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My story The Child-Stealers has gone live on Amazon, so readers can now purchase it in ebook form for Kindle for only $.99 US. The Child-Stealers is the novella-length first episode of a longer novel, The Cursed Ground, an historical-fiction story set in the ancient world.

Cover for The Child-Stealers, by A. Roy KingTo purchase the novel for your Kindle or Kindle reading app on your tablet or mobile phone, please head over to the book’s Amazon order page at:

http://www.amazon.com/Cursed-Ground-Child-Stealers-Edhai-ebook/dp/B00PXIKE4G

In about another week, I will be releasing The Child Stealers in other formats (such as EPUB and PDF) through the Smashwords site.

The Child-Stealers has already garnered some great reviews from early readers. Here are a few excerpts:

“Give yourself enough time to read it in one sitting — as a novella, it’s do-able, and once you start it, you won’t want to put it down. And by the time you’re finished, you’ll have some questions you’ll want King to answer in book two.” — Stephen B. White

“[W]e get to the first key moment of crisis and its aftermath before we can catch our breath. A mark of a good page turner…. Will I read the remaining sections of the book as King publishes them? You bet, because he has me truly wanting to know what has become of characters I came to care for.” — Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr.

“Overall a better than average effort from a new author …, who is writing to entertain you with a thoughtful, interesting story, not to listen to himself describing scenery or yammer on about the ideal societies. I’d buy the next installment after reading this one. A worthwhile read for the price.” — David Sims

My long game here is to produce a series of historical novels based on Biblical settings, but with the focus on storytelling rather than religious themes. This A. Roy King blog serves as a way to connect with readers and to share some of the research and thinking that goes into the writing. I also publish an email newsletter, “News and Updates From A. Roy King.” The newsletter is the best way to keep informed of new episodes of The Cursed Ground as they are released. I also use it to let readers know about new articles I’ve written and news about historical and archaeological discoveries that relate to the ancient times I’m writing about. To sign up for the newsletter, please follow this link to the subscription form:

http://eepurl.com/2U3Uf

ARK — 20 January 2015

 

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In a way, it doesn’t much matter to me whether humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. I guess the question interests me intellectually, but I don’t think I have an ideological investment in it.

Museum display of human with dinosaur

An exhibit at the Creation Museum shows a human happily coexisting with a hungry-looking theropod. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s how it does interest me: I’m writing fiction that is set in the remote past, during a period when the written history is sketchy. The first novel for my Edhai series is called The Cursed Ground, and the first episode is due for release on Jan. 20, 2015. The concept calls for a lot of world-building, and it could be interesting to portray some interaction between the human characters and some large reptile-like or large bird-like animals.

(Just a note that this blog entry highlights the value and relevance of the field of anomalistics to modern research. For a discussion of anomalistics, that is, the study of stuff that doesn’t fit the predominant paradigm in one way or another, see my previous article, “Anomalistics, Pseudo-Skepticism, and the Discovery of a 300-Million-Year-Old Aluminum Machinery Part.”)

But does it make any sense to build a fictional world in which humans are contemporary with dinosaurs, especially for a fiction series that is purportedly “historical”?

How you respond to that question could depend on your ideological stance.

A creationist (by which I essentially mean a young-earth creationist) would say, ‘Of course humans and dinosaurs lived together.’ That view holds that the earth and all life on it are only about 6,000 (or sometimes 10,000) years old. Artwork and even museum exhibits from that camp sometimes show humans and dinosaurs in the same scene.

A materialist would say it’s nonsense to place humans and dinosaurs into the same time frame (materialists love the word “nonsense”). Dinosaurs, at least what most people think of as dinosaurs, lived in the Mesozoic geologic period, according to the timeline most-commonly accepted in mainstream academia. That period is said to have ended 66 million years before the present (b.p.), whereas anatomically-modern humans are only supposed to have appeared within the last half-million years — too late to have ridden a triceratops or to have had to run away screaming to avoid getting stomped-on by a T-Rex.

That said, some intriguing scientific findings in recent years have called into question some long-held assumptions about when the non-avian dinosaurs actually lived. Could the consensus time frame be off — even way off? And could that triceratops horsey-ride have been feasible after all?

geologic time scale

Conventional geologic time scale. Credit: U.S. National Park Service.

Organic material found in a T-Rex fossil: Paleontologist Mary H. Schweitzer Of North Carolina State University stunned the fossil-hunting profession with her 2005 article in Science, “Soft tissue vessels and cellular preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex.” In her article, Schweitzer reported finding organic tissue in the femur of a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil. The problem is that, according to the current model of how fossils form, there’s no way any organic material should have remained in a fossil 68 million years old. Any such material should have long ago decomposed and been replaced by minerals, or have been destroyed by radiation.

