Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Happy Holidays

Below is a yearly letter from my friend, playwright Marty Casella. 

I loved it and thought I'd share it...


Dear Family and Friends -

I have been pondering miracles, during this time of winter holidays. So much of what is currently happening in the world is - as a friend recently said to me at breakfast - “a mess.” Therefore many of us are wishing for miracles of some kind or another. For an end to war and violence. For better governments and world leaders. For attention to be paid to our planet and environment. For a return to hope, decency and kindness. For people to honor and cherish other individuals, instead of focusing so much on power and money. As Pope Francis, the Holy See of the Catholic Church, stated: “The future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically na├»ve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow." 

Of all these great miracles we hope for, and the miracles we see around us every day, a new birth is perhaps the greatest of them all. The birth of a child. The birth of an idea. The birth of a movement. The birth of a new beginning. The birth of the sun (or the Son, if you’re of a Christian persuasion.)

It only recently occurred to me that most of the major religious winter holidays revolve around births. For those who are Muslim, the main winter holiday is the birth of Muhammad, often celebrated in December or late November. This holiday is called Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif, or “The Birth of the Prophet.” The origin of this holiday observance reportedly dates back to the time of the early four Rashidun Caliphs of Islam. Ottomans declared it an official holiday in the year 1588. For those who love a little etymology, the Arabic word “Nabi” sounds very close to English word nativity, having to do with birth. It’s close to the French word nee, meaning “born.” The term Mawlid is also used in some parts of the world as a generic term for birthday celebrations of other religious figures, such as sufi saints. Mawlid is recognized as a national holiday in most Muslim-majority countries of the world, except Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Mawlid is celebrated as a festive occasion. Entire cities are decorated. Along with parades, there are tents in which treats and candy are distributed to children. At these festivities, there is a long tradition of powerful devotional songs performed. These musical narratives portray the prophet Muhammad not simply as the deliverer of the last divine dispensation (the Qur’an, or Koran) but as a being of cosmic significance, an opening of a channel of divine mercy onto this world, and a means of intercession for sinners. This vision of Muhammad is much more than simply a child; he is the cure for pain, one who is not separated from God, and a saintly being (a “friend of God”), whom all will call upon to deliver them from sin in the days of the Hereafter. 

Sound familiar?

    

In Christian religions, the miracle of Christmas is celebrated as the main winter holiday. (Like you didn’t know that, right?) Christmas is on December 25th, but is celebrated two weeks later by some Orthodox Christian religions. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ the Savior, and hence “A Mass for Christ” is held that day to celebrate His coming. Christ Mas. Mas is an old English way of spelling the word Mass. As in Sunday Mass.

Here are some little know facts about Christmas which I find interesting. Have you ever thought about the fact it takes place exactly nine months after Easter? This apparently means something very important to many theologians. (The Circle of Life” and all that.) Most people are aware that December 25th wasn’t really the day when the baby Jesus was born; it was more likely closer to sometime in the summer. When Christianity began to spread during the time the Romans ruled the world, the date was probably changed so as to be closer to the Winter Solstice, which many pagans societies celebrated. Sort of like our Veteran’s Day being November 11th but we always celebrate it on a Monday or a Friday so we can have a three-day holiday weekend. 

Christmas, before Victorian times, was actually a quite raucous holiday. It wasn’t for children, and mainly involved drinking a great and threatening your neighbors with bodily harm if they didn’t share their booze and treats with you. Hence the lyrics “bring us some figgy pudding” and “we won’t go until we get some!” Victorians turned Christmas into a sentimental giftfest for kids. They also gave us Christmas trees, brought from Germany by Queen Victoria’s Teutonic husband Prince Albert. Clement Moore (“A Visit From Saint Nick”) and Charles Dickens (“A Christmas Carol”) helped make Christmas more of a family gathering celebration. A 19th century newspaper ad introduced us to Santa Claus, who was then used to sell toys, games and books to children. Pretty soon after that, Santa Claus and the Baby Jesus got all mixed up together on people’s lawn ornaments for Christmas. God bless us every one. 

