Saturday, March 18, 2017 9:41 AM
I have to smile when I hear fiction described as “made up stuff”. I realize some readers feel that their time is too valuable to indulge in someone’s “what if” stories. For them, there are libraries full to bursting with all kinds of non-fiction to learn from and absorb. I read quite a bit of non-fiction myself, but I write fiction. I write fiction because I can express reality in ways that can be as real if not “realer” than the facts on the ground. That may seem surprising to many, but over the years I’ve been a reader, it’s always the most identifiable, honest human situations and reactions that draw me into a fictional story. You know those books. They are the ones with characters you feel like you’ve known for years. Stories that you can follow because possibly you’ve been down the same path yourself. Even if the path lies in galaxies far, far away… or deep in unknown realms beneath the surface of the sea, or in times so ancient, there is barely any record of mankind’s passing through. In those cases, the stories can be told in such a way that they are populated with reality in the form of knowable humanity. Even if they take unknown or animal forms, the emotions connect us inside. It takes a lot of practice to perfect a writing craft to the point where a reader can immerse themselves in the words you sprinkle about, seemingly with abandon.
In my own work, I try to keep every story real enough to accomplish that. I remember one of my books needed twelve rewrites to get there, and I had to laugh when an early reader found a horse who turned into a donkey three chapters later. Not magically. Which brings up the entire issue of outside influences and pressures. These things are real in a completely different way. Since November, despite having a long-time project crying out for an ending as well as two series needing additional stories, reality has intruded. The daily dose of ever-worsening news has gotten into a space in my head normally reserved for story evolution and creative idea generation. It’s clinging to the walls in a particularly nasty way that begs a general clean up. Of course, as a fiction writer, I realize that even here is a new reality that needs to be stored and re-used when needed, but sometimes this kind of intrusion can shut down the machine for a while. I guess I’ve read volumes from writers dissecting their own version of writer’s block; and while their experiences dealing with it can be encouraging, when push comes to shove, you have to figure it out for yourself.
One of the feelings that accompany a period of low creativity, is a nagging guilt. I hear a little voice telling me, “well, what kind of professional writer are you anyway, if you don’t write every day and unfold your stories when they need to be unfolded?” I get it. If writing fiction were just a hobby to be run out when it felt like fun, I suppose everyone would give it a shot. Instead, it’s more like a capricious friend who shows up unannounced when they want to party. Then they turn into a stern taskmaster watching the clock. In the mean time, I try to find places where I can stash my storylines and ideas until I can begin to fashion them into something a reader can use. Places in my head, behind the daily stuff I need ready access to, where they will remain safe from too much reality. Places where they can be real enough to get it done, eventually. In that spirit, I’m going to make a pledge to myself to limit my intake of the droning sound of impending disaster the media is serving up. It’s an important job they do; but while I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground, I also need to be able to strap on my wings from time to time. I’m not very good at multi-tasking.
From childhood, I’ve wondered a lot about how diverse the ancient world must have been. Once I understood, from reading history books in school and the few really engaged teachers I was lucky enough to have, that history is written by the conquerors; I began to mentally assemble alternatives to the Roman-Centric precedents to our civilization. Laughably, not the regular sort of thing for a twelve-year old to think about frequently; but then, I was also a “cereal box reader” and non-stop tinkerer, so attempting to figure out the past just made some kind of sense, I guess. At least to me.
In the interim, with more education and actual research, I realized my half-baked childhood theories weren’t that far off from the truth of things or at least the current thinking. The Roman World was one of flaring resentments, widespread warfare and reprisal. The often-touted, Pax Romana was only secure and peaceful for some lucky Romans. Amid the chaos of military occupation and crushing cultural burdens as Rome’s rule settled upon mostly unwilling shoulders, there are stories of almost miraculous preservation of the older cultures and languages despite the yoke of occupation. An amazing resourcefulness was displayed as the older cultures resisted in any ways they could, then rebounded. The sudden resurgence of Clan Rules and unchecked xenophobia in the outlying regions once Rome’s heavy hand was even partially lifted, led directly to what we now call the Dark Ages. It’s a natural succession we see today in many conflicts worldwide. In truth, however, I can imagine it was plenty dark for many cultures long before the Dark Ages. Their survival, even in fragments seems miraculous.
The knowledge compounded over millennia by these cultures has had some revealing light shed upon it over the years. In some cases, a better understanding has grown through the work of committed archaeologists and linguists. Recently, the new-ish science of genetics has provided better understandings of ancient bloodlines and the migrations of the earliest of our cousins and direct forebears. But entire worlds of ancient secular knowledge and culture remain obscure, even completely unknown.
Four of these subjects particularly attracted my young mind and have persisted to the present. They are, the Library at Alexandria, storehouse of vast amounts of ancient learning and knowledge going back to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt around 330 BCE (and quite possibly even further than that); the ancient “sinking” of a large, highly advanced civilization somewhere to the West of Gibraltar and referred to by Roman historians as “Atlantis”; The still largely unknown “Sea People”, including Danites (also referred to as the Danaan and the Shardana), Pelasgians and Phoenicians who possibly invented written language, developed navigation and wide-ranging trade routes as well as introducing metallurgy; and finally, the European Celtic tradition which still endures despite Rome’s strenuous efforts to eradicate it.
