9/11 Thoughts

This is a thing I wrote about 9/11 in 2011 over in the journal world in which I live. Seemed worth updating and posting over here. Continue reading

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There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #6

The sailors have harvested as much wood as they can from the corpse of la Santa Maria, and building has begun. It’s an awkward-looking square taking shape on the beach, just above the high-water line. I’m trying to picture the men from three ships fitting into the bones of one, and I wonder. What’s the point of this, other than to mark Colón’s claim on this land, on this people?
~”So The Taino Call It”

Whaddaya know? Back in the fall of 2012, I ran a series of blog posts talking about the real history in my alternate history novella “So The Taino Call It.” Recently there’s been stuff in the news that calls for an update.

Continue reading

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Randomocity for You

So, I was thinking of writing a Words in Progress post today. There have been words and they are progressing. But then I got distracted by Karen’s shiny post about herself and decided to play along. 25 random things about me is the meme. Here’s what I came up with (although some I stole from Karen because I’m kind of lazy).

1. My first drafts are almost always handwritten.
2. I’ve lived in 15 different places (7 states).
3. I’ve lived longer in the place I live now than anywhere else in my life. (just did the math on that; wow, I thought it was just my adulthood)
4. I worked for years as a veterinary technician.
5. I like fast cars. Shiny fast cars.
6. I’ve only owned one, though. It’s still my favorite car, long ago that it was. (a black T-bird named Phaedrus)
7. My current car is a 19 year-old Jeep named Clayton. Yes, I name my vehicles.
8. I’ve considered myself a feminist since I was 15. (35 years now!)
9. I love genealogy. So many stories. (My aunt who attended Mt. Holyoke College in the 1850s. My grandfather who was an Orphan Train rider. My great-grandmother, the piano prodigy, who was forced to marry a man 20-some years her senior instead of going to music school. I have dozens.)
10. Both of my parents are the children of immigrants.
11. My cd and record collection is kind of huge.
12. I’m a Cancer. And married to a Aries. Yes, we are both stubborn and cranky in our own ways. I’m not sure astrology has anything to do with that, though.
13. I like spiders. And snakes.
14. My other grandfather was a pianist for a silent movie theater. (see? So many stories)
15. I’ve seen the Northern Lights twice and want to see them some more.
16. I used to volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center when I lived in the Bay Area.
18. I would totally go on a vacation to the moon. (or anywhere in outer space)
19. I have a fondness for Existentialism. (I’m a Whedon fan–kinda goes with the territory)
20. Someday, I want to have a successful enough garden, it produces all the veggies and fruit we need.
21. I support psychedelic research, although I’ve never actually tripped.
22. I love ancient cultures and tribal societies. (well, historic stuff, in general)
23. Yet, I’m just as fascinated with artificial intelligence and future science.
24. I watch at least 2 movies a week, more often than not.
25. I’m always on the lookout for the next perfect pop song. (which very rarely syncs up with what’s actually popular)

Pacific harbor seal in recuperation pool at th...

Pacific harbor seal in recuperation pool at the Marine Mammal Center. Photo Credit: The Marine Mammal Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #5


…at the heart of each story is the sense of how easily–and how eerily–the world can be changed.

 Today’s the day, dear readers! Substitution Cipher is out, ready for you to grab a copy and see what I’ve been talking about for the last several weeks. So much super reading in store for you! My story is just one of six cool tales of espionage and alternate history.  And I’m not saying that just to get you to buy the book. My publisher sent me comp copies last week and I’ve been having a lot of fun reading the other contributors’ tales. A beautiful glass orrery in clockwork Venice and Eleanor Roosevelt as president of the U.S. are just a couple of the cool plot elements you might enjoy. Links where you can buy the book are at the bottom of this post.

So, this will be my last post about the real history that lies in “So The Taino Call It.” The previous four posts have been about the explorers, the men who traveled west to find the East and found something completely different. Today’s post is about what and who they found.