Many critics claim that her sample must have been contaminated somehow. Schweitzer seems to think that the material really is 68 million years old and that this suggests that current theory about how fossils form might be wrong. That’s a useful idea, but another possibility is that the conventional means of dating fossils is way off, and that the T-Rex in question lived much more recently than is called for in the prevailing view of the geologic past.

Radiocarbon dating finds dinosaur fossils only 22,000-39,000 years old. Traditional paleontologists would never think of applying radiocarbon (RC or C-14) dating to Mesozoic fossils. After all, C-14 dating is only useful going back 50,000-80,000 years b.p., three orders of magnitude too soon. Yet an open-minded group of researchers (calling themselves the Paleochronology Group) decided, Why not? The tests have yielded ages between 22,000 and 39,000 years b.p. for fossils of Allosaurus, Triceratops, Hadrosaur, and Apatosaur.

Critics argue that these RC dates can’t be correct, because the non-avian dinosaurs studied all died out 66 million years ago. In other words, these findings are not in line with the consensus view, so they must be wrong. The Paleochronology Group argues that the conventional potassium-argon method used to obtain the very-old dating of Mesozoic fossils tests the supposed age of the surrounding deposits, not the fossils themselves.

Anyway, these are intriguing findings, and the controversy over them reveals a tendency to deny anomalistic evidence, findings that don’t fit the prevailing paradigm. Such denialism can particularly manifest if critics have an ideological bias that requires a very, very long time frame for life on earth, a long enough time frame for chance and necessity to supposedly produce a vast diversity of life. As atheist champion Richard Dawkins once said, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (The Blind Watchmaker, 1986) Intellectual fulfillment does not die easily.

Anyway, those two sets of findings by paleontologists are suggestive of the possibilities for a novelist writing historical fiction based on Biblical settings. With some speculative elements thrown into the scenario, it might be possible to let some of the human characters encounter some strange and dangerous beasts. In fiction, the anomalous can make for good storytelling.

By the way, if you enjoy reading articles like this — and if you want to keep up with news about my historical-fiction series, The Edhai — please sign up today to receive my free email newsletter.

ARK — 15 January 2015

 

 

 

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I have a practical reason for asking what it would be like to live for hundreds of years: I’m facing the problem of portraying fictional characters in the ancient pre-flood world described in the Bible. What would it be like to live for three hundred, six hundred, eight hundred years? How should I write characters of such long ages in a work of fiction?

The Sumerian King-List. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Sumerian King-List as inscribed on the Weld-Blundell Prism. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Part 1 of my novel The Cursed Ground is scheduled for release on Jan. 20, 2015, and further episodes are in development and should be following rapidly after that. The main characters in the story are younger, in their twenties through fifties. But some minor characters are much older, so I’ve already been confronting the challenge a bit.

Since I was already grappling with this question, I was intrigued by a recent article pointing to extra-biblical references to long age-spans among ancient humans. Tara MacIsaac, writing for Epoch Times (see “Did Ancient People Really Have Lifespans Longer Than 200 Years?“) brings together accounts from a variety of cultures describing such lifespans.

The long lifespans of humans before the Great Deluge are well-known in Western civilization and among those familiar with the Bible. Look up Genesis chapter 5, and you’ll read that the first human, Adam, lived to be 930 years, his son Seth 912 years, Enosh 905 years, and so on. According to Gen. 7: 6, “Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters came upon the earth.” Even after the Deluge, the long lifespans continued, Abraham living to 175 years, according to Gen. 25:7,8. Some have suggested that the human lifespan decreased after the Flood because of changed atmospheric conditions or the lack of some key nutrients on the earth. Another explanation is that the length of a human life declined as the race got further away from the original perfection of Adam.

However, as MacIsaac points out, the Bible account is not the only source that cites longer lifetimes among ancient humans. Another well-known source she cites is the Sumerian King-List, an ancient Bronze-Age manuscript in the Sumerian language found in various sources. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL) provides the following translation:

1-39. After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug. In Eridug, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alalĝar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years. Then Eridug fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira. In Bad-tibira, En-men-lu-ana ruled for 43200 years. En-men-gal-ana ruled for 28800 years. Dumuzid, the shepherd, ruled for 36000 years. 3 kings; they ruled for 108000 years. Then Bad-tibira fell (?) and the kingship was taken to Larag. In Larag, En-sipad-zid-ana ruled for 28800 years. 1 king; he ruled for 28800 years. Then Larag fell (?) and the kingship was taken to Zimbir. In Zimbir, En-men-dur-ana became king; he ruled for 21000 years. 1 king; he ruled for 21000 years. Then Zimbir fell (?) and the kingship was taken to Šuruppag. In Šuruppag, Ubara-Tutu became king; he ruled for 18600 years. 1 king; he ruled for 18600 years. In 5 cities 8 kings; they ruled for 241200 years. Then the flood swept over.
40-94. After the flood had swept over, and the kingship had descended from heaven, the kingship was in Kiš.

