#FlyMeToSpace with Spaceship Earth Grants

Aurora from space NASA

Photo credit: NASA (Creative Commons license 2.0)

Like many kids, once I started learning about astronomy, my imagination took hold and I dreamed of the day I’d be able to travel in space. As I built model rockets in a summer school program, I thought of Star Trek and Cosmos and all the other shows that influenced me. (In one memorable launch of the Polaris, a gold and white rocket with a clear compartment for unwitting travelers of the insect persuasion, a grasshopper was the first “spacefaring” bug to soar over the grounds of Holy Cross College. The grasshopper, thoroughly bewildered, I’m sure, survived. The next flight, occupied by beetles of unknown species, had the misfortune of being part of a doomed flight as the parachute melted and the rocket flew off at untold speeds toward Worcester traffic. If my toy rocket hit your windshield circa 1982, apologies.)

I didn’t cut pictures out of Teen Beat magazine to pin to my wall. The photos I longingly stared at in my room were from National Geographic—of Voyager’s journey through the planets. Jupiter’s storms and Saturn’s rings captivated me. Alas, math not being my strong suit, my dreams of becoming a rocket scientist or astronomer were dashed. But words—those I could work with.

By the mid-90s, I was working on a novel that involved a civilization in the early stages of building colonies off-world. Starting on the moon and Mars, this world super-power was looking to achieve what I had seen in Star Trek, but with a dystopian edge. The twist? As a work of speculative fiction, it focused on an ancient civilization—that in this parallel universe—never collapsed but became a thriving space-age empire. In the first draft, I didn’t get to that bit. The personal issues of the characters took over and after more than 400 pages, I abandoned the unfocused story and it languished for years.

Then I learned about the Overview Effect. While I assumed looking back at your home world from a distance would change a person, I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the experience as described by the panel of astronauts in a series of events at Harvard Extension School. It was profound. As one of the astronauts described the feeling of turning away from Earth to see the black of space, something clicked.

In the following months, I revised the concept of my novel and wrote, as they say in NaNoWriMo circles, “with literary abandon.” What would make this story even better? Seeing it for myself.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute, along with similar organizations, such as astronaut Ron Garan’s Fragile Oasis, The Overview Institute, and the Planetary Society, among others, have worked to create Spaceship Earth Grants with the goal of sending applicants into space. The idea is that the more people who see Earth and experience the Overview Effect, the more humanity will work to help each other and the well-being of the planet. Anyone is encouraged to apply—artist, entrepreneur, science enthusiast—you name it. The more people who sign up, the more people get to go. All you need to do is share your vision of how you think you can help change the world.

I’ve had quite a few extraordinary opportunities in my life, and I hope joining this program and doing novel research in space for the sake of art’s importance to humanity in conveying this amazing vision is one of them.

Find out how to #applytofly here.

Whiskey and Rue: An October Release!

Whiskey and Rue Full Cover

Photo credit for back cover image: Legends of America

On October 26, 1881, a 30-second gunfight occurred at OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. It’s become a legend in American history, and speculation endures about what really happened. Who fired the first shot?

The political and territorial issues have been discussed at length. One of the best resources while researching life in Tombstone was The Last Gunfight, by Jeff Guinn. All the grudges and the cycles of violence that spun out of them are explained thoroughly. For someone who never related much to Westerns, this history hooked me. I delved even deeper into the founding of Tombstone and its rise and fall as a boomtown with several books by Sherry Monahan: The Wicked West, Tombstone’s Treasures: Silver Mines and Golden Saloons, and finally, Taste of Tombstone: A Hearty Helping of History, gave me wonderful information on one of my favorite things to write about—food. I was amazed as I read about the sophisticated meals served in Tombstone’s finest restaurants.

These books were essential in building the atmosphere of the town. In the first section of Whiskey and Rue, the protagonist, hung-over and feeling miserable, goes to a saloon for food. A toad in a jar croaks. This is a detail from one of Monahan’s books. They were used as barometers to predict the weather. She also mentioned the town’s rage at a mysterious accordion player who roamed the streets at odd hours of the day. With a little artistic license, I identify who the accordion player is. Pulling these details out of research materials is one of the greatest joys I have as a writer. The stories come to life as each piece of true history finds its way into a setting or character’s habit.