There’s a lot of mystery and misinformation concerning Columbus’s first voyage to the Caribbean. No one has ever confirmed, for example, which island he first landed on, other than that it was located in the Bahamas. Even Juan de la Cosa’s map (drawn by a man who was actually there) doesn’t make it clear where the island was located. The jury is still out, and I kind of like the mystery.

It is known, however, that Columbus met groups of natives who called themselves the Taino (good people). Distantly related to the Arawak, another Caribbean people, the Taino lived in densely populated villages on the islands of Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. They had originally emigrated to the islands from South America.

When I first started writing “So The Taino Call It,” I was intimidated by the prospect of writing about people I really knew nothing about, but I love research, so I strengthened my nerve and leaped in. Fortunately, the internet and Smithsonian magazine, among other resources, came to my aid and I was able to discover quite a lot about the Taino people, their culture, and what transpired when they met Columbus and his crew. The October 2011 issue of Smithsonian has a fascinating article, “What Became of the Taino”, that I learned a lot from, including such cool tidbits as the Taino’s knowledge of how to extract cyanide from yucca plants and how they used pepper gas as a weapon. It also has some great photos that are definitely worth taking a peek at. These pictures were a large influence on my writing, especially the one of Mácocael, the unfortunate sentinel of the Taino’s ancestral caves.

None of the Taino characters in my story are based on actual people, although a couple of their names are, most prominently, Anacaona. In “So The Taino Call It,” Anacaona is a young woman who befriends my narrator and teaches him her language and about her people. In real history, she was a Taino cacica (chief) who lived on the island now called Hispaniola (where Haiti and the Dominican Republic share space). Also known as the Golden Flower, she was a composer of ballads and narrative poems as well as a ruler of her people, and is revered as a national hero in Haiti.

cover of Anacaona Golden Flower

Cover of the YA novel Anacaona Golden Flower by Edwidge Danticat–part of the Royal Diaries series

Anacaona actually met Columbus in 1496, according to several sources, including Bartolomé de las Casas in his book A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. She and her brother Bohechio negotiated with him over what tribute they would have to pay to the Spanish invaders. That meeting didn’t end well for either of them. According to the book Revolutionary Freedoms: A History of Survival, Strength and Imagination in Haiti, it’s believed that Bohechio died partly from remorse for not being able to protect his territory of Xaragua from the Europeans. Anacaona’s cause of death is more clear.

In 1494, her husband, Caonabo, also a cacique, was taken prisoner by Alonso de Ojeda, one of Columbus’s men, and died enroute to Spain. A long war ensued as many of the Taino people tried to force the Spanish off of their island. Anacaona was still on friendly terms with the Europeans, or so she thought. Around 1503, the Spanish governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, invited her and 84 caciques to a feast supposeedly to be held in Anacaona’s honor. Once they were there, de Ovando ordered the meeting house set on fire. Anacaona and her noblemen were charged with conspiracy and executed with Anacaona either being hung or burned.

The young woman named Anacaona in my novella has a different story-arc, but I bore the history of her namesake in mind as I wrote about her and hope she holds up as a different nation’s hero.

In honor of both of them, here’s a video of the song that Puerto Rican salsa composer Tite Curet Alonso wrote to honor the real Anacaona. (Sadly, I can’t find any of the songs she actually wrote being performed on Youtube anywhere.)

Where can you buy Substitution Cipher? Lots of places!

Candlemark & Gleam: my publisher. Buy directly from them and all your money supports indie publishing.
Barnes & Noble.
Amazon (U.S.). (Right now Amazon is saying the book is out of stock. It isn’t. That’s just Amazon being Amazon.)
Amazon (Canada).
Kobo Books.
Book Depository.

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There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #4

It was a long journey overland from Lisboa to Palos de la Frontera on the southern coast of Spain. I was exhausted when I arrived, as was my horse. She got to rest, but I immediately set out to find Captain Colón.
I visited the inn where my sources informed me he was staying, but he was out. The innkeeper thought he might have had a meeting with his investors at their quarters near the Rábida Monastery, so I headed there next.

In last week’s post about some of the real history that lies within my alternate history, “So The Taino Call It,” I mentioned that Columbus had to sell his plan to reach Asia by crossing the Ocean Sea (aka the Atlantic Ocean) to royalty and investors willing to finance his voyage. He also had to “sell” it to any sailors willing to travel with him.

