Monday, August 31, 2015

Early Civilizations by Eleanor Stem

Artificially Elongated Head (Painting by Hollar)

While in the throes of a new novel, I’m making an attempt to write a different story of early earth. As a result, I’ve been reviewing ancient civilizations, folklore, and religion. What I’ve learned is through archeological technological advances, old digs become new; little known peoples with shallow histories become complex.

Take for instance the Paracas Skulls. They come from Peru where so many unexplained structures still stand; where strange peoples resided then disappeared. Scientists have found evidence of man not linked to our species buried in the Pisco Province of the old Inca realm.

Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals of meeting along the route to the Pacific Northwest native groups who pressed boards against the heads of young children. They left the boards there until their heads were elongated. This deformity was apparently appealing to the eye. They were called Flat Heads.

Other civilizations around the world decorated their bodies with ink, or extended their lips with flat insertions. I should think this distortion would make it difficult to eat or drink. Some cultures allowed their aristocrats to grow long fingernails, forming them into spirals and decorated with jewels. Once their nails were in this position, they were incapable of doing the slightest task and had to be helped by another. In other places, female necks were stretched from clavicle to chin with metal rings. Once their growing stopped, if the rings were removed, their necks would not support their heads.

How did cultures come about with these ideas? What caused them to think these deformities had worth?

Well, let us look at the Paracas find...

Skeletons have been discovered in South America whose heads were elongated, but not purposefully done. Their heads were this way by natural design. Does this mean somewhere along our ancient, shadowed history, our ancestors came upon people with naturally elongated skulls? Here's some pics.

The large Paracas burial site was discovered in 1928 and filled with approximately 300 skeletons, all with deformed skulls. Peruvian archaeologist, Julio Tello, believes these remains have been buried about 3,000 years. The craniums excavated are 25-60% heavier than the ones you and I possess. They also contain one parietal plate as opposed to our two, another reason that suggests these skulls come from an unknown source.

Mr Juan Navarro is the owner and director of Paracas History Museum that houses several of these remains. Recently, he allowed samples of the skeletons to be DNA tested. “...samples consisted of hair, including roots, a tooth, skull bone and skin... documented via photos and video.”

The geneticist who received these samples had no idea what he had prior to his testing. Brien Foerster who authored several books on people of South America revealed the data from this DNA testing.

Unless data comes forth from other sources as a comparison, these tests show the specimens are completely separate from any evolutionary species on our earth. If there is an association with humanoids, then it happened in the far distant past.

The initial results are impressive even as scientists are not done testing. What will happen when more of our world is exposed due to the melting ice sheets? What else will we learn of our earth and its “far far away” distant past?

Of course, you’ll find a plethora of nay-sayers. They are all over the internet, like this one. But what if they are wrong? I contend over the centuries we have lost valuable information that would explain so many mysteries. What about the Library of Alexandria that was purposefully destroyed over a period of years, the first attempt by the Julius Caesar. They say the loss of ancient information is incalculable.  

We think none of the above will happen now, that all our collected data is safe. Wars couldn’t obliterate it, fires or earthquakes. More and more information is being electronically accumulated and stored.

Who reads paper books these days? Who goes to a bank? We can retrieve reading material, money and data from outside sources that go directly to our smartphones, our computers.  We have backups, and backups on top of that. Somewhere there would be a record.

But what if our earth was struck by a strong electromagnetic pulse that wiped out our electronic data? This sort of energy could destroy all our stored records, the information that shows who we are. If anything of us remained, later peoples would consider our culture primitive.  

Many thanks to:
The website Ancient Origins:

All pictures are from Wikicommons, Public Domain (This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.)

For further good reading on so many subjects, please go to:

And there's this one:

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

NEVIS, A 1957 Visit

It was 1957 when Mom and I traveled to Nevis.  It was January, which is the best tourist weather in the Caribbean, with lots of sun. We flew up from Barbados to Antigua and then on to mountainous St. Kitts on the old British West Indian Airways in a DC 3. We boomed along slowly, carefully skirting majestic cumulus clouds.  Flying was a less exact process in those days, and deep in the innards of those big clouds rough weather could be hiding.

I was pretty excited, because we were going to see the place where my hero, Alexander Hamilton, had been born.  Mom said there probably wouldn’t be much to see but the island itself, however, she too was curious about this (then) rarely visited speck in the West Indian sea. Honoring Hamilton, I knew, was a kind of family tradition. My Grandfather Liddle always spoke highly of his great achievements as a Founding Father. So, after a foray into the musty interior of a used book store, my usually critical mother had been approving when I’d arrived at the cash register with Gertrude Atherton’s 1902 “dramatic biography” of Hamilton in hand.    

