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EMPIRE OF THE GODDESS Photo Essay

July 8, 2019

All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.

Here are some images that inspired me while writing the novel. Enjoy!

 

back yard

From the book’s opening scene:

The day he disappeared, my four-year-old son, Walter, asked to mow the yard with scissors.

“Sure. Just stay clear of the lawn mower when I come around, okay?” As I spoke, I finished a pass across the back yard of our Virginia home. I turned my push mower around for the next one. …

Squealing, Walter unlocked the gate on his way to the front yard.

This is simply an image of the back gate at my house here in Staunton. It’s taken from where I imagine Thomas Dylan stood during that scene, his hand on the lawnmower, as Walter opened the gate on his way to the front. I’ve always found this sight to be somehow sad and final without knowing why. Thomas knows why.


Owen

“Have you seen my son? Little boy with blond hair?” I held a hand level with my stomach to show how tall he was.

Here’s a picture of my son Owen at age four, so precious it makes my heart break just to look at him.


I looked in that direction and saw the distortion of a heat mirage. The same as before. It moved down the street like a giant ocean wave.

Except it couldn’t be a heat mirage. It was only seventy-five degrees outside. I lived on Star Trek episodes once upon a time, and this bulge in the air reminded me of the passage of a cloaked spaceship.

Maybe it was a cloaked van—the one responsible for snatching my little boy.

This video by Jay Haynes dramatizes what this scene might look like. The heat distortion moves down Ritchie Road toward the woods that are the Border Between Worlds.


woodswoods

I crossed the vacant lot’s weeds and piles of gravel and entered the woods. … The brush gave way to a wide trail that ran up and over a rise. I didn’t remember the trail, but that didn’t matter now. … Clover covered the ground. I didn’t normally pay attention to such things, but its thickness seemed strange. When I stooped to look, I figured out why.

At the end of Ritchie Road sits the vacant lot that sparked my attention on that long-ago day of woolgathering. The kids like to visit it during family walks, calling it “the jungle.” Through that trail entrance pictured here, you access a trail beneath old phone lines that go up and over that hill, seemingly to another world. In Thomas Dylan’s Staunton, it really does lead to another world.


Washington Temple

Having grown up in the D.C. suburbs, I recognized the Washington Monument immediately. The monolith of white stone, built in the 19th Century, stood over five hundred fifty feet tall.

This one was at least twice that height.

Lit by red flood lights, it rose like a magnificent, bloody finger into the night. Unlike the Monument I remembered, this one stood upon a square building of white stone and Corinthian columns. It was the lower half of the Masonic Temple from nearby Alexandria, Virginia—except larger.

This is a cleaned-up version of the Photoshop sketch I created for my own reference while writing this passage. It’s simply an image of the Washington Monument planted upon the Masonic Temple in Alexandria. In the novel, this is the Washington Temple in Washington, DC, residence of the emperor and high priest to the Goddess of Evolution and where abducted people are taken for sacrifice.


noose flag

Flagpoles circled the Monument, just as I remembered, except the flags were also different. Each had a large, white hangman’s noose in the blue field instead of fifty stars.

Here’s a scan of a painting Deena made in the course of creating the hardback’s cover art. Given the current state of America, I don’t find this flag to be so far-fetched.


WWII Memorial

The Memorial’s stone pillars, each about twenty feet tall, partially surrounded a pond with two spraying fountains. That part looked normal. But those weren’t wreaths hanging from the pillars like I remembered. Hangman’s nooses—with actual corpses—dangled from the sides instead. … I wondered if that meant they were slowly strangled instead of suffering the quick, clean neck breaks nooses were designed for. … A couple of the victims hung by their ankles instead of their necks. That was worse. Death would take longer.

The WW2 Memorial is in a perfect location and with a perfect design for the public gallows of my story. As you know, in ancient Rome, state criminals were also executed in a slow-acting, exhibitory manner.


