Friday, June 28, 2013

Review of 'The Wisdom of John Muir' compiled by Anne Rowthorn

The Wisdom of John Muir: 100+ Selections from the Letters, Journals, and Essays of the Great Naturalist
" Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day."  6/23/1869
"... rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last." 9/2/1868
These John Muir quotes capture perfectly his unswerving faith in the healing and restorative power of nature for the human spirit.  If Muir was a preacher, this would be his sermon.

John Muir had a gift for prose that he discovered only reluctantly, and at the prodding of friends and colleagues with whom he corresponded.  He had no real desire to make his intimate personal writings available to the general public.  The above two quotes are from his personal journal.  Many of the other quotes in 'The Wisdom of John Muir' come from private letters to friends.  He didn't publish his first article until 1872 at age 34.  When encouraged by a friend to write a book he lamented:
"Book-making frightens me because it demands so much artificialness and retrograding ... Moreover I find that though I have a few thoughts entangled in the fibers of my mind, I possess no words into which I can shape them ... These mountain fires that glow in one's blood are free to all, but I cannot find the chemistry that may press them unimpaired into booksellers' bricks.  True, I can proclaim that moonshine is glorious, and sunshine more glorious, that winds rage, and waters roar ... This is about the limit of what I feel capable of doing for the public.  But for my few friends I can do more because they already know the mountain harmonies and can catch the tones I gather for them, though written in a few harsh and gravelly sentences."  12/25/1872
Thank goodness Muir's friends persisted, for despite his perceptions that the wider public would not fathom his passion for nature, he discovered that such passion lies dormant in all of us; and we are much the better for having had him to express for us what we can only vaguely sense.

Anne Rowthorn had admired Muir's work and writings for years, and seems a kindred spirit.  She lovingly and thoughtfully assembled her 100+ selections of Muir's writing, dividing them into twelve themed chapters that are roughly chronological and reflect ups and downs, ins and outs of the man's life.  Rowthorn's commentary provides a rich frame for the quotes, and serves as a decent biography.  Her touch is light yet its impact on this final product is considerable.  She adds value, making this book far more than an assemblage of memorable snippets.  It becomes a coherent package.

In summary, I found 'The Wisdom of John Muir' to be a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the man - a fine guidebook to his personality and his unique spirituality as well as to his style and craft as a writer.  This would be an excellent choice as a gift to any young lover of nature.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Climate Change - the Fierce Urgency of Now

Up to now I haven't plunged into the politicized hot-potato that is the climate change debate.  Yes, I'm a climate scientist, and yes, I'm one of the 97% of them who believe humans are changing Earth's climate to a degree that is bound to have serious impact--making it warmer but also injecting other pollutants that have significant effects, such as destruction of the ozone layer.

I thought this would be a good time to put in my two cents because our president has just issued a new policy statement on the subject.  You can read it, and the reaction of bloggers here.  Now, when President Obama was running for his first term, one of the stirring moments in the stump speech that catapulted him into the lead in the polls was this quote, in which he, in turn, quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.:

'I am running in this race because of of what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now." Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too late, and that hour is almost upon us.'

Well, I don't believe the president's stand on climate change quite lives up to this rhetoric.  The policies as laid out run the risk of being 'too little too late.'  And the hour is upon us:  climate change is happening today at a rate hundreds of times more swift than any past natural rate of change (except for cases of sudden natural disasters like the explosion of a super-volcano or the impact of a meteor).  Yes, human impact on climate is currently the equivalent of a major natural disaster.  Climate scientists are largely united on this, yet the general public remains complacent.  Whereas 97% of climate researchers consider the problem 'serious', only 33% of the public at large in the US describes it that way in the latest Pew Research Poll.

Imagine if you were developing a slight fever, just one or two degrees more than your normal 98.6, and you don't feel that sick - yet - kind of like the climate, having warmed just one or two degrees - so far.  You decide to go see a doctor, just to be safe.  In fact you go to see 100 doctors (because you don't want to trust just one - you want to get a solid consensus).  The result: 97 of those doctors give you the same diagnosis and offer the same prescription to cure you.  What would you do?

Well a certain Mr. John Doe wasn't satisfied.  He didn't think he was sick.  He decided to head out to the street and describe his symptoms to passers-by, and ask the first 100 of them what he should do?  And of course only 33 of the people he asked told him to do what the doctors prescribed.  "Whew!" John said to the last of the 100, visibly relaxing.  "I knew it.  I'm really not that sick after all.  Stupid doctors."

