Hail, Citizens of the Enzar Empire!

My name is Joseph G. Whelan. I go by Joe. Our publisher Henry Neufeld asked me to introduce myself to you. I will soon have the honor of being the first outside author (Henry has some of his own work on the site already) published under the newest imprint within Energion Publications, Enzar Empire Press.

Because the imprint is new, I really should introduce it as well. The reason for creating Enzar Empire is to publish “… original works of Mystery, Fantasy, & Science Fiction.” Those quoted words came from a flyer about Energion and Eucatastrophe (another imprint) and Enzar Empire that showed up in my email inbox in April of 2013. That flyer turned out to be the end of one story and the beginning of another, and I’ll get back to all that shortly.Front cover construction

The first of those outside “original works” is Day of the Dragon, which happens to be my first novel, first book of any type, and first introduction to the world of traditional publishing. I have also written three other novels and a nonfiction book. I’ll say a little more about those other books in a moment.

You could describe Day of the Dragonas science fiction but I prefer the term speculative fiction. Science fiction is off-putting to some people and I don’t want to chase away a block of readers who might really enjoy the story if only they were to give it a chance. You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Also, a lot of science fiction takes place in imagined future worlds whereas Day of the Dragon takes place in the past. While copying no one’s writing style, my 30-second description of the book is that it is somewhat similar to the speculative fiction of Michael Crichton, who penned such famous novels as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park is a highly apt metaphor because Day of the Dragon explores the “what if” scenario of the hypothesis that an intelligent species of dinosaur existed at the end of the Cretaceous Period, which also turned out to be the end of the Mesozoic Era. When I say the story took place in the past, I mean way, way in the past.

“Hold on!” you might be thinking, “dinosaurs were big and impressive, but they were dumb, with small brains and small intellects, if they had intellects.” That notion needs to be addressed because to be enjoyable to me and presumably to others, science fiction or speculative fiction or any type of fiction has to be plausible. It takes me about 1,000 hours to write a novel and I would not have committed to such a heavy time investment had the idea not been plausible. The plausibility issue is addressed more fully in the book but the basic idea stems from the recognition that birds are dinosaurs—and therefore dinosaurs must also be birds—and that some birds, such as parrots and crows, are quite smart. Suppose you had a crow as large as a person with a correspondingly larger head and brain, and further suppose that this über-crow had hands instead of wings, it is believable that this über-bird (über-dinosaur) might be about as smart as a typical Homo sapiens—perhaps smarter—and its hands with opposable thumb-claws would have enabled it to pick up rocks, light fires, deal with Tyrannosaurus rex, and eventually even star in its own book ages after it went extinct. That last trick might have been its best.

Is there any evidence for this? No, there isn’t—or at least not yet. While I’m not holding my breath for it to happen, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it’s a breaking story in ten years, or five years—or tomorrow. The bottom line is this: Is it proved? No. Is it plausible? I think so. Is it possible? Absolutely!

You might have an interest in the birthing process of Day of the Dragon. It goes back almost as far as traditional dinosaurs. That’s a slight exaggeration but it does go back over 30 years. It was about that long ago that the scientific conception of dinosaurs began to change because of new evidence. That evidence suggested warm-bloodedness in some species, parental care, and the crucial recognition that birds and dinosaurs are the same class of creature. In this view dinosaurs did not become extinct. They are still with us. I saw some flying around this morning.

The idea of intelligent dinosaurs occurred to me about that time—roughly three decades ago—and it was based on the same evidence mentioned above. It seemed obvious to me. In fact, when reading magazines such as Scientific American, I was mildly surprised that it was never mentioned as a possibility.

It was so obvious to me that it didn’t even seem worth bringing up in conversation and in fact I brought it up exactly twice in 31 years. I distinctly remember both times. Shortly after graduating from high school my parents moved to Florida and I tagged along. I liked Florida back then and I still do. But our family experienced a tragedy about a year after arriving in our new home. My parents were friends with another couple about their age who were living in Mankato, Minnesota. The other family had moved north while we had moved south. What I recall is that they ended up in Mankato because the husband had earned a PhD relatively late in life and I think he was pursuing a position as a tenured college professor. A professorship at Minnesota State University, Mankato, was a step along that path. Everyone disliked the long, cold winters. After we moved to Florida, my parents urged them to join us. It was an attractive proposition and eventually they did, bringing with them their youngest son, who I knew and who was about eight years younger than I was.

