Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Battle of Gaixia: A Love Story

Few people in the west know about The Battle of Gaixia (also known as Kai-Hsia, 202 BCE) but it is one of the most famous battles in ancient Chinese history. The major antagonists were Liu-Bang of the Han and Xiang-Yu of the Chu but an integral part of the story is the love affair between Xiang-Yu and the Consort Yuji; a relationship which brought the antagonists to the Canyon of Gaixia.

My article on the battle, in Ancient History Encyclopedia, can be found here:

The article begins:

The Battle of Gaixia (202 BCE, also known as Kai-Hsia) was the decisive engagement of the Chu-Han Contention (206-202 BCE) at which Liu-Bang, King of Han, defeated King Xiang-Yu of Chu to found the Han Dynasty. After the Death of Shi Huangti, the first Emperor of a united China, his son Qin Er Shi took the throne and ruled so poorly that the country erupted in rebellion. Shi Huangti (formerly Ying Zheng of the state of Qin) had conquered the warring states of Chu, Han, Qi, Wei, Yan and Zhao to found the Qin Dynasty and ruled his Empire rigorously. Qin Er Shi, who was ill-equipped to follow his father, was assassinated after three years and his nephew, equally inept, ascended the throne. During the years between Shi Huangti’s death (210 BCE) and 206 BCE, the former subject states battled the toppling Qin regime, and sometimes each other, for supremacy. After the final defeat of the Qin army, two generals emerged victorious: Liu-Bang of the state of Han and Xiang-Yu of the state of Chu.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Return of Rose White: A Ghost Story

When Madame Veneris is forced to conduct a seance in a cemetery she's worried about who may show up from the other side. In calling on the spirit of Rose White she finds her concerns were justified beyond her worst fears.

My short story `The Return of Rose White' published today in London's Litro Magazine. The link to the story is here:

The story begins:

When Madame Veneris reached the cemetery, the first thing she did, after getting out of her car and setting down the blue blanket and candle, was to pull up the robe at her wrist and turn on the small black device there.

"Where are you located?" she said into it.

"Turn around and look to your left. I'm behind the tree near the angel."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Plato's `Lie in the Soul' and the Importance of Truth

The Greek philosopher Plato (427/8-347/8 BCE) claimed that there was an objective, undeniable truth which one needed to recognize in order to live a full life. In his famous work Republic, Plato discusses the importance of justice but, as always, defines `true justice' according to his standard of objective truth. One of the largest obstacles in recognizing either truth or justice, or any good at all, is the lie in the soul which Plato defines in Republic Book II.

Simply put, to have `the lie in the soul' means to believe wrongly about the most important things in one's life. To rid oneself of this lie one must, first, acknowledge that it is there and then work towards removing it and replacing with truth and a proper understanding. My article, published through Ancient History Encyclopedia, clarifies this concept further.

The link to the article is here:

And the article begins:

In his famous work Republic, Plato discusses the concept of the `True Lie' or the `Lie in the Soul'. Through a conversation between Socrates and Adeimantus (Plato's brother) Plato defines the `true lie' as believing wrongly about the most important things in one's life. The `lie in the soul' can be understood as Plato's answer to the Sophist Protagoras' famous assertion that "Man is the measure of all things", that, if one believes something to be so, it is so. Plato repudiated Protagoras' claim in virtually every one of his dialogues and Republic is no exception.

The `true lie' or `lie in the soul' can best be explained this way: If one believes, at a certain point, that eating carrots with every meal is the best thing one could do for one's health and, later, realizes that excess in anything can be a bad thing and stops the carrot-eating, that realization would have no long-term negative consequences on one's life. If, however, one believes the person one loves is a paragon of virtue and then discovers that person is a lying, conniving thief, this discovery could undermine one's confidence in oneself, in one's judgment, in other people, and even in a belief in God, in so far as finding out one is wrong about a person one was so certain of would lead one to question what other important matters in life one is also wrong about...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Kevin Lynn Helmick Driving Alone

This novel, the latest from author Kevin Lynn Helmick, is a great read and highly recommended. I wrote about this work before a few months back, pre-publication, but the book has now been released through Blank Slate Press. I read the manuscript in galley and I thought it was fantastic. I honestly can't wait to read the actual book.

Helmick's prose is so natural, and so real, he presents you with that greatest of all reading experiences: the feeling that you've lived the story. I still have moments where I think I lived through scenes from his earlier novel, Heartland Gothic, and have those same `flashbacks' when I remember scenes from Driving Alone. I really need an uninterrupted month or two so I can just sit and read through his books slowly; even though, after that, I might not be able to tell my actual life from the stories. Memorable characters, brilliant dialogue, and vivid landscapes are all woven together by Helmick to give a reader an honest and unforgettable experience.

Below is a brief blurb about the book from the Blank Slate Press site:

"Billy Keyhoe is a loser whose luck just ran out. After beating his girlfriend to a bloody pulp and being shot at by the clerk of the convenience store he was trying to rob, Billy takes off in his daddy’s beat-up 66 Caddy on a road trip from Waycross, GA toward West Texas. On the way, he picks up a beautiful hitchhiker, Feather, who seems to know more about him than he knows himself. As they drive, he slowly realizes his life is being judged and that he has to finally face up to his past. The farther they go, the more Billy is drawn to Feather until he realizes he “had fallen in love somewhere out there in the night, with something or someone, or just an idea, it wasn’t clear.” But what was clear was that Billy had never been in love before, that he didn’t understand what love could do to a man, and that he’d never “done one fuckin thing right” in his entire life until he’d picked up Feather. Unfortunately for Billy, he discovers that even true love cannot save him."

Their website is here:


Finished reading Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick. Driving Alone recasts the manic pixie dream girl as a noir, bruised angel of judgement wandering the back roads of the American South, waiting at the crossroads to be picked up by desperate drivers running from themselves. Highly recommended. You’ll want to grab this when it comes out.
- Spinetingler magazine
Driving Alone is gorgeously grim new take on redemption and romance. It is unsettling and provocative; combining the classic romance of the open road with the claustrophobia of a morality play. If Hell is other people, Driving Alone has the Devil riding shotgun.
- Jared Shurin, reviewer for Pornokitsch, director and literary judge for The Kitschies
Hardboiled, hardbitten and haunting as well as lyrically libidinous and lovingly lascivious, Kevin Lynn Helmick tackles sex and death along the lost highway the way the damned do—alone.
- Jedidiah Ayres, author of A F*ckload of Shorts
An intense nightmare that shimmers with beauty and darkness. Helmick broils these characters in southern humidity and human tragedy until the reader is left sweating, breathless and amazed.
- Fred Venturini, author of The Samaritan
A journey into darkness and painful self-discovery … a brilliantly lyrical and richly painted hybrid of noir and magic realism. Superb.
- Paul D. Brazill- The Gumshoe, Guns Of Brixton, Drunk On The Moon.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trip of A Lifetime Anthology

Sleeping Cat Books is bringing out their anthology Trip of a Lifetime next Saturday, 1 December. My short story, The Field of Reeds, is part of the collection. I haven't read the book yet but it seems the stories are quite varied and the work looks like a lot of fun. It was certainly a great experience working with the editor, Ms. Sarah Holroyd. The following is the promo for the book and the contest they're running for it. Hope you enjoy.

Take the Trip of a Lifetime!

And you can win a free travel mug! Announcing the release of Trip of a Lifetime: An Anthology.

What is your idea of the trip of a lifetime? Is it relaxing on a sandy Caribbean beach? Traveling through parts of Europe? Or do you prefer to stay closer to home and travel through your imagination? Sometimes the trip of a lifetime can be the one you never expected to take. And sometimes a trip becomes quite memorable for the wrong reasons.

In this collection of short stories, poetry, and non-fiction, you will find our contributors' ideas of the "trip of a lifetime." Perhaps you'll find your own ideas in these pages, or perhaps we'll spark the desire for you to go out and make your own memories!

To celebrate the release of this anthology in both paperback and ebook formats, Sleeping Cat Books will send a Trip of a Lifetime travel mug to one reader chosen at random (see website for image). The rules for entering this drawing are below.

Trip of a Lifetime: An Anthology is now available in paperback ( and for Kindle (, NOOK (, and Kobo (

Rules for Entry

• One entry per paperback copy ordered.

• Only orders placed through Sleeping Cat Books ( are eligible for entry.

• Orders placed and paid in full prior to 12:01 am Saturday, 1 December 2012 are eligible.

• Contributors to this anthology and their family members are eligible provided they place orders through the website at full retail cost.