Flat Rock

I drove four hours south to Linville, North Carolina—a beautiful, mountainous resort area I remembered from family trips growing up. On a sunny spring day, I hiked up to the Flat Rock Overlook, at an elevation of nearly four thousand feet. And it was here, so high above the world that the rolling hills of forest were like green hair follicles growing to the sky, that I hit my low point.

Here’s Owen again, a bit older than the previous picture, during a visit to Flat Rock. As described later in the book, the Lutheran ministers from Camp Linn Haven like to take Family Week attendees there for evening devotions. There are plenty of rocks to sit on, but the sun always finds the perfect angle to dagger into your eyes. Flat Rock was a suitable location for some of the novel’s major scenes, one of which is depicted on the new cover.


That’s all I have for now. Do you have any photos or artwork you would like to contribute? (I hear Pinterest is good for that, but I’m surprisingly out of touch for someone who daylights as a website designer.)


Also see:
Inspiration for Empire of the Goddess
A Tale of Two Covers
Audiobook Production Tips

How to Make an Audiobook on a Shoestring

July 7, 2019

My audio rig

My audio rig

All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.

Do you own a professional sound isolation booth? You do? What time can I come over?

That’s what I’ll be asking everyone the next time I narrate my own audiobook. It would go far more quickly and involve far less swearing at my pets. Of course, you wouldn’t then have nearly as much fun learning about the hell I went through with Cursed by Christ and Empire of the Goddess, now would you?

Click here to read on

Also see:

A Tale of Two Covers

July 6, 2019

All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.

Aha, I can’t fool you! You found me out. Your astute eye has detected an abnormality. In the back of your mind, Sesame Street is singing, “One of these things is not like the others.”

Let’s see: horror, horror, and what the hell is that. *

Two covers for the same novel? Just who am I trying to fool? Well, no one, actually. Empire of the Goddess is what you call a “cross-genre” novel. It has elements of both the horror and fantasy genres, and so I admit, in my Machiavellian calculations, that in my requests to the cover artist, I tried to appeal to both readerships. All I can say in my defense, Your Honor, is that both covers are truthful, and in fact they depict different scenes from the same story. They are not misleading.

That’s the what. Now let’s talk about the why.

I first sold Empire to a bona fide publisher who was not myself: my old friends at Thunderstorm Books. It’s always been important to me to acquire that external validation of quality from a gatekeeper, if possible. Thunderstorm, as usual, put out a great product: 52 hardcover copies, autographed by me and the artist they hired, Deena Warner, printed on the kind of paper that will probably outlive me.

Thunderstorm caters to horror collectors, and I knew they would like the novel, what with its elements such as human sacrifice and that really awful thing that happens to Thomas in chapter 3. So its cover, depicting the World War II memorial in Washington being used as a gallows, is something that appeals to them. (Thanks to Norman Prentiss for the cover art idea.)

But, like with Cursed by Christ, I wanted to perform the story, and Thunderstorm doesn’t sell audio. Hence the new self-published editions this summer. The fantasy-esque cover, depicting a pivotal scene at the Flat Rock Overlook in North Carolina, is only an effort to broaden the audience. I also edited the cover copy to better match it. I wish there was a more sinister motivation I could now confess to you for the change, but unfortunately, I only play at being sinister. I’m really just a geeky, middle-aged white dude.

However, you will be interested to learn that this time, instead of just an audio edition (yes, 10 hours of me blathering at you) and necessary eBook, I went whole hog by adding a paperback. The paperback presented a new challenge that went beyond ensuring each new chapter begins on a right-hand page: I needed a publisher’s logo for the bottom of the spine.

Of course, the publisher this time is me, so I’m trading as MW Publications. (Get it? The M is for Matthew, and the . . . yeah.) Deena and I discussed various logo ideas, and I liked those that entwined the letters M and W in interesting ways. I suggested putting the M over the W like mirrored mountain ranges, as a tribute to the Blue Ridge Mountains near our home. Deena came up with something better.

