Archive | March 2015

Music & Theatre: the Picture Emerging as I Research Gloriana

Hello everyone. I hope everyone is finally getting some warmth and beautiful spring weather.  I know it’s been a while since I wrote more personally and especially since I wrote anything about history, my life-long passion.

Complete Series 3DSince publishing Catherine de Valois (coming to Audible in May or June) in June, I wrote and published two non fiction books and finished the Peers of Beinan Series with “Princess Anyu Returns” followed by a trilogy edition of “The Legacy of Princess Anlei” and “The Complete Series” which is one volume for all six Peers of Beinan Series books.  Now my heart returns to history.

As I research “Journey to Gloriana” about the life of Queen Elizabeth I and “Mary Queen of the Scots” I have found some intriguing information about music and theatre that I would like to share today.  The information I found was not in some aggressive search nor acquired by consulting experts (for which I am known), but almost by “accident” if there is such a thing as I seek to discover who Elizabeth I and Mary of Scotland really were.

Here is the picture emerging before me:

  • Music, theatre, and dance originally served as key conduits for communicating the culture, religion, and especially history of ancient societies.
  • As Christianity spread into Europe, secular music, theatre, and dance yielded to church-controlled forms.  The performing arts became the domain of Roman Catholicism to be used for its particular religious and political agendas.
  • The English Renaissance and the reign of Queen Elizabeth I saw church controls over music, dance, and especially theatre break down.  This brought a surge of secular music (especially for dancing) and construction of the first theatres (starting in the 1570s) in London such as The Globe.
Royal Oak Bartshill

The Rolling Stones Now tribute band to the Rolling Stones perform in England.

We all take it for granted that music, dance, and theatre exists outside of the Church.  But the reality is that for many centuries, these were essentially forbidden.  We owe it to Queen Elizabeth I’s own love of secular music, theatre, and dance for the wealth of choices and freedoms we have today.  No longer does religion define and limit how we express ourselves culturally.  We can write, perform, and enjoy a limitless number of songs, dances, plays, and films of our own free choosing.

Though the Church may always wish to control the message (that has not changed in nearly 2000 years), I find it a great blessing to live in a free society where free expression in the performing arts reigns supreme, where each of us can enjoy whatever we like whenever we like.

May we always safeguard and protect that freedom whenever in the world we live.

Marketing’s Big Lie: Instant Results

SherlockMost writers want to do just one thing:  write our books.  Few of us come from marketing backgrounds.  Still fewer of us think of ourselves as entrepreneurs and business owners.  In the old ages of traditional publishing, authors rarely had to be any of those things.  We slaved away trying to get a publisher to notice our work and/or securing a literary agent who would pimp our work for us — for a fee — while we went off and kept writing.

Self-publishing and the digital age has changed that for both self-published and traditional publishers.  Just as cigarette machines have gone by the wayside and Sherlock Holmes uses nicotine patches instead of smoking his pipe in response to smoking regulations in London, the days of in-house marketing and advertising for books by publishers are gone.  Today authors must do most of the work themselves.

There are no shortage of marketing firms to delegate to, of course, but as I found out across the winter of 2014 when I hired 180Fusion, marketing firms too often care about getting the business — any way they can.

new-york-times-best-selling-author3

What this means is that marketing firms promise the sun and moon to you — if you hire them.  180Fusion promised to put me on the New York Times bestseller list within 30 days, using my natural optimism to augment their pitch.  I, like most people, want to believe that people are telling me the truth.  I have faith that everything works out.  I have faith in the quality of my work.  I know these books are well-written and reflect a lifetime of scholarship and dedication to my craft.

180Fusion took that and used that very positive quality against me with their pitch about what they can do with advertising on facebook.

Facebook advertising can and does work for some people.  The essence of their work is to study the numbers to make facebook ads profitable, making adjustments until the ads result in sales.  As Jonathan Gebauer points out, this actually is sound — but with one catch that was omitted from the pitch until I was ready to close my account:  it takes time, often months and years for it to work.

This is not something that can be achieved in the 30 days promised to me back in December 2013 when I signed up.  In fact it was only when I made a fuss about not getting results that I was told, quite condescendingly, that what they promised was actually not at all possible.  Then they said I needed to give it more time.  Just give it more time.

This was the truth in the lie.  It takes time.  Except they never told me this upfront, before I signed up.  They told me when I was ready to cancel, when they knew my patience was at an end.

permission to walk awayNow normally I am a very patient person.  If this service had cost me $10 a month, odds are very good I would have stuck it out.  Except it costs a minimum of $300 a month — when my budget was $10 a month!  This was known from the onset.  So they promised me the sun and moon and instant results.  It didn’t matter that their service was many times more than my budget!  Because I would re-coup what I spent with them very quickly.

It was a lie and they knew it!  It was predatory, disrespectful, and sadly not atypical of far too many marketing firms.

Instead, their focus was on getting me to sign up; it didn’t matter that to pay for their service I would have to plop down hundreds to thousands of dollars on a high rate credit card; as long as they were getting paid, they really did not care about me or my books.

