Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Best Halloween Books For Adults

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
This collection from the all-time master of the macabre contains Poe’s dark poem “The Raven,” a Halloween classic about a gloomy man’s bizarre encounter with an “ebony bird.” You can also read heart-stopping horror stories such as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Tell-tale Heart.” In this last story, the unnamed narrator murders an old man simply because “he had the eye of a vulture.” In Poe’s autumnal world, every night seems dark and gloomy and his many stories reflect a morbid sensibility that’s frightening any day of the year, especially on Halloween.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
The son of legendary horror-master Stephen King, Hill has written a ghost novel that will keep your heart pounding past midnight. Over-the-hill rock star Jude Coyne is obsessed with the occult. He goes online to buy a suit advertised as being haunted by the dead owner's ghost. After the suit arrives in a heart-shaped box, so does the suit's spooky owner. Hill keeps up a breathtaking pace as Jude and the ghost fight an epic battle. Jude can run but can’t hide: "The ghosts always caught up eventually,” Jude realizes, “and there was no way to lock the door on them."

Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy by Matthew Gaskill
Historian Gaskill chronicles a chilling, real-life example of witch hysteria that occurred in England a half-century before the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Between 1645 and 1647, two “witchfinders” named Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne roamed the English countryside in a campaign to eradicate witchcraft, interrogating some 300 suspected witches (often using torture). Gaskill explores how and why it all happened. When the two witchfinders were done, more than a hundred “witches” had been executed.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
A page-turner of a novel that mixes the occult, medieval symbolism, and Christian allegory to tell a story of love and adventure across six centuries. The book begins with the unnamed narrator in a fiery car crash. Hospitalized, he’s visited by a woman who claims she’s loved him since the 14th century. For all his faults as a prose stylist, Davidson understands how to build narrative tension, how to combine fantasy elements with realistic details, and how to keep readers engrossed.

Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond
For local author Steve Almond, it’s Halloween all year round. To say that Almond likes candy is an understatement. The hilariously candy-obsessed Almond “has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at all times," he admits. Not only does he humorously explore his own candy fixation, but Almond journeys to the places where his favorite candy is produced, and visits with “chocolate engineers” who explain candy’s allure. Almond’s book is delicious fun, like a Halloween bagful of treats.

Salem Witch by Patricia Hermes
It is colonial Massachusetts in 1692, right in the middle of Salem’s infamous witch hysteria. Hermes offers us two different sides of these dramatic events, one from a young woman named Elizabeth who confronts accusations of witchcraft and one from George, the son of a judge overseeing the witch trials. As these two young people try to understand what’s happening, readers get a fresh perspective on a community in crisis. The book’s unique format allows readers the opportunity to read Elizabeth's side of the story first and then flip the book over to read George's.

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
A legendary sci-fi writer, Bradbury (“The Martian Chronicles”) offers the story of eight boys who set out on a Halloween night of trick-or-treating only to be led into the depths of the past by a tall, mysterious character named Moundshroud.  During their time travels, the boys visit distant lands and observe how Halloween has been celebrated around the world, from ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire to Aztec Mexico. Bradbury, as always, moves his story along at a fast pace, allowing readers to discover how the rituals and symbols of Halloween have developed over history.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Inspiration behind How the Water Falls: South Africa's legacy

Is still the apartheid a subject of interest? What history teaches us?
There are two reasons that the subject of apartheid prevails: One, there is a strong correlation of what occurred in South Africa to what is happening now in Israel (Perscription for Gaza). I understand it's not identical because no history is identical based on politics and landscape, but here is the one fact which they have in common: Segregating a population, denying them citizenship, displacing that population into ghettos or refugee camps, and the violence that precipitates mirrors the two countries in hardships and failures. When laws can’t and don’t protect all people living on the same land, it opens up abuse and injustice. Two, it’s only been twenty years since the eradication of apartheid, and we’re continuing to understand what all of that meant. Although political emancipation has succeeded, but discrimination and corruption resumes. The aftermath of apartheid endures a legacy of unresolved issues. What we all should learn from history is that a true democracy, one that is not dysfunctional, is all inclusive, and that education is best method to make it so. Ignorance and greed is what makes war; education and uniting people for a common goal is what saves our future.

