Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rock and Roll Super Bowl: Beatles vs. Stones

And now for something completely different....

It's the greatest rock and roll battle in history! Two super powers collide: The Beatles, led by ace songwriter, John Lennon, pitted against The Rolling Stones, captained by rock renegade and surprisingly good dancer, Mick Jagger. It's the ultimate showdown, a clash of titans where only one can emerge supreme. Today we answer the most important question in history: who is the greatest rock and roll band of all time!

But first, a pre-game show presented by The Rolling Stones.


Songwriting
This incredibly subjective battle is underway! The Stones gain ground first with sheer driving beats and to-the-roots rock simplicity. The Beatles, however, fight back with cutting edge experimentation complexity. The overall winner of this match-up, however, has to go to... The Beatles! According to number of recording artists adopting and producing their songs for their own (an undeniable sign of professional respect and admiration) The Beatles have five of the top 10 most covered songs in history. The Stones have only one.

Score: Beatles 7 Rolling Stones 0

Longevity
Though the Beatles had a meteoric rise to fame of unprecedented dimensions, there is no doubt their career burned brightly but briefly. Even reaching back to the earliest days as an unknown band of mere kids in Liverpool and Hamburg clubs in the early sixties, The Beatles survived less than a decade until their very public breakup in 1970. The Rolling Stones on the other hand are still rocking today, setting records in the mid 1990's for highest grossing tours of all time and playing at Super Bowl XL in 2006.

Score: Beatles 7 Rolling Stones 7

Let's take a timeout. It's time for the halftime show, brought to you by The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 (one of the most watched moments in American television history)




Album sales
The Rolling Stones have been a powerhouse on the international music scene for decades, selling an estimated 200 million albums worldwide! The Beatles, however, have absolutely crushed that. As the greatest selling musical act of all time, they have sold an estimated 600 million albums. Sorry Stones! The Beatles win this round.

Score: Beatles 14 Rolling Stones 7

The Heart of Rock and Roll
Rock and roll is a thinly defined genre. Artists spanning the spectrum all the way from Elvis Presley to Marilyn Manson have fallen under the umbrella term of "rock." Jack Black provides a workable definition of rock and roll in the movie School of Rock, positing the necessity of "sticking it to the man." This notion implies the need for rebellion, counterculture and subversiveness to qualify for the genre. Historically the idea of rebellion has persevered across the rock spectrum, taken to its logical extreme with Punk and Alternative Rock in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

That all being established, there is no doubt that with album titles like "Let it Bleed," "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main Street," The Rolling Stones embraced and embodied the notion of rebellion far more than The Beatles with their "Let it Be" "Help" and "Abbey Road." Point: Stones.

Score: Beatles 14 Stones 14

Number One Hits
The Rolling Stones have had eight number one hits on the U.S. Billboard Top 100 charts, an impressive feat not matched by many in the history of Billboard Top 100. However, as with album sales, The Rolling Stones were vastly eclipsed by The Beatles, who hold the all-time record with 20 number one hits. Say what you will, but this has to be gauge factor in measuring something as subjective as "greatness."

Score: Beatles 21 Rolling Stones 14

And that's it! The final whistle has blown. Though The Rolling Stones deserve to be touted as one of the great rock and roll bands in history, there is no question that The Beatles have won this Rock and Roll Super Bowl. What an event! What a match! The age-old question has finally been answered: The Beatles are the greatest rock and roll band of all time!

Final Score
THE BEATLES                    21
THE ROLLING STONES   14

Surely, you have a different opinion. I want to hear it! Maybe you can argue the Stones were greater. Or maybe another band. Comment below. You don't even have to sign up. You can even comment as anonymous if you want. However, if add your name and a hyperlink to your own website you will have yet another place in this crazy thing called the internet that connects back to you! Search engine web crawlers use such hyperlinks to give your website a score and thus a better search rating.

Final Word
John Lennon talks about The Rolling Stones and what he viewed was their tendency to imitate The Beatles:


If you enjoyed this apparently random post, consider signing up for my mailing list. I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph in a novel to giant redwoods, medieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these numerous books I've been working on for years, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading.

find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Word Wars: Episode IV- Results. Who Emerged from the Blood & Smoke the Victor?

A week ago I pondered a question and posted a poll. What makes a compelling first paragraph? One that hooks a reader and makes them want to read on? I posted the first paragraphs of four popular fantasy novels, and a first paragraph from one of my own works in progress, and asked people to vote on which one they found the most interesting. You can see the original paragraphs and post here.

First of all, let me reveal where the five paragraphs came from.

Voting results for best beginning of a fantasy novel
Option A: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. This is the first book in the Wheel of Time series, one of the most popular fantasy sagas of all time. All-in-all the Wheel of Time books have sold over 80 million copies. Personally, I read the first three books but was too daunted by the vast length to tackle the full 14-book series. Especially considering how several books in the series came in near 300,000 words or longer.

Option B: The Silent Stones by Brian Donald Wright. Yes, that's me. The Silent Stones is one of my three unfinished manuscripts. I threw it in as a sort of control and to see how my first paragraph stood up to the greats.

Option C: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Book one in the Kingkiller Chronicles. This is a favorite of mine (as readers of my blog posts are probably well aware) and one of the few recent fantasy series capable of hitting #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Option D: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison. This is the only book on the list I have yet to read. I was recently turned on to the series by twitter friend and fellow fantasy writer A.S. Akkalon (check out her blog by the way for some seriously good writing) and now have this book on order from a local bookstore. A fan of the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon, I read the first page of The Fifth Season and thought "Damn! That's a hell of a start!" I decided then and there I would buy this book at first chance. This reaction, in fact, was partially what prompted this episode of "Word Wars."