Most people have a word for that and it is not nice at all!

gbp-50-british-pounds-2

So what can we learn from this?  

Number one:  NO MARKETING STRATEGY GIVES INSTANT RESULTS.  As Jonathan Gebaur puts it, “Marketing never comes with a red button. 90% of the time marketing means: Work… Frustration… Small Improvements. Working out the little details. Improving little things to improve our results just a little bit. Good results take a lot of sweat and tears.”

Number two:  no matter what a pitch says, do not spend what you do not have in cash right now.  Set your budget honestly and hold to it.  If a company tells you that your budget doesn’t matter and you must spend more than that with them, they do not care about you; they care about getting your money.

Number three:  choose carefully.  Know that whatever do in terms of marketing and advertising will take several months to get results from.  Don’t just throw money at things hoping they will work; approach this with a plan and a clear set of perimeters and goals.  Pick one primary approach (like guest posting) and focus on that.  Don’t try to make everything happen all at once from everywhere.  Chaos works against you and ultimately robs you of your ability to focus, concentrate, and respond to your business and reader’s needs.

Marketing firms are out there to help you and should be used by independent authors.  But as with so many things, the rule “buyer beware” applies.  Ask questions, probe firms for answers, and if you see even a whiff of a hard sell or pressured pitch, run do not walk away.  Any business who cannot respect your budget and your goals is not really interested in working for you; rather they just want your money.

Helicopter parenting, abortion, and childlessness: an ounce of prevention too often absent in America.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,”  is one of those tried and true axioms that underscore common sense.  It costs less money to build a sturdy house than it does to rescue a family trapped in a poorly built one that collapses during a storm (see data on this in American Poverty:  Why America’s Treatment of the Poor Undermines Its Authority as a World Power). It costs less to vaccinate your children than it does to treat a life-threatening and highly preventable disease like polio or measles.  It costs less to abstain from smoking than it does to treat smoking-related diseases.

We all know this axiom.  Yet sadly in the United States, common sense is lacking on some of the most important decisions of our lives.  Let’s start with the Pope Francis’ recent comments regarding couples who consciously decide not to have children.  On the 11th February 2015 UK’s The Guardian reported Pope Francis’ remarks, “A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society…. The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”

So deciding not to have children is selfish according to the pope.  But is it really?  In making his universal claim that deciding not to have children is selfish, the pope ignores that there are many very solid reasons for delaying or foregoing childbearing.  Economics is a key consideration.  Children cost money to raise.  This should be obvious and common sense.  Bringing a child into the world is not free — not before birth, not during birth, and not after birth. The physical needs of children must be attended to and provided for by their parents on a daily basis along with their educational, intellectual, and social needs.  Most if not all of this costs money and resources which are not easy to provide even under the best of circumstances.  Calling someone selfish and belittling someone for recognizing this is not only uncalled for, but it punishes those who are most responsible.

I am one of them.  At the time of writing this blog post, I do not have the material resources to properly provide for a child.  Though I think I have the potential to become a good parent someday, I recognize that right now I am not able to properly provide for a child.

To me this is being responsible.  This is me caring about quality of life over the quantity of life.  The pope should not be calling those of us who make the responsible choice selfish; he should be praising us for caring about the quality of life for every child that comes into this world.

Contraception and abortion also feed into this.  The child that is not born is the one that does not need to be provided for.  While in general I do not like abortion, I know that it is not for me to decide for anyone else how that person should live nor do I want anyone else deciding for me what I can or should do.  These are personal choices that touch upon the most intimate part of our lives; in a free society no one intrudes into our private lives unless we are somehow jeopardizing the lives of another (hence I do believe in mandatory vaccination for diseases like polio and measles).  Whether I take a pill or a fellow I am intimate with uses a condom or not is for him and I, not the state, not my neighbours, not some religious group or business to decide.

It is common sense that all pregnancies should be planned for, that all children born should be born with a reasonable expectation of living in a loving family where every need is met and where the child can grow up in safety.  And if this is not possible for an individual or couple at any given time, it is common sense for them to take precautions to prevent the pregnancy without interference or pressure from anyone else.

sb10062905q-001

One final area of common sense and parenting I see sorely lacking:  “free range” parenting.  Free range parenting is what our hyper-protective society now calls common sense parenting.  For some very bizarre reason we now consider helicopter parenting normal in the United States, that tendency to perpetually treat anyone under the age of 18 as a helpless infant who needs to be wrapped in bubble wrap and never exposed to anything that could potentially cause injury, disease, or danger of any sort.

There are two major problems with helicopter parenting.  Firstly, it creates dependency.  Children never learn to do for themselves because they are never expected to do anything for themselves.  The purpose of childhood is to learn the skills needed to survive as adults from a position of reasonable safety.  A human child is not born running nor does a baby bird come out of the egg flying.  For every living being there is a process of learning.  You learn by doing.  Helicopter parenting destroys this process; children never get to do anything because there is a risk something bad might happen.  Therefore children never learn to do anything.