• The winner will be chosen at random on 3 December 2012 from all of the eligible entries. The winner's first name will be announced on the Sleeping Cat Books blog ( that day.

• In the event that we are unable to contact the winner by 10 December, a second name will be chosen at random and announced on that day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cats in the Ancient World

Although it has been commonly accepted that cats were first domesticated in Egypt 4000 years ago, their History among human beings goes back much further. Wild cats are now known to have lived among the people of Mesopotamia over 100,000 years ago and to have been domesticated there approximately 12,000 BCE at about the same time as dogs, sheep, and goats. Archaeological excavations in the past ten years have provided evidence that the Near Eastern Wildcat is the closest relative of the modern-day domestic cat and was bred by Mesopotamian farmers, most probably as a means of controlling pests, such as mice, which were attracted by grain supplies. The writer David Derbyshire cites a 2007 CE research project in which, “the study used DNA samples from 979 wild and domestic cats to piece together the feline family tree. They looked for markers in mitochondrial DNA - a type of genetic material passed down from mothers to kittens which can reveal when wild and domestic cat lineages were most closely related.” This project was headed by Dr. Andrew Kitchener, a Zoologist at the National Museums of Scotland, who writes, "This shows that the origin of domestic cats was not Ancient Egypt - which is the prevailing view - but Mesopotamia and that it occurred much earlier than was thought. The last common ancestor of wildcats and domesticated cats lived more than 100,000 years ago” (Derbyshire). Dr. Kitchener’s findings built upon the evidence of cat’s Domestication provided by the discovery in 1983 CE of a cat skeleton in a Grave dating to 9,500 BCE on the island of Cyprus. This find, made by the archaeologist Alain le Brun, was important because Cyprus had no indigenous cat population and it is unlikely that settlers would have brought a wild cat, by boat, to the island....

So begins my article, `Cats in the Ancient World', published yesterday through Ancient History Encyclopedia. This is probably the longest article I've ever written for the site and I find it strange that an article on cats should be longer than pieces I've written on the history of Mesopotamia or the Maya. Credit for this flood of inspiration has to go to my wife, Betsy, a long-time cat lover, who has filled the house with cat statuary, cat literature, and, yes, four actual cats. These cats, Draco, Eggnog, Little Kitty, and Luna, also deserve a share in the credit as they actually left me alone during the writing of the piece instead of, as usual, annoying and distracting me.

The full article may be found here:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Andrew de Moray: A Hero Eclipsed

Long before Mel Gibson's 1995 film `Braveheart', the name of William Wallace was synonymous with freedom and the fight for Scottish independence. There is, however, another hero of the First War of Independence in Scotland who is less known and too often overlooked. His name was Andrew de Moray and his contributions to Scottish autonomy have for too long been eclipsed by the greater fame of Wallace. Jane Porter's novel, The Scottish Chiefs, published in 1810, drew heavily on the earlier work of the poet known as Blind Harry, The Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion Sir William Wallace, published in 1477 at the court of James IV of Scotland. Harry's work seems to have attributed to Wallace many of de Moray's achievements and, in time, this poetic work of fancy came to be viewed as history.

The theme of Celtic Guide Magazine this month is Celtic Heroes and my piece on Andrew de Moray is among the contributions. I am in no way trying to diminish the accomplishments of William Wallace but, rather, hoping to contribute to the efforts to recognize the heroic sacrifices made by Andrew de Moray, right down to his losing his life after the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge. This battle, a resounding victory for the Scots, has long been considered the work of Wallace's genius when, actually, it seems far more probable it was de Moray's work.  There are many other very interesting pieces in the magazine such as James Blake Weiner's article on Flora MacDonald and Simon Andrew Stirling's piece on King Arthur. The link to the Celtic Guide site is here:

My article begins:

Among the great heroes of Scotland, the name of William Wallace looms large but there is another man, equally deserving of honor, few have heard of - Andrew de Moray. The Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297 has come down to us through history as a resounding Scottish victory over the numerically superior English army and credit for this feat has been traditionally attributed to the genius of Wallace. It should be noted, however, that all of Wallace’s triumphs up until Stirling Bridge were guerilla actions, not full-scale field engagements, and that, after Stirling Bridge, he never won another battle. At Falkirk, in 1298, his forces were massacred on the field by the army of Edward I making expert use of the Welsh longbow and, at the Battle of Roslyn in 1303, Wallace refused to command and offered only tactical suggestions which, interestingly, were in keeping with a guerilla fighter, not a field commander. Every successful major siege and field engagement throughout 1297, including Stirling Bridge, was planned and executed by Andrew de Moray...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Oak Island: The Hope of the Possible

The famous `money pit' on Oak Island, Nova Scotia, has been a source of intrigue to people for centuries and remains so today. Beginning in 1795, when young Daniel McGinnis allegedly found a tackle box dangling from a tree limb over a depression in the earth, countless people have been fascinated by the story of the unattainable treasure cleverly protected by various traps and tunnels. No matter what kind of technology has been employed to find and raise this treasure, water always floods the shaft to a level of precisely 33 feet (10 metres) which has further strengthened the belief that there is something fabulous hidden on Oak Island protected by intricate tunnels which continue to keep the water at just that level. In spite of repeated efforts to dig around and into the shaft, no evidence of any kind of treasure has been found.

The following is my article, `Oak Island: The Hope of the Possible', published in the October issue of Celtic Guide Magazine. I hope you enjoy it.

The article may be found here:
This is the link for the entire issue, which is full of excellent pieces including a really fine article on Samhain, and my piece will be found by simply scrolling down.

The article begins:

Nova Scotia’s Oak Island and its so-called `money pit’ has been fascinating and enticing treasure hunters and speculators for centuries. Legend and myth inspire us with the hope of the `just possible’ rather than the probable, of things just beyond the ordinary instead of the mundane, and so it may be with the story of the money pit on Oak Island. According to the history surrounding the site, there has been no shortage of speculators over the years convinced that a vast treasure lies somewhere deep beneath the earth, protected by elaborate traps in the form of flooding tunnels, and that it is only a matter of time before this treasure is brought to light...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Asking for Life: A Ghost Story

I've been running into spirits fairly regularly since I was 19 years old. There have been plenty of very strange, and often scary, experiences but one of the most bizarre happened in July 2005 when I was staying the night in this motel in Tampa, Florida. My ghost story, `Asking for Life', published yesterday in Hudson Valley Halloween Magazine, is based on that experience. In the story, Rebecca Pender, a teenage girl who can see and talk to spirits, finds herself a magnet for the dead who haunt the motel. This is what happened in my actual life. I had given my daughter a triquetra necklace a few months before on her birthday and she had worn it regularly since, was wearing it on this trip. That night, as my wife and daughter slept, the wall of the room in the far corner seemed to `shift' and, one after another, the spirits came into the room. It seemed they were drawn by the energy of the triquetra pendant at first, many of them pointed to it or mentioned it, and I finally put the necklace outside hoping they would go away. They didn't. It turned out I was the energy magnet. Many of them wanted me to relay a message or wanted to talk about something involving their death but it seemed the majority of them were upset at how early they'd had to leave the earth. It seemed that if there was one constant among them it was the desire for one more day on the planet.

We forget too easily that everything we have is a temporary situation which we shouldn't ever take for granted. My experiences with the so-called `dead' have really driven this lesson home. Even those seemingly content have a kind of nostlgia for life on the mortal plane. I have no idea where they come from, whether there's a heaven, or if there's a god. I don't know why they show up and, most of the time, have no idea what they want. It seems, though, that if it could be pinned down to a phrase, that they're asking for one more day of life - something many of us just assume will continue on and on for us which, of course, is exactly what those who have passed on to the other side believed also.

I hope you enjoy the story. The site may be found here:

The story begins:

Something was moving in the shadows in the corner of the motel room. Rebecca Pender sat up in her bed and peered over, past her dad sleeping in the other bed, trying to see what was there.

No form, no shape, just a deeper shadow moving in the darkness of the corner, growing lighter suddenly, a gray wisp, then pulling back down into blackness. The energy was throbbing more thickly now, she could feel it, though she could see nothing. The room was illuminated by the light of the street lamps coming through the long window to her left. Her triquetra necklace on the nightstand gleamed brightly.

Rebecca scrambled across the bed, jumped off onto the floor, and hissed, “Get out of here! Whatever you are!"

Nothing moved in the room but she felt the energy, dark and deep, throbbing and growing stronger. From the far corner, in the shadows, near the bathroom door, a pale light broke from the darkness and, as she watched, it grew. The wall of the room dissolved and, through the sudden portal, the dead walked.