    

For Jews, the winter holiday of Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. (We all knew that, right? Show of hands, please.) Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev, according to the Hebrew calendar. It may occur at any time from late November to late December. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication. How “birth” figures in here is that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had been captured by the Greeks many years before. Then it was recaptured by the very brave Maccabees. In other words, the Holy Temple of Jerusalem was reborn. 

What happened next in the Hanukkah story is that when the Temple was rededicated, everyone freaked out because all of the containers of oil with which to light candles were spoiled… all except one. That one container of oil stayed lit in a menorah for eight days and nights. As we learned in last year’s letter, that’s why so many of the Hanukkah treats, like latkes and donuts, are fried. One research book I perused said that 17.5 million donuts are eaten each Hanukkah in Israel. The real reason behind those “Hanukkah candles staying lit for so long” is to show us that everything in the natural world is a miracle given to us by God, and that nothing happens without God willing it. P.S - I am alternately delighted and amused by the menorahs below.  SHALOM!

    

And what of ye Pagans, Wiccans and Druids? What is this winter holiday you call Yule? Well, in ancient times, to celebrate the day when nights began to get shorter, bonfires were lit in the fields. Crops and trees were “wassailed” with toasts of spiced cider. Children were escorted from house to house with gifts of clove-spiked apples and oranges, which were put in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represented the sun. The boughs were symbolic of immortality (evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not “ die," thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine). The wheat stalks stood for the harvest, and the flour was the accomplishment of triumph, light, and life. Holly and ivy not only decorated the outside of the houses, but also the insides, in hopes that Nature Sprites would come and join the celebration. A sprig of holly was kept near the door all year long as a constant invitation for good fortune to visit the residents. Mistletoe was also hung as decoration. It represented the seed of the Divine and… fertility! Midwinter, Druids would travel deep into the forest to harvest it. Then there’s the Yule Log. Keeping away the ever-present darkness, the Log would burn brightly all night long. When the flames died, the Log was left to smolder in the hearth for twelve days, to bring good luck. 

Although the Twelve Days of Christmas are technically about marking the time between Christmas and Epiphany (the arrival of Magi, or The Three Kings), I’m sort of guessing here that because of the Druids ancient tradition of leaving the Yule Log to smolder for twelve days, this is actually where we get the inspiration for the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song… and the title of Shakespeare’s play TWELFTH NIGHT. Thank you, Druids!

    


If this missive seems a little heavy on religion this year, it’s because in the midst of “the mess” we are struggling to get through, sometimes a strong belief in something can be helpful, whether it is a spinning dreidel, a Yule log, a tiny baby swaddled in a manger, or the prophet who helped create Islam.

One more thing about miracles. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that miracles do happen. Every day. Often when you least expect them. 

The birth of every child, every idea, every great love, every moment of hope, is a miracle.

Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, turn on a light. Banish the darkness. Hold hope in your hands and in your heart. Do good. Be kind. Be gentle. Love your neighbor. Treat all people with dignity. Make peace with your enemy. Show mercy. Respect our planet. 

Most importantly, in the immortal words of The Staple Singers, Respect Yourself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnJtgggdhdg
The Staple Singers perform "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" at the 1999 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, when they were inducted into the Hall of Fame.


Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Eid.  Good Yule.

All the best and much love,

Marty

Friday, December 22, 2017

Happy Holidays! Stay cozy with a good book to read!