Researching remnant cultures can be very time-consuming as there is no clear arc of data to follow. Each bit is a new discovery and requires puzzling out how it fits or adjusting the framework to admit it. The recorded histories of these four subjects only touch upon dim fragments of truth left from the conquests of the Hellenes and later Rome and the Ascendant Church. The remaining compilations accepted now as known facts are very few and mostly serve to excite speculation. Almost all of the individual, secular knowledge of ancient cultures in Europe, The Middle-East and Northern Africa has been lost to the torch or to revisionists. Scattered, monumental art and architecture remain along with some scraps of engineering mathematics, poems, prayers and the occasional commercial document; but ascendant, conquering cultures among our species, seem to always find the need to cast the conquered as inferior in as many ways as possible. Part of this process involves eliminating reference to, or ridiculing any previous knowledge which might disagree with their own. If they can’t simply rewrite it as their own invention. Another common practice still used in today’s world, is to build over the remains of older cultures, erasing memories in the process.
In my mind, the only thing left to do, beyond lots and lots of digging and site documentation, is to write informed speculative historic fiction. In this way, we can use available research to try and reveal some of the enormous possibilities of what might have been. Storytelling is a deep part of what makes us human. Many unseen, older influences still work their magic in our world and can be found in quirks of language, folk-tales, superstitions, traditional medicines and many other examples that remain active today. Since there is often little left to create a direct line of facts accurately describing these ancient ancestors and details of their practices, it’s left to writers to describe them. In my own work, I hope that readers might find a passage that will fire a spark in them. Maybe even open their eyes and hearts to remain on the lookout for anything which reveals a glimmer of truth about how we got to be who we are and how wonderfully diverse our family has always been. In that spirit, I’ve begun my new series, The Gift. I hope it will find readers that enjoy wondering as well as discovery.
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Publisher Doug Lance’s popular eFiction Magazine has grown into a range of magazines, each featuring a different genre of short stories, etc. One of my own early stories, Gypsies, I was recently reminded, is still available in the September 2011 issue of the original magazine. If you haven’t seen eFiction, and would like to read this odd story of childhood disaffection, here’s the link: http://www.fictionmagazines.com/shop/efiction-issues/efiction-september-2011/
Doug has been very instrumental in getting quite a few writing careers off the ground, introducing their voices to the growing world of readers of eBooks and magazines. If discovering a new, unusual writing voice is something that appeals, visit eFiction today and see if it provides a few tasty morsels. My bet is that it will, and then some!
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As Independent Authors, we often have to work directly with our marketing and communications. Much of that involves using digital images, such as book covers. in the interest of helping to clarify what can be a bit confusing to someone not schooled in digital graphics, here are a few notes on image file formats and what they mean for your book cover and online marketing graphics.
Digital images, or bitmaps as they are known, have had a long interesting history. The internet has been a huge influence on how they are formatted. Back in the day of Pac-Man and Compuserve, bitmapped images were severely limited in color fidelity and even resolution by the low bandwidth of the internet as it was then. Most users had a dial-up connection which at best, could handle 56K bits per second. Most of the time it ran at about half of that. Compuserve invented the GIF format as a break-out way to transmit color images in an 8-bit per pixel color model that revealed color into 256 different steps of hue. It was also a faster way of sending an image through a telephone line.
Needless to say, it was pretty rudimentary, but then so were the graphics processors in those days. My first PC was a 286 IBM clone that could handle some color on a black-screen with scrolling colored type. Graphics were jagged and all flat color sections. No photographic images except greyscale at that time. Full color came later, along with the JPEG format, in 1992 after a long conference of the Joint Photographic Experts Group. It was designed to make color photographic material possible to transmit. Although it used almost full-spectrum color modeling, in order to keep the bandwidth needed to transmit the images, they were compressed by algorithm and slightly blurred. Some detail is generally lost in the compression as is a degree of nuanced color fidelity. Much later, jpeg formats were opened up to include less compression and greater color fidelity.
Along with later systems, including Apple’s Macintosh, came full spectrum images that were not compressed at all. Lossless images. These were called TIFF images and although they took up a great deal more room on a hard drive, were much closer to true color and sharp resolution. It can be confusing trying to keep all the formats straight, but to make it simple, think of TIFF (Also PNG and a few other high-rez formats) as the apex of both color fidelity and sharpness, then comes JPEG in downward-varying degrees of compression and finally, GIF images at the bottom.