This isn’t a novel I expected to write. I came to Tucson to explore the possibility of moving there, and instead found a police report in the historical society’s museum that haunted me. While the focus of the novel is on May Woodman, a woman who shot her lover, the events leading up to OK Corral were unavoidable, but I didn’t want the Earps and Clantons to dominate the story. But she knew them. And from what I knew about her reputation after reading court documents and press clippings, she was fascinated by them. Her relationship with her lover is troubled. Swept up in a chaotic lifestyle, May winds up being the only female prisoner at the time in Yuma Prison. And after her sentence is commuted, that’s the last we hear of her. She was put on a train to California and it’s unknown what happened to her.

I feel like Whiskey and Rue is an homage to several people: certainly to May herself, and though she herself wasn’t as legendary as some of the other women in history I’m writing about, she had a power to her I couldn’t ignore. Her story deserved to be told. The novel also is a product of broadening my own horizons as a reader. A friend gave me Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I fell in love with his writing style and read the Border Trilogy a good three times while trying to figure out why he became such a powerful influence along with John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway within the same period of time. As I release Whiskey and Rue in October, on the 133rd anniversary of the gunfight at OK Corral, I’ve come to realize that there is a unique Muse for each novel. I’m glad I listened to this one, for its influence on how I think about writing has changed dramatically as I look to future works.

And the really great news is this: the release date coincides with the weekend of the Boston Book Festival. As a member of the Independent Publishers of New England, I’m joining them at their table for an hour to sign books. The exact time is still to be determined, but I’m thrilled to be part of one of my favorite fall events as a participant as well as just an enthusiastic reader. I’ve attended BBF twice, blogged about it both times, and look forward to writing about my experience this year.

So please stay tuned—the book is in final stages of production and will appear on Amazon soon!

Ron Gavalik’s MicroPoetry Collection, Hot Metal Tonic

Hot Metal Tonic  Cover

Reading poetry is one of life’s truly intimate joys. Unlike more social entertainment such as films, theater, and sporting events, experiencing poetry is an individual pursuit. When cracking open a book of verse, we shuck off the mortal coil while our minds delve into a cerebral adventure. We are fused to the author’s thoughts, desires, and passions, all within the confines of our minds.

That, my friend, is the most profound experience. Poetry gives us new perspectives to enlighten our minds. Poetry fuels the imagination. In its raw form, poetry is life.

As readers, most of us are drawn to what’s considered popular and well reviewed. We count on so-called professional to tell us what precisely is a good read. We equate commercial advertising and movie deals with the quality of a story or poem. But then there are times, when some of us ignore the noise of our popular culture and seek the independent works of those who truly enrich the soul.

Our choice to own and experience raw, experimental poetry symbolizes courage. Delving into avant-garde expression without the safety net of widespread acceptance requires a sense of adventure. Those of us who take these leaps of faith are a cut above the average reader. We are independent thinkers who thrive on discovering uncharted waters.

In the introduction of my MicroPoetry collection, Hot Metal Tonic, I discuss how experimental writers often shrug off the conformity of industry standards to force new perspectives into the minds of our readers. Every time I sit down at the typer, I transform into an American drifter who tramps through vistas of tall grass, rarely touched by everyday society.

Free-spirited individualism is my most pronounced characteristic.

I highly recommend finding your unique identifier, the one personality trait that makes you an individual among the masses. I doubt you’ll have to meet with Himalayan monks to determine your distinct qualities, but there’s nothing wrong with quiet contemplation over a few whiskeys. Once you’ve pinpointed that one special characteristic, take the time to revel in your individualism. It’s quite a freeing sensation that brings balance to the mind and to the soul.

For my part, I thrive on reading and writing free verse poetry.

In the 1960s and 70s, Charles Bukowski’s free verse style often fell under the blade of academic criticism. His work was considered inordinately blue-collar and plain spoken to be real poetry, which made it far more difficult for him to publish and find a secure audience.

It took him years, but a handful of small press publishers with broad vision finally decided to print his work. Once the public got hold of that drunken writer’s written voice, a whole new segment of society became poetry fans, which made Bukowski the most read poet of the 20th Century.

