A Lack of Homogeny

0704181206a_HDRMy favorite part of July 4 celebrations aren’t the fireworks, as spectacular as they are. Don’t get me wrong, I love family time and BBQs, but we enjoy those several times a year. What really moves me is the annual Bothell parade.


Bothell, Washington, is a typical American town and its parade is a typical small-town celebration. Lawnchairs begin appearing on Main Street by July 1, securing a great viewing point for local spectators. U.S. flags and red, white, and blue flowers festoon local storefronts. Banners appear with this year’s theme emblazoned. This year’s theme was Red, White and Bothell; a bit cheeky, but that’s true, brash American spirit!

0704181204_HDRFor decades, the parade has started promptly at noon. Well, never quite, but close enough, which is whenever the cannon goes off and the veterans start the march proudly carrying Old Glory to the cheers of the crowds. Other groups soon followed, most of whom tossed candy to the kids.

Between the Northshore 0704181256bsoftball/baseball All-Star teams, the Mills Music Summer Marchcing Band, the politicans showing off their civic spirit, and the local businesses with badly decorated company trucks (how do you show off your American spirit while advertising your business?), my wife and I noticed that Bothell has lost its homogeny.

outputThere was a time not that long ago when the non-whites in Bothell were the Italians. Today, our parade–like our hometown–has grown up. Yes, the Sons of Norway still have their float, but other cultures are showing off their U.S. pride as well as pride in their origins. It was especially noticeable when the local Sikh community marched past, the most exuberantly joyful group of all. There was no sense they were recruiting (they had no swag to pass out); they simply seemed happy and proud to be Americans.

0704181248aThe Scottish Pipe & Drum Band (I love bagpipes!) and the Mexican Vaqueros (their horses are gorgeous!) are two of my other favorites. A 4th of July parade is nothing without marching bands!


0704181129For me, this diversity is what makes America great: our heterogeneity united with our respect for the freedoms we enjoy in this county. Indeed, Bothell is now part of the Great Melting Pot.



Not-So-New Resolutions

Fall 2017 was the busiest of my life as I took on a second job (a return to swim coaching for the same team I last coached 20 years ago), as well as becoming a board member (as secretary) and an elder candidate at my church. Naturally, the first thing that suffered was my writing.

I managed to complete the sequel to my book (called Heart of the Dragon) and begin outlining the final book of the trilogy (still untitled), but my blog has gone almost untouched. Before I disappear into the haze of the coming quarter, I thought it would be good to revisit my 2017 resolutions.

As I wrote, it was the first time I’d had any resolutions in years. I met two of my three goals (my son graduated high school and I had such a good meet I wrote an article that was published). I did not find an agent, but I stopped sending out query letters while I finished book two, then did some major twiddling with book one. That leads me to my writing goals for 2018: finish rewriting my query letter and start sending it out again.

These were just goals, however. My resolutions had to do with how I live my life. My aim to practice justice of some sort (as in defending the poor, weak, and defenseless) went mostly unfulfilled beyond a bit of research and a bit of financial support to AJS. I don’t want to give up on this resolution, but I’m going to have to make a greater effort in 2018.

My other two goals were to be more kind and more humble. I really did try hard on these two goals, and hopefully I made progress. While my friends and acquaintances are far better able to testify to my success or lack thereof, I rely on how I behave when I’m driving alone. No one can hear me yell obscenities when I’m failing or see when I’m courteous. I have to pray before I leave and literally tell myself to chill while I drive. By the time I climb out of my truck, I’m either irritated or laid back, and my ability to be kind and practice humility are directly reflected by my attitude.

Did I improve in 2017? Definitely. Did I improve enough? No. Remaining chill while I drive is goal I achieve only a fraction of what I’d like. So that’s my biggest resolution for 2018. If you want to ask me at any point this year how I’m doing on my resolution, feel free. If I’m better with my time, I’ll find occasions to blog how I’m doing.

