You have nothing to lose except yourself in a good book!

Free on NoiseTrade – my debut novel “Beauty Rising.”

Click the link below to download it for free in either ePub or Mobi formats so you can read it on any of your Android, Apple, or Kindle devices.

Did I mention that it’s free?

As I said in the title, you have nothing to lose except you might lose yourself in a good book. But I heard that that’s a good thing. So head on over and enjoy the story that got me interested in telling stories.

You’ll like Martin Kinney. I promise. And it will surprise you, I also promise you that.

And it’s free. Did I say that yet?  Thanks for your support.

BEAUTY RISING FREE ON NOISETRADE HERE!

Beauty Rising Mark W Sasse

Another Example of Symbolism Over Substance

I’ve lived in Asian for most of the last twenty years in both Vietnam and Malaysia. And while their cultures and histories are varied to say the least, there are some common themes which are obvious to me in many ways. One of these cultural themes which I have experienced on countless occasions in both countries is something I call symbolism over substance.

I ran into it again today as I was taking my son to register for his motorbike license.

Now before I give away the clear example, let me clarify what I mean by symbolism over substance. There are times (many in fact) when an outward gesture or a symbolic overture or a acknowledgement of a procedure is much more important than the actual substance of what we we are talking about. One has to show deference to authority. You don’t have to believe it in your heart. One has to put on an outward show regardless of what you might really think. One has to make symbolic attempts to make it look like something is actually getting done, when it actually isn’t. (Such as the 100 meter bike line symbolically put outside our school which will never be extended, is not used, and regularly used for parking spots for cars. There was a great ceremony when it was put in, however.)

Symbolic gestures is simply more important than having a substantive, and quantitative measurement behind it. And please, don’t get me wrong. This is not a judgment against Asian culture. Not at all. It’s an acknowledgment that east-west have very different cultural orientations. I’ve had to learn how to live with these differences as I’m sure an Asian living in America will have to learn the flip side of the coin.

In today’s episode, we learned that my son will need to attend a lecture on driving theory. It’s six hours long, and it covers all the basics he’ll need to know. Sounds fine and logical. Kind of like a driver’s ed course. Makes sense. Except for one thing: it’s in Bahasa Malaya and not English. My son doesn’t speak Bahasa. They don’t translate. They don’t provide English material. He just has to sit there. The lady at the driver’s school said, “Yes, these six hours mean nothing. You just have to do it to get the certificate.” Others have told me to “make sure your son bring’s his phone or ipad. He’ll get very bored.” It doesn’t matter what he does during that time. He doesn’t have to pay attention, nor is he expected to. He just has to be there to get the certificate.

It reminds me of my friend in Vietnam and one day I asked what she was doing this weekend. She said that she had to take an English test. I said, “What test?”

“Oh,” she replied. “It’s not my test. I need to take it for my cousin. Her English is terrible, but she needs the certificate so she can get a better job. So I’m taking the test for her.”

All right then. Symbolism over substance strikes again.

Snow in the Province of Ho Chi Minh’s Birth!

I saw this article yesterday and I was shocked: snow in Nghe An province in northern Vietnam. Nghe An is about 300 km south of Hanoi – and it has never even snowed in Hanoi!

I lived in and around Hanoi for many years, and we certainly had our cold periods each year – especially living in porous houses without heat. Trust me, it was cold!

See the snow!

I remember several Christmases we had when the temperature would dip to 10 C, and we would be huddled together with the biggest, thickest quilts you’ve ever seen. It felt like we were freezing, but of course, we were still 10 degrees away from freezing.

It’s not completely uncommon for Vietnam to get snow. The mountainous region of Sapa (where are my photos?) gets a dusting or so every couple of years. One year when we were still living in VN, the border town Lang Son got some snow up in the northeast region by China.

But Nghe An? What? That’s unheard of.

Nghe An is best known as the birthplace of Ho Chi Minh, being born to meagre means back in 1890 – the same year my grandmother was born. (I don’t think they knew each other. Went to different school systems.)