MW Publications

It’s still an M and W, but they’re entwined — as if they’re grappling. As if they’re Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners like our hero Thomas Dylan.

Perfect.

So if you see that logo up in your browser’s tab as you read this blog post, that’s why. Maybe one day, I’ll have it engraved on my tombstone and throw a Pharaoh party like my friend Keith Minnion.

Currently, MW Publications only carries my own titles, Empire of the Goddess, Cursed by Christ, and the new eBook editions of Dominoes in Time and Blood Born, but that may change down the road. Who knows? Only the Goddess Darwin.


* Yes, there are three covers here, and the title says “Two.” Verily, I am fucking with you.


Also see: Inspiration for Empire of the Goddess

Inspiration for EMPIRE OF THE GODDESS

July 5, 2019

Empire of the Goddess - paperback & eBookAll this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.

There’s rarely a single source of inspiration for any story I write. Empire of the Goddess had three: parasites, religious myth, and my sons.

One day, as I raised my invisible antennae to detect inspiration, I took a long walk around the neighborhood. My part of Staunton, Virginia, resembles the DC suburb I grew up in, with its single-family homes and trees. In the middle of the work day, with folks away at their jobs, it can feel like a ghost town. The familiar becomes quiet and sinister. I noticed odd details that I dutifully dictated into my handheld voice recorder. A squawking bird flew by with strange, mechanical motions. A puddle in a rain gutter concealed a bottomless pit. But what really caught my attention was the empty lot at the end of the street.

Beyond a gravelly area that marked a future road extension, a line of woods opened into another world. The trees formed a corridor into a forest of unnatural overgrowth. It felt like peering down the maw of some planetary vampire, sucking life out of the world. What if one of my boys, then aged 3 and 5, were lured into that throat? I would have to go after them.

From that visceral feeling came my main character, Thomas Dylan, whose young son, Walter, is abducted through a portal to parallel world — a world that feeds off ours.

But what kind of planet would do that? What kind of society would steal our children?

At the time, I was reading Reza Aslan’s terrific book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan describes a first-century Palestine teeming with itinerant holy men performing faith healings and exorcisms. They sometimes called themselves messiahs and made resistance to the Roman Empire a religious duty. In such a time, to preach about an empire of god rather than man was a capital offense.

I reasoned that a fantasy world structured similarly would seek to keep its populace under an iron fist of control. With disease and sin entwined caduceus-like in meaning, a theocratic imperium would ensure it alone dispensed healing and its deity’s forgiveness. Imagining the most dramatic mechanism I could for such oppression, I followed this garden path of thought back to the forested portal at the end of my street.

Why would this parallel world want to kidnap people from ours, casting a net into which Thomas Dylan’s son falls? The answer: to sacrifice him as part of a long-running parasitism on our world by a state religion and political power dating back to Columbus.

Make that world a dystopian version of contemporary America, set rules that allow for actual magic, and mix in some romance and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Thomas Dylan is off on the most transformative adventure of his life.

Perhaps some part of you will feel the same.

Let Girls Wrestle Against Boys

March 2, 2019

Brendan Johnston forfeiting to Angel Rios

What’s wrong with refusing to grapple with a girl in high school wrestling when you’re a boy? Everything.

The Washington Post and The Denver Post yesterday reported on 18-year-old Brendan Johnston’s quandry when faced with the prospect of facing Jaslynn Gallegos for a high school wrestling bout. The competition would have brought him one step closer to a Colorado state wrestling championship, but instead, he decided to forfeit. Johnston cited unspecified religious beliefs for his decision and also a reluctance to show physical aggression toward a female. He’s done this with other female wrestlers, too, and been praised for it. As the news outlets detail, this is emblematic of a larger debate about the 17,000 girls nationwide in scholastic wrestling.

Speaking as a former two-year high school wrestler and now a six-year Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, I have problems with his decision on many levels.