So how can we narrow this perception gap between the general public and those who have devoted their lives to studying the subject?  My friend American Meteorological Society president Dr. Marshall Shepherd gave a TEDx talk that addresses this.  Marshall's talk is entertaining, down-to-earth, accessible to the average John Doe, and full of good insights.  I urge you to take eighteen minutes to watch this:


TEDx Atlanta, GA, May 7, 2013

Marshall starts out by showing a photo of his two children, and states that the reason he's so passionate about this problem is them--the generation who are likely to live to see the day when nobody in their right mind will have any remaining doubt that we've messed with mother nature.

I frame the lives of Marshall's kids (and mine) in this negative context because I am not optimistic that the greedy status-quo will change sufficiently or in time.  I believe we will confront that moment when we say:  "we are too late."

President Obama might do well to continue quoting Rev. King.  Here's the rest of that quote from April 1967 at Manhattan's Riverside Church:

'Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."'

Exactly what will be the moment when John Doe finally accepts that he's sick?  What will be the watershed event that wakes everybody up?  How catastrophic must it be; and what options will we have left when it comes?  I have some speculations which make their way into the back-story of my novel 'Eden's Womb'.

The discussion continues here, as I propose a simple two question 'Final Exam' for mankind.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Bucket List - live like you mean it


Six years ago today I was flying back from my first serious bucket list excursion - a mountain climbing expedition to Peru and Bolivia.  Back then (I was 58) my bucket list was just in my head and I had focused on just one item--climb a 20,000 foot mountain.  As it turns out, the trip was probably more memorable for another classic bucket list item, but I'll reserve that for another post.

A year after I got back from Bolivia the 'Bucket List' movie came out, and modern Bucket List mania began.  I absolutely loved the movie.  Morgan Freeman is like a minor god to me (in fact I want him to star as First Prince Mbele in the film adaptation of my novel 'Eden's Womb'.)  But even with all the buzz about the topic at the time, I still didn't establish a formal bucket list; and the 'state of the list' hasn't changed since - until yesterday when I started going back through the photos of the Bolivia trip, reminiscing, and contemplating my upcoming 65th birthday.

So I thought I'd finally get serious about this formal bucket list thing.  I Googled a few web sites for bucket list ideas, searched some 'seven wonders of the world' web sites, etc., and came up with my first draft list.

Bucket Lists are, of course, very personal.  But I found that reading other people's lists provided inspiration and ideas for my own.  And to my surprise, things that I had done but had never really considered to be bucket list items showed up on some of these lists.  That was encouraging - suddenly I realized that I've been a closet 'bucket lister' for most of my life.

So, without further ado, here's my list, with items accomplished in red with strike-through:

  • Become the most interesting man in the world (note well: become, not 'be' - it's the journey that makes us interesting)
  • See the Moai (statues) on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
  • Write a novel (Manuscript finished August 1, 2013 - 'Eden's Womb' see sidebar at right -->) 
  • Write an Appalachian Trail book chronicling my 2012 double thru-hike
  • Witness the highest tides in the world (Bay of Fundy, NS) and a tidal bore (Truro)
  • Integrate my life into a nurturing virtual family (real family included) - a mutually sustaining support system to carry me into old age
  • Visit the great pyramid of Giza
  • Experience the midnight sun (TromsΓΈ, Norway, late 1990's)
  • Live for a year in Svalbard, Norway (three months of dark, three months with no sunset)
  • Drive the Dempster and/or pipeline highways to near the Arctic Ocean in Canada and Alaska
  • Hike the Appalachian Trail (both ways in one calendar year without spending a night on the trail.  Done in 2012, January 1st to November 3rd.  (See daily reports and more on this blog)
  •  Live to be 88 years old so I can hike at least a small part of the Appalachian Trail on the 100th anniversary of its completion in 2037.  I'd consider it a victory if I could do one step, but aspire to try to become the oldest to hike it all--currently the oldest thru-hiker was 81
  • Connect a continuous string of footprints (walk) between every place I've ever lived (Personal Continuous Footpath)
  • Then extend my Personal Continuous Footpath to every one of the 49 continental US states and to the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories (they are building the road).
  • Witness a total solar eclipse (Montana, February 26, 1979). See this post for more info.
  • Visit Machu Picchu.  (May 31, 2007) See the report here.
  • Stand on the North (and/or South) Pole (how about a cruise to the North Pole on an icebreaker!)
  • See Uluru and drive Australia's outback end-to-end
  • Visit Sydney Harbor and see the Opera House (1992)
  • Visit Nepal and Tibet and trek to Everest Advanced Base Camp (21,000 feet)
  • Visit Chichen Itza, Mexico
  • Set foot in every one of the 50 US states.  Accomplished that long ago, so now I'm working on ...
  • Visit every one of the 3143 US counties and county equivalents
  • Climb to the summit of a 20,000 foot mountain in South America
  • Learn the Chinese Language
  • Walk the Great Wall of China (all 1800 miles would be nice)
  • See the Terra Cotta Army, China
  • See Angel Falls (in clear weather) and climb a Tepui in Venezuela
  • Hike the Grand Canyon, rim to bottom and back
  • Visit Stonehenge
  • Cruise the Panama Canal
  • Vacation in Palau
  • (safely) witness a tornado
  • See the Aurora Borealis
  • Experience a hurricane (done with Irene, 2011) - but still want to be in the eye of one
  • Build my own house (not supervise it - build it personally by hand) - done TWICE
  • See and interact with (e.g. poke sticks in) active lava flow (Hawaii)
  • Build a house with a multi-story indoor waterfall and grotto-swimming pool
  • Learn to sail a sailboat (sailed, raced and cruised the Chesapeake Bay on several boats)
  • Learn to fly an airplane
  • Father and raise two children, one boy, one girl
  • Scuba Dive (Sturat Cove's, Nassau, Bahamas)
  • Fly in a helicopter (Kaua'i, Hawaii)
  • Live in an ocean-front home at the beach (North Topsail Beach, NC)
  • African safari, climb Kilimanjaro
  • See the baobab trees of Madagascar
  • Visit all seven continents (Five done, two to go - Antarctica, Africa)
Okay, this is now my official bucket list.  Yay!  I'll be updating and adding to it as time marches on ...


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books have achieved unparalleled popularity.  At over 450 million books sold, this is far-and-away the bestselling book series in the history of the planet.  There’s a solid reason for that, which I’ll discuss later.  But …

I read the first in the series, and it turned out to be one of very few books that I disliked enough to give it away after buying a brand new copy and then reading it. I won’t read any more of them.

So what’s wrong with me?  Surely the problem is mine. I liked the movie well enough and saw it before reading the book. Was that the problem? I think not.  I think it’s my age and life experience.

The childhood English-author classic that I was raised loving was Winnie-the-Pooh (‘only’ 70 million sold).  Compare A.A. Milne’s writing style with J.K. Rowling’s and you may begin to understand my problem.  What I disliked most about Rowling’s offering was the bland, uninspired and uninspiring style. For her, and for the young people who swoon over her books, it’s the imagination, the imagery that matters more.  Why?  This I cannot answer.  But I have a guess.  Have we become aesthetically numbed by television?  There was no TV in my house until I was six years old, in 1954.  By then I had practically memorized most of the Pooh stories.

Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore have delightfully distinctive characters (Christopher Robin not so much).  On the other hand I found Rowling’s characterization surprisingly 'cardboard'—completely devoid of inner voice and emotional depth. As prose, this book is a failure. As a light story-telling experience, it is well done. However, again, given my lifetime of experience prior to the publication of this book, I found that most of Rowling's imagery was borrowed from off-the-shelf templates that have been rattling around in our cultural psyche for many generations. The originality lies only in the minutiae.

The book (and the series) appeals to its fresh, squeaky-faced young target audience because it introduces this cultural heritage to them; and thus will forever 'own' it. And I suppose that's the true 'magic'. Not every author is able to so comprehensively tap in to and bring to life the touchstones of her culture—to voice a narrative that is already familiar but not fully actualized in so many of our minds. All future generations will view this magic-fantasy sub-genre through Rowling's eyes, and that's not a bad thing. She has vividly enriched it and gathered many myths into one 'compendium'. Think of how the anonymous 1823 poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" has defined Santa Claus and much of the surrounding myth and tradition of secular Christmas celebration.  I think that’s an apt parallel.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Character fiction at its best

Out of Dark Places
Jeff Gephart paints characters with words, and he's a master at the art.  His latest novel, 'Out of Dark Places', published by All Things That Matter Press has so many glowing reviews that share this repeating theme.  I'm convinced.

