Tying the Knot

By David Belt copyright 2014
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A few years prior to the turn of the century I purchased for myself this beautiful silk runner, which now adorns my office.  At the time, I felt I paid quite a healthy sum for this two by eight foot scrap of carpet, but it captured my eye and arrested my wallet from my heart.  I was in Turkey for the first time, and I felt I deserved an artifact of local culture.  The Turkish knot is slightly different than the Persian knot, so while Persian and Turkish carpets may look similar, to an artist, they are not.  Thus, there is only one place in the world one can acquire a genuine, handmade Turkish rug.

I have long loved my Turkish treasure as a work of unique fiber art, but I received a new appreciation for this work on my most recent trip to Turkey when I got the chance to visit a modern Turkish rug factory.  The word “factory” isn’t quite right as there is very little automation involved in the process of making the rugs.

 

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First, start with the cocoon of the silk worm…

 


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Soften in room temperature water for 30-45 minutes and spin into silken threads.  Once the treads are dyed and spooled in the appropriate colors, the magic can begin…

 

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One knot at a time…

I feel so connected to this brand of fiber art as it is very similar in structure to my own preference of chainmaille.  I fell in love with my rug all over again and nearly purchased a second, until I realized just how much my treasure had grown in value over the years, and rightly so.  I marvel at the skill and patience required to labor for months on a single rug.  I could sit and gaze at this artist for hours as she weaves her craft, knowing I could never reward her enough for the gift she gives to the world.

Home Coming

Home

 

Seven months and three days ago, the USS Carney set forth upon a naval deployment to the Arabian Gulf. Today, she returned to Mayport, Florida bearing myself and over three hundred of my shipmates.

For me, it is a bitter sweet homecoming, as this has been the final deployment of my naval career. Never again shall I sail into harms way, not know when or if I shall return.

To many, this may not sound like such a bad idea, but to one such as I, the release of this burden is heart wrenching. To date, I have lived more days in service to my country then not; it has consumed almost my entire adulthood.

I cannot explain my reasons for dedicating my life to service. It is simply who I am. I do what I do, because I can. The sword is weighty in my hand, but even more so in my heart. As many have paraphrased George Orwell to say, “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Orwell’s actually quote was a bit more crass, but his meaning was clear.

I still have many tales to tell from times abroad, but those stories will have to wait for another day. Today, I’m home.

 

 

St Crispin’s Day Speech

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Coffee culture

Copyright David Belt 2014

It is said a cup of Turkish coffee can mend a friendship wounded forty years deep. This wonderful saying gives pause to something so common we often take it for granted. We bustle about in our morning routine, grabbing a cup of joe anyway we can, be it an automated brewing machine that makes the coffee on a timer, because we can’t be bothered to do so ourselves, or we slap a K-cup in a Keurig and call it coffee. I have both in my home, but if I leave my hovel without my java, there is no end to the myriad of available choices to get that tasty choice. My brother, Steve, makes his living as the owner of Echo Coffee in Scottsdale, AZ, catering his craft to coffee connoisseurs and local commuters, and why?

Well, think of the alternative… Life without coffee is just unthinkable.

I still remember one of the first jokes I ever received on Face Book:

Writer (ri-ter) – noun – An organism that converts coffee into novels.

Coffee is an integral part of our daily lives, and in many cultures, it has greater meaning than a simple kick start to our morning routine. The mocha from Persian cultures dates back to their desert dwelling nomadic days. In the desert, water is more precious than the coffee bean, so they use as little water as possible when making their coffee, resulting in the thick, strong flavored mocha. The offering of a cup of coffee by a desert nomad is a sign of respect as both the coffee and water are difficult to come by in the desert. This tradition is carried forward to modern Persian homes as guests are offered coffee as a sign of respect.

In Turkey, coffee has a much deeper meaning than a simple beverage. The best time for Turkish coffee is a hot midsummer afternoon, because the conditions are just right to make natural Turkish coffee. Boiling hot water is not filtered through ground beans in Turkey, but rather, a good cup of Turkish coffee starts with cool mountain spring water. The coffee is shaved to a fine powder and the water is set in the warm sun as the coffee dissolves naturally, slowly in the sun heated water. The offering of this labor shows great respect to the guest and gives time to talk and resolve differences as the coffee slowly brews.

