I’m starting to wonder: every time a shovel digs down into English soil, does it hit treasure or skeletons? Three years ago, the University of Durham in northeast UK planned a new extension to the library but came up instead with a huge archaeological find: two mass graves appearing to date back to 1650.
They are believed to be the final resting place of Scottish soldiers who’d fought against Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar. Afterward, many of the Scots fell ill and died, and more along the way as Cromwell marched the prisoners to the former monastery at Durham, which later became the University. The story of the 3000 able-bodied young men was well documented but the actual gravesites were unknown.
The relatively small mass graves hold skeletons piled one on top of another. If the historical estimate is accurate, the number could reach sixteen hundred. Foreign bodies within the graves have already been discovered, likely a few Dutchmen who had fought alongside the Scots.
Imprisoning large groups was rare in medieval days. Lords captured were often ransomed, but usually the vanquished were either executed or enslaved. It was much more common for whole towns and villages to be enslaved to the conquering army. But in this case, Cromwell could not allow the Scots to continue to fight against him for their choice to the throne, King Charles II. Yet, Cromwell agonized over their suffering and demise, explaining in a letter to his peers that everything was being done for the soldiers. The officers fared better, as did the Highlanders, but they still succumbed up to 100 a day. Scientists now believe that the Scots were suffering not from dysentery but refeeding syndrome. They had gone without food for 3 days prior to the battle, and by the time they reached Durham, they had not eaten properly for 8 days.
One hundred and fifty Scottish soldiers who survived this ordeal were put on a ship bound for the English Colonies. Fulfilling Cromwell’s original intent, they were sent to work in the lumber industry and iron works in support of English ship-building. Eventually, the Scots earned their freedom and many chose to remain in New England.
Yes, true believers, Part 2 is now ready for your enjoyment!
When last we left them, the MacKendrees tried to outsmart Grizmund, only to escape into the desert. After a fierce sandstorm separates them, Princess Gemria finds herself alone. Soon captured by Arabic nomads and taken into their camp, she must find a way to rejoin her brothers. But, Sheik Rameesh has other ideas.
Join me in Part 2 of The Kingdom, as the Oath of Iron series continues.
Magi. The ancient word conjures intrigue. Who were these men? And most of all, what drove them to travel so far to pay homage to the newborn King?
The word magi, plural form of magos, is believed by many scholars to be Babylonian in origin. According to Strong’s Concordance, magi means “wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augurs, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.” Hence, it’s easy to see where the modern word magician comes from. The first time magi or magus was used was in the 6th century BC, in the Old Testament book of Daniel, when said wise men were called upon by King Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream. Recall that prior to this, King Nebuchadnezzar had seized Jerusalem and carried off the young educated men of Israel. Daniel and his three companions were cast among the magi. When no one could interpret his dream, Nebuchadnezzar ordered all the wise men be put to death. God provided Daniel the interpretation of the dream, not only saving him and his fellow Jewish companions, but the lives of all the wise men. Subsequently, the king placed Daniel in charge of the wise men, as well as over the entire province of Babylon (Daniel, chapter 2). Later we see Daniel continue to distinguish himself when King Darius set him up as a satrap (governor). This was typical of the additional duties magi performed, such as confirming the divine nature of the kingship, supervising the collection of land-taxes, and acting as judges.
Meanwhile, as these events with Daniel took place, there was a religious reformer named Zoroaster and his followers were called Zoroastrians. This group remained active throughout Babylonia for hundreds of years including during and after the time of Christ’s birth. In fact the King Vologeses I (51-80 AD) reinstated these magi at his court, and it was common practice for magi to visit and be accepted at court by other kings.
But could there be a deeper reason for their desire to pay homage? It turns out King Vologeses had family ties leading back to King Darius. Traditions and the passing on of knowledge is tantamount in keeping a religion alive. It is doubtful that the tales of Daniel and his God missed the magi’s notice. Whether they loved or hated him is not the point. The prophecy and dream interpretation made by Daniel (Chapters 2 through 7) was recorded not in Hebrew like the rest of the book, but switched to Aramaic, the language of the world. So at any time afterward, anyone could read how God granted that gift to Daniel, and that his prophecy of the Gentile world had all come true. The part in Aramaic also covers Daniel’s vision of the coming of the Son of man (Chapter 7). Couple this with the fact that the magi were trained to watch the skies for signs, as stars and comets were regarded as heralding the birth of kings.