Free verse is the most individualized form of expression; therefore, I naturally gravitate toward that broad style. The newer form of MicroPoetry (140 character poems) that’s sprung up in recent years on social media outlets has further pushed the literary envelope.

Hot Metal Tonic is a semi-autobiographical collection of over 180 MicroPoems that contend with love, family, relationships, politics, career, and spirituality. While most of the poems stand alone in each chapter’s theme, many are interconnected in much of the way small human events are strung together to connect our lives. The collection has been referred to as a gritty read, the molten form of my rough and tumble life…and whiskey-laced madness.

Thankfully, readers are pleased with my work.

Now, kick back, baby.
Open your mind
and allow the hot metal to flow
as soothing tonic.
Prepare yourself
to laugh and think,
cry and rejoice.
Indeed, you will be transformed
into a state of raw emotions.
You and I,
we’re about to start a quest,
a journey to memories unseen in years.
Don’t worry, it will only hurt so good.
Grasp my calloused hand
and we’ll help each other
stumble along this treacherous path

Ron Gavalik


Ron Gavalik is a writer, living in Pittsburgh, PA. You can follow him on Twitter: @RonGavalik or read his blog at PittsburghWriter.net. Hot Metal Tonic can be obtained through the usual retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other locations. Signed copies can be purchased at a discount (free shipping) direct from the publisher at PittsburghWriter.net.

The Dogs of the Publishing War

dbScout17_tow dogsMaybe I’m naïve, but I didn’t expect the Amazon-Hachette dispute to be so long-running. And as other contracts come up for renewal, publishers are considering their options as they watch this draw out. I’ve avoided addressing the topic to a large degree, since opinions about the dispute are a dime a dozen, and I’ve been content with tweeting the more realistic and interesting views from people I trust and admire. But even then, some alliances have been disrupted as the war drags on, and I watched with surprise as essay-length comments appeared under some blog posts in ever more divisive arguments.

Posts by traditionally published authors who became strong advocates for self-publishing have resonated the most with me. J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler are everywhere these days, offering data and real-world insight. Self-published authors such as Hugh Howey, who benefitted greatly from the self-publishing tools Amazon provides, show their gratitude by supporting Amazon. Was the pro-Amazon petition a bit over-the-top in tone? Perhaps, but I signed it anyway, because its aim was true. I also get that Amazon is a corporation. Yet, it’s in their interest that self-published authors succeed. Yes, they can certainly survive without us, but their publishing program is flourishing, and indie authors to stand to make more money with their royalties.

Two posts in particular inspired me to finally speak my mind. One, J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler’s response to a gushing piece in the New York Times dedicated to showcasing the so-called hardships of the 1% of the trad publishing industry’s authors. The NYT piece was hard to take, fitting right in with political discourse from one end of the spectrum about how tough the super-rich and privileged have it. Konrath and Eisler’s response is hilarious.

The second came from Digital Book World. Under a very defensive pretense of journalism, the snit calls out indie authors for advocating against their self-interest by siding with Amazon. The argument is that if traditional publishers lower their prices, indie authors will lose their competitive edge in the market. Responses to the contrary are quickly shut down by the author of the article. Saying that indie authors, as consumers, want to buy more books too at lower prices didn’t cut it for him. The post’s writer seems to think we live along starkly demarcated lines—it’s either all for the indies or all for the traditionally published. In the real world, if I didn’t have to spend $10 to $15 on just one ebook, I’d buy from Neil Gaiman AND a favorite indie author. And let’s not forget many trad ebooks are already offered at low prices, too. I got Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for $2.99. Promos from BookBub regularly have bestsellers for indie-level prices. And on the other hand, some indie authors price their stuff at high prices and do well. Some don’t. There are a lot of nuances that are missed in posts such as the one from DBW. The author of the DBW piece called out the top names in the indie world for not responding—but they sure as hell did, and while they’re acknowledged now as having done so, they are summarily dismissed as being altruistic, silly, and even dishonest.

