Monday, September 23, 2013

Getting My Dream Job

Well, over a week ago I found the job that I really want to get. It fits with my experience, it fits with my career goals, even the salary is right on. So how do I get it?

I have submitted my resume, I wrote them a nice cover letter explaining, quite clearly, why I was the right person for the job. And then I never heard from them. So I started researching "How do I get the job I want." Most of the answers I found on the internet were telling people how to find out what job they really wanted. They would ask questions like, "what are your hobbies or interests?" "what would you do for free?" "And what did you want to be when you grow up?"

Well, these questions were quite a few steps back from where I needed to be. I was looking for information more along the lines of "do you know someone who works at the company you want to work for?" or "when is it okay to just show up to an office and hang out?"

Instead, I decided to answer the questions to figure out what my dream job might be. My hobbies and interests relate back to reading--I am very into Brandon Sanderson right now, along with my ongoing quest to read everything by C.S. Lewis--and writing, especially fiction, whenever I get the chance.

As far as what I would do for free, the answer was similar. A lot of my reading is unpaid, of course. I love to follow long, esoteric rabbit holes of research across the internet, like the history of the toquilla straw hat, and I would gladly do this kind of reading for free! And although I get paid for most of my writing, things like my novel and this blog are "work" that I do for free.

Finally, what did I want to be when I grew up--this one is an essay question because it depends when you asked me. At a very young age, 8 or 10, I remember wanting to be a scientist that worked in a lab. I don't really know where that came from. For a long period of my early teenage years, I was very into comic books and would have said it would be my dream job to draw comics for a living. It wasn't until much later that I learned that there were writers who did little or no drawing, like Chris Claremont and Alan Moore. In high school, like most other teenage boys, I guess, I wanted to make video games. But underneath, or maybe within, each of those, I really wanted to write stories.

In college I went from being an art major, to a communications major, to a business major. I got my first job in sales and marketing. I got my MBA with a focus in marketing, my MS in business, and worked for the past 8 years in marketing and advertising, but I never really did what I thought I wanted to do. It's more like I've done what I needed to do to get and keep a job. I've done what I could get paid to do. Then I just kind of told myself that what I was doing was what I "wanted" to do.

So, no, I'm not really sure that I found my dream job after all.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Prologue to The Talismans of Sumer - Part 1

I may change every word of this, but here is the prologue for my novel "The Talismans of Sumer." I am very open to feedback at this point, since I am just setting up the story and characters in this part. I split it into 2 posts, so this is Part 1. Part 2 is here.

Chichen Itzá, Yucatan Peninsula – 1190 AD 
Zamná was faster than the other scouts, so he was the first to arrive at the walls of the city. He moved silently, quickly, from one shadow to the next until he lay on his belly, concealed on a low rise just a stone’s throw from the gates of Chichen Itzá. His trained eyes pierced the darkness of the early morning and made out the gathering army of the Itzás through the city gate. Dawn had not yet come and the city was dimly lit by scattered torches. He began counting the heads of the warriors illuminated by the torchlight, estimating the vast army in groups of 100, then 500, then groups of one thousand. His eyes scoured over their bright armor, their gleaming feathers, and their wood and iron weapons, identifying each by their dress, their weapon, and the numbers of their feathers as either a warrior, chief, archer, or priest. 
He rechecked his calculations and then drew a message pad from his belt pouch. He scrawled the numbers with his charcoal pencil onto the soft bark of the pad.  
7,500 Warriors 
3,000 Archers 
1,500 Priests 
80 Chiefs  
Zamná did not see the high chief of Chichen Itzá or his foul high priest, the demon Hapay Can. He replaced the pad in his belt and rose slowly, silently from his hiding place. Zamná would rush back as he had come, moving quickly over the miles of rain forest to rejoin the army of his people on their march to Chichen Itzá. He would be the first scout to present the morning’s information to Hunac Ceel, the lord of Mayapán and Ah Mex Cuc, the Jaguar Priest.
Zamná had taken only a few steps when he heard a branch snap somewhere nearby. He froze in his tracks at the unmistakable sound of another human in the rain forest. The sound came again, closer, of more undergrowth being kicked aside by men. Not the silent movements of a fellow scout, but the heavy, booted steps of warriors. Zamná looked around for a chance to escape using his greatest weapon, his speed, but he was at the edge of the forest, and the warriors were between him and his own army. Next, he heard the sound he dreaded most, the soft, almost indiscernible footfall of a trained scout. He whirled in place, his small knife flashing up to defend himself, but he was too late. Zamná was surrounded. Three scouts wearing the insignia of the Itzá stood before him, splayed out to prevent him from running. He heard the stomping boots come to a halt behind him.
“Drop your weapon, Scout,” said a coarse voice.
Zamná let his knife fall to the ground and then turned slowly to face the warrior who had spoken. He was a big man, with eagle feathers tied to his arms and hair. He was flanked by two more warriors and an archer wearing the shimmering green feathers of the quetzal.