Mrs. Atherton had studied her subject with care. She, being an adventurous woman (and probably well-heeled), had traveled in the 1890’s to both Nevis and St. Croix, another island where Hamilton spent part of his youth, to do research.  All her skillful, ardent Edwardian prose went straight to my head. By the time I finished her book, I was convinced that Alexander Hamilton was the most romantic--as well as the smartest, hardest working man--among that crew of geniuses who’d shaped our early republic.

Mom and I stayed overnight in St. Kitts.  I remember that as one of the coldest I ever spent in the West Indies. There were shutters, and although we closed them tightly, the wind whistled through our room all night. Our plane was supposed to leave in the afternoon for Nevis—there were two ways to get there—on a ferry or in a small plane—but I was famously sea-sick. The plane would be small, completely full with four passengers and the pilot.  

We arrived at the airport –which was just a tin-sided, palm-frond-roofed shelter—and then waited and waited. The little plane (probably a modified Super Cub) was in parts in a shed next to the runway, because “somethin’ was not right”. My mother and I both grew anxious, as you might imagine. I sat on a wooden bench cradling Mrs. Atherton’s book.  I was by now well on the way to memorizing it.

Finally, we took off, even though the sun was going down. The adults, used to the vagaries of West Indies travel, made graveyard jokes, but falling out of the sky into the ocean didn’t really seem possible to me, not when I was on the verge of my Hamilton epiphany.  Half an hour later, we arrived—landing on an island which is little more than a mountain whose cloudy head juts from the sea. 

The runway was a grass field. Men holding poles with flaming, kerosene-soaked rags wrapped about their tops illuminated our landing area.  A couple of bounces later, we were down. Then another wait, until a couple of taxis appeared to take us all into Charlestown.  

At the guest house, lit by kerosene lanterns, the gray-haired proprietress, looking as if she’d stepped out of the 1920’s in her dowager’s ankle-length dress, took one look at me and said she didn’t allow children—“especially not American children” in her house. Looking around the room, with lots of antimacassar-backed chairs and delicate-legged side tables, every surface of which was covered with china figurines, I had a notion of what she was worried about.  Mom put on her most glacial demeanor and said that I was a perfectly well-behaved only child who spent all her time reading and who would certainly never enter the good parlor unless invited to do so.  “And besides,” she added, “I have brought her all this way from New York State to see where her hero, Alexander Hamilton, was born. Show her your book, Judy.”

I held out the beloved book for the old woman’s inspection.

“Ah,” she said, examining the cover. “Why, it’s Mrs. Atherton! Do you really like it?”

“Very much,” I said. “I can’t stop reading it. Hamilton goes with me everywhere.”

For the first time, the lady smiled. She extended her hand and said, “Come with me, my dear, and I’ll show you my very own copy of that book.” 

And sure enough she had one, the only other copy I’ve ever seen “in person.” Who could have predicted that this would be the thing that would convince her to let us stay?. Our hostess then explained the kerosene lamps.

“It’s after six o’clock now. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. we have electricity, after that we use these. It makes for early nights.”

On the very next day, we contemplated a heap of stones by the harbor which were said to be the remains of the Hamilton house. We did a lot of one-of-a-kind things there. We bathed in the hot springs in our swim suits, everything very informal. You just paid the man who hung around there, and he walked along with you to the hollows where the water steamed, warning you first about which pools that would scald you. These gravel-bottomed pools were shaded by a grove of towering palm trees. The tall ferns and delicate flowers clustered about the “baths” were the lushest and most beautiful I’d ever seen.

Another day, we traveled up the mountain to see the ruins of sugar mills. We particularly admired one that had been turned into a hotel where we met the owners and enjoyed lunch. There were always clouds gathering around the top of that mountain every afternoon. We were up so high that day that these gray clouds enveloped us, eventually bathing everything with a surprisingly cool tropical rain.
On other, more ordinary days, we swam from a beach of brown sugar sand, but it was often cloudy,  more so than the other islands we’d visited. We weren't keen to swim too far out into that mysterious gray-blue water, either, as there was often not another soul around for as far as the eye could see.  

It's been a good many years since that visit, but Alexander and his beloved Betsy are still with me, as well as so many treasured memories of that lovely, mysterious, cloudy-headed island. It was hard to let go of a story I've been writing off and on and for ever so long, but here, at last, Books We Love has published it.  





Friday, August 28, 2015

Profiling ~ Getting to Know Your Characters By Connie Vines


Image result for psychological profiling

  1. the recording and analysis of a person's psychological and behavioral characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying a particular subgroup of people.

It's always a good idea to get to know your characters before starting your novel.  Of course, little quirks and warts always show up as the story progresses.  However, I feel it is a good idea to 'get to know' your main characters before jumping into to your story.

How, exactly is this possible?  Our characters are not 'real' people.  Perhaps they are not 3-dimensional people``but as a writer, my characters must be 'real' to me and to my readers.  Otherwise, I do not have a novel or a believable story to tell.

So. how exactly. do I go about 'profiling' my characters?