In my support of Amazon, I draw upon several experiences here:

  • I worked in a nonprofit publishing office that can be classified as a vanity press. It sold paperbacks for $65 and hardcover books for $100. As they considered DRM-protected ebooks, potential prices started at $20. I felt like I was on a sinking ship. As enthusiastic as a large portion of the readership was, they were catching on to the fact that this business model needed to change to meet 21st century needs. Did the office? Nope. Will it sink? Time will tell, and I know where I’d put my money in a bet. True, curating digital content costs money in time and resources for editing, design, etc. But after producing the paper versions, creating the ebook was a click of a button. Extra costs included DRM and housing it on an outside server.
  • As a teaching assistant who cares deeply about the state of academic publishing, I strongly support the Digital Public Library of America and Harvard’s Open Access DASH project. Why wouldn’t I? Like Hugh Howey, I want people to be excited about reading.
  • As an indie author who studies the topic closely, I know that DRM limits the shelf life of an ebook. Someday, on a future device, that file will no longer be readable. Don’t believe me? Then go dig out some 1980s-era floppy disks and see how useful they are. Ebooks are ephemeral, particularly with the licensing structure in place. If Hachette wants the ebooks you bought with your hard-earned money to disappear from your tablet, they can make it happen. You’re just licensing the content under their terms and conditions.

True, I’ll have more competition if publishing houses offer all ebooks a lower prices, but shouldn’t we also factor in quality of work, and the broad interests of readers around the world? There’s a tsunami of competition anyway. As passionate as I am about writing and wanting to be read, I’m realistic. I have a day job. So do many traditionally published authors who can’t make a living on their royalties.

In recent years, focused on the bottom line, publishers have been very top-down, opting not to give many great new writers a chance. The benefits of being a midlist author in their ranks have diminished immensely. Just look to J.A. Konrath for his data. Or any of the other indie advocates out there: passivevoice.com, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and so on. The democratization of literature is not a bad thing in my view. Yes, it’s a business. Everyone gets that. We all want to be successful. But the corporate monopolies of the traditional publishing world still have a lot to learn from what happened to the music industry, or they won’t survive. And that will make ALL authors indie authors. And maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.


A Transformative Camp NaNoWriMo



A year ago, I sat here—newly freed from a stifling situation and pondering the future, while working on a dystopian novel I have yet to go back to. Two novels battled for attention, and my third historical novel, Whiskey and Rue, won. I’m close to handing it off to an editor and some beta readers for an objective view. The fall release date is to be determined.

As I prepare Whiskey and Rue for publication, I’m working on two short stories for submission to literary journals. One has become the focus of this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo. The timing worked out just right. One novel done, and while I think I know which novel will come next, a break with some short stories will hopefully give me some clarity in regard to which direction I’m going in by the time the November edition of NaNoWriMo rolls around.

It’s nice to work on something entirely new. And where to this time? The Ancient Near East. I’ve long been fascinated by Sumerian mythology, and the duality between Inanna and her dark sister of the netherworld, Ereshkigal. After reading The Images of the Netherworld in the Sumerian Sources by Dina Katz, I learned that Inanna’s descent to the netherworld may be linked to the orbit of Venus, and how the planet changes from the so-called evening star to the morning star, due to its slower orbit. And after visiting Harvard’s Semitic Museum, I learned how to play the ancient Sumerian game of 20 Squares, which also found its way into this story. It’s all about the journey, and the eternal balance and strife between the forces of light and dark.

The second short story is the most autobiographical I’ve ever gotten in a work of fiction. The last year has been one of profound transformation. In the past, I was told to feel empowered, but such a Byzantine structure was in place (for surely micromanaging began in the Byzantine world!), it wasn’t possible. After opening the door to the cage I had become inured to, I took a sabbatical to Eastport, Maine, with my mom to learn more about our family’s history. I rested—a lot—and began to recover from the depression that had taken hold. I left Eastport with an idea for a new historical novel and delved into researching the War of 1812. While I’m putting aside historical fiction for a while, I’m looking forward to developing that novel in the future. Meanwhile, a short story connected to it is in the works, and I’m searching for the right literary journals.