“What are you doing here at the walls of Chichen Itzá?” the warrior demanded. 
Zamná relied on his training. He looked defiantly into the eyes of the Itzá warrior. Three warriors, three scouts and one archer, he realized he had been ambushed by their border patrol, and it was far more than he was prepared to fight against alone. Still, he would give them no answers, no warning about the army of Mayapán that was even now descending upon them. 
One of the scouts spoke, “He wears the Jade Arrow, see his talisman?” He pointed at the dark green arrowhead hanging from Zamná’s necklace. “He is an elite scout of Mayapán, home of our enemy Hunac Ceel.” 
“Is this true, Scout?” asked the first warrior. “Are you a spy for our enemy at Mayapán?” Zamná still said nothing. 
“Be careful, Tzuco,” a second warrior said to the first, “I hear that the Jade Arrow are powerful spies, possessed with dark magic.” 
Tzuco scoffed. “Dark magic?” 
But the second warrior continued, “Magic that makes them move silently, disappear into the darkness, and…” he gulped, “and summon the jaguar.” 
Tzuco looked slightly less bold as he turned back to the calm face of Zamná. “Are you a Jade Arrow, Scout? Is this true that you can use dark magic?” 
Zamná returned a level stare at the warrior and answered, “I am Jade Arrow.” 
The other warriors stepped back a little, but Tzuco held his ground. “Well,” he began laughing, “I believe your only power is in frightening my patrol! If you had dark magic, we would not have caught you. Besides, you are one and we are seven. And we are within a cry of our fortress city, while you are miles away from Mayapán and any possible help.”
Tzuco paused in his reasoning and waited to see its effect. Zamná appeared unphased, but the other Itzás seemed to summon new courage.

A scout spoke for the first time. “Jade Arrow, we have magic, too. Do you not know that we serve the great king Chac-xib-chac who can summon Hapay Can?” 
“I have seen the god Hapay Can, Scout,” added Tzuco, glaring menacingly at Zamná. He is a terrifying serpent, black and shimmering and twice the height of a man.” He pointed at Zamná’s chest. “And he will draw your heart right out through your chest and devour it!”
Zamná remained silent for a moment. He knew the dawn was coming and the attack of Mayapán against Chichen Itzá would be soon after. He regretted that he would be unable to pass his report on to Hunac Ceel. But he drew himself up and made a valiant last stand. 
“I do not fear your high chief or his god Hapay Can, the sucking snake!” he could see his words filled the warriors with rage, but Zamná continued, “I serve a greater chief, and his magician, the Jaguar Priest Ah Mex Cuc is far greater than Chac-xib-chac and even Hapay Can. Your people will cower and plead for mercy against the armies of Mayapán and the Jaguar Priest!” 
Tzuco shouted as he finished, “Grab him! Let us take him before Lord Chac-xib-chac!”
Continued here:

Prologue to The Talismans of Sumer - Part 2

This is Part 2 of the prologue for the novel I'm trying to write. The working title is "The Talismans of Sumer" and it explores the common mythology of a half dozen ancient cultures. Comments and feedback welcome. These are the first of my writings I've ever posted on my blog. Part 1 is here.

