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In the outback, distances are vast and the area in my state alone is the size of several small European countries. The outback is a mixture of gulf wetlands and waterholes, red desert and sand dunes, pockets of lush grasslands, and enormous cattle stations. These stations truck cattle to market by road trains, semi trailers pulling one, two, or three trailers, or dogs. These road trains take up the full width of most outback roads so travelers learn quickly to get off onto the side of the road when you see a large cloud of dust coming towards you, because chances are it’s a road train and the driver is hurrying to get the cattle to shipping ports or to saleyards and abattoirs.
Suzi Love now lives in a sunny part of Australia after spending many years in developing countries in the South Pacific. Her greatest loves are traveling, anywhere and everywhere, meeting crazy characters, and visiting the Australian outback. She adores history, especially the many-layered society of the late Regency to early Victorian eras. In and around London, her titled heroes and heroines may live a privileged and gay life but Suzi also likes to dig deeper into the grittier and seamier levels of British life and writes about the heroes and heroines who challenge traditional manners, morals, and occupations, either through necessity or desire.
Embracing Scandal is an historical romance and the first in my Scandalous Siblings Series featuring five siblings who are all scientifically-gifted. Lady Rebecca Jamison, a mathematical genius, saves her family from financial ruin by dabbling in the London stock exchange.
On an Australian trip a few years ago, my wife and I went to see Uluru, generally recognized as the largest “rock” on the planet. It is difficult not to be impressed by this huge chunk of sandstone. It rises 1,142 feet above the flat, desert-like area around it. It boasts a circumference of 5.8 miles.
Besides its sheer size, in itself enough to make you just stand and stare with mouth open, another attraction is it changing colors. While basically dull, red sandstone, during the course of a day it will appear to change color, most notably becoming a glowing red at sunrise and sunset. Also unusual is its homogeneity and lack of jointing and parting. Thus, one sees no trees, bushes or anything growing on the huge expanse.
It is possible to climb to the top of Uluru, although it is a steep and difficult climb. However, Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people who claim ownership of the area, and while they do allow people to climb to the top, they also make it clear that they would rather people did not. We did not make the climb.
Although it is 280 miles from the nearest city, it has become a tourist attraction and a small community called Yulara has grown up about eleven miles by road from Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it is also known. There are hotels, restaurants and an airport, with a population around three thousand.
We chose not to stay in Yulara but rented a car and drove to Curtin Springs Cattle Station, about sixty miles to the north east. For us, this was a lucky move. We arrived there and had the impression we had stepped into the bar scene of Crocodile Dundee. The people were as rough, genuine, and fun loving as Dundee and his mates. We were told that Curtin Springs was one of the smaller cattle stations in the Red Center—only 1.3 million acres. We stayed there several nights and before we left, we were invited to the owners’ home to view photographs dating back to their first arrival at Curtin Springs.
We learned much about the Red Center of Australia, the methods of raising cattle there (different from in Texas), and Australia’s wild camel problem. Estimates of the number of camels in this area now range to somewhat over one million. You could see herds of feral camels roaming across the land and walking through fences. The camel was introduced to the area many years ago in the hope that they would provide excellent transportation across this barren land. Eventually, that was abandoned and the remaining camels turned out to run free. They have increased and multiplied and now pose a real problem to ranchers and other inhabitants of the area. Naturally we took a camel ride, but not on a wild camel.
We enjoyed all of Australia, but the Red Center and Uluru were certainly special. And our time there gave me an opportunity to work on a writing project.
Before leaving Texas for our trip “Down Under,” I had read an old Texas folktale. I wondered how a folktale could affect the lives of people today. While my wife and I explored the Red Center, I began piecing together a plot for a suspense tale that could grow out of that folktale. A Ton of Gold slowly took shape. For young Crystal Moore, a long-forgotten folktale, plus greed, brings murder, arson, and kidnapping into her life. At the same time, a man from the past who nearly destroyed Crystal emotionally has come back. This time, he can wreck her career. She will need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, a street-wise friend, and a 76 year-old grandmother.
