IT’S HERE! The Prequel: “The Walls in the Middle of Idumea.” (And it’s a great place to start reading the series.)

The prequel I’ve been promising is now on Amazon! (There’s no greater feeling than waking up in the morning and seeing emails from Kindle Direct that begin with “Congratulations!”)

This shorter book (180 pages) is a great place to start reading the series. It works as both background and teaser, giving insights to characters you already know (if you’ve read the series) or will encounter later if this is your first introduction into the Forest at the Edge series.

Since it’s a smaller book, the paperback is only $6.50 and the digital download is only $.99. I’ve also committed to always providing my books for free here on my website. Click here for the .pdf version of the entire book. It’s copyrighted and to be used only for your reading pleasure, but you may share it as you wish.

I realized earlier this spring that Pere Shin’s story about the servants in the king’s mansion needed to be told, especially now when we have so many people ignorant of what’s really happening around them. The servants were naive; but today, too many people willfully don’t care to know what’s going on. That only enslaves them, not frees them.

From the back cover:

 Newly appointed as High General over the Army of Idumea, 40-year-old Pere Shin knows he’s only a figurehead. He’s hardly the typical officer: he’s cheerful, overweight, and bribes his favorite enlisted men with sweets. The army only expects him to sit quietly out of its way.

But Pere Shin has other ideas. There are secret groups to be exposed, and wrongs to be righted–he just has to find out who, and what, and where they are. As he does, he discovers more problems than he anticipates. So when his teenage son Relf offers to help, Pere decides that now may be a good time to give Relf some early command school training. That’s not the first decision he’s going to regret.

Taking place four decades before Book 1 of the Forest at the Edge series, this prequel tells the story that later inspires Pere’s grandson, Perrin, to go beyond the barriers that hold him back to expose what’s really goes on behind the walls in the middle of Idumea.

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You don’t know what’s down that road, but since even wrong roads can become right, take that road already!

In the coming weeks, many of my graduating seniors will be heading off to college, and as I’ve chatted with a few of them, it’s clear that the reality of what they’re doing–leaving rural Maine and heading out in the real, nasty world–is settling on their shoulders as easily as a Ford truck. Questions of, “Are you ready?” are met with nervous fits of giggles and a hesitant, “Yeah? No?”

Each year I take my students through Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken,” and explain how the most notable lines are frequently misread:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

And even while it was the title of a popular self-help book for many years, “taking the road less traveled by” does not necessarily mean to “blaze your own trail” and that anything less is “unacceptable.” I’ve had students confide that they feel they have to be different from everyone else, and that following someone else’s path is somehow wrong, even if they really do want to walk in someone else’s very noble footsteps.

So I point out that the stanza begins with the ambivalent line,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

which, in most poetry, means a sigh of longing, of regret, of “what if?” Maybe the speaker wishes he hadn’t taken the “one less traveled by” when he saw two roads diverging; he may have made a mistake. Maybe the one less traveled by is NOT the correct road. But then again, maybe it is?!

And this is where many people freeze in life: trying to decide which road to take. Some may decide to turn back and not try either, while others can stand there for too long never making a choice until life or someone else forces them, which almost always leads to resentment.

I’ve heard students–and many adults–debate their decisions which seem innocuous and correct now, but what if they aren’t in the future? What if that’s the wrong road?

To that I say, SO WHAT?! GO ANYWAY!

Ok, let me calm that down a bit. As long as the path one takes doesn’t lead directly to prison, or hurting someone else, or hating one’s self, but is a carefully plotted, deliberately chosen path that should be ok, then GO! Take it! Don’t just stand there or worse, go back and try nothing!

And yes, there may be HUGE PROBLEMS down that path, but OK! LEARN FROM THEM! Embrace trials! Embrace problems! GROW!

Yes, I’ve made HUGE mistakes, some I still reel from. But I’ve also made huge compensations for those, and found myself on strange paths–well-trodden and also some less traveled by–and over my fifty years have discovered that all paths can become good. My biggest mistakes have eventually become my biggest lessons and biggest blessings. 

(I’ll admit that it took me nearly forty-nine years to finally come to that revelation, but whatever. And to my children, no, I’m not talking about any of you. And I’m not talking about your father, either.)

To everyone who hits a crossroads, who sees more than one option, who feels paralyzed to take those steps on the road where you can’t see its end, I say: GO! Just TRY IT! I’ll give you 99 to 1 odds that it’ll turn out good. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, and you’ll look back and say, “That turned out to be a decent road. It was rough at times, and the zombie attack was definitely unexpected, but I made it. And just look what I achieved along the way!”

(And by the way, The Walls in the Middle of Idumea is nearly here! My laptop took an unexpected siesta for many days, traveling down its own dark path until I could bring it home again which delayed my progress, but the book is almost ready for publishing.)

