Mind your P’s and Q’s

One of the greatest thrills of my life happened in our local museum when our kids were little. The exhibit was The Dead Sea scrolls. The fragments of the scrolls presented that day proved to be quite unimpressive. There was little there for the kids to gain an appreciation of what they were looking at. But there was something for them to get their hands on downstairs, and it may have been even more significant historically than the ancient parchment fragments behind the glass. An elderly gentleman was happily giving a spirited demonstration on one of the greatest inventions of all time: the Gutenberg Press. He had a working replica right there in the museum! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked in the room. It was as much like the original as human hands could make it. I happened to work in the printing industry at the time, so I was doubly interested in this exhibit. When he asked for volunteers to pull the big wooden lever to make the impression, I was first in line. My daughter was second.

Gutenberg had converted an old wine press to print typeset pages one after another with amazing speed. This one invention was responsible for the literacy of generations. Before the press, it took one monk one year to transcribe one Bible. Books of any kind were extremely rare and were almost always in the possession of the elite. Literally, no one had books. Think of that. With the printing press, hundreds of books could be printed at a time. Bibles found their way into the hands of almost everyone. And average folks learned to read for the first time in history.

A typeset page consists of little metal blocks of backwards letters, similar what you would see in an old typewriter. These blocks were arranged to form the text on the page and clamped in place into a chase where they could be inked for printing. The printer would need many copies of each letter to typeset a page, and these would have to be organized into a case for storage when not in use. Each letter would have its own compartment in the case, and great pains were taken to keep the letters in the correct compartments. You can imagine how much harder it would be to typeset quickly and accurately if the letters were not in their right compartments. Customers don’t pay for mistakes.

But here’s the thing. In the English language we have capital letters and small letters, right? Well, to keep things within easy reach, there were two cases, one above the other. And guess where the typesetter put the capital letters. The upper case. And naturally the small letters went in the lower case. Do you need to read that again to get it? I’ll wait.

Now keep in mind that the letters are backwards when you look at them on the block. This is so that they make a correct image when pressed against the press sheet. But it can create a problem when trying to keep things in their proper place to avoid mistakes. For instance, a backwards lower case p looks just like a lower case q. So it became critical for a typesetter, when removing letters from a chase and storing them, to…wait for it…mind his p’s and q’s!

Now be honest. You had no idea that’s where we got that saying, did you?

Hey! Where’s this sequel?

I promised book 2 of the trilogy this summer, and I’m sticking to that story. I was hoping to have it ready by June for a July release, but things rarely go according to plan with me. The fact is I could have easily gotten something on the market by now, but I have taken the story through some fairly extensive plot revisions. I have some specific goals for this trilogy that I’m not willing to compromise on, and this new direction is in line with those goals.

So for all of you who are patiently waiting, I want to thank you by giving you some sequel hints to think about:

Why did Skye say no to Emmett’s proposal? I mean think about it: She has a fulfilling career and the man of her dreams and she just walks away from them to become the leader of a secret crime family…?

The reason she gives Emmett is that the people need her. Really? They just tried to kill her! She owes them nothing. So what’s the real reason? Did she see something in The Pact? What does she know that is compelling her to go after this?

Ah, I have said too much. You’ll just have to wait for book 2.

Which, by the way, is coming along nicely. Trust me, it will be well worth the wait.

How much patience?

I recently spent some time on my knees thanking God for all the patience I’ve been gaining lately. No really. You probably know there’s only one way to get it, right? So does God.

Anyway as I got up after that prayer I wondered (under my breath), “How much patience does a guy need?”…after which my scriptures fell open to these words:

“And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.”

Question answered.

While I have been waiting for my trials to end so I can get on with what I’m really here for, God has been exercising His own patience building me into the person He sees I can become. Maybe life isn’t a matter of waiting for the troubles to stop so we can serve. I used to look at the people who have it together and wish I could be like them, vowing to do great things once I had things together like they do. But now I wonder if those people, assuming they really do have it together, got it together during and not after their own personal trials. I wonder if they figured out things weren’t ever going to get better, but they could get better.

So how much patience does a guy really need? Sometimes God doesn’t just answer your question.

Sometimes He obliterates it.

The Chain of the Matriarchs

“So…K. L., what’s the story behind that wicked looking piece of jewelry featured on the cover of your book, The Stone of Secrets?”