Let's start with Jeff's own 'blurb' (I don't like that term but don't know of a better one - a blurb is a synopsis or a 'jacket/back-cover teaser' intended to draw the reader in without giving away the story):

"Lukas Willow was once a musical prodigy, but his life took a vastly different turn when he discovered that he possessed unexplainable clairvoyant powers. Haunted by troubling visions, he has become an alcoholic recluse, his life suspended in a stagnant state of paranoia and self pity. When the mysterious Katie Reiker, a beautiful but emotionally scarred young woman, shows up on his doorstep, an unconventional relationship begins to develop that might just save them both. Time is running out,however. An impending natural disaster that only Lukas knows about forces him to make a difficult decision that will affect the lives and futures of everyone in his town."

And here are some of the typical reviews:

"The author's fascination with the human psyche is both clinical and artistic. His protagonist Lukas examines every casual one-time passer-by with an eye of a painter or a prophet, finding messages and clues in every detail. His painful sensitivity and hightened intuition cause him a great deal of unease. The narrative is written in the present tense, and the progression of the plot is not always linear, which contributes to the feeling of being out of time. The novel is set in a different dimension. It's marked by the exquisite, subtle moodiness of 1970s French films." - Marina J. Neary

"Jeff is an incredibly descriptive writer, which leads to phenomenally complex, dark characters, yet likable at the same time. I was most impressed with two aspects of this book: first, with Jeff's ability to set up a scene that the reader fully believes is happening only to find that it was a product of the character's imagination. Second, and along the same line, Jeff does not allow his characters to experience the typical Hollywood style interactions that have become so predictable and trite. His characters are much more true to life." - Dan Fitzgibbons

"It's hard not to become absorbed in the lives of the two main characters as you follow them through the novel's various dramatic scenes and well-written moments of self-examination. So different seeming at first, both in personality and lifestyle, the author manages to convincingly draw similarities between their progressively intertwining lives. Not to say too much about the story - which is well worth a read - the "Out of Dark Places" is written against a backdrop of powerful metaphor for the fragility, unpredictability, and violence of life as we live it in our modern world. Page-turning excitement is interspersed with moments of tenderness and reflection, where the reader will easily find some aspect of the protagonists to identify with. Addressing themes of love, addiction, abandonment, loss, and guilt, among others, it is a wonderful statement about human existence and the various ways in which we struggle to find our place in it." - Jo de Mots

Image of Jeff Gephart
Jeff Gephart wrote and performed for a weekly sketch comedy television show for three seasons that was seen on cable television markets in the Eastern and Midwestern United States. He has acted in various independent films and has worked professionally as a graphic designer and an elementary school teacher.  He lives in Sacramento, California.
 
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 This is the nineteenth of a short series of Author profiles that features fellow authors in the All Things That Matter Press family.
 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fiction with all the urgency of prophecy


Phil Harris is chairman and guiding force behind All Things That Matter Press.  And he is an accomplished author in his own right.  There is so much material I could cover in this author profile that I decided to keep it focused on his 'magnum opus', 'Waking God: The Trilogy' - a series of three apocalyptic books that could be described as 'religious fiction', yet with underlying themes that Phil and his co-author Brian Doe clearly consider to be not fictional at all.

'Waking God' was originally published as three separate books, each of which stand well on their own.  They are subtitled 'The Journey Begins', 'The Sacred Rota', and 'The Second Coming of Humanity.'  The consensus among reviewers is that if you like one, you ought to get all three.

Image of Philip F. Harris
Here's Phil's own succinct take on this body of work, from his blog.  For me, this gives a clear flavor of his vision, and his interpretation of the underlying message that the books are meant to convey.

"In the trilogy the world is described as place of chaos and turmoil; governed not by the politicians, but under the thumb of corporate interests. The environment is collapsing, religion has gone awry, and disasters plague every corner of the globe. Most of the Trilogy occurs after 2012. This was a date that the 'media' decided was to be the apocalypse. It is important to remember that the prophecies of the Mayans, Hopi, Nostradamus and others never said that 12/21/12 was the end of the world. It simply made good press. In fact, in keeping with conspiracy, it is quite possible that 12/21 was played up that way so that when nothing apparent happened on that day, the masses would simply dismiss the prophecies as just nonsense and not worthy of anymore consideration. All of the prophecies are still valid because they spoke of a process, not an end product.

