Saturday, February 20, 2021

Where are the Flying Pigs and Where Can They Take Me?

 


A view of Hawaii's Shoreline

Greetings!  Louisiana is not known for its cold winters, but you cannot put Mother Nature in a box.  It was 32 degrees at my house this morning, and three days ago got all the way down to 19 degrees.  I have been in mountains after it snowed and it was not that cold.  I am starting to wonder if I will see dogs and cats living in peace and pigs with wings.  (I can see geese and cows out my window though.)

As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of science fiction and fantasy.  I am writing a fantasy series currently and hopefully by the end of this year I will have the first book published.  One of the reasons why I like writing is the puzzle that world-building presents itself as.  Now, some people would say, “Wait a second, you are writing fantasy.  Can’t you just make everything up?”  That statement is partially true.  In general, epic fantasy (which is what I am writing) involves an author creating an entire world system.  So yes, I can make up whatever I want.  However, if you want your world to be believable, it must be logical and have believable places and people in it.  And dare I not say, a unique but logical magic system.

George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Tad Williams are three of the best modern fantasy world builders.  (I mention them because I have read their books and I liked them.  It’s my opinion and since it’s my blog I can say whatever I want.)  They both created worlds that are alien to our own and yet very familiar.  Their worlds are familiar to our own because they look and feel very similar to people and places from various times in Earth’s history.  In addition, Martin has said on several occasions that he considers his books historical fiction, which means that he borrows heavily from history.  In Martin’s world of A song of Ice and Fire, the continent of Westeros history closely parallels with that of western Europe.  However, the king of England did not have to fight ice zombies or fun dragons to ride.

The late Robert Jordan was a master at world building.  In his The Wheel of time Series (WoT), Jordan showed his brilliance in combining familiar cultures from earth into new entities and by inverting millennia old tradition.  The Aiel are a people that would look familiar to most these days.  They are tall, thick muscled, have a propensity for blond or red hair, and have blue or green eyes generally.  This sounds a lot like the Germanic peoples of Northwest Europe.  However, Jordan made their culture something of a cross between American Indian and the Zulus of South Africa.  If WoT were pure historical fiction, this type of experiment could never take place because there is no historical record of a Germanic tribe that was culturally related to the Zulus living a desert. 

Fantasy authors can make these fun thought experiments all the time because of the flexibility that world building presents.   Almost any type of world can be created if an author follows one of the golden rules of fantasy; is fantasy world believable? Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn (MST) presented a believable world with a feeling of deep history and lore.  Within the first few pages The Dragon Bone Chair, the first book of the MST series, the reader is immediately thrust into a rich world that feels three dimensional and ancient.  Williams brilliantly borrows from history and some very familiar religions to almost make the reader second guess if they are indeed reading a story about our own world. 

If you boil it down to its core, fantasy asks a simple question.  By crafting a certain comfort level and curiosity within the reader’s imagination, the author creates the irresistible trail for the reader to follow.  And what is the creative force behind the curiosity that fuels the reader down the trail of imagination?  That force is a simple yet infinite question.  What if…?


JAQ

 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Looking Ahead to a New Year



Somewhere in the Canadian Rockies

We are already a month into 2021 and only a few hours away from being in February.  Time can really fly at times!   If January proved anything, it was by two events.  For most people, no matter   who    is behind the desk in the Oval Office or whatever team goes to the Super Bowl, their daily lives will not change. 

I try my best to keep the commentary on this page away from politics and the other bat-poop craziness in our world.  In instances of politics and religion, there is a very good chance that 50% of your audience will disagree with you.  So, I try to stay away from those topics to keep the four people who read this blog happy and for the simple fact that there are countless others who pontificate on those topics.

For 2021, I hope that as a country we can get back to work and resume what had been our daily routines.  I do feel that once people have something to do other than watch Netflix and complain on Facebook and Twitter that we will all regain some sanity.

This year, I hope to announce that I will be publishing my first book.  I honestly feel that I am not far away from that milestone, but you never know what will happen until that publish button is pushed.  It will be exciting when it does happen.  If you like fantasy, evil monks, magic, lots of epic battles, and farm girls that can kick some ass, I might have a book or five that may interest you.  This process has been years in the making, and as much as it has frustrated me at times that I had not yet published, I think the wait has given me time to write the best book that I can.  Hopefully, I will have more good news soon.