Some uses dictate the format preferred. For ebook covers and online catalogs, jpegs are usually chosen. For do-it-yourselfers, I recommend that if your image manipulation software allows, create your jpeg images with no compression at the highest quality settings. They’ll be slightly larger files than the compressed versions, but they will look much better on the screen. I also recommend 96dpi resolution for screen images over the standard 72 dpi. The higher resolution adds a lot of depth and better type contrast. In the case of some service agencies, such as Amazon KDP, you can actually upload your covers in uncompressed TIFF format. This is my own preferred format for online images if they are accepted. From the image they receive, they will re-sample and model your supplied image downwards for size and resolution, but at least they’ll be starting with the best, most faithful version of your image.
The color model (based on the primary components of spectrum that dictate the appearance of the spectrum chosen) most frequently used for both JPEGs and TIFFs is 24-bit RGB (designed for transmitted color, such as from a monitor) and CMYK (designed for reflected color as from a printed page) which should be kept to their respective applications. I’ve been known to use a 32-bit CMYK image, which is a much larger file that a 24-bit JPEG to achieve the contrast and color I want, then converting it downwards to a JPEG and adjusting for brightness to bring it close to the original appearance. It’s a step you really don’t need to take. I just like to tweak things in all kinds of ways. But using the right amount of compressions for the application’s best color model – RGB or CMYK – Monitor or print – you’ll get the best results. The most recent iteration of the JPEG model is the JPG2000 (.jp2 file suffix) which accepts any bit depth for improved scaleability, but outside of professional graphics circles is still not readily accepted. Another format is the PNG format which works best if an image is dominated by a single color or flat colors such as in charts, logos, etc.
One last tip, if you want to use Unsharp Masking (or another name for sharpening, etc.) to make your titling pop a bit more, use it sparingly (lesser percentages) to reduce haloing and jaggies, and then only after all other procedures, such as contrast adjustment, color tweaking and resampling have been accomplished. Jus’ sayin’.
I hope that any Apple users reading this will broaden this post by adding any comments unique to their platform. In addition, feel free to ask questions. If I can answer them I will, or refer them to someone who can.
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Snow came in, unexpectedly this morning, for about an hour as the temperatures plunged. Weather wise, it’s been a relatively comfortable year for us… but only weather-wise. The infirmities of aging have caught us and brought us forced reflection. We can prioritize easier now than we used to be able to, when the world beckoned and anything seemed possible. Recent events here and abroad have made it clear that possibilities for most humans have shrunk down substantially, and while luck seems to drawn thin at times, it’s still a ready player.
The image is an Ojibway Dreamcatcher hanging in my window while the snow falls outside. It’s a simple web spread over a bent willow twig hoop with some natural decorations added. It reminds me that hope is the most common of human traits. Our species may sometimes follow paths that later prove to be a bad decision; but even once the darkness begins to fall, we hope for a brighter day.
The ancients were observers of Creation and celebrated the cyclic nature of our lives and our home. Each year, as Winter’s grip seems too strong to break, the days begin to lengthen. Sol Invictus was the Roman celebration of the solstice, which occurred some four days later than it does now. All living things in their own ways, celebrate the sun’s victory each year. We humans have created all kinds of different observances and Holidays to ritualize our joy at the coming promise of a new year. Hope.
The tradition of the dreamcatcher evokes an idea of gathering and keeping all our good dreams while letting the bad ones disappear, leaving our lives hopeful. This coming year, I join with most of my human brethren in wishing the best of the coming year to all… even if I still have to pull that coat a little tighter around my old shoulders. Pull your loved family (two legs and four legs) closer to you. Share your love along with your hope. It’s the best gift we can give each other, and one that as long as we use it, it will never fail or wear out.
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There is evidence and an eyewitness account that November 14th at 2AM, the Protest Camps near the pipeline threatening Standing Rock’s water, were poisoned by unlit overflights. Crop Duster equipped helicopters were used to spray chemical agents within the circumferences of the camps. The video came without any vetting, so view it aware that it is a rough, un-documented video. Here it is. It speaks for itself. Those of us who remember the Wounded Knee Occupation of 1975 will not find this a surprising behavior for those who wish to destroy this legal opposition to a proven threat to downstream water.
For any who do not recall the Occupation, I suggest a reading of Peter Mattheissen’s great book, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse, which documents the entire Leonard Peltier case and the Occupation which created it. The video features the words of Candida Rodriguez Kingbird of Standing Rock Reservation. Originally posted to YouTube 11/14…
This video cannot be shared on Facebook and on related social network sites. All attempts to do so have resulted in the posts and even personal messages carrying it, taken down. Download it if you wish to share it and send it through emails. It has been thoroughly scanned to make sure it is virus/malware free, with the latest version of Avast Antivirus.
Additional reading: Kathy Peltier asking for presidential clemency for her father.
48 BCE: While Rome’s cruel cohorts set the torch to Alexandria’s quays and trading vessels, a thoroughly unexpected group of conspirators; a wizened astronomer, a young librarian and a scribe, creep out of the city with a priceless hoard of ancient knowledge. They believe their mission is to save the secrets hidden within for the future and mankind’s ultimate salvation. But what do they actually know of the objects in their care? What neither of the younger conspirators knows yet, is that they are part of a plan already in motion involving deceit, sleight of hand and distraction. They are serving unknown masters and the star-gazer leading them onwards has little light to shed on the coming voyage across the sea or their ultimate destination. Gifts lie waiting aboard their first galley bound North, that will change them both forever. Whether the truth of their conspiracy will be revealed, remains to be seen.