As you can see, the King-List claims some immense time periods for the reigns of those ancient kings, tens of thousands of years. Most researchers think those kings are fictional or mythical — or if real, that their reigns are exaggerated. MacIsaac says some scholars have suggested that a mathematical process might have been used to generate those long time periods — squares or multiples of 60, for example.

My Ancient History professor once compared the long ages in the pre-flood Sumerian King-List with those in the Bible, concluding, “See? It’s the same thing!” I found myself thinking, Well, no it’s not really the same thing to say that someone lived 930 years and to say that someone else lived for longer than 28,800 years. That’s a difference of two orders of magnitude. However, that professor was a big guy and pretty mean-looking, and the way he conducted his class you weren’t encouraged to even comment or ask a question, much less challenge his assertions.

MacIsaac mentions other sources that ascribe long ages to ancient peoples. Even after the Deluge, the Sumerian King-List attributes long ages to monarchs, although the reigns are much shorter, most in the hundreds of years. The Shahnameh, a Persian epic, MacIsaac writes, “tells of kings reigning 1,000 years, several hundred years, down to 150 years, and so on.” She also quotes a book by a Chinese medical scholar writing about longevity:

According to Chinese medical records, a doctor named Cuie Wenze of the Qin dynasty lived to be 300 years old. Gee Yule of the later Han dynasty lived to be 280 years old. A high ranking Taoist master monk, Hui Zhao, lived to be 290 years old and Lo Zichange lived to be 180 years old. As recorded in the The Chinese Encyclopedia of Materia Medica, He Nengci of the Tang dynasty lived to be 168 years old. A Taoist master, Li Qingyuan, lived to be 250 years old. In modern times, a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, Lo Mingshan of Sichuan province, lived to be 124 years old.

But what about creating fictional characters hundreds of years old? One thing I can imagine is that, if you could live the equivalent of ten or twenty of today’s lifetimes — and still have good health and a sound mind — you could attain a much greater fund of knowledge and skill. So I am planning on developing characters who have become experts in multiple domains. Perhaps you can imagine a single long-lived person mastering such diverse skills as farming, homebuilding, boatbuilding, sailing, writing, music, visual arts, and handcrafts.

Another option would be to create characters who have stuck with one single domain but who have mastered it beyond anything we could imagine today. This makes me think of Cain’s descendants, who became famous for founding complex lifestyles, musical genres, and metallurgical technologies (see Gen. 4:17-24).

Jeanne Louise Calment (1875-1997), who lived to 122 years, the longest lifespan confirmed in modern times. Shown here at age 20. Source: Wikipedia.

Jeanne Louise Calment (1875-1997), who lived to 122 years, the longest lifespan confirmed in modern times. Shown here at age 20. Source: Wikipedia.

But what about less material aspects of someone’s life? If we lived for hundreds of years, how would our character and personality develop? We think of ourselves as mature at the age of forty or fifty, but in reality we are children in comparison with someone five hundred years old. I imagine that great age would be no guarantee of one’s becoming a better person, though. A long lifespan might allow more opportunity to increase in hatefulness or violence. I’m dealing with this theme a little in Part 2 of The Cursed Ground, which I am calling “Children of the Keeper,” and which focuses on the descendants of Cain.

What are your thoughts? What kinds of things might people of ancient times have been able to accomplish during their long lifetimes? Or what mischief might have they gotten up to? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Also, don’t forget to sign up for my email newsletter, “News and Updates From A. Roy King” to keep up with new releases from my historical-fiction series, as well as new articles and other announcements.

ARK — 22 December 2014

 

 

 

 

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Deluge by Paul Gustave Dore

The Deluge, bu Paul Gustave Dore. via Wikimedia

As a novelist setting a fictional story in the world before the Biblical Deluge, I find myself frequently having to make decisions about how to portray an ancient world that is only briefly described in the Bible account. One of those decisions has to do with the Nephilim, who are described at Gen 6: 1,2 4.

(Just so you know, I’m getting ready to release the first episode of an historical epic I’m calling The Cursed Ground, set in the ancient world. Once I start to release these stories, this blog might make a little more sense to interested folks.)