I know in these times there are plenty of people struggling.  If you want an escape, Hoopla and Overdrive are free apps in which you can borrow digital media from your library.  All you need is a library card (which your local library will give you for free) and a wireless device and you are good to go.  I believe each app allows you to have around 10 borrows a month.  So that is a lot of free movies, music, and books (especially for those in a homeschooling situation) to help get you through this time.  I know it does not fix the world’s problems, but it can give you some enjoyment in your day.  You can also make recommendations to your library.  I have done this and over a dozen of my suggestions have been purchased.  Most libraries are in the business of serving their community and are often very eager to be responsive to their patrons.  And it costs you nothing.

To everyone out there, best wishes and good luck for a bright and happy 2021!

 

JAQ

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dear 2020, Don’t Let the Door Hit You on Your Way Out

                                              Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada

Here we are, on December 31, 2020.  What a year it has been!  For many of us, it has been a year of inconvenience, missed social opportunities, extended time periods without seeing our loved ones, unemployment for millions, and tragedy for far too many.  As a student of history, I still do not think I have come to terms with the magnitude of the historical event we have all lived through.  For those of us along the Gulf Coast, perhaps the closest event in terms of repercussions would be 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, but then again only a portion of the U.S. population was affected by the storm, it was not a global event like COVID-19.

As bad as 2020 was, when you look back at history (not to sound tone deaf here) there were many more years in history that were far worst.  With the Spanish Influenza of 1918, it is believed that as many as 50 million people died globally.  With the 30 Years War in 15th century Germany, as much as 1/3 of Germany’s population perished.  So, don’t get me wrong, 2020 was rough for a multitude of reasons, but we enter 2021 with a vaccine on the horizon and hope for a bright future.

My wife and I were fortunate that our employment remained stable throughout 2020, but we were more or less hermits at our home.  We love to travel, and in 2019 we took two trips that now looking back were once in a lifetime opportunities.  Two of the trips we went on were to Red Rocks Amphitheater, an open-air venue 10 miles west of Denver, Colorado; and Banff, Canada, a small town in the Canadian Rockies.

One of the reasons I love to travel is that it gets you off your couch, out of your comfort zone, and encourages you to try new things.  The scenery is also beautiful.  Whether you are in the U.S. or Canadian Rockies, you realize very quickly how lucky we are to call planet Earth home.

Traveling is time consuming and expensive.  Trust me, when you see the bill for plane tickets, rental cars, and hotel rooms your heart can race at times.  But I do not regret one trip that my wife and I have been on together.  Each trip has led to new experiences and allowed us to see our country and our friendly neighbor to the north in their most beautiful pristine environments.  I humbly recommend that everyone travel at some point in their life.  Save your money and collect whatever coupons or promotions that you may need, because you will never forget the experience. 

If you are reading this article, congratulations!  You survived 2020.  Let us now look forward to a bright and hopeful 2021. 

Happy New Year!

JAQ


                                                           

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Why is History so Important? Hint: If You Are Ignorant of the Past, it Will be Used Against You

 

Yes, this title has echoes of an old man rant.  But don’t worry, I’m not going to be sitting on my front porch yelling at the kids to get off my lawn anytime soon. As I have stated in previous articles, I have a bachelor’s degree in history and spent some time in graduate school.  The study of history I believe is critically important to a society for it tells the story of how that world in which it lives in came to be.  It is also an incredible predictor of future events, because as a species we humans have the tendency to attempt the same schemes and ideas time and time again.  And, often to our disappointment, with the same unwanted results.

The closest I will get to a political statement in this blog about the U.S. is that the legacy media and political institutions of this country, on either side of the political aisle, have their own version of history that they profess to further their political/economic goals.  Wow, that was a mouthful.  But just remember, everyone has a reason as to why they want you to remember their version of events.

Whoever said the victors write the history books was not entirely correct.  In today’s world, we constantly see news stories or political movements that try to put a new spin or interpretation on current events and what the root cause of a particular crisis might be.  This is called historical revisionism.  However, I am not going to wander directly into the minefield of current social /political issues.    There are plenty of others who are undertaking that task already.

