James JosephWriting can be difficult and it can be fun. Here, I can write about anything that comes to mind, modern or ancient. I hope you'll join in with your comments.

November 13, 2009

Evidence of Native Americans in Many Woodland Locations

It’s amazing how many places you can find evidence of the past out in the middle of the woods. Stone walls, old foundations, abandoned wells and even cemeteries can be found in wooded locations far from the nearest roads or paths. Most of these are from historical towns and homesteads that were simply abandoned due to disease, attack, or economical changes such as lumbertowns where the trees have all been cut, or mines that have been played out.

Possible Indian Cairn

Possible Native American Cairn

While there’s plenty of evidence of early European activity, there are also stone formations related to Native American interests that date back thousands of years. Here in Maine, much of the forested areas have never been developed to the degree that construction would devastate or cover many of the ancient sites. Here’s a photo of a possible cairn, often used as a monument of sorts. Each of the rocks in this cairn are perhaps a minimum of 100 pounds and greater than 14″ in diameter. James Gage (www.stonestructures.org) thinks this may be a Native American cairn due to it’s proximity to several dozens of similar structures in a small area of perhaps less than an acre. Other indicators are the unusual amount of vertical stones, most of which are wide at the base and come to a point.

Unusual Marker stone in the woods of Maine

Unusual Marker stone in the woods of Maine

Here’s another photo of a very unusual marker, just a few hundred yards from the large group of cairns. This marker is unlike any of the other vertical stones in the area, and almost appears to be sculptured. Lying on the ground next to it is what I thought to be a long, triangular post, perhaps used as a pointer for a geographical or astronomical location.

Unusual stone marker found in the woods of MaineUpon removing the upper leaves and spongy forest debris, it actually comes to a knife-like or feathered tip. Once I hit a sandy type soil, I stopped digging in the event there were any artifacts or evidence located below. The marker itself is approximately 3.5-4′ tall. There’s no indication as to who put this marker in place, but it is one of the most unusual I’ve seen. It’s approximately 1,200 feet from the nearest road, and that road actually followed an ancient Native American trail very closely, that was hundreds of miles long.

By most accounts, the first Americans in the Northeast go back no more than 11,000 years. However, that’s due to the available evidence. 12,000 years ago represented the end of the last glacial period. That glacial period started about 30,000 years ago, peaked 18,000 years ago, and began to recede. But, that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t have been any inhabitants prior to 30,000 years ago. I suspect that most of the evidence would have been destroyed by the glacial extension. While the last glacial period seems to have lasted about 18,000 years, the actual ice age began 70,000 years ago. While we may have passed the end of the last “glacial period” some time ago, technically, we may still be in an “ice age”.

July 30, 2009

Are Publishers Really the Best Judge of Books?

The latest trends in publishing indicate that both major and small press publishers severely limit the quality and variety of newly published books coming to market. Granted, a large percentage of self-published books are of very poor quality, and often unreadable. But many best selling books are not exactly of the highest caliber.

For a new writer to break into the fiction market, they need to have different talents than authors of the past. They need to have television presence. They need to be comfortable with public speaking. And, they’re generally required to make book tours. Due to the expanding influence of television on the publishing industry, an author must be ready to interview on Oprah or one of the morning shows. The problem with this is some of the best authors are introverts.

In the past, that was completely acceptable. But now, if you’re not a highly animated extrovert, you’re unlikely to get off the “maybe list”. 

New writers are encouraged to write mini-novels, or to write what the publisher in their area of interest likes to publish. I know an author who writes romance novels in unique historic settings of 13th century Europe. She writes one every year, and has gained a following. But her royalties fetch her somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 – $4,000 each year. It doesn’t seem likely that she’ll make a good living as an author.

The fact is, the vast majority of authors make next to nothing. We all hear of the highly paid authors like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham and a handful of others. I’m very glad someone in the modern era is being recognized for their literary contributions. But there aren’t many. Most people can’t even name 10 authors of fiction from this century. Most professional sports figures earn substantially more than writers. Most professional actors make more than authors.

Imagine that! People who throw a ball a certain way are much more highly valued that a writer who can spin a 50,000 word tale. People who act like other people – characters that are most often contrived by writers – are revered on the screen, and receive some of the most lucrative contracts in the world. People who drive cars around in circles racing other drivers are more highly valued than writers.

It’s not all about money, but as you can see, the modern publishing conglomerates have not done a very good job of promoting authors, creativity, and interest in the writing field. It is a labor of love, and the vast majority of aspiring writers will never get beyond the “starving artist” stage. There is hope, though. With the advent of print-on-demand, it has become affordable for authors to publish their own works. And with the internet, authors have also gained a new, more affordable marketing avenue.

July 14, 2009

Possible Reasons Why North America Was Not Heavily Populated When Europeans Arrived

It does seem strange that one of the most fertile areas on Earth, particularly the prairies and bottomlands surrounding the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and many other large rivers would not have been thickly settled long ago. But, there are many hints. Accumulating prehistoric evidence, combined with written accounts, provide an unusual history to this entire area.