So what happens now that the same warnings are being issued by science? We have warnings about a rapidly changing climate; the spread of  resistant diseases; tectonic plate shift and earthquake  events are being publicized; clearly economies are in disarray; and, religions are certainly faltering. Whenever you pay attention to the news, there are stories of flood, drought, famine, pestilence and mayhem. These come not from the prophets, but from science and on the ground fact.

Are these warnings being heeded? Have the special interests managed to blind the people to events that will forever alter their fate? Have 'they' cried wolf so often that people are desensitized to the calamities around them?

There are some great things happening on planet Earth. People are beginning to awaken to a new sense that something wonderful may be on the horizon. The question is, who will [win] the race: Those [who] are waking up, or those who would keep the human spirit in false chains?"


And here are my favorite reviews of each of the three books.  Book I, reviewed by R. Rubenstein:

"Waking God has some very real people doing some powerful stuff to the universe.... And they are serious..And they are 'pissed.' Their world speaks to us with both the angry voice of prophesy and the ethereal sound of the interceding angels. ...It is biblical and other worldly with universal truths inside these pages applicable to all religions. Where iconoclastic hipsters make war and metaphysical, but non-religious intellects suddenly believe, this Waking God is not what it seems. As a Jew who never did understand what the difference was between--say, a Presbyterian or a Protestant, I initially felt like a cheerleader on the sidelines, but one who didn't understand the game, or whom to really root for. But around mid-way through this extraordinarily woven labyrinthine, I realized Waking God was talking directly to me with the language from the Bible. Mara, the lovely heroine(angel or devil?) seems to be gliding through a stoned out acid trip. Not that I know anything about THAT. Andrew, the teacher, also is in a surreal setting as if, at times, they want to create a H.P. Lovecraft horror show. Yet, despite that, or maybe because of the odd assortment of interesting little venomous people capitalizing ad nauseum, on religion,if you ask me, I would call this a moving, deeply religious work. Waking God is ultimately a spiritual, supernatural thrill ride-- spellbinding, passionate and furious. One never knows who is going to survive the chapter. As a writer, I also must add that Harris' prose jumps off the page with visual and poetic clarity. It is a pleasure to read a real craftsman at work on a project he obviously so passionately believes.."

Book II, reviewed by Marvin D. Wilson:

"About two, maybe three years ago I read Waking God, by Philip F. Harris and Brian L. Doe. I was instantly drawn into the world they created, which, is really our world - this world, except seen through the eyes that most do not look through. The vision seen when the veil of deceit and insidious religious dogma, put in place nearly two thousand years ago by the organized church for political and power grabbing reasons to ensure that "all truths are not to be known by all people," gets lifted. It would be classified as a suspense thriller in the "Theological Science Fiction" genre, but one has to wonder and gasp if ... the "fiction" part is perhaps unwarranted?

The Sacred Rota, newly released and the second book in the trilogy, picks up on the fast paced and highly entertaining, yet fundamentally belief shaking and unsettling saga, where Waking God leaves off, with Michael (the Archangel) and Mantrella (a.k.a. Lucifer) in a power struggle to determine who will rule and what the fate of mankind will be. Adam - the original man, and a god Himself, lies slumbering. If he wakes, the DNA in mankind's hidden god-seed is activated and Michael and his cohorts are, well ... I won't spoil the whole read for you. But it's not good news for the angels if that happens, and Michael will stop at nothing to prevent it. Who stands in his way, thwarting his every turn, championing the cause of humanity?

Mantrella. Yes, you read that right. Lucifer - the biblical "fallen angel," also referred to in the scriptures as the "Bright and Morning Star," is on our side. There is no devil, Lucifer is not your enemy, he's been falsely demonized by the Catholic Church to keep people in fear and abeyance to the Church for nearly two thousand years. Until Pope Peter in The Sacred Rota comes along. Peter is going to release the ancient secret hidden truths to the masses. And he pays for it. The Bilderberg group, well on its way to establishing the "New World Order," sees to that.

There are many controversial elements in this trilogy. Traditionally held fundamental religious dogmas and beliefs are put into question and done so in the form of a first rate sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat and clench your teeth thriller of a book. Harris and Doe make a great writing team; the writing is sharp and yet breezy, extremely imaginative and compulsively readable. The book is not only a deep and ponderous read underneath the quick action with other worldly yet well developed and believable characters, it provides several hours of entertainment in literature that ranks with the best out there.