Historical revisionism is nothing new in the modern world.  During the closing days of World War Two in Europe, the crimes of the Nazi Regime came to light as the Allied Powers liberated Nazi death camps.  War is hell, U.S. General William “Tecumseh” Sherman once wrote.  However, as American, British, and Soviet forces liberated one death camp after another, the men who liberated these camps and saw them first hand were shocked and horrified at the levels of cruelty and depravity the Nazis were capable of.  Millions of people were tortured, killed en masse in gas chambers, or worked to death in camps with names such as Dachau, Auschwitz, and Treblinka.  World War Two was a particularly brutal affair, but the level of barbarity allied soldiers discovered in these camps was beyond comprehension.  The evidence that was uncovered was so appalling that future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, then Supreme Commander of the western Allies, ordered each liberated camp to be meticulously filmed, photographed, and documented and have as many soldiers and civilians brought to the camps to see the carnage with their own eyes.  Eisenhower was a man with a gift of foresight, and wanted the crimes of the Nazi regime so thoroughly documented that “no bastard in 100 years could claim that this never happened.”  Sadly, today, there are some very vocal Holocaust deniers that dispute or discount the mountains of evidence that unequivocally prove one of the darkest chapters in American history.

 Story telling has a power or magic within it.  Since humans have had the ability to communicate with one another, we have told stories.  In prehistoric times, our ancestors told stories around camp fires or painted vivid images on cave walls.  The telling of stories and our history is something that is very human.  As I have written in previous articles even fantastic stories are a way of passing down certain truths or events in human memory.  I borrow from history repeatedly throughout my books.  I play with events and names and take full creative license to create a fully imaginative and fictitious world.  My fantasy books are in no way meant to be taken literally or as an authoritative take on events that occurred.  When I publish a non-fiction book, I will make it very clear that a work is nonfiction. 

As a writer of fantasy/science fiction, I am in a market full of talented and successful competition.  If I wish to be noticed in an ever-increasing ocean of books, there must be something uniquely different about the books I publish. Sure, the tropes of the genre have not changed, but the spin I put to them must capture the imagination of my audience.  That is one reason why I have created a world which relies heavily on names that I borrowed from the Armenian language.  I wanted words, places, and names that sounded unique when spoken in the English language but also were based in reality and were not just complete gobbledygook that I made up.  Tolkien’s works have withstood the test of time in part because many of languages that he invented for Middle-Earth were based on old European languages such as Welsh and Finnish and he drew inspiration from the mythologies of those cultures.  I am no linguist like Tolkien, but I do feel a connection to the languages that my ancestors spoke for countless generations.  (Like most Americans, I am not 100% of any one ethnic group, but can trace my ancestry back across several ancient European countries.)

For the current series I am working on, there is a distinct Armenian influence on character and place names.  I do this not only to give a distinct feel and sound to my books, but to also bring awareness to the plight of the Armenian people.  The Armenians are an ancient people whose country occupies only 1/10th of its historical lands.  A victim of circumstance, history, and genocide only 100 years ago, over the last thousand years Armenia has often found itself under the domination of either the Persians (modern Iranians), Turks (Seljuks and Ottomans) and Russians.  Though the Armenians were given at times varying degrees of autonomy and freedom, neither of these empires went out of their way to ensure that the indigenous Armenians were able to survive and thrive on their ancestral lands.  My maternal grandfather was Armenian and his family was directly impacted by the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century. 

 Modern Armenia gained its independence with the breakup of the USSR, and was immediately put into protracted conflict with its neighbor Azerbaijan, another former Soviet Republic in the south Caucuses.  The Caucuses is a crossroads between Europe and Asia and it is one of the most diverse places on earth when ethnicity and language are taken into effect.  Though historical Armenia covers much of the Caucuses, they are not the only people who now call that region home.  While Armenia has a population of around 3 million, its neighbor Azerbaijan to the east has a population of 10 million.  So demographically, Armenia does not even have the ability to put a claim on much of its historical homeland.

