Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Wall

Driving away from Tel Aviv airport towards Jerusalem I learned two things. I learned, through observation, that Israel is an armed camp and that the favourite saying of our Palestinian driver was ‘no problem, no problem.’ The wall around the West Bank is an amazing architectural structure, most walls are. Their purpose is often more sinister. Hadrian ’s Wall was designed to keep my ancestors (the ravening Celts) out of Roman controlled Britain: the great wall of China, to keep the Mongols at bay. So, what was the wall around the West Bank keeping out? When we went to Bethlehem it didn’t seem to be keeping much out. Traffic was flowing easily between the two states, yet there was the feeling that that could change at a moment’s notice.

Maybe to help understand the difficulties behind this was a conversation I overheard while eating at the Austrian Hospice in Old Jerusalem along the Via Dolorosa. The woman, in an animated discussion, was describing the population dynamics of Jerusalem. Out of the one million inhabitants of Jerusalem, two hundred and fifty thousand are Palestinian. Out of that number one hundred thousand have chosen to reject Israeli citizenship; they refuse to recognize Israel as a state. This has created a problem confining these people to Jerusalem. 

So, back to the wall: what is it keeping out? Well, the occurrence of suicide bombings have gone down since the wall went up, but tensions still simmer just below the surface. Everyone seems to tolerate each other by pretending they aren’t there. The Palestinians pretend the Jews aren’t there, the Jews pretend the Palestinians aren’t there and the Christians are just tourists. Then something happens and people start paying attention. For example during a traffic altercation the police responded, supported by several IDF (Israel Defence Force) soldiers. Watching everything was a large circle of young Palestinian men.  It was like circles within circle with everyone watching each other…and waiting.

I hope that the Jews, being the children of Abraham, and the Palestinians, also being the children of Abraham, can settle this centuries old dispute over inheritance without killing each other. Unfortunately Jerusalem is the mother of much tragedy and much dispossession.    

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Citrus in Jerusalem

Upon visiting some place new, senses are heightened and the mind is working overtime trying to store as much information as possible. The one thing I noticed on arriving at The National Hotel in Jerusalem was the smell: Citrus, everything smelled of citrus. The next day, on entering the Old City through Herod’s Gate into the Arab Quarter we noticed the preponderance of oranges, bananas and pomegranates. The citrus smell that I had put down to some cleaning product was everywhere. After a few days I realized that it was coming from my own pours. I began to smell like citrus. Of course I had been imbibing in frequent juice breaks of freshly squeezed orange and pomegranates. As far as nutrition goes the vitamins in citrus fruit deteriorates from the point of picking, but this was so fresh it tasted like nothing I had ever tasted. My favourite drink was pomegranate. I found it expensive in the grocery store back home, but here, in Jerusalem it was relatively inexpensive and beyond worth. After walking a number of hours in the crowded streets it was delightful to sit and drink fresh juice and become one with the smell of citrus, which everyone else smelt of.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Elizabethan Fashion

I’d like to discuss something of driving importance…the Elizabethan Ruff. I know that beheading was a popular norm in the time, Henry the VIII chopped off at least 3 of his 6 wives’ heads. He was at a 50% rate when he died, and may have upped that percentage had he lived longer. Was this need to cut peoples’ heads off caused by the Elizabethan Ruff? The Ruff had the effect of making a person’s head look as though it had all ready been detached from the body and presented on a platter. I don’t think there is any place in the world that still uses the Ruff in fashion, except the circus and adorning dogs who have and obsessive compulsion with scratching themselves bloody…well, that’s not really a Ruff is it, more a funnel.  

Another interesting Elizabethan devise was the Farthingale, or hooped skirt. The Spanish version know as the fertugado was brought to England by Catherine of Aragon (she lost her head). They were a rather modest, ‘A’ type structure that any engineer would envy. Then the French got hold of it and the next thing the Farthingale had more hoops than a Native American dancer. Even so the Farthingale for Queen Elizabeth wasn’t enough; she added the prefix “great” onto it. Dipping to the front, ridding up behind, the gown looked like a ship diving down into a trough in some tempestuous storm. It’s no wonder why palaces needed to be so big. Imagine a dance floor populated by an armada of Great Farthingales swirling about like out of control bumper cars. Now, I understand that Queen Elizabeth’s favourite dance was La Volta, where there was some lifting and jumping about involved. I know a bit about dance and find it hard to imagine how someone could possibly lift a woman dressed in a Great Farthingale and keep all their teeth.

The other interesting thing I’ve noticed about the Elizabethan dress was that it came in parts. There was a Roll, a Stomacher, a Petticoat, a Kirtle, a Forepart, a Partlet, a Gown, Separate Sleeves and the notorious Ruff. It’s no wonder you needed a cast of thousands to assemble a lady for society. Elizabeth had four ladies of the bed chamber to dress her and then a bevy of Elizabeth clones to keep her from running people over because a Great Farthingale did limit one’s visibility. King James, Elizabeth’s replacement, solved this problem by entirely dispensing with changing his clothes altogether. As the old ones dissolved he just clothed himself in new clothes. Shakespeare knew King Jame’s taste, that’s why he wrote ‘The Scottish Play.’

Clothing must have inhibited Elizabethan love making…or maybe that’s why the clothing came apart in pieces. Let me think about that. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Crazy Elizabethans

The thing I find interesting about doing research is how much we no longer know, and what we have to do to relearn what might have been. For example, how did Elizabethan's view the world? We can guess, but we will never really know, because the Elizabethans, unless you're channeling Dr. Dee, are long gone.