The book stands alone as a great read by itself, but I'd highly recommend getting both Waking God and The Sacred Rota, even if it's in reverse order once the Rota compels you to go back and catch up fully on the tale. I, for one, am looking forward to the third and concluding book in the series with a great deal of anticipation.

But be forewarned, this is not a Sunday School book. You may be shocked. And it might just be for your own good."


Book III, reviewed by Melissa Studdard:

"The Second Coming of Humanity is indeed a wild ride. Set against the backdrop of the impending 2012 shift, this spiritual thriller will make you question everything you thought you knew about reality. Drawing from both ancient and contemporary wisdom teachings, Doe and Harris not only find new ways of interpreting old insights, they develop fresh insights of their own, all the while turning misused dogma and outmoded stereotypes on their heads and creating the mental space for the reader to discover his or her own truth between the lines. This truth will certainly be best discovered if you read all three books of the Waking God trilogy, but The Second Coming of Humanity is also an excellent stand alone. If you liked the mental trip you found yourself on with the The Matrix or The Da Vinci Code, you'll want to, as author Sandy Cohen suggested, fasten your seat belt at least one more time. There is still a very important destination that awaits you, and The Second Coming of Humanity is just the vehicle to take you there."

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This is the eighteenth of a short series of Author profiles that features fellow authors in the All Things That Matter Press family.

Historical fiction out of deepest Africa

Paul J. Stam, the formative years, in Belgian Congo

Here's another All Things That Matter Press author who has an unusual and compelling life story.  Paul J. Stam grew up in the NE corner of the Belgian Congo, right next to Uganda and Sudan - about as deep into the heart of Africa as you can get.  At age 13 he was hunting big game with his missionary father.  More on his amazing life a little later.  It is that experience in Africa that informs Paul's two novels: "A River that is Congo: Of Rulers and Ruled" and "A River that is Congo: Of Chiefs and Giants".  This is a trilogy - a third book is in the works.

Set in Congo Free State in 1902, "Of Rulers and Ruled" is an historical novel of one European mercenary's heroic struggle against the greed, cruelty, and terror of a corrupt government in colonial Africa.  "Of Chiefs and Giants" is the story of rivalry between two sons of a tribal Chief.  One usurps the others birthright using cunning and guile.  The other seeks out the first European missionary to reach the area, hoping to get help in righting the wrong, but confronts the missionary's entirely different agenda.

My favorite reviews of these two books both come from Jean Rodenbough, another ATTMP author:


Of Rulers and Ruled:

"Paul Stam's detailed study of the Belgian Congo under King Leopold's reign provides the realistic background of colonialism under despotic rule. For the Congo area, for nearly a century under white Belgian military rule, the people of the area were forbidden education and training for their eventual independence. Pierre d'Entremont finds his life there as a military officer to be permanently engaged with the land and the people he grew to love and admire. He witnessed the brutality toward the native people and bravely reacted, paying the price for such interventions as he made. The book brings this country into the reader's heart with greater understanding of what was taken from the locals. Stam spent his childhood in the Congo area, and embellishes this story with his research, carrying us as readers into the heart of that country. A strong story that covers d'Entremont's life in intervals to keep the plot moving, keeps the reader's attention throughout. The one weak link to the story is his description of a love story near the beginning, but Stam recovers well from that and proves his skill as a historian and writer. This is an excellent read. Published by All Things That Matter Press."


Of Chiefs and Giants:

"Paul Stam's second book in the trilogy about life in the Congo during a crucial century of cultural clashes is a tightly written historical novel. This second book describes two different cultures: that of white, American missionaries (plus a military presence which remains) and the black tribal natives who learn that as human beings there are differences in culture but not in the human drive to succeed in life. The major difficulties are the cultures in which each group has been raised and educated. The missionary group provides medical care, religious education in a limited manner, and in this book the use of guns is introduced to the natives. The reader learns authentic history in the telling of this part of Congo's story, which must deal not only with the coming of whites into native territory but the effects of World War II on both groups. Understanding between the two cultures comes with great difficulty, and there are brutal and terrible incidents which take place. Stam's own experience of living in the Congo feeds into the narratives and brings the stories their vitality.
The pattern of occasionally alternating stories of the two cultures provides readers with the simultaneous events that take place, which are most helpful. We become immersed in what is going on, as the characters become real to us. This is a fine account of a time many of us know little about, and told tightly and clearly. Excellent read. I would recommend reading these books in chronological order, making this the second in the series of the Congo novels."