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The eBook, currently 94,000 words, is available now, first through Amazon Kindle and will be offered at a very special introductory price of $2.99 for our loyal readers. It is free for Kindle Unlimited readers. The full series will involve at least three or four books. Reviewers, please request an Advanced Reader copy via email at email@example.com Download your copy here.
Here is a map, included in the book, of the voyages taken by the conspirators during the course of the first book…
An excerpt from the opening…
Alexandria, Egypt 48 BCE
“See them approaching the docks, Simon? Down towards the quay wall… right there.” The bearded man pointed repeatedly, a long sleeve brushed the dark, curly head of the tall youth peering seawards from where they crouched behind the parapet. A bandaged hand shaded his eyes against the early morning sun as it struck out from under the clouds. Darkness still hung off to the west as the city tried to sleep, but a cohort of Roman legionnaires was on the move already.
“Yes, but what are they doing, Harkhebi? Is that… a torch? Torches?” He gripped the older man’s arm in alarm and looked up for confirmation.
“It is. Fire. They don’t need the torches to see the streets.”
“What, then? Why are they bringing fire, now? The siege is won.”
The older man strained to watch the legionnaires crawling about the docks where the fleet lay. He rubbed his greying beard and replied, “I think they mean to torch the docks and the fleet.” he shook his head and pulled Simon up to his feet, telling him, “We must leave the roof now and return. You know we have little time left.” He laid his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and said, “I know I’ve asked you several times already, but is everything prepared?”
“Yes. Yes, the scrolls and parchments are safely gathered into merchant bundles for the caravan. Yesterday as evening approached, Ahkos told me the camels were ready and provisioned. He slipped away to join Demetrius after the moon fell.” Simon looked back to the docks where the first flares of burning tar and hemp leapt skyward from the westernmost ships merchant storehouse. “Has the time arrived, then?” He thought of the months of secret preparations, lies instead of explanations and suddenly being called away from any task he was performing. His meticulous work was becoming more uneven than ever as his focus drifted. Add to that the threat of discovery. The last Pharaoh had decreed that any theft from the Library was punishable by a slow death by strangulation. Now, Simon’s throat always felt dry. This adventure was exciting of course, but he could almost hear his mother’s stern, disappointed voice, all the way from Tarsos saying, that’s not the way you were raised, to become a thief and a liar. Remember your traditions before you lose them.
“It has, young Tarsene, it has. We must be gone. Now.” Harkhebi’s reminder snapped Simon from his own feelings. The two hurried to a tall ladder leaning up from a lower roof. They then descended, through a narrow stairwell, to the dark alley below. The precious burdens they had yet to gather were to be transported secretly, according to an exhaustive plan, by a small caravan, down through all the orchards and farms, deep into the desert and up through the mountains into Marmarica to meet a trading ship waiting near old Ardanis to carry them north to Tarsos and safety. The preparations were known to only four men and the ship’s captain, Harkhebi’s cousin, Cassio.
Cassio had been the one who gave Harkhebi the idea of using the Roman siege and intrigue as cover for a quick departure. He’d recently boasted that he’d been more than able to bring in all manner of goods lately with no one watching the ports at all. Wisely though, they planned to leave from Ardanis instead of the much closer ports near the river’s mouth.
While the Romans set their fires to Alexandria’s docks, the two crept back through a maze of dark alleys to the rear gate of the library annex storehouse. No one, but a fat old tomcat atop a wall, saw them. Harkhebi retrieved a rusty key from within the folds of his dark grey robes and they slipped through the heavy iron-bound wooden gate into the courtyard where two shapeless, cloth-wrapped bundles lay waiting. A two-wheeled hand cart in very poor repair, stood nearby.
Simon, apprenticed for several years now to the master teacher and astronomer, waited near the cart while Harkhebi entered the storehouse. In only moments, he returned with two leather packs slung over both shoulders and gave one to Simon. Simon slung it over his shoulders as Harkhebi carefully lifted each bundle, placing it securely in the cart. Satisfied with the placement, he laid his own pack atop them, then added two water skins from near the gate into the cart as well. Harkhebi put his finger across his lips then gestured towards the gate.
Simon nodded and lifted the cart poles while the older man retrieved two tall, wooden walking staves one of which he stuck down into the cart. They moved silently through the gateway and down the still dark alley. About halfway to the far gate, the wheel on the right began to wobble. When it began to squeal as well, they halted. Using his heavy-soled shoe as a hammer, Simon pounded it back on the axle and pushed a twig into the empty hole where the pin had been. Harkhebi smiled and whispered, “It should hold us past the city walls at least.”