A Ton of Gold, Oak Tree Press, 2013
A Ton of Gold on Amazon http://amzn.to/UQrqsZ
Callan’s website: http://www.jamesrcallan.com
Callan’s blog: http://www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Callan’s Author Page on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Wearing a hijab forces one to accept one’s face for what it is. I quickly learned that even with my light brown hair neutralized, my face still says, “Not Egyptian.”
I knelt quietly on the carpet at the Muhammad Ali Mosque in the Citadel of Islamic Cairo. My shoes were left behind at the door and my hair was completely covered by the long, pure black headscarf. But rather than praying to Mecca, I was actually examining the architecture of the mosque. I’m not Muslim.
So how did I end up here, an imposter in this foreign land? It was on the advice of my friend-turned-boyfriend. He’s not Muslim either.
My family was mortified when I told them I was going to Egypt alone. I understood their concerns. I’m a tiny, blue-eyed, semi-blonde, diplomatically challenged, female American scientist with a solid background in heavy metal, extensive goat-roping experience and a strong affinity for nice wine and single-malt Scotch. Doesn’t seem like quite the fit, does it?
But I was writing a novel. I was just beginning the first draft when it became clear that the protagonist would end up in Egypt. She is also a female American scientist on her own, but without the goat-roping experience. I felt compelled to experience the country first-hand, to inform her experiences in the story.
I had never previously been particularly interested in traveling to the Middle East, but books have a way of telling their authors what they will or won’t become interested in. So, Egypt it was.
It was pure coincidence that the man I was dating at the time was Palestinian. Having grown up in Bethlehem (the original one,) he was a native Arabic speaker, first-person expert on Middle Eastern custom and had been to Egypt with his family on vacation.
But he couldn’t go with me. So instead, he coached me in advance.
The most valuable piece of advice was to cover my hair. Completely. At first, I felt a bit awkward about this. But I found the courage to ask a nice young teller at the bank where she got her hijab. Then I integrated my brain with YouTube videos to learn how to wear it. And off I went.
On my first day in Egypt, I walked around commando (with hair flying freely) just to compare and contrast. And on the second day, the benefits of the hijab were revealed. Here are the top ten:
9) Everyone calls you “sister.”
8) You can beat the Egyptian heat by dousing your hair hourly in a bathroom sink, and nobody else is the wiser.
7) When you approach a ticket counter, men part like the Red Sea.
6) Touts at the major tourist attractions ignore you and instead flock like vultures around the herds of sweaty tourists pouring from buses.
5) No bad hair days.
4) Not having to don the pointy plastic robes that make the wearer look like Ku Klux Klan.
2) You come home from Egypt without a raging sunburn.
And the number one benefit of the hijab:1) Every time you speak English, people look as if they have just been spoken to by a passing bird.
I’m certain I had nobody fooled into thinking that I was Egyptian. And I had even fewer people fooled into thinking that I was Muslim. But nonetheless, the imposter ensemble (which also included a bogus wedding ring) was a clear success. My solo trip through Egypt was the adventure of a lifetime and 100% devoid of the sexual harassment and other negative experiences I had heard so much about. I got to see the pyramids, ride a camel, be serenaded several times daily by the call to prayer, climb under a moving train, sail across the Nile on a boat the size of a bathtub, and dance across a balance beam to traverse a flooded crypt. And the research for the novel was completed to boot.
As for the boyfriend turned Middle Eastern Etiquette Coach, I married him.
For a real-time account of these travels, visit http://www.whatwouldkatrinado.blogspot.com
Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and long-time resident of San Diego, California. She lives with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. Please visit her websites at http://www.kristenelisephd.com and www.murderlab.com. The Vesuvius Isotope is available in both print and e-book formats at Kris’ websites and at https://www.amazon.com/author/kristenelisephd
The Vesuvius Isotope:
When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.