I’m sure Ho Chi Minh (born Nguyen Tat Thanh) never saw snow until he moved to Boston by freighter. (Yes, he spent some time as a waiter in Boston at a hotel, strange as that may sound.)

It really makes me want to dust off my old photos and post away about all my Vietnam travels. What great times they were!

Just imagine all those great folks in Nghe An who are enjoying (or possibly not enjoying) the white stuff for the first time. A monumental day for sure.

A Jaunt into Philosphy 3: Absolutism vs. Relativism

Here’s my third attempt at philosophy. This one on absolutism vs. relativism.

Can it be determined that some actions are right and other actions wrong?  Can one culture’s traditions be morally inferior to that of another?  For example, a western person may look on in strange curiosity when a Vietnamese family gets together to celebrate the ngay gio or death anniversary of a loved one.  At the same time, a Vietnamese may wonder why an American makes such a fuss about their child’s birthday.  Is one better than the other?  Are they equally valid due to different cultural upbringings? Are they both actually pointing out the same moral principals in just different ways?

Relativism and absolutism are terms used by philosophers when discussing morality and society.  Relativism is described as each society having its’ own set of principles based on their culture and beliefs.  As the example in the previous paragraph shows, it is easy to see that different societies value different moral practices.  This is called social relativism. Ethical relativism builds on this principle by stating that any society’s ultimate moral principle is as valid as any other society’s principle (Burr and Goldinger 180-181).  This sets up a crucial conflict between ethical relativism and ethical absolutism which states that there is only one correct ultimate principle or set of principles.  This philosophical conflict has many ramifications in how someone might view abortion, punishment, education or the environment

In the modern world, the buzzword democracy emanates loudly throughout the world.  Leaders claim that democracy is every country’s destiny and possibly even their divine right.  Philosophers look at state and society and try to ask the big questions about the nature of democracy and its underlying political philosophy. They wonder about claims of one form of government being morally superior to that of another (Burr and Goldinger 269).  For example, in the often used statement “…with liberty and justice for all”, a philosopher might try to define liberty.  Can it mean different things to different people?  Can there be limits to liberty?  Why?  What is justice and can it really apply to everyone equally?

All of these questions lead to many very important issues which are discussed and debated every day.  Can there be true justice when some people are rich and others are poor?  Some say that an equal and just society should provide equal opportunity for everyone to succeed.  Others would take it a step further and say that equality of outcome is what is needed.  Everyone actually needs to be the same intellectually and materially for there to be true equality. When looking at the world, Nagel wonders if anything can and/or should be done about the tremendous economic disparity between the very poor and very rich nations (79).  The questions framed by philosophers are profound and difficult, but the practical application of the suggested answers to these questions result in very real consequences to our global community.

Moving Beyond Vietnam

There were three specific items which led me to be an indie author.

1) A desire to be creative.

2) My introduction to drama.

3) My ten years living in Vietnam.

I have always wanted to create. I remember writing songs and plays as as teenager, just trying to find an outlet for what was going on in my mind. In college it was poetry that caught my fancy, and I wrote lots of various genres of poetry as an outlet. After that, I wrote various plays and small production in my church. I’ve always wanted to create and write, but I went for twenty years not doing much of it.

Drama. Drama changed everything for me. Once I had an opportunity to write drama with some of my students, it started this drama-like epoch which still hasn’t finished. I love writing dialogue and creating scenarios where extraordinary things happen. I’ve been writing drama for eight years now, and there’s no end in sight.

Lastly, my ten years in Vietnam expanded my horizons beyond that of any normal Western PA native. I learned a language, I learned a new culture, and I was constantly overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of the amazing country of Vietnam. My time in Vietnam led me to my passion for history and an understanding of what really happened here, both before and after and Americans landed.

So in 2007 when all three of these (creativity, drama, experiences in Vietnam) all came together, I was once and for all hooked on writing. Since then I’ve written more than a dozen full-length dramatic productions and four novels. (The fifth almost there!)