At some distance from them, the first of the Alexandria merchant fleet began burning as the wind rose. Cries from the quay mixed with dark smoke as Alexandria awoke to the destruction of her remaining commerce following the long siege. By the time the flames, fanned by the wind, had found the huge library the two conspirators and their rude cart were outside the city walls. They made their way across the river and then along a meandering goat trail through the trees that led towards a low stone outcropping where a ragtag caravan waited.
Six camels, a ragged driver, his helper and four ponies, looked for all the world like the poorest merchant caravan ever seen near such a rich city of renown and legend. Perfect for the task at hand. Ahkos, the only one of them familiar with keeping the bad-tempered camels under control was first to see the cart and two conspirators approaching from his spy-hole cleft in the sandstone. He whistled twice with his fingers against his teeth. Sharp blasts to catch their attention. The wind had been rising all morning, blowing smoke from the city thick enough to sting the eyes and make it hard to see.
As he stepped out from behind the rocks, he called, “from all the smoke, it looks like you got out at the last possible moment.” He raised his nose and added, “smells like tar.”
The older man stopped a few feet away and unslung his pack. “You were right, Ahkos. They burned the docks and the fleet that didn’t leave port ahead of them. I don’t know how the library faired. How did your night go out here?”
The second caravan driver brought up the line of camels, holding the leather traces looped around his wrist. As he stopped, one by one, the camels turned their backs on the wind and on the men. He called out, “No feather beds out here. No wine either, right Ahkos?”
Ahkos nodded. “It was cold and very quiet. No fire, but we didn’t attract any attention. Oh, except that Demetrius here had to throw rocks all night to keep the jackals off.”
Harkhebi asked him, “How did you accomplish your passage with the Gate Centurion?”
Ahkos replied, looking directly at Demetrius, “that’s where the wine went. He asked what we were peddling and we told him rags, but we had a wineskin we could offer him. You know those bastards are always reaching into your purse.”
Harkhebi smiled and patted his own, slung below his belt, saying, “so he took the wine and let you right through without a second thought. Did he even inspect the camels’ loads?”
“Not at all. The wineskin was hoisted so fast we were through the gate before he gave us another glance. How was your passage?”
Harkhebi said, “Simon had an idea that no one would be watching the sheep gate, and we rolled right through without stopping. I don’t think there was anyone posted to guard it.”
Simon joined them and soon, they had re-packed the cloth-wrapped bundles into the existing “goods” atop the backs of two of the camels, amid much muttered complaint and spitting. Simon hid the cart behind a huge thorn bush under some overhanging rocks, just in case they ever returned.
“How is the hand mending, Simon?” asked Harkhebi. There hadn’t been proper time to clean and anoint the wound before leaving. The young man had just celebrated his twentieth year. Harkhebi thought of his own twentieth year and wondered how someone of those few years could be ready to commit their entire life to a single effort. He added, “this isn’t going to be easy. Are you sure you’re with us to the end?”
Simon looked at the ground and nodded resolutely, replying, “Completely sure. It will be my gift to my father’s memory and to the rest of the world, eventually.” He waved his bandaged fist and added, “I’m ready for anything that comes.” Simon believed that once he’d made a decision, he had to follow it through to the end, even if his partners in crime were still mostly a mystery. It was another of his father’s lasting lessons, to always move forward with purpose, once a direction was found.
Harkhebi said little of his own background or family and always let the gathered accolades of his scholarship make explanations as needed. He had never yet led either his apprentice Simon or his scribe Demetrius astray and his counsel, while usually circumspect, was always to the point and correct as far as they were concerned.
In some ways, they were the least likely of conspirators: An Egyptian astronomer, a scholarly Jew and a Hellene. Simon found Demetrius’ intelligence and quick wit kept even the most repetitious task engaging. Their friendship had grown slowly at first, neither ready to let their defenses down completely. But now, as comrades in a higher calling, Simon found his companionship most agreeable and his often unexpected opinions, very useful. Demetrius also had a facility with several languages that came in handy at times. Yes, Simon was sure that joining this company was going to be the right decision.
Once they’d returned to the camels, Harkhebi took a few moments to review the condition and appearance of his ‘trade caravan’, then said, “we must be off now,” even as the wind shook the sleeves of his robe and pushed its hood up around his face. Ahkos gave each a scarf to wrap around their mouths and noses leaving a narrow slit for their eyes against the sand and dust as well as a personal water flask on a neck cord. Mounting the sure-footed, desert-bred ponies, they plodded off with the wind gusting fitfully behind them, filling their nostrils with the dust and stench of the burning they’d escaped. The camels followed, squawking in complaint from time to time.
You’ll comment on this story, but you probably won’t read it…
I recently found Shelly Palmer’s very timely article on Linked In. He’s discussing a side of tech communication which has grown to global importance. None of us can afford not to consider the points he’s making. Re-posted with the author’s permission.