One of the greatest joys of writing historical mysteries is the chance to visit the sites of your story. A contemporary novel set in NY or cozy Puddletown can afford interesting opportunities, but you’re less likely to see the gleam of delighted envy in your friends eyes when they say, “Of course, you had to do research, poor thing.” You can smile coyly and answer, “Yes. Such a pity. So time consuming. And I’ll just have to go back—there’s still so much to photograph…”
Because, of course, you’ll wander about with your camera at the ready. For general research, most any photo you take may help. You’ll discover it’s often frustrating that most tourist sites are besieged by actual tourists trying to photograph the exact same scene at the same angle you want to capture. Even though it’s Paris, they won’t be wearing Dior, much less Worth—those shorts and tee shirts will be especially annoying if you want your photo to capture the feel of a different era. You probably won’t be as lucky as I was and stumble on a movie crew filming in period costume, like these characters gathered by a bouquiniste on the Left Bank. These book selling spots are still highly coveted.
Sometimes I get lucky and the light is right, I get the detail, and the photo isn’t lopsided. But if you want photos to add a certain je ne sais quoi to your website, there are public domain or photos free with attribution on Wikimedia Commons and other sites, most likely taken by far more expert hands holding far better equipment.
The other thing I’ve discovered is that Photoshop or similar programs can help you transform photos into intriguing artistic images. Even if you aren’t writing about Impressionist Paris or an artist protagonist, a playful photo can add pizazz. I’ve played with all these pictures a little or a lot. Most just have a smidgen of pencil texturing from the Art Media Effects tab, others combine multiple techniques to become even more like drawings or paintings. I’ve had the most luck with Colored Pencil or sometimes with Chalk Effects. The photo then needs to be intensified with more contrast, color saturation, perhaps sharpness. But you can try Artistic Effects like Colored Foil, Enamel, or Neon Glow to see what new image emerges. Glowing Edges was an effect that created this Vampiric view of the Seine from the Ile St. Louis.
In planning my days in Paris, I arrange to visit the settings in my book, as well as keep an eye out for something new and intriguing. Most of central Paris is as it was about a century and a half ago, when Haussman turned the cramped medieval city into the modern showplace of Europe with its public gardens and grand boulevards like the Champs Élysées. The grand boulevards were to permit the easy movement of cavalry and cannon, in case of revolution, as well as to allow the fashionistas of the period to show off their finery. I’m lucky that most places I plan to use still exist, but there are always disappointments—buildings that are gone, or so altered they are unrecognizable. My heroine lives in Montmartre, and much of that formerly bucolic village was being torn apart and gentrified at the fin de siècle. I decided the homey building with a garden that Theo lived in was later torn down. But the view out her studio window would have been something like this, though I’ve given her some flowering trees to brighten the spring.
At the fin de siècle, the police detective’s bureau was here in the medieval fortress of the Conciergerie which is part of the Palais de Justice, a short walk from Notre Dame. The law courts on the other side are still active, but what you see here is now a museum—Marie Antoinette spent her last days imprisoned within these walls.
My detective lives on the nearby Ile St. Louis. He can look out on the Seine from his window.
Wandering the streets of your city, you’ll decide where your characters lived and worked. To learn more of the history, museums are of course invaluable. In Paris, several homes of famous writers and artists, like Victor Hugo and Rodin, are now museums which you can visit. Of the big museums, the Orsay is my favorite, since it focuses on the art of my period.
The Carnavalet has numerous exhibits showcasing many eras. And small, quirky museums can yield treasures, like the marvelous Police Museum, which displays photographs and newspapers, uniforms and weapons covering many decades. Even tinier, the charming fan museum displays an array of the favorite accessory of the era.
The most deliciously delightful part of a Paris trip is eating in restaurants. There are a few restaurants, like Le Procope, that have been around for centuries. There are many that have kept all or portions of the exterior and interior of my era, the Belle Époque. I love the Brasserie Julien and Le Train Blue. You can see Maxim’s in the films, Gigi and Midnight in Paris. Below is La Fermette Marbeuf. In surroundings like these, it’s easy to project yourself into another era—perhaps with a peacock fan.