Like the Persians, the Turks were nomads, and many of those traditions have been carried forward in time. Among those traditions is the arrangement of marriage, but Turkish culture has an interest veto method. Though they may not be permitted to interact or even converse, the bride will always meet the groom before the wedding, and it is the bride who has the final say on whether or not she will marry. The bride does not speak her decision; she serves coffee. Once the parents have settled on the arrangements, the meeting is concluded with the bride serving coffee. She will flavor the coffee with either sugar, indicating she agrees to marry, or salt, indicating her refusal.

Next time you sip on your favored cup of coffee, think more fully on what it means to you, for friendships are mended and marriages are sealed on the strength of a cup of coffee.

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Nomadic Culture

Nomadic Culture
Copyright 2014 David Belt

One of the things I enjoy doing is studying different cultures to see how they live and gain a better understanding of human social behaviors. Prior to the discovery of oil in 1958, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) largely consisted of a nomadic, desert dwelling culture. The precept of such a culture never really made sense to me, so on my recent visit to the UAE, I had many questions about their culture.

Why be nomadic; why not settle in one place?

How did they survive in the desert?

How has the cohesiveness of their culture remained so tight and unchanged for thousands of years?

First and foremost, a nomadic culture is not formed by choice, but by necessity. In the desert, resources are scarce and replenish infrequently. So a large group would need to move from resource to resource in order to maintain a steady flow food and goods necessary for survival. Generational nomadic cultures would learn where resources are common to exist and probable locations of future resources.

A nomadic group is dependant upon each and every member for their very survival. The bond between them is very tight and must remain so if they are to prosper. For this reason, a nomadic group must share certain ideals in order to function. Such ideals would be inherent in their personal manners, social structures, governing bodies and religious orders. Any member not adhering to these principals would have to be removed for the good of the group. In a desert nomad culture, removal from the group is a death sentence, as one could not long survive, alone.

In such a culture, words like “family,” “honor,” and “tradition” are not merely social values, but a means of survival. A nomadic group would have generations of families living together. Careful organization of families between groups becomes a necessity to foster healthy generations without inbreeding. Thus, most marriages are arranged, and brides rarely meet their husbands in advance. Trade is an essential aspect of survival as resources are limited, not only in quantity, but in variety as well. The opportunity to trade with other groups is based on the honor of the group. Thus, if even a few members are known to lack honor in anyway, the group may be shunned from trading, which could doom them all.

In modern Arabic countries, many of these cultural foundations persist. Though the people have moved from camel skin and straw huts to modern condominiums, the culture of the people remains very much intact. Generational families will still often live in a single household. Honor, once lost, can never be regained. And many laws persist to unify whole countries in social manners and religious values.

The traditions by which the people of the UAE live today were carved out of the harsh desert by their ancestors, only a few generations ago. It is difficult to imagine the conditions by which the people of the Emirates lived only 60 years ago, yet it is impressive to see a culture thrive so well.

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Xenofiction part 3: Culture

How the Other Half Lives, Part 3: Culture

Copyright 2014 David Belt.

Welcome to part three of this series on Xenofiction, stories told from the point of view of something other than human. I have assumed a task of telling a story from birth to death of a unique non-human species. In doing so, I have undertaken a much greater feat than I once believed. And now I am passing on some of what I have learned. This week’s topic covers the unimaginably variable subject of culture.

At this point, our non-human species has been born into the world and started experiencing the world through its unique senses. Another aspect of life that greatly affects our childhood development is the culture which disposes our primary education. Our culture determines how we speak, eat, dress, and behave.

Any sentient species must have some means of communication, even if it not verbal speech. The species I have created develops telepathic communication before it even hatches from its egg, but verbal communication skills come much later in life. The t’ca from C. J. Cherryh’s Chanur novels have a language with a matrix-grammar rather than a linear grammar.

Feeding is genetically encoded on every living creature. Through the senses discussed in part two of this series, creatures can determine on their own what constitutes food, but a sentient species would no doubt develop a nutritional precept of some kind. Some foods maybe selected based on cultural guidance, rather than nutritional value. In Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, the Cullen family of vampires are called vegan, because they only drink animal blood, rather than human blood.