On the personal level, it dishonors both wrestlers. It makes us wonder if Johnston’s real reason was that he was a coward, afraid of losing to — and therefore feeling emasculated by — a girl. And by robbing the girl of her chance to compete, it leaves her — and us — to doubt the legitimacy of any subsequent victory; i.e., the only reason she can now step closer to the championship is because someone gave her a “bye.”

On the gender-relations level, it dishonors men through guilt by association. In this context, men are once again choosing for a women what she may or may not do with her body. If a female chooses to use her body in a grappling sport — or any sport — then who are you to take that away? Johnston said he doesn’t want to show physical aggression toward a female off the mat; fair enough. But on the mat? That’s the nature of the sport, and girls who wrestle have made that choice.

And on the commonsense level, the decision is illogical. The online comments to the above news articles give at least two main points to unpack.

  1. People worry about the inherent unfairness of pitting a male against a female because of their different body types. So let’s examine that: yes, males have physical attributes that give them an advantage on the mat. But in my experience, this doesn’t hold a woman back. In fact, it makes them have to sharpen their techniques even more than men. In jiu-jitsu, this goes to the central philosophy of the art, that a smaller, weaker person can, through superior technique, control a larger and stronger opponent — an approach that’s been repeatedly proven in street fights and sport competition. My goal in training is to one day be the old man who never breaks a sweat as he defeats his opponents, and women by their nature are already a step further down that road. Are there many expert female grapplers in our country? Hell, yes.

    Scholastic grappling, in fact, further reduces the possibility of unfair physical advantage because wrestlers have to compete within narrow weight classes. Johnston and Gallegos are theoretically evenly matched because they weigh the same.

  2. People worry about the physical intimacy of grappling. They say it’s potentially sexual, and therefore men and women shouldn’t do it together. Hell, some people can’t even handle the prospect of men and women wrestling against their own genders as it dredges up their homophobia. I think the equivalence between grappling and sex is what a lot of this controversy boils down to. And having grappled against many women and men, I can testify this worry is utter nonsense. There are no sexual aspects to the act. Both of us are far too focused on the calculus of our movements — techniques and counter techniques — as well as the possibility of defeat. Further, to cite sex as a justification for Johnston’s dumb decision only dishonors him again, because it’s saying he won’t be able to control himself once he and a girl tie up.

But don’t take my word for it. Go observe a martial arts class or a wrestling practice. Talk to the women you see there. And for bonus points, put your own butt out there on the mat and experience it for yourself.

Political Hatred of the Press is Nothing New

January 27, 2019

“To give it freedom from criticism would be an invitation to mismanagement.”

I keep finding echoes of the present within past movies and commentary. Today, it’s in an editorial by the great journalist I.F. Stone about President Richard Nixon’s attacks on the press. In “Bitter Battles Lie Ahead,” (I.F. Stone’s Weekly, Dec. 1, 1969), I found these gems:


Nixon’s real complaint is that the news media don’t agree with him. Since the First Amendment doesn’t require the press to agree with the President, he doesn’t dare say this openly and instead charges unfairness.


[A Marine general] criticized the news media for failing to present a “positive” picture of the conflict and said how long the war lasts would “depend in lots of respects on how good treatment it gets from our news media.” So the main obstacle to victory is the First Amendment, and Jeffersonianism will soon be un-American again.


Plain Political Incompetence
In Saigon the regime is cracking down on the press as dissatisfaction rises. Here the Administration is trying to make independent reporting seem unpatriotic. In the events of the tumultuous last two weeks, the Administration has been demonstrating its incompetence on many levels; to give it freedom from criticism would be an invitation to mismanagement.


Nothing is more dangerous than weak men who think they are tough guys.


This Administration is capable of suicidal folly. … But there are bitter battles ahead. We had better get ready for them.

Apropos Quotes from ‘Gladiator’

January 12, 2019

Last night, I rewatched Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe, and heard a number of lines I thought apropos to current events. I’m copying them over from Screenplays for You without further comment:


COMMODUS: But these senators, they scheme and squabble and flatter and deceive.