Could it be that Daniel’s faithfulness in foreign captivity began a traditional teaching among the Zoroastrians and passed down through the generations of magi?
One more thing to note: After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle Jude (also known as Thaddeus) went into Armenia and parts of Persia and in his mission work there ended up converting 3000 Zoroastrians to Christianity. Did he reference their homage to the newborn Jewish Messiah as the bridge to their salvation?
Whoever the magi were, they were certainly the first Gentiles with authority to recognize Christ as King.
Joy to the World!
…and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I read something striking in my Beth Moore Bible study. It wasn’t related to the lesson, just something she said as encouragement: “Nothing about this adventure is accidental to your life.”
Now, I know she meant reading and studying this particular book of God’s Word, but it got me thinking: what if everything in life is not an accident? I am not only talking about the things that we know for certain further God’s kingdom in the world or in our hearts. But what if all of it is just one big adventure for our own benefit to lead us to Christ or to serve Him? In other words, everything that happens to us has meaning and purpose to God, including the things that we fear or wish never happened.
It’s hard to get my head around, mainly because I’ve had a rough ride. If there are no accidents then that means God knew all of it would happen. And He let it. Yes of course it sculpted my character, but it also marked me in ways I wish I could forget, in ways I still struggle to overcome. Even at the age I am, I am still discovering myself. Knowing I am a work-in-progress is comforting, and since I am not done in God’s eyes, I’m allowed to make mistakes. Knowing it’s okay to mess up brings freedom.
One of the benefits of being older is that it’s easy for me to look back over the years and see the obvious truth – like stepping-stones, God guided me on a course leading to something better: a God-directed path to better understanding who I am and who He is. All of my experiences in life are toward His purpose, all come into play to be used in some way or another, even the tough stuff. And perhaps that even more so than the rest.
So, what if I approached each day as if on a mission to discover “What am I to learn today?”
Nothing is accidental. It’s all an adventure. And He’s right there, not beside me, but just a step ahead leading the way.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Ten years ago, my local library held a Medieval-themed summer reading event featuring a group of real knights. Of course, I was all over it and jazzed when I saw these knights go steel-on-steel in full armor. This is no reenactment – it’s the real deal. That day I met Buck Holmes. He and his current group, The Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux, use their talents to raise money for charity. In addition, they help me choreograph fight scenes for my stories and answer my questions about weapons and tactics. It is an honor to welcome him to Oath of Iron.com.
Karen: All hail Sir Buck! The obvious first question is when and how did you become interested in being a knight?
Sir Buck: I got into Dungeons and Dragons when I was 12 which got me interested in legends and lore, especially from the Middle Ages. Once I started reading stories about King Arthur, I was hooked.
Karen: I know you’re an avid reader – how much does your interest in Medieval times affect what you read? Favorite authors and books?
Sir Buck: The vast majority of things I read is Fantasy or Medieval (fiction and non-fiction), so quite a bit. I have a lot of favorites: Ray Bradbury, Tolkien, the history books of Barbara Tuchman. I highly recommend Chretien de Troyes as well.
Karen: Does the armor you wear reflect a specific time period? If so, why did you choose that time?
Sir Buck: Our primary concern in KOFL is safety – we try to avoid historically accurate injuries as much as possible. So we often have to suspend historical accuracy for safety and cost concerns. Keeping up your harness (suit of armor) is time consuming and expensive. As much as possible, my armor is based after 13th century English knights. In my opinion that was when knights were the coolest. And the period was when a lot of the Arthurian and Robin Hood myths were created (basically). I love the barrel helm and surcoat look.
Karen: It’s very impressive. How much weight are you carrying when you are fully suited up?
Sir Buck: Only 60 to 80 pounds.
Karen: Only? That sounds like alot!
Sir Buck: It’s well distributed across my body so it’s not too bad. I would rather walk around with 60 pounds of armor than carry a 30 pound backpack. Plus, when you are wearing full armor, it makes you feel really macho or something so the joy is bigger than the burden. Until the temperature gets over 85 degrees.
Karen: How much does your sword weigh?
Sir Buck: Only 2 to 3 pounds. Swords were not as heavy as a lot of people believe.
Karen: What are your favorite weapons to fight with?
Sir Buck: My two favorites are longsword and sword & shield. German Longsword has a a rich history as a martial art. But sword and shield feels the most “knightly”.
