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Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door

I knew when I began my first book that my main character would develop a telepathic link with a woman who lived far away. It didn’t realize that my love for places that are difficult for me to get to would continue on into the remaining five books in the collection, with each book each containing events occurring in a remote part of a different continent. But that is how they turned out.

Two things about far away places appeal to me. One is how different they are. The other is how similar they are. I think I like the second fact even better.

The modern and independent young Nigerian woman I write about in x0 has a run in with her village’s older practitioners of traditional medicine, known as dibias. In order to make her conflict as realistic as I could, I researched the history of traditional medicine in her Igbo culture, and enjoyed what I learned. It did not surprise me that mixed in with the sorts of superstitions that plague humans everywhere, was both wisdom and centuries old knowledge of ways to heal the human body.

I tried to include the point of view of the dibias, and to accord them respect, even while my character was in conflict with them. And yes, I loved learning about the ways of others that were so different than my own.

But I never forgot how half of my story ended up taking place in Nigeria in the first place.

It’s a country I have yet to visit, which makes it an odd setting for a beginning novelist. But I began the book right after taking a new job in the Houston office of a Nigerian company. They were cramped on office space, and several of us were crowded into a large workroom. Most of my co-workers were young Nigerian scientists and engineers and over the ensuing months I became seeped in their conversions, their food, and their memories of home.

Did I hear about things that were exotic to my ears? Occasionally, and some of those are in the book. But far more often what I heard were things like this as they made their phone calls home.

“Yes, mom, I am eating well. I know. Vegetables.”

“Of course I miss you, dear. It’s just that last night you caught me still at work, trying to get something done. I had a big presentation today.”

“You’ve got to pass chemistry. Email me the your review sheet your professor gave you. We’ll go over it together. Tell mom not to worry. I’ll help you.”

Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the sound of humanity, from my home town and from every one else’s home town in every far away place in the world.

You see, we have our differences, and I think that they are fascinating. But then we have our common ways of showing care and concern for those we love. And I think that commonality is even more amazing. That is why I watch with dismay as the United States turns more towards nationalist politics and embraces a fear of the rest of the world.

I no longer live in Houston. Today, I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I was interested to find the John Denver Song “Take me Home Country Roads,” being performed by Playing for Change. I’m a big fan of this multimedia music project that “seeks to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music.”

I can’t help but notice that much of the nationalist movement that concerns me so is being driven by people who live on country roads, just as I do. But a lot of the world lives on country roads, and drives home on them each day to those we care about. We all have that, and so much more, in common.

Enjoy this video of musicians from Japan to Brazil  as they sing “take me home country roads.”

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, Caring About Far Away Places, As Far Away Places Edge Closer  and The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2017 in empathy, music for peace, Nigeria

 

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“Sense8” and “What’s Up?”

“You’ve got to watch this show. It’s just like your books!”

Heroes-Original-CastThe first time this happened it was Heroes, which premiered in 2007, when the novel I had been toying with in my head for 20 years was starting to take shape. I’m the one who saw the loose connection with what I was trying to do as I watched this show about otherwise normal people with superpowers who were learning to cope with what they could do while learning to work together.

Maybe I should give up now? I thought. “But no. The popularity of this show means people like this kind of stuff. Maybe it means I need to start writing.” So I did.

Kiefer-Sutherland-Touch-Season-2-Cast-Photo-1024x576The next time it happened it was “Touch”, which premiered January 2012, less than a month before I released x0 on kindle. My daughter, who had already read x0 and a draft of y1, alerted me after she saw the show. “Mom, it is so much like what you are trying to say. I guess it was, kind of, and kind of not.

It turns out that I liked “Touch” even better than “Heroes”. It was a little more metaphysical, a little less about cool but unbelievable super powers. No flying, that sort of thing. To be honest I was proud that my daughter thought my ideas were in the same ball park. I saw every episode and was sad to see “Touch” go off the air in 2013.

Then last fall my son gave me the news.  “There is this new show on Netflix and you’ve got to see it, Mom.  It is so much like your books.” By this point he had read all five of them and I admit that I drug my feet on this last one. What if he was right and this story line was finally going to be the one that was too close to my own?

sense8We got Netflix up and running on the new TV and settled into to watch episode one of “Sense8”. Once again, it was an intriguing metaphysical superpower story about the connections between all of us. I loved it, even more than I had loved “Touch” which I had loved even more than “Heroes”. Yes, yes it kind of was what I was trying to say but of course it kind of wasn’t too and of course it said it with completely different characters and story lines. I was coming to understand that my great themes were not exactly new and they could be told afresh many times and many ways, and the telling by others didn’t diminish my own message which would always be subtly my own.