While the Mississipi would provide a superb means of transportation for trade and migration, it was also much more unstable than appearances would suggest. Building along its banks would require the use of temporary structures or very high foundations. Even with all of the planning and work done by the Army Corps of Engineers to try and control the Mississippi with dikes and levees built on a massive scale, the power of the river can be unpredictable and overwhelming. In 1993 more than 1,000 of the river’s 1,300 dikes and levees were breached.

Even back during the initial European discovery, accounts by early Spanish explorers record the river flooding so extensively, it overflowed its banks for 20 leagues (60 miles) on each side of the river in 1643. Only the tops of the tallest trees remained visible. Since most people tended to live either near the ocean or a large river for purposes of travel, trade and food, this would make for a difficult place to survive. It is said that many of the great mounds built by the Native people contained large flat areas for housing to protect the villages from such dangerous floods.

Natives also said the Mississippi flooded about every 14 years. In the 1900’s there were 8 major floods, which would be very close to what the natives in De Soto’s time predicted.

But there were other problems as well. Droughts. Some of them were called mega-droughts. In the 1930’s, right at the time of the Great Depression, the dust bowl days began. A 10-year drought devastated most of the midwest. Crops were nearly impossible to grow. And odd occurrences created a nightmarish environment. Dust storms were extremely common and relentless. Those caught in these storms were often blinded and sometimes buried alive. The quickly moving dust caused strong jolts of static electricity when in contact with metal objects.

It wasn’t taken all that seriously by much of the US until the huge, billowing clouds of dust were blown all the way to Washington DC, and the east coast. Earlier droughts, however, were much more severe. One recently discovered mega-drought lasted 38 years.

This type of flood and drought pattern is extremely erratic, and while most of the time, the middle part of the country provides an excellent environment, it can suddenly turn dangerous, or perhaps deadly for early civilizations. But there’s yet another danger that can produce catastrophes on a regular basis. Earthquakes.

The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812 were the worst earthquakes recorded in the lower 48 states. The fault runs through 7 states and crosses both the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. So powerful were these earthquakes that churchbells were ringing in steeples more than 1,500 miles away in Washington DC as well as Boston, MA, and this occurred more than 18 times during this series of earthquakes. The Mississippi river flowed backwards (or appeared to) at times. Whole lakes disappeared and turned up miles away. The Mississippi changed it’s course several times. Eyewitness accounts reported the ground rolling like an ocean in 30 foot waves. Water spouts of sand and water shot up to 200 feet in the air for days at a time. The smell of burning sulphur was in the air during the most severe of these massive earthquakes.

During the 1811-1812 earthquakes, there were 3-5 earthquakes estimated to be as high as 8.0 on the Richter scale, with thousands of aftershocks that lasted until 1817. Due to the geological makeup, earthquakes in the New Madrid fault zone can damage 20 times more area than earthquakes of similar magnitudes in California, where the underlying mass is younger and more pliable. It’s estimated that a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on the New Madrid fault could cause widespread damage in as much as 20 states, whereas a similar earthquake in California could be limited to that state.

While many of these disasters occured in the middle of the country, the west coast has also had its share of catastrophic earthquakes, droughts and tsunamis. The east coast is often pummeled by major hurricanes and blizzards. However, we only have a history of this continent that goes back for a little more than 500 years. Unlike Asia, Europe and Africa, we don’t have access to a long history. We really don’t know what other events occur here on a one or two thousand year average.  There could be other regular events that we simply don’t understand or have any preparation to withstand.

The North American continent could also have been protected by extremely aggressive tribes. In many places along the east coast it’s estimated that a family or village lived on the coastline every quarter to half mile. That would create a very effective communication system. If, for example, it was known that foreign vessels often contained hostile peoples, or carried deadly disease, they could have been prevented from surviving landfall. It’s known that when the pilgrims landed in what’s now Plymouth, MA back in 1620, their first encounter was with a native called Squanto. Squanto’s village had been decimated by pestilence. And, he spoke English. Our history books are quite incomplete and very selective.

However, it is becoming clearer as to why the North American continent was so undeveloped at the time of the first European arrivals (in relatively modern times). We know some of the difficulties and challenges this continent can produce, but perhaps only a minor understanding.  As time goes on, we’ll learn more and more.

June 20, 2009

A Scene From The Sequel

Filed under: Book previews,Uncategorized — Jim @ 2:00 pm

I started writing the sequel to “Shadow of the Serpent” many years ago. In this book, Sequannah (main character) has grown to young adulthood. I’m just curious if those who haven’t read Shadow of the Serpent find this scene interesting, or just plain confusing because they don’t know the characters, the tribes, and the history. Here it is:

*     *     *

Sequannah walked groggily towards the stream in the pre-dawn light. He wore his blanket to keep out the chilling mists and the icy droplets of dew that seemed to roll off every leaf. His body was stiff and his muscles ached more than they had from the rugged march from which he had just returned; the Sahiela were hearty dancers and much stamina was required to keep up.