FLOATS THE DARK SHADOW is a literary mystery set in the dynamic and decadent world of Belle Époque Paris. Aspiring artist Theodora Faraday and Detective Michel Devaux clash in their search for a mysterious killer who has already claimed too many children. Classic detection and occult revelation lead Michel and Theo through the dark underbelly of Paris. Following the maze of clues they discover the murderer believes he is the reincarnation of the most evil serial killer in the history of France—Gilles de Rais. Whether deranged mind or demonic passion incite him, the killer must be found before he strikes again.
Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. She has read, written, and created art from childhood. A chocolate connoisseur, Yves has won prizes for her desserts. Her current fascination is creating perfumes. She’s traveled to many countries in Europe and lived for two years in Indonesia. She currently lives in the San Francisco area with her husband and three cats, Marlowe the Investigator and the Flying Bronte Sisters.
Visit the world of Belle Epoque Paris at http://yvesfey.com/
Growing up in New England, I never questioned the wisdom of displaying a witch ball in the front window of a home – an east window, if at all possible. I’d see them often, especially outside the city, usually a large glass fisherman’s float, green in color, and hung in a woven net.
A witch ball is a hollow sphere of colored glass, often encasing strands of glass. Some are fanciful and decorated with enameled swirls and brilliant stripes. Today for the most part, witch balls are produced as yard ornaments with vibrant colors or iridescent coatings, sometimes with decorative objects inside.
Witch balls have been around a long time under many different names: Fairy orbs are believed to remind the fairies of flowers. In turn, the fairies reward the owner by bestowing luck. Pond balls are placed in a pool of water so that animals, seeing their reflections, would retreat instead of preying on fish. Early colonists believed in protecting their homes with spirit balls, a round glass ball with a small opening at one end. The harmful spirit would fly into the open end and become trapped inside the glass. Friendship balls, with no beginning or ending of the glass surface, were given as gifts and the reflective surface of gazing balls was believed to frighten evil spirits away. A later invention, butler globes, served a more practical purpose, allowing servants to observe their house guests without staring directly at them.
In the middle ages, witch balls were crafted into rough round shapes to ward off witches, goblins, and evil spirits. Victorians later manufactured them with higher quality glass and a more perfect spherical shape. Some even claim the modern Christmas ornament is descended from the witch ball. Glass was an expensive in the 18th century, but still the balls were popular and believed to ward off spells or ill fortune. Early settlers in New England carried the tradition across the Atlantic and continued the practice. Today they are still a common sight in the windows of many New England homes.
According to legend, the colorful balls could attract evil spirits, the glass strands inside the ball capturing and preventing the spirit from escaping to harm the home. Another legend claims the witch ball acted as a magnet attracting any type of negative energy. If a person were depressed or ill, it was believed they should rest near the witch ball to restore their spirits. No matter what the mythology, there was great faith the shimmering colors of the ball would attract negative energy and by wiping dust from the ball, the negativity would be eliminated.
Is anyone making witch balls today? Sure they are. Here’s one very comprehensive website I found if anyone is interested in exploring the legends: http://www.witchballs.com/
Do I have a witch ball in my home? You bet I do. Why take any chances? In fact, I just remembered to dust it off.
Connie Archer is the national bestselling author of A Spoonful of Murder, the first in the soup lover’s mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. A Broth of Betrayal was released on April 2, 2013. Connie was born and raised in New England. She now lives with her family on the other coast.
Hi my name is Norma Guerra-Stueber, and I’m narrator and audio book producer. I recently started work with Maggie Bishop on the audio book production of “Murder at Blue Falls: The Horse found the body”. Maggie and I made contact through the audio book creation exchanged. ACX.com is really a great tool for both narrators and authors to find each other. I find that on my end it’s really easy to go through and search for books that I would be interested in narrating as well as simple for me you upload samples of my work where authors can contact me and asked if I would be interested in auditioning for their book. It’s really wonderful and I truly enjoy it. Follow along in audio
I first got interested in audio books several years ago. I’m actually an avid audio book listener, so that’s part of the reason why I started doing narrations. The first audio book I ever listen to is probably the one I used for my children for Harry Potter and I’ve got to say I don’t think I’ve ever heard another audio book quite as good as that one it really blew my mind, the characters just came to life. It was years later before I started listening to other audio books. Now I’m constantly trying to convince friends and family members to listen to some audio books especially after listening to really good ones. I never dreamed though that it would be something that I would be doing some day. But you know it’s something that I just truly enjoy and I’m having so much fun doing.