All of these led me to become an indie author in December of 2012.

Since then, I’ve released three novels (the fourth just weeks away) and all of them somewhat based on my experiences in Vietnam.

How couldn’t that affect me? It was such an important and profound experience for me that as soon as I left Vietnam, I was ready to process it through my writing, which I did with “Beauty Rising,” “The Recluse Storyteller,” and “The Reach of the Banyan Tree”: my first three novels.

I needed Vietnam. I needed it to provide the context, history, and inspiration for my writing

But no more.

I’ve moved beyond Vietnam. My new novel doesn’t even mention Vietnam. SHOCKING!

Vietnam was my original inspiration, but now I am burdened with an endless supply of internal inspiration, which I hope I have time to release!

With my fourth novel, I realize I have moved beyond Vietnam. It’s a crutch I no longer need.

That doesn’t mean I  won’t revisit Vietnam anymore in my writing. I already have a political thriller based on Vietnam that I want to write.

But I no longer rely on Vietnam. I am beyond Vietnam, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

Vietnam, thanks for the inspiration. But I can take it from here.

KINDLE SALE! “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” Novel only 99 Cents! Limited Time!

With my fourth and new novel set to release on July 3, I’m offering all kinds of deals on my previous novels, starting with “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” for only $0.99 cents – June 17 – June 24 ONLY!

Part romance, part historical fiction, 100% gripping and emotional!

And readers agree. 4.8 STARS on 24 reviews on Amazon.

Pick yourself up a super cheap copy and read some reviews while you’re at it.

BOOK SALE HERE!   Thanks for your support.

Here’s the storyline:

Chip Carson intended to marry a young Vietnamese woman until a tragic accident lands him in prison, forever altering the outlook of their relationship. As he struggles to cope with his strained love, a mysterious stranger appears bearing a journal about Chip’s grandfather who parachuted into French Indochina at the end of World War II. As the words in the journal reveal a life that Chip never knew, he begins to understand the depth of love and sacrifice needed in order to have a second chance at love.

Part historical fiction, part contemporary love story, The Reach of the Banyan Tree is an adventure spanning two eras. It explores the effects of war, love, culture, and family obligation in twentieth century Vietnam through the eyes of three generations of American men, who each lost their soul in the tangled reaches of the banyan tree.

It's  in paperback too!
It’s in paperback too!

Exclusive Excerpt: “The Reach of the Banyan Tree” – only 99 cents for a limited time!

I’m happy to offer another exclusive excerpt from my latest novel. This is an excerpt from a chapter called “Discovery.” OSS operative, Charles, has been tracking down the driver of a lost lorry deep in the countryside of Tonkin, French Indochina in the waning moments of WWII. He and his three Viet Minh companions arrive at a village and unearth a terrifying discovery.

If you enjoy the excerpt, please hit the link and download the rest. Only 99 cents on Kindle through March 2.

*************************************************************************************************

Discovery

As the sun began to shake itself awake from the east, Vinh shook Charles out of a deep sleep.

“Ahhh,” he jerked himself vertically, opening his eyes to his trio of companions standing over him.

“Vinh says we must go. We have a long walk to his grandmother’s house. Perhaps we will find Dinh-Hoa there.”

“Alo Cha Le,” said Long with that familiar gusto, seemingly unaffected by last evening’s events.

Charles shook his head back and forth, trying to grasp the short night on his consciousness. He had no more than two hours of sleep.

“Alright. Let’s go.”

Vinh knew his grandparent’s house was the next logical location to go to. At least they could trek back with some oxen and possibly get the truck moving by the morrow. Vinh decided to take the valley route which was twice as long but would give them a chance of finding a vehicle to help them out of their muddy predicament. They traveled up the road for about twenty minutes until they veered off into some rice paddies and cut up over a small hill into one far-flung valley of north eastern Bac Thai. The adults remained silent. Mai had much to contemplate. Charles kept watching her petite-frame in front of him. How agile she was on her feet. How pretty she was. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Long, however, had rediscovered his verboseness and spoke to Charles in a constant drone. Mai didn’t even bother to translate, and Charles responded with a consistent ‘uh-huh’, which seemed to be enough for Long.