He stepped into a still pool and glanced at his reflection. A grotesque apparition stared back. The Sahiela had taken the habit of face painting and Sequannah acquiesced when a group of warriors gathered between dances and painted each other to create a more dramatic effect. It seemed more acceptable to follow Sahiela trends rather than those of the Paccus. But now his face was smeared from sweat and sleep and he wanted nothing more than to see his normal reflection. The grease in some of the paint, however, made it hard to remove. He rubbed handfuls of sand until his face was raw.

When he opened his eyes, a girl slightly younger than him, stood smiling at the edge of the pool. He had danced with her several times during the previous night and was more than attracted to her calm beauty. He knew she was the daughter of one of the Sahiela’s principle warriors, an old friend of his father’s. She may have been indirectly urged towards him through her father.

She untied her hair, then spread her blanket in the sand. With one quick pull of a cord, her dress fell to her feet, leaving her naked before him. She picked it up and folded it carefully, then with her back to Sequannah, she bent down and placed it on a corner of the blanket. The icy water of the creek suddenly felt warm to Sequannah. Without a word, she dove into the water, then came up sputtering, her eyes wide with astonishment. The air was cool and she expected the water to be warmer. She huddled and shivered with her back to Sequannah. In a moment he was behind her.

“The water is nice and warm this morning?” he questioned in teasing.

“It is very cold!” her voice shivered as she turned to him. She reached to his face and rubbed off some paint at the edges.

“You danced very well last night,” Sequannah spoke softly.

“I dance for you!” Her eyes did not flinch.

“You were hard to find. You disappear after each dance.”

“I let you dance with the others so you will learn who it is that you really want. Now I come to see if you have learned.”

“Teeswahree,” he said. She smiled appreciatively to know he had inquired of her name. “I am Sequannah of the Setons,” he said proudly.

“You are Seton?” she teased with a hint of sarcasm. He stared dumbly into the water. Then the sound of footsteps surprised them. Another young woman appeared at the edge of the pool; her smile turned into a pout as she spied Teeswahree, then she quickened her step and moved further upstream. Sequannah looked to Teeswahree in question; she smiled and moved towards him. He pulled her even closer. Again, the sound of footsteps came tramping up the trail. Quitkwa appeared at the edge of the pool, his eyes still searching. When he focused on Sequannah and Teeswahree, he pulled his blanket over his head and held out his open hand as he resumed quickly upstream, pretending he was embarrassed.

“Everyone wakes early this morning,” Sequannah noted.

“Are you uncomfortable here?” Teeswahree asked coyly.

Sequannah responded by pulling her up to his chest until he felt her body against his own. He ignored splashing and laughter from further upstream as his lips found those of Teeswahree. His whole being fell under an enchanting spell . He hugged her tightly as she wrapped her legs around him, effectively blocking any possible distraction from entering his concentration. He opened his eyes briefly and shut them, then opened them wide again. He tried to ignore it, but a reflection in the water grew increasingly clear. Two large golden eyes floated among the ripples in the pool. The tiny black pupils were sharp and threatening. He looked to the bluff to see where such a reflection would come from. Every perch and ledge was filled with white-headed eagles, glaring down at him with an anger that sent shivers through his flesh. They lifted off as one and glided in random circles over the couple in the pool, their deafening screeches ecoing off the bluff so that Sequannah couldn’t hear Teeswahree’s soothing voice. Then they vanished and all was quiet.

“What is it that you strain to see?” Teeswahree glanced alternately at Sequannah and the empty sky.

“The Washans need to see me!”

“Now?” her eyes grew wide. The sun had not even peeked over the horizon. A mallard flapped quickly past them, following the curves of the creek.

“Unfortunately, Washans do not consider any part of the day or night when the spirits call them,” he spoke angrily. “But it would be wise for me to go to them now.” His face softened. “It looks as though it will be a nice day. Where can I find you later?”

“My family will be looking to build a lodge.” She looked disappointed, yet not angered. “I will be close to the village.”

“I will find you!” he smiled confidently. “And it will not be long.”

“I cannot leave them to build our new lodge alone!” she said. “It will be my lodge, too! I will work hard with them until the sun is down.”

“Then I will help you and your family.”

“No!” she whispered frantically. “It is too soon. You must keep your distance or they will not respect you. You must make them want to invite you.”

Sequannah looked questioningly at her. “The Washans are waiting,” he said. He waded out of the pool and wrapped his blanket around him. He threw his clothing over one arm and concealed them under the blanket robe, as he stepped quickly past the soft, white sand and down the earthy path that led back to the village.