The idea of it actually grew out of something completely different. You see, I run a small tax office during the first four months of the year the rest of the time I’m a stay-at-home mom. Problem is my kids are all grown up and I’m no longer a stay-at-home mom. I just basically stay-at-home, so now I guess I’m a stay-at-home grandma? ‘cause I do get the grandkids on occasion. Anyhow, last year I was working on putting together a commercial for my tax office. I was told that there was a production company that could put it together for me for a set amount of money and I decided I would try and do it myself. Since I had all the software and my husband had a small in home music studio, which he uses when he practices his drumming, I figured I’d have all the equipment I needed as well.
So I set to work, put together my video and then realized I needed a voiceover for it. So I wrote a short script and set to recording, using my own voice of course and voilà a commercial was born. The thing was, when my brother heard it, he was somewhat impressed and said something like “You know Norma, your voice is really good, you should look into doing voiceovers.” It was just a thought that hung around the back of my head for months actually. Eventually I got around to doing some research online about voiceovers and while it was really interesting, I wasn’t that into the idea of doing voiceovers for commercials or other items. But what really got my attention was the fact that I could do audio books. I just loved the idea.
I was already such an avid listener of audio books and the idea of actually being part of it was just overwhelming and I decided I’ve got the time, I’ll give it a try. I’ve tried one other website beside ACX but I found ACX to work simpler and easier and I like the fact that there is direct contact between the author and the narrators. So that’s my story. That’s how I got started with audio books and I gotta say I wish every book was on audio. Visit Norma’s ACX page.
Here’s the link to Murder at Blue Falls audio http://dld.bz/audiblemurderatbluefalls
If you love to listen to audio books, please consider Audible.com
“Bring at least two extra light sources and wear old clothes,” they said.
“Listens to and follows directions” was always checked on my grade school report cards so — here I was — properly garbed, a flashlight in my hand, two more flashlights banging against me from the inside pockets of my gardening coat.
Oh yes, I was well-prepared, except for one thing. I thought you walked into caves. Now I was belly-crawling into a dark hole, two experienced cavers in front of me, two in back, and I was having a tough time keeping “you idiot” concerns off my face–should anyone happen to see it. Well, at least if there were snakes wintering in here, the two in front would see them first.
How do you feel about caves? I don’t mean the kind where you pay a fee and a lecturer takes you on a guided tour inside one of this country’s phenomenal tourist-attraction caves. No, not that kind. I speak of the unpublic kind, the dark, dank holes in the earth like the one I was crawling into back then.
The Ozarks area is full of these non-public caves, bluff shelters, sink holes, and so on. Plus, I should add, these holes under our landscape are often full of the underground rivers that are in the process of creating many of them. Touring is strictly on your own and at your own risk.
The first novel in my “To Die For” mystery series (A VALLEY TO DIE FOR) finds Carrie, along with her new friend, retired policeman Henry King and Henry’s adult daughter, Susan, exploring a cave in search of pictographs or some other historic phenomenon. Reason? They’re looking for anything that might halt county government approval of plans for the siting of a destructive limestone quarry in the valley where the cave is located. (Think dynamite, shaking earth, piles of rock, dust clouds, heavy, rumbling earth-movers and trucks.)
When high-powered rifle shots trap them in the cave, Susan and Carrie start a frantic search for another way out. Henry, bleeding, and dazed by sharp rock fragments a bullet has sent flying, stays behind to guard the cave entrance.
Okay, so I dreamed this cave up. It fit the plot and the danger I planned for Carrie, my major character, as well as for Henry and Susan. But what would the cave really be like? Sights? Smells? Radine, the stickler for perfect details, had to know, and she contacted a group of avid cavers in a town not far away. A week later, four cavers and Radine were crawling into a hole in the side of a bluff near the proposed quarry site. (Yes, the quarry plans were real.)
