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Most of us are staying home or limiting where and when we go out.
This is an important part of caring about each other and joining together to limit spread of Covid-19 and its harrowing toll of sickness and death. Life as we knew it is suspended for a while. There is much uncertainty about when things will return to any semblance of normal. We’re not able to see our family and friends face-to-face. We keep in touch by social media and phones. Many of us are expanding our comfort with virtual interactions and learning new tricks.
As an author, this “stay at home, stop the spread” reality is both familiar and oddly unsettling. It’s familiar since I already stay home a lot, especially since I’m retired (from a day job) and don’t need to go anywhere regularly. Many of my days were already spent facing my computer screen, doing research and writing. Days could pass without going out anywhere. But when I felt the need to take a break, get some physical activity, go shopping, or socialize with friends, these options were available.
Now they are not. For physical activity, I can take a walk being careful not to approach any other walker closer than six feet. I can do yoga or calisthenics at home—you know just how much appeal that has. For socializing, I can call people or engage in online messaging. That’s OK but not nearly the same as in person discussions. I can do some shopping, but need to put in an online order, hoping what I want is in stock, and set a time for pickup where the clerk puts the groceries inside the trunk. Or else, have things I’ve ordered online dropped off on the porch.
Brave New World indeed!
Now you’d think that an author forced to stay at home would become wildly productive. You envision authors glued to their computers, keying out thousands of words. That new project should be a breeze with so much time. Take on new challenges and spiff up all your social media platforms. Finish those stories. Write amazing blogposts. Submit to awards and contests. Write book reviews by the dozens.
The funny thing is how hard I find it to get motivated. The national crisis has a way of sapping my energy and concentration. I try to avoid watching too much news, but there’s a dreadful fascination with how this pandemic is wreaking havoc across the world. My heart is heavy over such suffering and loss. Silently I urge on the leaders and health workers who contend with the worse of it. Serious concern wells up about workers and families upended as the economy takes a nose dive. We are all affected. We are all—as a planet—in this together. May we find our way through to a more cohesive and caring tomorrow.
The Prophetic Mayan Queen is a Semi-Finalist in Contemporary & Literary Fiction
The SOMERSET Book Awards recognize emerging talent and outstanding works in the genre of Literary, Contemporary, and Satire Fiction. The Somerset Book Awards is a genre division of the Chanticleer International Book Awards (The CIBAs).
Chanticleer International Book Awards is looking for the best books featuring contemporary stories, literary themes, adventure, satire, humor, magic realism or women and family themes. These books have advanced to the next judging rounds. The best will advance. Which titles will be declared as winners of the prestigious Somerset Book Awards?
At the Authors Conference in Bellingham, WA, on April 18, 2020 the winners of all divisions of Chanticleer Book Reviews will be announced. It’s very exciting for my latest book to reach the semi-finalist stage! There are 16 semi-finalists in each division. I’ve long thought the names given for these divisions are humorous and entertaining, such as Chaucer Awards for Early HIstorical Fiction, Chatelaine Awards for Romance, Ozma Awards for Fantasy, Cygnus Awards for Science Fiction, Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult Fiction, Litle Peeps Award for Early Readers, and more.
Within a division such as Contemporary & Literary Fiction, authors need to choose among subcategories. After pondering this choice I selected two subcategories: Women’s Fiction and Magical Realism. The first is obvious, since the protagonist is a talented and strong girl who develops into a powerful, wise queen with a mandate to preserve her people’s heritage. The second was selected because the Mayan culture has deep themes of mysticism and inter-dimensional realities. Rulers, priestesses, shamans, and healers had frequent interactions with spirit beings such as goddesses and gods, elementals, and ancestors. To the Mayas, this was part of their normal world, so this kind of magic was very real to them.
The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque has garnered other acknowledgement, such as a 5-star review by Seattle Book Reviews and several praiseworthy editorial reviews. Here’s hoping she wins the Somerset Award which comes with a great Prize Package with lots of publicity!
