Making pictures in their heads

This morning, I was privileged to be allowed to speak to Year 10 at Steyning Grammar School. It being ‘World Book Day’, SGS, who are staunch advocates of reading, invited four authors to come and speak. My lot was to use a ten minute slot in the morning assembly to convey my enthusiasm for reading, writing and the subject matter of my first novel, ‘New Fire’.

Ten minutes is a very short time, a very, very short time to explain the joy that reading brings and so the key theme of my presentation was ‘telepathy’, or as I summed it up, ‘putting pictures in your heads’.

Sure, special effects are astonishing in film nowadays. Dinosaurs walk the earth and wizards battle under showers of coruscating sparks, believably. The thing is, that all happens on the screen in front of you. When you read a book, it all happens in your head. Blah, blah, blah, I can sense you skimming over this. Erp…stop…rewind. It happens in your head. Let’s review that. You pull the words off the page and your brain builds a world with a smoking volcano with incandescent lava flows and pyroclastic flows. Ash rains from a darkling sky. From out of the roiling clouds a gargantuan horned dragon swoops towards the tattered villagers…

You get the picture? Well you should do because you built it. The author made the blueprint but you built it. That is telepathy…or damn close to it.

Children are great. Until they reach late teens, they exude potential and infinite possibilities. I only hope that my talk didn’t close off some of those horizons. It seemed to go down well and I’ve been invited back to help with a writing workshop in the summer term.

Aztec Art

This breathtakingly beautiful Aztec work of art is Quetzalcoatl’s death mask. ‘Quetzalcoatl‘ means ‘feathered serpent’ and is the name of one of the Aztec’s principle deities.

Death mask in the image Quetzalcoatl

Death mask in the image Quetzalcoatl

This image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons and is available to use subject to licence term. The original photograph is the property of © Hans Hillewaert

In other news…
I am immensely grateful to fellow author Austin Briggs for promoting the second novel in the Aztec Elements series, ‘Dark Water’ which is due out next year. I was humbled to read his endorsement of ‘New Fire’. I hope to post an extract of one of Austin’s works here very soon or perhaps an interview.

Ritual Sacrifice – Not Easy to Swallow

Llullaillaco Maiden - Capacoha Victim

Llullaillaco Maiden – Capacocha Victim

Research described in the New Scientist hints at the psychological stress of submitting to sacrifice. In an article from the 3rd of August, Andrew Wilson from the University of Bradford explains how the ‘Llullaillaco Maiden’ – as she is known – is revealing details of her diet in the two years running up to her death, thanks to anaylsis of her hair.

Just like many of the ceremonial Aztec ‘tributes’ (to borrow from ‘The Hunger Games’), Llullaillaco Maiden was given special treatment in the year up to her death. Her diet improved, and in the last few months, drank alcohol and took increasing doses of coca. Scanned images of the mummy reveal that she has a large wad of coca leaves in her cheek.

Many will claim that sacrificial victims go willingly to their deaths, knowing that they serve a higher purpose and in modern times, we know that there is no shortage of Jihadi warriors who carry out suicide bombings in their cause. This doesn’t mean that everyone would go peacefully to their deaths just because their society demands it of them. I am convinced that many – perhaps most – would be terrified. The animal hind-brain is a powerful engine designed to ensure survival and that imperative, fighting the social conditioning, would surely create enormous levels of stress in humans. This struggle is a central part of the story in my novel ‘New Fire’.

The image shown comes from the Wikipedia Commons Library and was originally posted to Flickr by José Fontanelli at http://flickr.com/photos/95827018@N05/8751635572. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Writing…what it’s all about

I suppose it’s possible that one day, I may own a small island, a yacht and helicopter and when I do, it will be hard to remember the original reason for writing stories. For now though, it’s great to bask in the knowledge that I wove a world in a distant land, made pictures in someone’s head and for a short while, that person was transported to my world and lived and breathed it! THAT is a really, really cool thought.

I received this feedback below from someone on Goodreads…

“I loved your book! Actually, I borrowed it from my cousin Tiffany who won it on here. :) She read it first and loved it so I read it too. You are an incredible writer and I can’t wait to read the second book when it comes out! Thanks for sending my cousin the book so I could read it.”

An email to Nook from a UK author

Well done Nook! You have finally begun to get your act together! It is now possible to upload a manuscript to Nook but I still cannot create a vendor account using a UK bank account. When do you think this will be possible?