Our Culture of Hate

For the past month, I’ve been unable to get out of my mind a column I recently read in World magazine by Andrée Seu Peterson called Being in Hate. She contrasts our well-known emotional state of “being in love” with “being in hate.” In particular, she said this:

“People who are in hate don’t know what they have lost. What they have lost is their very humanity.”

hateHer final paragraph references America’s current political state as hate-driven. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and realized it’s not just our political state, but our culture. We think of the KKK and other white supremacists as the worst of the worst, as they proved in Charlottesville a few weeks ago. However, whether it’s President Trump, the LGBT community, Evangelicals, Black Lives Matter, the NRA, college students, or the ACLU (to name just a few), most rhetoric pours out as hate speech. Usually, those speaking (and their supporters) don’t hear the hate, and sometimes even claim their words are meant in love.

Our president, with his unfiltered tweets, is possibly the worst individual offender outside of true hate groups (such as the KKK) I’ve ever seen. The snobbish attitude among our leaders in the Democrat Party towards voters who supported Trump, however, is just as wicked. Those who compare Trump to Hitler and Evangelicals to the KKK are more hate-filled than Trump himself. The same goes for those who claimed President Obama was the Antichrist and LGBT supporters are equivalent to Nazis. (For the record, I find all of these comparisons to be deplorable.)

colin_kaepernick_vet_protest_apOur reaction to the Colin Kaepernick saga is a perfect example. The venomous hatred spewed against him (and other athletes who have followed suit) is horrific. When I mention Colin’s name to those who are perfectly rational in most circumstances, spit flies and hate creases their face. On the other side, however, are his supporters who grow just as livid and irrational about his supposed blacklisting by the NFL. There’s no possible middle ground, no chance that his monetary demands are too great for his skill level. No, they demand it’s a conspiracy.

I understand both sides, because both sides have valid points. What I see, however, is a microcosm of America’s current culture of “being in hate.” There’s no rational dialogue, no allowance for the other side, no willingness to listen. It’s no longer just “my way or the highway.” It’s become “If you disagree with my viewpoint, you’re a racist bigot who hates (fill in the blank–it’s your worldview).”

Today, every side name calls. Read editorials on MSNBC or Fox News. Sure, they can make a few rational points, but most of those points–if not all–are nothing more than carefully couched insults that barely hide the disgust the writer holds for those of an opposing viewpoint. Follow that up by reading the comments to articles. Talk about hate! It doesn’t matter if the poster is right- or left-wing.  If those are too vicious for your stomach to handle, go to ESPN and read the nasty comments between fans. It doesn’t get any better.

I’m not claiming to be above this. I’ve been just as guilty in the past and I continue to fall into that trap today (especially when confronted with idiot drivers! LOL!) and probably will do so until I die. What I am trying to change is my heart. I am trying to love Republicans and Democrats (I am neither), evangelicals and atheists, the NRA and the ACLU. I’ve found that when I know someone personally from a particular group, I can no longer make the blanket claim that everyone from that crowd is wicked and heartless. If I do, I am in a state of hate. To be in a state of love–that is, love for my fellow person–I cannot succumb to the temptation to lash out at those with different worldviews. I need to listen and care.

Plotting and Re-plotting

Plotting and Re-plotting

Sequels are deliciously difficult to write. I should know. I’ve attempted a handful, ranging from articles to short stories to novels.

The first story, for me, usually forms with a specific beginning and ending in mind and a general plot follows in short order. This leads to a unique character or two fully developed by the time I’ve written the introduction, and I often have the first draft of the climax completed before the main character has embarked on his or her journey. J.K. Rowling did this with her Harry Potter series (i.e., the climax of Book 7 was written long before Book 1 was complete).

The problem I find with writing sequels is not only uncovering the basic plot–which needs to not simply repeat the previous story, yet somehow compliment and continue it–but discovering how the characters can further grow as well as develop a convincing reason to continue the story.