Which novel has the best first paragraph?
Option E: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. This is the first book of The First Law series and another recent fantasy series I couldn't put down. The First Law is very popular and for good reason. It has many of the usual trappings of the genre but turns many of them on their head. And excellent read if you enjoy dark, genre-bending fantasy epics.

So who won? Between the poll, the responses on twitter and the replies on my blog I received a total of 12 votes. Not as many as I was hoping since this was the most popular blog post I have yet to publish but I guess that was in part due to the faulty poll system I tried to use. Here were the results:

1st place: Option E- The Blade Itself
This first paragraph starts with some serious action. The main character, Logen is running from something called a Shanka and cursing himself, as the leader, for losing his companions. Hard not to want to know more.

2nd place: Option D- The Fifth Season
This was my pick. This is beautifully worded, terribly tragic and emotional, and raises all sorts of questions I immediately wanted answered. In my opinion, this is a brilliant opening paragraph. The first line: "Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things" is a fascinating way to start a novel. What could be more "interesting" than the end of the world? I have to know....

3rd place: Option C- The Name of the Wind
This paragraph is beautifully written, and hearkens many of the themes that play out throughout the novel but it lacks the action and emotional connection of the first two and I think that is what people responded to.

4th place: Option B- Me!! 
Somehow I managed to scrounge up one vote, which made me happy! If even one person thought mine was better than these greats I must have done something right.

5th place: Option A- The Eye of the World
Not a single person voted for this paragraph and I think I can see why. The sentences, in my opinion, are wordy and even a little unclear. There is no action, no real emotion, and no questions raised that the reader wants answered. Also, as one reader pointed out, there is too much name dropping, which just makes a reader feel confused (a tendency, I've noticed, for many indie authors too).

This experiment provided a few interesting conclusions:

1) Toluna.com is a crappy polling service. Though I was able to collect five votes, multiple people informed me that my embedded poll didn't work for them. Blogger doesn't have a good system for polls within blog posts, and I had to find a third party system. Other polling widgets besides Toluna required ads to be placed all around them. Ugh, I didn't want to subject you all to that. Now I guess have to look for something better should I decide to do something like this again.

2) The great books start with a stunningly written hook. A bit of action or emotion right away is a great way to grab your reader's attention. The best openings raise questions that beg to be answered so that a reader is compelled to read on.

3) Too much name dropping of people and places can be a distraction, especially if you have a prosaic beginning that lacks an action-packed or emotional appeal.

All-in-all, I found this exercise interesting and useful. My only regret is the failure of the polling widget which I think limited the sample of responses. Perhaps I will try this again soon with a crop of five other books and some better method for voting. Thanks to all who took part and I hope it gave us all something to think about when crafting the first pages/paragraphs of our own masterpieces.

As always thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, found it somehow enlightening, or just plain want to hate on me, consider commenting below. You don't have to sign up or anything and it's a great way to exchange ideas. You can post as "anonymous" if you want to. I won't hold it again you. Better yet, sign up for my weekly mailing list. Not only will I love you forever (unless, of course, you actually do want to hate on me), but I will reciprocate by reading, signing up for and actively commenting on your blog (should you have one, if not, I'll brainstorm another way to repay you.) Generally I enjoy blathering on about anything from the novel writing process to Giant Redwoods to the Ancient Maya and more.


find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Friday, February 24, 2017

Five Sci-Fi/Fantasy Series That Tickled the Writer in Me

Books are better than friends. You can stuff them in a suitcase and drag them on an airplane against their will and no one will cry "kidnapper!" You can ignore them for months, lock them in a dark room on a dusty shelf without food or water, and they will be just as happy to see you when you let them out. You can take a hot bubble bath with them and not worry about the possibility of rumors and lingering awkwardness. And once you are done with them, you can trade them away for something different and receive no angry WTF text messages the next day.

I like books. And I like fantasy/sci-fi. Sure I'm guilty of finding a twelve-inch stick and (after an inconspicuous 360-degree glance to ensure nobody is looking) practicing my swish-and-flick  wingardium leviosa technique. And maybe, just maybe, I occasionally extend my hand towards the television remote across the room, pretending it's the butt of a lightsaber and a bloodthirsty wompa is bearing down on me while my feet are frozen in the ice. (Wait, that isn't really from a book now, is it? I digress...) One of these days the Force will prevail and that remote will fly across the room into my surprised fingers.

Books let you experience things you will never experience and be characters you are just too slow, boring and unattractive to be. Fantasy and science fiction let you see worlds that, well, just aren't possible. That's what makes it all so great.

Okay, enough already. I'm sure you get the point. Here are five sci-fi/fantasy series that have tickled into life the writer I hope to become:

1. Stephen King- The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower has it all: Love, murder, monsters, Old West gunslinging, Arthurian legend, a fearsome yet legless heroine with split personality disorder, a psychotic supersonic sentient train with a penchant for riddling to the death, an evil witch with a glass ball that allows her to see anywhere at any time, a crimson-eyed wizard king commanding terrible hordes of mutants on a quest to destroy beams holding up the multiple-universe nexus known as the Dark Tower. It goes on and on. There isn't enough to say about The Dark Tower other than there is nothing else like it and never will be.