After three and half hours of walking, Vinh stopped the quartet on a low-lying clearing overlooking a cluster of trees surrounded by rice paddies of varying elevation.

“Vinh says this is the village.”

The mid-morning sun had begun to command their attention. They descended the hill and started onto a dirt walking path leading into the center of twelve small cement and mortar homes, a typical Vietnamese cluster with an all dirt village square, lined with tall palm trees on both sides that provided shade to the modest dwellings. Chickens scattered themselves throughout the area and several houses had water buffaloes still tied to the side of the dwellings. The village lay still, like an epidemic had erased every living soul, leaving the houses untouched to wrestle through the day by themselves. It was too early for the mid-day rest, and this lack of activity unnerved Vinh to the point of putting his hand over his pistol.

“Where is everyone?” Long asked in an unsettlingly loud tone.

“Shhhh,” Vinh quieted him.

Charles sensed the tension and slid in front of Mai and Long just in case. When they passed the eighth empty house, the walking path turned off to the left, leading to the final four houses of the village, including Vinh’s grandparents’ home. The sight startled them all. Forty or fifty people facing away from them, stood in a silent clump, a trance-like pose, looking towards the last house, which stood at the very edge of a rice paddy—a large expanse leading out to the untouched emerald hills in the distance.

Vinh picked up the pace and hurried down the path, yelling something that Charles couldn’t understand. Two men, then ten, turned around to see the Viet Minh soldier, intensity in his eyes, only able to see the top of the doorway of his family’s home.

The men greeted Vinh in piercing tones, yelling at him excitedly in a bitter way that bordered on rage—the type of rage which fuels mob violence, which takes the law into its own hands. And certainly, there was no law here—dozens of miles from the nearest magistrate who already had been stripped of his authority. This was wild country, with political enemies and ideologies at every turn, strange as it was in a community of farmers. They were no longer immune to the events of the world and stood in the midst of a tragic power-play nearly a hundred years in the making.

“What’s going on?” Charles asked Mai.

“I’m not sure.”

Long hung on Charles’ arm, and Mai tucked herself behind the American as Vinh parted the crowd to see a lone Vietnamese woman sitting on the ground, head down, weeping furiously, mumbling incomprehensible words. It was Vinh’s sister, Tuyet.

“Tuyet! What has happened here?”

She lifted her head, surprised to see her brother.

“Vinh, go away.”

“What is going on?” yelled Vinh.

“Mai?” Charles whispered in her ear.

“I don’t know. She’s telling him to leave. That it’s none of his business.”

Long came up beside his Uncle Vinh and recognized his auntie, whom he hadn’t seen in several years.

“Auntie, what’s wrong?” he wedged himself through the crowd of neighbors, and she welcomed him into her arms, rocking him back and forth, comforting him for a reason not apparent to the youngster.

Tuyet refused to speak with Vinh, holding Long tightly and crying continuously. At long last, one neighbor stepped up and pointed to the side of the house, telling Vinh to go around the corner and look.

“What is it?” Vinh asked.

The man shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and blended back into the crowd, not wanting to be the one to reveal anything. Vinh, Charles, and Mai walked slowly around the edge of the house with all eyes following them. Urgent whispers spread throughout the horde in grand anticipation. As they rounded the corner, there sat an ox cart with small wheels and an open back. Bamboo slats formed the make-shift railings on the sides and front. On the cart lay cargo of some sort, covered with several red-dyed reed mats. Vinh approached with an empty mind but with a heart that knew better. He stood at the side of the cart, gripping the edge of the mat in trepidation, until he finally lifted it. Upon the cart lay …

To find out what was on the cart and read the rest of this explosive story, click HERE!