Yes, the money had to come from somewhere, and Columbus didn’t have much. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella didn’t either, having just completed a little crusade to “rescue” the Iberian peninsula from Muslim control. That story about Isabella selling her jewelry to fund Columbus’s voyage? Didn’t happen.

So, where did the money and men come from?

Well, one of the things I learned in my research is that Christopher Columbus was nothing if not an entrepreneur (I’ve taken to calling him a con artist, but that could just be me). In the two years it took him to convince Ferdinand and Isabella to support his voyage, he had already lined up half the funds he would need from Italian investors. More money and gifts-in-kind did come from the Castilian court, sort of. The royals ordered their treasurer to find money somewhere (ain’t it always the way?), but they also called upon the people under their rule to pony up. Even before sanctioning Columbus’s project, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all their cities and towns to provide food and lodging to him at no cost, just in case they decided to go for his scheme. When time came to prepare for the trip, they ordered the town of Palos de la Frontera to contribute two ships in payment for a debt they claimed the town owed them.

Those two ships? They turned out to be la Pinta (owned by Gomez Rascon and Christoval Quintero) and la Niña (owned by Juan Niño of Moguer). La Santa María, the flagship of the three, was rented  from Juan de la Cosa for the voyage, much to his regret. Interesting to me, as well as to my alpha reader, was that the owners of all three ships joined the expedition.

You’d think they didn’t trust Columbus with their boats or something.

At least two of them didn’t, if Columbus’s journal is to be believed. The owners of la Pinta were none too pleased when the royals forced them to provide a ship for Columbus and, apparently, did all they could to keep it from sailing. When the rudder of la Pinta was damaged, disabling the ship three days into the journey, Rascon and Quintero were suspected of one more last-ditch effort of sabotage.

Fortunately for Columbus, the pilot and master of la Pinta had more vested interest in the voyage’s success and did what they could to help the crippled ship limp into the Canary Islands where it was repaired. These men were Martín Alonso and Francisco Martín Pinzón. Along with their younger brother, Vicente Yáñez, they contributed to Columbus’s voyage financially as well as with their prestige as sailors. Their support of Columbus made it possible for him to recruit much of the crew he needed. They were also responsible for quelling mutiny a couple of times during the voyage and suggesting the course changes that allowed the ships to eventually land safely.

The owner of la Niña was part of another group of brothers who made the journey. The Niño brothers were from the Andalusian town of Moguer and their support of Columbus, as well as their friendship with the Pinzóns, was another aid to recruitment. Juan Niño was master of his own ship (nicknamed after him) and his brother Pedro Alonso piloted la Santa Maria. A younger brother, Francisco, may have also been a sailor on the voyage, but the evidence isn’t clear on this.

So, what do we know about that remaining ship owner, Juan de la Cosa? Like the others, he was an experienced sailor in his own right. He was also a cartographer, and his mappa mundi is the only extant map made by a member of Columbus’s first voyage.

map of Juan de la Cosa

This is it. The New World is shown in green on the left and the Old World in the middle and to the right, in white. (Click to embiggen, if you like.)

The more I researched my story, the more I’ve come to believe that any of the ships’ owners (with the possible exception of Rascon and Quintero–they’re only mentioned disparagingly in Columbus’s journal and then never heard from again; I think there’s another story in that) could have sailed across the Atlantic and back successfully. They had the skill and the courage to do so. They were explorers themselves and, in the Pinzóns’ case, better leaders.

Columbus may not have been the ideal captain for such an expedition, but he had the nerve to think big, a large lust for power and money, and the desire to be “Great Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” And he knew how to sell a deal. More often than not, it’s folks like him that tend to be the winners in this world.

But why did Juan de la Cosa regret the renting of his ship for the voyage? Find out by reading “So The Taino Call It” in Substitution Cipher next week. You could look it up on Wikipedia, too, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.