You need to accept SWIFT bank codes or IBAN numbers as the ‘routing number’ is USA only. Also, you need allow the author to specify a UK tax address. Only the USA is possible at present.

Thanks,
Philip Dickinson

Zoe Saadia – ‘A Thing for the Aztecs’

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Zoe Saadia in this article. Not only is Goodreads providing me with ideas for books to read, it’s also helping me to make new friends across the globe. Zoe is one such friend and she’s important to me because she’s another author who is in love with Aztec history and culture. Zoe has written at least ten novels set in Mexico before the Spanish invasion. Zoe’s books are rich with cultural references and demonstrate the tremendous amount of research she has done in this area.

AE: Hi Zoe, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. First of all, please would you explain how you chose the Aztecs as your cause? I know this is usually the first question people ask me.

Zoe: Hi Phil, first of all thank you for greeting me to your wonderfully informative site. It’s a real honour. As for your question, I didn’t not choose any of the Mesoamerican cultures to research and write about. They sort of chose me. My speciality is pre-Columbian North America. I researched this continent and the most prominent of its cultures for over ten years, intending to represent them in historical fiction to the best of my ability. I never as much as glanced over the Mexican border. To my opinion the fact that most people are generally familiar with the word “Aztecs” was enough to indicate that pre-contact Mesoamerica was better off than the absolutely neglected or dreadfully misrepresented and misinterpreted North American people.

So, no Aztecs entered my mind until two years ago, when I was working on “At Road’s End”, a novel that dealt with the decline of the Anasazi. Little did I know! Apparently to get that close to the Mexican border spelt danger. Unaware of the threat, I let a secondary character into the story, to reflect on the fall of the Anasazi better, to give a foreigners’ point of view. A Tepanec warrior escorting a group of traders (the Aztecs were far from being a powerful nation back in those days compared to the powerful Tepanecs). He entered the story to spice it up a little. Well, I didn’t know that the forceful Mesoamericans are not made for the second leads. The necessary research on those same Tepanecs left me fascinated beyond reason. The story turned to be about this warrior, with the Anasazi people taking the second leads, instead.And the rest is history. [AE: Nice pun Zoe! :-) ] The book turned out to be the first in the Mesoamerican Saga, consisted by now of 9 full-length novels. I just couldn’t stop! From the glorious Tepanecs all the way to their fall and rise of the well-known to us Aztecs.
Apparently, I was wrong. This history and these people were misrepresented in our modern literature as badly as pre-contact North America was.

AE: It’s obvious from the way you write about the Aztecs, the Tepanecs, Tlaxcalan’s that you have a deep affection for them all. Do you have a favourite amongst these states or tribes?

Zoe: Oh yes, I’m hopelessly in love with those cultures. :-) My favourites? I used to admire the Acolhua people with their beautiful capital (Texcoco) and their most prominent emperor, lawmaker, engineer, poet and statement Nezahualcoyotl. But as the series progressed, the Mexica-Aztecs had won my affection, so today the Acolhua and the Aztecs are sharing the first place :-D

AE: And what about the bloodthirstiness of it all. Doesn’t that affect your ability to relate to them?Zoe: No, not at all! First of all, the bloodthirstiness was greatly exaggerated by the later-day Spanish newcomers. The human sacrifice was an old custom and it did not involve screaming commoners and sobbing virgins being dragged up the pyramids. The sacrifice was a solemn ceremony and to offer unwilling victims would do nothing but offend the gods. In the old days, before Tenochtitlan turned into a great city and maybe did stir to some extravagance of the mentioned above, only the captured warriors were sacrificed and those offerings ascended the steps of the pyramids most willingly, having refused to do anything else even if offered.


As the warriors were a class in itself, raised and educated very strictly in special schools called (calmecac or telpochcalli) for years, the rules of a honourable conduct were clear to them. They were to face the death bravely. If captured alive, the warrior has only one way to redeem his honor. He has to be sacrificed. The offense of a more “merciful” solution would have been unbearable to such man. No one wanted his name to be spat upon and his soul wandering the horrors on the Mictlan, the Underworld. Only warriors were eligible for the eastern-sky paradise, and only those who died bravely, killed on the battlefield or sacrificed to the glory of gods, were allowed to enter. So this way the process of human sacrifice included both sides collaborating and willing.

To me, it makes a perfect sense. Having dealt with the general history for decades I do believe there was no more bloodthirstiness in Mesoamerica than in any other warlike culture. Medieval Europe presents us with more than enough evidence to plead my case. :-)

AE: Although there are a few writers working in this setting, if you look at the bookshelves in the shops, it’s obviously not as popular as Tudor England or the Roman times. Would you like to see a few more historical fiction writers moving in on this field?

