Guest Post/Article by Simon Cox

Posted in Event at 9:49 pm by Amber

I don’t read much non-fiction. I simply don’t have the time, and when I do, its not generally from the “thriller” genre. So how come I have written three guide books to three thrillers? The answer is simple. Dan Brown. What Brown has managed to do brilliantly within the framework of his novels, is weave facts and fiction seamlessly together in a coherent and logical way, the like of which is rarely seen. I’m not saying its all perfect — indeed, as I point out in my guide books, some of his factual research leaves much to be desired — but he does have an uncanny knack of being able to hit the zeitgeist of the moment when it comes to historical themes and ideas.

Brown seems to follow certain pre-set rules within his Robert Langdon based novels. Generally there is a religious element and this element is stacked up against a scientific element. Then there are the codes and clues — mainly left within an historical framework — mathematical conundrums being a favorite of Mr Brown. Finally there are the secret societies that seem to be the glue that holds the stories together. In The Da Vinci Code, we see an exploration of the sacred feminine and an alternative life of Christ. In Angels & Demons, the very heart of Christendom, the Vatican is central to the story and in The Lost Symbol Brown takes it all a step further as he espouses the ideals of deism and universal godhead. Essentially what Brown has written are three books that have woven between them a central theme of tolerance to all faiths, but above all, an acknowledgement that faith plays an essential role in the development of mans consciousness and being. As a historian, I can attest to the fact that this mantra was crucial to most if not all ancient cultures. In this respect Dan Brown is carrying on a long standing tradition.

The Lost Symbol is at first glance a less remarkable book than its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code. It seems to lack the one major hook, the heart in mouth fact that suddenly makes gasp out loud as you read the page. However, this book is a slow burner. Its message of tolerance and universality is not at first obvious — but the more you read and digest the message within the pages, the more you realize that this time ’round, Brown has a clear and decisive meaning that he is trying to get across. When I first saw this I was aghast. A novelist trying to change the way the world thinks from inside a story of chases and code breaking. But then, think about it. Brown has an audience unlike any novelist ever has. The Lost Symbol was awaited as if it were the harbinger of a new messiah after the enormous success of The Da Vinci Code — some eighty million people the world over had become instant fans of his writing — he had an audience who patiently waited for every word on every page. What better way to change the world. Read the rest of this entry »


Mailbox Monday – December 28th

Posted in Event at 11:20 pm by Amber

Mailbox Monday

A big thank you to Marcia at The Printed Page for hosting Mailbox Monday.  From now until the end of January 2009, Marcia is donating 50 cents to Book Wish Foundation’s holiday campaign for every link left for Mailbox Monday.

Here are the books that came into my house last week, courtesy of holiday presents that were (mostly) on my Amazon Wish List:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. This has been a runaway bestseller.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Swedish thrillers and this seems like it won’t disappoint.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  The only book not on my wish list.  The story of orphan Hugo is told in over 500 pages of words and pictures.  It’s a Caldecott Medal winner too – how could my husband go wrong with this as a gift for me?

Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome.  An English humor classic based on the real adventures of three (hypochondriac) friends who go on a boat trip.  The dog and some of the events are embellished but sometimes a good story needs a little embellishment.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  This is the first book in the Thursday Next series.  Set in England in an alternate universe, Thursday Next travels into books to set the stories right and apprehend the criminals that would change literary classics to suit their own purposes.

Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.  For as long as I can remember I’ve liked to look at the pictures inside cookbooks.  I’ve eaten at one of his restaurants – Frontera –  a few times when visiting Chicago and have been within arm’s reach of him.  But I don’t think I appreciated him fully until I saw him on Top Chef Masters.  I follow him on Twitter and this is the book he recommends for beginning cooks.  It has pictures of ingredients, lists of pantry items and has some great tips.  (For example, I never would have thought to make beans in a crock pot!)