The tragedy happened about two weeks after the move from Mankato while most of both families were enjoying a day at the beach. The professor went swimming and drowned. We think he probably had a heart attack because he was a strong swimmer but no autopsy was done and now we’ll never know. It doesn’t matter because he was a great human being and his death was a terrible loss for us all. It was most terrible for the son, who was in, or about to be in, middle school, a vulnerable time even when you have a father. But this young fellow, who had just moved from one end of the country to another, had no time to make friends and now he had no father.

Shortly after the funeral, it was suggested to me that I go over to the son’s house to provide whatever comfort I could. I did so. Of course, I was not able to provide any comfort at all. What happened is that the two of us went walking in his neighborhood while I tried to start a conversation with someone who was hurting so much that conversation was impossible. I clearly remember that it was at this time—1979, I believe—that I mentioned my “smart dinosaur” theory for the first time. Along with every other subject, that proved to be a conversational nonstarter and I soon was on to other things.

The years passed. The young man developed a morbid interest in death. For a long time he wanted to become a coroner; there was a popular television show featuring a coroner that he watched avidly. Once he showed me possibly the most horrible book I have ever seen, a technical treatise on autopsies filled with page after page of terrible, grim photos of murdered people. I feigned as much interest as I could. Eventually his interest drifted to other areas of medicine, even dentistry at one point. The widow and my young friend moved away and I’ve lost track of them. Last I heard he had become a doctor.

The years passed.

The move to Florida was my excuse to drop out of college. The semester after high school I had started out taking general business courses but nothing really sparked my interest. I had a long-standing interest in astronomy – maintained to this day – and started taking the initial courses required for a major in astronomy: astrophysics, science-level calculus. My interest was strong but I knew job prospects in the field were poor plus the eight-year university commitment worried me. Eight years represented almost half my life at 20. What if I got to the end only to discover that things weren’t as I supposed they were? So, when the move to Florida came up, it was an opportunity to jump off the college ship, and I did, happily.

After a year or two of drifting, I realized I didn’t like the sense of purposelessness and went back to school, attending the local two-year community college with the aim of obtaining the piece of paper enabling me to go on to a four-year university, if I wanted. To earn the two-year, I had to take some required courses I’d been avoiding; one of them was a principles of accounting course that I had heard absolutely nothing good about in a couple of states and a number of years. To my surprise, I liked it. I decided that accounting, while not as interesting as astrophysics, represented a reasonable balance between making a life and earning a living. Eventually I went on to earn a baccalaureate and a master’s in accounting, which I followed up by obtaining a license as a Florida certified public accountant.

I’ve always liked to write and after graduating from the master’s program I came close to selling two magazine articles but in each case the magazine in question had just printed a similar story several months previously. Those were discouraging disappointments and it didn’t seem to make much sense to pursue writing when I’d just spent a lot of time and money and effort earning multiple certificates in accountancy. I returned to the job hunt.

I ended up taking a position as a condominium accountant at a resort on the beach. On the first day, I discovered that although I enjoyed accounting, I did not like the accounting work environment. That which I had feared about astronomy had turned out to be true for accounting. To get through the days, I promised myself that if I could stick it out for six months I would let myself look for another position elsewhere. Maybe another office would have a better environment. In fact, I settled in and ended up working at the same resort for over two decades.

More years passed. Twenty-three years passed, to be exact. Control over the resort, which was owned by two men, was increasingly ceded to corporate managers as the principals aged. The last of these managers started replacing the old hands with his people. I was in his way. It was made clear to me that I should leave, so I left.Highpointing picLeaving was very difficult, and was made more so because about half a year before I had committed to attempting to climb Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. The date of the climb was two weeks after everything came apart at work. By that time the turmoil had taken a heavy toll on me physically and mentally. The third day of the climb started on the lower Emmons Glacier around midnight. Twelve hours before, an experienced climber had died in a crevasse along the same route my guide and I were going to take. A cold katabatic wind was blowing down the mountain. I had had trouble sleeping because of the loudly flapping tent fabric. I was physically ill and taking antibiotics, not feeling well at all. Several hours later, around dawn, I ran out of gas. We were at 11,300 feet. The summit of Mount Rainier is 14,410 feet above sea level. That difference of 3,000 vertical feet may not seem like much but in fact it is huge. Leaning over my ice axe, I knew the climb was over—for me. The summit of Mount Rainier might as well have been on the far side of the moon. It was a bitter blow because I had made a previous attempt on Rainier ten years before. My guide urged me on but I was starting to shiver, my knees were beginning to buckle, and the most dangerous part of any climb—the descent—lay ahead. I knew we had to turn around, and he knew it too. Before heading back down, he insisted that I take some pictures and I will always be glad he did. Dawn on Mount Rainier at 11,000 feet reveals a frightening but beautiful world of pinkish-white snow and blue glacial ice. The climb was over.