Zoe: Oh yes, absolutely! I hope these cultures, times and places will catch the wave and will became as ‘fashionable’ as the done-to-death Romans, Tudors or Regency aristocratic dance floors. Having read “Five Dances with Death” by Austin Briggs and now enjoying “New Fire”, I can firmly say that I most sincerely wish to see more books of this quality.

AE: Have you made any attempt to get agents or traditional publishing houses interested in your work and would you share your thoughts on self-published versus traditional?

Zoe: Not with my Aztecs books, but I did try to go the traditional way for a few years, before the publishing world got into its current earth-quaking stage.Umm, it didn’t work. I was told that I’m writing well, and that should I change my subject to a better known history, they would be prepared to accept my manuscripts. Speaking of Romans and Tudors! Needless to say, this response left, literary, screaming with rage. They didn’t want to take their chances with my pre-Columbian Americas.

Luckily, the Indie publishing world was already opening, with more and more articles published about its possibilities. So, two years ago I took the plunge, and frankly, I never regretted taking this particular decision. Independent publishing is more demanding, leaving the author to deal with all the aspects of this business, but it is much more rewarding, too. After two years, and quite a few mistakes made along the way ;-) , I built a satisfactory name for myself, a respectable site to promote this history and my works, and a nice fan base to receive a lot of feedback through Goodreads and Amazon.

More importantly, I have a good theme to help me along, with a good editor, proofreader and a cover artist cooperating wonderfully, so I can write away and let my books out with no delays. In the traditional publishing industry they would have been piling up, waiting to be attended stage by stage. Independently, I can let them out as fast as I can write them, provided I, and the people I’m working with, are prepared to work hard…which we most certainly are! :-)

AE: Thank you Zoe. For anyone wanting more information, visit Zoe’s website, ‘Pre-Colombian Americas’ or visit her Facebook page.

Dark Water – writing to a plan

Progress on draft #1 of ‘Dark Water has been slow and steady but most importanntly, according to plan. Yesterday, it officially reached the halfway stage. 50,000 words at 7.5 chapters. Here is a little extract to whet your appetites.

Visibility inside the workshop was worse than outside because of the smoke and heat of the charcoal fire that was needed to fabricate the new jewellery. Soot and the dry air made Precious Flower cough. Arrow One was stooped under a low section at the back of the building, deep in conversation with a pot-bellied man with unruly hair and a filthy leather apron that was the only thing he was wearing other than his loincloth. Arrow One was bare-chested having dispensed with his cloak and the short skirt he was wearing was more appropriate for the suffocating heat in the workshop than Precious Flower’s long dress. He caught sight of Precious Flower and introduced her to the craftsman who bobbed and nodded enthusiastically in response to Arrow One’s request for him to demonstrate the process.

‘Yes, yes! You do good timing,’ he spluttered through gums inadequately populated with teeth. ‘New piece ready to try.’ His Nahuatl was poor, the accent sounding Huastec. ‘You two!’ He shouted suddenly at a stocky lad of no more than twelve and a severe-looking youth. ‘What are you gawking at? Pumping bellows or copper will never melt!’

Precious Flower watched in amazement as the craftsman took the carved wax figure and held it upside down in an earthenware pot of damp sand which he proceeded to pack very gently around it until it was entirely hidden, all save a tiny section at the base. All the while, his indentured labourer and the sullen apprentice worked a pair of leather bags in the scorching confines of the new room. Precious Flower didn’t believe she’d ever seen anyone sweat as much as these two lads. When he was finished poking at the sand, the craftsman then took to examining the pot nestling at the centre of the fire that was now sending so many sparks whirling up into the rafters of the workshop that Precious Flower was convinced the whole place would soon be alight. The heat was so intense it seared her throat and made her fear for her newborn child. She stroked the child’s cheek briefly through the folds of fabric, relived to see it make attempts to suckle.

After a good deal of squinting and muttering at his assistants, the toothless man reached into a bucket of water and pulled out what appeared to be two long fire-blackened sticks, joined at one end with hemp. He gingerly clamped them around the tiny pot and then slowly upended the contents into the urn full of sand where he had made a conical indentation over the wax figure. Precious Flower was entranced by the fiery orange liquid that smoked and burped as it sank into the sand. If the gods bled, she thought, this is what their blood would look like.