And then I saw episode 4. If I had to pick one thing that will always and forever make me think of x0, it is “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. I’ve loved this song since it came out in 1993, and as a new writer I wanted so badly to reference some of the lyrics in my book while I was writing about troubles in Nigeria and how they appeared to Lola in the U.S.

“No problem,” some people told me “Just use the lyrics.”

“Don’t even think of using them,” others warned.

4 Non-Blondes: click for official video

I took the upright but truly naive approach of contacting the owners of the rights of the song. I was lucky, Sony/ATV Music Publishing owned all the rights. For two months in 2011 I negotiated with a wonderful Licensing Analyst named Lacey Chemsak who must have thought I was crazy as I haggled over fees and number of copies like I was negotiating an arms deal. In the end I paid Sony $200 to the use the text you will see at the end of this post. Was it worth it?

Logically no. Of course not. But we don’t live in a logical universe, do we? You see, on came episode 4 of Sense8, with the scene below. I stood up, surprised at hearing “my song” in this series. Then I stated to sing along and for one moment the interconnectedness of me and the Wachowskis and 4 Non Blondes and all the other people who see the interconnectedness of things and all the characters in Sense8 and those in my books and hell everybody in the whole world came together in my head, and tears ran down my face and it was better than being drunk or high or even having an orgasm because this was so fucking incredible and I couldn’t stop singing or crying.

“Look at you,” my husband said laughing because he didn’t know what else to say and then he looked at me again and didn’t say anything and just let me be.

The song finally ended and I wiped away my tears and felt kind of silly. It didn’t matter. My newly discovered connection to “What’s Up” and “Sense8” had been the best $200 I ever spent.

Enjoy “What’s Up” as it appears in the show.

Here is the excerpt from  x0:

Lola’s coworkers did not discuss Nigerian politics with her much in the office unless Lola specifically brought something up, so it wasn’t until late in October when Lola was doing a lunchtime internet browse that she came across a BBC article from early October titled “Will amnesty bring peace to Niger Delta?”

Amnesty? That sounded hopeful. As she started to read, Bob walked by, singing in his head one of the many great oldies he had managed to amass on his iPod. Where did the man find so many good old songs?

What’s Up?” had been the 4 Non Blondes’ 1993 hit, coming out the year that Ariel was four. Lola loved it, and the two of them had sung, actually, screamed it together whenever it came on the radio when Lola was driving little Ariel to preschool.

In her BBC article, Ms. Duffield described talking to taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and hotel clerks in the Niger Delta region who were all hoping for peace as they watched militants hold disarmament ceremonies which involved relinquishing guns, rocket-propelled grenades, explosives, ammunition, and gunboats. Gunboats??

And so I wake in the morning and I step outside And I take a deep breath and I get real high / And I scream at the top of my lungs / What’s going on?

The BBC article added that while no one appeared to have given up their entire arsenal, the quantity of weapons released, presumably for cash, was significant. Concerns had been raised that no independent monitors were tracking what was being done with the weapons, and this caused worry because in the past, corrupt officials had sold confiscated guns, which had then made their way back into the hands of a wide variety of criminals.

And I try / oh my god do I try / I try all the time, in this institution.

The article noted that another major obstacle to peace was that there were now thousands of young men in the region effectively unemployed, given that their previous full-time profession had been guerilla fighter. Their resumes included kidnapping, blowing up oil pipelines, and stealing massive amounts of crude oil.

And I pray / Oh my god do I pray / I pray every single day for a revolution.

The government plan, according to the article, was to retrain these young men in new skills. It noted that they were already being processed at centers where they were being asked about their other career interests. Other career interests??

The BBC said that retraining would be a daunting prospect, and that in the case of failure, the young men would likely return to their previous activities.

And I realized quickly when I knew I should / That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man / For whatever that means …

She looked at the photo of the giant pile of automatic weapons. Seriously, right now in Nigeria there were actually thousands of angry young men filling out employment questionnaires??

Twenty-five years and my life is still / Trying to get up that great big hill / Of hope … for a destination.

Finally, enjoy this well done review of Sense8.

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2016 in music for peace, Nigeria, oneness, writing

 

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Qi — the best Scrabble word ever

scrabbleI used to play a lot of Scrabble as a child and I always hung on to a U until the Q showed up. It was a strategy that paid off.  Then I took a break from the game for a few years, until I discovered various online word games that approximated Scrabble (close but not so close that there is copyright infringement, you know the ones). Not only could I now play any hour day or night, but I could find opponents, good opponents, willing to do the same. Better yet they were from India and Australia and all sorts of exotic places and some were happy to chat with me about where they lived and what they thought about life.The world was now my oyster. Wahoo!