Karen: What pieces of your armor wear out or break the most from battle?
Sir Buck: Interesting question. The cloth, I think. You wear padding or heavy cloth under your maille so that padding and the surcoat often rips. It also gets funky smelling and stained due to sweat and rust (just to be honest). Pins and straps break a lot as well, making the piece of armor useless until fixed. Butted maille (as oppose to riveted) will break easily so you need to be careful how you use butted maille. We tend not use it.
Karen: What is the visibility like from inside your helm?
Sir Buck: Once you train yourself how to look out, it’s pretty good. It’s similar to wearing glasses or watching action on a stage. You lose peripheral vision and some low vision (along the ground), you have to learn to adjust your head movements to compensate. I think the helm interferes with hearing more than vision. Most of us are wearing two layers of padding under the helm and over our ears so the marshals have to shout and repeat themselves to make sure everybody hears what is being said.
Karen: What does it feel like to take a blow to the head? Do you feel the hits to your body?
Sir Buck: If your helmet is set up right, a blow to the head will feel like a punch to the head. Not comfortable but not bad. A really good hit will “ring” you, much like what you see in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But those are rare. I guess I feel about half of the hits on the body. Mostly it depends upon the exact location and the angle of the attack. Gussets (spots where the armor isn’t as strong, like the inside of the elbows, back of the knees, and the armpits) are the worst spots to get hit in. A really good hit will leave a bruise, even where the armor is strongest.
Karen: Have you ever been injured to the point of needing medical attention?
Sir Buck: I broke my collar bone fighting a woman once. I have also probably broken my fingers and toes but I didn’t go to the doctor for that.
Karen: You’re tough. How long can you do battle before your arms give out?
Sir Buck: Going full out, only two or three minutes. Past that you need to stop, readjust, grab a breather, etc. After about 30 minutes of being in the field, I’m done. It’s about the same as a boxing match: you rush in, take a rest, wind down as the fight goes on and by the end of it, you just want to collapse.
Karen: We’ve all heard myths about knights and/or their armor – which is your favorite? What is the truth?
Sir Buck: My least favorite is the one that comes to mind first: that knights waddled out into battle and bashed each other until somebody fell down. Knights were mobile, could easily get up if they fell, and relied on speed and skill as much as brute force. In KOFL, we run around, fall, get up, and jump around in our armor. And if overweight, middle-aged guys from the 20th century can do all that, I know medieval knights could do more.
Karen: I’ve seen you guys dance in your armor so I know that to be true! You and your fellow Knights of the Fiat Lux fight for charity – which ones?
Sir Buck: Just about anything that helps the needy. We donate to Autism Society of NC a lot; they are a great organization that does a lot of good. We are also proud to donate to Wounded Warrior Project to try to repay a little of the debt we owe wounded veterans. Each year we set up charity goals called “Dragons.” So our charities change from year to year and chapter to chapter.
Sir Buck: We try to use all of our nerdly talents to help the community. So we also play games for charity. Our 7th annual Fantasy Gamer’s Conclave is on July 25 and 26 in Cary, NC. All proceeds from this event will be donated to the Autism Society of NC. We will have fight demonstrations, RPGs, board games, card games, miniature games, a Retro Video Game Museum, and an Anachronic Tea on Sunday.
Karen: Sounds fun! Anything else you might want to add?
Sir Buck: I am very proud of the Knightly Order. We are from many different backgrounds, lifestyles, and faiths. And yet we respect each other and work together to help the community (and bash each other in the head). My hope is that we can show others that it is possible to make things better.
Karen: Well met! Thank you, Sir Buck and my best to you and all the Knights.
Imagine William Wallace meets Saladin and they combine forces to fight a brutal enemy.
The first release of my medieval adventure series, Oath of Iron, is available on Amazon.com!
After some ups and downs in my efforts toward traditional publishing, I decided to self-publish – but here’s the twist – I am releasing The Kingdom in four parts. Here’s why:
1) The book is large. In its entirety it will run at least 500+ pages. While I didn’t write it as a serial, I am releasing it as one using the divisions I already created. This way, I can provide readers content faster as I plan to release the parts within months of each other.
2) It’s a daunting task to tackle the entire book in one fell swoop. I had to come up the learning curve to discover the ins and outs of self-pubbing while also doing a final edit.