For example what is the mindset that enables a person to fight another person with a rapier, oh, let's see because you thought their ruff was a bit too big. I mean, you know, in a few seconds you most likely will have a yard of steel sticking out of your chest, or worse (if it can get worse) your eye.

Does this mean our mindset today is that of cowards, while the Elizabethan mindset was that of heroes?

Hmmm, let me think, and therein is the rub. We think. Yet, some of the best thinkers lived in Elizabethan times. Gascoigne, Raleigh, Walsingham, Bacon, Burghley, Tyndale (I'm not going to say Shakespeare, because the only Shakespeare I know of was a grain merchant in Stratford. I mean John Donne get's a stand-up memorial, while Willy gets a worked over effigy of him writing on a book. Listen, there is no way Shakespeare, the grain merchant, could have written a play on a bag of produce.) I digress.

That's the thing, isn't it. The Elizabethan's while great thinkers were also a bit loony. Didn't Ben Johnson kill someone in a duel. "Just wait a second, let me finish this line...and then I'm going to slice you open. (Some time later, the blood soaked Johnson returns to his writing.)

Shakes, or the man called Shakes (sounds like James, James Bond, doesn't it.) had a writ taken out against him because he threatened to kill someone. It wasn't a: 'you spilled my mead, I'm going to kill you.' (Remember this is a time when public killings were a time to gather with friend and family and enjoy a day out at the gore.) If someone was afraid of Shakespeare, or the man called Intrepid, there was probably good reason.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Terry Brooks

I've been captured again. I remember being 16 and looking for another 'Lord of The Rings,' replacement, and I picked up Terry Brooks' 'The Sword of Shannara.' I remember thinking, all right, this might be good and then it might not. My impressions while reading it, was, 'not bad, not bad at all, but the name Allanon, not the character, made me snicker a bit. But wait, did you know that Tolkien, when he was shopping around for names, nearly picked Bingo for Bilbo.  In the final analysis, I really liked 'The Sword of Shannara.' Now, here I am, thirty four years later reading Terry Brooks' books 'Armagaddon's Children,' 'The Elves of Cintra,' and 'The Gypsy Morph,' and I am wonderfully astounded how Terry Brooks has grown as a writer.  If you are looking for a 'how to' example of excellence, read the first few chapters of 'The Gypsy Morph.'  Very few writers have such excellent and impeccable timing as Terry Brooks.  If I have a wish, as a writer, I would wish that I could meet Terry Brooks and just simply talk about writing and humanity.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Remember on a previous post when I wrote about wanting to write a Murder Mystery set in Elizabethan times? Well, I came up with a solid device, how women looking like the Queen were being killed all over London. The problem is I find Elizabeth's world too big for me. So, I'm taking that idea and plugging it into the fourth book in the Colin series. I thought book three would be the last, but it seems the tale has some juice left in it, as long as there's a good villain to be had.

Writing of villains, the best of which live in the stories Charles Dickens.  He knew how to play out a good tale by beating down the hero and then raising him up on the wings of moral justice. There is nothing better than a nasty villain, armed with all the tools of their trade, to beat down our hero. I have to work on making my villains more substantial.

I think it's a trend today to see blood and guts and all sorts of nasty things, but a good villain will beat all the sensationalism hands down: remember Kevin Costner's "Robin Hood?" Who was the villain that stole the show? Remember "The Princess Bride?"  It is nice to have a solid "Harry Potter" in your story, but what is Harry Potter without Lord Voldemort?  He would just be another abused orphan, and that's too real. How about Steven King's 'IT'.  A clown as a villain? Brilliant! I've never been able to look Ronald McDonald in the face again without feeling some malignant purpose lurking behind the paint.  In Shelly's "Frankenstein," there is a word that is used to its full effect, and that word is "Monstrous." There is even a trend of making villains the heroes of the tale. I can't do that. I like sweet and sour together but separate, battling each other, with of course David Copperfield and Agnus living happily ever after.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Marketing I

One of the most interesting, and one of the most frustrating things in the world is marketing.  With ebooks becoming more and more popular, the publishing industry has opened up to a more democratic process. Gone are the Media Kings (although they are still around), the self-appointed gate keepers of all things litterary.

"The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all." Mark Twain.

Expose yourself (your work) to the people and let them decide as to its entertainment worth.

So, with places like Smashwords and Amazon, the power is in the hands of the writer, but because of accessibility there is a flood of material, and unless you have a way of catching someones attention, your work, even though it's brilliant, could join the sediments at the bottom of the sea of unread words.

What is marketing? (I don't really have the answer: that's why I'm asking the question)
If I was to make a speculative guess, I would say that marketing is a wagon that passes through town, upon which everyone jumps, whether the wagon is a dilapidated piece of work or a shining example of prose.

Have you ever read a book that was a 'bestseller,' and been left feeling somewhat less for the experience? 

Right now, I'm in the process of selling my material on Amazon. I've discovered the 'gift,' function.  You would pay for advertisement and hope to increase sales. Why not just gift your work. It will only cost you a fraction of the true cost, because you'll still get your royalties.  This accomplishes two things: you sell your book and you (hopefully) get others to read it.  Presently, I'm toying with the idea of throwing a Kindle party at my local library. If you've got a Kindle come on in, give me your email and I'll gift you one of my books. If you like it maybe you'll purchase one of my other titles.

Kindle Party, anyone?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Amazon Select

I thought I would let everyone know that I've placed my books on KDP select in Amazon for a 90 day period. As a result I had to remove my titles from Smashwords. I was very happy with Smashwords, but the KDP Select on Amazon has an exclusivity clause. I'm sorry for the inconvenience this has caused anyone searching for my work through Barnes and Noble. I will, however, be launching my third book in the Colin series through Smashwords.

Thank you again to all my readers.