His expression was still cast in confusion as he entered Washan Pacitah’s lodge. Both Washans were still sleeping, as was his grandfather who had curled close to the fire pit. He had only learned when he awakened, that there were now four residents in this small, private lodge. He should be building a lodge for he and his grandfather this day, so that Kwoita could feel independent. Kwoita would then be able to provide shelter to guests, and they, in turn, would share food and gather wood whenever Sequannah was away. Sequannah dressed quietly while the others slept, then waited for some time, but no one would awaken.

He stirred the ashes in the fire pit and tossed some twigs on the black chinks that quickly glowed red. Adding larger sticks soon filled the lodge with crackling, and the sleepers began to move, while Sequannah sat cross-legged before the fire pit, gazing into the flames. He did not look back at the faces now staring at him, but held a bundle of sage to the fire. Eyebrows raised as each moved slowly to sit before the fire. Pacitah reached to the tripod at his side and brought forth the redstone pipe. He evoked the sacred directions and passed the pipe around the circle. When it returned to him, he set it back in the tripod and turned to Sequannah.

“What concerns you so early in the morning that you have need of council?” Washan Pacitah’s patience seemed forced.

“The Eagle spirits come to me again,” Sequannah looked worried. “But this time they look angry.”

“Spirits?” Pacitah questioned. “Yesterday we saw one.”

“This morning there were many of them screaming at me from the sky!” Sequannah said. “They distract me from living like a human being. I do not know what they want.”

The Washans looked to each other, their eyebrows raised. Sequannah could tell that Kwoita wanted to speak, but was holding his tongue. Pacitah stood and closed the flap of the small window that overlooked the cascading spring. He crawled through the passageway that served as an entrance to the lodge and closed the flaps on each end as well. Everything grew dark except for the flames from the central fire. Kwoita fumbled through Pacitah’s belongings, then handed him a turtle shell rattle with an eagle claw handle. Pacitah shook it rapidly at first, then slowed to a steady rhythm. The Sahiela Washan reached into his sleeve and pulled something out. He stared at his right hand as if he was trying to focus on something, but Sequannah could see that nothing was there. Then he began to tap at the air. Sequannah frowned in question, but quickly hid his expression so as not to offend the Washans.

“Do you hear the drum?” Pacitah questioned in a soft voice.

Sequannah listened, then a faint smile came over his face. “I hear a little drum,” he admitted.

Pacitah nodded. “Good!” he whispered. “Keep your eyes open, but focus on a place other than here.” The two Washans stared at Sequannah, tapping the air and shaking the rattle for a long time, until his eyes grew still and glazed.

“Make the drum louder,” Pacitah whispered. “Hear nothing but the drum, and it will become louder.” The two Washans continued tapping the air and shaking the rattle. When they could see that his body was responding to the rhythm of the drum, Pacitah whispered to him again. “Look into the fire…But see beyond the flames. See that they are a part of something else.”

Sequannah stared and his vision blurred until the flames looked like the yellow, wind-blown straw of an endless prairie. Soon, patches of brown began to appear and shift in his vision. As he focused on these, they began to take on depth. Suddenly, his focus cleared, and he realized he was looking down into a deep canyon. The floor of the canyon was slowly moving, and it became clear that there was a river at the bottom of it. He looked to his sides and saw mountains with flattened tops, outlined in a sunset sky. When he looked down again, he knew that he was soaring above the canyon. He felt his body swaying in the wind. A voice came whispering from deep down in the valley.

“Do you hear the rattle?”

Sequannah wanted to speak, but no sound would come. He shook his head, no.

The whisper returned, echoing up the canyon walls.

“Listen for the rattle…but do not lose the drum.”

Sequannah listened, and soon he heard sounds of a river, cascading over rapids in the distance below. A certain rhythm came out of its flow, and then he recognized the sound of a rattle in it, slowly becoming more distinct. He could still hear the sound of the drum, booming like distant thunder from over the canyon’s rim. Then the voice came whispering again.

“Can you see the flames of the fire?”

Sequannah let his vision relax; he knew that somewhere he would find them. The yellows, reds, and duns of the canyon walls slowly began to sway and flicker.

“See the flames…but do not lose sight of where you are.”

Sequannah’s focus soon changed to where he could see the glow of the fire pit, burning like a wide illusion stretched over the canyon. He could hear the rattle and the drum in equal measure.

“Lift until you are above yourself,” came the enchanting whisper, “…and see what is left below.”

Sequannah concentrated on soaring higher, and he began to sense something stretching out of his body. It pulled away below him like a large lengthening bubble. Then it let go with a snap and turned into an eagle, soaring just below him. He followed it as it quickly dove deep into the canyon. Faster and faster it moved away, then it began to roll over and over as both Sequannah and the eagle raced towards the floor of the canyon. Sequannah tried to stop himself, but the canyon walls continued to tear past him. The eagle crashed into the bottom of the canyon, far below Sequannah, then turned into a single feather, floating gently down through the colors of the earth. Sequannah slowed, and then relaxed as he followed the drifting feather. The feather slowed to a standstill and Sequannah felt himself ease into a sitting position. The lucid features around him slowly changed until he could see that the feather was sitting above a fire. In the glow beyond, the outlines of Kwoita and the two Washans began to emerge. The drum and the rattle had stopped. The eagle feather faded like a snowflake over fire. A faint image of it drifted away to a spot on the wall of the lodge, then disappeared altogether.

