notebook. Such a deal!

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Vanness Pens
This was the other large ink vendor at the show. I ended up buying a few bottles of ink from them as well. There was a great assortment of pens and unusual ink lines that I had not seen before. I was pleased to see Matt Armstrong, the host of The Pen Habit, a video series you can catch on YouTube was there working in the booth! It was a pleasure to meet Matt in person and he was quite knowledgeable about all the pens and ink at the table. A real asset to Vanness Pens, to be sure.

MikeItWork – Mike Masuyama
It is always a pleasure to see Nibmaster Mike Masuyama at a show. He will customize your nibs to your specifications, allowing you to gain access to nib types that are hard to find or impossible except by customization. He created a beautiful nib on a Parker 51 for me the last time I was at the SF Pen Show and I still love it.

Inking Station

ink-stations-2016-sf-pen-showOne of the exciting features of the pen show, and something you normally only see at the larger national level pen shows, was an ink sample table. 600 Platinum Preppy Fountain Pens were filled with an assortment of inks to try for the price of admission. Most of the major ink brands were there, such as Diamine, deArtementis, Noodler’s, Iroshuiku, Sailor, J. Herban, Montblanc, Pelikan, and Platinum. However, there were also inks from more unusual brands to try out. Kobe, Akkarman, Robert Oster, KWZI, LeArtisan Pastellier, and others I had not heard of.

I set up a page in my A5 cashier sized notebook and wrote down the name of the ink in the ink color and then created a dot so I could see the saturated hue on the page. I discovered that the colors I see on the monitor when I research possible fountain inks to purchase are very different from seeing them in person. This is a wonderful way to sample inks you are interested in and not only get a better idea of their color, but also see how they handle in the process of nib to paper.

Conclusion

Fountain pens are a great hobby for writers. The pens are a dream to write with, needing only the smallest amount of pressure to glide across a page and make long hours of writing more comfortable. While no one needs to purchase an expensive fountain pen to gain the benefits of their ease of writing, seeing all the fancy new pens coming out from the manufacturers, discovering all the vintage antique pens, and playing with the myriad of inks available makes for a fun time. If you get bit by the fountain pen bug, make a point to visit a local fountain pen show.

Generating Science Fiction Stories

Filofax and Notebooks

The act of creativity has been a subject that fascinates me. I have always been a creative woman, I can not stop creating things any more than I can stop breathing. It is a major part of my life and shapes who I am. When the desire to write burst within me in 2010, a single character demanded that I start to write his story. More characters in the story followed and together all these people have become a steampunk science fiction series that I will one day publish. Yet, a single series does not an author make. From time to time, I have been asked to contribute a story to an anthology or a magazine and I found myself frozen, unable to write a word or meet a deadline. I was forced to let these opportunities go without submitting a single word.

Outline The Problem

I became determined to overcome my science fiction writer’s block. While I have published memoir shorts and a regency romance, I consider myself to be a science fiction and fantasy author. I am well versed in the genre having read most of the classics from Robert A. Heinlein, Issac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, to a range of women science fiction authors such as Vonda McIntyre, Andre Norton, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. This has allowed me to become familiar with the genre tropes and style of the “golden age” of the 1950s and 1960s when science fiction gained its footing in popular culture. Yet, how to generate science fiction ideas for myself eluded me.

My first thought to solve the problem was to listen to other authors in the genre and get an idea of how they developed their ideas. I attended convention panels with Vernon Vinge, Todd McCaffery, Greg Benford, David Brin and other famous authors to glean how they came up with material that gained them Hugo and Nebula awards. Over time, I realized that each of these authors had a system to store ideas for themselves related to science fiction. Every author had a different way of obtaining these core ideas. Some had buddies who worked at JPL or NASA, others were scientists themselves with years of training in their chosen field. They attended science conferences or read journals about the world of technology today, took these raw facts and concepts, pushing the ideas into the future and giving it a literary twist.

The Past Through Tomorrow

Being a collector of fountain pens and notebooks, I had read how people in the past had kept journals known as “commonplace books”. This was a compilation of ideas and information that the author thought relevant. It was popular with the thinkers of 15th century England and eventually became a scholarly tool adopted by major universities. I liked the concept of the commonplace book and wondered if I could apply it to my science fiction idea generating problem.

To find the basic facts to form ideas from, I signed up for free science journals on a variety of subjects. I joined science fiction clubs and listened to what concepts intrigued the readers.

My paper notebook failed.

There is such a barrage of information in the journals, many fields are expanding their knowledge at speeds that make it difficult to keep up with, that copying the information by hand became overwhelming. I switched to using Evernote and set up folders where I could cut and paste various science-based articles that I thought might have a possible idea to base a story on. Using this collation method proved to be easier to maintain and slowly, I began to have folders of possible science-based​ concepts to write about.