Michael Symon’s Live to Cook by Michael Symon with Michael Ruhlman.  The first time I heard about Symon was on an episode of No Reservations set in Cleveland, Ohio.  It was probably my first time watching Bourdain’s show and it was the first I’d heard of this Ruhlman character.  (Now I’ve read a few books by Ruhlman and have his cookbook Ratio.)  Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain went to Symon’s restaurant, Lola.   Symon was the pork obsessed chef with the maniacal high pitched laugh.  (He’s also become a Food Network Iron Chef since the original airing of No Reservations.)   I knew I had to make a pilgrimage to Lola.  And I’ve been there twice so far and loved both visits.  My husband always gets the beef cheek pieorgies and I was able to track down the pierogie dough recipe but now I have the recipe for the entire dish.  Mu-ha-ha!  (Now I just have to find a local butcher that will provide me with beef cheeks!)

So… what books came in your mailbox?


Bloggiesta Is Coming Next Month!

Posted in Event at 7:39 am by Amber


The holidays aren’t over and I’ve realized Bloggiesta is sneaking up on us.  What is Bloggiesta?  It’s basic a blogging marathon for bloggers of all types.  Last year I created a favicon for my site, created a review policy page, and added plugins – including one to backup the WordPress database!

Natasha Maw at Maw Books Blog hosts Bloggiesta and this is its second year.  This year it will take place over three days – January 8th, 9th and 10th!  If you have a blog it can be motivating to know others are doing the same housekeeping and planning for the next year.  Be sure to watch Natasha’s blog for updates.


Do Nothing But Read Day

Posted in Event at 12:21 pm by Amber

I just found out tomorrow is Do Nothing But Read Day.  Yes, you read that right.  You have permission to stay in your pajamas all day!


November 2009

Posted in Status Report at 12:25 am by Amber

These statistics are all for short stories, poems, or contest entries. Book reviews are not included.

  1. Sales in November: 0
  2. Rejections in November: 0
  3. Submissions sent out in November: 0
  4. Total stories/poems/contests pending responses: 3

It should be no surprise that November was spent doing not much other than working on my 2009 NaNoWriMo Project.  I am surprised I read some books though.  Normally I don’t read anything at all.  I’m afraid I will pick up a writing style, a phrase or an entire plot without meaning to do so.

I am finally back to researching new markets against what I have available.  Probably in the next week I’ll start writing new stuff.  After the big push at the end of November it can take a week or two to recover.  Fortunately, I’m able to type again without any pain and this was the first year that ever happened to me.


Magic Trixie and the Dragon

Posted in Review at 1:47 am by Amber

Magic Trixie and the Dragon Cover 

Magic Trixie’s adventures continue in Jill Thompson’s Magic Trixie and the Dragon.  She goes to the circus with one of her grandmothers.  The show under the big top features dragon riders.  When her grandmother asks Magic Trixie what she would like as a souvenir, Magic Trixie gives an answer without hesitation.  A dragon!

Her grandmother explains it is out of the question.  Dragons are expensive, endangered and are too messy to keep in the house.  This doesn’t keep Magic Trixie from still wanting one.  While practicing transmogrification on her little sister’s diaper the unbelievable happens.  A dragon appears!

Magic Trixie learns valuable lessons about friendship in this story.  Like the other Magic Trixie books, this is appropriate for children and adults.  The illustrations don’t necessarily need words in every panel to convey the characters’ feelings.


NaNoWriMo 2009 Wrap-Up

Posted in Event, Writing at 12:54 am by Amber


Just after 11:30pm Eastern time on November 30th, I crossed the finish line at 50,088 words.  To be honest, it wasn’t until near the end of the month that I thought I might make it.  A challenge was thrown down and I took it.

I was averaging about 1000 words a day and was well short of making the goal.  Chris Baty stated on Twitter he was going to go for a 5kday on Thanksgiving and wanted to know who else was in. I figured if he was crazy ambitious enough to do it then maybe I could be just as crazy ambitious.

On Thanksgiving my starting word count was 25664 and by the end of the day, my word count had jumped to 29969.  I was short of the 5k goal but it gave me a confidence boost.  With my spreadsheet to do the math for me, I could tell I was not out of the running.  During the next few days I wrote 4,000 to 6,000 words a day. 

I ran out of story.  My fingers were cramped into claw-like things.  I had books I read in September that were waiting for reviews.  My team, Team Calliope, on NaNoLJers needed my word count to win word wars against the other teams.  My sweet husband kept the Resident Corgi distracted and he picked up dinner or helped me make it.  Yet something in me made me keep writing until I hit the end.