“What do you see?” Pacitah broke his spell.

“I see nothing now,” Sequannah said blankly.

“Tell us of your visions!” he became irritated.

Sequannah spoke of the prairie and then of the canyon that appeared within it. He told of the thunder drum and the rattle in the river. He explained in detail how the eagle came out of him and crashed into the ground as a feather. He followed the feather through the ground, back to the firepit where it faded and disappeared into the wall.

The Washans sat in silence for a long time, then Washan Pacitah pulled out the redstone bowl and passed it around once again. He held a bundle of sage to the flames, then placed the smoldering herbs on a rock near the fire. The Sahiela Washan spoke first.

“I see that there is still only one spirit in the eagle that follows you. He thinks you do not see him…that is why he appears as many. He also thinks you ignore him; that is why he is angry.”

“I see him!” Sequannah said. “And he knows that I have seen him. But I do not know what it is that he asks of me.”

“His message is in the feather!” Pacitah spoke knowingly. “What happened to the feather?”

“It went into the wall.” Sequannah pointed to where he had last seen it.

Pacitah did not get up to inspect it. He looked to the Sahiela Washan in question, then turned back to Sequannah.

“These other times you saw the eagle spirit…which way did he go when he left you?”

Sequannah thought about this, trying to remember where he was each time and in which direction he had been facing.

“Sometimes it is to the south, and others it is to the west,” he answered.

“The feather told you that he goes to the southwest. Each time you see him, he goes in this direction. Can you not see that he wants you to follow him?”

Sequannah shrugged.

“You must follow him,” the Washan said in earnest.

Kwoita pulled out a large bundle he had hidden near the walls of the lodge. He had filled it with pemmican and nuts. There were extra arrows and spear heads, several new chert knives, pouches of tobacco and kinnikinick, herbs for strength and sickness. Everything a warrior would need for a long journey was packed into this bundle he had made.

“I see the eagle spirit, too,” he said in his old and quivering voice. “He comes to me when I sleep. He shows me how I will look as I push my grandson away towards the summer wind place. I tell him that I am old…that I may not see my grandson again if I do this thing. Then he shows me my relatives that are gone now. They look sad and they tell me that they miss me. They say it is not fair for me to stay away so long. That is why I have made this for you. Many of these things have been held in my hands for a long time; when I made them…and when I took them with me to allow my spirit into them. When you touch these things, you will be touching my hands, and in this way there will always be a bond between us.” Kwoita placed both hands on Sequannah’s shoulder and gave him a shove. “Now I push you, as I was shown in the dreams.”

“But I have just gotten here!” Sequannah protested. “There are things I must do before I can go. I will build a lodge for us,” he said to his grandfather. “I must gather wood and food for you!”

“Kwoita will always be provided for,” Washan Pacitah said. “He will spend his last days among the Washans as he has already requested.”

“There are others I have not yet seen!” Sequannah became irritated. “And some I would like to see again before I leave if I am to be gone for so long.”

“Your time in conversation now will be time in suffering for them later!” Pacitah became irritated as well. “This spirit has told you what you must do, and he has warned you that the time is now!” He pushed against the pack that Kwoita had given him. “Go!”

Sequannah’s expression was incredulous. “Now!” Pacitah was steadfast.

Sequannah grabbed the bundle angrily, then turned his back to those at the fire. Outside of the entranceway, he looked to the sky in search of the eagle, then trudged slowly towards the southwest.

Where is this eagle spirit now?”

June 9, 2009

Philosophy Behind the Parables

Shadow of the Serpent/A Coyote Moon Story has many parables laced throughout the story. For the first half of the novel, most of these are related to daily living and dealing with conflict between tribes. The parables in the second half of the book relate to spirituality and differing views about our lives and the universe around us that are found in many ancient and modern religions, cultures and civilizations.

One of these parables involves the notion of a “Creator”. Many religions revolve around a single, all-powerful God that created all things  (monotheism).  Other religions are polytheistic, with many Gods, but there was generally one particular god that was most powerful among them and was generally regarded as the source, or creator of all things.

Creation stories differ wildly from one religion or culture to another, although they may be similar if they originated from a common source. The one commonality, a god that created all things, is behind many of the themes in nearly all religions. And that basis is used in Shadow of the Serpent.