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All boys have some brain damage or they’re not real boys. (or “You’re not going to believe what happened . . .”)

I have five sons, ages 7-25. All of them have some brain damage, and it happens something like this:

“Anyway, the little guy came barreling in there, and just as I stepped out, he turned and smacked right into my sword! Clanked his head, I’m sorry to report, but all little boys have to have some amount of brain damage, otherwise they aren’t real boys. And that’s how I met him.” ~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea, coming summer 2019

It starts when they’re babies and they roll into walls. On purpose. Again and again.

Then as toddlers they run into corners of tables, couches, and the walls, again. Sometimes on purpose, just to see if it will cause as much pain as before; sometimes on accident, because they’re actually running for the couch and somehow the wall got in the way.

As gradeschoolers, the brain damage occurs in too many ways to count, but here’s a short list:

  • bike crashes,
  • skateboard crashes,
  • walking crashes (they literally crash their foreheads into the driveway, and there was nothing around them to cause it, not even another brother),
  • tag-you’re-it crashes,
  • riding in a wheeled garbage can crashes (I refused to go help with that one, but got a hose instead),
  • let-me-hit-you-with-this-wheelbarrow crashes.

You get the idea.

When they’re high schoolers, brain damage occurs in more dramatic if not bizarre ways, such as falling out of 60 foot-high pine trees, or getting tossed out of a wheelchair a week after foot surgery when a friend (a teenage boy, of course) decides to entertain his temporarily invalid friend by taking him “four-wheeling” through the fields behind the house. (Fortunately the wheelchair suffered more damage than my son did. He moved to crutches sooner than he had planned.)

Then there are the real dangers: cars, boats, four-wheelers, motorcycles, walking down the street (STILL they trip over themselves and get road-rash in the oddest of ways).

And now after teaching high school for two years, I believe this even more:

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I love boys, little and big, my sons and others’ sons. Their daring makes them courageous, powerful, and hilarious. My three adult sons seem to be managing all right, despite their earlier mishaps. Or maybe, because of them.

They see that they recover from their exploits, learn something useful along the way, and now have an awesome story to share.

So I cringe every time a son or a student begins a sentence with a sheepish expression and the words, “You’re not going to believe what happened . . .”

Because actually, I will.

Three ways to evaluate those who hold political power: when to run away and when to give them another week

I’ve created a list by which I gauge those in power: who I should run away from and who I’ll trust for another week. (By the way, the purpose of the world is NOT to serve us; this is how every major conflict begins.)

Now I won’t be naive and pretend that in the past those with power used it wisely. Thousands of years of dark history are against me on that. However, there have been bright points who realized that power was granted to them to see if they’d do the right things. Occasionally, true leaders and statesmen set aside their personal hopes and fears, and instead pursued the hopes and fears of the communities they represented.

Overwhelmingly, however, people with power have acted like 6-year-olds on their birthday, greedily taking everything handed them, believing they’re important and forgetting everyone else around them.  But they’re not as important as they deliriously believe, and usually the “day after blues” reveals that, too late.

So here’s the current draft of my list evaluating who to trust in power, still a work in progress. Feel free to send me suggestions.

When to run away from someone in power:

  1. When their every comment or observation is “I” based; they’ve forgotten they are to represent others and instead are obsessed with themselves.
  2. When their desire is to be front and center, when they use real problems and issues to get more attention for themselves (real people are merely tools). In fact, new problems may be “manufactured” to draw new attention to the person in power.
  3. When they’re increasingly defensive and angry, because only self-centered people are defensive and angry. (It’s a basic truth. Test that sad theory for yourself.)

When to support someone in power? Watch for this behavior:

  1. They focus on “you” not “I.” They (usually) remember that power has been given to them temporarily to do a job for others.
  2. They don’t give a flying fig what others think about them; they just go about doing what good they can. Often their public relations aren’t too good, but their results generally are.
  3. They don’t complain endlessly about problems real or manufactured. Instead, they go about fixing the problems. There’s action, not continued pontification.

Power in the United States is granted not because someone “deserves” it, or is popular, or attractive, or wealthy, or athletic. (Although you can make an argument that power has been granted to all of those in the past, and we can see now how those were mistakes.)

Power is granted to those we HOPE will take care of us, will fight for us, will remember that a large group of people are expecting them to represent us fairly and accurately. (Those people may also be popular or wealthy or attractive, etc. but those shouldn’t be the deciding characteristics.)

Many (most?) politicians forget how they got their positions, and instead of managing that power, the power tragically eats them up. It’s tragic for those they represent and even more so for the individual who really thinks that they’re someone important and special because they’re in office.