Glad you asked. Notice the double rings paired in each link of the chain. Have you ever seen anything like it? It’s so insanely cool it blows my mind. In the book it’s called the Chain of the Matriarchs because it symbolized the matrilineal (through the mother) line of authority in the Pictish royal line. Pictish king lists were strange to historians for many years because there was no father/son succession like there is in other cultures. Each new king seemed to come out of nowhere. Then someone postulated that the Pictish royalty derived their authority through the mother and not the father. This simple twist of things explains the weird king lists perfectly. It is the prevailing view to this day.

What does this have to do with a chain? In 1869 someone in Scotland found this chain sitting in the mud on the side of a drainage ditch. The soil had eroded away to uncover the artifact which had been buried there for a thousand years! The clasp was a penannular ring that had Pictish engravings on it. It is believed to have been used in ceremonies by the nobility. The solid silver chain had been meticulously crafted and looked as it must have looked the day it was dropped on the ground. Silver doesn’t rust of course, so the mud was the perfect place to sit protected for ten centuries.

It’s contemporary name is the Whitecleuch Chain, after the farm where it was discovered in 1869. No one knows what the Picts called it. But see those pairs of rings that comprise each link? Would that not symbolize how each succeeding generation is of necessity brought forth by two? A society so focused on matrilineal authority would have sought to symbolize women’s roles in creative ways. What better way to dramatize those roles than the double-linked chain used in the coronation of a new king? That gives me chills. I have no way to verify any of this of course. But it sure sounds right to me. It just fits, does it not? And it plays right into my story perfectly.

No, I did not secure permission to borrow the actual Whitecleuch Chain from the museum to use it as a prop for my book cover. They would have laughed me out of the building. I had to get a little resourceful. What my cover model is wearing is actually made of polished steel, 3/16″ rod to be precise, from my local hardware store. I clamped one end of the rod perpendicular to the end of a piece of pipe and spiraled it around the pipe while heating it with a torch. When I had the entire rod coiled around the pipe, I cut straight down the length of the pipe with a cutoff wheel, dividing the coiled rod into separate rings. Then it was just a matter of hammering the rings together around each other to make the chain. The chain spent some time in the tumbler to get clean, then a lot of time at the buffing wheel to get that silver-like sheen. Looks pretty good, eh?

You can go to wikipedia for the full story on the Whitecleuch Chain. I’m still trying to figure out how to make the penannular ring clasp. Check out the ring online and let me know if you have any ideas. I really need to complete this thing for it to be truly amazing.

And I’m not going to leave mine in the mud for a millennium. Being made of steel, it would be little more than a streak of rust.

The one thing I hope you didn’t miss in my book…and a sneak peek at book 2!

A great author writes clear enough so that it is impossible for the reader to miss the point.

I hope someday to be a great author. Until then, here is the one morsel I hope everyone takes away from TSOS:

Like all enlightened people, Skye McAlister gets that life isn’t about helping yourself. It’s about helping your brother. As ever, Jesus said it best: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

Everyone can think of real-life examples of this irony: The workaholic who saves every penny so he can buy the ultimate toy, but has no true friends to share it with because of his selfishness. The musician who is so busy touting her talent, she ends up just putting everyone off.

Positive examples also abound: The mother who sacrifices so much to raise her children, to find years later there is a priceless joy that only grandchildren can bring. The youth group that gives up a Saturday to bring happiness to the elderly at the assisted living center. Those who visit hospitals are especially impressive to me. People in hospitals are having the worst days of their lives. Ask me how I know.

Those who give most effectively give their talents, and Skye is in a powerful position to make a difference. I won’t give away the ending, but she has a choice to make between two rights. Anyone can choose between right and wrong. But sometimes life throws two rights in your path. Or even better, two wrongs. Those are the choices that define us.

As I write book 2, Skye is living out her choice. There are good things that play out as a result of her choice, and she is finding she was needed even more than she thought she would be.

But Skye also knew it wouldn’t be easy. Her path is becoming more perilous than she could ever imagine.

So there’s a sneak peek at the direction book 2 is going. It’s going to be even better than TSOS!