2. George R.R. Martin- A Song of Fire & Ice
I'm going to say it, call it blasphemy: I like the screen version better than the books. George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire & Ice is good but the books are too fat. In my opinion the show did well at trimming it, making the important characters pop more and letting unimportant ones plummet away like needless pennies. Maybe you disagree? No worries, I still like you. But there is no doubt that Fire & Ice (and its HBO companion Game of Thrones) has influenced a new generation of fantasy lovers. For me personally it revived a long-last interest in the genre and for that I am greatly in-debted to it.

3. Patrick Rothfuss- The Kingkiller Chronicles
As a storyteller, musician, traveler, romantic, and performer, I am an Edema Ruh at heart, and I can't help by empathize with Kvothe, the hero of Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles. I just wish Rothfuss would get on with finishing Book 3 already. Now the series has been optioned for a television show and a movie deal, tangentially bogging down the forward progress and leaving fans like me wondering how much longer we will have to wait for the story's conclusion.

4. Iain M. Banks- The Culture Series
What person who grew up watching Star Wars every weekend for the first ten years of his life doesn't like a good space opera? Iain M. Banks's Culture series stands on the shoulders of predecessor giants like George Lucas and Frank Herbert and peers further into the possibilities of space and technology than practically anyone before or since. His unrivaled imagination formed such a believable galaxy, it seems quite possible he was an inter-galactic traveler reporting on real places and events rather than a fiction novelist. The only slightly aggravating part is the lack of continuity from book to book. Instead of being a series per se, the Culture novels are more a collection of loosely connected narratives that exist in the same fictional universe. Banks's untimely death in 2013 left a gaping hole in the Sci-Fi canon that will be difficult to impossible to fill.

5. Joe Abercrombie- The First Law
An uncouth northerner with a scarred face and an even more scarred past. A prima donna highborn whose primary lust is for fame and status. A highly selfish (and terribly powerful) wizard who will stop at nothing to achieve his own ends. A former war hero tortured so profoundly that the only skill he now possesses is torturing others in the name of the King. These are a few of the main characters of Joe Abercrombie's First Law series, a dark fantasy saga where people don't always get what they deserve. Grim, violent, thrilling and almost impossible to put down.

I am moist clay and these books pinched, poked, scored and shaped me into the reader and writer I am. Sure I could have included megaclassics like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Star Wars, but that would have been boring. So there it is....

What books shaped you? Although my reading list is stupidly long, I am always willing to insert, add, copy and paste, delete, underline, boldface, whatever it takes to find and read the best books out there. I want to hear what I'm missing out on.

As always thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, found it somehow enlightening, or just plain want to hate on me, consider commenting below. Better yet, sign up for my weekly mailing list. Not only will I love you forever (unless, of course, you actually do want to hate on me), but I will reciprocate by reading, signing up for and actively commenting on your blog (should you have one, if not, I'll brainstorm another way to repay you.) Generally I enjoy blathering on about anything from the novel writing process to Giant Redwoods to the Ancient Maya and more.

find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Word Wars: Episode IV- The Mighty First Paragraph

It is a period of un-civil war. Rebel writers, striking from messy desks and dark coffeeshop corners everywhere, have won their first victory against the evil Big 5 publishing Empire. During the battle, several writers managed to steal plans for the Big 5's secret weapon: the first paragraph....

Wait, why is it Episode IV? I have no idea. It was arbitrary...ask George Lucas. Maybe 20 years from now I'll do a half-cocked trilogy prequel.

Anyway, it is arguable that a good book has to hook from the very first page. Scratch that, the first paragraph. Maybe even the very first line. So this blog post is going to be just a little different. A battle, to the death, to find out who has the best first paragraph.

Supplied are five first paragraphs from comparable fantasy novels. (Okay, since some of them are so short it is more like the first two paragraphs.) Some of the excerpts are from well-respected authors/books and some, well, perhaps not. If you recognize one of more of these, try to be as objective as you can! This works best if you enter the battlefield with absolutely no preconceived notions based on the author/book's reputation.

What is the point? As an author I am always struggling to get and keep people's attention. Call it a hook, call it whatever, with so many books to read you often have only a few words to convince someone that your book is worth their time. This battle, hopefully, sheds a ray of golden sunshine on just what hooks people the most.

My recommended methodology. Pretend you are at your favorite book store and stuck between five books and could only buy one. Just by reading these five excerpts which would you choose? Which made you want to read farther?

It only takes a second to vote, you don't have to sign up for anything, and the more people that vote the better the results. SO PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE TAKE THE SECOND TO VOTE!!!!

**NOTE Apparently the voting mechanism is not working. Damn! If you are so inclined, please vote with a comment. You don't have to sign up for anything. You can even vote as anonymous if you like. I appreciate any and all feedback!

Option A

Born below the ever cloud-capped peaks that gave the mountains their name, the wind blew east, out across the Sand Hills, once the shore of a great ocean, before the Breaking of the World. Down it flailed into the Two Rivers, into the tangled forest called Westwood, and beat at two men walking with a horse and a cart down the rock-strewn track called the Quarry Road. For all that spring should have come a good month since, the wind carried an icy chill as if it would rather bear snow.