The very best part, however, was discovering all the wonderful letter combinations that were now considered words. ZA.  Acceptable as short for pizza though I have never heard anyone of any age actually use it. KI. A plant from the South Pacific. But the very best has to be QI. More useful than QAT, QAID, QOPH and QWERTY combined, I used it happily for over a decade without having much of clue as to what it meant.

Meanwhile, my online words games began to shape my writing as I began my first novel x0. My relationships with my community of unseen kindred spirits gave me ideas for the worldwide organization x0 and helped me design its imaginary website. An accountant in England who I play with regularly served as a model for the British tax accountant who shepherds Lola and Nwanyi safely on to a plane at Gatwick Airport. One British woman who beats me regularly was even a beta reader for x0, and her husband chipped in with an amazing job of proofreading. My world of happy telepaths was a reflection of my own happy hours spent making words worth lots of points while chatting with people I enjoyed.

Click here to visit flowingzen.com

Click here to visit flowingzen.com

But I still didn’t know what QI was.

And then last week I spent five entire days learning about my qi. Turns out qi is the modern spelling of chi, an Anglicized attempt to capture the Chinese word for the life force or energy within all of us. While I am only a beginner, I did learn enough to understand that moving ones qi in healthy ways while meditating and doing light rhythmic exercises is both invigorating and relaxing. At least it is to me and apparently it is to many others. So it turns out that I’m a real big fan of QI, I just didn’t know it until last week.

Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

For post-vacation thoughts on change, click here.

For post-vacation attempts to hold on to the joy, click here.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in oneness, x0

 

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Watch what you wish for

An old friend gives me a hard, meaningful stare. It is April 2012 and I’ve just published my first book, x0 and I am telling him about the plot.  His response?  “Careful what you wish for.” Then he adds in a warning tone “Life imitates art.”

Icarus: click for print

Icarus: click for print

The visit has not gone so well and this friend is already well on his way to becoming a former friend. His odd response to my story of a telepathic loner who discovers kindred spirits through her unusual mental talent finally clinches the deal. The implication behind his warning has always irritated me. Don’t reach for your dreams or you may lose all. Our culture is full of fables of backfired wishes and the assorted smiting of those who reach too high. The very myth of Icarus warns those who would chose to take flight and touch the sun.

Not that I don’t get the “cherish what you already have” side of this issue. It’s about balance. Again. Savor the moment and reach for the stars.

So what happened once I started to reach? Did my former friend’s dire warnings come true and have I found myself fighting off strange telepathic urges, kept up in the night by the sounds of countless souls? No, I found myself joining writer’s groups on the web and reading a lot of other blogs. It turns out that, just like in real life, I don’t have all that much in common with many of the aspiring writers out there fighting for attention on all the sites. And I am not terribly compelled to join in the countless threads of conversation on every blog I visit.  I’m a loner, even online. Maybe especially online.

visit the farmlet

visit the farmlet

But it also turns out that there are folks out there with whom I share commonalities. I met a wonderful writer named Bob Craton who has penned a series about four pacifists fighting to save their home world. I met a wonderful blogger named Christi Killien who tells a fascinating tale every week about life on her self sustaining farmlet. I’ve had people review my books who seem to get what I am saying far better than people who know me well. Wahoo!

And just this past week I’ve had a reader contact me to complain about all the mistakes in x0. Mistakes? I was horrified. The book has been professionally edited and proofread within an inch of its life. Okay, she offered.  Let’s call them “puppies” so you do not get so defensive. I knew as soon as she proposed using a new word, that I had the good fortune to meet yet another kindred spirit online. She is now in process of showing me what she means, taking some of the more difficult passages in x0 and rewording with a light touch that makes the concepts clearer. I will be using her input to give x0 a gentle tweak someday soon, and the second edition will be better for it.

As she and I exchange ideas, I think of the other remarkable writers, readers, and bloggers who have touched my heart and mind since I published x0, and then I think of my former friend’s dire warning. Now I know what I wish I had said.

“Life imitates art? Really? You promise??” I am so lucky that he was right.

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2013 in telepathy

 

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Searching for world peace …..

Metta World Peacevisit his blog at mettaworldpeace.com/

Metta World Peace
visit his blog at
mettaworldpeace.com/

I spend a lot of time searching the internet for information for my blogs and my books, and one subject I search on often is “world peace”. The idea fascinates me, and I devote much of this blog to the concept. And every single time I search, what do I find?