Rebecca stared as they came and then leaped back into her bed and quickly pulled the covers up over her head....

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kevin Lynn Helmick's Driving Alone - a great noir novel

Kevin Lynn Helmick is the author of works such as Heartland Gothic, Sebastian Cross, Clovis Point, and The Lost Creek Journal. His latest work, Driving Alone, is due out in November through Blank Slate Press. Like Heartland Gothic, Driving Alone is essentially a story of redemption - or at least one's attempt to find a way to redeem the past and one's self. Helmick has an excellent style in the tradition of some of the best noir writers like James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich and draws a reader completely into the world of the story. He's definitely a writer worth exploring and, no doubt, if you enjoy noir fiction, you'll love Helmick.

The following excerpt is from Driving Alone:

And then there was the heat. That’s the least that can be said about that. The most was said in secret whispers with a wink of an eye that the devil himself stayed clear of the Deep South in those desperate dog days of summer. The poor souls down there had already been tortured past their use anyway, so he did his hunting north of the Mason Dixon. It wasn’t true of course, but that’s what they said.
Another saying goes, he was seen in the park, near the local cemetery sitting under shade trees and wiping his brow and praying for a little rain, or at least a cool breeze. That one might have been true, either way it was the better of the two tales and the one Billy liked the most growing up. Anybody he’d see in the park or on the street during that time of year, wiping their brow or sitting under a shade tree for a little relief, Billy knew was him. Hot, tired and beaten by the south, and Billy was safe, at least until the summer was gone.
I’ll be fine, just fine, Billy thought. Fuck it … don’t really matter now, anyhow.
He walked fast and tripped twice down the sidewalk like a drunken, stumbling clown as he dinged the silver tip of his dirty Mexican boot against the broken slabs of heaved up sidewalk. Something he could have avoided by changing his pace just a little, but he didn’t. The weight of the late morning heat and the hangover got in the way of such a simple decision. He didn’t look back either, that wasn’t his style he liked to think; even though it was. The rag top Cadillac waited at the curb and almost seemed to fidget with anticipation, for Detroit steel was built for just short of flying. The car, the Caddy, was a hand me down burden, so to speak, from the dead daddy inheritance program. A dirty white and rust colored 65 two door lovingly referred to by what few friends he had left as, “the welfare wagon.” That car and one acre of swamp land with a two bedroom tin roof shack down along the Suwanee River, which he had no intentions of ever living in or even claiming. And that was all.
The old man’s four-pack-a-day Lucky Strike addiction caught up with him awhile back. The big C. Or maybe it was the whisky, the women, the Navy, or the fighting, or any number of similar combinations of habits used to measure the strength of a man—when they’re young, anyway. But once past a certain age if a man hasn’t conquered his vices or slain his demons, they sure as shit and the rivers gonna rise will conquer him.
Billy threw an arm full of jeans and t-shirt rags in the back seat. The whole collection made up a vagabond’s bed. Sliding over the passenger’s door and climbing behind the wheel, he checked his cheap sunglasses in the mirror and the scratches on his face. “Bitch,” he said and turned the key, dropped the lever down to drive and pulled away, leaving a cloud of fuel and exhaust in his wake. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine,” he said turning the first corner. “Don’t matter none.”
The Caddy floated down the boulevard like the lead car in a fool’s parade, but he couldn’t float past the worry. “Shiiit,” he finally yelled out, slapped the wheel and shoved a cassette in the dash and pushed on the gas. Grayson Capps wailed and moaned from the speakers. The empty buildings and sidewalks swept by until they gave way to a few tattered and paint-chipped dwellings that tried hard but with little success to make up a town. An old black man with a cane and a straw hat watched him speed by from the shade of a porch, and then the community surrendered all at once to a winding two lane black top through the lush backwoods and ancient swamp trees that smothered most of the sky.

The Blank Slate Press page is here:

Kevin Lynn Helmick's blog page, The Write Room, is here:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Artifice of Eternity and How Life is Change

The pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, is best known for his phrase `Panta Rei', Life is Flux. Life is constant change. You say `no' to change and you're saying `no' to life, to the very fabric of what life is. Even so, we all resist change. Most of us will say `no' to anything new and change scares us. There's really nothing to do about the situation, though, except embrace it. We're carried along through life, by life, prisoners of time, and resisting change gives us nothing except pain. To paraphrase Epictetus, we're like dogs tied to a cart going down a lane. We can trot willingly alongside the cart or we can be dragged screaming but, either way, we're going down that lane. My short flash fiction piece, `The Artifice of Eternity', was intended to illustrate this idea. It was published in Diddle Dog Online Journal last year and I've heard from a number of people on the `truth' of the piece and how it really doesn't pay to get involved with people when one is only going to lose them. I certainly understand how one comes to that conclusion and I understand perfectly how one finds support for that in my story but that's not the point I was trying to make. We're never safe in our journey here and everything we have we already know we're going to lose. Even so, there is no reason for not engaging in life, even knowing, completely, that it can't possibly end well. The narrator of the piece is not intended as a paragon of enlightenment as he sits drinking and trying to reverse time by turning the hour glass over and over again. In saying `no' to change he says `no' to the essence of life and so remains caught forever in the cycle of the past with no forward motion. Life provides us with many, many beautiful moments which we should not reject simply because they will not last. Nothing lasts. That is the nature of existence. It is that very transitory quality which makes what we have so precious. We should appreciate and be grateful for every day we have here instead of lamenting what we have lost. Gratitude, not regret, is the better choice as we head down the lane. Trot willingly or be dragged screaming - the choice is always our own.

The story may be found here:

And, if the link doesn't work, here it is below:

The Artifice of Eternity

Joshua J. Mark

It's not wise to become friends with someone you know, from the start, is going to leave you.
But that's anybody.
I hold a glass of Dewar's neat in my right hand and, with my left, turn the little red thingy on the kitchen counter top over again. She called it a 'modern day hourglass'; I call it a cheap piece of shit she layed out thirteen bucks for one morning at one of those shops in the mall where they sell useless crap everybody has to have 'cause someone they know has one,' 'cause someone else saw it in a catalog'—and the salesman at the place gently intoned, "It's multi-purpose, you know."
Now there's a job I'd like.
Anyway, it's this little four-inch high plastic thing with red liquid inside and angled plastic ramps and small chutes zig-zagging away in there and you turn it upside down and watch the blood-red liquid dribble-drop-drop down until it's filled up the bottom of the thing—then you turn it over again and the whole show repeats itself.
What's the single purpose? What's the purpose at all?
Like watching some strange and ultimately meaningless transfusion; everything, in the end, winds up right where it started. Gravity takes everything down. Planes fall from the sky and humans are so much softer than the earth. Entropy siphons the energy from every system until there's no energy left. Until there's nothing left.
Ah, but this meaningless piece of plastic will outlast us all. The artifice of eternity.
She said it took exactly a minute for the red stuff to completely make the trip down to the bottom.

If that's so then I've just spent seventy-five minutes watching the little red thingy do its thing.
Well, and drink, of course. One must do something, after all. Idle hands are the devil's workshop, and all that. This isn't my first glass of Dewar's. Doubt it'll be my last.
It's just not wise to become friends with someone when you know, right from day one, that they're going to leave you.
But that's everybody.
That's all of us.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The ancient site of Clava Cairns in Celtic Guide

Celtic Guide is a fine online magazine published by Mr. James McQuiston. The monthly periodical is an excellent resource for Celtic history and a real joy for the history buff or for anyone who just likes to read some great stories. The pieces included in all eight issues of Celtic Guide are highly readable and dispense with the `scholarly tone' of narrative which so often mars articles concerning history. Mr. McQuiston is an able editor and consistently produces a magazine which reads like a collection of fine, themed short stories. I was honored to have my piece on Clava Cairns included in the most recent issue and I'm very proud to be among such good company. One of my fellow writers at Ancient History Encyclopedia, Mr. James Blake Weiner, will be publishing a piece in the September issue of the magazine. If you like Celtic history, or just a pleasant read, have a look and I hope you enjoy the time spent.  All eight issues of Celtic Guide may be found here:

The August issue alone is here:

My article begins:

Over 4,000 years ago our ancestors raised huge megaliths and positioned them in the earth with care. Sites such as The Ring of Brodgar in Stenness, Orkney, or the famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, mystify and enchant visitors from around the world today. There are many other more modest sites, however, which reward a visitor’s time and effort just as much as these more famous places and, perhaps, more so. Five miles east of the city of Inverness, Scotland, just down from Culloden Moor, rests one such site: the Balnuaran of Clava - popularly known as Clava Cairns.