Jay thinking hardIn my current attempt, all I had was a villain from the first story who I didn’t kill off and a title that was a nice variation on the original. I began my research (which has included Irish, Navajo, Chinese, and Central American mythology as well as the history of ancient Ireland and Teotihuacan) and ended up with way too much information, all of which I’ve tried to shove into the story. This has left me with messy lump of unshaped clay.

It’s a wonderful thing to have patient editors who aren’t afraid to tell me something doesn’t make sense, is too much, or simply sucks. Their advice has led me to reorder chapters, take a part of one chapter and move it elsewhere, drop entire sections, or write something new. Inconsistencies develop as old ideas linger, forcing more rewrites. It’s a fun challenge to overcome requiring a steady supply of caffeine.

Slowly, the story reshaped itself into a coherent plot with a definite ending point and, in the past month, I’m hoping this new sequel stands on its own. Of course, this doesn’t mean the problems suddenly end. The plot’s coherence only lasted to the two-thirds point; I know where it needs to end, but no idea of how to get there in a logical manner. Have I boxed myself in by dumping too much research? Should the plot have turned left when I thought right was the correct direction? Somebody get me another cup of coffee!

thinking 2It’s almost like being back at square one: sorting through my research to glean what I can, re-reading to pick up threads I’ve forgotten that need to be carried through, and making sense of my recent plot twist (which I’m too proud of to want to change! LOL!).

On top of this, I have to make a living. Ugh! Why does something so mundane get in the way of the fun things in life? Maybe I should’ve ordered a venti caramel frappuccino instead of another refill of drip (no room for cream, please!).


A Film Everyone Should Watch

I love history and archaeology, and I especially love good film series that combine both. In the past year, I’ve watched series on Ireland, Ancient Greece, the ancient Etruscans, Native Americans, and others. Much of what I learn ends up in my stories, usually twisted just enough so that I can add magical elements. So when I mention the film I think every one (at least, every American, Canadian, and European) should watch, don’t expect me to mention the latest Star Wars installment or the next Godfather.

africaI’m referring to a recent (2010) BBC production, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, a two-disc set you can get on Amazon by clicking here. Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford, a British art historian whose heritage is West Africa (and whose bio you can read here) takes us on a journey to four ancient African civilizations: Nubia, Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe, and West Africa (primarily the kingdom of Benin). Unlike Ireland, Greece, Rome, or Egypt, I knew absolutely nothing about ancient Africa beyond the legend of Queen Sheba and King Solomon. I doubt many students of history and/or archaeology know much, either, which is why I highly recommend this series to everyone.

In addition to the gorgeous ruins and stunning vistas, we get to see art that is the equal of anything created in China, Britain, India, or anywhere else. Some of the ruins themselves are equal in their splendor to the great cathedrals and castles of Europe, or the Parthenon in Greece, Rome’s Coliseum, or the ancient pyramids of Egypt. (Did you know there are far more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt? I certainly didn’t!)

Dr. Casley-Hayford is quite engaging, and one of the most enthusiastic hosts of any such video I’ve watched. I was particularly impressed by the way he treats all religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Animism, or local religions/customs. There is never a sense of “we’ve moved on from such foolish superstition” or a wink-and-a-nod to let the viewer know not to take any religion seriously. There is no moral superiority of science or any particular religion, no Star Trek “look down your nose and pretend that a different belief is okay, but you really know it’s superstitious hocus pocus.”

This makes his interactions with locals, particularly the respect he shows everyone he meets—whether a local blacksmith or the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church—feel genuine. That in itself helps to set Dr. Casley-Hayford apart from most hosts of similar series.

There’s a reason Africa has been called “The Lost Continent,” which is enough of a reason to watch this series, so that you can begin to understand its rich history and heritage. With Dr. Casley-Hayford as host, it’s a series I’ll return to watch again.

Agents, Editors, and other things that make me go “hmmm”

Yesterday I sent out query letter #15 for Blood of the Dragon. So far, four pleasant rejection emails. No problem there. They might be form letters, but the agents took the time to reply. I understand they get a boatload of unsolicited submissions. One said she receives 500+ such submissions every week, yet she still sent me a reply. Then there are those who send you nothing. Those drive me nuts. I don’t mind the form letter reply. I just want to receive a firm “no.”

