Thursday, April 30, 2015

Revisiting the ecology of art

In 2013, I posted a piece called "The Ecology of Art"  I first said:

Art and ecology both consider composition, energy flux, niche diversity, adaptations, interpretation, structure, interdependence, change, permeable boundaries of interdisciplinary applications and resource management.

I also established that, "Living organisms, interacting with their environment. . ." as the definition of 'ecology'."

Here's another piece that was stimulated by an article in Smithsonian Magazine entitled, "Speaking Volumes".  The subtitle is, "An Iranian Artist finds her voice in images."

All artists, I believe, strive to be seen, heard, recognized, and valued for what they present to their communities.  In some societies today, artists are experiencing the repression of expression through strict censorship.  In such an environment, artists must dig deep into their creative essence to find that "voice".  Ms Shirin Neshat,an Iranian born photographer and film maker has found a way to be "heard"  In the current oppresive environment of all women in Iran, other channels of creativity emerge, like the adaptation of a species changing to survive and flourish in an environment turned harsh.

The subtle, yet powerful metaphorical photo by Neshat, soon to be displayed in the Hirshhorn Museum, captures the oppression, and beautiful artistic rebellion.  The close up existential photo of a woman's hand held to her lips denoting the silence that is expected of her isolated experience in her hostile world.  Contrary, and in open rebellious metphor, her hand is inscripted with a passage from a poem by Forough Farrokhzad, a celebrated Iranian poet.  The passive gesture of silence with the 'in your face' poem on the hand, shows that art through metaphor will evolve in harsh environments.

The ecology of art runs deep.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Irish - Native American Indian Parallels -2

Lack of Unity:

Old rivalries and commitment to vengeance by the septs,clans and tribes of Ireland and similar hierarchy of Choctaw society, gave an advantage to conquering invaders.  Many invaders used those old rivalries to their advantage. The polity of tribes, subtribes, and clans, each with leaders who could not agree to work together created a weakness and a lack of cohesion to fight a common enemy.  Ancient differences between tribe blocked any unity to stand together.

Names of people and places were changed:

Conquering invaders forced the changes upon the vanquished.  Examples in both cultures are many, to cite a few:  Grainne Ni Mhaille became Grace O'Malley in Ireland, while in America, Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoag, became 'King Phillip in the history books.  Place names were also forcefully changed.  Cloneen became Manor Hamilton and Learga became Blacklion.  And in America places were named after places departed with the addition of the word 'New' to Jersey, York, Hampshire or Amsterdam.  Another popular practice with invaders was to name places after their royalty, like Virginia or Maryland

Monday, April 27, 2015

Irish - Native American Parallels

Not all of the similarities I am citing can be said to specifically apply to the Choctaw, but enough of them do, so I feel confident in the premise of my story.

Defeat by Superior Weaponry:

The Irish lost many battles when overcome by Norman knights in armor, or later by the strength and size of the Tudor navy, and later still when Cromwell's Parliamentarian siege guns crumbled the walls of Drogheda. In the 1640's, the Irish held a slight, but short lived advantage by the length of their pikes. Veteran Roundhead soldiers were known to shorten their pike poles to make them lighter to carry during invasions.  They paid the price of the shorter poles in close combat.

Firearms, artillery and mounted cavalry, gave white invaders a definite advantage over native bows arrows and blow guns.  But something else brought by the invaders had a more devastating impact on native populations..


European invaders of Ireland brought with them diseases not experienced on the island.  The famines resulting from war exposed both military and civilian populations to influenza and dysentery.  The same was true for the native people of our hemisphere.  Entire populations have disappeared from diseases like measels brought by Europeans who were immuned.  And sadly, there is evidence that disease was also used as weaponry.  Controversial accounts of biological warfare through the distribution of typhoid infected blankets sent as 'gifts' to native villages. And even more diabolical, slaves, sick with typhoid or typhus were 'set free' to go and mix with native populations.

Man's inhumanity to man continues.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cultural Parallels: Ireland - Choctaw 2

In an earlier post, I alluded to a workshop I attended.  During the lunch break, I wandered around the public library where the workshop was held, and browsed around in their periodical section.  I stopped at a pile of 'Irish America' magazines.  I grabbed a few and sat down in a comfortable chair for a little in depth browsing.  Casually leafing through the December/January 2015 issue, I was delighted to find an article by Matthew Skwiat entitled, 'Celebrating an Irish - Choctaw Thanksgiving'. 

 He wrote, "Eye witness accounts of the Trail of Tears that the Choctaw had suffered through in many ways mimicked those that came out of the Irish Famine. Ironically it would be this event where the two people's met.  Upon hearing of the famine in Ireland, many Choctaw leaders banded together and raised $170 as a generation donation to the Irish people."

This act of kindness led to the organization of the Irish -Choctaw Thanksgiving, a special two day event featuring from both cultures, music, dancing, art, speakers, films, and joyous interaction between the people.  The similarities of the their suffering had, in the past. led to 'Famine Walks' at Doolough in County Mayo, and a 500 mile trek from Mississippi to Oklahoma.  These events raised money to feed the hungry.

This article was an energy jogger for me.  I started my novel in 2011, and this validated the concern and interest I had in the two cultures.  My firm belief in serendipity was also validated and strengthened, convincing me that my recognition of the plight of the Irish and indigenous people of this hemisphere was more than a figment of a novel writer's imagination.

My challenge becomes finding similarities when my characters meet in the 17th century, long before the famine and the Trail of Tears.  To date I have found fifty-one.  I'll share them over time.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cultural Parallels: Ireland - Choctaw

The similarities between Irish history and the history of American Indians is one of the prime movers in the writing of my novel. Using 'American Indians' as a descriptor of the indigenous people of the western hemisphere has become popularized even though it is a poor choice.  I focused on the Choctaw tribe as the participants in my story, and opted to use the term 'Chahta' That choice was not arbitrary.  I chose the Chahta because their history tracks so similarly with that of the Irish.  Also the choice of the 17th century as the setting was a conscious decision which resulted in some road blocks.  I have found very little documentation of the experience of the Chahta between 1600 - 1700.  Brief accounts in history books tell of Hernando De Soto's expeditions in 1540, but very few tell of earlier explorations which produced false accounts of treasure.  Those reports were issued in an attempt to gain favor with the crown.  So my choice of that period of time with the Chahta was because two things added tension to my story.  First, there is evidence of De Soto and the Spaniards who remained in the Southeast, continued to exploit the Chahtas and send some as slaves to the Caribbean plantations. And the proximity of the Southeast was appropriate for my story.

I will begin to share some of the similarities of the Irish and Choctaw history which, when validated, motivated my writing.  The first two are big ones.

  • Both cultures suffered from continuous invasions of foreigners. The English, French, Dutch and Spaniards all invaded North America, stole land and planted settlers. In Ireland, the list of invaders defies historical recording. Formorians and Firbolgs, DeDannan and Milesians, Gauls, Norse, Norman, Scots and English, all invaded Ireland, stole land and planted settlers. 'Plantation' has come to mean the planting of crops like sugar or cotton, but historical events indicate that 'plantation' really means planting people on land they did not own.
  • The mandates of the invaders:  Oliver Cromwell demanded that all Irish Catholics needed to migrate west of the Shannon River.  "To Hell or Connacht", was his command.  Connacht, the western rocky province, was the least favorable land for farming, but 'Hell", in this context, meant slavery in Barbados.  Barbados even became a verb, saying that "the survivors were 'Barbadosed'"  The Chahtas, by the demands of Andrew Jackson, were sent west of the Mississippi, for reasons of "Manifest Destiny".  This ideal, over time, morphed into the false belief of 'white entitlement'. That belief still keeps our country off balance.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Existential Crossroad

Convinced that building a platform is for attracting an audience for my novel, but concurrently convinced that without a complete novel, there is no need for the platform.  The whole 'chicken and egg" conundrum again.  There is a secondary project on my plate; a collection of poetry, essays and short stories that I feel is ripening for publication.  I work on fine tuning that when the novel gets stuck in the peat bogs.  Funny how switching focus to another project engenders ideas for the novel.

The collection is of 'Tides, Trees, and Time', and start planting Mattie in those milieus.  They are familiar places for him.  He sails the seas in numerous situations; some voyages forced upon him, some of choice.  The trees of Irish oak and rowan are important in his life, so I am reminded to revisit the wisdom of the trees and Mattie realizes he needs to embrace that wisdom.  And time, oh how joyful time seems to race, and then not move at all in agony.

At the existential crossroads, I let my novel characters visit my poetry and then carry lessons learned back to their tale. I visit other works too.  SOme of my own and som ein my research, and it helps to change focus, then carry lessons learned back to the tasks at hand.  Such excursions help decide which road to take for now.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Yesterday's post was a catch up piece that I left in a draft mode back when when I was totally clueless.  I've found a few clues since then.  I'm still scratching my way up the internet learning curve.  Anyway,  back to first pages. . .

Been reading a lot of first pages and thinking like an agent.  I totally get it. (Did I just use 'totally' again? My god, two identical adverbs within two paragraphs.  I'll never get published writing like that.)

 Anyway, back to first pages. . .   There are many scenes in the tale where Matty is pressed with important decisions, many when he is in danger, many where he is helpless; but just as many where he wins, overcomes,avoids or solves the situations.  Throughout the story, he is disciplined by his father, grandfather, aunt, older brother, rebels from Sligo, he is chased by gallowglasses in th employment of an Anglo-Norman Earl, again by Scottish soldiers, and yet again by Roundheads.  Tension?  Hell, yes!  But where to start.  Should I work chronologically and start with an early threat during Matty's childhood? Or later perhaps, when he is working with his brother on the lake fishing to help the family income. But some falshbacks in the story to get the family's back story?  Too cliche?

I'll figure it out.  Any suggestions?  Comments welcome. . . very welcome


Friday, April 17, 2015

The USA enters the Space Age

This was originally carried in a Jaycee newsletter, I wanted to start the blog with this a long time ago, but somehow failed to post it.  Computer literate, yet computer stupid.

Random Thoughts Recorded During the Week of July 20, 1969 During the Flight of Apollo 11

The LEM touched down on the lunar surface
A commercial pilot, stacked over O’Hare heard the news and was glad

All men on Earth witnessed as the Eagle landed.
Nearby, Luna 15, on an unexplained mission, also landed.

Armstrong and Aldrin placed their footprints in the dust and their names in the history books,
While 240,000 miles away, earthmen watched every step.
69 miles away, Cooper, flying Columbia, didn’t have a video monitor.

The whole world watched, awe struck, and waited.
Many Americans missed their regular TV programs, and complained.

The crime rate was down.  Criminals became interested viewers.
The AFS students at Lindenbaum’s called a recess to their love-in, and for a while, they too were interested.

While the Astronauts work on the moon, five ghetto children sit with their mother in a bare flat (third floor rear) watching on a color TV.
They do not understand.  Their fathers are not there to explain it all to them.  They are bored.
They go to bed ----- hungry!

Eagle came “in peace for all mankind”.
Both sides counted their dead in Viet Nam

Over a million in tools is left on the moon.
Another child starved to death in Biafra.

The return cargo, a priceless box of dirt, rocks and secrets.
Another rock, bearing the secrets of a black man’s soul, smashes a window in York Pa.

The Hornet crew earns their “E” for a flawless recovery.
During reentry and splash down, had a crisis arisen, would the crew or the cargo be saved?

A family in a hospital waiting room watches through wet eyes, the elaborate decontamination process to protect the earth from possible lunar bacteria.
Nearby, in a clean darkened room, one of their own, numbed by drugs, quietly succumbs to cancer.

The door to the universe swings open, and rushing to go through, man stumbles on the clutter of his world

Writing Workshop Experience

Anyone interested in writing anything they hope to publish should avail themselves of an opportunity like I recently experienced.  The workshop focus was the middle ground between the skill of writing and the business of writing.  The presentations and discussions included query letters, pitching to agents, first pages, blogging and other platforms to get your name 'out there'. 

They called for anonymous pages to be submitted.  I submitted.  Submissions were drawn at random.  Mine was drawn. The moderator read aloud the pages drawn.  Three professional agents listened, and were instructed to raise their hand when, if they were reading this page in their office, they would stop and put the submission in either the slush pile or the trash can.  When two of the three hands were raised, the moderator stopped reading for a debrief.  Two hands were raised before the third paragraph of my page was read.  Of course, I felt crushed. But listening to the rationale from the agents put a band aid on my ego.  My intent for my opening was to create a sense of peace and tranquility that would soon change as Matty grew older.  But their point was that there was nothing to grab the reader's attention and make them really want to turn the page to see what was happening next.  My first page was slow and boring.  They were right.

I pulled some of my favorite authors' books off the shelves at the library and I got it.  In their first pages told who was the main character, what was the setting for the action, what is the actions and why the reader should care. My first page started with:

Chapter 1
County Leitrim, Ireland, September 1633

The agent's said "You should never do that!"

So I pulled a good book by one of my favorite authors and looked to find that Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth"  Starts with a similar 'time and place' inscription, and ironically, Follett is represented by the agency of one of the folks doing the critiquing.  Oh well.  Follett is an established author, and i suppose that success breeds latitude is the judging eyes of agents. 

More the reason to get busy and expand my platform, focus on editing, rewriting, and prepping for the time when I am ready to query an agent and pitch my book for a specific genre.  If I can ever figure out what that might be.  Should I go tradutional or self publish?  Should it be a hardback or an e-book, or go right for a screen play?

That's a topic for another time.  Writing is now sliced and diced into what seems like an infinite number of pigeon holes for authors to decipher. Is the book a novel or a memoir? Is it literary?  Is it romance, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, erotica?  Is it children's,  young adult, new adult, male, female? 

Ready?  Set?  Pitch!

Gird your loins for criticism, it doesn't hurt for long.

Meanwhile, I'm going back to my novel.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Where? Why? and When?

I chose to start the story of Matty O'Doole in County Leitrim in the west of Ireland for a somewhat selfish reason. The little genealogical information I have, and a bit of history I've learned suggests that Leitrim might well have been the source of my family name. One of my favorite Irish singers, Sean Tyrrell, first told me of Tiernan O'Ruairc, Prince of Breffni. The site of O'Ruairc's Castle, (now called Parkes' Castle) on Lough Gill in the County Leitrim presented an opportunity to set Matty's story there while concurrently doing some 'roots searching'.

So much for the 'where and why'. But why in the first half of the 1600's? Ireland's tumultuous history never lacked for tension, stress and turmoil, but that period offered what I determined to be the best starting point for a converging path to ultimately intersect with the Choctaw culture. And the confusion of the period presented a challenge for Matty's coming of age. From the plantation of protestants in Ulster to the 1641 Rebellion, to the execution of Charles I during the Civil War in England. Matty and his family were constantly torn in terms of their allegiances to Ireland and the Catholic church.

First fighting against the king and later fighting against the king's parliamentarian enemies kept the Irish off balance. Historic Irish leader, Owen Roe O'Neill, well trained in military tactics while in exile in Spain, returned to Ireland to  lead the rebellion.  Again off balance, some called O'Neill a hero, and others labeled him 'traitor' when he tried to obtain the peace through a treaty.  The same enigma revisited later in Irish history in the person of Michael Collins.

Tough times indeed, Matty. ...... Good luck to you, lad.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Quite simply, misappropriation is using something in a way that is inaccurate in terms of when, where and why events occur; or in a way that is hurtful or defaming to a specific historical character or group or culture.

A writer who is serious about historical fiction needs to decide how closely the story's characters will interact with the real historical figures and events.  The closer the interaction, the higher the risk of misappropriating information about places,events and the lives of people who actually were alive in a specific period of history.  Ergo, a serious historical novelist must be a writer who loves research.

A well researched historical novel, with a credible bibliography becomes a source of accurate information to any writer focused on the same period or culture.  One of my favorite historical novelist is Morgan Llywelyn.  In my opinion, she has mastered the art of weaving a tale of fictional characters in the same fabric as historical characters in a respectful and professional way.

Sadly, I have also read novels that represent themselves as 'historical' when the story lacks the credibility of time, place and culture, and the plot spins in an illogical way that borders on fantasy.
True, fiction writers have 'license' to be creative.  If it's a period piece you are writing, and research is not your thing, tag your piece as adventure genre and forgo 'historical',  lest you be haunted by charges of misappropriation .

Monday, April 13, 2015

Two distinct cultures with similar histories

Writing historical fiction takes passion.  Concurrently, it is both exciting and daunting.  One must be thoroughly immersed in the culture of the characters and the period of the setting.  My passion since high school has been with the plight of the indigenous peoples of our hemisphere.  My passion as an adult has been in discovering my own roots and heritage, which I've come to assume without positive proof to be Irish.

That said, imagine my excitement when I began to see similarities betwen the two cultures.  The more research I did the more parallels I uncovered.  Both survived constant invasions from foreigners, but were steadfast in trying to hold on to their land and beliefs.  Both assimilated invaders into their cultures.  Both had theologies tied to the land, shamanic and druidic.  Christian missionaries influenced their histories.  Mounds in Tara and Mississippi still confound archeologist for explanations.  Invaders brought their wars with them,and ultimately got help from both the Irish and the Indians in their respective lands. Future references to "Indians" in this blog will focus on the Choctaw Nation.  Disputes between Irish clans and Choctaw neighboring tribes weakened their military ability to challenge invaders.  Defeat led to enslavement.  The list goes on and the message is clear, their similar history predicts their ultimate fate.

Matty's story flows to  the meeting of Irish and Choctaw.  A compelling tale!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ready now to get serious

So, the last post in 2013.  If anybody looked, anybody at all, they likely thought I died.  Well, I didn't.  Some things took place.  Revisit Phil Ochs song "Changes", (the Christy Moore version is a good one), and you'll know what I'm talking about.

I've learned a bunch of stuff lately, so I decided to try to pump life back into this blog.  I been doing it all wrong.  Mostly dumping a bunch of old stuff and salting it every now and then with something new.  But here's my new approach.  This blog will now be dedicated to promoting the book I am writing.  I pitched the story to an agent at a recent writer's workshop, and I can only say he didn't seem disinterested.  So here's the deal; I'm going to put the creative paddles on the chest of this seemingly dead blog spot, and turn on the juice to see if anyone can detect a heartbeat.

My heart is wrapped around my story of Mathe (Matty) O'Doole, coming of age in Ireland in the 17th century.  From Amergin, the Milesian bard to Maewyn Succat, the son of a Roman magistrate, to the mythical Finn McCool, growing up in Ireland has never been easy.

In truth and in legend, Ireland has been a land of turmoil, invasions, battles, treachery and war since the island drifted away for the Eurasian continent.  The original Firbolg name of 'Eueriio' evolved to Eriu, Eire, Erin, and finally 'Ireland'.  The Romans were smart enough to call it Hibernia, and leave it alone.

It was into this land of perpetual turmoil that Matty O'Doole was born in 1633.