Gusts plastered Rand al’Thor’s cloak to his back, whipped the earth-colored wool around his legs, then streamed it out behind him. He wished his coat were heavier, or that he had worn an extra shirt. Half the time when he tried to tug the cloak back around him it caught on the quiver swinging at his hip. Trying to hold the cloak one-handed did not do much good anyway; he had his bow in the other, an arrow knocked and ready to draw.

Option B

His father was the last person he’d seen alive and that was 3,394 days ago.

There was no reason to think about that now, standing alone in a meadow with a mattock in his hand and a hot wind exhaling against his face. He hoisted the iron high above his head and brought it down with a shoop in the soil.

High above, a lone cloud drifted between him and the sun. He closed his eyes, relishing the temporary reprieve. But as soon as it was there it was gone, and the full-strength of the June heat resumed.

Option C

It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact, there was none of these things, and so the silence remained.

Option D

Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.

First, a personal ending. There is a thing she will think over and over in the days to come, as she imagines how her son died and tries to make sense of something so innately senseless. She will cover Uche’s broken little body with a blanket—except his face, because he is afraid of the dark—and she will sit beside it numb, and she will pay no attention to the world that is ending outside. The world has already ended within her, and neither ending is for the first time. She’s old hat at this by now.

Option E

Logen plunged through the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head. He stumbled and sprawled onto his side, nearly cut his chest open with his own axe, lay there panting, peering through the shadowy forest.

The Dogman had been with him until a moment before, he was sure, but there wasn’t any sign of him now. As for the others, there was no telling. Some leader, getting split from his boys like that. He should have been trying to get back, but the Shanka were all around. He could feel them moving between the trees, his nose was full of the smell of them. Sounded as if there were some of them shouting somewhere on his left, fighting maybe. Logen crept slowly to his feet, trying to stay quiet. A twig snapped and he whipped around.


Thanks for participating! Keep updated by signing up for my weekly newsletter for an analysis of the results. Depending on the level of interest I'll keep it open for somewhere between a week and a month and do a follow up post with a revelation for which paragraph belonged to which book and which was the winner!

UPDATE: View the results and analysis here!

As always, thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post/vote consider commenting below or signing up. I like to use these blog posts to blather on about anything from giant redwoods, to the ancient Mayans, to my desire for a prehensile tail and more.

find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

What I Will Do With My Prehensile Tail

There are many reasons why a prehensile tail would be useful. And fun! Especially if I was the only person who had one. Here are a few of them:

For Balance
the uses of a prehensile tail
A long, prehensile tail would be great for those times when I need a little extra support. Like when perched at the edge of a dangerous cliff. Or perhaps at the end of a vigorous night drinking with friends. Like a third leg, the tail could form a tripod of stability to save me from getting embarrassed or even injured!

As a Conversation Piece
There's no better way to break the ice at an awkward social function than to unveil a glorious prehensile tail, capable of astonishing feats of practical dexterity. While some may find it strange or even creepy, all fears would be quailed when I display its ability to crack open a beer, change the music, or even light a friend's cigar. "So...what's with the tail?" They might ask. "I'm Brian. Let me tell you the story!"

For Multitasking
More than once I've wished I could clone myself. But really a clone is just an annoying identical twin. So in reality, the best way to get more things done simultaneously would be to have another appendage. Like a tail! I could cook eggs and fire up the espresso machine at the same time. Or hold a coffee mug while my hands are full with the latest Stephen King novel. The usefulness of a prehensile tail for multitasking is obvious!

To Tap People on the Shoulder
A long tail would be immensely useful at getting people's attention. It could be done in all seriousness, like over the cubicle walls at the office. Or as a joke, like sitting on the bar stool next to an unsuspecting prank victim. Tap, tap, tap. Who's there? What the?!

For That Part of My Back I Can Never Reach
There is that one swatch on my back that I can just never get to. Whether it's itchy, sore, or just needs a dab of sunscreen, the damn piece of skin is always a tease; the only part of my body I just can't reach. Problem solved with my dexterous and flexible tail!

As Means to Hang Upside Down While I Sleep
It works for bats, why not for me? All that blood rushing to your head must surely make for some vibrant dreams. My only concern is if it lost its grip in the middle of the night, sending me on a headfirst, groundward spiral!

For Climbing Trees (Of Course)
Scientists seem in general concurrence that the main function of a prehensile tail is to enhance the arboreal qualities of primates. Humans have an opposable thumb, which makes gripping tree branches (and just about everything else) possible. There is no doubt, however, that monkeys are far superior at climbing trees due to the practicality of their tails. I want one!

To Show When I'm Excited
Nothing gets a tail whipping around faster than a bit of excitement. Like when my wife tells me dinner is ready. Or when we're loading up in the car to go on a drive. I can imagine that tail would really add an element to the excitement of a lot of things!

For ?
I'm sure as I got used to my new appendage I would discover all sorts of excellent, hilarious and practical uses for a prehensile tail that I'd never thought of before. The mystery of what I might learn is quite possibly the most exciting part of all!

As always thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this whimsical and nonsensical post, found it somehow enlightening, or just plain want to hate on me, consider commenting below. Better yet, sign up for my weekly mailing list. Not only will I love you forever (unless, of course, you actually do want to hate on me), but I will reciprocate by reading, signing up for and actively commenting on your blog (should you have one, if not, I'll brainstorm another way to repay you.) Generally I enjoy blathering on about anything from the novel writing process to Giant Redwoods to the Ancient Maya and more.


find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Ancient Mayans Were Disgusting...Yet Terribly Fascinating

I'm in a cave, standing over the bones of a murdered baby...