 Late September – early November 2020 Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a vicious 6-week war over a disputed region called Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh in Armenian.  To the disbelief of the Armenian people and the Armenia diaspora, Azerbaijan was victorious in this 6-week war and gained control of several formally Armenian controlled territories.  The great fear by many is that the Armenian identity from these areas will be erased by Azerbaijani authorities. This fear is well founded because of documented cases such as in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (a region part of Azerbaijan) in which Azerbaijani forces systematically replaced and destroyed all traces of Armenian heritage and habitation.  With certain areas of Artsakh under Azerbaijan control, the regime of that country has continued to put forth their own version of history and downplay if not outright reject the Armenian heritage of the region.  In the age of “fake news” accusations, it is the state policy of Azerbaijan to erase Armenian history from the region and delegitimize the actual existence of the Armenian nation.  Additionally, there was documentation during this war of the Azeris targeting Armenian civilians and Armenian cultural landmarks such as churches and graveyards.  On several news sites you can watch footage of an Armenian church being bombed repeatedly within the same day.

I am just one person giving my opinions to the internet.  But I cannot stand by, even if it just means that 5 people read this, while a people not indigenous to the Caucuses (that’s a whole other article) attempts to ethnically cleanse lands that my ancestors and their descendants have inhabited for thousands of years.  History has literally been weaponized by one group of people, the Azeris, to be used against the Armenians.  Its scary that someone can ignore or laugh at thousands of years of documents, buildings, graveyards, churches, place names, and every other hallmark of a civilization and claim that there is no proof of your existence!  People are entitled to have different opinions, but I draw the line when convenient facts are invented to further a political end.  That’s one reason why I try to stay out of current American politics in this blog. 

As a writer, part of my mission is to always search for the truth, in whatever shades of grey it sometimes will come in.   My writing is my way of exploring the human experience and all that it entails.  And if my use of Armenian words and names helps even in a small way the world to remember this ancient people in dire need of help, I consider it a cause worth undertaking.

 

JAQ 

 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Where Does My Inspiration Come From?

Greetings to all!  This past Thursday was Thanksgiving in the U.S. and it sure was different from any Thanksgiving I had seen in my lifetime.  During the time of Covid-19, everyone has had to change their daily routines and come to know what the term social distancing means all too well.

I have been blessed (and admittedly annoyed) at times that by the nature of my job I was less severely impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns than others.  However, and I have dealt with this issue my entire adult life, often I find myself exhausted or too drained to write or research after a long day of work or school.  Though I am certain countless other would-be authors have experienced that same issue.  So, I am doing my utmost to maintain my promise to the three people who read this blog to post every two weeks.

Now to the meat and potatoes of this blog.  Where does my inspiration come from?  Well, that question requires a little bit of back story on myself.  One side of my family is from Louisiana and I myself have lived in southeast Louisiana and the New Orleans area my entire life.  Where someone has been raised and lived influences their personality and worldview, and that is certainly true for me.  Though I have travelled all throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada as well, I have always lived in Louisiana.  Additionally, though three of my four grandparents were born in the U.S., each was of a distinct Old-World ethnic group. 

With a Bachelor’s in History degree from the University of New Orleans, I have maintained a lifelong interest in the study of history.  The nature of my job allows me to listen to audio books and podcasts most of the working day, and I generally listen to a program about some historical event or a fantasy book. 

My hometown, family story, and study of history have given me ample inspiration for creating my own fantasy world and creating believable characters.  But do not get me wrong and believe that I copy and paste from either world history or my own background in my writing.  I like to view my fantasy world more like an echo of our own earth.  When a reader reads my books, I want my world to feel familiar and yet alien at the same time.  There are empires, countries and continents that will look and sound very familiar to places in the real world.  For example, I have the Gallanese Kingdom that will echo some aspects of both ancient Greece and Rome, and I have incorporated cultural and linguistic qualities from the real world into this creation.  However, it is not a carbon copy and I have gone to great lengths to create a unique geography, culture, and history for this kingdom.  This technique will be featured throughout my entire series, with characters that and places that will shadow and echo the real world.  In many ways, George R. R. Martin is an inspiration for me to follow.  The Song Ice and Fire Universe is completely fictitious, yet Martin has been quoted that his works are historical fiction because he borrows heavily from the history of the British Isles, the City States of the Renaissance, and general Eurasian history.