Where do the ideas for your book come from?
From real people and real events.  If a person is to become socially conscious as a means to understand the world around oneself, then exploring the past is a good way to start.  For me, it began with the movie Cry Freedom, which was based on the friendship between Donald Woods and Steve Bike.  The inhumanity shown in the movie left me horrified and emotionally displaced.  I was only fourteen.  Then, years later, I came across a documentary, the name I don't remember because I missed the beginning, about a white South African couple who had nothing in common. The wife was a liberal reporter, and the husband was a former army personnel and police officer who had been fired as a scapegoat for apartheid's problems.  They struggled with understanding each other's past.  The other inspirations came from the book Kaffir Boy and A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid.  In dealing with how to come to terms with violence and poverty, these two books opened up a world history books didn't touch.  

How much fiction / non fiction is in How the Waters Falls?
The first chapter begins with the Truth and Reconciliation where I abstract real stories from those who testified at these events. From there, I doused the novel with historical events and references to fuse with the development of the plot. Several of my main characters, such as Joanne, Lena, Wanda, Jared, Hans, Father Mulalo, and Topsy are inspired by a mesh of people I’ve researched. I wish to preserve the integrity of the historical significance as much as possible while maintaining a strong story. If I had to calculate between the two, I would put fact and fiction at 50/50.

Why take such important historical events and transpose them in fiction stories?
There is more freedom in fiction. Although I do my darndest to uphold historical continuity, sometimes I need to bend the actual timeline or combine few real people into one person, thereby fictionalizing that character, as a means to represent either an archetype in fiction form or to establish the attitudes of that era.

What is the writer’s responsibility when approaching such themes?
Honestly, John Steinbeck wrote it best: “The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.” And within the same context, he also wrote, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

How did you come up with the title of your book?
I wish to have a symbolic connection with the titles to the meaning of my stories. How the Water Falls is meant to represent the ideology of power and corruption through the structure of waterfalls, and how a system can fall by the pressure of united power. One of my characters, Lena, explains it all at the ending of the book.

How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
I chose names based on both the way it sounds and what it represents. Because my novels tend to be researched inspired, I often abstract names from books I’ve read to uphold authenticity. For my South African novel, I have a link of my characters here with descriptions of their purpose to the story on my indiegogo site.

Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?
So I'm going to need to flush out my multiple personalities! I would have to be a split between Joanne and Lena.  Joanne is close to her family and seeks to have the truth be known. Lena struggles with depression, but finds a way out of it through trusting people.  As I have mentioned before, I am both an optimistic and pessimistic.

What have you learned creating this book?
I've learned that apartheid was entirely more convoluted than I could wrap my head around.  It was insane.  And while trying to reinterpret it as I wrote in fiction form was the greatest puzzle I had yet put together.  Because the system was so corrupted, it wasn't as difficult to establish a plot.  Each character had a purpose to fulfill and fit naturally according to the development of the story.  I loved it!

Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
Adults who love a hybrid of historical fiction and thriller. And this is a very adult book based on content and language. The writing pulls you into South African struggles while full of suspenseful action and mystery. This novel is certainly political and ethically explorative, but it doesn’t suffer from its big concepts making it too lofty and inaccessible – inarguably. How the Water Falls is about people. The human experience is the main character, and for the reader, an understanding of what this group of people had to endure is the best lesson to inherit.

What do you think your readers will take away from this book?
A haunting impression that still leaves you with a sense of hope.  For those who never really understood what had happened during that period will at least have an inclination of why the system was so evil, and how it affected everyone, both black and white.  If change is going to be resurrected, there needs to be an ambition of hope.

What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike?
If you have read and savored over The Power of One, Cry the Beloved Country, Waiting for the Barbarians, and Bloodlines, then you’ll hunger for How the Water Falls. They all are about stories that take place in South Africa and combine a human story with the corruption, bigotry, injustice, and violence surrounding apartheid. But it’s more than just that. There are lessons to be learned. There are introspections to be evaluated. There are empathy, rage, and sorrow to embrace. Whether the message is hopeful, tragic, or both, regardless, it should be influential.

What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?
Although I have it marked as a thriller, sub genre of psychological, historical, and political, despite of its backdrop, the story is about people and how they relate to one another.  It's an intense journey that does have moments of humor and tenderness.  If the reader cannot connect to any other characters, then the author has failed to make that connection.

What inspires you most?
I'm greatly inspired by stories that deal with struggle for freedom, searching for identity and purpose, and have some sort of message that forces you to contemplate.  John Steinbeck best made the claim: "The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love.  In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation.  I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature."  And within the same context, he also wrote, "I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists.  Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit."

Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
I worry about maintaining authenticity within the time period and about the particular cultures.  As much as I love delving into another world, I agonize over whether I can or do preserve the integrity of these issues.  I have to keep reminding myself that people are people, regardless which time period and location: focus on the people first, and let the rest come naturally.

What do you think makes a good story?
Show that each and every character is imperfect, and that those characters have personal conflicts to overcome, whether they actually do, or try to, or fail to do.  Within these sentiments, a storyline is surely to unravel before your very eyes.

What is the biggest trap to avoid in a psychological thriller? But in one based on real events?
My concern, when I wrote my second novel, was not to feel cheated after reading it from start to finish. And what I mean by “cheated” is by making sure each of my characters felt real, had an authentic voice and purpose to the story, that there was a reason for their existence. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t “cheat” the historical accuracy while allowing the plot to prevail. The two had to “tango” well together in order to understand the psychology of each of the character’s mindset. Based on where the characters were born, what families they were born into, had influenced how they reacted to their environment and toward each other. I hope nothing felt forced and had a natural experience through it all- even though the violence as well as the tender moments.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery

Eric Kasum Headshot

Once again, it's time to celebrate Columbus Day. Yet, the stunning truth is: If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus' reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.
Question: Why do we honor a man who, if he were alive today, would almost certainly be sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?
If you'd like to know the true story about Christopher Columbus, please read on. But I warn you, it's not for the faint of heart.
Here's the basics. On the second Monday in October each year, we celebrate Columbus Day (this year, it's on October 11th). We teach our school kids a cute little song that goes: "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." It's an American tradition, as American as pizza pie. Or is it? Surprisingly, the true story of Christopher Columbus has very little in common with the myth we all learned in school.
Columbus Day, as we know it in the United States, was invented by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. Back in the 1930s, they were looking for a Catholic hero as a role-model their kids could look up to. In 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor this courageous explorer. Or so we thought.
There are several problems with this. First of all, Columbus wasn't the first European to discover America. As we all know, the Viking, Leif Ericson probably founded a Norse village on Newfoundland some 500 years earlier. So, hat's off to Leif. But if you think about it, the whole concept of discovering America is, well, arrogant. After all, the Native Americans discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born! Surprisingly, DNA evidence now suggests that courageous Polynesian adventurers sailed dugout canoes across the Pacific and settled in South America long before the Vikings.
Second, Columbus wasn't a hero. When he set foot on that sandy beach in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered that the islands were inhabited by friendly, peaceful people called the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks. Writing in his diary, Columbus said they were a handsome, smart and kind people. He noted that the gentle Arawaks were remarkable for their hospitality. "They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no," he said. The Arawaks had no weapons; their society had neither criminals, prisons nor prisoners. They were so kind-hearted that Columbus noted in his diary that on the day the Santa Maria was shipwrecked, the Arawaks labored for hours to save his crew and cargo. The native people were so honest that not one thing was missing.
Columbus was so impressed with the hard work of these gentle islanders, that he immediately seized their land for Spain and enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines. Within only two years, 125,000 (half of the population) of the original natives on the island were dead.
If I were a Native American, I would mark October 12, 1492, as a black day on my calendar.
Shockingly, Columbus supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery. Young girls of the ages 9 to 10 were the most desired by his men. In 1500, Columbus casually wrote about it in his log. He said: "A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand."
He forced these peaceful natives work in his gold mines until they died of exhaustion. If an "Indian" worker did not deliver his full quota of gold dust by Columbus' deadline, soldiers would cut off the man's hands and tie them around his neck to send a message. Slavery was so intolerable for these sweet, gentle island people that at one point, 100 of them committed mass suicide. Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians, but Columbus solved this problem. He simply refused to baptize the native people of Hispaniola.
On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.
Columbus' acts of cruelty were so unspeakable and so legendary - even in his own day - that Governor Francisco De Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his two brothers, slapped them into chains, and shipped them off to Spain to answer for their crimes against the Arawaks. But the King and Queen of Spain, their treasury filling up with gold, pardoned Columbus and let him go free.