I’m not an agent, and I don’t know what kind of administrative help each one has, but surely one can send a quick form email. I do this in my career as an appraiser, sending thank you letters to brokers who helped me. I keep the return letter as a notepad file and just replace the name. It’s not that hard. At least a few of those who don’t send an email at least post on their website a timeline as to when I can assume my query has been rejected. Still, if you’ve read my query and are not interested one week after I sent it to you, it’d sure be nice to know that right away rather than wait until the six- to eight-week period your website mentions is up!

My other rant is about my editors. Well, maybe not a rant, but a whine! LOL! I have two, not including my poor wife who has to listen to the latest couple of pages almost every day and never gets to hear an entire chapter at once. Why do my editors have to be so thorough? Yesterday, my content editor pointed out how my plot for my sequel needs to be drastically re-arranged, which will require quite a bit of rewriting. As I read her notes, my heart sank, knowing she was absolutely right, but groaning because it means hard work! In the end, however, the sequel (currently titled Heart of the Dragon) will be much better. I guess this is my backhanded thanks to Amelia. LOL!

As for other things, I’m realizing that I need to repeat my Whole 30 diet that I did last June. While my weightlifting program that I started in September has been successful, especially combined with my swimming, I haven’t been eating very well since Thanksgiving. Time to get serious again, as swimming championships are coming up in April. This is a great diet, but it’s very tough, especially the first week.

Finally, I’m curious if any reader of this blog would be interested in reading my book. I’m considering creating a private blog to post it in hopes of gaining feedback. I’m very good at handling constructive criticism (such as “your writing sucks and here’s why”), so if you’re interested, please PM me via facebook or posting in comments below.

Goodbye Christmas, Hello Resolutions

Whew! Made it through another holiday and I’m still here. No more sappy Santa or snow songs at Starbucks. No more pressure to buy, buy, buy. Two peaceful family gatherings and a peaceful neighborhood this morning. Today, nothing more dangerous than heading to the theater to finally see Rogue One. All that’s left is the year’s weirdest week…and next year’s resolutions.

I usually ignore the New Year’s Resolution tradition because it seems everyone else observes it, and I prefer going against the grain. Yesterday, however, my younger daughter spoke about hers and it made me wonder if it isn’t time for me to do the same, especially since I’ve been sharing with my son the importance of having goals, both long-term and short.

So now I sit at Starbucks pondering my future. Do I have any goals? Well, yeah, I think everyone does. I’d like to find an agent, I’d like to perform well at our big swim meet in April, I’d like to see my son graduate high school. Three good, valid goals I’d like to see happen in 2017. However, I’ve realized these are goals already in place, not new.

The more I think about it, the more one of my favorite Bible verses comes to mind: “God has told you, O man, what is good and what he requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness (or mercy), and to walk humbly with your God.”(Micah 6:8)

Good noble goals, don’t you think? I do love justice, but do I practice justice? How can I live this out? Justice (as opposed to vengeance) is popular to talk about in America, but I know enough of the Bible to understand that this is about justice for the poor, the weak, and the defenseless. Who can I stand up for? At this point, I’m not sure, so I’ll have to start researching if this resolution is to become reality.

I definitely love kindness and mercy, especially when it’s extended to me, but I need to work on extending it to others, most notably with those I don’t like. And walking humbly? Ouch. Far too often I make my life all about me, not just from the way I act, but the way I love to talk about myself rather than listening to others.

All three of these goals, if I really want to pursue them as resolutions, will require changes in me that will be difficult to achieve. Isn’t that the point of New Year’s Resolutions, however? To seek to better one’s self and, hopefully, make a small change for the better in the lives of others? Damn, but that sounds noble. LOL! I guess 2017 will show if I have any nobility in me.