Goodreads Blog Blitz – CJ Heck

Today AztecElements is delighted to present a post by CJ Heck as part of the massive Goodreads ‘Blog Blitz’ organised by Y. Correa.

* * * * * * * * *

“There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken; a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable; a sorrow beyond all grief, which leads to joy, and a fragility out of whose depths emerges strength. There is a hollow space too vast for words through which we pass with each loss, out of whose darkness we are sanctioned into being.”

~ Bri Maya Tiwari

“Where can we go
that death does not exist?
But should I live in tears because of that?
Your heart might as well make itself at home;
no one will live forever here.
Even great lords go down to death,
their worldly possessions put to the torch.
Your heart might as well make itself at home;
no one will live forever here.”

~King Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco

The writings of Ms. Tiwari and wise King Nezahualcoyotl astutely describe not only my life, but the poetry in my newest book, Anatomy of a Poet, which was written over the past forty years.

One of six children, I grew up in a small Ohio town and married my high school sweetheart at nineteen. A Vietnam War widow at only twenty, I went on to marry and then divorce twice during the next thirty-five years.

I made a lot of choices, some good, some not so good, but like the ending says in one of the poems in my book, “…at least I made choices. How sad for those who merely hitchhike along, never daring to choose at all.”

Enter to Win 1 of 10 Free Autographed Copies of Anatomy of a Poet:
Goodreads Book Giveaway: June 1 to June 30, 2013:

http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/53818-anatomy-of-a-poet

To Read a Preview of Anatomy of a Poet:
http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/336273-preview-anatomy-of-a-poet?chapter=0

Buy at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Poet-CJ-Heck/dp/148187652X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366330907&sr=1-1&keywords=Anatomy+of+a+Poet

Autographed Books:
http://www.etsy.com/shop/CJHeckBooks

Website: Barking Spiders Poetry:
http://www.barkingspiderspoetry.com

Facebook Fan Page:
https://www.facebook.com/CJHeckAuthor

Reviews:
Poetry to touch the soul: Amazon.com: 5 Stars
I love this book. I often find poetry frustrating, sometimes inaccessible. Not so with CJ Heck’s offerings. I haven’t read through the whole book: poetry is not something to be rushed at, but something to be savored. Each poem evokes a different mood, a different response, so I like to read one occasionally, almost as a thought for the day.

Many of the poems are love songs with no need of music: they create their own in my heart. They resonate with me as a long-married lover.

If asked before if I liked reading poetry, I’d have pulled a face and said, ‘Mmm, sometimes, if it rhymes, if it has rhythm.” But it doesn’t seem to matter whether CJ Heck’s poems have rhythm or rhyme, they are beautiful.

I would recommend this book to all lovers of poetry and, most especially, to all who think they are not.”
~Christine Campbell

Poetry that will stir the feelings of all who read it: Amazon.com: 5 Stars
“CJ Heck has a way of looking into your very soul and describing the passion and feelings that we experience but yet are afraid to or cannot express in words for ourselves. In the pages of this book you will find powerful, thought provoking, sensual, and beautifully written poetry from the heart.”
~Susan L. Parkins

A Great Read: Amazon.com: 5 Stars
“I purchased Anatomy of a Poet today and couldn’t put it down. It is filled with a pleasant mixture of emotions that kept me reading and reading. I can’t wait to use some of the poetry with my sixth grade students. A truly wonderful book that I recommend highly! You won’t be disappointed.”
~Joyce Bowling

CJ Heck

CJ Heck – Poet

I have been published, and I have also self-published. It’s been an interesting, difficult, grueling, and, at times, even a little exhilarating, journey for me. But to be honest, I feel the worst part about self-publishing is promoting and marketing the book, once it is published.

We, as Indie Authors, don’t have the staffing, financial resources, nor the many useful contacts that publishing houses have with which to do that easily. Also, our time is very limited, if we are serious writers and still writing.

While there are definite pluses and minuses to each way, the end result is the same — you have a book ‘out there’ and, in a very small way you are immortal – your words will live on, long after you’re gone. It is a kiss of satisfaction on the cheek of your heart and soul.

Since its release in April by Createspace, I have been actively promoting/marketing Anatomy of a Poet to the best of my ability.

*** CJ (Parrish, Kempf, O’Brien) Heck is a published poet, writer, blogger, and the author of three children’s books, a collection of short stories, and a new book of poetry. She is also a Vietnam War widow.
Her second children’s book, Barking Spiders 2, was a 2011 Nominee for the Cybils Children’s Book Award in the Poetry Category.