The Tucson Festival of Books is a community-wide celebration of literature. Offered free-of-charge, the festival exists to improve literacy rates among children and adults. Proceeds that remain after festival expenses have been paid are contributed to local literacy programs.
Started in 2009, this gathering of authors and publishers, marketers and sponsors, receives up to 135,000 visitors and features around 500 authors and presenters. Each year event typically includes special programming for children and teens, panels by best-selling and emerging authors, a literary circus, culturally diverse programs, a poetry venue, exhibitor booths and two food courts. Featured authors give talks in various buildings, while in the university mall there are booths for indie authors to meet fans and sell books in 2-hour time periods over the weekend. This year’s festival is March 14-15. You can see the schedule at: http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/
Friends have mentioned this book festival, but this is the first year that I’ll be participating. Just needing some warmth and sunshine after one of the most wet, cold, and grey winters in recent Oregonian memory. My books will be featured at the Indie Author Pavilion – Adult Fiction on Sunday, March 15, 2020 from 10 am-12 noon. If you’re in the area, stop by! I’ll be offering discounted book packages on the Mayan Queen series.
My last trip to Palenque was in 2012. Went to celebrate the 12-21-12 Winter Solstice when the Mayan Calendar ended a great cycle (Mayan Sun or Era) moving from the Fourth to the Fifth Sun. At least, that’s what many said . . . note that the world didn’t end as some predicted. The Mayas of course never said that–to them it was simply one great cycle ending and another beginning.
Join me in cyberspace for a book tour!
February 5 – 28, 2019. Come whenever you have time, you don’t need to dress up.
Visit each blog stop, even those already scheduled, read interviews, guest blogs, reviews, and excerpts.
Comment to enter book giveaway.
Doing book tours the easy way.
With the launch of the fourth and final book of my series about ancient Mayan Queens, I decided to take the easier route. For each of the previous three books, I scheduled brick-and-mortar bookstore tours. Doing these took a huge amount of time, energy, coordination, and publicity. Physical tours are also quite expensive, with travel costs and presentation materials. For the most part, my bookstore tours were decidedly not cost-effective. Of course, I really enjoyed my interactions with bookstore event coordinators and staff, and the usually small number of interested readers who attended. Traveling to Seattle allowed me to visit family and friends, and my Oregon stops were equally congenial. This time around, however, I just wanted less hassle. Virtual book tours were the answer! Now I can stay at home, doing my book event via my computer, and even while enjoying a glass of wine.
Organizing a virtual book tour is no small task. I did seek out a few book bloggers for the earlier books, but didn’t have the bandwidth to create a real tour. So, I decided to use Virtual Book Tour (VBT) organizers for my new book. Having a professional VBT organizer certainly makes everything flow better. It’s a real pleasure to work with Teddy Rose of Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.
What you can expect when you join in my VBT.
Ten different book bloggers are hosting during this tour. They were selected because they have interests in my book’s genres, which span historical fiction, historical romance, fantasy, and paranormal novels. When bloggers and books are matched, the results are optimal. The bloggers are scheduled during a set time period, and can elect to send the author interview questions, request a guest blog post on a subject they choose, post an excerpt from the book, or write a book review. Some bloggers do more than one of these. The author receives everything in advance and sends responses to the tour organizer by a set date. Then the tour host forwards it to the blogger, who posts it on the set date.
Tour organizers advise authors to offer a book giveaway or gift certificate to readers who visit the blogs and write a comment. It’s an enticement for participation and increases visibility on the web. In my present VBT, I’m using a book giveaway, either ebook or paperback. You can enter at each blog stop for a chance to win.
Virtual book tours are a great tool for authors to get their books read, reviewed, and noticed. They help create buzz around a book release.
Schedule of VBT for The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque.
Visit each blog stop, enjoy reviews, interviews, guest posts, and excerpts. You can make comments at any time, even after the scheduled dates, and enter for a chance to win the book giveaway.
Feb. 5 Bookgirl86’s Reviews https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2696578333?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1
“The Devil is in the Detail” implies that although something might look simple at first, there is a catch hidden in the details.