That’s right, I find World Peace. Metta World Peace to be specific, player for the Lakers formerly known as Ron Artest, and perhaps best known for his role in brawl with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.  Who is this guy? And why does he keep getting in my way?

With basketball everywhere right now (yes I do know it is college, and Metta plays professionally) it seemed like the right time to learn more about this nemesis who keeps fouling up my searches.So I searched on him.

Well ….. He’s more than another rough player who makes a lot of money. He’s also the father of four, and he donates much of his money to causes, especially those aimed at helping high risk students and supporting mental health. He doesn’t just play basketball, he plays it well and is having an impressive career.  He he speaks his mind, also raps, and just released a new single “Get Like Me.” (I listened and thought it was interesting  but I’m really not part of the right demographic. If you like rap it might be great.)

He legally changed his name in September 2011 hoping to inspire youth and he chose Metta as his first name because it is a Buddhist word for loving kindness. He is described in the media as eccentric and outspoken, but frankly I’d call this man something of an idealist. An odd one, and hardly a perfect human, but upon some reflection I’ve decided that anyone who would actually change their name to World Peace is a kindred spirit. I’ve decided to stop groaning every he shows up in my searches, and to become a Lakers fan instead. Go World Peace!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in peace

 

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Mission control

Most of us have been involved at least once in writing a “mission statement”.  This concise summary of what one is trying to do is usually an exercise in restating what ones boss wants to hear and is thus regarded by cynical employees as the time wasting nonsense that it is. Yet, the real question regarding why you are doing what you are doing remains a valid one. What is the point? What do you want to accomplish? Why not just take a nap?

To that end, today the blog “Face Painting for World Peace” is going to articulate its reason for being. I’ll start with the obvious.  I wish to sell my book x0.  I wish to entertain myself by writing, which I love to do, and in the best case I wish to entertain others with that writing.  I love to do that as well. I’d like to solicit more interaction here and am trying to figure out how because I wish to grow by hearing from others with ideas outside of my usual circle.

All good mission statements cover not only what is to be done, but also how.  At least at a very high level. So, I hope to do the above by writing about the aspects of x0 that most fascinate me. These include the relationship between telepathy and empathy and the way both relate to humans treating each other with compassion and respect. I subtitled my book (and named this blog) “Face Painting for World Peace” because my main character Lola realizes that she lost many of her racial and ethnic prejudices while painting children’s faces every year at the school carnival. She wonders if similar close interaction with the children of ones enemies would foster world peace. So, this blog will look at paintings about peace, art about peace, and music about peace.

I also hope to occasionally post about Nigeria, the fascinating country where half of the book occurs. There will sometimes be posts about the oil business, with an insiders perspective on the hunt for the hydrocarbons we rely on so heavily and yet know we need to rely on less And finally, I hope to feature other books of any genre that touch on any of these topics or on the theme of world peace. I will be more aggressively seeking out other authors and welcome all requests to do a guest post.

Mission accomplished? Hardly. But after about eight months of feeling my way along on this blog, and as I am about to cross the 2000 hit mark very soon, it feels good to say “mission begun”.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in art for peace, Nigeria, oil industry

 

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Come dance on Callisto

Join me in a sneak peak at another world. Callisto. Jupiter’s second largest moon. Rob Lopez writes that it is “Cold enough to suck the heat out of any pressure suit, and scoured by lethal levels of radiation every sixteen days as it orbits through Jupiter’s magnetotail. Nobody in their right mind would want to live there.”

But, in Rob’s newly created world in his latest book “Even the Dead Dance to Live”, people do live there. Read on for the rest of the book’s blurb, a little bit more about Rob, and a few questions Rob answered just for readers of this blog.

“Humanity built its first space city there. And for a while it looked like a good prospect. Mankind’s stepping stone to the stars. It’s all gone wrong though. Civilization is crumbling. And the cycle of life and death is whirling faster than was ever intended. Survival is a delicate balancing act that requires soft and careful steps.

Enter Shakespeare Cruz, a man on the run from his own dark past. He doesn’t do soft. And he’s anything but delicate. He’s got a price on his head, enemies on his tail and an ever tightening noose around his neck. He’s got a warlord who wants him to keep his appointment with death and a ghost who wants him to fulfill an impossible obligation. It’s not clear that either of them has picked the right man for the job. The time has come for him to make his choice however, and he’s got to make it fast. At stake is the soul of a city, the memory of a woman, and the life of one little girl. Only one thing is certain – it’s going to get ugly.”