Sharpening The Tools

Although I was generating facts to draw on, I was still having trouble generating science fiction stories except for my Opus Magnus. An author friend of mine suggested that instead of writing short stories, I should try poetry. The form was short and wouldn’t take up as much time to write. I had also taken an online writing course put out by the University of Iowa where one of the lessons said that to practice scene building, try writing haiku first. Haiku was about describing a single moment in time, which are the building blocks of stories.

This is where my love of Scifaiku was born. The poems are only three lines long and I can do them in batches. I would start with facts from my commonplace folders in Evernote and then apply an emotion, setting and time to them. It worked. I began to assemble science fiction poems and much to my surprise, people seemed to like them.

In September of 2015, one of my online writing communities held a writing challenge. Write one flash fiction story a day for the entire month. If I did the challenge to the end, I would have thirty flash fictions to show for it. I decided to try. I would focus all my creative energy on writing science fiction or fantasy and see where it led me. As it turned out, writing with a group of authors gave me the support I needed to complete the challenge. Not all the stories I wrote are good enough to submit, but a number of them were good enough to either send out as a flash fiction or to expand into a longer and better story in the future.

I have followed up with doing two more challenges in 2016. For the first time, I have a backlog of science fiction and fantasy stories to draw on. What is more, I seem to be able to create new characters and plots without the strain that I used to feel. This practice has sharpened my skillset.

Last Word

Today, short stories and poetry come to me more easily. I have established a method of generating science fiction stories that works for me. As time passes, my files grow richer with more science-based concepts to draw from. I hope that by outlining my creative process this gives you ideas on how to be more creative in your own writing.

Mars Inspires Writers

As a science fiction writer, the planet Mars has always intrigued me. It is a new world full of vast plains, mineral wealth, and the possibility of humanity having a second planet to call home. The technology to go there is already here, it simply will take the inspiration and guts for us to get there, along with the courage to develop the red planet into a proper home.

I’ve written several short stories that take place on Mars and often times I use photos or stories from scientific journals as inspiration for my tales. I stumbled upon a series of full sized posters were developed to inspire new settlers to go to the red planet. The posters are available for free at NASA. They were originally commissioned for an exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in 2009.  Below are smaller versions of my favorites. If you like the images, be sure to go to NASA and see them all. Download one or two for your walls. Maybe they will inspire you to write about Mars as I do, or even to go there one day yourself.

P01-Explorers-Wanted-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xEXPLORERS WANTED ON THE JOURNEY TO MARS

Boasting the solar system’s biggest canyon, putting Earth’s Grand Canyon to shame, is Valles Marineris. There you can experience the blue sunsets while the twin moons, Phobos and Deimos, sail overhead. Can you imagine being one of the first people to explore such a glorious place? It would be breathtaking.

P04-Surveyors-Wanted-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xSURVEYORS WANTED TO EXPLORE MARS

Mars is covered by many robots that are measuring the planet and taking samples. Yet, once people arrive the land will need to be partitioned and sold to settlers much as it is here on Earth. Land will be designated as cities and townships. Acres set up for farms and mines. For this, surveyors will be needed. Much as George Washington, the first President of the United States, was a surveyor for the American colonies in his youth, people with these skills will also be needed on Mars. Could this be you?

P06-Technicians-Wanted-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xTECHNICIANS WANTED TO ENGINEER OUR FUTURE ON MARS

One of the skill sets that will be needed on Mars at once are technicians. They will be needed to repair the machines that keep people alive in the hostile environment. They will be the ones working in the supply ships that will run between Mars, Earth, and the Moon. Such jobs should be in high demand. Will you be one of those people who go there to work your trade?

P07-Some-User-Assembly-Required-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xASSEMBLY REQUIRED TO BUILD OUR FUTURE ON MARS

Machinists and mechanics will also be professions in high demand on Mars. Builders of homes, of factories, mines and more will pave the way for future immigrants to the red planet. Already, people in these fields are applying to go one way to Mars even today. They bank on their ability to build what they will need to survive on the red planet without having to return to Earth. It takes courage to face a life on a new world, much as settlers a few centuries ago faced one-way trips to the Americas from Europe.

P08-We-Need-You-NASA-Recruitment-Poster-600xNASA NEEDS YOU

Reminding us of the famous Uncle Sam poster of another era, this final image looks you right in the eye and asks if you have the courage and desire to reach for Mars. Could being a technician, teacher, builder or even a parent raising a child there be in your future?

I hope that you have found inspiration for your own stories with these fun images from NASA. That they inspire you to dream about a new world and what life there might be like. If these images help ferment a few new science fiction stories for you, as they have for me, all the better.