I was eating lunch with some of my shipmates the other day, when the question was asked, “How come aliens in movies are always naked?” which I thought was a brilliant question. It stands to reason that a sentient species advanced enough to develop interstellar travel, at some point would have gone through some form of fashion development. Even if clothing was not needed for protection from the elements, do they have no concept of fashion or modesty or individuality? Human technology has developed to the level that we do not require clothing most of the time, but we continue wear clothes because it is part of our culture. Has this non-human culture developed so differently that clothing of some kind is not worn?

Behavior is the single most defining trait of one’s culture. The most basic concepts of right and wrong are taught or omitted by cultural upbringing. Worldwar by Harry Turtledove is a fantastic comparison of human and alien cultures as his alien race lands on earth at the height of World War II.

The quintessential question of nature vs. nurture is asked again and again in literary prose with no true defining answer. Why do we do the things we do?

Of this truth I am certain: of all the creatures on earth, only man is truly evil.

Evil requires only one thing to exist: sentient thought. Any sentient species will have to battle its own demons through a cultural structure of some kind, and not all will adhere to that structure, either by chance or by choice there will be cultural outcasts that do not behave in accordance to what is deemed “right.” In “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” an adaptation of Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates, Klaatu’s race deems humankind is evil and must be eradicated for the sake of preserving the Earth.

For my part, I have a clutch of twelve eggs from different parents raised by a single guardian. While their cultural bias will be uniform, each will have their own evils to engage or embrace.

One of the scenarios discussed in part one of this series was a story that began “A boy finds a strange egg in the woods.” In this scenario, the unique species is born into a culture other than its native one. How do such alien cultures effect the development of the offspring? How would it compare to one from its natural culture? How well would it be able to integrate into its natural culture? Would it even want to?

Diversity is the spice of life, so don’t let your non-human species become perfect clones of one another (even if they are clones). Establish your cultural norms, then allow your creations to exercise a bit of individuality, and they will be all the better for it.

Next week I’ll be wrapping up this four course meal of Xenofiction with a study on the lifecycles of these fascinating new creations.

Senses: Xenofiction Part 2

How the Other Half Lives, Part 2: Experiencing the World

Copyright David Belt 2014

Last week, I began a series into the infinite expanse of Xenofiction, stories told from the perspective of something other than human, covering some the dos and don’ts of creative literature. In Part 1, we gave witness to the miracle of birth and the variety of options for non-human procreation. Now that our inhuman babies have been born, how will they experience the world?

Humans have five natural senses used to interpret the world around them: Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It is with implacable continuity that otherwise brilliant writers, the world over, by insistence or by oversight, write non-human characters that experience the world in the exact same way as humans. Please, I beseech you: Let non-humans be non-human!

In my research, purposed at crafting a non-human species, I have explored each of the five common senses and asked: How will this species use that sense? Then, I went one step farther and asked this newly form creature: Do you have any other senses, not common to humans?

Sight: All creatures must see the world around them, though not necessarily with two forward looking eyes. The primary purpose for two forward looking eyes is for depth perception to judge distance to a target. Ecologically speaking, it does follow that predators rise to the top of their specific food chains and thus become the dominant species. So, two forward looking eyes are practical in many cases of sentient life. I, myself, am using creatures with two forward looking eyes for this very reason.

But it doesn’t have to be that simple. How do those eyes relate to human? Do they see the same color spectrum? Do they see anything other than refracted light? I have created a species that can see the auras that surround all living things.

Hearing: Hearing varies widely from species to species on earth, so it reasons that a non-human species would have very different hearing. The range of frequency and volume may be greater or worse than human, or may not exist at all. An important aspect to keep in mind about sound is that it causes vibrations. A non-human species may perceive those vibrations with something other than what we consider ears.

Bats use their hearing for navigation via a sonar-like ability called echolocation. This ability is carried to an extreme in Star Carrier: Deep Space by William H Keith as his Slan see exclusively by echolocation.

Smell: The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix is an excellent example of xenofiction using a creature’s sense of smell as the nearly blind hound relies primarily on his sense of smell to experience the world.