They’re not important or special. We the people get to take away that power, unfortunately often not until a lot of selfishness has been manifested (“My legacy!”) and a lot of damage has occurred, sometimes irreparably.

I suspect that Lord Acton’s quote of “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” can sadly be paraphrased to reflect modern politics as: “Any kind of power corrupts every kind.”

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New prequel coming Summer 2019!

Get the rest of the series here.

The world isn’t what you think it is, and why should it be?

I feel stupid confessing this, but I was slightly freaked out by Europe. We came back last month from eleven days in Rome and Greece, and while I was prepared for the trip, many silly things deeply worried me.

For example, the electrical outlets–two little holes? And their electricity is “different” than American/Canadian electricity? Isn’t it all the same zippity-zappity stuff that streaks across a stormy sky?

And no ice in drinks, anywhere. And water is served lukewarm, even when it’s 95 degrees outside (Fahrenheit; don’t get me started on trying to convert in my head from Celsius). And the grocery stores had little-to-no selection: only four cereals to choose from? What do these poor people eat for breakfast?! And a lot of roads didn’t have painted lines. The cars and pedestrians just winged it and hoped for the best.

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How many lanes is this? And yes, there’s soon to be a car going up the other direction.

And you have to pay one euro just to enter a bathroom, and there’s no guarantee there’ll be toilet paper or even soap.

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I bailed out fellow American women, twice, who danced frantically before these asking, “Wait, what?!”

And our hotel in Rome didn’t even have a sign above it, just a tiny typed piece of paper at a little bell on a stucco wall that we wouldn’t have noticed if the owner hadn’t been waiting for us. And why was he WAITING for us? And shop owners were very aggressive, and taxi drivers were practically shoving us into the back of their cars, despite our exclaiming, “But we have train tickets!” And there was no Dr. Pepper, anywhere, except at an expensive import shop.

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And at two euros each. And of course they’re not cold.

You get the idea.

Naive American traveler, that was me.

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Along with the donkeys of Santorini who smelled lovely on a hot, muggy evening.

Of course I’ve chuckled at naive travelers myself. We went to Yellowstone National Park many times when we lived in the west and shook our heads when we overheard people say, “That smell–can’t they do something about the sulfur? Why are there so many bison? They should build a fence to keep them off the roads. Are those really wolves out there, eating something that was alive? Should kids be seeing this? Why won’t they show us where the bears live? I want to pet a bear.”

Each of us has an idea of how the world is, and it’s narrow, distorted, and unrealistic. No two people will see the same sight the same way, but that’s how we learn, how we grow, how we realize that the world is not what we imagined it would be, and how we teach our imagination to become even broader.

And why should the world conform to our naive expectations? I see many entitled people complaining in the news and social media how the world is “disappointing” them in one way or another. This isn’t right, or that isn’t what they expected, and somehow they feel cheated. In this immense planet with unlimited options and glories around every corner, they bizarrely feel ripped off.

Strangely, it doesn’t occur to them that maybe they, with their selfishness and arrogance, are the real disappointment.

The adventure of life is discovering how diverse it is, being startled to realize that it’s not behaving the way we expect it to, and that it’s never going to be precisely as we demand. Often there are no painted lines, no obvious signs, no clear crossings, so just wing and hope for the best. You’ll survive the vast majority of the time, until you don’t. Life it just that simple, and that complicated.

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On Greece, Rome, leaning against ancient temple columns, and . . . oh yeah, a new book coming soon!

To my horror I realized today that it’s been over two months since I’ve posted here. The past couple months of teaching high school–with my students taking the AP English Literature exam (scores are released this weekend–biting my knuckles), helping with Junior Prom (I got to be the MC announcing students, but I held back from using my full <announcer voice, voice . . .voice>), getting the school’s literature and arts book published (thank you, Amazon), helping students write graduation speeches (“Why aren’t you mentioning me?”), and grading finals (did they answer all the questions? Just slap a 90 on that.)–well, all that took every last minute of my days.

Then, the last day of school on June 14, my husband and I took off for sheer indulgence to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary, since we’ve never really celebrated any of our past anniversaries beyond eating a piece of cake. We left our family, flew to Rome–just the two of us–and took a cruise to the Greek isles. It was my first passport, our first cruise, our first major trip anywhere. (People on our ship asked us if we took “practice” cruises before, and I just stared at them, not realizing that’s a thing. Matching t-shirts on cruises are also, sadly, a thing.)

Some of my students, after hearing where I was going and responding to my pictures on Facebook, said, “Man, you must be RICH to go on this trip!” (Forgetting that we’re school teachers in America.)