A Branch Too Weak (The Golden Empire Series Book 1) by Richard Roux, by Carole P. Roman

Review by Carole P. Roman

A Branch Too Weak (The Golden Empire Series Book 1) 
by Richard Roux

Thrilling and detailed tale of the Old West. Danny Vance is a young man working his family's farm in Missouri when the discovery of gold lures him to leave everything he knows and join a friend to become prospectors. Richard Roux takes the reader step by step through the process of preparing and then traveling on the trip of a lifetime. He recounts the dangers and disappointments of the trail, the triumphs and friendships. Most do not become rich on gold, but the by-product that built the west. Restaurants, freight operators, merchants did indeed find their fortune servicing the new populations that grew from the influx of dreamers. Descriptive and colorful, Roux includes all kinds of westerners telling the backstories of the hardships of the Asians and Native populations. Danny does make an enemy on the trip and this livens the plot, leaving the ending unresolved and ensuring there will be more tales to share of the wild west.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Meet the Author Tuesdays: Cherie Mitchell

About – Cherie Mitchell



Cherie Mitchell is a New Zealand-based writer with a strong interest in creating stories which focus on relationships and character evolution.

After giving up a corporate life in Australia three years ago and opting for an adventure, Cherie spent several months in China working as an English Teacher. Over the course of this assignment, Cherie lived in Chenghai, Shantou a “village” of 5 million people and the toy-producing capital of the world. Chenghai is a region where foreigners are still few and far between and Cherie’s pale skin and blonde hair were very much a novelty here. She enjoyed the experience immensely and laughingly jokes that she felt completely at home in the once-in-a-lifetime role of goddess due to her unusual appearance in a village of dark-haired citizens.

On her return to New Zealand Cherie decided the time was right to embark on a full-time freelance writing career. She had written sporadically for magazines (fiction), newsletters (articles), and newspapers (articles, film reviews, and restaurant reviews) for most of her life but her true interest lay in the role of the storyteller.

Cherie’s first freelance assignment involved writing executive biographies and resumes for a US startup company who were focused on creating a platform to assist high-performing execs move into Board of Director roles. This project (still ongoing two years later) gave Cherie an excellent insight into the American psyche and culture as the biographies and resumes were transcribed and created from actual audio interviews. To date Cherie has completed nearly 2000 resumes and bios for this organization and has been advised that her input was integral to the company making the 2017 Inc 500 List of Fastest Growing Companies.

After being approached to ghost write romance e-books, box sets, and series for a US publisher, Cherie found herself researching the previously unknown (to her) genre of Wild West Mail Order Brides. A keen researcher, Cherie soon uncovered a wealth of information and, with a free rein on plots and characters, she had soon written several romances from scratch.  Cherie treated the romance book writing as another work assignment and, along with the resume and bio writing, was kept busy in a full-time writing capacity.

It wasn’t until ten months after producing the first set of stories that Cherie began to wonder just how “her” stories were faring in the marketplace. Especially after the publisher contacted her with a large bonus payment and an offer of an overseas trip. Curious as to whether the original book titles had been kept once published, Cherie searched online and discovered that yes, the books had been printed exactly as written, and surprise! – they now had a huge following. The publisher had created two fictional authors, along with fictional bios, under whom to release the books and Cherie’s stories now had an eager audience, all apparently anticipating the release of the next book. At this stage, Cherie has written 150 of these books under the veil of anonymity.

Fast forward to November this year. One of Cherie’s own romance stories, Desire, was released by another US publisher to the US and Spanish markets. At this point Cherie decided that the time was right to begin to write and release books under her own name. She is gradually growing her own audience (due to contractual obligations she is unable to reveal her ghost written names) and is happily exploring life as a valid author. Current works-in-progress include a romance novel, a coming of age novel set in Vietnam at the time of the Chinese infiltration (300 years ago), and a crime fiction novel in collaboration with a former Head of the Fraud Squad in New Zealand.


Cherie Mitchell – 150 Wild West Romances Bio and Links

Cherie Mitchell is a New Zealand-based freelance writer and author with a global outlook and a love of research.