Dating from the late Neolithic period, Clava Cairns consists of three well-preserved cairns and a number of free-standing stones strategically placed for astronomical purposes. There is no doubt among the scholarly community that the site was used both as a burial ground and as some sort of celestial marker. According to Andis Kaulins of, Bal meant Pole and Nuaran, River of Light, thus designating Balnuaran as the center of the heavens from which the ancients could chart the stars.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Maya Calendar and The End of the World: Why the One Does Not Substantiate the Other

My article on the ancient Maya Calendar and the supposed end of the world on 21 December 2012. I know, it's a topic done to death in the past few years and I'm as tired of hearing about it as anyone else. Having studied the Maya Civilization for many years and spoken with Daykeepers at sites such as Uxmal and Chichen Itza I feel I can say authoritatively that the world is not going to end this December - at least not owing to any ancient `predictions' from the Maya. The article may be read in full here: and begins below.

The Popol Vuh recounts the story of twins who journeyed to Xibalba. For the Maya, their round of adventures serves as a metaphor for timeless, repeating cycles and for the regeneration of earth and all living things. – Gene S. Stuart, Mayanist

In recent years, there have been many books, and even more websites, concerning the calendar of the ancient Maya and the end of the world in December 2012. There is no need to list and further popularize such works as they can be found easily enough. They are prominently displayed in sections devoted entirely to the subject in popular book stores and even a cursory search of the internet will reveal a multitude of them. While each separate work and author has its own particular bias and agenda to promote, and so offers a different interpretation of the Maya Calendar, the underlying reasoning for a belief in the end of the world in 2012, at least as associated with the Maya Calendar, runs thusly: The present cycle of the ancient Maya Long Count Calendar begins 11 August 3114 BCE and concludes on 21 December 2012 CE and, because of this, the end of the world is a certainty.

In order for the Maya Calendar to be able to accurately predict an end to the world in any way, it would need to begin at the beginning of the world. It is clear from the archaeological, geological, and historical record that the world is much older than the beginning of the Maya Calendar in 3114 BCE. The great Cities of Mesopotamia such as Akkad and Eridu had already risen to their height by the time the calendar is dated as beginning. The dynasties of Egypt were already old and the Chinese and Indian civilizations in full flourish. The Maya calculated the date of 3114 BCE as the beginning of the world based upon an earlier calendar by the Mixe-Zoque people. Their forward astronomical predictions were based upon careful observations of the skies but were understood according to the belief system which governed their understanding of how the universe worked and that understanding was that time was cyclical, not linear. Vastly different from the theological and cosmological understanding espoused by the three `great’ monotheistic religions, time was, itself, a deity, and, as such, had no end. There is, therefore, nothing in the cosmology of the Maya which suggests an end to anything, much less an end to the world.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Maya Civilization

My article on the Maya Civilization on Ancient History Encyclopedia. The link to the full piece is here:

The article begins:
The Maya are an indigenous people of Mexico and Central America who have continuously inhabited the lands comprising modern-day Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico and southward through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The designation Maya comes from the ancient Yucatan City of Mayapan, the last capital of a Mayan Kingdom in the Post-Classic Period. The Maya people refer to themselves by ethnicity and language bonds such as Quiche in the south or Yucatec in the north (though there are many others). The `Mysterious Maya’ have intrigued the world since their `discovery’ in the 1840's by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood but, in reality, much of the culture is not that mysterious when understood. Contrary to popular imagination, the Maya did not vanish and the descendants of the people who built the great Cities of Chichen Itza, Bonampak, Uxmal and Altun Ha still exist on the same lands their ancestors did and continue to practice, sometimes in a modified form, the same rituals which would be recognized by a native of the land one thousand years ago.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Hour of Tiamat by Lisa M. Taylor

Lisa M. Taylor writes in the genres of the paranormal and fantasy and takes a reader on an incredible ride in her book, The Hour of Tiamat. The story weaves together many wonderful and timeless themes but the tale of the quest, of the heroic journey toward redemption, is chief among them. Drawing upon the legacy of Lovecraft, and adding dimensions from Sumerian lore and her own imagination and experience, Ms. Taylor presents a fascinating story with great pacing and a solid style.

To borrow from the book's promotional site:

We've all heard of the Mayan predictions of a vast change coming in the year 2012; but it turns out the ancient Sumerian people had a very similar prophecy…
The dreaded Necronomicon, a book of fable said to contain all the ancient knowledge of the Sumerian civilization has surfaced and fallen into the hands of four teenagers in a small Texas town. Tonight, after years of studying its dark teachings in secret, they gather to call back to Earth those Gods that tried to enslave humanity over ten thousand years ago, and in turn become rulers themselves.
Under threat of his life, Tristan helps them complete the ritual; but does that mean it is too late to stop this apocalypse? With Evelyn, whose past and future seem inextricably linked to Tristan, their friend Hunter and a host of surprising paranormal helpers, Tristan will race against murderers, monsters, and time itself to shut the ancient gate before our evil creators are upon us again.

And here is an excerpt from the novel:

Tristan kept his breathing shallow as he trailed behind Malaki and Tara, keeping in the trees and watching where he stepped. The animals, it seemed, were just as restless as the day before, and he had to fight not to jump every time some creature brushed him.
The more his eyes adjusted to the darkness, the more animals he saw on either side of him. They seemed to be following Malaki and Tara too, but he shook his head at the thought. They couldn’t be. The wolves and deer, rodents and birds, reptiles and bobcats, they had no reason to follow. What could they possibly know? Yet he saw all of those and more as he walked slowly and quietly, and he had to fight harder and harder to keep his breathing quiet.
“We’re here,” he heard Tara breathe quietly ahead of him. Sure enough, just up the path was the tell-tale clump of bushes that hid their cave of stashed goods. Well, it was now or never. The pistol was in the bags inside the cave, but he still had his knife on him. Why did it always have to be by knife?
He hesitated for a moment at the thought of killing again, a familiar churning in his stomach, but the rage coursing through him erased any hesitation. They would give anything to kill the only two people in the world he loved. He realized that this time, it was probably kill or be killed, and he found it didn’t matter.
“Branches in this bush are broken, they’ve been here,” Malaki said as he jogged ahead of Tara, starting to make his way through the brush. Okay, Tristan thought. Then Tara is first. And without a sound, he cocked back his arm, cold metal held between his fingertips, and flung the shining blade from the darkness, running after it even as the point sunk into Tara’s side, sending her sprawling sideways.
“What the…” Malaki started, turning at Tara’s muffled gasp of surprise, but by the time Malaki was free of the bushes again, Tristan was pulling his knife from Tara’s side, cold eyes trained on Malaki. Tara wasn’t dead, but didn’t seem to be able to move, and she grasped her side, breathing heavily, trying to hold in the steady stream of warm blood. Her dark eyes focused on the two momentarily before her head fell to the ground.

And, here, Lisa M. Taylor's official website:

And, here, the book listed on Amazon in hardcover (also available in Kindle):

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Byte-Sized: A Collection of Flash Fiction This is an anthology of some really interesting flash fiction coming out through Fiction Brigade on July 15. Fiction Brigade is a great publisher and the Editor, Sabrina Ricci, is a pleasure to work with. The stories they choose run the entire spectrum of genre, theme, and tone and I'm honored that my short piece, `Getting the Toast', was chosen to be included in the anthology.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jesus and the Orange Monkey is a surrealist piece of flash fiction published in Episode 25 of the excellent on-line magazine In Between Altered States. If you've never read the publication, I encourage you to check it out. The editor, Aleathia Drehmer, regularly presents stories which make a reader think, wonder, and, seriously, laugh out loud. I'm honored to have been published in the magazine. For the writers out there, you should know she is a pleasure to work with and I know you would enjoy the experience as much as I have. The theme of Episode 25 was `Shattered' and my piece, of course, goes to that theme. I'm not going to explain any further the meaning of Jesus and the Orange Monkey except to say that it does have a definite meaning - and I hope you'll find relevance in the piece. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ben Sobieck - Crime Writer. Enjoy.

This is the blog of Benjamin (Ben) Sobieck the crime writer. The genre tags like `crime writer', `fantasy writer', `horror writer', are thrown around far too easily. A writer is a writer. We all express the same truths through different avenues. To me, Ben Sobieck is a writer and really fine one. I hope you enjoy his work here. He needs no further introduction.

