Insights into Writing, Editing,
Turning Dry Facts into Compelling Stories,
and Anything Else That Interests Me at the Moment
and Anything Else That Interests Me at the Moment
In Landscape of the Spirits: Hohokam Rock Art at South Mountain Park, Todd Bostwick has a section explaining the entoptic phenomenon of phosphenes, "a universal set of geometric shapes . . . that are seen by individuals under altered states of consciousness" (p. 24). Some hallucinogens such as datura and tobacco (both of which are found in Hohokam archaeological sites) produce trance experiences during which individuals see geometric shapes such as those commonly found in Hohokam rock art and pottery.
The concept of phosphenes as shamanic or trance experiences was developed by anthropologists John David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson in 1988. As if to prove that everything old becomes new again, Forbes magazine has an article about neuroscientists using brain waves to analyze what people perceive in Paleolithic art. Amsen says, "Viewing the engravings activated the same brain regions as when people looked at images of recognizable objects."
While we may never know the original meaning of such artworks, the repetition of lines and circles and arcs continues to speak across the centuries to modern viewers.
Hohokam pottery is beautiful. I've started converting some of the designs from polychrome (black, white, red-brown) pottery into 2D miniatures. So far I've only done the black and white elements, to keep the process simple. Here are a couple of early efforts, staged against an actual pot.
It seems like every time I start working on the wiki, I find a new source of information that I have to stop and read. Today's was Michael Kyle Woodson's "Re-Drawing the Map of the Hohokam Canals in the Middle Gila River Valley." His map doesn't show the canals right around the Casa Grande Ruins, which is where my upcoming novel Swallowing the Sun is set, but it does show an area that is of great concern in the second book in the series.
I love archaeology!
A little more research has revealed another term that can be applied to short descriptions designed to grab a potential reader: teasers.
Many people reserve the term blurbs for words of praise from famous authors. Since no one such as J. K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien (yes, I know he's dead), or G.R.R. Martin has weighed in to describe my book as "the most captivating novel ever written about the Hohokam" or "sweeping, magnificent," I can put off having to use blurb for a while longer.
So, what I've written the past few days have been teasers, and what I will have to develop them into will be called cover copy, which, although not catchy, is at least descriptive.
Oh, how I hate that word.
I would prefer to call them "specks," maybe, or "tips" or "dabs." The sound of "blurb" reminds me of something going under the water's surface in the toilet.
But I've manned up and written many blurbs today, to be doled out over the next several weeks here and on social media.
Here are a few:
Swallowing the Sun is done and off to the copyeditor.
There's an interesting comparison of GRR Martin's storytelling approach versus the Hollywood formula that finished the HBO television series in Scientific American. I see a distinct parallel between my storytelling in the Tales of the Watermasters series and what Zeynep Tufekci (author of the Scientific American article) says GRRM tried to do in GoT.
Sometimes, unfortunately, somebody has to die. For the sake of the plot, one way of dying may seem more appropriate than another. This means research of a kind that normal people never have to do.
This week's death scene involved a knife wound to the belly. I learned all kinds of things about slow death as caused by damage to many organs: the vena cava (near the spine, so more at-risk in an attack from the rear than from the front); the liver, kidneys, and spleen (which have many connections to blood vessels); the bowels (which tend to slide away from a slow penetrating object such as a knife but if nicked can lead to septicemia); and the stomach (gastric leakage can cause peritonitis). Any stomach wound is likely to result in incredible pain but would probably take hours to days to kill someone and may not actually prove fatal.
In fact, modern medical care can repair almost any injury in the lower torso, as long as emergency facilities are close by. That should be some consolation to anyone worried about being struck with a ritual obsidian blade.
I was working on a priest's prayer in Swallowing the Sun and needed several synonyms for mist. The thesaurus gave me a brand new word: brume. Not only does brume mean mist or fog, but it also relates to a specific season. So I have steam for summer, brume for winter, and mist and fog for spring and fall. That's not quite enough seasons for the Arizona desert, which also has foresummer, marked by haze.
My research efforts don't always yield what I was hoping for. Take jojoba, for example.
Jojoba, Simmondsia chinensis, is a drought-tolerant plant found in the foothills mainly to the north and east of the low-desert Hohokam country. Jojoba seeds are known to have been used by peoples of the Southwest for shampoo and in medicinal preparations and may have been consumed as a food or beverage (in limited quantities) when roasted.
I thought I could have jojoba oil serve as a fuel for portable lamps inside the massive greathouses and interior rooms of house compounds of my People of Two Rivers. Jojoba seeds are about 50 percent liquid oil, and even though extracting that oil is difficult, the Hohokam would have had the technological capability to do it. If the lamps were limited to the religious enclaves (the workrooms of the rain priests and the priestesses), the effort might have been deemed worthwhile.
But gathering the jojoba seeds would have involved either going long distances or trading with people of the uplands, followed by the physically taxing labor of grinding or pounding the seeds to a paste, pressing the paste between flat, weighted stones, pouring off the oil, and straining it through cloth (and possibly melting it) to separate the oil from the meal.
That seems like a lot of effort when tallow from deer is easier to produce and would have been readily available locally. To make candles, deer tallow can be rendered down through boiling and then poured into ceramic vessels with braided cotton or yucca-fiber wicks suspended in it while still liquid.
In my mind, the ease and availability of tallow and the safety aspect of carrying a candle rather than a liquid in a lamp combine to make my original notion of jojoba oil lamps unlikely. It's still appealing as a luxury good reserved for the Smoke Mothers, perhaps, to show their elite status.
I had my mother teach me to read when I was four, and I've never stopped. Now I can play with words all day long... it's the best job in the world.