One of the most common pieces of advice given to authors is to write what you know.  I take this to heart, especially since I do not feel comfortable presenting information I am not familiar with.  Most of the time when I am describing a scene, I have either an image or something akin to a movie playing in my mind and therefore my process is in essence the description of that scene.  But those images and scenes I am seeing in my mind, where do they come from?  Many come from the landscape of southeast Louisiana or of people I have come across in my life.  In my travels, especially within the last decade, I have been to national parks either in the U.S. or Canada and have more than once paused and “filmed” a scene in my mind within the surrounding landscape.

Quoting author Craig Martell, the goal of writing is to entertain and teach.   My goal in writing my stories is not to preach or be on a soapbox, but I do feel there has to be an emotional attachment to the story and characters for the reader to have a connection to the story.  At least that is how I become invested in a book or series; the characters must mean something to me.  In my previous blog, I go into detail as to why Tam al’Thor fits this very role for me. 

I began creating my fantasy world and writing within it almost 20 years ago.  I was attending high school in New Orleans and like many kids that age, I thought I knew everything.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think I have a decent amount of intelligence, but I am thankful I never got around to publishing those first stories.   I could have read all the books or watched all the movies I dreamed of to help build my perspective on how people live their lives, but life experiences I believe have helped to shape how I view the world and given me perspective that a sheltered high school kid would never have.  To experience joy, loss, friendship, love gained, love lost, and new love are experiences any book would have a hard time teaching what it really means to feel.  However, have you ever read a book when you can feel the very emotion of the author written into the characters?   In Tam al’Thor’s final scenes, I felt Jordan’s and Sanderson’s emotions as Tam bid good bye to his son.  That scene could only have been written by someone who had lived a full life and knew what in meant to feel love and loss.  Writing is a way for us to experience emotion in a unique way with a degree of separation between ourselves and the story.

We are in the holiday season and I hope that even in these strangest of times, you can experience joy and love with those you hold most dear. 

JAQ 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Well...This is Embarrassing

 

Well…This is Embarrassing

Greeting to all the 5 people who might possibly read this blog.  Well, like the title suggests, I have not been that successful in posting regularly.  Though this may be my second posting for 2020, it will not be the last.

2020 as a year needs no introduction.  Covid-19 and the U.S. Presidential Elections are each too much of a dumpster fire to require my commentary.  All I care to say about Covid is that as a student of history, in my wildest dreams I never envisioned living through a situation like we now see.  As for the presidential elections, every election I have ever voted in, the candidate I voted for did not become president.  So, I have voted for democratic as well as republican candidates.  And it is a shame that those are the only real options that are given to the citizens of the U.S.  But enough about the apocalypse.

In previous blogs, I have mentioned how Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series (WOT) has had a lasting impactful influence on my view of the fantasy genre and my philosophy as a writer.  (Even though the last book of the WOT, A Memory of Light, was published in 2013 I feel the need to put in a SPOILER ALERT) I began reading these books while I was in high school and immediately became captivated with the intricately detailed world Jordan had built.  Not only are there dozens of main characters, but dozens if not hundreds of supporting characters.  And it is my thesis that one of these side characters or arguably main characters and not Rand, Ewgene, Mat, Perrin, Moiraine, or Lan are the most important.  Who is this character who is responsible for the saving and redemption of all of humankind?  Is it a king, a queen, a great general, Aes Sedai, or even a wealthy merchant?  No, try an unassuming, hard-working, family man from Two Rivers, a small town in the west of Andor.  A farmer and sheep herder by profession, Tam al’Thor is the unsung hero of the entire WOT.

Jordan was the master of allegory and metaphor, and so it is now coincidence that Rand al’Thor The Dragon Reborn, a Christ-like figure, would have a shepherd as a father.  Tam’s background in the few several books of the series is vague.  However, as the series progresses, the true greatness of Tam fully emerges.

