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.

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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