One of Columbus' men, Bartolome De Las Casas, was so mortified by Columbus' brutal atrocities against the native peoples, that he quit working for Columbus and became a Catholic priest. He described how the Spaniards under Columbus' command cut off the legs of children who ran from them, to test the sharpness of their blades. According to De Las Casas, the men made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. He says that Columbus' men poured people full of boiling soap. In a single day, De Las Casas was an eye witness as the Spanish soldiers dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 native people. "Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel," De Las Casas wrote. "My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write."
De Las Casas spent the rest of his life trying to protect the helpless native people. But after a while, there were no more natives to protect. Experts generally agree that before 1492, the population on the island of Hispaniola probably numbered above 3 million. Within 20 years of Spanish arrival, it was reduced to only 60,000. Within 50 years, not a single original native inhabitant could be found.
In 1516, Spanish historian Peter Martyr wrote: "... a ship without compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola."
Christopher Columbus derived most of his income from slavery, De Las Casas noted. In fact, Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas. As the native slaves died off, they were replaced with black slaves. Columbus' son became the first African slave trader in 1505.
Are you surprised you never learned about any of this in school? I am too. Why do we have this extraordinary gap in our American ethos? Columbus himself kept detailed diaries, as did some of his men including De Las Casas and Michele de Cuneo. (If you don't believe me, just Google the words Columbus, sex slave, and gold mine.)
Columbus' reign of terror is one of the darkest chapters in our history. The REAL question is: Why do we celebrate a holiday in honor of this man? (Take three deep breaths. If you're like me, your stomach is heaving at this point. I'm sorry. Sometimes the truth hurts. That said, I'd like to turn in a more positive direction.)
Call me crazy, but I think holidays ought to honor people who are worthy of our admiration, true heroes who are positive role models for our children. If we're looking for heroes we can truly admire, I'd like to offer a few candidates. Foremost among them are school kids.
Let me tell you about some school kids who are changing the world. I think they are worthy of a holiday. My friend Nan Peterson is the director of the Blake School, a K-12 school in Minnesota. She recently visited Kenya. Nan says there are 33 million people in Kenya... and 11 million of them are orphans! Can you imagine that? She went to Kibera, the slum outside Nairobi, and a boy walked up to her and handed her a baby. He said: My father died. My mother died... and I'm not feeling so good myself. Here, take my sister. If I die, they will throw her into the street to die.
There are so many orphans in Kenya, the baby girls are throwaways!
Nan visited an orphanage for girls. The girls were starving to death. They had one old cow that only gave one cup of milk a day. So each girl only got ONE TEASPOON of milk a day!
After this heartbreaking experience, Nan went home to her school in Minnesota and asked the kids... what can we do? The kids got the idea to make homemade paper and sell it to buy a cow. So they made a bunch of paper, and sold the paper, and when they were done they had enough money to buy... FOUR COWS! And enough food to feed all of the cows for ONE FULL YEAR! These are kids... from 6 years old to 18... saving the lives of kids halfway around the world. And I thought: If a 6-year-old could do that... what could I do?
At Casady School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, seemingly "average" school kids raised $20,000 to dig clean water wells for children in Ethiopia. These kids are heroes. Why don't we celebrate "Kids Who Are Changing the Planet" Day?
Let me ask you a question: Would we celebrate Columbus Day if the story of Christopher Columbus were told from the point-of-view of his victims? No way!
The truth about Columbus is going to be a hard pill for some folks to swallow. Please, don't think I'm picking on Catholics. All the Catholics I know are wonderful people. I don't want to take away their holiday or their hero. But if we're looking for a Catholic our kids can admire, the Catholic church has many, many amazing people we could name a holiday after. How about Mother Teresa day? Or St. Francis of Assisi day? Or Betty Williams day (another Catholic Nobel Peace Prize winner). These men and women are truly heroes of peace, not just for Catholics, but for all of us.
Let's come clean. Let's tell the truth about Christopher Columbus. Let's boycott this outrageous holiday because it honors a mass murderer. If we skip the cute song about "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue," I don't think our first graders will miss it much, do you? True, Columbus' brutal treatment of peaceful Native Americans was so horrific... maybe we should hide the truth about Columbus until our kids reach at least High School age. Let's teach it to them about the same time we tell them about the Nazi death camps.
While we're at it, let's rewrite our history books. From now on, instead of glorifying the exploits of mass murderers like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte, let's teach our kids about true heroes, men and women of courage and kindness who devoted their lives to the good of others. There's a long list, starting with Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.
These people were not adventurers who "discovered" an island in the Caribbean. They were noble souls who discovered what is best in the human spirit.
Why don't we create a holiday to replace Columbus Day?

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About Me

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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