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There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #3

Everyone knows the world is round like a ball.
Well, not everyone knows, I suppose, but the real problem is that Cristóvão Colón believes it to be a much smaller ball than most men who study this sort of thing. That’s why I—and everyone I’m sailing with—won’t be coming back.

So thinks Rodrigo de Escobedo, the narrator of my story, “So The Taino Call It,” on the eve of his departure with Columbus (Colón) to discover a western path to Asia. Continue reading

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There’s a Little Real History in my Alternate History #2

I’ve brought only a few things on this voyage. My belongings fit in a small shoulder bag: a small Bible, my writing materials, a few pieces of clothing, and my rosary.

When I began writing “So The Taino Call It,” I didn’t know how devout a Christian my narrator, Rodrigo de Escobedo, was going to turn out to be. It was a part of his character that developed over time. What I knew from the beginning was that he was a literate man who loved language (he speaks several). Educated by monks, he was given the Bible mentioned above by one of his teachers.

He remembered my love of reading and hoped the book would turn me toward a less sinful life. I don’t know if that’s possible, but reading the Word of God makes me feel closer to Him.

A Bible small enough to fit in a shoulder bag? In 1492? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

Not as unlikely as you’d think. It surprised me to discover, as I was doing my research, that portable Bibles first became available in the 13th century. These handwritten books held the complete scriptural texts in one volume for the first time and looked similar to modern Bibles. They were small enough to fit in a saddlebag.

Paris Bible

Kind of like this one.

Paris Bibles, as they were sometimes called, were still a little bulky, though, for priests and friars traveling on foot, so “pocket” Bibles were quickly developed. The script in these books was minute and densely packed, and the parchment or vellum itself was as thin as tissue paper.

Italian pocket Bible

This page comes from a Bible that was 5.5 inches by 3.5.

Technology continued to advance, as it will, and by the time Columbus was considering his western sailing trip, the printing press had been around for almost 60 years. Gutenberg published the first printed Bible in two volumes in 1455; after that the race was on for more beautiful and more accurate versions. Most of these were what you’d expect, large books that were meant for a priest’s lectern. Fortunately, these weren’t the only Bibles printed.

Johann Froben established his printing business in the city of Basel in 1491 (and was good friends with the scholar Erasmus, but that’s a tale for another day). One of the first things he published was a Bible that became known as the “Poor Man’s Bible.” This edition was somewhat larger than the pocket Bible above (6 3/16 x 4 5/16 inches), but it was still small enough to be easily packed and carried on a cross-Atlantic voyage. It’s quite beautiful, as well, showing off Froben’s talent as a printer and publisher. When I saw a photograph of the cover and binding…

Poor Man's Bible

I knew it had to be Rodrigo’s Bible.

It was easy for me to imagine my scrivener/spy reading the inner pages, as well.

Poor Man's Boble inside

The inside with an illustration of St. Jerome based on Albrecht Dürer’s work

Bibles of this size, handwritten or printed, were revolutionary in ways beyond convenience. They made it easier for literate people to read the Bible themselves instead of relying on the rulers of the Church to interpret the words for them, laying the groundwork for the Reformation that would begin a mere 25 years after Columbus set sail. It was a heady time, whatever sort of explorer you were.

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Bugs Bunny Could Have Defeated Them, Too…

Last week I was writing about my old writing collections–two binders, one from high school and younger, and one from mostly college–but I didn’t go into much detail. Like I did say in that post, though, the older binder has a title: Short Stories, Biographies, Plays and Other Great Works of Art by Les Beat. That title’s written in different marker-colors on a torn sheet of college-ruled paper taped to the binder cover.

binder cover


So, what’s in that older yellow binder? Continue reading

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A Mnemonic Collection

Stuff I wrote in high school (even as far back as junior high) and college that has survived 27 years or more of moving around the U.S. lives in a pine chest that R built when he was getting started as a professional woodworker (circa 1991). The chest sits in our bedroom closet, crammed full of things I’ve never wanted to throw away. So many things, in fact, that what started out to be a post about my early writing has turned into more of a memory inventory (translated: one of the reasons 2 people need as big a house as we do; pack rats r us). Continue reading

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