Taken to its root level, one must go back to a time prior to this “God’s creation of anything. Nothing existed except “God“. If this is true, then what did “God” create everything from if nothing existed other than “God“? The answer is simple. Everything would have had to be created from God, and therefore is God. Creation is actually a constant, ongoing process. Destruction, in reality, ends up in transformation, which is actually another form of creation. The alpha and the omega, the sacred circle, seasons for all things, cycles… it’s neverending.

Many religions focus on “good” and “evil”. In Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, Adam and Eve were created “innocent”. Cristians believe in an original “sin” or “evil” that occured when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of a tree in order to become “Godlike”. Jewish worshipers do not believe in original sin because they don’t believe that one person would be punished for another’s sins. 

But, exactly what did it mean to become “Godlike”. Is it immortality? The ability to create? The ability to control the world around them beyond the natural ability of all other creatures? Agriculture and the manipulation of plants? Domesticating animals from nature? Weapons? It seems no coincidence that this story is dated to approximately the time of the first villages and cities. But, is this necessarily evil? Or is it natural evolution?

Humans had changed. They had knowledge. There was no going back. Eden was not just a place. It was a time. It was a transformation. And, this same story was also similar to an even more ancient Babylonian version in the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. The main differences were in name and number of “Gods”.

Ancient Hindus, Buddists, and Native American cultures also had creation stories from a single, god-like source. Hindus believed that the all-powerful “God” could be envisioned through many gods. Buddists believed that God is within each of us. Native Americans had many different religions, however, a great deal of them, across a very wide geographical area mention both “Wakan” which is sometimes interpreted as “the great mystery”, and the sacred circle, which is often interpreted as infinity, or immortality.

If “God” created all things, then all of these things would be true. We are all “God” and everything around us is “God”. This notion is somewhat hidden or openly displayed in nearly all religions. But that would make everything sacred. Good and evil would tend more to be that which is good for people, and that which is bad, or evil. Gravity, space, day and night, and everything on Earth seems to be ruled by certain rules of nature. All of those rules would be the power of “God” because nature is “God”.

And then there’s the search for miracles. Just about every religion involves miracles, or unnatural occurences that are beyond human knowledge, power and comprehension. The real truth is that everything is a miracle. We each live in an infinitely intricate world both internally and externally.

Just the fact that we exist, can think and live in a world so complex that a million lifetimes would not be long enough to understand even a minute portion of the world around us is a miracle. We don’t understand even the tiniest grain in a mountain of potential knowledge, yet, in our religion, we look for miracles. We can walk, talk, think, eat, love, laugh, and enjoy things… when we could have been nonexistent… and we look for miracles.

That is one of the facets behind the parables in Shadow of the Serpent/A Coyote Moon Story. Everything around and within us is a miracle… and we reside within the Creator of all things.

June 1, 2009

New Fiction Will Be Dominated By The Internet

The internet has had a phenomenal impact on publishing houses. Most people already realize that many newspapers are struggling and converting to online news centers. Likewise, magazines are becoming more expensive, and losing circulation as they’re replaced by web-based counterparts. For these two venues, the cause is related to advertising revenue.  For publishing houses, the problem is related to marketing avenues, choice, and control.

Knowing how publishing companies work (or, have had to work in order to succeed) is key to understanding their “devaluation” in the internet age. Typically, major publishers do not publish fiction that falls outside of mainstream genres. They prefer romance, mysteries, historical novels, science fiction, fantasy, detective and a few other very limited categories. In fiction, publishing companies do not necessarily choose their authors and books for originality, or even the quality of the writing. They choose fiction based on how well it fits into their marketing programs.

For instance, science fiction must fit into a certain formula that appeals to a small but predictable audience. These novels must get good reviews in a number of sci-fi magazines in order to sell at a profitable level. This is due to the way business works. In literature, there’s a reversal of value from concept to sale. To demonstrate this, the author who comes up with the concept and writes the entire novel gets the smallest share. Next, the publishing company that edits the novel, lays it out, creates the bookcover, pays for the printing, and markets the new novel, gets a larger share. Next, the distributors that send the books out to retailers get a very sizable share. And the largest share in the sale of any book? That goes to the store that puts it on their shelf and sells it.

As you can see, the books you end up with are those that have a marketing and sales avenue from beginning to end. As a reader of fiction, you end up with an endless stream of the same stories told in different styles with different characters. Readers have to wait for mutations and fiction-evolution to slowly get new material.

Consider the murder mystery novel. Most of us would be shocked if a murder occured within our own personal circle. Yet, we expect a murder and solution as to how it was conceived or hidden in one of these novels as part of the entertainment. At one time, this was shocking and new in the publishing world. That was way back in time, when quality writing and originality were of great value. But now, it’s a form of entertainment, because a marketing avenue was developed.

It does seem quite strange as to how it would become normal for a human being to read stories about murders, and buy them on a regular basis. And, it’s not just the novel. It goes on to movie and television rights. Many of the most popular television shows revolve around murder and deception. If you think about it, it’s very similar to what most would consider the very gruesome and barbaric “games” played out in the Colliseum during the height of the Roman Empire.