The question of who the Nephilim were came up recently in a discussion with a reader of my email newsletter, News and Updates From A. Roy King. As I understand it, there are two basic ideas about the identity of the Nephilim — that they were either humans or hybrid offspring of humans and materialized angels. I told my reader that the second explanation is the one that has always made the most sense to me. He raised the very good question whether angels have DNA that would allow them to have semi-human children. Since angels are spirit beings, it seems unlikely that they have DNA in their spirit state. However, various Bible accounts show that spirit beings are able to come to the earth and manifest physical bodies that can be touched and that can even eat — see Gen 18:8 and Luke 24:30. Such physical bodies could presumably have a genetic structure with the capability of reproducing.

Anyway, my primary interest here is not to get into long discussions over Biblical exegesis, but to explore the development of a fictional world. As I suggested above, I decided to portray the Nephilim as the offspring of humans and fallen angels. The Bible account associates the Nephilim with the increase of wickedness and violence on the earth, so I’ve decided to portray them as villains, along with their angelic fathers.

Doctored photo purporting to show archaeologists discovering skeletons of giants.

Doctored photo purporting to show archaeologists discovering skeletons of giants.

In working on this series, I’ve read many other fictional treatments of the pre-flood era — call it competitive research. Some of them try to follow the Biblical story closely, and others are more fanciful. I’ve written a couple of reviews over at Goodreads — see my reviews of Darren Aronofsky’s graphic novel Noah and of William Guy’s mythology-based story The Last Nephilim. Both of these stories present the Nephilim in a nuanced way, portraying them as not all and totally wicked, and even as potentially redeemable. It’s an interesting treatment, but in the end, I decided not to go in that direction.

In spite of all this discussion of the identity of the Biblical Nephilim, the true focus of my Edhai/Martyroi series (that’s what I’m calling the larger saga) is not on villains, but on humans and what it might have been like to live on the earth at various times in human history from a Biblical perspective. So the Nephilim and fallen angels are basically minor peripheral characters in these stories.

Some Bibles translate the Hebrew word ne-phi-lim’ as “giants.” I’m portraying them as unnaturally large, but more within the known range of human height, which seems to be able to reach as far as nine or ten feet.

I’ve written before about giants. One of the most popular articles on this site discusses the question whether archaeologists have discovered skeletons of giants and are covering up the fact — see “Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece?

Another question I’ve discussed has been “Could Giant Humans Exist?” In that post I explore the physical limits of the human body.

ARK

 

 

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That’s a provocative title, I know. The truth is that I don’t actually refuse to read professional book reviews. But I seldom do, and I’m about to explain why.

For one thing, I do have time to read books, and lots of them. But I don’t have time to read a lot of what is written about books.

I’m certain many readers of books don’t read book reviews for that same reason. But not having time in itself is a lame justification for not paying attention to professional book reviews. However, there are also two important reasons why I place limited value on professional book reviews:

  1. First, professional book reviewers make their livings writing book reviews, and that fact colors their writing about the books they read. They have motivation to write what they are ‘supposed’ to write about the latest literary sensation. But also, they have to pan a certain portion of the books they read. If a reviewer likes all the books they read and that’s what they say in their reviews, what use are they? So they have to pooh-pooh a certain number of books to justify their existence.
  2. My second reason won’t matter to many readers, but it explains my motivation for placing a low priority on professional book reviews: Most reviewers have to tow the line on current literary trends. That means they don’t comment on elements of books that I need to know about: Does the book contain explicit sex scenes, sadistic violence, or extensive profanity? (See “Should a Novelist Write Characters Who Use Profanity?“) I told you this point wouldn’t matter to many readers, but it does to me, and professional book reviewers have to ignore such considerations or risk the disdain of mainstream luminaries.

All that said, I will occasionally read a book review in a publication such as The New Yorker, or at least a portion of such a review — often such reviews are insufferably long. But more often I will pay the greatest attention to ratings and reviews on Amazon, where I can find out what I really want to know: Is this a terrible book, and does it contain a lot of swearing? Thanks for letting me know. I’ll find something else to read.

ARK — 18 August 2014

 

 

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I was just alerted to an extensive online collection of historical artifacts from the Penn Museum. With almost 700,000 items, many from antiquity, the database includes photos and descriptions that are very useful for research and for writing. You’ll find many everyday objects that should help you visualize how life was during ancient times.

For example, I recently needed to write a scene where someone was using a scoop. Searching the Penn database for “scoop” revealed many hits, including this nice example of a woven scoop from Asia:

Asian woven scoop

 

ARK — 6 July 2014

 

 

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I ran across the following passage from Kurt Vonnegut’s Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage (1999), a passage which in turn is from a letter Vonnegut wrote to someone who objected to one of his novels:

If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.