By November, I’ll be well into writing the fourth novel. It’s a battle between two longtime stories I’ve had in my head for more than twenty years each. Maybe I’ll be able to do something spectacular and work on both at once. After all, since joining a start-up that has truly empowered me, I’ve embraced a creed I lost sight of somewhere along the way, but was able to come back to after hearing the CEO of the company say it: Be fearless.

Write on!

An Interview with Author T. S. Chaudhry about The Queen of Sparta

Queen of Sparta

If you’re into historical fiction and have a penchant for the ancient world and classical history, The Queen of Sparta is an excellent account of the Persian Wars from the view of the formidable Spartan Queen Gorgo. I recently had the opportunity to interview the author, T. S. Chaudhry, about the book, and the meticulous research that makes this portrayal so rich.

Out of all the figures who are described in the works of Herodotus, what was it about Gorgo that inspired you to focus on her?

The whole idea behind the Queen of Sparta came to me when I first read Herodotus. I read his Histories as a teenager when I was preparing to take my ‘A’ level exams in England. Herodotus paints a vivid and romantic picture of how a relatively small number of Greeks managed to defeat a two million-strong Persian invasion. However, he provides us with no direct answers as to how the Greek resistance was organized and by whom. Leonidas could have been a candidate for this but he dies relatively early in the struggle. The Athenians Themistocles or Aristeides could have organized it but the former is shown by Herodotus as a brilliant tactical trickster rather than a strategic genius and the latter is, at the time, a discredited politician who carries little weight in his native Athens, let alone the rest of Greece. And there was no other significant male personality to lead the Greeks. So it had to be a woman, and in a patriarchal Greece, she had to play her role behind the scenes. And Herodotus provides us with ample clues about her: the little girl who prevented her father from making a blunder by warning him against the temptations being offered by a Miletan tyrant; and the young Queen who could find a secret message where the brightest in minds in Sparta could not – a woman who clearly impressed Herodotus. The Persians could have still won the war but they did not because someone was orchestrating the resistance. Reading in between the lines of Herodotus, I had no doubt that that person could have been none other than Queen Gorgo.

What were the defining moments in describing Gorgo in the story that helped you conceptualize her as a character?  

In the history of the Persian Wars there are key events like the Ionian Revolt, the battle of Marathon, and the Persian invasions, where the Spartans behaved in certain, some might even say peculiar, ways. They refused to support the Ionian Greeks in their revolt even though a generation earlier they liked to portray themselves as their allies and protectors. The Spartans delayed their arrival at Marathon at a time when shying away from any battle was considered characteristically un-Spartan. And then whole sequence of how the Persians were slowed down, split up and finally defeated presented more questions than answers. And for me the only explanation to all these recorded historic moments was Gorgo. I conceptionalized her as person who did things a little unorthodoxly, especially in a place like Sparta where strict conformity was the rule, if not the only rule. Her non-conformity comes out both in her personality and in her physical appearance.

Today, we would call Gorgo a person who thinks outside the box and the box in Sparta was pretty solid and confining.  By thinking outside the box she her save Greece, she challenges long-held Spartan attitude towards their Helot slaves, and appreciates Sherzada’s viewpoints.  Even though she can be ruthless, she has a strong moral fibre that makes her stand up for what she thinks is right. She is at her best in moments of crisis, when her back was against the wall; and becomes the very picture of grace under pressure. That is the image I hope the readers will also see.

The meticulous research is evident throughout the novel, and in particular, the detail on ancient warfare is excellent. One of the biggest challenges in writing historical fiction is integrating research with the plot and the characters. How do you achieve that balance?

The most difficult part of writing this novel was that the plot had largely been defined by history. I could not tell a credible story about a real Spartan Queen without deviating too much from what history had recorded about Gorgo and her times. And, indeed, initially the plot was so restrictive that some of those who read the earlier versions of the manuscript encouraged me to drop the entire project. But the more I read the history of the period, the more I became aware of the many gaps in our historical knowledge. This enabled me to narrate a story without actually changing any of the historical facts. For example, there is no record of what happens to Gorgo and her son after the defeat of the Persians allowing me sufficient scope to develop the story the way I wanted to.