3) It’s kind of like a soft opening of a business to test the waters and see how much interest I can stir up, starting slowly and building up as each part gets added. And at the end, I can combine all the parts into a single download. At that time I may do a paperback release as well.
After the initial sting of early criticism wore off, I decide to take what the professionals said to heart. They said my book is too big and that I should think smaller. They said e-pub was the place to start.
But some of their advice I’ve rejected, like dividing my book into 4 smaller ones – no, The Kingdom is still one book. While I could rewrite it to fit a “more books” model, the story would suffer too much. Also, I was told putting Muslims and Christians on the same side is a bad idea and not true history – no, on both accounts. It’s a good idea in that I can set the characters around a campfire to engage in conversations about the similarities and differences of the two religions. In fact, alliances between Christians and Muslims happened quite often during the Crusades. Even while pitted against each other in battle, King Richard the Lionheart and Saladin had the utmost respect for one another. All of that was the catalyst for Oath of Iron. Oh yeah, and the advice about how a Christian story can’t have a Muslim hero. That I rejected outright.
The Great Plague, the Black Plague, the Black Death – call it what you will, it was the greatest scourge the Medieval World had ever seen. It arrived in Sicily on disease-riddled ships in 1347, and swept through European cities and countries wiping out one-third to one-half of the entire population, killing 20 million people in its wake.
People’s rapid demise coupled with the mystery of contagion added to the horror. While it was observed that being in contact with infected people, their clothing or houses was a factor in catching the disease, the idea of contagion was incomprehensible at that time. Physicians were more likely to blame the position of the planets. Meanwhile, the young, old, and every age in between died in droves, so quickly that pits became massive gravesites. Rarely did anyone survive, but some did.
Did the plague discriminate or was everyone susceptible? Sharon DeWitte, a bioarchaeologist, is trying to discover just that. She spends her summers in London studying the bones of Black Death victims. She’s recorded metadata on each of the 2000 skeletons she’s studied so far, looking for clues.
People of the Middle Ages were a few inches shorter in stature than people today, i.e. the average male was 5’ 7” (170 cm) and female 5’ 2” (157.5 cm). Did their stunted stature mean there was less to eat? It is possible due to the Little Ice Age; after a long warming stretch, temperatures began to cool rapidly around 1300 and continued to drop until the late 1700s. During those previous long years of warming, plants and farming flourished in more places and so did the people, increasing the population. When temperatures cooled, many places that had once sustained growth were now unable to, and hence masses of people had less and less to eat. While it may seem obvious that the aristocrats were immune because they had money for food, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there was food to be had.
Professor DeWitte’s research shows that those who suffered malnutrition earlier in their lives were more susceptible to the Black Death. And while it is true that aristocrats also fell victim, her conclusion is that the poor died in greater numbers, and this mainly due to lack of nutrition earlier in their lives.
So you finally gathered your courage and clicked the publish button. Then sometime later, you discover errors in your content. What to do?
You have three choices:
Leave it: If it’s only word choice or doesn’t cause a major plot fault, ask yourself if it is worth fixing. If not, cue Elsa and “let it go”. Otherwise,
Replace it: If the fix is relatively small and you’ve not had many downloads, just fix it and upload the new version. It’s quick and easy. On Amazon, the new version will be in place in just a few hours. New readers will get this newer version and there’s no need to alert your old readers about it. Or,
Replace and alert: If the changes are significant, then fix, replace, and alert Amazon. They will get in touch with everyone who downloaded your previous version. But be warned: Amazon gets to decide if the changes warrant this much of their attention. You have to remember the basic corporate rule of Time=Money. Explain the changes well enough and Amazon should agree with you. After all, they do want their readers to have an enjoyable experience.
But even if they don’t, you can always alert your readers through your own media channels and offer the new and improved version yourself. An easy way to do this is to coincide offering the new version for free via a promo. Your readers will appreciate your effort, and hopefully, you’ll gain some new fans as well. Two birds, one stone.
So decide what type of changes you need to make and whether they warrant alerting your readers.
Do people judge a book by its cover? Absolutely. In fact, while looking at marketing options, I discovered that book covers are scrutinized by the powers that be as a reflection of content. In other words, the cover can make or break your book’s success.
Self-pubbing fiction authors tend to overflow their covers with images and words. There is an old computer adage called KISS that applies here: Keep It Simple Stupid. What is your story’s main theme? Pick an image that easily conveys this to your reader.
