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.

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.



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