Continued from Part 1:
The two other warriors stepped forward in obedience, but then stopped. A soft whisking sound, like branches in a breeze, came from all around them. One of the scouts behind Zamná cried out in agony and Zamná saw a streak of sleek black fur blur past him. A second blur showed a dark mass tackle the archer who was frantically trying to raise his bow. 
Tzuco looked from Zamná to a point just over Zamná’s shoulder and then cried out in terror. The cry was drowned out by a ferocious roar. Zamná spun around and looked up into the open jaws of a jaguar. The great cat was enormous with huge glistening teeth. Its dark black fur shined in the breaking dawn and it leaped at Zamná from its perch in the tree. Zamná dropped quickly to the forest floor, instinctively throwing his hands up to protect himself, only to see the enormous bulk of the jaguar sail over him and land on Tzuco, knocking him to the ground. The cat snarled again and the other warriors took to the forest as quickly as they could. Zamná saw dark forms overtake them in just a few steps as other jaguars pounced from the trees. 
Zamná held still, curled in a ball, for a few moments longer, listening to the snarls of jaguars and the cries of fallen warriors. As the sounds drifted past him, he rose slowly and looked around. He was safe and alone. Miraculously, none of his captors remained and none of the jaguars seemed interested in him. He dropped to his knees and breathed out, “I’m alive!” 
The next sound he heard brought a smile to his face. It was the seashell trumpets of Hunac Ceel signaling the approach of the army of Mayapán. Zamná rushed back to the overlook where he had jotted his report and looked down again at the city, this time making no effort to hide. He could feel the beat of the approaching drums beneath the peal of the trumpets. The Mayapán army was approaching, just making their appearance into the cleared area surrounding Chichen Itzá.
Zamná looked down at the city and gasped. The army he had seen massing before was now in chaos as their warriors scrambled to cover the walls and defend the city gates. Everywhere he looked, Zamná saw claws and fur approaching the city. Thousands of jaguars, some black and some gold with spots, were pouring down from the jungle. They were surrounding the city. They were climbing the walls. They were leaping at the guards who seemed too terrified to defend themselves. 
The sound of trumpets and drums was soon thundering in his ears. Just a few hundred yards from where he stood, Zamná saw the approaching army of Hunac Ceel. The early morning sun illuminated a sedan chair at the front of the army being carried by the two largest jaguars Zamná had ever seen. On the sedan chair stood Ah Mex Cuc, the Jaguar Priest of Mayapán. His arms were raised and he wore a look of intense concentration on his face, but the most striking part of his appearance was the powerful glow of deep green energy that surrounded him, emanating from a gold talisman hanging around his neck. The army came to a halt outside the city gates and the 5,000 warriors of Mayapán watched raptly as the hordes of jaguars coursed around them, surging into the city. 
Zamná watched a tall warrior in golden armor with long brilliant feathers climb onto the sedan chair beside Ah Mex Cuc. He began shouting. 
“Chac-xib-chac of Chichen Itzá!” he cried. “I am Hunac Ceel, ruler of Mayapán!” His voice echoed through the city and came clearly to Zamná’s ears. “My army stands at your gates, and the minions of my Jaguar Priest, Ah Mex Cuc, are ready to lay waste to your city.” Hunac Ceel paused and waited for his words to echo away. “I demand your surrender.” 
Zamná’s gaze was pulled back to the city where a mass of archers and warriors on a balcony above the front gate made way. The mass split apart for five men wearing the masks and headdress of the rain god to stand alone, then one among them, the tallest and darkest-skinned walked to the front. He wore a fierce snake-fanged helmet and carried a giant black spear carved at the top with a statue of the lightning god. 
“I am Chac-xib-chac!” he shouted down from the balcony. “I hear your words and see your army at my gates. Your small army,” he added, looking past the hordes of jaguars and staring right at Hunac Ceel. “I know not what magic brings the mighty jaguars to your aid, but I demand to know why you have come out against us in battle.” 
Hunac Ceel waited a moment, and then responded, “Chac-xib-chac, you know well the reason that I am here. Your people have taken the wife of our ally from Uxmal. We have come to rescue her and to spill your blood. Surrender your city, return the princess of Uxmal, and come captive with us. Surrender willingly and we will pay you the great honor of being sacrificed to the jaguar god.” 
Chac-xib-chac lifted his obsidian spear over his head and shouted at Hunac Ceel. “I am the ruler of Chichen Itzá and high chief of this great army. I will never surrender to you!” The army of the Itzás shouted and banged their weapons against their shields in agreement.
When it again grew quiet, Hunac Ceel gestured at the city before him. “Very well, Chac-xib-chac,” he said quietly, then he shouted, “I am the ruler of Mayapán and the lord of the jaguars. Look upon me, Chichen Itzá, and see your conqueror.”
He turned to Ah Mex Cuc and said a few hasty words. The Jaguar Priest lifted the large golden talisman and the green glow intensified around him. Now, flashing bursts of power like thunderclaps made the soldiers nearest to him wince. 
The legions of jaguars roared in unison and poured into the city of Chichen Itzá.