Paul Stam came to the US as a teenager, enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War, studied and worked in Minnesota as a university teacher and administrator, then discovered Hawaii when his employer sent him to a conference there.  He resigned immediately upon return and has lived in Hawaii since, though eight of those years were spent living on a sailboat cruising between Hawaii and French Polynesia.  Paul now lives on the windward coast of Oahu where he writes and throws pottery.

**** Update:  6/22/13 Paul announced that he has signed a contract with ATTMP to publish a third book: 'A Desperate Voyage'.  Congrats, Paul.
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This is the seventeenth of a short series of Author profiles that features fellow authors in the All Things That Matter Press family.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nine tales of speculative paranormal sci-fi horror

... or just plain difficult to categorize. 

Image of Roland Allnach

Roland Allnach's award winning novellas strive to be written with literary fiction quality, but the topics can range widely.  His two books, published by All Things That Matter Press are 'Remnant' and 'Oddities and Entities'.  The former contains three stories, the latter six.  Here are succinct descriptions of each tale:

Remnant
"Remnant" consists of three stories within the speculative/science fiction genres. The stories are linked in theme by characters seeking self-truth, redemption, and their moral center.  The three novellas, in order of appearance in the anthology, are: "All the Fallen Angels," in which a convicted war criminal attempts to make peace with his past; "Enemy, I Know You Not," in which a military officer that was captured and tortured tries to find his loyalty in an abyss of suspected betrayals; and "Remnant," in which the survivor of a global pandemic is confronted with the prospect of making peace with his memories when other survivors attempt to bring him back from self-imposed isolation.

 Oddities and Entities
 "Oddities and Entities" is a collection of six tales bordering on the paranormal/supernatural genres.  The stories are thematically linked and explore the definition of life beyond the fragile vessel of the human body.  "Oddities and Entities" consists of: 'Boneview', in which a young woman struggles to balance her ability to see through people with the presence of a supernatural creature in her life; 'Shift/Change', in which a hospital worker struggles to regain his memory as he is confronted by a series of desperate people (this story was previously published in the July 2010 issue of 'Aphelion'); 'My Other Me', in which a lonely college student finds himself displaced from his body by his alter ego; 'Gray', in which a frustrated man is stunned to discover a little creature has been living in his head; 'Elmer Phelps', in which a brother and sister find themselves linked in a strange reality by a bat bite in their youth; and lastly, 'Appendage', in which a cynical mercenary is hired by his son to protect a research lab on the verge of a stunning discovery.

After working for twenty years on the night shift in a hospital, Robert Allnach has taken the plunge into a career as a full time writer.  The commitment shows.  It's reflected in his web presence and in the many glowing market-level reviews that 'Oddities and Entities' and 'Remnant' have earned.  He shares lessons learned on his journey from amateur to professional here.

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This is the sixteenth of a short series of Author profiles that features fellow authors in the All Things That Matter Press family.


You can destroy the world. Now what?

The Witch's Hand
Available in paperback or for your Kindle, Nook, or accessorized broom, Wendy Joseph's new novel "The Witch's Hand" from All Things That Matter Press is a historical novel about supernatural power at a time when such things were taken seriously.  Set in medieval France right after the Fourth Crusade, the novel centers on a witch, a reluctant apprentice witch, and the apprentice's relationship with a returning crusader.  Wendy Joseph travels a lot, and she did her research on-site and thoroughly.

Here's my pick of the reviews, written by Felicia Dale:

"Wendy Joseph has written a compelling, entertaining and thoughtful book. The story itself could have been easily mishandled as so many "swords and sorcery" stories are, but this is an original take on an old theme and I enjoyed it a great deal. All the copious research could have created a monster of its own but the historical accuracy makes a solid bed for the story to stand on and only occasionally (and only very slightly) intrudes into the narrative but never so much as to make me stop reading. In fact, once in I was hooked and read it straight through!

What made this story so engaging for me were the characters. The story itself is an old one, as I said above, so the book hangs on its characters and whether or not they catch one's imagination and heart. Wendy did this with deceptive ease and without the usual crutches. I found myself rooting for the good guys before I'd properly met the villain and then even rooting for the villain once I got to know her. I've read a LOT of fantasy and the books that fail to do this are legion.