My reward for winning this year is a desktop edition of Write or Die!  It helped me win this year and will be great for freewriting on word prompts all year long.


Introduction to: Decoding The Lost Symbol by Simon Cox

Posted in Event at 9:16 am by Amber

Decoding the Lost Symbol

by Simon Cox,
Author of Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction

It was April 2009, and I was just arriving at the London Book Fair at the Earls Court Exhibition Halls. I was intending on catching up with friends, my UK publisher, and having a general look at what was new in the publishing world. However, I knew that something remarkable had happened the minute I had arrived. An air of excitement and expectation filled the packed halls, and smiles were emanating from all around. Grown men were close to tears. 

I instantly knew what had happened: the new Dan Brown book had been announced. 
This was to be the start of nearly five months of manic preparation and debate. Clues and hints would be given out, opinions bandied about, and crazed supposition would fill thousands of web pages. However, let’s wind back the clock to the publication of Brown’s previous Robert Langdon thriller, The Da Vinci Code, in 2003. 
Back then, Dan Brown was a semisuccessful author of several thrillers, one of which was the first Robert Langdon novel, Angels & Demons, published in 2000. Sales had been average to poor, and Brown’s publisher decided to take a gamble with The Da Vinci Code, sending out ten thousand free copies to bookstores and their book buyers, reviewers, and trade professionals. The plan worked, and soon sales really began to take off. 
At the time, I was the editor in chief of a U.S.-based newsstand magazine called PhenomenaThe Da Vinci Code was starting to cause quite a stir within the alternative-history genre that I inhabited; in fact, several authors that I had worked for as a researcher had their work credited as source material for Brown’s book. (Phenomena even ran an article “casting” the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, should it ever come to pass. For the record, not one of the actors we thought would be so terrific in the roles of Dr. Robert Langdon, Sir Leigh Teabing, and the book’s other characters was cast for Ron Howard’s 2006 film starring Tom Hanks.) Eventually a small London publisher approached me about writing a short guide to The Da Vinci Code. The book, Cracking the Da Vinci Code, went on to become an international best seller in its own right. I subsequently wrote Illuminating Angels & Demons, a companion to Brown’s other Langdon-based novel. 
Intriguingly, the dust jacket of the U.S. hardcover edition of The Da Vinci Code seemed to contain clues hinting at the next novel in the series. This fascinated me, and I found out all I could about these clues and the secrets that they potentially held. 
Time passed, and rumors began circulating that a title had been chosen. The new book was to be called The Solomon Key — an apparent reference to a medieval book on magic with the same title. Impatiently, I began researching all that I could about this centuries-old text, which supposedly was written in Italy during the Renaissance but claimed a lineage that went all the way back to King Solomon himself. Perfect material for a Dan Brown thriller, I thought. Brown’s publishing team registered a new website, solomonkey.com, and everything seemed poised for the new book to arrive soon. 
More time passed . . . and more time passed . . . and still no definitive word about the new book, though plenty of fresh rumors abounded: Brown had scrapped the book; there would be no follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. Brown, exhausted from having fended off a high-profile copyright-infringement lawsuit in London, had decided to take an extended break from writing. It was even claimed that the 2004 movie National Treasure, starring Nicolas Cage as a treasure hunter seeking a mysterious war chest hidden by the Founding Fathers, had stolen so much of the forthcoming book’s thunder that it required a complete rewrite. The unsubstantiated allegations were completely fanciful, of course, but they replicated over and over like a virus on the ever-conspiratorial internet sites that monitored the story, sending the rumor mill into overdrive. 
Then came the 2009 London Book Fair. Only a couple of months before, I had predicted to my UK publisher that the announcement would indeed be made at the London event. More in hope than expectation, it has to be said, but accurate nonetheless. 
A press release was handed out by Brown’s publishers, and suddenly a new title presented itself. The Lost Symbol, to be published on September 15, 2009. What could such an enigmatic title mean? What was lost? Which symbol? The race was on, the game was afoot, and I rushed headlong into research-and-reading mode. What you hold in your hands before you is the outcome of that labor. 
Before long, a new website appeared, at www.thelostsymbol.com, though nothing but a holding page was evident for quite a while. Then, out of the blue, the site added links to a Dan Brown Facebook page and Twitter feed. Excitement grew to fever pitch, as thousands of people became Facebook and Twitter followers of Dan Brown overnight. 