Disturbing? It's not quite as gruesome as it sounds. Well, in some ways it is. Let me explain.

Inside the Mayan pyramids of Caracol near Tikal
Silhouette in the pyramids of Caracol, Belize
The murder took place over 1,000 years ago. The cave is a sacred Mayan sacrificial chamber in the deep Belizean jungle. Still, this knowledge makes that sad, broken skull no less innocent and tiny. 

It is the ATM cave in central Belize. Voted by National Geographic as #1 on the list of their top ten sacred caves of the world. We had to hike, swim, climb, crawl, and, worst of all, pay to get here. And all shoeless, by the way, out of fear our careless feet could crush a priceless artifact. 

This pitiable figure at my feet, this busted skeleton once belonging to a child no more than one year of age, was innocent to whatever misguided notion led to such a brutal act. Sadly, it was not the only murder victim here. Not even close. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of others alongside him. And yes, him is correct. As far as archaeologists can tell, every single one of the sacrifice victims in the cave are male. 

Staring agape at the gruesome, crystallized remains, I can't help but think: the Ancient Mayans were profoundly disgusting....

Humbled in Caracol

Mayan temples in Belize near the border of Guatemala
Mayan pyramids at Caracol near the
Belize-Guatemala border
The day before, I sat in the back of a sweaty 8-passenger SUV on a seemingly endless ride through the middle of BFE Belize searching for a castle. Yes, a massive stone castle (well, technically a pyramid) 150 feet tall. It is so large, in fact, it is still the tallest man made structure in the entire country. It was once the home of the lords of Caracol. Of course they didn't call themselves lords (they were viewed more as gods) and they didn't name their city Caracol but rather something like "Oxwitza," or "Three Hills Water." The city, whose innumerable structures had faded progressively deeper into the jungle from the time it was abandoned around 950 AD until its accidental discovery in 1937, was once populated by an estimated 150,000 people.

It was over 100 degrees (Fahrenheit, sorry international friends, 100 degrees just sounds more impressive than 37.7 degrees) as we arrived at the lonely outpost of Caracol and scurried across the manufactured lawn to climb the tallest pyramid in the sprawled ruins of this once-great city. The humidity hovered somewhere around 90%. My body was so depleted of electrolytes that my thighs cramped with every ridiculously tall step towards the top.

Why are these steps so massive? I wondered as I brushed a layer of slime from my brow. Were they giants! As it turns out, the ancient Mayans were actually quite small. The steps were tall intentionally, as a way to sort of humble and humiliate the people forced to climb them.

Thighs clenching and lungs spasming, I finally reached the highest stone platform. An endless green and gray sea of ruins and jungle spread in all directions to the horizon. For just a moment I indulged my ego and imagined myself the leader of this vast city, staring down with contempt on the many lesser being scurrying like fire ants far below me. The soaring heights, the giant pyramid, do make me feel a bit like a god.

The Dark Depths of the ATM Cave

Actun Tunichil Muknal. It means "Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre." Gringos shorten this mouthful to simply the "ATM." It is one of the most fascinating places I have ever seen. The ATM serviced the sacrificial needs of the people in nearby cities, like Caracol. There is no doubting its magnificent beauty: the breathtaking stalagmites, the creek cascading over gurgling waterfalls, the cathedral-like caverns larger than my house. 

Sacrificial remains in the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave in Belize
The Crystal Maiden in the ATM cave in Belize.
A misnomer since the remains are actually male
But the numerous sacrifice victims strewn almost haphazardly on the stone floors infuse an element of the macabre that stands in stark contrast to the natural splendor. This place is powerful. The tremendous beauty. The horrific death. Having just climbed and swam nearly a mile in the darkness to get back here, I can't imagine being dragged along the same route unwillingly, knowing what fate awaited at the end.

What did await the sacrifice victims? What was the preferred method of execution? Blunt force trauma to the back of the head for most of them, our guides explains. But the others had an even more gruesome death: a hole sliced just below the ribcage and their heart ripped violently from their chest. 

Lunch churns in my stomach.

Apparently they were so skilled with this method they could do it in mere seconds. The gruesome possibility occurs to me that the victims might live long enough to see their own heart still pulsing between the fingers of their murderers. 

My imagination is wild, and slightly ill, with the possibilities.

The ATM is a powerful place, but it's quiet now. Watching the dancing light of our headlamps reflecting on the writhing surface of the creek, it could almost be peaceful. No sacrifices for a long, long time. But it feels as if there's something residual lingering in the walls and the waters. Something ineffable. I don't know if I believe in ghosts, but I don't think I would want to be alone here.

After we pay our final respects to the tiny bones of the sacrificed baby, and his many silent companions, we swim, crawl and downclimb back to the light. It is a somber feeling now. A overbearing sense of humility seems to have fallen over the group, a stark contrast to the levity we felt on the way in. Very little is said as we backtrack through the jungle to the van. We have visited a cathedral, a tomb, a sacred place. It isn't fair for me to judge these ancient people for what they did. I may not understand it, but I didn't feel what they felt or see what they saw. All I know is this place is beautiful. Beautiful and disturbing. Profound and sad.

The Mayans were disgusting... yet, terribly fascinating.