If you’d like to leave a comment, do so below…
By Shelly Palmer, CEO Palmer Advanced Media
Here’s what’s going to happen. You are going to read this post up to the point where you agree with me or you don’t. Then, either you will find something else to do or, if I have your attention, you will write a comment or an email that espouses your world view.
This sounds great. Except it isn’t. Because whether you agree with me or not, a huge percentage of you will not read past the point where your personal bias is confirmed. If my writing is inside your comfort zone, you will stop reading because we see eye to eye. If my writing is outside your comfort zone, you will stop reading because your time to engage with content is limited and you don’t want to be uncomfortable while doing it. Sadly, staying in our ideological comfort zones has put us on a path to world destruction.
I write an article every Sunday about emerging trends and the impact they may have on media, entertainment and marketing. If you know my work, you know I don’t write about politics or religion, just tech trends and what I think they mean. So comments from readers should be professional, should be on topic and should further the discourse with related criticism and opposing points of view. But that’s not what’s happening.
Have a look at a few recent posts: “The Video Selfie That Changed the World” or “Russian Email Hackers: Are You Next?” or “Facebook Is Killing Clickbait and The Results Will Surprise You.” Then scroll down to the comments for an object lesson in the dangers of confirmation bias and the latest craze: spewing opinion as fact. If this were on some random site or a mainstream media site, I would not be surprised at all. But these posts are on LinkedIn, a site where (for obvious reasons) one would expect a certainly level of decorum, civility and professionalism.
Social Media–Empowered Echo Chambers
In the physical world, an echo chamber is a room where sound reflects off the walls. The early reflections are perceived as echoes and the later reflections are perceived as reverberation. In social discourse, an echo chamber is a place where like-minded people keep reinforcing each other’s world views. MSNBC is a left-leaning echo chamber. Fox News is a right-leaning echo chamber. You can name hundreds of examples yourself.
But echo chambers do not challenge our world views, they do not expand our minds, and they do not promote Socratic debate. They just blanket us in the comfort of what we like to hear. Importantly, it doesn’t matter how much moral high ground you believe your echo chamber represents – an echo chamber is a closed-loop system that constantly feeds back on itself. Living in an echo chamber is not an evolutionarily stable strategy.
The Quick, but Painful, Death of Truth
Journalism has been on life support since the advent of social media, but this past year we have witnessed the quick, painful death of truth, and it may be gone forever. Put a comfortable lie in an echo chamber, and nobody will challenge it. It will reverberate until it is accepted as actually true. Then, the willfully ignorant will shout it as loudly as they can. It may be their truth, but that does not make it true.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
While we may not post really stupid stuff online or make outrageous comments to inspire others to do violence, we are all guilty of enjoying the pleasures of our respective comfort zones. We live in a world with extraordinary filters. They can easily be programmed to only send us notifications of things we want to hear. There are websites and news feeds across the entire spectrum of belief systems, and it is super easy to find your comfort zone and stay there. Don’t.
The best way to get the world on track is to do our best to understand each other. We need to relearn how to respect other points of view. We don’t need to agree with them, but we need to read far enough down the page to understand what is really being said. We must listen when we converse. We must see when we look.
The alternative is a cacophony of isolated echo chambers, each believing that they have the moral high ground, and each sure that their respective deity is on their side. It’s clearly where we are headed, and in practice, we may already be there. You may not think that your comfort zone could destroy the world, but your comfort zone is a place where you accept the things you cannot change. To make the world a better place, it’s time for all of us to change the things we cannot accept.
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About Shelly Palmer
Named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Technology, Shelly Palmer is President & CEO of Palmer Advanced Media, a strategic advisory and business development practice focused at the nexus of technology, media and marketing with a special emphasis on data science and data-driven decision making. He is Fox 5 New York’s on-air tech and digital media expert and a regular commentator on CNBC and CNN. Follow @shellypalmer or visit shellypalmer.com or subscribe to our daily email http://ow.ly/WsHcb
Today, August 16th, M.K. Tod, an historic fiction writer I admire a great deal, launches her third novel, Time and Regret through her publisher, Lake Union. Here’s a quick descriptive paragraph:
A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her.
From her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a many very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harbouring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.
Her first book, Unravelled, debuted in 2013. From the very first chapter, it contains some of the most eerily beautiful and yet brutal depictions of the Great War (WWI) as her character is forced to remember his days of action in France. The reminiscences become frequent and troubling for both he and his wife. The secrets spawned in that desperate time continue to infect the lives of her characters in deeply intimate, nuanced ways. The book eventually won an Editor’s Choice award from the Historical Novel Society and won scores of loyal readers for its author. I’m very pleased today, to have the opportunity of discussing how a novel this powerful comes together with Mary Tod, its author.
Richard: Mary, I understand you lived as an expat in Hong Kong of all places. The amazing blend of cultures must have been thrilling to navigate!
Mary: Thanks you for the very kind introduction, Richard. And yes, my husband and I spent three years living in Hong Kong. Beyond the opportunities that city gave us to see a different part of the world was the chance to live as a visible minority. Definitely a life-altering experience. Best of all, while there I found a new career as an author. A totally unexpected outcome for this math and science grad!