The internet is now having it’s way with Publishers in the same way it has with Newsprint and Magazines. It’s changing everything. It’s eroding the heirarchy. Authors can now have their own books printed … one at a time … no high upfront costs, no waste. They can hire an internet marketing firm on a very reasonable budget. Or, they can market their book themselves. And, they can sell their books from their own web site. Indefinitely. Most large publishers will mothball a book if it doesn’t succeed in the first year.

It seems we’re coming to a time when authors will most often become their own publishing company. Consider that most publishing companies are not interested in what the author writes best unless it fits neatly into their marketing program. Consider that a first time author must limit the size of their first novel, whether it fits their style or not. Consider that all the things a publishing house used to do can now be done by the author, with less money up front, and practically no overhead. My guess is that the publishing industry is extremely vulnerable right now. And, readers are in a position where they’ll have an infinite selection of fiction, but no guarantee of quality. But, we’ve lost that anyway.

It is the authors who rise to the top on their own that will truly make it in the coming years. In the near future, publishers will become obsolete, and broken down into specialists. Internet rights will become more important than book, television and movie rights as we move into an age where just about all of these mediums will be controlled by your computer. Good or bad, big changes are coming, and most are already in motion.

May 24, 2009

Ancient Connections Between Mediterranean and American Cultures

Filed under: Ancient Civilizations,Uncategorized — Tags: — Jim @ 1:49 pm

I find it fascinating to realize all the similarities between the ancient Egyptians and the ancient civilizations of the Americas. Pyramids are one obvious similarity. Heiroglyphics represent another. But there are many more.

Gold, for instance, is extremely difficult to find, and even more difficult to accumulate in large quantities. Why would two separate civilizations with absolutely no connections treasure the same material? There are many things of greater value such as food, shelter and good health. Gold provides none of these except through a falsely implied value. Likewise, gems also implied value in the form of wealth to both Egyptians and Meso-Americans.

Religion and politics were intertwined in both Egyptian and most large Meso-American cultures. Most often, the ruler was a God-like figure, with unequivocable power, much like the pharoahs.

Large agricultural and military components provided power to dominate neighboring villages and tribes. Calendars and astronomical data were advanced, detailed, and quite accurate. Religious rites were along similar lines dealing with creation, birth, death, power, morals and law.

While it seems certain that the Egyptians and Phoenicians were quite capable of sailing to the Americas, little is known about Meso-American mariners. Pizzaro witnessed large sailing rafts traveling along the coastlines. But there’s very little evidence of Meso-American travel to the Mediterranean.

It seems inevitable that at some point in the future, we’ll find even more similarities between the Ancient Mediterranean civilizations and the Americas. I wonder if they’ll ever find absolute connections? To date, there are no provable connections between Egyptians and the Americas. However, there are some extraordinary connections between West Africans and the Americans. And, the West Africans also built pyramid type structures prior to the spread of the Sahara. Interesting.

May 22, 2009

Addicted to Fire

It’s often said that the difference between humans and all other creatures on earth is the ability to reason. But there’s another unique trait of human beings that’s common to no other creature. Humans are constantly burning something.

It’s not new. This has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. Even our distant cousins, the Neanderthals, constantly kept the homefires burning. We use it to cook, because raw meat and stored food can make us very ill, or even become poisonous. We use it for heat because we don’t have enough hair to protect ourselves from extreme temperature changes. Later, we used fire for hardening wooden spearpoints, funerals, punishment, pottery, metallurgy, warfare, agriculture, and an endless stream of useful or defensive/offensive purposes. We’ve been using fire for so long, that we can no longer live without it, or some end result of burning.

You may or may not have read the introduction to Shadow of the Serpent. The main idea is that while progress can strengthen the whole, it also weakens the individual. There is no way back to our natural roots to which humans would willfully submit. The only thing that would turn humans back to living naturally would be a catastrophic global event. But that would most likely exterminate the human race. So, there really is no going back. We can no longer survive without the progressive evolution of our technology.

To make it clear, we would not survive without any tools, clothing, fire or energy sources and medicines. But let’s just focus on the need to burn. Could we even imagine another species constantly burning both organic and inorganic materials? And could we imagine another species that’s so dependent upon burning that they’d disappear if they stopped? I think it would be pretty scary to have another species on this planet that burns and transforms vast areas on both land and sea, puts itself above every other life form, and irradicates competitors without question. Of course, we do have competing subspecies (cultures) that accomplish a similar effect. 

But, we are changing. We’re now looking at new ways to create energy and replace the need for burning with alternatives. Is this a natural evolution? Taken from that perspective, humans are really quite odd compared to the rest of the creatures on our planet. We are an extreme on the planet called Earth. But, no matter how you look at it, we are in fact completely natural. We evolved through many different landscapes, and even waterscapes. There is nothing we use, invent or consume that does not originate or has not been derived from our natural environment. Humans are a very unique example of diversity within the natural realm.