Often an idea seems wonderful, but turns out impossible to implement. We may be able to agree on generalities, but come to blows on specifics. A project may appear straightforward and easy, but takes more time and effort to carry out than we expected. “The Devil”—our difficulties and challenges—hides in the details.
This is the contemporary understanding of the idiom. But, it was not always interpreted this way. Use of the phrase goes back at least to the early 1800s when French writer Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) said “Le bon Dieu est dans le détail.” By saying “The good God is in the detail” Flaubert was emphasizing that details were sacred and significant.
Whatever one was doing, it should be done thoroughly and with full attention. Details are important.
The actual source of the idiom is unknown. It’s generally accepted that German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) used it, but almost certainly did not invent the phrase. It was a favorite of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) although his biographer could not be certain it originated with him. Some have attributed it to Michelangelo (1475-1564). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations lists it as an anonymous saying.
Whether “The Devil” or “The Good God” is in the detail, we are led to conclude that details are very important, even possibly sacred. Writers of historical fiction know this all too well. Get the details or facts wrong, and you’ll never stop hearing about it from readers and critics. Put in too many details, in hopes of giving readers a rich and full experience of a culture and time period, and you’re criticized for unnecessary information that slows down the plot. Put in too few details, and readers complain they cannot get a good sense of the setting, culture, character, time period, geography, and so forth. The historical fiction author has then failed in the all-important task of “world-building.”
Books about well-known societies and cultures have fewer challenges in world-building. Most readers already know the Regency or Victorian era, the Tudor or Plantagenet dynasty, Renaissance Italy, medieval times, and popular ancient cultures such as Rome, Greece, or Egypt. Historical fiction authors writing about less known cultures have more need for thorough world-building. In particular, I have in mind ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. Even indigenous groups in North America lived in worlds generally less understood by most readers. In these cases, putting in sufficient details is important.
My HF novels are set in ancient Mayan civilization. There is a dearth of literature focused on this culture; even the Aztecs and Incas get more press. Because of this, my books include details of everyday life, technology, arts, and cosmology to provide a fuller picture of this advanced culture. I weave this information into the story with several writers’ caveats in mind: whenever possible “show rather than tell,” make expositional dialogue seem natural, make the details serve the plot or character development. Most importantly, keep it interesting.
Ah, there’s the rub. How much is enough and not too much? Reviewers have called my books “well-detailed,” “no light read,” full of detailed descriptions,” “complex world-building.” They also say the books “provide a realistic feel,” give “depth and meaning to overall events,” and make “the Mayan world and its underlying influences come alive.” But one review from a pricey and well-respected source felt there were just too many details. While the information was captivating, there was far too much for an enjoyable novel. Besides, they complained that readers really didn’t need to know about the “trapezoidal linear truss using high strength timber crossbeams” that made Lakam Ha’s architecture innovative.
Who would want to know? Anyone interested in ancient Mayan civilization.
One often pondered question is how the Mayas built their soaring pyramids of huge stones in a jungle environment without metal tools. Ancient Lakam Ha (Palenque) is widely known as the most graceful and architecturally unique Mayan city. A good deal of literature examines how they built and what innovative technologies allowed Lakam Ha to create its harmonious structures. Mayas traditionally used a corbel arch technique to form ceilings of chambers and passageways. Not a true arch, this technique lacked support strength. At Lakam Ha, ceilings were higher and rooms wider than at other Mayan cities. The trapezoidal linear truss was the technology that made this possible.
In any case, this is mentioned only once in a short passage of three paragraphs. The description is set in dialogue between ruler Pakal and his chief architect. To my thinking, it is such tidbits of detail that give readers a good sense of this remarkable culture’s immense creativity.
But perhaps I get carried away . . . in my most recent book about Mayan queens, publishing in October 2018, one major character is a brilliant astronomer and numerologist. Kan Bahlam II, who becomes ruler of Lakam Ha when Pakal dies, invented the 819-day calendar and a secret code language based on astronumerology called “Zuyua.” He conceived and had built The Cross Group, a three pyramid complex considered the ultimate statement of Palenque creation mythology. Panels in these pyramids are carved with hieroglyphs and figures that embed the secret codes and calendar, and weave them with Kan Bahlam’s personal history. It is pure creative genius.
