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.

What to Write Next

As I tap my toes incessantly, waiting for some kind of response from an agent, I’ve tried going back to my first book, only to realize how much work it’s going to be to rewrite much of the beginning. Sometimes original drafts just stink.

Much more interesting is dreaming about a sequel to my new book, the one that I’m waiting for an agent to read more than the first 10 pages of. Maybe it’s the joy of research (that was not sarcasm!) or maybe it’s the avoidance of hard work. I’m hoping it’s the pull of continuing a story I really had fun writing and not the latter!

Research is fun when I’m learning. So far I’ve gotten to read Navajo myths, look at pictures from ruins at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and Teotihuacan in Mexico, watch videos of Irish castles (and learn their bloody history), and delve into Chinese folklore.

Plotting is a different matter. It involves asking myself a lot of questions that I don’t have answers for, letting the possibilities bounce through my subconscious like balls in a pachinko machine, and hoping that whatever tumbles out at the bottom is a winner.

I’d like to say I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, but that would imply I’m accomplishing some real writing. So far, this post is the most I’ve achieved this month. LOL!

Writing a Query Letter

As I began researching my first attempt at a query letter for my newly finished book about teenagers, dragons, and faeries called Blood of the Dragon, I was shocked not at the estimated length (400 words), but the number of hours agents and other writers said it takes to craft an excellent query letter.

Twenty hours. Wow.

I spent about four hours on my rough rough draft trying to get the worm on the opening hook to dangle just right and wracking my brain on how to summarize the plot without explaining. I ended up taking Peter Jackson’s approach to Lord of the Rings: capture the essence of the tale and don’t worry if it doesn’t match the original perfectly.

I sat on it for a week, knowing the ideas are good, but the writing not smooth. My three primary editors have since all taken a look. I don’t know how much time they added, but I’ve spent another hour or so adding in their edits, fine tuning my letter.

It’s a rough draft now, ready to be exposed to my writer’s group. Hopefully, in another week or so, it’ll be ready to send it out and start building my collection of rejection letters. LOL!

Life’s Ups and Downs

 

The past week has been…interesting.

Last Thursday, I finished my book. Yeah! However, my wife told me the last two chapters were basically unreadable. Ugh! Sometimes I hate her brutal honesty, but she was right.

Tuesday morning I had my annual physical. As embarrassing as it is to feel the doctor squeeze my balls and poke my butt, the humiliation only lasts for a few seconds and he’s awfully good at minimizing it. I came out with flying colors…or so I thought.

Wednesday morning as I made the final fixes to the last two chapters, I got a call from the doctor’s office. The labwork on my blood test came back “abnormal.” My mind immediately jumped to Young Frankenstein and Marty Feldman. “Abby normal?” I asked if I could wait until my followup appointment in January. No, they want me within a week. Ugh.

That afternoon, with us both working from home, I read the last two chapters to my wife during lunch. Thumbs up. Yeah! I can finally let my collaborators read the end of the book, nearly a week after I’d texted them that I’d finished.

Thursday morning, I find out my initial blood test indicated my platelet count was at 33% of the low end of healthy. Not good, especially considering my dad passed from non-Hodgkins lymphoma a few years ago. Another blood test, and doc said a third one after that before I need to worry. This is just precautionary right now. I hate this waiting.

Thursday night, I talk with one collaborator (Mom!) and another one sends me an email. Thumbs up for the ending! Whew! The rewrite worked!

Now it’s Friday morning and the leading edge of this storm is hitting Seattle. The wind and rain remind me of videos from Florida as Hurricane Matthew neared. Should be an interesting weekend…