Taste: This may be the most varied of all the senses, as not even members of the same species will have the exact same tastes. Additionally, there are species that use taste for purposes other than sampling food. Several varieties of lizards taste the air as a means of exploring their surroundings. As I have created a lizard-like species, I have adopted this particular option.

Touch: The sense of touch is universally found in every life form, many of which compensate for shortcomings in other senses by way of specializes forms of touch. As I said before, sound wave cause vibrations in the air, a species may be otherwise deaf, but able to interpret sound in some way by feeling such vibrations.

Clifford Simok’s Spheres in Project Pope use their unique touch for both hearing and communication.

Natural plants experience the world entirely through their sense of touch, so it only follows that sentient plant would rely heavily on their own sense of touch. It is alluded that J. R. R. Tolken’s Ents of Fanghorn from The Lord of the Rings possess a special sense of touch which includes a form of sensory navigation, as they can feel what direction they are travelling in.

Extra Sensory Perception: As writers cross the chasm of “what if,” a broad spectrum of unique senses that do not exist in humans emerges. Many of these senses include forms of psychic abilities, electromagnetic detection, and the variable uses of antennae.

Whatever your flavor, let your unique creations, look, touch and taste unique. The end product will be more enjoyable for your readers and more challenging for your writing as these characters explore the world around them with their own unique senses.

Join me again next week as I put on my anthropology hat and explore non-human cultures.

How the Other Half Lives, Part 1: Birth

Darkcargoites: David is exploring xenofiction. This is part one of a series to be continued in the following weeks.

How the Other Half Lives, Part 1: Birth

copyright David Belt 2013

I have recently delved into the exciting world of Xenofiction or stories told from the perspective of something other than human. I initially took this project on as a matter of curiosity, but the deeper I dug, the more challenging and more interesting the task became. Over the next several weeks, I will be detailing what I have learned on the subject, along with some examples of what to do and what not to do.

I want to take my readers on a complete journey from birth to eventuality of a completely non-humanoid species. So where to begin?

Birth seemed like a logical place to start, so I had to examine the birthing process. By limiting this precept to earthlike reproduction processes, there are four possibilities: live born, hatchling, seedling, or cellular division.

Live birth is very familiar as it is common to all mammals, however, it typically involves a lengthy gestation period and complicated delivery. To effectively integrate an alien live birth into a story would take a considerable amount of telling, largely involving the parent. (Note: I did not say “mother” for reasons to be described later.) With live birth, a writer is committing to a family story as the reader will be heavily invested the parent(s) well before the protagonist child is introduced. A solid example of this is found in Barry B. Longyear’s Enemy Mine, which focuses the first half of the novella on the pregnant Jeriba Shegan, before it gives birth to Zammis.

Live birth is a bonding process between parent and offspring to which readers can very easily relate. What you do not want to do is to cheat your readers of that experience. If you are going to commit to live birth, then commit to it fully and allow your readers the opportunity to bond with the offspring, as well.

Hatchling, or offspring hatched from an egg outside the parent’s body, is the next most familiar form of procreation as it is common to the majority of animals on earth. While gestation periods and parental involvement can very widely, one thing is common to all hatchling births. Parental involvement is not required at the time the offspring hatches. There are a great many fantasy tales that begin: “A boy finds a strange egg in the woods.”

Hatchlings provide the widest range of options regarding family involvement. One could have a single egg and parent, a single egg and multiple parents, multiple eggs and a single parent, or multiple eggs from multiple parents. For my project, I chose multiple eggs from multiple parents. The parents lay their eggs in a collective hatchery, and the hatchlings are cared for in a nursery-like environment by selected parental guardians. This has the effect of the hatchlings bonding with the guardian, rather than their natural parents.

Seedling is the common process by which plants on earth reproduce. Though this does not naturally exist in animal life as we know it, it has been used in literature, many times over. J. R. R. Tolken’s Ents of Fanghorn from The Lord of the Rings may be among the most well known examples of sentient plant life.