I replied with, “Not by any stretch. I’m working a second job for two summers to pay for it, we planned our port excursions on our own to save money, loaded up on the breakfast buffet before we left the ship so we didn’t have to eat until we got back for dinner, and for souvenirs we collected sand in test tubes and rocks off of beaches. In Rome we found a grocery store and bought local food for meals, paid only for two guided tours (Delos and the Vatican) and otherwise purchased guide books or just sidled up to other tour groups to listen in on what we were seeing in Athens, the Colosseum, Olympia, etc. We didn’t purchase the drinks package on the ship (picked up our own soda off-ship), walked for miles every day or took local buses and trains instead of taxis, and THAT’S how you afford a Mediterranean vacation!”

I never imagined I’d actually write a paragraph as I did above. Such a trip never was a possibility, only a dream. Yet it happened (after a GREAT deal of planning and saving). I’m still surprised we went through it, and that nothing horrible happened as a result. (I’m guilty of believing that if I try to do something fun, the cosmos will come back and bite me later. It still may . . .)

If you’ve read my books, it’s no secret that I borrow from ancient Greece and Rome: architecture and ruins, leadership and armies, “bread and circuses.” I’ve researched a great deal of their societies to create my own in the Forest at the Edge series.

In Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon,  I gave Perrin and Mahrree experiences I’d never had (ok a little wish fulfillment in my books). I also gave them a way to remember it:

 . . . Mahrree gazed again at the large painting that nearly covered the wall in their little gathering room. For their anniversary a few weeks ago, Perrin had asked a landscape artist to create for them a painting of the ancient temple ruin where they had trekked so often.

The Shins had expected a small picture, but the artist, knowing how much they loved the site, created an immense painting of breathtaking realism of the entire area, with details and colors that left both Perrin and Mahrree speechless.

But the best part was that she had included both of them in the painting, smiling and leaning on either side of a pillar at the top of the stairs of the crumbling temple. They were only a few inches high, but even then the detail was astonishing.

They discovered later that the artist had been surreptitiously following them. Their grandchildren, in on the surprise, had found occasion to ask them to lean against things so that the artist could quickly sketch them at the correct heights. . . .

On nights like this, Mahrree stared at the painting and wished she and Perrin were at the ancient site again, as they had been dozens of times, all alone. . . .

The last time they did it was just a few weeks ago, for their 44th anniversary, just before they’d been presented with the glorious painting.

When Dave and I paid off the trip and realized we were actually going (although I kept thinking, Some disaster will strike and we won’t go; Greece will slip into the ocean, Rome will erupt in a giant volcano, I’ll get a horrible stomach flu . . .) I told my husband that all I wanted were a couple of pictures of us leaning against an old pillar. He hasn’t read the books (although I’ve used him on several covers) so he was a little confused by my request, but he was willing. (I wish you could see his, “Are you serious?” expression. After 31 years, I’ve seen it MANY times. He’s learned it’s just best to go along with things to keep me happy. That’s why we’ve been married for 31 years.)

On the island of Delos, we asked a man with a camera like mine to take our picture. (Here’s a travel hint: always find someone with a nicer camera than yours to take your picture; people with only phones have no idea what they’re doing.) The wind wasn’t too helpful, but the excitement–for me, at least–wasn’t blown away as we posed at the Temple of Isis (not the current ISIS, but an ancient one, fortunately):

Two days later we were in Olympia where the ancient Olympics were held for a thousand years, and whoa–more columns to lean against! So again I recruited a photographer, and my husband gave me that same puzzled look, then gamely leaned against another column:

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I see these photos from just a couple weeks ago and I still can’t believe that I was allowed to visit some amazing places. I still marvel that I’ve been allowed to have nine children, to teach high school students, to write an entire books series, to meet so many marvelous people . . . sometimes life is just too good.

No, I amend that: very frequently life is just too good. When you stop and analyze it, and realize what opportunities it gives you, it’s overwhelming. We have to sit in the grass and just whisper, “Thank you.”

Even if the cosmos does decide to come back one day and bite me in the rear because it’s my turn for a new trial, I’ll still have had all of this. Too much, and too good.

Oh, and did you notice what I put in the title about a new book? IT’S TRUE! I’ve written a prequel about the first High General Pere Shin and the servants of King Querul, and it’s nearly ready to be published! (Ok, so I had a few minutes here and there the past three months, and surprisingly I produced a new book with that time.)

I plan to release it this summer, now that my life has slowed down a little, so watch for updates and a LOT more posts about The Walls in the Middle of Idumea, a Forest at the Edge Prequel.

And no, you do NOT have needed to read the series to read the prequel. In fact, I think it’ll be a good lead-in to the rest of the series, especially since it’s only about 180 pages (not as daunting as some of my other books). So if you have any friends that have been interested in reading, tell them they can begin here!

The Walls in the Middle of Idumea–coming very, very soon!