Tam is an unassuming man who years after the death of his wife, Kari al’Thor, remains unmarried and forever faithful to her memory and to the son they raised together.  Everything Tam knew about life, farming, archery, living off the land, and the Void Tam taught to Rand without reservation.  Most of all, Tam raised Rand to be a good and unselfish person.  Countless times throughout WOT, Rand reaches into his inner being for the lessons that Tam had taught him with unwavering love.

 As the main characters make it out into the wider world and as that same world descends into chaos and destruction, Tam is a foundation of stone for all who encounter him.  With each book we learn more about Tam’s background.  The young man who left the Two Rivers to find adventure would become a soldier and hero.  A man who would find love and personal tragedy and become a heron blade master.  And on the slopes of Tar Valon, in the carnage of war and death, find a lone babe and give that child his own name. 

Tam’s exploits in the later WOT books are nothing more than heroic.  At every fork in the road or dire circumstance Tam always rose for the occasion.  Fight Trollocs to save his son, sure.  Lead the Defense of the Two Rivers, certainly.  Give counsel to Rand in his darkest moments, what else would you expect a father to do?  How about being a general for the forces of Light for The Last Battle?  Is he not Tam al’Thor?

By all accounts Tam was a real badass before WOT and during the series.  His role was indispensable for the forces of Light.  Tam’s pre-fatherhood exploits would make for a fantastic epic series in their own right.  But Tam’s greatest contribution was not being a stoic warrior or general. 

I would argue that the outcome of Tarmon Gai’don (The Last Battle) was decided long before the first pages of The Eye of the World (First WOT book).  Tarmon Gai’don was decided when the unassuming blade master found the orphaned babe in the snow on the slopes of Dragon mount and brought him home to the Two Rivers.  Isolated from much of the world, Tam and Kari al’Thor gave Rand a loving home and instilled in him the virtues of truth; honesty; hard work; and most of all love.  Rand even admitted himself, as the Dragon Reborn, he had to come back this time and “do things the right way.”  That right way was instilled by Tam during long days in the fields tending to herds and living a simple yet honest country life.  Rand knew what it was to work hard for something and what it meant to love and be loved.

Despite all that occurred in the WOT, Tam never waivered in his love and devotion to his son.  Even if Rand happened to be the Dragon Reborn and was practically speaking a King of Kings, he was still the son of Tam al’Thor.  The battle of Light over the Dark One was not won by skill of arms, but because a righteous man taught Rand what love really meant. 

I apologize if I gave too much away in this post.  However, the WOT is 14 very large books long so there is plenty I have not gone into detail here.  If you ever decide to read WOT, I promise you will not be disappointed.  It was as I read the final pages of WOT that I truly realized my appreciation for Tam al’Thor.  As a man he endured and lost much in his life.  But he never wavered in his love for his son.  And that love was the salvation for the world.

 

JAQ  

Sunday, March 8, 2020

To Live Forever



Greetings to all!  This post has come a little later than I had planned, but here is my first blog post for 2020!

What does it mean to live forever?  To some, that might mean having your body cryogenically frozen to be revived later or have their consciousness downloaded onto a computer.  (I far as I know, neither one of these technologies are foolproof yet.)  I think for most people, however, to be immortal means something completely different.

The way I view the world, there are two ways as humans we can attain immortality.  The first, is to pass along our genes to our children.  Though one day we each will make the journey into the great unknown, our children are the living breathing incarnations of ourselves.  How often have you heard someone say that they have their mother’s eyes, their father’s mannerisms, or a grandparent’s smile?  In many ways, we are the new and improved versions of our ancestor’s, trying in our own way to make something of our lives and to leave a mark on this world.

The ability to create art is one characteristic we can point too and say, “That makes us human.”  Defining art can be tricky.  The best definition that I found was in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects. 

Humans have created art for a long time.  Caves in Spain and southern France have wall paintings that date back to nearly 30,000 years ago.  So, before we had things like air conditioning, indoor plumbing, cities, written language, and even farming, we had art.  The ability for humans to see past the grind of the day to day existence, and be able to conceive of ideas and concepts that had nothing to do with actual survival is perhaps the most unlikely of characteristics to have as a species when you consider all of the millions of species that live on earth now and ever have existed.