Next, hire a graphic artist. I know, I know. I cringed every time I heard that too, but it will pay off. There is a certain magic that an artistic eye lends to the cover. Not many of us possess that, but it’s ok because there are scores of freelance graphic artists out there willing to be hired.
Here is how to go about it: First, find covers that you think are beautiful or have design elements you like. Find out the artist’s names (usually listed on the rights page of the book) then check them out on-line. Do they work in your genre? Look at their other covers, see if they are available, and what they charge. As you are gathering info, see what strikes your fancy, and start developing an idea of what you’d like on your own cover.
A range of $30-50 an hour is very reasonable. The more you know what you want and can describe it to the graphic artist, the less time it will take him or her, and the less money you’ll spend. It’s ok even if you are clueless as to what you want; the artist will work with you until you are satisfied. Usually the artist will give you three versions to choose from as a jump off point, and the adjustments follow. Don’t be afraid to speak up. They are used to making changes. But also be flexible to the artist’s vision and creativity, i.e. let the magic happen. This is what you are paying them for. Note: If you are writing a series, think ahead as to how successive covers might look. Get your artist’s input on that as well, and ask if he or she would be interested in working with you again down the road. Most artists will jump at the chance for future work if the experience with you has gone well.
Before you make the final decision: Think beyond just your book cover to promotional materials and swag. How will your cover look on them? You can also ask the artist for different sizes of the images you will need, e.g. for the cover, your website, promo materials, etc. The book cover requires a higher density of pixels but the others can be less dense. Graphic artists are aware of all these specs and what they mean, but you may have to supply them with the necessary sizes. These are given on each website so it’s easy to find out (e. g. Amazon’s Book Cover Requirements page, or Staples postcard ordering page). But get the images upfront so you will have everything ready to start marketing.
One more thing: It is usually inherent in hiring an artist that you own the rights to the work, but to be safe, get it in writing from the artist. An e-mail will suffice. Save it, print it, file it. That way you have all the rights to reproduce the cover on postcards, T-shirts, or whatever you want to market your book.
Again, creating a quality product shows you care about your work. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by slapping a cheap-looking, cheesy cover on your hard work. Your book’s success depends on it.
Formatting an e-book is very different than formatting a paper book since digital content is fluid. Page numbers, footers, headers, and fancy fonts become irrelevant. Yes, as an e-pub author you can add them but there is no point as e-reader devices and apps allow readers to customize their reading experience, such as allowing readers to change to their favorite font and font size. Hence, these things are unnecessary in the digital world. The up-side for the e-pub author is that this makes things easier.
One thing that is helpful to the fiction reader is for the author to place a marker in the text to denote a scene change. If, like me, you prefer something a little fancier than a boring asterisk or two, then check out Unicode. Almost every word processor program has symbols that can be easily combined and inserted to make a neat scene-changing icon in your book. (In MS Word, it’s under the Insert tab, then click on Symbol on the far right end.) These symbols have been standardized, meaning that at some mystical time and place a group of people sit down at a table and decide what symbols get what bit numbers. This set of standard symbols coupled to their bitmaps is known as Unicode. The point is for computers across the board to understand that specific bit patterns mean specific characters. (Side note: Books of old could not be scanned into digital if the computer was unable to recognize the characters. Unicode was created so that people can produce digital books in all different languages.)
Unicode also has to be backward compatible, which in computer jargon means it has to work on older computers too. But that is not always the case. As the number of characters for all these languages increased, so did the lengths of bitmaps. And older computers might not have the capability to understand them. How does all this affect e-pub? It means you have to be careful which symbols you use. I found all this out because the symbols I chose resulted in the dreaded “square containing a question mark” – translation: “what in the world is that?” – on the oldest versions of the Kindle. To solve the problem, I attempted to try a graphic version of the symbols instead. It seemed to work, as it showed up correctly on all devices, but, and this is big, it did not translate in the same size to all devices: on some the graphic looked fine, but on others it was teeny-tiny.
Bottom line for Unicode Symbols: can be a nice addition and does not take up much space, but be sure to pick symbols that translate to all devices by checking it not only with the Previewer Tool but testing it with multiple fonts as well.
Bottom line for Graphics: look nice but be warned that the scaling/appearance may change from one device to the next. Use the Preview Tool to check that it looks the way you want across devices. In addition, overuse of graphics can add a lot to the size of your manuscript. So choose wisely and use sparingly.