New Release: Maynard Soloman Smokes the World's Problems

6 Funny Detective Stories - Maynard Soloman Smokes the World's Problems is available exclusively at Amazon for $3.19. That's a heckuva deal since the six individual short stories go for 99 cents a pop.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Secrets That You Knew: Original Songs by Joshua J. Mark

I thought, for a change of pace, I'd post my eleven songs on the blog today. They have nothing to do with ancient history, ghosts, or literature. I used to play them, or some of them anyway, when I played out in local venues and decided to record them a few years ago. They would probably best be defined as folk-rock, `new country', or alternative. I am registered with BMI as a song writer and the songs are all on the All Songs/ Music Dealers site. I wrote the lyrics and music and performed all eleven you'll hear. I hope you enjoy them.

Here's the YouTube video of `Secrets That You Knew':

And the YouTube video for `Alone Now In The Darkness:

Thanks for listening! Hope you liked them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ancient Planet Magazine Premier Issue - Free!

This is the premier issue of Ancient Planet Magazine featuring articles ranging from the excavation of Troy to the Minoans to the Egyptian Afterlife and Mesopotamian poetry. My piece on `The Descent of Inanna' is included among many interesting articles and is complemented by original art work by Ms. Ashley Maurer, an excellent and very talented artist.  If ancient history is your passion, or even a passing interest, I think you'd have a great time with this magazine. It's like a mini-vacation you can take at your computer and it's Free. Conceived of and edited by Mr. Ioannis Georgopoulos, the publication is beautifully done and I'm proud to be included in it. Hope you enjoy.

The Inanna article abstract: The Sumerian poem, The Descent of Inanna, has been interpreted by some modern writers as depicting a `psychological journey toward wholeness’. This modern-day interpretation cannot be supported by the text itself and, certainly, the poem would not have been understood in such a light by an ancient audience. This paper explains the reasons why this is so through analysis of the poem in historical context.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Interview with the Menacing Joshua J. Mark

This is Luis Vera's interview with me concerning the anthology `Burning Bridges' which features my story `Safety First' among the tales. The interview also touches upon my never-to-be-realized plan to rid myself of the four cats in the house who continually plot my doom. `Burning Bridges' is a top-notch anthology which I'm proud to be a part of. The stories reward a reader's time and consideration and I hope you enjoy it. The book may be found on Smashwords or Amazon.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Burning Bridges: A Renegade Fiction Anthology

Julia Madeleine

K.A. Laity

Mark Cooper

Darren Sant

Allan Leverone

Paul D. Brazill

George S. Geisinger


Edith M. Maxwell

Benjamin Sobieck

Tace Baker

Joshua J. Mark

L. Vera

B.R. Stateham

Heath Lowrance

Coming May 1st and absolutely free on Kindle. Enjoy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting the Toast - a metaphysical dog tale

My short story `Getting the Toast' published today by the flash fiction company Fiction Brigade. Inspired by the Max Ehrmann line from `Desiderata', "Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should," the story begins:

I’m in a park with tall trees and the sky is chrome-colored without any clouds. It feels like Autumn with a late-September brittle light edging the trunks of barren trees and highlighting the blades of gray grass – but there are buds on the trees and bird songs on the breeze and I realize I’m wrong and it’s not late September - it’s early April.

There’s a tall fountain in the center of the park – a white circle of stone with a tall obelisk rising from the center and, at the top, an angel of brilliant white marble. Water shoots from marble vines and grapes which entwine the obelisk and fall down in scintillating arcs to the pool below. In the chromium light of the day the water arcs look like scores of fragile nymphs, jumping delightedly from a great height to the pool below; one after another, repeatedly, in an endless line. Then, moving around the fountain to another angle, the jets of water appear as lifeless icicles, suspended under a blank sky, eternally empty and frozen in time...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Aegina Greece

The Island of Aegina has a fantastic past and an intriguing present. I was fortunate enough to spend some time on the island when I lived in Greece. The following is my article from Ancient History Encyclopedia `The Island Kingdom of Aegina'. If you're visiting Athens, and have the time, Aegina will definitely reward you in many, many ways. In ancient Greece it was known as an island of pleasure and Plato mentions it specifically, in that regard, in his dialogue of the `Phaedo'. While Aegina no longer boasts the kinds of pleasures it was known for in Plato's day, it still provides a visitor a magnificent experience.

The article begins:

Today, traveling an hour by ferry from Piraeus, the port of Athens, the first remnant of Aegina’s great past a visitor will see is the lonely pillar of Apollo rising from the trees on the hill of Kolona. Once a splendid complex of three buildings (the Temple of Apollo itself rose on eleven large pillars and six smaller ones) and a cemetery (in which a large collection of gold and jewelry was found in the tombs, now housed in the British Museum) the pillar of Apollo is all that remains. This seems a fitting symbol for the whole of Aegina’s history: the island which once boasted the best wine, a high standard of living and a naval fleet which rivaled that of Athens is, today, known as the leading producer of pistachio nuts in Greece.

The nymph Aegina was the daughter of the river-god Asopus in the land of Sicyonia. Zeus, the king of the gods, fell in love with her and, in the shape of a flame, carried her off to the island of Oenone. There she gave birth to Zeus’ son, Aeacus, who then re-named the island in honor of his mother. Aeacus, according to the writer Ovid, was famous throughout Greece for his justice and wisdom and the island kingdom of Aegina prospered under his rule. He is said to have helped build the walls around Troy which kept the Mycenaean force of Agamemnon at bay for ten years during the Trojan War and was so favored by the gods that his prayers were always answered. No less a figure than Alexander the Great claimed descent from Aeacus on his mother’s side and, once Aeacus had passed on to the afterlife, he was honored as one of the three judges of the dead along with Rhadamanthys and Minos.

The rest of the article may be viewed on Ancient History Encyclopedia here:

As they say in Greece, `Chonia Polla!' - "Many Years!" and I hope you enjoy the magic of Aegina in that span. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Pretty Blonde Girl With Bright Blue Eyes - my true love story

This is a true love story I wrote about the evening I first realized I was in love with my best friend. The story was first published last year by Pure Inspirational and grateful acknowledgement is made to Ms. Ivee Olivares, the Editor. You will find the link to the story here:

The story follows below in case the link doesn't work. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed living and writing it.

A Pretty Blonde Girl with Bright Blue Eyes
An Inspirational Love Story
by Joshua J. Mark
(Staatsburg, NY, USA)

An Inspirational Love Story

When it really hit me, I almost fainted.

Honestly. I was eighteen years old and, for the past year, had a crazy crush on this girl, Barbara, who lived an hour away, and was sure I loved her. I'd often talk about letters I'd gotten from her and phone calls with this friend of mine, Betsy, who lived about three miles down the road from me. Now, before I tell you about the "almost fainting" moment, you need a little information on this Betsy girl.

I became friends with Betsy Jacobs on a Sunday afternoon at a church picnic held at the Clinton Park when I was sixteen years old and she was fourteen. I had always known the girl existed; her older brother, Mark, and I were in Boy Scouts together and I had appeared in a play with her older sister, Karen. She had even gone trick-or-treating with my younger sister one year. Even so, I had never said a word to her until that day at the park.

Betsy was a pretty blonde girl with bright blue eyes and, that day, we ran races together and had a watermelon fight (for those who have not experienced the joys of the watermelon fight, the goal is to throw chunks of watermelon at each other for no apparent reason). She called me a few days later to ask me about some problems she was having with a boy and I asked her about things confusing me with my girlfriend and that call set the pattern for our friendship over the next few years. I would call Betsy up to talk about whatever was going on in my life (though mainly girl trouble) and she would call me to talk about what she was doing (and mainly guy trouble).

For two years we were friends this way and, in the fall of 1982, I was hopelessly hung up on Barbara and Betsy wasn't with anyone serious so the phone calls and talks were mostly one-sided laments on my part that Barbara lived so far away. Betsy and I, living so close, would hang out all the time and I'd play my guitar and Betsy would sing (she had a beautiful voice) or we'd just talk. She was a great friend. I always felt better just seeing her.

In December of 1982, December 30th, I spent the day riding around town with another friend of mine, Dan. We had lunch, met up with some other people, and finally landed at the home of Dan's girlfriend, Kira. Kira and Betsy were good friends and the four of us had recently performed together, singing and playing guitar, at an event at F.D.R. High School where we went.