I propose great art is a way to transcend death as well.  When you can walk into a museum and look at a painting that is hundreds of years older than the United States, it gives you perspective.  When you look at some of the great Renaissance paintings you almost get that feeling that you can see through Davinci’s or Rembrandt’s eyes and seeing the world as they did all those centuries ago.

In a more modern sense, we have recorded music that acts in the same way.  Stair Way to Heaven was released by Led Zeppelin almost 50 years ago.  It’s a song that has been played literally countless times on the radio.  And the reason is because it resonates with people.  No matter a person’s age, economic background, or even musical taste, the song has an otherworldly quality to it.  It’s a really long song by any era’s radio standards, but 50 years later that 8-minute song still has meaning to millions of people.  The song is so transcendent that new bands continue to cover it, not to give the song new meaning, but to pay homage to a song that defined rock and roll.  To be remembered is to live eternally.

Books allow their authors to live immortal lives as well.  While music has an ability to touch our souls and emotions, literature allows us to dive in even deeper into the human psyche and experience.  I am an unapologetic fantasy buff, so you can guess where this example will come from.  You guessed it, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat and the Hat.  What were you expecting?  Green Eggs and Ham?  Okay, maybe you are awake now.  In all the seriousness I can muster, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

As humans, a skill we acquire at a very young age is the ability to tell when someone is faking it.  Remember the first time one of your parents or older siblings was playing you in a game and purposely let you win and it made you mad?  Yeah, we all want to win and to experience that feeling, but we want it to be real.  We apply that standard to lots of things in our lives, especially when it comes to art.    Do you want that piece of paper that is mass produced and perfectly printed from some factory printer or do we want a hand painted work of art that the artist put their very soul into?  The answer is easy (for most humans with feelings at least), we want the real thing.

The Lord of the Rings and all of Tolkien’s works of Middle-Earth are so beloved because Tolkien’s soul is written into the very pages of his books.  From the languages that he invented (Yes, that is languages plural; the guy was an expert linguist on ancient languages), the characters, to the locations on his world map, there is nothing contrived about his work.  The man had a love for nature, peace, the goodness that is within each of us, and the natural wonders of the world.  A veteran of the Battle of the Somme, one of the deadliest battles of World War I, the imagery written describing the Dead Marshes captures the horror young Lieutenant Tolkien faced in the trenches and No Man’s land of the Western Front.  The tragedy and loss of the Great War left a permeant scar on Tolkien’s soul, and his mythology of Middle-Earth is his quest to identify and confront evil and to ascertain what price would humanity be willing to pay to defeat evil.

I am no Tolkien, hate to break that to you guys.  But I follow his example and that of many others. I hope some day soon that I can begin to make a living from my writing.  But I am not going to be the author that follows mass market trends and essentially mimic the same stories that other writers are pumping out.  Will my books have similarities to other author’s works?  Sure, I think that is unavoidable.  But what I am writing, or what I am trying to write at least, is something authentic.  I want my books to fun and exciting, but I also want them to resonate with my readers on an emotional level.  When you read series such as Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time, those characters and stories feel real.  There are emotional highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies.  You also have some of the most emotional and spiritual experiences you can have reading a work of fiction. 

The Lord of the Rings became popular in the United States around the same time Led Zeppelin rose to fame. (Zeppelin has some fun LOTR references in some songs).   In many ways, this was in part because of the Counter-Culture in the U.S., which rejected the destruction of the environment and the bloody and destructive Vietnam War.  What did hippies, nerdy kids, and Tolkien have in common? They yearned for lives that were deeper than being numbers in a sterile world devoid of color and emotion.  Tolkien did not abhor all technology, just our desire as a society to tame, conquer, and destroy the natural world.  And those are just some of the truths Tolkien expresses in LOTR. 

These days, readers still yearn for authenticity and truth in what they read.  I try to do that in this blog; it’s a little harder to do it in a 90,000+ book.  But again, when a book speaks of truth and you put forth your authentic self in your written pages, your words achieve real meaning and a life of their own.  My writing will not define the success of my life; though it is my hope that some day long after I am but a memory that someone will read one of my books and that story will have the same effect o them that Frodo and his fellowship had on me.



JAQ




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