May 11, 2009

The Stories Behind The Story

Filed under: Authors,Books — Tags: — Jim @ 2:30 pm

Like every other author, there are many books that defined my writing style. They helped me to decide what’s most important in a story. Shadow of the Serpent is a blend of the many books and authors I’ve enjoyed reading since I was a child.

Perhaps one of the most influential would be J.R.R. Tolkien with The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a teenager, I was spellbound by these books. The sense of adventure, allegorical fantasy and the characters were extremely compelling. I tried to include that same type of fantasy in Shadow of the Serpent.

Another profound influence was James Michener. It’s hard to pinpoint any one book that related to the style, structure or tone of Shadow of the Serpent. Alaska, Hawaii, Chesapeake, Caravans, Centennial, The Drifters and even Space were influential individually and collectively. I enjoyed Michener’s thorough research of each area. He’d often start with the geological history, move on through the first creatures and animals, the climatic changes, and finally to the first people and on up to the present. It’s important to show how people are bound to the land, and how it not only influences them, but is an integral part of their makeup. Shadow of the Serpent follows that lead, though not as faithfully as Michener. The setting is very rough, including the entire Mississippi Valley up to the ancient copper mines near the great lakes.

It takes into account the Adena and Hopewell peoples’ serpent mounds, Cahokia, and mound building to the south. Teotihuacan, near present-day Mexico City, is used as the central source of “The Snake People”, an evil and hostile group that was essentially ostracized from the metropolis after a long reign of terror, and forced northward to build their own empire in the Mississippi Basin. Purported visits by Norsemen were also included in the story, as well as many of the artifacts, technology and crafts of the time.

But most of this was to lend credibility. The more facts and reality you mix into fantasy, the more realistic it becomes. None of the tribes ever existed, though they resembled many throughout the prehistory of the midwest. The story is not actually about Native Americans or Meso-American cultures. It’s about the natural lifestyles of small tribes/villages vs. large and sophisticated civilizations.

I’ve also been influenced by many spiritual, philosophical and ideological works such as Siddhartha, 1984, Animal Farm, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Black Elk Speaks, Ghandi. I grew fond of the ancient American and Native American books by the Gears, Linda Lay Shuler, Ruth Beebe Hill, Patricia Rowe, Jean Auel and many others.

Shadow of the Serpent, though, is a breakaway from the genre. It’s not a strict focus on archaeological fiction, nor is it a romance in an exotic setting. It’s a blend of facts, adventure, philosophy, fantasy, spirituality and imagination. Parables are laced throughout the story, and like most books I’ve really enjoyed, each chapter moves the story along with increasing intensity.

I actually wrote a book that I would find enjoyable. The story unfolded of its own accord. I would allow characters to paint themselves into corners, or wander into hopeless situations where even I had no idea as to how to get them out or save them. And, I would have to think long and hard to find a way without some miraculous event, or contrived escape. I believe this is what makes a story compelling… no pre-planning. I hope you think so, too.

May 7, 2009

The Last Minute Book Title

Filed under: Book Publishing — Tags: , , , — Jim @ 12:59 pm

Shadow of the Serpent/A Coyote Moon Story is far from the original title of this book. Very far. The actual title I planned for this book was The Ancient Parable. I can’t be certain, but I think it would have worked much better. Many people who’ve read this book have told me the title actually put them off, but they read it anyway at the insistence of a family member or friend. They were generally surprised that they really liked the story.

Prior to publishing it, I was told that “The Ancient Parable” seemed a bit pretentious, and perhaps I should choose another title. To me, it’s exactly what the book was about, but who was I to say? What did I know about publishing, or the daunting task of trying to market fiction. The book was praised and rejected by many prominent publishers because it was too long for a first novel, and didn’t fit neatly into a genre. But, as an author, I write what I write, not something that fits neatly into a marketing scheme.

So, The Ancient Parable became “A Coyote Moon Story”, and I revised some of the book to reflect the new title. 3 weeks prior to publication, while it was still in print production, another new book came out with the title “Coyote Moon”, and coincidentally, it was released in Maine, the same state where we’d be releasing “A Coyote Moon Story”. It became apparent that the two books could easily become confused, so I had to change it again.

With some effort, I came up with “Shadow of the Serpent”. In many ways, it was in line with several of the themes laced throughout the story, so it seemed appropriate. However, it also presented as a very dark fantasy, and in some scenes, that was true. But all of the fantasy related elements are actually allegorical. It was perfect for teenagers who relish adventure, and it provided a whole different level for more advanced readers.

I believe most people who saw the book kept away due to the title. And, I think the original title would have been a much wiser choice. If I had it to do over again, I’d go with “The Ancient Parable”. If you’ve read Shadow of the Serpent, I’d like to hear your opinion.

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