About Rob Lopez:  Born in Leicester, UK, in 1966, Rob Lopez says  that he led a sheltered childhood, hermetically sealed inside his own head. He says ….. “I was vaguely aware of the 70’s – apparently a lot of stuff happened – but I was too busy reading war comics to notice….. When I left school my one qualification was daydreaming but I couldn’t seem to find a job for that. I saw an ad for a college course in electronics in a place that wasn’t Leicester. It was my first break away from home and I never looked back.”He adds that “College wasn’t a great place to learn ….[and] by then [I] had moved onto fantasy and science fiction, and, for some reason, it occurred to me that I might want to be a writer. Within seven months I was unemployed, homeless and in deep shit. I washed up in a seaside town for the winter, nursing a bleak depression and surviving on biscuits. But I carried on, walking every day to the library to work in the warm on my first novel. When spring came I gathered my saved dole money and got out of town, heading south with the aim of getting as far as I could before the money ran out. As it turned out that only took four days. The year was 1989 and the eighties were about to end, though I’d been too busy to really notice much about them. Apparently a lot of stuff happened.”He met his wife, had a daughter, finished his first novel, decided it was trash, and “decided  it was time to grow up and get a real job so I became a youth worker, then a mechanic, then a community worker, then a teaching assistant. By the time I got a job as a shop assistant the nineties were coming to an end and another empty era was nearly over. I mean, did anything happen in the nineties? I don’t know.”

“I got to work on my second novel. Then my third novel, then my fourth. Were they any good? No, but learning the hard way was a family motto by now and I gradually picked up the art of wrestling my dreams into paragraphs and tacking them together into a coherent form. My fifth novel, Even the dead dance to live, is the result, brought to you by the technology of the web and available on Kindle at Amazon here.

Rob answers a few questions just for this blog:
Your book has an attention grabbing name. Are you willing to share with those of us who haven’t read it yet where the name came from?
It’s a fairly urban novel, set as it is in a colony city, and dancing, jiving or ‘ducking and diving’ are common street terms for simply getting by in the face of things you can’t control, so I used that as a motif. I did a lot of research into conflict zones around the world, like Mogadishu, Beirut and Baghdad, and you just find these people who, no matter how bad things get, still have to get on with life. I tried to capture some of that in the novel, with different characters reacting in different ways to their environment, but all essentially seeking to do the same thing: survive. As for the part the dead play in all this, that’s a bit of sub-plot and back-story that will only make sense in the last line of the book.What’s the next project?  Will there be a more action on Callisto?
Yes, most definitely. Even as I type, there are several characters from the first novel struggling through the chaos and the anarchy, their lives on the line and with time running out. As it undoubtedly always is . When I completed the first novel I thought I had finished with Callisto, but Callisto clearly hadn’t finished with me, and there turned out to be more to tell. The next novel will probably be titled, There Are No Angels In Heaven, and it’s looking like a late 2013 completion date. But a lot can still happen, so don’t hold me to that.I read your author page at http://www.amazon.com/Rob-Lopez/e/B007SA1LIK and had to laugh. It is true that people hardly ever read these things.  You say that you aspire to write “kick-ass action with interesting characters and a little more depth”. This sounds like a very good plan.  So which of these did you think “Even The Dead Dance To Live”  achieves most effectively?  Or is there something else entirely about the book that you like better?
Oh. My. God. Someone read that! Do you ever have that moment when, after making a glib, throw-away comment, someone decides to hold you to it? No, me neither. Because I thought about every word of that statement carefully… well, sort of. But actually, it’s not so much a plan as a description of what I think  Even The Dead is. It’s certainly kick-ass. Quite violent in fact, so perhaps not for the faint hearted. The characters are certainly something I work hard on. They own the story. Science fiction is frequently accused of producing wafer-thin characters that are just cyphers for some nerdy concept, and I really, really wanted to avoid that. If it’s not really about the characters, their dilemmas, traumas, decisions, then I’m just not interested. Getting the characters right is what keeps me up at night. As for the little more depth – well, it’s not a Literary novel, but I did want more than just a series of actions. As reviewers have noted, it’s not a black and white, good guys versus bad guys book. I wanted some complexity in the character motivations, but also in the settings that they have to wade through. I don’t like the simplistic political backdrops that, again, are too frequent in sci-fi. Life’s never that simple, and I wanted to express a little of that. Not too much, as I’ve got to think about the pace. But enough to make the place feel lived in and real. As for aspiration – yes, I aim to write more like that, and to get even better at it. But that too is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. C’est la vie.

Check out Rob’s blog here.
 
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Posted by on October 29, 2012 in other authors

 

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