Her hero is not all good, her villain is not all bad and her heroine is as likable a girl as ever got into trouble dealing with magic. The obligatory hero's side kick is also much more than a place holder and adds a great deal to the narrative without ever derailing the plot. I found myself wanting more of his story but there was just the right amount for this book. The beginning is somewhat dense but necessary and once behind you, you appreciate the information that sets up the rest of the book. Wendy's clean, clear writing deftly created strong visuals that still linger weeks after finishing the text. I really liked all the characters and thought the magical sequences particularly well thought out. All this plus a satisfying ending makes for a good read that leaves you both entertained and historically educated in a gratifyingly painless way.

Wendy, I hope you write more stories! I would love to read more about these characters but I'd be happy to read anything you put out for public consumption. Thanks for a very fun read!"


 Image of Wendy Joseph

Wendy Joseph's life would make a fascinating memoir (be sure to read this blog post).  Though she holds two Masters Degrees in English, she works as a deckhand ('Able Seaman') on merchant ships.  She has outrun pirates off of Somalia, steered ships large and small through typhoons and calms from the Bering Sea to Shanghai, and helped rescue seals on the Pacific coast. Believing history must be lived, she has crewed the 18th century square-rigger Lady Washington, the steamer Virginia V, the WWII freighter SS Lane Victory, and the moored battleship USS Iowa. She has shared her food with Third World workers and starving cats. Also a musician, she sings sea shanties, her songs, and with classical and medieval choirs.  Wow!  When not at sea, Wendy lives in Seattle, Washington.

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 This is the fifteenth of a short series of Author profiles that features fellow authors in the All Things That Matter Press family.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Noah's ark: the contemporary thriller

Noah: A Supernatural Eco-Thriller
Author Patricia L. Meek has written a modern day rendition of this classic biblical tale.  'Noah: A Supernatural Eco-Thriller', published by All Things That Matter Press, has a stated aim to "confront readers with the fragility of life in order to evaluate one’s relationship to the Earth as a living, sentient being in order to awaken consciousness so we might live more fully and presently in the fragile gift of life itself."

Here's the author's synopsis:

   "Noah is a mystic/environmental thriller set in contemporary New Mexico. Noah, a fifty-seven year old carpenter, is in love with the much younger Bambi, a psychotherapy graduate student from Georgia. Noah’s simple life is disturbed when he hears God’s voice speak to him on an abandoned television in the desert. It is then that he has his first vision of a star child who tells him there will be a celestial rebellion. This is the first revelation of a celestial intervention to stop a diabolical plot by the POA.

The POA, (Protectors of the Apocalypse), is a powerful, clandestine global organization that is intent on insuring the apocalypse as a means of purging population and retaining global domination. Noah is commanded to build a vessel worthy of a birth. He struggles to accept his commission to build an ark, as he must tell Bambi and is worried about her clinical reaction; and also, he must collect scat in order to preserve DNA as a means to save animal consciousness to be restored to an earth utopia.

To complicate Noah’s struggle, he finds there are two supernatural beings attached to him—a demon named Charlie and a daemon named Danwho represent the greater celestial plan of earth’s cataclysmic transformation. This “plan” comes from the cosmic source that Dan and Charlie call the Mystery.

Noah is a quirky, action-packed narrative. It is a rollercoaster ride that takes the reader through the polarization of science and religion, technology and indigenous wisdom. Noah’s struggles are the struggles of all of us as we attempt to find meaning in Universal paradoxical patterns. Noah will speak to everyone’s struggle with planetary changes and the expansion of evolutionary human consciousness. Noah is a wisdom tale for wise folks."


 Available reviews for 'Noah' are uniformly glowing, but unfortunately also uniformly brief.  Here, for example, is the review written by M. Richards:



"I found this book to be filled with more layers than I knew what to do with! Absolutely a book I will be reading several times; it's one of those stories that changes along with the reader's own evolutionary process. A fun and twisty exploration of reality. Beware, there is some major mojo packed inside!"



Author Meek has wide academic writing credentials, holding a BA and MFA in Creative Writing.  She lives in Baton Rouge, LA.

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 This is the fourteenth of a short series of Author profiles that features fellow authors in the All Things That Matter Press family.

The story of PJ (Paul Johnston, in this case)