Sitting in Kira's living room, the fire going, she got up off the couch and put a record on the stereo. It was an album by the group Supertramp and the three of us sat and talked for a while as the songs played soft and low and the room seemed to grow sleepy and mellow and our talk began to slow and then stopped as we just sat together and listened to the music. A song came on, the last one on the album's side, "Downstream", a slow, minor, piano-heavy tune, a love song, and I sat slumped in the black vinyl chair staring at the fire and listening to the singer's words about lasting love.

I was thinking about Barbara or, rather, I was trying to think about Barbara. It was a sensation sort of like when you're at a show, or a movie perhaps, and you're trying to see the stage or screen but there's someone in your way and, no matter how you shift from side to side, you just can't see around them. A tight feeling seized my mind just as though some metal clamps had sprung suddenly around the inside of my skull and I couldn't understand what I was thinking. I had the feeling that I should be thinking of Barbara as I listened to this song but that I wasn't. I was thinking of someone else. I was thinking of Betsy.

And that was when it hit me and I heard myself say in my head, "I'm not in love with Barbara. I'm in love with Betsy Jacobs!" I literally shot up out of the chair as though it had just shocked me and stood staring around the room stupidly as the song played on. Dan and Kira both looked at me and Dan said, "What? You ok?"

Kira giggled and asked, "What's the matter with you?"

I stared at them and, seriously, I was absolutely slack-jawed, mouth hanging wide open, and I wanted to say something but I didn't know what to say and, really, thought I was going to faint, so I dropped down into the chair, shook my head, and then stood up again, then sat, and then said, "I don't know. I just don't know. Yeah, I'm ok. What? Did you say something?"

Dan and Kira, sitting over there on the long black couch, were both laughing at me now and I shook my head quickly to clear it and said, "I have to go home. I have to call Betsy."

Kira said, "Oh, cool. You want to go to a movie? We'll all go see the new Pink Panther film. It's at the Juliet. It'll be fun."

And I was so grateful to that girl just then because I'd realized, right after I'd said I had to call Betsy, that I had no idea what I was going to say to her when she answered the phone. I mean, you can't really just call a girl up and say, "Hi. I just realized I'm in love with you," and have any hope she's just going to say it right back and you'll live happily ever after, right?

So Dan dropped me back at my house and, heart pounding, I walked to the kitchen and lifted the receiver of the phone - then hung it up quickly. I stood and stared at the yellow telephone there on the wall and thought how absolutely absurd this was. I was just going to be calling my old friend Betsy. I had called Betsy hundreds of times and I had never felt this way before. My palms were sweating and my mouth was dry and my heart was pounding inside my chest so loudly it seemed to be echoing in the room.

What if she didn't like me in that way? What if I told her I loved her and it just ruined our great friendship? She was one of my best friends, after all, maybe even my best. What was I thinking standing there staring at the phone about to make the biggest mistake of my life?

Still, I wet my lips, took a deep breath, and dialed her number.

That was twenty-nine years ago.

At the movie that night we held hands all through the show which, of course, we had never done before as friends. I didn't tell her I was in love with her over the phone. I thought I'd perhaps show how I felt while we were out on the date, sort of "ease" into telling her. The next day I wrote her a letter in which I didn't tell her either and the day after that I wrote her another just like it and so on and so on. It was almost a month after my almost-fainting moment that I actually said the words "I love you" to her and, by that time, she'd pretty much gotten the idea and, lucky for me, she loved me, too.

We went away to separate colleges and, on her 20th birthday, I surprised her by taking the bus to Binghamton University. I had to skip three days of classes to make the trip but I didn't care. I had told her I would be calling her on her birthday around four o'clock and once I landed in Vestal, near the University, I sat in a McDonalds in town reading a book on Greek Philosophy and hardly absorbing any of it as I kept looking up at the clock above the counter every five minutes. Finally, at four, I walked out and found a phone booth outside a store called Sugarman's which was right next to where she lived in the dorms. When she answered the phone she sounded sad.

"I miss you," she said. "I wish you were here."

"And, on your birthday, you should always get what you wish for. I'm standing in a phone booth outside of Sugarman's."

"Well, what are you doing over there?" she asked. "Get over here."

We hadn't seen each other in months and it was so wonderful to hold her again when we met there in the parking lot outside of her dorm.

She asked me, "But aren't you missing too many classes being here?"

"Twenty years from now," I said. "When we're married, I doubt I'll remember what I learned in class this week. But I'll always remember when I took the bus to surprise you on your twentieth birthday."

We got married after college in 1987 and, all these years later, I was right. I remember the bus ride, the phone call and the beginning of it all, the night I almost fainted in Kira's living room. And I remember the thousand things we've done together since that night and the thousand smiles she's given me and I am forever grateful for each phone call and for every moment I've been able to spend being in love with my best friend, the pretty blonde girl with bright blue eyes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Eternal Life of Gilgamesh - My article from Ancient History Encyclopedia

The story of Gilgamesh and his quest for immortality has fascinated readers for centuries. Below is my article on the great epic as published on Ancient History Encyclopedia. I hope you enjoy it.

The article begins:

The Epic of Gilgamesh was originally a Sumerian poem, later translated into Akkadian, and first written down some 700 – 1000 years after the reign of the historical king in the cuneiform script. The poem was known originally as Sha-naqba-imru (He Who Saw The Deep) or, alternately, Shutur-eli-sham (Surpassing All Other Kings). The fullest surviving version, in the Akkadian language, was found on twelve stone tablets in the ruins of the ancient library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, at Nineveh in 1849 by the English explorer Austen Henry Layard. The first eleven tablets relate the standard version of the Epic while the 12th tablet narrates an older Sumerian poem, Bilgames and the Netherworld. As this tablet contradicts the story told in the first eleven, it is not included in most standard versions of the tale. The author/editor/translator of the Epic is named in the tablets, one Shin-Leqi-Unninni (whose name translates as `Moon god, accept my plea’) who wrote c. 1300-1000 BCE and who has been cited as the first writer of literature in the western world (though that honor is rightly accorded to Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad, who lived 2285-2250 BCE). According to the scholar N.K. Sandars, the work is “the finest surviving epic poem from any period until the apperance of Homer’s Iliad; and it is immeasurably older”(Sandars, 7).

And here is the link to the complete piece:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Hymn to Ninkasi, Goddess of Beer - My article from Ancient History Encyclopedia

Beer was considered so important to the ancient Mesopotamians that they envisioned a Goddess whose sole responsibility was brewing. It is not surprising that the deity was female, rather than male, in that all (or at least the majority) of ancient brewers were women. That women were also propietors of ancient bars and pubs is attested to in the Code of Hammurabi and elsewhere, including depictions in art.

The article begins:

The Hymn to Ninkasi is at once a song of praise to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, and an ancient recipe for brewing. Written down around 1800 BCE, the hymn is no doubt much older. Evidence for brewing beer in the Mesopotamian region dates back to 3500-3100 BCE at the Sumerian settlement of Godin Tepe in modern-day Iran where, in 1992, archaeologists discovered chemical traces of beer in a fragmented jar dating to the mid-fourth century BCE (the same site also yielded evidence for early wine-making)...

For the full article please visit the site here:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Beer In The Ancient World - my article published on Ancient History Encyclopedia

Beer has been enjoyed by humans for much longer than most people think. The following is my article on Beer in the Ancient World published on Ancient History Encyclopedia:

The article begins:

The intoxicant known in English as `beer' takes its name from the Latin `bibere' (by way of the German `bier') meaning `to drink' and the Spanish word for beer, cerveza' comes from the Latin word `cerevisia' for `of beer', giving some indication of the long span human beings have been drinking beer. Even so, beer brewing did not originate with the Romans but began thousands of years earlier. The first beer in the world was brewed by the ancient Chinese around the year 7000 BCE (known as `kui'). In the west, however, beer brewing began with the Sumerians at the Godin Tepe settlement now in modern-day Iran between 3500 - 3100 BCE. Evidence of beer manufacture has been confirmed between these dates but it is probable that the brewing of beer in Sumeria was in practice much earlier. Some evidence has been interpreted which sets the date of beer brewing at Godin Tepe as early as 10,000 BCE when agriculture first developed in the region. While some scholars have contended that beer preceded bread as a staple, it is more likely that beer was `discovered' through grains used for bread-making which fermented.