Steadily, these new media outlets began to reveal tantalizing clues and tidbits of story line. With each revelation, I furiously took notes and researched everything I could find. It was as if a whole new world were opening up. It was a cornucopia of material, and I started ordering more new books for my library to cover some of the subjects mentioned. 
Some of the clues actually gave coordinates to several locations, such as the so-called Bimini Road. This unusual underwater structure off the island of Bimini in the Bahamas is claimed to be a man-made edifice and a remnant of the lost island of Atlantis. I had spent two summers on Bimini a number of years back as part of my research for a book about Atlantis. “Great,” I thought, “now I have a head start on some of the material.” Coordinates were also given for the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last standing wonder of the ancient world and another place with which I was intimately familiar. Then there were coordinates to Newgrange in Ireland, a monumental passage tomb built around five thousand years ago. The stone structure is famous for its alignment to dawn on the winter solstice, when a narrow beam of light briefly illuminates the floor of the chamber. I had just visited Newgrange with the author and Freemason Chris McClintock. 
Possible adversaries and secret societies were hinted at. Ciphers, codes, and cryptograms were revealed. Historical figures were mentioned. It was all adding up to a furious game of who could be first to reveal the answers to the clues. Websites sprang up detailing the background and history of some of the people, places, and groups being mentioned. It was an internet feeding frenzy. 
Then I remembered something: Bishop Manuel Aringarosa, a character from The Da Vinci Code, whose name had a hidden meaning. Aringa is the Italian word for “herring”; rosa means “red.” Dan Brown liked to throw multiple red herrings into the mix. I began to look at the Twitter and Facebook clues in a new light. What if many of these were indeed red herrings? What if I were immersing myself in subjects that weren’t included in the published book? That’s when I stopped even looking at the Facebook and Twitter pages. After all, everything would be revealed on the day of publication, September 15. 
Even this date, we were told, was part of the puzzle; chosen specifically for the book’s release. I began to check almanacs, history books, websites, conspiracy theorist blogs, but found nothing. Then it hit me: 09.15.09; 9 plus 15 plus 9 equals 33. So it was true. The Freemasons, and specifically Scottish Rite Freemasons, would be a central theme of the book — something that had been hinted at on the dust jacket of The Da Vinci Code years ago. 
Then, before I knew it, publication day arrived. I began reading The Lost Symbol furiously. When I finished some twelve hours later, I realized that my suspicions had proved correct: many of the clues leaked over the previous months on Dan Brown’s Twitter and Facebook pages were indeed aringarosa — red herrings. There was no Morgan affair; no Aaron Burr; no William Wirt (and the strange story of his skull); no Knights of the Golden Circle; no substantial mentions of Albert Pike; no Benedict Arnold; no Confederate gold; no Babington plot; no Alexander Hamilton and the origins of the New York Stock Exchange; no Sons of Liberty; no Lost Colony of Roanoke; no Robert Hanssen, the U.S.-born Russian spy; no Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. 
Cleverly, there was no Key of Solomon, either. Instead we have a family with the surname of Solomon, who hold the keys to the eventual outcome. The Great Pyramid figures in the story, though not prominently and not in the context that many had thought. 
Dan Brown and his publishers had managed to pull off something of a coup, keeping the plotline of The Lost Symbol pretty much under wraps until the day of publication (although a couple of U.S. newspapers did print reviews the day before, in defiance of the publisher’s embargo). It was an amazing feat, especially considering that the book’s print run exceeded five million copies, and it guaranteed Brown a huge amount of media and public attention. 
So: what did we end up with? Is The Lost Symbol a worthy successor to Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code
The Lost Symbol is, in the end, a pretty good thriller that keeps Robert Langdon on his toes and involves some big themes and historical enigmas. However, it’s the deeper, more hidden elements of the book that I believe will have the most impact over time. Between the lines of the novel, Dan Brown has attempted to write something akin to a hidden Hermetic text. It’s a bold and ambitious undertaking, and one that I applaud him for. Indeed, the last ten chapters of the book and the epilogue are more or less an extended treatise on Deism, Hermetic thought, and religious tolerance. 