Story Which brings us to point two:  helicopter parenting destroys competence. If you never experience the discomfort of trial and error, never experience failure or stress, you never learn anything and never learn how to do anything.  The child who is never expected to set the table or clean her room or cook for the family never learns how to do these things for herself at the time when it is easiest to teach these life skills.  When she turns eighteen (legal adulthood in the United States) she enters university and her own home having absolutely no idea how to do the most mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, washing clothing, and managing her time effectively.  She does not know how to study.  She does not know how to fulfill the obligations of the work place.  She does not know how to be self responsible.

She fails.  Only since she is a legal adult, there is no help for her.  Society says “too bad; here are the consequences for your failure.”    Often she knows of only one solution:  move back in with mom and dad where she expects to receive everything she received when she was younger.

She never learns how to survive on her own.

Rather than punishing people for responsible choices, we need to praise them.  We need to praise the couple working two jobs who knows that they cannot provide properly for a child and chooses to not have children.  We need to facilitate use of contraception and respect those who choose to end existing pregnancies for making what is usually a very hard decision.  And we especially need to encourage “free range” parenting, the parenting style that facilitates competence in children by expecting them to do for themselves and giving them the space to learn from experience.

I want to make it clear that there is a line between negligence and free range parenting.  Negligence is not caring.  It is ignoring the child when s/he asks for help or brings a problem to the parent’s attention.  It is making excuses for ignoring the child’s request for help.   Free range parenting is caring so much about the child that the parent lets the child practice independence and develop competence.  Not one expert in anything started out that way.  To me a good parent allows her or his child to work through the learning process.  Experience is the best teacher of all.  Instead of hovering, we need to keep a safe but proper distance that shows we love our children and we care without smothering, without creating dependency.  Good parents let their children do for themselves.  Good parents trust their children and gradually let go as the child matures.  Teach your children properly and there is no reason to hover.

This is what I call common sense.  This is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure.

Saint Patrick’s Day: Celebrating the Myth, Not the Man

Saint Patrick’s Day is a festive day celebrating Irish heritage and culture and Irish-Diaspora around the world. It’s a day when everyone wants to be Irish and wears Irish green. Yet the holiday itself is named for an English Bishop who hated the Irish and did everything he could to destroy and undermine the same Irish culture and heritage most of us today celebrate in his name.

I am 1/8th Irish. As I became more and more interested in my Irish blood, Saint Patrick became of historical interest to me personally. Who-and what-are we celebrating? I’d heard the myths of course about Saint Patrick and serpents, but know from my science background that snakes were never indigenous to Ireland-they are absent from the fossil record and Common Era accounts (see ancient and medieval Irish texts on the subject at sacred-texts.com). So who-or what-were these serpents?

The aforementioned discussion on serpents in Irish culture and history makes that answer plain: it’s a reference to ancient Irish culture, to Irish clans, Irish religion, and Irish heritage. To drive the serpent out of Ireland actually, in its proper historical and cultural context, therefore means “to obliterate Irish culture, religion, and customs from Ireland.” This is hardly a new idea in world history; the Americans did the same thing to the Cherokee, Lakota, Iroquois, and countless other native peoples.

So then why would Saint Patrick, a man so tightly associated with Ireland, wish to, at least mythologically, destroy everything Irish? The answer comes from an examination of the historical person. Brigette de Silva’s paper, “Saint Patrick, the Irish Druids, and the Conversion of Pagan Ireland to Christianity” (strangehorizons.com), provides a fascinating glimpse into the man that lived-as best as we can redact from period sources.

Born and raised to his teenage years in England among the land-owning upper class and grandson to a priest, Patrick was not a religious man at all-until captured by Irish raiders and made a slave. His conversion to Christianity came out of his resentment towards his new life and his master. When he finally escaped from his master, he begged some traders to take him back to England. The traders refused him at first, but then agreed. However, it is unlikely they went to England. De Silva tells us the historical consensus is that he was taken to Gaul where he was either re-enslaved or made part of the group while they raided in Gaul. Regardless which way it happened, it is clear that Patrick was 26 by the time he returned to England to his family. At that time, he decided to return to Ireland to convert them to Christianity. Not long after his return, Patrick was appointed bishop of Ireland and began his work to convert the Irish to Christianity.

Myths on both sides depict Patrick as both more successful than he was and far more brutal. One story speaks of his returning to his former master to force him to convert. However, the story says, the local king recognized Patrick for the threat he presented and, per Irish custom, burned himself alive rather than be force-converted. Other stories credit Patrick with converting large numbers of Irish. Yet de Silva’s research shows none of these claims as historical. Bishop Patrick died in obscurity until others, at the end of the Christianization of Ireland, revised his history and created his mythos.

What we can say for certain is that Bishop Patrick was motivated far more by vengeance and disdain for the Irish in his missionary work in Ireland than we typically associate with Roman Catholic clergy. He is canonized as the Saint of Ireland, yet was a wealthy Englishman. And of course, that most of what we associate with Patrick is myth created decades and centuries later. Like his contemporary, King Arthur, Patrick remains more myth than man in our imaginations. Bishop Patrick was truly no saint and was, ultimately, one of the first missionaries driven by racist impulses.