The people of ancient Mesopotamia enjoyed beer so much that it was a daily dietary staple. Paintings, poems and myths depict both human beings and their gods enjoying beer which was consumed through a straw to filter out pieces of bread or herbs in the drink. The brew was thick, of the consistency of modern-day porridge, and the straw was invented by the Sumerians or the Babylonians, it is thought, specifically for the purpose of drinking beer. The famous poem Inanna and the God of Wisdom describes the two deities drinking beer together and the god of wisdom, Enki, becoming so drunk he gives away the sacred `me' (laws) to Inanna (thought to symbolize the transfer of power from Eridu, the city of Enki, to Uruk, the city of Inanna). The Hymn to Ninkasi is both a song of praise to the goddess of beer, Ninkasi, and a recipe for beer, first written down around 1800 BCE. In the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero Enkidu becomes civilized through the ministrations of the temple harlot Shamhat who, among other things, teaches him to drink beer.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Ghost of 22 Captain

This is my story `The Ghost of 22 Captain' published by Pagan Friends Magazine back in November. It's an excellent magazine and I hope you'll enjoy checking out this issue and the more recent ones.

`The Ghost of 22 Captain', although a ghost story, of course, is really about the opportunities we miss with each other through dishonesty. We are all so constantly afraid to look `stupid' we betray ourselves into behaving stupidly and miss some fantastic moments in life which we could have enjoyed and grown from. Even though some who know me suspect the tale is based on a `real life' incident, it is not. I hope you like it. Enjoy.

The site is here:

The story begins:

The return of 22 Captain to his family land elicited an ambiguous response from his dead family. As he reported it, they “showed their teeth” but said nothing. Realizing this gesture could be interpreted as either a blessing or a curse, he set off on his journey home, conscious only of a certain relief at putting some distance between himself and his deranged relatives.

Quite a walk – and he only three feet tall – if that – marching his little leather boots through the forest – under trees fifty or a hundred times his height with the wails and cheers of those who had cared for the earth while they lived bouncing off his wooden ear. His smile was fixed – his thin moustache undampened, and his high blue captain’s hat sat tilted back on his head. He knew the way home. No amount of passing seasons – not even ninety-eight years worth – could cloud his memory. Nor did the changes in the terrain set him off course; he would have known his way should sky scrapers have been reared across the land since his death. He toddled on (he would prefer “marched” but one owes something to verisimilitude) until he broke from the forest and found a paved road. True, he did marvel somewhat at that but no matter – he knew where he was and who he was – and it was time he was getting home.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mesopotamian Religion article from Ancient History Encyclopedia

The following is my article on Ancient Mesopotamian Religion on the Ancient History Encyclopedia site. Ancient History Encyclopedia was launched in 2009 by Jan van der Crabben, known for his work in game design but also, since, for his intense interest in, and commitment to, ancient history. His vision was to create a free-access, peer-reviewed site providing scholarly articles and definitions on ancient history and he has succeeded admirably. Jan van der Crabben is also an excellent editor with a keen eye for detail and narrative form and it has been an honor and a pleasure working with him the past three years. Anyone out there with an interest in this subject is invited to contribute or peer review articles and definitions on the site. Please have a look. Enjoy. It's a great journey whether you're writing or reading.

The link to the article is here:

The article begins:

In ancient Mesopotamia, the meaning of life was for one to live in concert with the gods. Humans were created as co-laborers with their gods to hold off the forces of chaos and to keep the community running smoothly. According to the Mesopotamian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, (meaning,'When on High') life began after an epic struggle between the elder gods and the younger. In the beginning there was only water swirling in chaos and undifferentiated between fresh and bitter. These waters separated into two distinct principles: the male principle, Apsu, which was fresh water and the female principle, Tiamat, salt water. From the union of these two principles all the other gods came into being.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writes for All Magazine and `When There Were Trees'

Writes for All Magazine is, according their site, "an independent publishing company seeking fiction of the highest quality" and I was honored last week when they published my story, `When There Were Trees' (six sentences of which I posted last week). The greater honor, though, was working with the editor, Anthony Cruz, to shape and polish the story prior to publication. I had read other pieces in the magazine before I submitted and I felt that `Trees' stood a good chance of being accepted and, also, that it was in very good shape editorially. It is the strangest sort of phenomenon, however, that we can never really see our own work objectively. Mr. Cruz went through my story three times and, with each pass, the story became tighter and brighter. A sentence which I had thought worked fine I now saw was redundant and a passage which had seemed to deepen the story with detail, I realized, slowed the action.

We're all aware that it's best to have someone else look over our work before submitting it for publication and I certainly had done so with `Trees'. Sometimes, though, even colleagues or friends won't notice those small details which go to make a story really stand up and sing or those lapses which cause a story to sag and fall flat. Sometimes a piece just really needs an experienced, careful editor who will take the time to bring the best out in the story for a reader. Writes for All Magazine has just such an editor in Mr. Anthony Cruz and I wanted to thank him here.

Writes for All is a non-paying market but you will profit greatly from the experience you'll have working with them. Their website is here:

To read the current issue with the complete text of `When There Were Trees' go here:

There are two other excellent stories in the issue and plenty to enjoy. Hope you like it and all the best to you in the writing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Six Sentences from `When There Were Trees' published in Writes for All Magazine Vol. 1, Issue 4

Back home, Jack lifted the pistol down from the top of the linen closet, got the clip from the lower drawer of his father's desk. He pushed the clip sharply up into the grip, heard the `click', then hurried down the hallway toward his room, palms sweating.
Shelly sat on the end of the bed, looking away from him, out the window. Jack walked up to her quickly, racked the weapon, and she turned. He brought the barrel of the pistol up and pressed it against her forehead saying, "And all I do is pull the trigger."
"Do it."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Green Ears and the Monster: How I Came to be a Writer

Photograph of Emily Mark taken by Betsy Mark, Edinburgh, Scotland, April 2011.

This piece was first published on B.R. Stateham's excellent blog. Stateham is a fine writer and I hope you'll take the time to visit his place here:

I've always written stories, ever since I could write, but I can remember exactly when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was eight years old that summer at camp and this one morning at assembly the head counselor announced he wanted us to submit stories, photos, essays, or poems for a camp magazine. It would be published to look like Boy's Life and everyone could take it home as a souvenir.
At the time I had this dog, a brown and white Basset hound named Milkbone, and I was always writing little stories and poems about adventures we'd have roaming around in the woods behind my house. I missed the dog, being at camp, so I decided I'd write a Milkbone story for the magazine where I'd just place him in the camp setting and tell some story about a day with him as though he came to visit.
When I wrote the story, however, it turned into something completely different. It was a story about a community of Basset hounds who lived in a green valley which looked much like the camp. They were very happy except that, every now and then, this monster from a neighboring valley would show up and eat a bunch of them. There was this one puppy with long, green ears who everyone made fun of. His ears were too long, first of all, and then, of course, they were green. As he got a little older, Green Ears discovered he could hear sounds from far off and could hear the monster coming from miles away. When he told the older dogs about his abilities they laughed at him even more - until they got eaten by the monster one night. After that, the survivors listened to Green Ears and, when he heard the monster coming, they all dug a huge pit and hid. The monster fell into the pit and died. Green Ears was elected king.
The story was pretty much a rip-off of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I thought, but, when the magazine came out, everyone loved it. People I didn't even know came up to tell me how much they liked it. I couldn't understand the popularity. Everyone else had written about some event at camp that really happened or, at least, could have. I didn't even think my piece would be accepted because it had nothing to do with camp or even reality. It seems that was precisely why it was so popular - it took people away from what they already knew but was familiar enough for them to relate to. There were many campers who said the story reminded them of some time they'd told their parents one thing or another and were ignored but, later, turned out to be right.
I did not so much `select' to write in the genre of Paranormal YA as it selected me. I could not have known it when I wrote that story but, essentially, I've been writing that same story, in one form or another, ever since.
Most of my life I've spent in education as a Professor and so am constantly around younger people. I like dealing with younger characters in my stories because they are more open to experience and possibility than many older people are. The world is new to them and yet they often believe they have a fairly good handle on what's going on. I think that's all of us, however, no matter what our age. We always think we know more than we really do and make choices, sometimes very bad ones, based on this belief in our own rightness. Like the older Bassets in my long-ago story, we resist change and we declare `impossible' any new idea until we've no choice but to accept it. None of us, however, ever really know what's going on at any given moment. All we can do in life is the best we can do with the information we have. I think this fundamental aspect of the human condition is best reflected in younger characters who provide a reader with the opportunity to see, not only who they once were, but who they continue to be.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The first six sentences from my novel `The Girl from Yesterday'

All through the night my dreams fell in whispers, soft whispers, behind my eyes. I was with my mom in the silver Subaru wagon driving down from Maine in the darkness and the fog was thick and the trees ran toward us from the sides of the road. We were leaving something behind us. Long, slender, reeds of rain twisted down from the night sky into the headlights and vanished and I felt so sad at whatever it was we had lost and left back behind us at the old house on the familiar road. Inside the car, by the dim light of the dashboard, I looked over at mom and then the whole thing slowly dissolved, piece by piece, like watching a puzzle come apart, and I was below deck on a ship sitting up quickly in bed. There was water at my feet and I screamed and ran toward the door, yelling someone's name, someone who was behind me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review of Abby Luby's novel Nuclear Romance

This is a review of the excellent novel `Nuclear Romance' by Abby Luby. The review reads, in part, "Nuclear Romance begins with the death of a little girl while swimming in the Hudson River. The river that she's swimming in happens to be right by a nuclear power plant. Even though no reason can be given for her death, no one at first associates her death with the nuclear power plant. Due to budget cuts and a shorter staff, sports writer Lou Padera is assigned to cover the little girl’s death. The experience haunts him. In the meantime Lou gets a mysterious phone call stating that the power plant is the reason for the little girl’s death and the story suddenly becomes an obsession for Lou."