I see some good reasoning here. Recently, someone took offense because a racist character in one of my stories used a racial slur. I was puzzled as to what else I could have done, as the scene in question took place among a group of young white boys in the southern U.S. in the mid-1960s, and there is no doubt that a racist teenager would have used a racial slur, however reprehensible that might have been.

For me as a writer, though, the issue of profanity presents a dilemma — I mean profanity that relates to sex and other bodily functions. I want my stories to be believable, but I don’t use profanity in my daily life (well, ‘hardly ever,’ as the Captain of the Pinafore might say) and neither do my Christian friends or family members. I don’t wish to influence anyone else to use profanity and I don’t wish to be influenced to use profanity by the content I consume. So for the most part, I prefer to use strategies that allow me to write fictional accounts that don’t (or hardly ever) involve profanity.

As far as what I read, I have read Vonnegut in the past, as well as many other popular and literary authors. I read fiction every day and love it. I have frequently abandoned a novel because of the profanity of the narrator or a character. On the other hand, I have sometimes tolerated a certain level of coarse language in order to benefit from an otherwise excellent piece of fiction.

ARK — 22 September 2013

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I was struck by this quotation from Howard Zinn in The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, by James Alexander Thom:

Historical fiction and nonfiction are both abstractions from a complex world of infinite fact. Both can tell the truth; both can lie. The “lies” (that is, distortions, omissions, exaggerations) in historical fiction may have two advantages over the “lies” (that is, omissions, exaggerations, distortions) in nonfiction. First, that they are at least entertaining. Second, that they do not make the same claim of being truthful.

The fact that historical fiction is more entertaining can also make it more dangerous  because it is more seductive, enveloping the lie in a sweeter package than nonfiction. Bad historical fiction may wrap a false idea (that blacks are inferior, that war is good) in an attractive story and thus make it more dangerous.

Thom, who is a great American historical novelist known for his careful research and accuracy, also quotes Washington Irving as saying, “I am always at a loss to know how much to believe of my own stories.” Thom then adds,

A historian, if he spoke candidly, should admit the same doubt. However capable and conscientious he may be, he is a storyteller, just like you and me and Washington Irving.

ARK — 8 January 2013

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SnowflakeOn his Advanced Fiction Writing web site, physicist and fiction author Randy Ingermanson offers an exciting method for developing a novel, called the ‘Snowflake Method,’ which he describes in detail on his page, “How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method.”

Since encountering the Snowflake Method, I’ve been using it on my current fiction project, and I find that it’s interesting and fun and is helping me to focus in on the story in a marvelous way. It has already helped me to identify some fundamental issues with the structure of the story and should help me to avoid a whole lot of re-writing later on.

In a way, the Snowflake Method reminds me of the concept of idea mapping, or Mind Mapping, in that it is radial in concept rather than linear. Ingermanson has you start small and unfold each little element of the novel simultaneously, in kind of a fractal pattern. He uses a snowflake as a metaphor, because the story starts as a simple set of points, each of which is expanded into its own set of points, each of which is in turn expanded into its own set of points, until eventually the first draft “crystallizes.”

Each step in the process is hard work, but at the same time no step is hard to understand — Ingermanson basically has you walk through a set of processes, almost like the exercises you might find in a Writer’s Digest manual on novel-writing or a university fiction-writing course — only you’re actually working on a real novel, instead of just an academic exercise.

The basic steps are:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of the novel.
  2. Expand that summary into a paragraph.
  3. Write a one-sentence summary of each character’s storyline, then each character’s motivation and other key elements of that character’s role in the story.
  4. Expand each character summary into one paragraph.
  5. Expand the summary of the novel into a full page.
  6. Expand each character summary into a full page.
  7. SnowflakeExpand the one-page summary of the novel into four pages. As you do these various expansions, you are taking single sentences and expanding them to paragraphs at each step.
  8. Take each character description and expand it into a full character chart. At each step, Ingermanson encourages you to go back and revise the previous steps, as you learn new things about your story and its characters.
  9. Take the four-page synopsis and develop a list or spreadsheet of each scene you will need for the story, perhaps 100 scenes.
  10. The next step, which Ingermanson describes as optional, is to create a multi-paragraph summary of each scene — thereby building a narrative description of the whole story.
  11. Start writing the first draft of the novel, working out the “small-scale logic problems” as you go along.
  12. As you go along, continue to go back and fix problems with the earlier design documents.

I can see that this method saves a tremendous amount of work and useless material that will inevitably result from seat-of-the-pants writing.

ARK — 11 Sept. 2010

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