The vast majority of the characters in the novel are indeed non-fictional and I had to restrict myself largely to their respective historical roles and stories. But again, gaps in recorded history enabled me to create a few entirely fictional characters, especially the main male protagonist, Sherzada. Some of my readers might find him unbelievable but he was not at all anachronistic. Modern historical research and evidence supports the notion of travel and contacts between peoples over vast geographical distances. Herodotus himself attests to long distance contacts. In fact, Sherzada’s journey to the Baltics is largely based on Herodotus’ own description—werewolf included.

Contacts between South Asia and Greece in particular were not unusual. People born in the Indus Valley died fighting for the Persian Empire in the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. and in later battle against the Greeks as they were to die fighting for the British Empire in the Battle of the Marne in 1918 and both the World Wars. Nor is the character of Sherzada out of sync with the times. His character is very typical of a warrior of his time.

So the plot emerged through a crazy combination—partly determined by straight-jacket imposed by recorded history and elsewhere from the very large gaps our historical knowledge of the period has left for us.  I am not at all claiming that this story is historically accurate, but it is certainly plausible and it is a story that has not been told before.

In the notes about the book, you cite a quote by Aeschylus: “In war, truth is the first casualty” in reference to your choice of providing a view of both sides of the war. At what point in crafting the novel did you decide to develop Sherzada’s character to more evenly balance the points of view?

In fact, Aeschylus makes a cameo appearance in the novel, more as comic relief than anything else, which is ironic because he was more famous in his lifetime for his tragedies.

But you have hit the nail on the head by describing this as an underlying theme of the novel. There are essential two factors which led to the development of Sherzada’s character.

The first goes back to my first reading of Herodotus as a teenager where I saw the whole account of the Persian invasion as being largely one-sided.  To be fair, Herodotus tried to be balanced wherever he could to the extent that another famous historian Plutarch accused him of being a “Barbarian lover.” But I did not see it that way. Though I have been raised partly in the West, I am a Pakistani who is no stranger to subtle ethnocentricities which come out even when Western writers try to be even-handed and objective. So I wanted to be the first non-Western writer to give a non-Western viewpoint to what was a core event in Western history—perhaps opening myself to the very same criticism in the process.  Initially, the entire story was going to be presented by Sherzada’s point of view, but I was sensibly advised that it would be more interesting to have both Gorgo’s and Sherzada’s viewpoints presented in the novel side by side. But then I again, I also wanted to blur the lines between “East” and “West.” That is why I underscore the Greek links with India in the beginning to make the point that Ancient Greek history is as relevant and important to Asia as it is to Europe.

The second factor comes from my personal experience as a scholar and diplomat who had dealt with real life conflicts.  In war zones throughout the world, the veracity of Aeschylus’ quote has been impressed upon time and again. There are rarely conflicts which are black and white. Most conflicts are characterized by (no pun intended) multiple shades of grey. I have worked on peace processes in South Asia, the Balkans, and Africa and I have seen no conflict in which truth has not been the first casualty and no war in which every side, rightly or wrongly, felt they were in the right.  And each side always has its story.  In this case, I felt that another side of the story—though not necessarily a Persian version—needed to be told and the writing of history—even in fictional form—need not always be the prerogative of the victors.

You present an interesting concept with Gorgo’s father—rather than being cast as a mad king, he is transformed as a visionary who practices realpolitik. What inspired this unique portrayal?

Throughout history men of vision have been condemned as madmen or worse, the treatment of Galileo being but one example.  I too would have relegated him to the status of a madman, had I noted the amount of ink Herodotus invested in King Cleomenes. For any apparently insignificant, and supposedly mad Spartan King, Herodotus devotes a disproportional number of pages to his exploits. So he was clearly a man our historian took very seriously.  Sparta is not a major power in Greece before Cleomenes, rather it is seen a local rival of Argos.  After Cleomenes, it is suddenly one of the most important states in Greece, if not the most important. So Cleomenes must have done something to make that happen.

Modern research also supports the view that there was more to Cleomenes than what met the eye, though historians even now continue to debate which side of the line dividing genius and madness he was really on. To me, Cleomenes was an eccentric; a weird and wonderful politician who could cut through the fluff and see the reality for what it was. It was not that he was a nice person, in large part he was not. Yet, like many Machiavellian characters he knew how to play the game of realpolitik to deliver the best possible outcome for Sparta.