Therefore, I wanted to share this knowledge with readers. After sending the manuscript to my beta readers, however, their feedback made me realize that although captivating, this really was too much information. Several pages of explanations and examples of astronumerology were cut from the book. After all, it had taken me several years of study to understand it and I couldn’t expect readers to grasp it on first exposure.
Because the Devil is in the Detail.
2019 (paperback and ebook) on Amazon or ask your local bookstore.
In the writing process, an author comes to realize that readers are an invaluable part. We may write due to internal compulsions, and our books are fulfillment of the creative process, but without people to read those books, something very critical is missing. As we move into 2018, I’m reminded of how blessed I am to have your support and friendship as readers.
In appreciation, I’m giving you a gift. This is a nonfiction booklet I wrote bringing together material about Mayan Queens and women rulers in several cities in Mexico and Guatemala.
Magnificent Mayan Queens:
Native women of Power and Vision, Maya Preclassic to Late Classic Periods.
Why do we read?
Storytelling has been part of human society as long as anyone can remember. Before writing, primitive people gathered around a campfire to listen in rapt attention to the local storyteller weave tales of adventure or mystery. Now we sit down with a good book, e-reader, tablet, smart phone, even the TV or DVD for the same experience. Why is reading or listening to stories so compelling for humans? Psychologists who study the “Theory of Mind” say we’re always trying to guess what other people are thinking and feeling, even though we do this unconsciously. Why is this something people universally do? Because this helps us learn which people we can trust and which we cannot. It also provides basic foundations for social interaction; without this we would be in a quandary about how to respond to others.
Not much has changed in this quintessentially human trait in thousands of years, except the way we engage with stories. Researchers at the University of Liverpool found that social topics make up two thirds of people’s conversation through public media, regardless of age or gender. We continue to be fascinated by other people’s stories, one reason why gossip columns and celebrity cults stay popular. There’s no doubt a voyeur element here, but researchers believe the key value underlying this is empathy. A University of North Carolina psychologist reported that people with high empathy characteristics more easily engage in stories. However, this characteristic varies greatly among people. Some are easily touched emotionally while others seem unaffected by even the saddest or most miraculous stories.
Empathy is “the ability to identify oneself mentally with a person or thing and so understand the other’s feelings or meaning.” Native Americans described this ability as being able to walk in another person’s moccasins; the proverbial “walk a mile in my shoes.”An interesting research finding is that people who read more have an 83% chance of forming excellent relationships, while those who seldom read have only a 14% chance. It seems that when you can see the world through another’s eyes, you have more ability to form good relationships. Research suggests that this drive to seek understanding about the experiences and perspectives of other people is deeply ingrained, perhaps even instinctive.
So keep on reading!
Reading fiction is good for you. It opens a world onto other people and places, where you learn and have vicarious experiences. It goes beyond providing entertainment and diversion, and helps you develop social skills that enhance your relationships. Of course, I’ve got a few good books I can recommend:
It’s my pleasure to host a guest blogpost by J. Mitchel Baker as part of his blog tour. He is featuring his book A Journey Within, a lyrical mix of memoir, adventure, and philosophy as he follows his soul’s call to search for the higher design in his life. He embarks on a personal journey into the wilderness, encountering raw nature with its survival challenges and potential for spiritual revelation. This is the true story of a man whose career involves nature and animals, yet whose inner voice called him into the wilderness. After years of postponement, he embarked on his personal quest into the unknown. In raw nature, he encounters unexpected challenges and finds courage through his animals to forge onward. The book highlights “the duality between both the physical and the spiritual. It carries a message of courage and inspiration to connect with life and the inner self, taking the road less traveled, and living authentically.”