RELATED
-10 Facts You Probably Didn't Know About the Ancient Mayans

As always thanks for reading. I do apologize for the macabre tone for this post, most of my writing isn't like this. If you enjoyed it, found it somehow enlightening, or just plain want to hate on me, consider commenting below. Better yet, sign up for my weekly mailing list. Not only will I love you forever (unless, of course, you actually do want to hate on me), but I will reciprocate by reading, signing up for and actively commenting on your blog (should you have one, if not, I'll brainstorm another way to repay you.) Generally I enjoy blathering on about anything from the novel writing process to Giant Redwoods to the Fountain of Youth and more.


find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fantastic Medieval Ships (And Where to Find Them)

There is something seductive about a ship. The sleek beauty of its streamlined hull. The glistening, water-polished gunwales. The primal scent of the surrounding ocean. They promise adventure and paradise. I could watch them dip and bob in the harbor, masts drawing slow circles, for hours.

A carrack, caravel and other types of ships from the Middle Ages
Two carracks and a caravel
Of course, there are many types of ships. From tiny skiffs that skip over the water like flat stones to massive, lumbering barges tooting their baritone horns. It's the sailboats, however, in all their varieties call to me the most. Maybe it's that they're powered solely by the wind rather than some roaring, smoke-churning motor. Or maybe it's simply that the art of the building and piloting a sailboat is nearly as old as culture itself. Sailboats are beautiful ships that elicit dreams of places you might explore aboard them: the rugged coasts of Northern California and Oregon, the palm-tree paradise of the Caribbean, the calving glaciers of Alaska. Nowhere on Earth is more free than the open ocean and there is no way to experience that freedom more profoundly than from the deck of a sailboat.

I suffer from the lifelong affliction of dreaming to become a published novelist. In my most recent flare-up of this cursed disease, I found myself facing the topic of the sailboat. Well, more specifically, a medieval sailboat. One of my characters was a pirate (he prefers to be called a "smuggler," so you'd be wise to watch your word choice around him so as to avoid a hook through the jaw), and while writing for him I found myself using the word "ship" far too often. Surely, there were more specific names for these damn crafts. Names that would have a better mouthfeel in certain sentences, or lend a greater measure of authority and authenticity to the voice of the narrator. As with horses, I had uncovered a crack in my knowledge that needed plugging.

Alas, the dramatic entrance of the mysterious, wise magician they call google....

Medieval Shippery

No, "shippery" is not a word. But yes, I'm going to use it anyway. I like how it sounds. Call me a renegade....

Anyway. Of course, this is an over-simplification of what surely could be a lengthy discourse. There were many phases, spanning many centuries and myriad geographic locations, of what we now call the Medieval Period. Generally, it is defined as beginning with the downfall of the Western Roman Empire (roughly 476 AD when Romulus was deposed) and lasting until and merging with the Renaissance. The Middle Ages can be broken into three sub-time periods: the Early Middle Ages (the time of the Byzantines, the Germanic Goths, and the supposed reign of King Arthur), the High Middle Ages (a time of great population expansion and the invasion of Britain by the Normans), and the Late Middle Ages (which included fascinating events like the Black Death and the Hundred Years' War). In that vast stretch of 1,000 years, many different types of seafaring craft were used by many different people. What follows is a summary of a few of them.

Galley
Galleys are long, sleek rowing ships used for centuries primarily as vessels for war. Most galleys had small sails but all relied on oar power as their main source of propulsion. Galleys date back as far as the second millennium BCE and were employed by many cultures from the ancient Greeks onward. Though they were eventually transitioned out in favor of sailing ships, galleys were still used in certain circumstances far into the Middle Ages.

Longship
The Viking longship was developed separately yet simultaneously to the galley. Picture a Viking craft... You are probably thinking of something like the longship. Longships were sometimes called "dragonships" by Norse enemies, due to their unique appearance. Though they were developed over centuries, the height of their use was between the 9th and 13th centuries. There are various sub-categories of the longship, including the karvi, snekkja, skeid and others. 

Knarr
medieval ships, cog, middle ages
A replica of a cog
If the longship was the Vikings' preferred craft for war, the knarr was the workhorse. A single-masted sailboat capable of hauling loads of food, goods, livestock and men over long distances. They were around 50 feet in length and 15 feet wide and could haul up to 24 tons. Only one well-preserved knarr has ever been found, that in 1962 in  the Roskilde Ford in Denmark. The knarr, and the Vikings, were ahead of their time, and Viking technology went on to influence much of the maritime tradition in Europe and all over the world.

Cog
In some senses, the cog was the successor to the knarr. It was another single-masted ship but had a flat bottom that made it easier to load. They varied more in length than the knarr, the bigger cogs extending up to around 90 feet in length. They could hold nearly 10 times the load. They were popular for trade in Medieval Europe, particularly by the Hanseatic League, and had high hulls to make them more difficult for pirates to board.
Photo of a Medieval caravel ship
A two-masted caravel

Caravel 
The caravel appeared in the 1400's and ushered in a new age of medieval shippery. Thus far being limited to coastal navigation, the nimble caravel had a shallow keel that allowed it some ability to travel upstream in rocky rivers. Though it could only handle a relatively small crew and cargo, it was fast, light and had triangular sails that allowed it to sail against the wind. Though not all ships that fall under this umbrella category were multi-masted, the caravel often had two or three masts. Caravels are famous in history for being the ship of choice for many 15th century explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Prince Henry and Bartolomeu Dias.