The Freemasons are the secret society of choice this time around. I’m sure that there will be those who see Freemasonry as a covert, sinister movement intent on power and blasphemy. I see it rather differently. I am not a Freemason, nor will I ever be one. But I do know many Freemasons. Indeed, Ian Robertson, one of the chief researchers for this book, is a Freemason, as is my friend Chris McClintock, author of the soon-to-be-published Sun of God book series on the origins of the Freemasonry and its symbolism. Neither of them is in any way sinister, nor are the countless other Freemasons that I know and respect. I like the stance that Dan Brown has taken with Freemasonry within The Lost Symbol. Many commentators thought that the Masons would, in effect, be portrayed as the “bad guys,” but this is not the case. In fact, Brown makes a convincing argument for Freemasonry being a tolerant and enlightened movement with some interesting and forward-thinking ideas. 
While it should be said that Freemasonry is a secretive society, it is not a secret society. Membership is easy to research and find out about, and most members are not shy about letting you know that they are within the craft, as it is called. Since the heyday of Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, it has attracted men of a certain social standing and, to an extent, still does. But the group has become more welcoming as of late, and I hope that this trend continues. 
One of the things I wanted to get across within some of the entries of this book is that maybe it’s not Freemasonry we should be wary of — instead maybe we should fear the real secret groups and societies of which we know very little or nothing. Then again, maybe we are simply chasing shadows, wisps of rumor and supposition that have tormented us for millennia; a fear of secret and hidden things that, in the end, may not be that secret or hidden after all. Another thing worth noting is that although many of the people mentioned in this book were not Freemasons (Pierre L’Enfant springs to mind), or at least we have no evidence that they were, they would have been intimately familiar with the society and its workings. Many of their contemporaries and peers would have been members, and the craft would have been all around. It seems likely, for instance, that Thomas Jefferson, though we have no direct evidence of his membership in a Masonic lodge, did have sympathies with the Masonic ideals of brotherhood, enlightenment, and religious tolerance. 
Once again, like my previous guides to Dan Brown’s books, this book is laid out in an easy-to-read A-to-Z format. There are some sixty entries in all; fewer than in previous guides. This was deliberate, as I wanted to give you a much more in-depth took at some of the themes, places, people, and groups featured in the novel. 
The BBC in the United Kingdom once called me “a historian of the obscure,” a title that I like very much indeed. I have aimed to bring you some of that history of obscure and hidden subjects within the pages of this book. If you feel the urge to look deeper and delve further into some of the interesting subjects highlighted here, take a look at the bibliography and start building your own library of esoteric and arcane subjects. Just make sure that you remember to sleep and eat while familiarizing yourself with the ancient mystery traditions — it’s an addictive pursuit but also a very rewarding one, and one that I hope many of you will undertake. 
If you want to talk about, debate, or extol any of the subjects in this book or the novel itself, head over to my website at www.decodingthelostsymbol.com, where you will find a forum for debate and articles and blogs. If you want to contact me directly about any of the issues raised, I have my own Facebook page under my name and can be found on Twitter too (@FindSimonCox). 
Writing this book was a lot of fun, and it has given me a newfound respect and admiration for the men who founded a new and fledgling nation in America, at the end of the eighteenth century. As a British writer and historian, it’s a period of history that I was not that familiar with and I have really enjoyed the research and subsequent writing about this tumultuous time. The Founding Fathers really were incredibly enlightened and forward-thinking men, who guided the formation of a republic with steady hands and an unwavering resolve. I will forever look at them, and this period of time, in a brand-new light from now on. 
I hope you enjoy Decoding The Lost Symbol, and find its contents enlightening and interesting. I pass it on to you with the hope that you will find it as fun to read as it was to write. 
Simon Cox 
United Kingdom 
September 2009 

The above is an excerpt from the book Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction by Simon Cox. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2009 Simon Cox, author of Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction

Author Bio
Simon Cox, author of Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction, was the founding editor in chief of the successful newsstand magazine Phenomena. Having studied Egyptology at University College London, he went on to work as a research assistant for some of the biggest names in the alternative history game, including Graham Hancock, Robert Bauvel, and David Rohl. He splits his time between Britain and the United States.
You can visit his website at www.DecodingTheLostSymbol.com.