Below are Baker’s reflections on the mystical powers inherent in nature. My review of his book follows. — Leonide Martin
The mystique of the wild
I rage over the discourtesies shown by other drivers on an overfilled urban stretch of road. I stress over the relentless looming of debt. I obsess with the needs of my children. My hypertension rises with the vagaries of office politics and oppressive timelines. This is an ordinary day, played over yet again and again. But is this the life we were truly meant to live? Oh how I wish I were back in the wilds. The wild is often in my dreams; memories acute with wisdom learned.
Find a place in nature: the ocean, the forest, a river, or a mountain top. Sit and simply listen.
It begins with absolute silence. An ear accustomed to too much input will resist the auditory vacuum. A body learned in the ways of constant motion and a full agenda will fight for purpose. But be utterly still. Do not speak. Breathe deeply. Allow the ego to quiet itself. And be mindful of all things internal and external. There you can find your true self. There you can hear your true inner voice. There, in that setting devoid of space and time, is where you find awareness.
The listless flapping of leaves and the slow sway of the trees in the breeze naturally aligns our rhythms to the earth. The colorful grandeur of a mountain range as the sun settles demands we feel small and insignificant, yet happy to be alive. The vastness and brilliance of the stars on a cloudless night remind us we are part of something greater than ourselves. Sacred moments such as these give us pause to reflect on what is truly important in our lives.
The mysticism of these singular moments is the self-realization that the separation between each of us and nature is an illusion. Everything in nature is connected. Her millions of component parts contribute to create a perfect whole. We are part of that whole. She guides us toward something larger than ourselves, forces us to exist in the moment. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Now.
“There came to me a delicate, but at the same time a deep, strong and sensuous enjoyment of the beautiful green earth, the beautiful sky and sun; I felt them, they gave me inexpressible delight, as if they embraced and poured out their love upon me. It was I who loved them, for my heart was broader than the earth; it is broader now than even then, more thirsty and desirous. After the sensuous enjoyment always come the thought, the desire: That I might be like this; that I might have the inner meaning of the sun, the light, the earth, the trees and grass, translated into some growth of excellence in myself, both of the body and of mind; greater perfection of physique, greater perfection of mind and soul; that I might be higher in myself.”
– Richard Jefferies, The Story of My Heart
The mystique of nature is neither measurable nor empirical but rather a deep experience that heals and inspires; an understanding all indigenous people across the globe have acknowledged for thousands of years; each embracing the earth as their mother. The emotional connection is there if you sit and simply listen. But perhaps we have travelled too far into our urban sprawls.
A Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker
Review by Leonide Martin
This first person account of the author’s quest for his destiny and personal truth is both lyrical and intensely vivid. Driven by an inner vision to seek the fullness of who he is, Baker plans an adventure on horseback into the wild country of New Mexico. With his dog and three companions, he braves uncharted mountain terrain along the Continental Divide, taking few supplies and depending on nature to provide most needs. The congenial group of men, horses and dog faces unforeseen obstacles and must use wits and instinct to surmount flooded rivers, steep craggy paths, and disappearing trails.
Weaving through scary accounts of close calls with disaster are Baker’s inner reflections, revealing a profound philosophy and dedication to following his spiritual path. These deeply felt considerations are infused with an appreciation and honoring of nature that borders on the mystical. His love for animals and the natural world shines through. He is a man capable of enduring heart rending loss and yet remaining open to the richness of life’s experiences. Quotes at the beginning of each chapter frame the issues he grapples with, or provide inspirations drawn from a surprising range of teachers, from Jung and Freud to Mark Twain and Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Yogi Bera and modern mystic Caroline Myss.
Baker must make choices toward the journey’s end about following his own goals or keeping solidarity with his companions and ensuring safety. His selfless decision truncates the quest and he ponders what more might have been forthcoming had he continued. Feeling that the journey is incomplete and spiritual revelations remain, Baker ends the story setting off on another nature encounter with his horse, dog and one friend. The journey continues as he seeks to discover a greater design for his life.
Preconceptions commonly held about “cowboys” and outdoorsmen in the southwest are dismantled by this sensitive, eloquent memoir.