Carrack
In some sense the carrack was the super-sized version of the caravel. Having three or four masts and six or more sails, these massive ships were capable of carrying vast amounts of goods on very long journeys. They were able to withstand heavy seas and haul large numbers of people. The biggest carracks weighed around 1,000 tons and were the product of the blossoming era of global trade in which explorers from Portugal, Spain and other parts of Europe would make runs along the coast of Africa and to India for spices and other commodities. Famous examples from history include the São Gabriel, the flagship of Vasco De Gama's fleet that sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, and Ferdinand Magellan's Nao Victoria, which became the first ship to circumnavigate the world. The carrack was later replaced by the more modern galleon which was used extensively in the 17th and 18th centuries for war and exploration.
public domain image of a carrack
Modern replica of a medieval
carrack

There can be no doubt, ships are fantastic. Especially the classy old wooden ones. While the reality of sailing in the Middle Ages was of hardship, danger, risk and death (209 of the 227 men that set out on Magellan's global circumnavigation died, after all, including Magellan himself), I cling to a romanticized notion of the era. It was a time when vast spaces of the map were either completely inaccurate or utterly blank. Whole continents were still being discovered, and on the sea ultimate freedom was the way of life.

As always thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, found it useful, or just plain want to hate on me, consider commenting below or better yet, sign up for my weekly mailing list. Not only will I love you forever (unless, of course, you actually do want to hate on me), but I will reciprocate by reading, signing up for and actively commenting on your blog as well. I use this space to generally blather on about everything from the novel writing process to Giant Redwoods, the Fountain of Youth and more.

find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Sunday, February 12, 2017

WRITING YOUR NOVEL: Part 5- Giving Birth to Your Masterpiece

Seeing your book finally published is the fulfillment of every
author's dream
You've conceived it. Gestated it inside you. You nurtured it with all the care you could muster. Now it is time to birth your novel out into the dangerous world.

Welcome to the final post in my blog series, Writing Your Novel. So far we've covered the value of building a believable world, the necessity of plowing through your first draft, the ruthless slash and burn tactics required of editing, and the hows and whys of platform construction. Now it's time to move on to the best and hardest part: publishing.

I can't lay claim to being an expert on this topic, though I've spent obscene hours researching it, dreaming about it, and strategizing ways to make it happen. The disappointing fact remains: I have never published a novel. I'm afraid self-publishing will damn my hard work to a life of mediocrity at best, and as of yet I haven't had success with the traditional approach. I have, however, had somewhere around 100 short stories, non-fiction essays and poems published in various journals and magazines and have worked as an editor for two literary journals and an internationally syndicated magazine. While quite different than a novel, these experiences shaped my understanding and approach to watching an unpolished idea pushed through to the printed page.

There are two main avenues to get your novel into the real world: traditional (professional) publishing and self-publishing. Each comes with its own unique advantages and disadvantages:

Self Publishing
Advantages- Self-publishing is a seductive option. You could publish tomorrow and spare yourself the tedious process of courting agents and editors. Vast markets will, at least in theory, be able to reach your novel at the click of a button. You maintain control over the entire process and collect a greater share of the revenue. 

Disadvantages- The elephant of marketing rests entirely on your shoulders, and if you are anything like me you are a writer, not a business person, and would prefer to spend your time working on your next book than selling your last one. As an indie publisher, soliciting great reviews from major publications (like the New York Times Book Review) will be nearly impossible. It is immensely difficult to get your book to stand out among the tens of thousands of others now in circulation. The curse of the "Friends and Family 50" (the 50 books bought by your friends and family) is difficult to break.

It is true, some people have success with self-publishing. Andy Weir's The Martian started out as an indie novel, after all, but became so popular that it was eventually optioned by a Big Five publisher (a division of Random House) and given a movie deal. However, this is not reality for the vast majority of self-publishers, most of whom will never sell more than a few hundred.

Self publishing strategy- There are many companies who make publishing your own book a breeze. A little knowledge of formatting and boom, it's on the market stand. But to give your book a truly professional finish, one that can compete with any professional publisher, it would be crazy to do everything all by yourself. In my opinion it is still necessary to hire a professional editor. Here is a great article about the need for professional editing for ALL manuscripts. If you don't feel like reading it, the essential message is this: you may think you can't afford a professional publisher, but if you wan't your book to be a success than you can't afford not to have one.

The rest of your strategy will revolve around platform. Platform, platform, platform. You need thousands of people eager to hear what you have to say, or no matter how good your book is odds are nobody is going to read it. Again, there are heaps of books and articles about platform construction. My message here is simply that no matter how daunting and unpleasant it seems, you have to do it. Welcome to the 2010's, writer.

Traditional Publishing
how to publish your novel
Let's get your book to the printers
Advantages- There is no doubt that traditional publishing offers opportunities that you just can't match on your own. Access to vast resources for marketing, professional editing by industry leaders, advances, signing bonuses, exposure to top-notch critics. Pretty much every book that reaches the bestseller list is traditionally published, so for those of us that dream big this is the only viable option. Remember, once you have self-published many agents and editors won't even consider your book. 

Disadvantages- Finding an agent, not to mention a publisher, can seem as hard as trying to win the Super Bowl. Agents receive countless queries and reject more than 99% of them. Even if you are accepted and you get a good agent who finds a good publisher, your book will be largely out of your hands. It will be tweaked, cut, changed, maybe even maimed from your perspective, and could very well flop on its face nonetheless. Not to mention that your agent will rake in a stiff 15% of whatever profit is left after your publisher takes their share, leaving you with just a few meager scraps of what was once your heart and soul.