Thank you for saving my life

I would be remiss if I did not thank the doctors and staff who have worked on me over the last few weeks of my life. If you did not know, I had coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Pretty much all of the main arteries feeding my heart were blocked. I am otherwise very fit, but my genetics cause my LDL cholesterol to elevate very high. I have known this for many years and have been on high doses of statin drugs, but at 48 things finally caught up with me and I needed CABG. Some observations:

  1. Doctors, especially mine, are very impressive people who know their stuff. This may not be a great revelation to most of you, but doctors are very smart, talented people. You may not think about that much, and I hope you never have to. But if you do, I hope you get doctors as good as mine.
  2. People who work on nursing staffs are very special people. Again, no shocker here. But my life has been touched by the most incredible group of medical professionals I have ever met. How grateful I am to these diligent and selfless angels who work tirelessly at all hours of the day and night to get us better. At times I thought they were trying to kill me. But in the end I have come to realize they were navigating me with skill and precision over the rockiest time of my life. To say thank you would not even come close to how I feel.

My ordeal is not over by any means. But thanks to these wonderful people and the support of the best wife and kids in the world, the worst is behind me. All I can say is thank you!

Historical fiction?

Is it historical, or is it fiction? Can’t be both, right?

Actually, this is a big concern for writers of this genre as it makes them easy targets for any critic who wants to punch holes in the historicity of the story. All the critic has to do is interpret a fictional part as history and then punch away. No research required.

I left myself open even more than that in TSOS because the backstory of Vuradech and his people takes place in a setting about which little is known. The story even leaned a bit toward historical fantasy at one point. (I love that part of the story since it does so much to humanize the character.) Still, much research was done into the Picts and their history to make the Vuradech story as historical as possible while still being fiction.

For instance, many of the character names come right off of Pictish king lists or other name lists. There was an actual Pictish noble named Vuradech. Unfortunately that’s all we know. But now he has a life, albeit a fictional one. Maybe I’ll meet this Vuradech on the other side and he’ll straighten me out on the facts. I would not mind that at all!

Another way the historicity of the Vuradech story was upheld is in the few events we do have a record of, i.e. the Pictish battles with the Angles. We know that Ecgfrith slaughtered the Picts at Grangemouth at the beginning of his reign. The slaughter was so extensive the Northumbrian victors reported that one could walk across the River Carron on the Pictish corpses without getting his feet wet.

The Battle of Duin Nechtain in 685 is one of the best documented events in medieval Scotland. In my story I have brave Vuradech springing the trap set by Bridei and leading the Angles to their demise in a feigned retreat. Not only is it a great story, it’s all true!

And that’s what makes historical fiction the best form of prose IMHO. Because let’s face it: the truth is better than anything I could dream up.

So what do you think? What’s the best balance of fiction and history?

Morsels

My love recently brought to my attention that when I am talking about something amazing I often refer to it as a “morsel.” For instance:

Offering her a bite of my expensive filet mignon: “Here, try this little morsel…”

Observing the way the cream oozes out from the center of a freshly baked eclair: “Ooh look at this little morsel…”

There are morsels all around us, even non-food ones. The way the sun colors the sky as it disappears over the distant mountains. The spontaneous hug of a child. The small but significant personal victory of a loved one who struggles. You can probably think of many more of your own morsels.

History is filled with morsels. You can find them if you search. One of these was Black Agnes. I won’t retell the story here, but if you read the book you know what I am talking about. What an inspiring story for our time when playing the victim is often encouraged or even demanded. Agnes could have whined about her situation, but she decided to take charge instead. It turned out to be an excellent choice. She set the enemy to flight against impossible odds. Go girl!

Morsels abound today. Know anyone who has overcome impossible odds like Agnes? Comment below.

 

THE STONE TRILOGY coming soon to the silver screen!

Okay…soon in geological time. Hey, let’s not get carried away. I gotta launch books 2 and 3 before I will start entertaining offers from Hollywood.

But here’s the deal: I thought it would be fun to get your input on who should play the main characters. I have my personal faves of course, but I want to know who you picture playing Skye and Emmett when you read the book. We all do it. Reading is all about images in the mind. So what do you think? Who should we get for the movies?

We could even make this a contest…so here goes:

Guess the author’s inspiration for Skye and Emmett and you get a signed prerelease copy of Book 2! Hint: they both are from the wonderful world of television, but not the same show. That’s all I’m saying.

Each person gets three guesses for each character. Ready…GO!

TSOS hits top 2% on Amazon.com!

In only its first month out, The Stone of Secrets shot to the top 2% in the rankings on Amazon.com. The site ranks all titles offered according to sales. On June 17, 2017, barely a month after publishing, The Stone of Secrets was rated #22,127 out of over a million ebooks sold on the website. This was without any artificial factors such as free promos boosting sales. Very strong numbers for a brand new title from an up and coming author!