Richard: So you are a converted geek then. Excellent! When did you truly begin to think you’d be adept at writing fiction? Was it your travels, the words themselves, your characters’ unfolding lives or the research that was your primary muse?
Mary: Before moving to Hong Kong, I had a career in business. So, being in a foreign place with no job, few friends, and a husband who travelled almost every week was both challenging and, to be honest, lonely. I had to find something meaningful to do. You’re an author, Richard, so you know that many people feel they have a story to share. I was no exception. In my case, I had a story ending based on my grandmother who died on the way to the church for her second wedding. I didn’t know what else was going to be in the story, but I was sure I had a great ending.
Armed with several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and the Internet, I began researching the times of my grandparents’ lives, a journey that involved World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. After a few weeks, I was hooked. After a few months, I was obsessed with WWI and the notion that my grandfather had been there. Every detail I read became personal.
By the way, in Unravelled, the ultimate novel I wrote, the woman modeled on my grandmother does not die on the way to her second wedding!
Richard: Was there a specific moment when the idea for the new novel flashed into your brain, or was it a more subtle, accumulation of inspired stories?
Mary: I love telling this story! A few years ago, my husband Ian and I travelled to northern France to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One. That trip was an amazing opportunity to see firsthand the areas where hundreds of thousands of soldiers experienced such wrenching horror and devastating losses. One night we were at a small café in the seaside town of Honfleur. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a small notebook.
“What are you writing?” Ian said.
“An idea for a story,” I replied.
Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, Ian persisted. “What’s the idea?”
“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”
Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.
Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favourite genre. In fact, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along.
“What kind of mystery?”
And that was the birth of Time & Regret. Needless to say, the bottle of wine was soon empty
Richard: Time and Regret also explores remembrance of wartime. The Great War, which my own grandfather also served in, was the most terrible destruction and loss of life in known history, to that point. It became the “War to end all wars”, in the public psyche, yet it wasn’t quite twenty years later that Europe began to feel catastrophe looming again. We’ve known wars on smaller scales ceaselessly, in my own lifetime. Do you think mankind will ever find a way to stop?
Mary: The optimist in me would love to say yes, however, I believe the answer is no. There’s something in mankind’s psyche, mankind’s basic DNA if you will, that spawns a desire for power and influence. In the wrong hands, those desires often result in corruption and greed, manipulation of those who are weaker or less educated, dynastic ambitions, territorial threats. When confronted with tyranny of this nature, leaders from other countries are drawn in to defend the world order—some would say status quo—and another conflict unfolds.
Richard: I suppose we can always hope for a break in the cycles, someday. With regard to your readers, who are M.K. Tod’s most loyal followers? Do they correspond or make connection?
Mary: I don’t yet have a group of what I would call my most loyal followers. However, I do know that many of my readers are women and a large portion live in the United States. What delights me most is readers who take the time to send an email with their thoughts about one of my novels. And, I’m truly grateful to those who take the time to post a review on one or more of the book review sites. I respond to every one. Not long ago, an 86-year-old man sent me an email saying how grateful he was for the memories Unravelled had prompted. Interactions like these are the lifeblood of writing.
Richard: I agree wholeheartedly. I just wish they occurred more frequently. I think I’ve only had three of them over the last seven years, so here’s a shout out to readers to let your writers know how their books make you feel! When you’re immersed in a first draft, do you think about your eventual readers? Do you make any particular effort to guide a novel in the works, towards them, or is that reserved, in your process, for after the draft has been completed?
Mary: I suppose like many authors I write stories that are like the ones I enjoy reading. Which means a bit of romance, a woman who is either already strong or becomes strong, and a significant dose of conflict. What surprises me even now is the war component. I’ve worked hard to bring war scenes to life without alienating female readers and to help readers understand the causes of conflicts like WWI and appreciate the way ordinary men and women were affected. I definitely tweak the story during the editing process to align with some of the insights gleaned from my reader surveys.
Richard: A common thread running through all your work seems to be the extremes human beings endure and the secrets and lies that permeate our ability to cope. Can you elaborate on your thinking about how this affects us?
Mary: We all lie and we all keep secrets. My first three novels deal with the consequences, unintended or otherwise, of such secrets and lies. One never knows when a secret will emerge to wreak havoc – a circumstance that makes for good stories. I suppose there’s a moral angle to consider, however, I didn’t set out to moralize!
In terms of the extremes people are willing to endure, this was the theme that struck me the most when I began to research World War I. I wanted to honor soldiers like my grandfather who served their countries under conditions that no one should be forced to endure. Every time I think of it, I become angry all over again.
Richard: With the cover for Time and Regret, I see similarity in subject and color to the cover of your first novel. Is this a branding concept, or just based upon similarities in the books? How much involvement do you have with the designs of your book covers?