Fortunately, after a short belly-crawl, space opened up. Not large, like Carlsbad Caverns, or other caves where a full-sized cathedral would fit into the space, but about the size of, say, a large walk-in closet. We moved on, sliding, one-by-one, through a wall crack, straddling a creek running between our heavy shoes. I was now too far into this adventure to back out. (Back out literally, I mean.) I could see what problems Carrie would be running into quite easily. On we slid and crawled, admiring various cave features and–startling only to me–picking up an ancient, rusty beer can.
Eventually we reached another room, larger this time, with a number of tunnels leading into it and the sound of rushing water echoing from one of them. The group leader asked, “Want to go on?”
“No, I have enough details for my story,” I said. I think they believed me.
I told the truth. I could see in my head exactly what Carrie would soon see, and I could imagine exactly what was down that tunnel with the rushing water sounds. (For details, see A VALLEY TO DIE FOR, the first mystery novel in my series featuring Carrie McCrite and Henry King.)
This introduction into book research should have warned me. Of course, since then, I’ve spent a lot of time learning from knowledgeable people and walking with them in pleasant places, or at least in places that didn’t threaten a writer’s exposed skin, clothing, or peace of mind.
However, I have ended up exploring–in the interest of accuracy–several more eerie or scary places: A rough basement full of black pipes and water tanks. Or, how about a creek-filled water tunnel more than 150 years old? (See it in A TREASURE TO DIE FOR.) A walk-in refrigerator that served a hospital morgue early in the 20th century? A haunted hotel? (A WEDDING TO DIE FOR.) A collapsing mine shaft? (Oops, I wasn’t supposed to be there. Hey, guys, I imagined it.) Given the geology of the Ozarks, I have spent quite a bit of time exploring caves and bluff shelters. In these it was hands-off on discovered artifacts–except for a tiny “winkle” shell whose contents provided a bit of food for an American Indian more than five thousand years ago. (My guide, an archeologist, allowed me to keep the tiny shell. I guess this was because there were hundreds of shells, less than a half-inch long, all around us in that hidden cave.)
A historic gallows? The ear-numbing noise and acrid smoke from a fired Civil War cannon? Possible treasure from steamboats sunk in the Arkansas River during the Civil War?
You’ll read about all this in my short stories and novels.
Now, let’s hear your research stories. Anyone here just sit at a desk, calling on memory and imagination for book settings? If so, think of all the adventures, dirt, and torn clothing you’re missing.
Radine Trees Nehring spent a number of years as a broadcast journalist and feature writer for magazines and newspapers before her first book, "DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter From Spring Hollow," appeared in 1995, winning the Arkansas Governor's Award for best writing about the state. Her "To Die For" mystery series began in 2002 with Macavity nominee, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR. The series has earned more than twenty-five other awards including an Arkansas Book of the Year award, a Silver Falchion National Award at Killer Nashville, and first place, best mystery novel, from the Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc. conference. Several short stories featuring her major characters, Carrie McCrite and Henry King are available in anthologies. A FAIR TO DIE FOR is the seventh novel in the "To Die For" series. Radine is a member of Sisters in Crime, Authors Guild, Ozarks Writers League, and represented Arkansas on the board of Mystery Writers of America--SW Chapter for several years. She was chosen as 2011 inductee in the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. http://www.RadinesBooks.com http://radine.wordpress.com
Ready for an Ozarks adventure? A FAIR TO DIE FOR from Oak Tree Press
Links to area attractions include War Eagle Fair: http://www.wareaglefair.com
War Eagle Mill: http://www.WarEagleMill.com
Hobbs State Park – Conservation area: http://www.ArkansasStateParks.com , http://www.FriendsofHobbs.com
Buffalo National River: http://www.nps.gov/buff
Hot Springs National Park: http://www.nps.gov/hosp
1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa: http://www.crescent-hotel.com
From childhood, I have always dreamed of going to China. Though it may be a destination of little interest to some, I was captivated by the classic novel The Good Earth, and managed to sustain my interest through other literary and theatrical works, including the mid-1976-78 T.V. series, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, starring Joseph Conrad as the United States Marine Corps aviator, Pappy Boyington. Based in Chongqing, China, his World War II “American Volunteer Air Group” – a.k.a. “The Black Sheep Squadron” — fiercely defended the Chinese people from the Japanese invaders, a piece of history that remains legendary in China to this day.