Cherie has researched and ghost written 150 Wild West romances based in the gold rush era of the late 1800s, a time when the very first concept of mail order brides came into being. The American Civil War and the gold rush itself depleted the East Coast of the US of young men, leaving many young ladies in the East anxious of their chances of ever finding a husband. So began the Mail Order Bride services, with erstwhile and hopeful single men placing advertisements in newspapers and church flyers back East in the hopes of enticing marriageable young ladies to the new frontier.
Following the success of these books (released by the publisher under the names of two fictional authors who cannot be named due to contractual obligations), Cherie has recently begun to write and release books under her own name. Two of these books are also based in the Wild West Mail Order Bride era but are a much steamier version of her clean and wholesome ghost written works.  Cherie chose to write these two books after completing a mass of research and discovering that prostitution, “soiled doves”, and bordellos were as much a part of the old West as cowboys, outlaws, and pioneer families.

Cherie is very much a cross-genre writer and her other books include a YA time travel history book, two contemporary romances, and a non-fiction account of the 2010-2011 Christchurch, New Zealand earthquakes.

Links: 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Where There's A Will by Alex R Carver - Reviewed by Carole P. Roman

Where There's A Will by Alex R Carver - Reviewed by Carole P. Roman

Meticulously detailed and realistic, Where There's a Will, is a terrific crime drama. Nate Stone is a dedicated inspector assigned to investigate a robbery at a festival. Could the fleeing robbers be guilty of a hit and run, as well? While questioning people about this crime, the daughter of an important businessman is kidnapped. 

Stone proves he and his team are up to the task as they are thrown into another investigation. AR Carver creates likable characters, from their habit of teasing a junior officer about his unfortunate name (Christian Gray) to the human side of Stone worrying about his sick grandmother. The books jump to multiple points of view, but this adds to the kinetic movement of the plot. Police work can be long, boring, and tedious. Carver manages to make his policemen seem real and interesting enough to care about them, while they juggle cases in their busy world.




You can find out more information on Where There's A Will by Alex R Carver with the Amazon link below:


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gospels by Stephen Taylor, plus a Giveaway by Stephen Taylor

Gospels– blurb

The year is 1835 - in the back alleys of London John Campbell-John is running for his life. A rogue, imposter, swindler - a man without honor, without empathy for his fellow man. But his massive debts have now vindictively caught up with him. He has even stolen from his best friend. He has one option - to flee the country

In Venice, there is a chance encounter and an unlikely friendship emerges. Robert Babcock is everything John is not - honorable, academic, a man on an admirable quest - to travel in Egypt to find the earliest original copies of the Gospels to prove the reliability of the story of Jesus, as told in the King James Bible. Is Gospel Truth, as we say day today, really undeniable.

A story of discovery, of adventure from the River Nile to the endless deserts of Sinai, from ancient Egyptian tombs to fabulous golden artifacts, and ultimately a personal redemption.




Bio/Profile. Stephen Taylor_Author


Stephen Taylor was once a happy and reasonably well-adjusted person; that was until an urge to write invaded his psyche, this need to be a writer, to tell tales; then these thoughts began to coalesce.

A Georgian trilogy was conceived; set in London; a decadent time, a decadent place. See also Gospels - a Georgian adventure story set in Egypt, contemporary novels, and a children's story.

Born in Yorkshire, brought up in Manchester (still an avid Manchester City fan); he is now retired and lives near Loughborough with his partner, a widower with a daughter just finished University. He has always admired the skill of the storyteller and his books aspire to that simple tradition.

Contact details:
Blog: stephentaylorauthor.blogspot.com

ANNOUNCEMENT:

I am hosting a giveaway. The offer runs from December 12/17 to January 12/18. The book is Gospels and can be found at:

Buy Gospels by Stephen Taylor on Amazon:

Kindle:

Paperback:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review Wednesday presents: Quinn’s Socks by Melita Cyril

Review by Carole P. Roman on Quinn’s Socks by Melita Cyril


Charming and cute, Quinn's Socks is a rhyming book that is a delight to read. Cyril's clever text finds innumerable ways to twist the tongue, as Quinn describes his colorful footwear. Quinn is obsessed with all the different ways he can enjoy his socks.  Carole Chevalier's adorable illustrations match the lively prose and should entertain both parents and children when they read together, much like Quinn does with his dad on the last page of the book. Guess what the subject of his book happens to be? Socks!