Strategy- If traditional publishing is your choice, get ready for rejection. Even a great success story like J.K. Rowling talks about how many times she was rejected before someone took a chance on her. In online forums, I've read tales of writers being rejected more than 100 times before finally securing an agent. And rejection hurts. Each one is a devastating blow to your ego. How many times can you be told you aren't good enough before you just give up and want to quit? Skin like treebark is a must for the brutal gauntlet of traditional publishing.

To get that agent, you need a fantastic query letter and a bombproof first chapter. There are great articles about the art of the query letter, but essentially it needs to be character-driven, original, and busting emotional appeal. And it needs to land in just the right hands at just the right time for it to be successful. This link takes you to a useful website with forums where writers share their successful queries and agents post advice and wishlists for queries they would like to see.

So that's it, the end of my five-part blog series on writing and publishing a novel. Writing a novel is the most foolish, frustrating, terrifying yet exciting and rewarding thing you can do with your artistic energy. You just might pour your soul into it only to find ultimately no reward, no audience and no money. Or you might write the next bestseller that will change the world in some surprising way. I hope to see your name on the the cover of a beautiful book someday soon.

As always thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, found it useful, or just plain want to hate on me, consider commenting below or signing up for my weekly mailing list. Not only will I love you forever, but I will reciprocate by reading, signing up for and actively commenting on your blog as well. I use this space to generally blather on about everything from the novel writing process to Giant Redwoods, the Fountain of Youth and more.


All posts in this blog series:

find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Fiction Writers Can Save the World (or One Writer Justifying His Existence)

The pen is mightier than the sword
"The pen is mightier than the sword"
Art is a waste of time. Literature was never art anyway. Books are dead. Writers are cowards. Get a real job. Your life is a waste.

Harsh. Yet, I sometimes feel, in certain circles anyway, this sort of venom directed towards me. And every time I encounter it, a part of me wonders if they're right.

It seems strange that "starving artist" has become synonymous with "artist." It is far more noble these days to identify as a doctor, a teacher, a carpenter, a plumber. Hell, even nail pounder would probably be a more respected job title in many parts of America.

What have I gotten myself into? Only two paragraphs in and I'm starting to regret my choice of topic. This claim, that art (and writing by extension) has value, should be the subject of a dissertation, not a mere blog post. But the thesis I set out to support remains valid: Us, me, you, every fiction writer scribbling sentences in dark library nooks, quiet coffee shops and cluttered desks everywhere, can save this troubled world.

I suppose the first task is to establish that the world needs saving before making any grandiose claim on the ability to do so. No, I don't think the recent change in my country's executive administration spells certain doom for the world (though I will admit a measure of disappointment and anxiety). Far more concerning is this trend of discovering nearly everything I love labeled as threatened, endangered, or nearly destroyed. Humankind has become like two-legged locusts, swarming in overwhelming numbers, consuming resources recklessly and, when every last, fragmentary morsel is finished, pushing on to the next location to start the eating all over. For those of us trying to affect positive change, it often feels like we run as fast as we can just to move backwards slowly.

Recently I read that scientists are positing we've entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene Era. This new phase is defined by the profound influence of one species, humans, who have shaped the world, its environment and all its inhabitants in such a comprehensive way that it has altered the nature of the entire system. The most recent estimates of global population suggest there are 7.5 billion bipedal humanoids living, breathing, eating and, yes, pooping on this liquid-slathered rock called Earth. Just 45 years ago we were half that. That means, on average, we have grown roughly the population of New York City every month for the past five decades. Ouch. Exponential growth dictates that with a 45-year doubling period, sometime just after 2060 global population will reach an unfathomable 15 billion people.

Earth with its 7.5 billion inhabitants
This liquid-slathered rock we call Earth is in trouble, 
but you can save it!
I didn't mean for this to be too doom and gloom. I know there is a lot of world-is-going-to-end rhetoric out there and I hate to add yet another pessimistic voice. But for someone who wants to see the amazing plants, animals and places I cherish thrive on, all of this is very troubling.

So where does art fit in? What could a few glorified liars, oh, I mean fiction writers, possibly do to reverse this apparently terrible and unavoidable disaster?

Plop a textbook in front of someone and most likely he will be bored to sleep in minutes. This renders any sort of world-saving enlightenment nearly impossible. A person has to be interested to want to take action. Now give him a story about the same topic, one with vivid characters that generate a visceral and emotional response, and suddenly he is flipping through the pages with reckless abandon. His disinterest shifts to engagement, which hopefully translates to action, and perhaps, just perhaps, he will motivate to make a change. To allude to the most cliché but honest writing lesson ever taught: the textbook told him something about the world; the fiction writer showed it.

Art is how we interpret this strange life. Sculpture, painting, theater, even fiction all play an important role. Purposeful, meaningful storytelling is far more than entertainment and frivolity. It instills morality, teaches empathy and compassion, and illuminates a bit of knowledge in an interesting and engaging way. Win a person's heart and you can change it.

So write that beautiful book that can save the world. Struggle forth proudly with your pen aloft, ready to parry critics and stab world-burning dragons through the heart. We need you, writer.

As always thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, found it useful, or just plain want to hate on me, consider commenting below or signing up for my weekly mailing list. Not only will I love you forever, but I will reciprocate by reading, signing up for and actively commenting on your blog as well. I use this space to generally blather on about everything from the novel writing process to Giant Redwoods to the Fountain of Youth and more.


find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions