Thursday, December 13, 2007

Of Sheep, Wolves and Wolfhounds

Let me begin by stating unequivocally that I love wolves…the four-legged variety. For many reasons they are, however, symbolically used to describe bad things, bad people. They represent the terrifying and unmerciful evil waiting beyond the safety of walls. At least that is how Western society has used the wolf symbol for hundreds of years. Therefore, for purpose of illustration, I too will use the wolf this way in my discussion.

Most people are sheep, happily grazing in their pastures and spending dark hours safely behind walls. For in the dark hours there is danger and sheep are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with that danger. Wolves lurk in darkness.

The world is full of wolves. Sheep fear them. One set of wolves seek to invade homes, steal possessions or harm sheep and their families. Sheep take measures to keep them at bay…they buy stronger locks, install alarm systems, leave the lights on. Sheep watch for the wolves – if they are wise. Unprepared and careless sheep fall victim to wolves more frequently than careful prepared sheep. Sheep read about the unlucky ones daily in the newspaper and see their stories on the evening news. Sheep shake their heads and bleat that something must be done. And then, they check the locks, alarm and lights. And they wait and watch – fearful.

Another set of wolves moves on a larger stage. They only differ from the first set of wolves in terms of the scale of their ambition. They do not necessarily want to destroy the sheep and they may not even care about the sheep's possessions. What they want is power over the sheep's lives. They want to control and dominate the sheep. If the sheep cooperate, if they are willing to surrender their free-will and freedom, the wolves may let the sheep live in relative peace – to be shorn at the wolves' convenience. Sheep that resist are mercilessly hounded and exterminated, for they are obstacles to the wolves' ambition.

There is no compromise with either set of wolves. They are relentless and merciless predators. It is their nature. They are creatures of violent action. They cannot survive any other way. Reason will not sway them. For them, compromise and reason are tools to manipulate their prey into submission, nothing more. Sheep may think they have dissuaded the wolves with peaceful approaches, but they are fools to think so. They have simply made the wolves' task easier. Sheep surrender part of the forest outside their walls to appease the wolves. In time, wolves want more forest. Once the sheep have ceded all territory outside the walls to them, wolves begin the assault on the walls.

Still, sheep hide behind their walls, incapable of comprehending the wolves' rapaciousness. Walls alone will not hold forever and the forest and pastures are only safe to walk because there is another presence – wolfhounds. Wolves fear wolfhounds and they are more cautious if wolfhounds might be about.

Wolfhounds are similar to wolves. They are creatures of violent action. They are quite willing and able to kill, to act violently on a moment’s notice. Yet, they are very different in one regard. Wolfhounds act for the benefit of sheep, often in spite of the sheep and their willingness to surrender. Wolfhounds fight the wolves, even if they must do so without the sheep cheering them on.

While sheep are incapable of comprehending the wolves' rapaciousness, they are equally incapable of comprehending the wolfhounds' willingness to fight wolves. Sheep cannot see the difference between wolfhounds' teeth and wolves' teeth. And so, they also fear wolfhounds. After all, wolfhounds are close cousins of wolves. Worse, they often equate the presence of wolfhounds with the presence of wolves. If only wolfhounds would go away, they bleat, wolves would be nice. Sheep, left on their own, lose to wolves every time precisely because they fail to comprehend the essence of the creature they face.

Therefore ye sheep, be thankful. Graze in relative peace while battle rages in forest and field beyond the walls. Wolfhounds will not go away. They understand the essence of wolves – and of sheep.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I first got interested in digging into my family past about eleven years ago. Internet was relatively new then. Some research tools were available online -- just enough to get one interested in looking and getting started, but not enough to make the research easy. Too much time was still required to get "down in the weeds".

It was enough to get me started, but also misleading for a rookie. If one goes into such an endeavor without understanding the many nuances of genealogy research. I took some wrong turns and wasted many hours. I passed up leads that would have saved years of looking, because I was so certain that the information was wrong.

Much has happened in those eleven years. Most notably, the Internet has grown immensely more useful as more and more data is brought online and most importantly, indexed and searchable. This advancement saves hours of research and has enabled me to correct years of mistakes in relatively short time.

A second major advancement in genealogy research is DNA tracing. Once only an option for the rich, the tests are now affordable. For about $300 one can have both maternal and paternal lines traced. While this does not say anything about specific ancestors, it does help rule out some people and narrow the research focus. With DNA tracing, one can confirm if ones ancestors really did come from Ireland or other parts of Europe. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in serious genealogical research. Here's where to get started:

As for my rookie mistakes, I made some classic ones. I've got relatives who still are stuck in the ruts that got me off track. First, spellings of names. While we have come to expect people to spell their name the same way all the time, that was not always the case. These days, with names tied to credit cards, social security and other identifying data, it is imperative to stay consistent. Also, most people in this country are at least literate enough to spell their names. Again, that was not always true. Be open enough to try many possible spellings of the same sounding. For example, when tracing ancestors through census records it is important to remember that the enumerator was the one entering the information and they may have spelled the name slightly differently, or completely different.

There are also deliberate changes. It was not uncommon in the 19th century for immigrants to change their names to sound more American. For example, one of my wife's ancestors is McCloskey. One would think, Irish. No. They adapted that spelling from Michialevski which was itself an adaptation from a Cyrillic spelling. So keep an open mind on spellings.

Second, dates are a big distractor. One may even have the family Bible saying that great-great grandma Edna was born in January 1869 and still be misled. It is easy to pass on the census record, or even marriage certificate that lists her birth year as 1868, or 1872. I found that one of my ancestors had a different birth year for 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910 censuses. Keep an open mind on dates.

Finally, what made me think of such matters today? Well, if not for one of my ancestors, St. Patrick would not have become what he is. After all, he was originally a resident of Briton, not Ireland. One of my ancient ancestors is allegedly responsible for the raid wherein Patrick was kidnapped and made a slave in Ireland. That ancestor was a chieftain, brigand, pirate or king, depending upon which history you read. Niall of the Nine Hostages is an ancestor. DNA results link me to him even though the direct line has gaps between him and me as far as verifiable genealogical evidence.

I just thought it ironic that, as my family prepares to have an Irish meal tonight with a pint of Guinness, the mere fact that we are doing so is due the existence of a saint who wasn't even Irish, but who became patron saint of Ireland as a direct result of my ancestor's action. The knowledge that it was an ancestor who was responsible only came about as a result of recent advances in genealogical research.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Prodigal Offspring and Computers

What evil things those computers have become! Our kids started out on computers when the youngest one was only two years old. Seemed like such a good thing at first. The kid's computer didn't have Internet access then, so it was no big deal to let them play their educational games with minimal adult supervision. Everything was wonderful.

As they grew and school started demanding more keyboard time, we got each kid their own computer. At first still no Internet in their rooms, but that was OK. They mostly just used it for basic word processing.

Then we upgraded things. The house went broadband and network. Soon everyone's computer could access the Internet. At first, still not a problem. Basic child protection software did the trick. Yeah, they periodically trashed the machines with their experimentation, but no problem. It was easy to restore the initial setup. I was proud that they were learning to write code and were not afraid of the electronic beastie. For the most part, they behaved.

Ah, but then they became adolescents. You know, that evil transitional phase between the innocence of childhood and alleged wisdom of adulthood. They learned evil tricks from fiendish friends whose parents were not nearly as vigilant as I. And they started listening to that awful racket called Hip Hop, and Gangsta Rap....rubbish! They spiraled into the world of MySpace and other child-perverting sites.

Battle now joined. The kids started trying to hack their way around protections. Usually I could catch them, me being an IT consultant when I'm not writing books or training soldiers. I'm sure not all parents are as gifted, given discussions I've had with other parents. It is a constant fight. Our kids we used to be able to trust have become instant gratification-seeking Internet sneaks.

Recently the battle moved to proxies...those web addresses that let kids get around software designed to block their favorite illicit web sites. I knew about proxies. After all, it is one of my lines of work to know such things. I just didn't know that they knew about them...yet. I always knew that someday, they would discover how easy it is to get around the safeguards. I can close off the proxies, but not fast enough. There are literally thousands of proxy sites.

So now only the oldest kid has Internet access in his room...barely. He's been warned and he's one violation away from losing his computer. The two girls have already lost computer in their rooms. Surprisingly they were far more out of control than the boy. They now get to share one in my office where I can watch. Even then, they try to sneak past the guard. Even knowing that their every move is monitored they try. Isn't that a symptom of retardation? If one is incapable of learning that touching the hot stove results in burns, isn't there something wrong. My otherwise very intelligent kids are absolute idiots when it comes to the Internet. Dad is always watching and dad knows more than other dads...or more than you and your teenage co-conspirators. So why keep pushing?

Lesson for all parents of computing age kids...don't let them have Internet access unless you are sitting right there with them. Fact is, you can't block everything with software or hardware. There is always a way around. Technology can't replace vigilant parenting. If you don't want to make the effort, then don't have a computer that your kids can use to access the Internet.

Unfortunately, like treats and sweets, someone else will someday give your child freedom to roam the Internet. Sometimes it is the school, sometimes a friend, but eventually they run amok.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Character Evolution

In discussing my series, The Prophecy War I am often asked, "Why didn't you such and such with this character?" In other words, how did I come up with the various characters' personalities, quirks and why do I kill them off when I do?

This series began as one book that kept growing. I started with a plan, or outline, for the story and after about four years, thought it was ready for publication. I dutifully submitted the work, was rejected, but got some excellent advice from the editor. He told me I needed to think bigger, as in a series. The editor also gave character development suggestions which, when I followed them, completely changed how I looked at developing characters. It also increased the amount of work involved.

At this point, all my characters were pretty much as I had planned them. Good guys stayed good, bad guys stayed bad, fence-sitters eventually came down on one side or the other. Although some may think that "anything goes" in fantasy, if a writer has that attitude, the work will most certainly fail. Character development is probably the most important aspect of any storyline. Readers want to put themselves into the live their lives if only through the pages of the work. Ultimately, what we are doing is telling human stories. So what human is totally good or totally evil? Religious figures aside, most of us have never actually met a perfectly bad or perfectly good person.

We all make journeys through life, change attitudes, sometimes reorder values, change behaviors. So why should our characters not make the same journey? As I stated in my previous post, I took this route to character development. I went back to the drawing board. While continuing to flesh out the storyline and expand into a multi-book series, I took detours based upon things about which a character reminisced and created that event in the character's life.

The result was that my characters continued to evolve in the main story, so much as to seemingly take on a life of their own independent of what I had planned. They get themselves into messes that I can't get them out of, or they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time...sort of like what happens to us in real life sometimes.

A prime example is Tal'Mar, a sorcerer seemingly on the side of evil for thousands of years. Yet, even when you first meet him, he is a likable villain. As the story develops, he reveals that certain key events in his long life have had a profound effect on his thinking and how he views the world.

Another character, Tylanna, a sorceress, started on the side of good, but became utterly evil through a path of self-destruction brought about by vanity and greed.

I won't discuss the deaths of characters here. You need to read the books. (Shameless plug.) I will say that I was roundly castigated by some of my proof-readers for killing of characters that they had come to like. In three of the cases, they didn't see it coming...the readers that is. Stupid bad luck for the characters, but that's life. In the end it's all about telling a compelling human story with all the ups and downs.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Just to show off...

Nothing mind-blowing here. I think my brain is overloaded right now. I've been polishing my third book so that I can get it to the publisher by the end of March. I take periodic detours into books four and five and then back in time to an era before any of the events described in the series to write more background. After all, the characters need memories and they need to have something to remember. So I create them.

I am also working on our online travel business web site, "Isles Britannic". We put the whole thing in "cold storage" when I went off to the war. My wife and I started the business in 1998, and we were just making it profitable when foot and mouth struck the British Isles. It was a heavy blow to us since we specialized in travel to the British Isles. Right when the business recovered from FMD, 9/11 happened. Deborah went back to nursing and I went back to training soldiers. We both felt a need to do something more important with our lives. We had planned on resurecting the business last summer, but never got around to it. I was planning on returning to Iraq, but things didn't work out that way. I had a false start on getting things going again in January due to a potential excursion to Afghanistan, which also did not pan out. So maybe I really am a civilian now for good.

So, just to show off a little, here are cover pictures of "The Sword's Prophecy" and "Well of Power" along with a sneak peak at the artwork for "Destiny's Bride".

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beginning Muse

Well, I've been thinking about doing this for a long time. What finally got me motivated? A friend and fellow writer. This the start to musings of many sorts. Just a wee hello to the blogosphere. My interests are wide and varied, so don't get too comfortable thinking you have me figured out.