The climb was over, the job was over, but life went on. An older brother invited me to visit in October of that year. He lives in Maryland, from whence I had come long years before. We were talking in his library after I had been there several days. I was flipping through a book on birds, of which he has several. He told me the amazing story of a lady hiker who was walking alone through the woods one day and her attention was caught by an unusually noisy crow. Its raucousness enhanced her situational awareness and soon she realized that a mountain lion was stalking her. When the predator realized it had been detected, it disappeared, seeking an easier meal. When she got home, she talked about the crow that had saved her life. But it turned out that there was a researcher who had been studying crow-cougar interactions and what he had learned is that sometimes crows make noise around humans and other large animals not to warn them that a mountain lion is nearby but to alert the mountain lion that a potential victim is within killing range; the crow hopes the lion will kill the human so that the crow can feast on the remains without doing much work or assuming much risk on its own.

Naturally, my brother and I started talking about the intelligence of birds. I happened to mention that birds are dinosaurs, which my brother already knew because by then the link had been established for at least three decades. I went on to mention, for only the second time in my life, my theory that maybe way back when there used to be intelligent dinosaurs; perhaps they had even developed their own technology. There was an unusually long pause before my brother responded and when he did he said:

“That would make a great science-fiction story!”

I thought about what he’d just said and within a few seconds realized he was right. It would make a great science fiction story. If only someone would create that story … someone who liked to write … someone who had a lot of time on his hands … maybe someone unemployed…

On that day it had been 31 years since I’d last brought up the smart dinosaur theory. The wonder of it is that I never thought of the story idea on my own. In retrospect I chalk that omission up to the fact that in my mind the concept of intelligent dinosaurs was so obvious it was hardly worth discussing.

So I went back home, which by then for me was no longer Maryland but Florida. My brother and I had talked about several ways that I might make money without returning to the corporate cubicle but one by one either I rejected them outright or put them on the back burner, except for the writing proposal. On the 24th of November of 2010, I began writing Day of the Dragon.

Two more years passed during which time I tried and failed to interest traditional publishers in the completed novel. I wrote additional novels about the same imagined saurian world, beginning a series the creation of which continues. No publisher wanted any of them. I gave up on traditional publishing and began exploring self-publishing. In April of 2013 I received an invitation to meet Henry Neufeld for the purpose of discussing going to tree-book and e-book publication under the imprint of Enzar Empire Press. I almost declined because by then I had mentally crossed the Rubicon and in my mind I was “done” with traditional publishers. But like my climbing guide on Rainier, Henry urged me on and here we are. I hope you enjoy reading Day of the Dragon. I did and I believe you will too.

Perhaps at this point you are asking yourself: “What in Sam Hill was an accountant from Florida doing on Mount Rainier?” Good question. Obviously he was trying to climb Mount Rainier, but he was also trying to go to the highpoint of the state of Washington.

A highpoint is defined as the highest naturally occurring geographic point in any given state. Each state has a highpoint, even lowly Florida. Some of the western highpoints are high mountains; Rainier is one of the highest in the United States outside of Alaska. I took up this quest when working at the resort. After eight years of never taking more than a day of accrued vacation at a time, I was ordered to start using up my saved-up days, which by then had turned into saved-up weeks. I started taking two-, three- and four-week vacations. The years passed and before I knew it I had driven over 100,000 miles and spent more than a year on the road. I had also visited 45 of the 50 highpoints.

In addition to a camera, I took a journal along with me in the car, and up the mountains. I turned the story of the first 8,000-mile trek into an e-book,  Ameritrekking and Highpointing: Discovering America the Beautiful. Check it out!

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