Mary: The cover for Time and Regret was designed by the team at Lake Union. They asked me for input on covers I like and for my thoughts on what the cover should convey—in this case a sense of past and present given the dual timeline involved in the story. I don’t think they set out to create a consistent look and feel with my previous novels, however, I’m very pleased with the result. The covers for Unravelled and Lies Told in Silence were a collaboration between me and my cover designer, Jenny Quinlan.
Richard: They all seem very effective, to me at least. Most writers I know tend to juggle a few works in progress at a time, eventually succumbing to the one with the most immediate clout. I’m right now trying to dodge two myself! What are you working on right now, and have you fallen prey to a timeframe or deadline?
Mary: I’m working on a new novel set in 1870s Paris. Why Paris? Because I love the city and it has such an aura of elegance, style and romance. Why 1870s? After three novels set during WWI, I knew I had to change time periods. I’ve taken two characters from Lies Told in Silence and gone back to a period when they would have been young women. Happily, this is also a period of great turmoil in French history!
Many thanks for your great questions, Richard. I’m so delighted to be on your blog today.
Richard: The pleasure is all mine, Mary. I hope we’ve brought your work to new readers, today. I’m sure your existing readers will be very anxious to read Time and Regret as well as your Paris novel, when that breaks. I hope we’ll discuss that one when the time comes, as well. If anyone has a comment or question for this author, please post it below. Here is some advance praise for Time and Regret…
“Hugely satisfying – impossible to put down.” — Elizabeth St. John author of The Lady of the Tower
“Time and Regret is something as rare as a treasure hunt with heart. Between the gritty trenches of World War I, the romantic allure of present-day France, and the cut-throat New York arts scene, M.K. Tod has spun a gripping family drama that delves deeply into the effects of war on the human soul and takes us on an intriguing journey of self-discovery. It is a book rich in hard-won wisdom and crucial historical insights, and Tod’s perceptive voice leads us unfalteringly through some of the darkest chapters in human history to a very satisfying conclusion.” — Anne Fortier author of The Lost Sisterhood
Amazon Canada http://www.amazon.ca/Time-Regret-M-K-Tod/dp/1503938409/
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET is available August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.
A favorite comic book cartoon from my college days was illustrator and philosopher R. Crumb’s Shuman the Human. He was a regular everyman character in Zap, Mr. Natural and several other underground comix (period spelling) which I devoured greedily. My most memorable strip shows Schuman in a gathering of friends where he announces, “Let’s all stop playing games… for Five Minutes!”
The strip moves through several frames where the friends and Schuman look thoughtfully at each other, making no sound or comment until the last frame, where with a huge grin, Schuman says, “There! Now wasn’t that a great idea?”
That summed up my view of the leadership of movements in general. It has stayed with me since then. I’ve been a confirmed non-joiner with a possibly more than healthy skepticism applied across the board. On those few occasions when something became so important to me that I became involved, even to the point of heading up a local business leaders group, making public speeches, etc., I could hear Schuman, quietly calling from the edges of my awareness, reminding me. Inevitably, the tide turns, and those who don’t slide with it end up high and dry. Been there. Done that.
This Presidential campaign year has certainly brought back most of my skepticism. The Nation is polarized as the established two-party system seems to be failing. Alternative candidates are beginning to be given press coverage but I’m worried that the coming election may yield the most splintered results we’ve seen in generations. There are many good ideas out there, but Schuman again reminds me that they might be pushed out in front for the wrong reasons. Or not. I have to decide which. I will vote in the coming election, not because I’m part of any team. Not because I’m emotionally compelled, but simply because it is a duty that citizenship carries. I’m not going to vote according to any spoon-fed ideology, either.
Political parties are opportunist animals. Living things that respond and exploit the prevailing conditions in the same way all living things do. They survive and evolve and plot their agendas, often independently of the actual needs of their adherents. They paint their illustrations six stories high, with Hollywood lighting and a swelling soundtrack. But, I don’t have to buy a ticket, do I? If I get an email from “Barack Obama”, or from “Jeb Bush” (I’ve gotten both regularly for more than a year now), both go into the trash heap unread. I’ve been around long enough that I can smell a pitch when one comes calling.
I’ll use my own brain to answer my own questions the best way I can, and when the day comes to go to the polls, I’ll be voting with Schuman standing right next to me, reminding me that I’m not voting to feel good about earning the “doing the right thing” badge. Not to feel like I’m a member of some exclusive club that “gets it”. Not to deny anything to someone I disagree with or get even for perceived slights; but rather, to vote in support of the candidates I feel will be the best choices in office for the Nation’s well-being. I’ll let the self-congratulatory back patting remain on Schuman’s agenda. Still, I’m glad he’s my friend. I hope that we can find our way out of this terrible spot we’re in. It might require us to lay down our bright banners and roll up our sleeves. Together. Jus’ sayin’.
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R. Crumb has released an illustrated version of the Book of Genesis which is worth a visit!
Actual thoughtful comments left by readers are encouraged and will be posted here. Discussion is a good thing, but robot spam pitches will be deleted unread, as always.