Finally, in mid-August of 2012, I could wait no longer. My wife and I launched a 17-day, epic journey to the other side of the world. The Chinese Consulate in Washington, D.C. had added full-page Visas to our passports, so we packed our bags, flew to Los Angeles, spent the night, and then continued across the North Pacific, en route to Tokyo, Japan, and, from there, to Shanghai, China.
Upon arrival, we were immediately introduced to the glaring difference between China’s “Mega-Cities” and our American concept of “a big city.” I have visited all of America’s major cities at one time or another — some more than once. And, I’ve traveled internationally through much of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Prior to this trip, though, I’d only made it as far east as Istanbul.
To me, the sheer MAGNITUDE of modern-day China is overwhelming. With over 23 million residents, the port city of Shanghai is a beautiful, gleaming metropolis of steel and glass skyscrapers, mostly built within the last decade and a half. Visits to a number of other Chinese cities (like Chongqing, with over 32 million residents) left similar impressions. To the Chinese, New York City would seem of average size, similar to a number of their own “lesser” metropolises.
We began our journey through the heart of China with a 10-day, 1200-mile riverboat trip up the fresh-water Yangtze River, their primary east-west shipping artery. We stopped daily to visit any number of cultural delights and “National Geographic”-type treasures. We passed through five sets of locks at the huge “Three Gorges Dam,” which boasts the largest hydro-electrical output of any dam in the world. We explored The Snow Jade Caves of Fengdu, the famous Shibaozhai Pagota, and the Lesser Three Gorges. Later, we visited a public-school classroom of fifth-graders in Jingzhou. They sang for us, and then requested that we do the same. Put on the spot, my wife and I went to the front of the class and sang (with all the familiar gestures) “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider.” Surprisingly, they loved it!
We climbed the famous Yueyang Tower, visited a museum of ancient relics in Wuhan, toured their silk factories, went up Mt. Jiu Hua to visit an active Buddhist temple, saw master potters making amazing porcelain pieces at Jingdezhen, and finally disembarked our riverboat in Chongqing. A morning trip to The Chongqing Zoo introduced us to their world-renowned pandas, who were uncharacteristically active, putting on quite a show as they consumed bamboo and studied us.
Over the next seven days, we climbed The Great Wall of China at Badaling, attended a magnificent Tang Dynasty dinner theatre performance in Xian, ate Peking Duck and “made it through” the famous Peking Opera performance in Beijing. Throughout the trip, we visited a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the magnificent Terra Cotta Army in Xian and the peaceful gardens of The Ming Tombs. A visit to Tiananmen Square, and a long walk through the massive Forbidden City, immersed us in the cultural and political history of China’s 5,000 years of dynastic struggles and triumphs.
These days, most of the people of modern China prefer to call themselves “Capitalists” as opposed to “Communists,” though their government would surely disagree. To me, it’s a title they have clearly earned. (Check the label on most of the things you own.) Even so, for the Chinese, the concept of “private ownership” remains distant. An individual’s apartment, condo, or house may only be “purchased” for a maximum of 70 years, at which point it must be returned to the government. Forget inheritance – think leasing.
The Chinese people are warm and welcoming. They possess an intriguing calmness in the midst of their incredible numbers, with a population of 1.3 BILLION! Comparing that to America’s 350 million residents, one can begin to understand why their “1-child-per-family” law remains in effect. Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism remain their dominant religions/philosophies. Modern construction continues everywhere, and, in the last 20 years, their cities have gone from 80% bicycle traffic to 80% new-car traffic, of every make and model found throughout the world. Along with this transition has come air pollution, further aggravated by the fact that 60% of China’s electricity is generated by coal-burning plants. All their manufacturing and exporting of goods has made their government wealthy, but there’s been an unmistakable environmental price to pay.