I read the novel last month and loved it. My own review is here:

It's a book worth reading. You will never think of a nuclear power plant in the same way again - I promise you. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Joshua J. Mark on K.A. Laity's blog

This is the writer K.A. Laity's blog where she was kind enough to interview me about my writing and my Paranormal YA novel `The Girl from Yesterday'. The novel is presently out at Kimberley Cameron & Associates literary agency and I'm hoping for the best. Enjoy the blog. It's very well put together, very pretty, and there's plenty to take in.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trestle Press Should Not Be Trusted

On 16 December 2011 I signed with Trestle Press Publishing, a group I had every reason to believe was legitimate. Before I signed the contracts I searched everywhere I could to find out their track record, authors published, any bad `vibes' about the company. I found nothing which caused me the least concern. They were a new company, I discovered, not quite a year old, and they had a good number of authors already signed with them who had published multiple works.

Today, less than two months later, I have left Trestle Press - as have most of the other authors - due to a scandal involving art theft by the publisher for use in cover images. The editor-in-chief (who, I now realize, was the whole company, more or less) was telling authors that he was a graphic artist who designed his own book covers when, in reality, he was stealing images from other artists, tweaking them, and passing them off as his own work. In my own case, the night this editor sent me my cover art, I congratulated him on his work and told him how impressed I was. He accepted the compliment and, in further communications, lead me further to believe the art work was his own. Little did I know my book cover was a Google Image he had picked up and tweaked in, perhaps, ten seconds.

My fellow authors have experienced far worse than I in that their book covers were images stolen from more famous, and copyrighted, sources. These writers pulled their titles from Trestle Press when the scandal broke because they did not want to be associated with a publisher who lied, cheated, and stole from other artists. Incredibly, there are other so-called `writers' who did not leave, or left only when their own self-interest suddenly dawned upon them, who question this integrity simply because they were too chicken-shit afraid to do the right thing when the scandal broke and are now trying to justify their behavior by attacking those who left earlier. Every time they question the integrity of those who left Trestle Press they show themselves for who they truly are. An example of the `integrity' and maturity of Trestle Press may be seen in the following post from Deviant Art in which a writer suggests the press remove one of the book cover images and received a most `professional' response: BRB TAKING ADVICE LAWL by ~hellbunny on deviantART.

Please warn other writers not to deal with Trestle Press. This so-called `publisher' is nothing more than a crooked one-man band making noise for his own self-aggrandisement. I count myself fortunate that I escaped from this company with relatively few scars and I wish all the best to the others who did the same. Hemingway wrote, "Writing, at best, is a lonely life." Writers don't need anyone making the experience any more lonely and difficult and, further, when a publisher does so, we should stand together against that common enemy instead of condoning such a breach of trust simply because doing so is in our own best interest. `Integrity' is not defined as `doing what is best for me' but doing the right thing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dan Lawrence Magnificent Classical Guitar

This is the artist Dan Lawrence on classical guitar. It's a supreme joy to experience and I hope you give yourself some time out to enjoy it. Too often we forget to give ourselves the inspiration and the down time we need and deserve. Dan Lawrence's music affords us an opportunity to do just that. Enjoy.

For more of his music visit:

Shakespeare Was A Genre Writer by Joshua J. Mark

This piece was first published on Kevin Lynn Helmick's blog, The Write Room:

There is this wonderful passage in the Cornell Woolrich novel, I Married A Dead Man, which I believe refutes the bigoted `literary' claim that genre fiction is not truly `literature'. For those who don't know, Cornell Woolrich (who also wrote under the name William Irish) was a well-known and highly successful writer of `genre fiction', crime novels in the 1940's and beyond. His story, It Had To Be Murder, was the basis for the famous Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window and many of his stories, or plots derived from them, have served to provide writers with ideas from 1938 to the present. It would seem, then, that Woolrich should be regarded as a `writer' and not as a `genre writer' and, further, neither should `genre writing' be counted as less than `literature'. As a human who has spent much of his life in the academic world, I have heard from fellow professors, countless times, that there is a definite distinction between `literature' and `fiction' with particular disdain accorded to `genre fiction'. Yet, when pressed on the question of what makes one piece `fiction' and another piece `literature' I have never received a satisfactory answer from any of these professionals. Cornell Woolrich's work was, then, and is, today, considered `genre fiction' as it falls into the category of `noir crime fiction' but it is so much more than any label can hope to define. This is true of so much `crime fiction' or `YA fiction' or `horror fiction' that I think it's time we re-evaluated these tags we give to pieces of writing and try to approach them honestly and without labels. The whole of this Woolrich novel is brilliant but this one passage stopped me cold when I first read it and I had to stare into space for a while thinking on it in the exact same way I have done when reading Shakespeare or Plato or any of the other greats. It goes like this:

"What makes you stop, when you have stopped, just where you have stopped? What is it, what? Is it something, or is it nothing? Why not a yard short, why not a yard more? Why just there where you are, and nowhere else?
Some say: It's just blind chance, and if you hadn't stopped there, you would have stopped at the next place. Your story would have been different then. You weave your own story as you go along.
But others say: You could not have stopped any place else but this even if you had wanted to. It was decreed, it was ordered, you were meant to stop at this spot and no other. Your story is there waiting for you, it has been waiting for you there a hundred years, long before you were born, and you cannot change a comma of it. Everything you do, you have to do. You are the twig, and the water you float on swept you here. You are the leaf and the breeze you were borne on blew you here. This is your story, and you cannot escape it; you are only the player, not the stage manager. Or so some say."

Not only is the passage beautifully written, it asks a central truth about human existence: Do we have control over our choices or are those choices dictated for us by some higher power? Whether that `power' is Fate or God or simply the sum total of all of our other choices or our upbringing, are we really free, in any given moment, to choose to turn right instead of left? Did we actually choose to become who we are today or was that choice dictated long before this moment by some factor far removed from our own freewill?

In the novel I Married A Dead Man, just before Woolrich writes this passage, the scene is this: A young girl has been deserted by her lover in a strange city. She's pregnant, which is why he's left her, and all she has is something like seventeen cents in her pocket and the train ticket back to her home town he bought for her. She gets on the train, tired and depressed, hopeless because she's returning home in disgrace, and lugs her suitcase down the aisle of the car. Worn out, she finally just stops, puts down the suitcase, and sits on it directly across from a young couple. That moment, when she stops there, defines the rest of her life.

Isn't this true for all of us at one point or another? It's the simplest thing, or seemingly the simplest, which leads to the greatest and most important times of our lives and which, actually, can come to define us. Who is to say, then, that genre fiction is not `literature'? What is literature but the story of what it means to be a human being? However one chooses to tell that story, it is a story we all need to hear repeated from time to time. It lets us know that we're not alone. I don't believe there should be any such designations as `crime fiction' or `noir fiction' or `YA fiction' if, by so designating a piece of work, one may then smugly dismiss it as `not literature' and, therefore, not worth reading. The poets of today speak to us through the radio and off CDs in our stereos and, just because Springsteen or Gerard Way are not included in a college literature book, does not make the impact of their work any less. We should expand our understanding, and definition, of `literature' to include the totality of what goes to helping us all be more human and stop defining and trying to devalue those works which don't neatly fit the accepted understanding of what is `literary' work. Before he became `Shakespeare', Will was just a guy who wrote plays to entertain and, along the way, enlightened people to what it is to be a human being. So called `genre fiction' provides us with precisely the same experience.