Here are a few things which I implement:

See what he/she will share with you.  What he hides, what motivates him, and what he really needs.
  • Basic Information:  What is the character's age, sex, ethnicity?  Describe his physical appearance (include unique features, scars, dimples).  How does he dress?  What about his clothing speaks to the kind of person he is (carefully pressed/rumpled and stained).  What item does he carry about with him.  What is it he can't live without?
  • Voice:  Does the character speak quickly or slowly?  Does he overuse any verbal tics?  Are his sentences choppy or rambling?  Is he well educated? Working class?  If you were blind folded, could you pick-out your character's voice in a room filled with people?  Why?
  • Education and Finances:  Is he naturally intelligent, clever, witty, or shy?  Is he book-smart? Self-taught, or experienced in a specific field?  Is he barely scraping by, allow him to live comfortably?  Is his job a job, or personally satisfying?
  • Special Skill and Talents:  Day-to-day skills?  Computers, mechanical, green thumb, cook?  Talents?  Name on unique talent the character has that no one knows about, and one talent he openly shares.  Are any of these skill a pride or and embarrassment?  Why?
  • Family and Family dynamics.
  • Morals and Ethics:  Is is always of particular interest to me because most of my stories deal with social issues.
  • Identity vs. Persona:  What five words would your character use to describe himself?  What 5 words would his best friend/family member use?
  • Secrets and Fears:  What is your character's biggest secret? His biggest fear?
  • Backstory and Wound: Thinking about that fear and secret, the once your character doesn't want to reflect on or admit to. . .what event in his past caused the very thing he feared come to pass?  How this event sent him on a new life path?
  • Needs, Desires: What is your opening moment--the start of the story?  What makes this day any different from any other day?  What does he think will make him happy? What does he care not wish for?  What would allow him to face any challenge/hardship?
Now to but it all together!  The more you know about your character(s) the better you story.  Of course, not everything you discover ends up in your story.  However, it certainly makes the journey more vivid for both the writer and the reader.

My characters are all very different, and lead very different lives.  Yet, I trust each is unique and vivid to my readers.  Each story is a mini-world filled with love, heartache, adventure, and always,always--a happily ever after!

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A word or two about the Vikings--Tricia McGill

My BWL books on Smashwords

As you can probably guess I have a fascination for the Vikings. There have been many tales told of them and their exploits, their travels, and above all about their raiding, looting, ravishing, and brutality. Most of what we have learned of their exploits comes from findings in graves and digs in places around the world that they inhabited. My main fascination with them is because of their great seamanship and their wonderful skills at building the ships that allowed them to sail to far off places. Their navigational skills set them apart.

The Vikings came from all over the region known as Scandinavia. They didn’t get along with each other and fought with their countrymen as fiercely as they fought with their enemies. The word Viking comes from “vikingr” which means pirate, or “Viken” the area around the Oslo fjord in Norway. They were also called Norsemen (men from the north)

The deck of a longship
Vikings were skilled in metal work and this helped their society to create the sharp axes they used to cut down the wood needed for building their famous ships and houses. After the trees were cut down the land that was left was perfect for the farmers to grow their crops. The Vikings prized their swords and it was said they even gave them names.

Warriors would often be buried with their weapons so they could use them in the afterlife.
A Viking craftsman’s chest was discovered in Sweden in 1936 that contained amazing implements and tools that were used for metal working and carpentry. Is it any wonder their longships were a masterful work.

The Vikings did not invent the runes but adapted a script in use at that time in parts of central Europe. The Vikings had a 24 letter alphabet that was reduced to 16 letters by AD800. Runes were replaced by the Latin alphabet as the Vikings were converted to Christianity.
Viking 16 rune alphabet

Vikings were masters of their environment and because of this their culture flourished. So, coastal settlements obviously became over-crowded. Thus the first adventurers set of in their wonderful ships to find new lands. Early Viking raiders were known to arrive at a new land in the spring, spend the summer there looting, then sail home for the winter.
A Viking jeweler's tools
Domestic Viking objects found at Coppergate, York UK
Vikings despised weakness. Even their poor babies who were sickly were often thrown into the sea at birth or left outside to perish so they would not be a burden to the family.
If you watched the series on TV last year “Vikings”, which I would not have missed for the world, it had Ragnar’s wife in a quandary as by rights she should have had one of their babies killed when it was born with a slight deformity, but she refused and clung to the child, which caused all sorts of problems between them. This series was not for the faint-hearted as it contained brutality of the worst kind.

The Vikings loved their rituals. Some were horrific by our standards. They made sacrifices to their gods—of animals and people. Every nine years they held a ceremony in Sweden (according to a writer named Adam of Bremen) where animals and humans were sacrificed and their blood was offered to the gods and their bodies were then hung from trees.

I  could go on for pages about the Norsemen, but guess this is where I should end. 
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