LUCILLA: They care about the greatness of Rome.

COMMODUS: Greatness of Rome? But what is that?

LUCILLA: It’s an idea, greatness. Greatness is a vision.


GRACCHUS: Fear and wonder. A powerful combination.

GAIUS: Will the people really be seduced by that?

GRACCHUS: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. He will conjure magic for them and they will be distracted. He will take away their freedom, and still they will roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble floor of the Senate; it is the sand of the Colosseum. He will give them death, and they will love him for it.


PROXIMO: He knows too well how to manipulate a mob.


MAXIMUS: Marcus Aurelius had a dream that was Rome, Proximo. This is not it. This is not it!


MAXIMUS: The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end, Highness.


MAXIMUS: Time for half measures and talk is over.


COMMODUS: Now the people want to know how the story ends.


MAXIMUS: There was once a dream that was Rome; it shall be realized.

Life Imitates Art?

November 29, 2018

Empire of the Goddess includes a chapter in which Thomas, my main character, encounters the government’s dubious eminent domain efforts to clear the way for a gas pipeline. I was doing a one-off concerning the real-world Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion Energy’s prospective construction of which farmers and local governments have resisted for years. It’s easy to spot all the “No Pipeline!” yard signs in my town.

On the parallel world of Terra, its prospective pipeline won’t channel natural gas but oil created from pig manure. The “pig shit oil” pipeline, the farmers call it. The government’s solution to eminent domain is to send fire engines to farms in the pipeline’s way. Instead of spraying barns with water, however, they spray structures with napalm. This leads to a really exciting chapter where Thomas rescues a . . . hey, have I mentioned you should read Empire of the Goddess?

Anyway, imagine my shock this week when I saw headlines about real-world pig shit electricity, like this one in today’s paper: “Dominion and Smithfield Foods plan to convert pig poop to power”

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The world’s largest pork company is teaming up with a major energy company to turn pig manure into renewable natural gas.

Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy announced a joint venture partnership Tuesday to trap methane from hog waste and convert it into power for heating homes and generating electricity.

The article goes on to say the gas will be recovered from waste-treatment pits and “channeled to processing centers.” So that’s the part I want to know more about: channeled how? And will there be another eminent domain fight? . . . And how much napalm can a fire truck actually hold? Can Dominion give me royalties for the pig shit power idea?

Halloween Safety Tips

October 29, 2018

So, my children had a little photo shoot yesterday for Total Defense Martial Arts. (Click to follow link:)

Books, BJJ, Speaking Engagement, Random Asides

September 27, 2018

Here’s a Larry King-esque collection of thoughts for today:

The Traipse/WQSV Treasure Hunt begins in Staunton again next week. Last year, my family spent a lot of blood & sweat to win. (Writeup) Of course, we plan to win again this year. It was a lot of fun, and I hope fellow Stauntonites will give us some friendly competition.

Cursed by Christ is doing surprisingly good sales-wise, despite it being my first self-published title. I’ll be a guest speaker at Rockbridge County High School on on Oct. 19, where I’ll share what I’ve learned about audiobook production. Do ya think Empire of the Goddess has a similar destiny?

Brazilian Jiujitsu continues to teach me virtue in addition to the ability to choke someone unconscious. Recently, gratitude and humility have been on my mind. For instance, when someone beats you at something, it’s okay to congratulate your opponent on their success and ask them to teach you. “Ow, ow–tap! That was awesome! How did you do that?” All in the same breath, even. (Maybe without the “ow, ow” next time.) I offer this wisdom not only to fellow martial artists but to anyone in any context. Politicians, particularly.

And if you’ve ever had a good teacher, it’s okay to tell that person so. It’s okay to recognize they’ve enriched your life in some way. Teachers, on the other side of the table, can make that connection easier by not humiliating the person who has already humbled himself. The proper answer to, “Your support has meant so much to me,” or to any expression of friendship, is, “Thank you.” Nothing else.