Well, there it is. What I've got so far. I'm going for a strong start that briefly introduces the magic system of the talismans and some of the historical research that will support the main story. I want it to be compelling enough to bring the reader in and get him through the first few chapters until I have good momentum. Comments and feedback welcome!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Morning

It’s Monday morning and I’m bursting with unused potential. I am in my 2nd month of being unemployed and I want so much more than what I’ve got. I want to scream what’s in my soul onto the face of this paper. I want to sit on a stage and pour my heart out, then stand and scream the verses to an audience so that it draws the tears from my eyes, their eyes. I want to have a finish line in view, just on the horizon and push every ounce of energy into every muscle and motion and squeeze out my breath like a suffocating sailor who sees the surface just over his head, just out of reach, and it seems like the last, most important thing I can do with my life is to give everything I’ve got because over that line, when the race is done, I’ve won and I don’t need to do anything after that, because that was what my life was meant for. That’s how the energy of my soul was meant to be spent. Like a rockstar giving their greatest performance, like an athlete running a world-record race, like an actor who knows, when he has delivered those lines, that he has played out an award-winning role--that he has made himself immortal. 

Someday I want to look back on this period of my life--these months when, because of my lack of focus on the work of a client in the world of ad agency or the business of marketing--I instead found myself with empty days of available canvas and found the focus and ambition within myself to not “do my job,” "attend this meeting," or “email the client back,” but to create something that came from my mind, my experiences, my soul, and my imagination that overcomes the experience of our daily, disappointing reality and replaces it with a simple, straightforward, and fathomable answer to the question that we all are asking: “Why doesn't my life make sense?”

Why can't we answer this question: “Why isn’t my ending and direction as clear to me now as they will be to me one day, when the ending is finally here and I reach the finish and can look back and say, ‘That’s why I was here, that was my purpose,’ and ‘If only I had known what I was working on, then I would have given it my all and done it my very best,’” Or at least I would have gotten myself about doing it sooner than this.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Plot Thickens... then Writes Itself

Funny as this may sound, I have been praying about a certain aspect of the story I'm writing. It is a parallel storyline to the main one, a secondary part of the novel, really, but it helps to setup and foreshadow the main story. Anyway, I have written about 30,000 words of it, but it just hasn't felt right. It hasn't made sense. It conflicts with a lot of historical information on one hand, and it just never seemed to take on a life of its own. So, I have been immersing myself in the history and myth that it is based on, and had the big idea to make it a character study about 2 weeks ago.

So I wrote and revised and invested hours and hours of time that I know is in short supply. The bottom line was, it still wasn't working. I can't even explain why, but it wasn't fitting in and telling the story I needed it to. Plus, I was bored by it, which can't be a good sign for the future potential reader. So, I prayed about it. I pray all the time about other things, unfortunately, I just did not think of God first on this one. I have been struggling to plot-line and whiteboard this out on my own, but hadn't specifically asked for God's involvement until this weekend.

Then this morning during my shower, it hits me that this book is really about the magic. I have created a complex magic system for this novel, complete with gods and demigods and pantheons of many belief systems (more than you need to know, I'm sure), and if I want to tell this story well, the reader needs to be more engaged in the development of the magic system than in any of the characters from the secondary storyline. So, I sat down at my laptop and just stream-of-conscious wrote out the plot for how this story would play out and really explain and develop the magic system with its potential and limitations. It went beautifully! I feel like I have direction and meaning now. I will get to work on weaving this into the storyline and really making it fun and interesting to read. I said a prayer there in the shower and said my "thank you"s, adding in a request that I will remember to include God in my work earlier and more thoroughly going forward.

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