What’s next for you in terms of writing projects?

I am currently writing the “prequel” to the Queen of Sparta called “Fennel Field.” It describes the events leading up to the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. (roughly a decade before the period covered in the Queen of Sparta). “Fennel Field” is the literal English translation of the Greek word “Marathon.” Many of the characters of the Queen of Sparta make an appearance in Fennel Field with some of the minor ones playing the major roles and vice versa.

“Fennel Field” is a story of a half a dozen or so individuals, including at least one woman, who are caught up in a chain of events that they cannot control and yet inadvertently end up contributing to the outcome of what has been called by many historians as the first decisive battle in Western history.

The ebook can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. A print version is forthcoming.

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Open Access and Harvard’s DASH Project

HAA Open Access lecture A revolution is quietly taking place in libraries. Challenges to copyright law grow as the importance in sharing research in the Digital Age becomes evident. The high cost of peer-reviewed journals is breaking library budgets. As with the traditional publishing model, there is a great need for change in order to maintain a sustainable model. Open access is the key to this in academic research. A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event hosted by the Harvard Alumni Association where two advocates of Open Access talked about the university’s DASH project. DASH collects scholarly articles, theses, and dissertations from across the university’s schools. To date, more than 19,000 works can be searched, viewed, and downloaded. Started in 2009, DASH’s global reach has grown significantly. Articles and theses have been downloaded more than 3 million times. The contents of the projects are indexed by major search engines like Google. People from around the world share accounts of how DASH has helped them, and DASH solicits these testimonials on every download. For example, a person wrote to say they had found vital information to bring to the doctor to find a treatment that may be more effective. The doctor agreed, and the experience provided a successful outcome. Open Access One of the speakers, Peter Struber, is director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communications and director of the Open Access Project. Harvard is the first university to adopt an open access policy, and the faculty vote was unanimous. At least 50 other university have adopted Harvard’s model, and more are doing so all the time. Faculty have the option to opt out of sharing their work, but many see the value that has previously not been possible in peer-reviewed journals. Unlike expensive journals that have a limited reach, making research openly available enhances scrutiny and the ability to check the reproducibility of results. Outside of the academic world, policymakers, journalists, nonprofits, and citizens from anywhere in the world can view and use the research for their own purposes. Peter Struber’s book on the topic, Open Access, is (of course) freely available on DASH, and well worth the read. Kyle Courtney, an attorney affiliated with the Harvard Library and the Office of General Counsel, talked about the inaugural Fair Use Week, which took place from Feb. 24 to 28 of this year, and will go national in 2015. The future of libraries lies in digitization, and as the ambitious efforts of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) have shown, a thorough review and reform of copyright law is essential to the future of libraries and academic institutions. Newly staffed with a “copyright first responders” team, Harvard Libraries now provide guidance to those seeking insight into open access. And as with DPLA, the biggest challenged is with orphaned works—books whose authors (or rights holders) or publishers are unreachable, and the copyright is indeterminate. This is one of the key issues to be resolved. Open Access lecture 2 How has DASH come in handy for me as an author? My “How Do They Feast?” series delves into how food is portrayed in fiction. Cooking is a passion, and I love to be able to feature food in my stories. I believe it helps readers connect to the stories, and I love the challenge of accurately showing the cuisine of a particular culture. I have a novel set in the Ancient Near East in the works, and a preliminary search on the term “culinary” gave me a paper on the early advances in agricultural life in Sumer. Avoiding anachronism is all that much easier when you can see what food people had access to. A search on Mesopotamia in general gave me access to several papers by scholar Jason Ur (students of Mesopotamian history will get the irony of his surname). The release of formerly classified images from satellites show roads and locations that were not known. Dozens of other papers in this topic can help me better establish the cities, culture, war, and trade in ancient Sumer. It’s an amazing resource that will help everyone collaborate and learn in new ways, and is one of the highlights of innovation in the Digital Age. Go check it out—and see how it can help you. *And in addition to DASH, you can also scroll down to the right sidebar on this site and search what’s available in the DPLA’s archives as well. Many thanks to the DPLA for developing this useful and widely sharable app!