Seedling reproduction gives the writer all of the options of both live birth and hatchling, depending on the approach. The downside to this very alien method of reproduction is that the process must be very detailed in order for the reader to fully understand what is happening to the characters. One major pet peeve of mine that I strongly urge you to avoid is the rapid spontaneous generation of mass, prevalent in a large amount of anime style tentacle horror, in which huge creatures emerge from tiny seeds in moments. The Law of Conservation of Mass applies to living creatures too. In order for something to grow, it must absorb a sufficient quantity of matter, first. Don’t be hasty, little one.

Finally we have the most common method of procreation, cellular division. While on earth, this method of procreation only exists in simple life forms, cellular division does exist in on some level in every life form, therefore it is theoretically possible for a higher life form to reproduce by cellular division. Again, the Law of Conservation of mass must be applied. The movie Gremlins is a terrible example of a creature which reproduces by cellular division when it gets wet. While humorous, this is also completely ridiculous.

The Host by Stephanie Meyer, however, is a brilliant example of reproduction by cellular division. For starters, the Souls are a biologically simple life form, so the theory is much more practical. A large Mother Soul ends her life cycle by dividing into a number of smaller Souls.

Along with reproduction, we are, of course, left with questions on methods of procreation, which I won’t be covering here.

Now that our non-human children have been born, it is time for them to experience the world. Next week, I will delve into the variety of senses by which the world may be perceived.

Until then, good luck, good reading, and don’t feed them after midnight.

Give me a Break

Give Me a Break
By David Belt copyright 2014

Last week, I announced the completion of my first novel, and put forth the conundrum of what to do next. I am very appreciative of the support and advice I received, and I have endeavored to press forward in earnest.

To that end, in the last week, I conducted an exhaustive amount of research, wrote and submitted a short story, drafted the chapter outline of my next book, and generated a query letter for the current book. And now I say, “Enough!”

Quite literally, my back hurts from the strain, and I reminded that I am irrefutably human. While the literary world is limitless, I am not. We all have our limits, of which we are often reminded in our failures, but sometimes we claim foresight enough to see the limitation and make correction before the breaking point.

I am at that point. Today, I walked away from my computer, during a time when I would otherwise be working on some literary venture, sat down in the ship’s library, and picked up a book.

This will be my task for the next week, and this will be my break from all that plagues me. Pick up a book and fear not the world, for it means no more harm to you than you mean to visit upon it. Take some time to read. Take some time for yourself. Just plain take a break. Not to mention, the most important reason for reading a book: Because it’s there.

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Two Books … Or Not Two Books?

Two Books … Or Not Two Books?

David Belt Copyright 2014

Such is the question which preoccupies my mind. As I conclude the final edits on my first novel, I am plagued with counter intuitive thoughts as to what to do next.

Should I start Book II, as I know this novel is meant to be the first of a four book series?

Or

Should I hold off continued pursuits of this project until I sell the first novel, in order to allow time for other projects which might sell, if this one does not?

As I debate my next move, I am reminded of Alan Wold’s sagely advice, delivered at the onset of each of his writing workshops.

“If you are looking to make money, go be a plumber.
Only 1 in every 100 novels that is started is ever finished.
Only 1 in every 1,000 novels that is finished is ever published.
And only 1 in every 10,000 published authors can make a living at it.
You have to write for no other reason than because you enjoy writing.”

I love to write. I do so as often as my busy schedule will allow. I am still deployed on the far side of the world, and the majority of my time is preoccupied with the pursuits of national defense. I do still have time that is my own, and in that time I endeavor to tell my stories, as I have so many to share. If it should come to pass that I never sell a story and only my beta readers enjoy my tales, then at least I will know I have shared that which I love with those who appreciate what was given.

Persian Influences

Persian Influences

By David Belt copyright 2013New Picture

As a continuation of last week’s article on inspiration, I’ve elected to share some inspirations I have had based on the culture of the world I am currently in, the Persian Gulf.  When many people think of the Persian Gulf, thoughts of a war torn and violent, impoverished area come to mind.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The rate of violent crime in the average Persian city is very low, the streets are neat and clean, and entertainment expenses are comparable to U.S. expenses, providing an area rich in beauty and culture.

New Picture (1)I have long enjoyed Persian cultures, and I have drawn many inspirations from them, from my Persian bracelets to my hand and foot flowers to my chainmail belly dancer outfit.

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