Having witnessed this, I have come to think of China as a beautiful dream, teetering on the brink of ecological disaster. Hopefully, they will find ways to manage their air pollution problems to assure future generations of a more sustainable environment.
(For additional photos, see http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.415746748488682.94038.100001600805576&type=3&l=51a701d57f )
A graduate of Guilford College and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Mike Leach began his career in secondary education as a guidance counselor and A. P. English teacher. Seven years later, he transitioned to the high-tech world of large computer system support at AT&T. A quarter century later, Mike retired from AT&T as a Senior Systems Manager. While pursuing his love of writing, he divides his time between Central Florida and The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. He is a member of ASU’s Institute for Senior Scholars and the High Country Writers group in Boone, NC.
“I grew up in St. Cloud, Florida — the ‘Veterans of Foreign Wars’ town referenced in Lords of Circumstance. Much of my childhood was spent on the front-porch steps of local ‘cracker homes’ where retired veterans of World War II and the Korean War had settled. Fortunately, some of those veterans shared their stories. Others could not speak of their military experience. I heard every word they said – or didn’t.
“They taught me about service and sacrifice, imparting a deep respect for those who protect our country. Most importantly, they instilled in me the timeless reminder that ‘freedom is not free’ and that perpetual vigilance is the price of maintaining it. Even as a child, I understood that these were lessons that I would take to the grave.”
Link to Lords of Circumstance www.amazon.com
Whenever I am asked to explain what Repeating History is about, this is the first thing people ask. But it’s not all that odd, really. For one thing, the American version of the Grand Tour was a well-established concept by the late 19th century. For another, Yellowstone was created as the world’s first national park in 1871. Of course, that was mostly a formality at the time — Congress allocated no funds to support the new park, and even the superintendent was a volunteer. The only hotel was a sod-roofed log cabin where customers paid for space to throw down a bedroll while they “took the cure” in the Mammoth Hot Springs. There were no roads.
But people did come. A trickle at first, compared to the millions who visit every year now — in 1877, the year my fictional Byrnes ran into the Nez Perce Indians, roughly between 300 and 500 (The Yellowstone Story, by Aubrey L. Haines, p. 196 — this two-volume set is the definitive history of the park). This does not count the over 500 Nez Perce, over half of them women and children, fleeing from the U.S. Army into Yellowstone, the most famous of whom was Chief Joseph, of “I will fight no more forever” fame.
They were on their way to asylum in Canada, a goal they would fail to reach by less than 100 miles. They were running because, ultimately, they refused to move away from their homelands onto a reservation. The army was after them ostensibly because of the actions of some of the young Indian men in retaliation for what the white people were forcing them to do. But their path led across Yellowstone National Park, and, in spite of the odds (3000 square miles, less than 1000 people in total), straight into several parties of tourists.
The chance to replenish horses and supplies could not be missed, because by then of course, their own horses were becoming worn out and their own supplies low. If some of the tourists had not resisted, the situation might have ended with simple theft. But they did, and the encounters ended in kidnapping. And murder.
Eventually the kidnappees were let go, but the damage had been done. What amazes me is something that Emma Cowan (who was the basis for my fictional Eliza Byrne) said many years later. “It occurs to me at this writing (in Reminiscences of Pioneer Life, published by the Montana Historical Society in 1903) that the above mode of trading is a fair reflection of the lesson taught by the whites. For instance, a tribe of Indians are located on a reservation. Gold is discovered thereon by some prospector. The strong arm of the government alone prevents the avaricious pale face from possessing himself of the land forthwith. Soon negotiations are pending with as little delay as a few yards of red tape will admit. A treaty is signed, the strip ceded to the government and opened to settlers, and ‘Lo, the poor Indian’ finds himself on a tract a few degrees more arid, a little less desirable than his former home. The Indian has few rights the average white settler feels bound to respect.” Quite a statement by someone in her circumstances. And one reason I was drawn to write about her.
Repeating History is available on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005E8S8UM), Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/repeating-history-m-m-justus/1104728901) Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/76672), and iTunes (http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/repeating-history/id454474620?mt=11) To read the first chapter, go to my website at http://mmjustus.com/fictionRepeatingHistory.html.