Thursday, July 8, 2021

Virtual Book Tour: Song of All Songs (Earthcycles #1) by Donna Dechen Birdwell

Welcome to my stop on the virtual book tour for Song of All Songs by Donna Dechen Birdwell. This book tour was organized by Pump Up Your Book. On my stop, I have an excerpt from the book as well as a great guest post from the author. Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour for more content. Enjoy!
Title: Song of All Songs
Series: Earthcycles #1
Author: Donna Dechen Birdwell
Publisher: Wide World Home
Publication Date: August 28th 2020
Print Length: 375 pages
Genre: Science Fiction
Long after the apocalypse, Earth has repeopled itself. Twice.

Despised by her mother’s people and demeaned by her absent father’s legacy, Meridia has one friend—Damon, an eccentric photologist. When Damon shows Meridia a stone he discovered in an old photo bag purchased from a vagrant peddler, she is transfixed. There’s a woman, she says, a dancing woman. And a song. Can a rock hold a song? Can a song contain worlds? Oblivious of mounting political turmoil, the two set out to find the old peddler, to find out what he knows about the stone, the woman, and the song. But marauding zealots attack and take Damon captive, leaving Meridia alone. Desolate. Terrified. Yet determined to carry on, to pursue the stone’s extraordinary song, even as it lures her into a journey that will transform her world.

The old man picks his way through the darkened hallway of the columbarium. A scent of burnt wood stains the stale air as he listens for the chirps and hums and breathy purrs. The three stones in his pocket pulse warm against his hand, indicating that he’s drawing near to another of their kind. He passes his hand along the seal of the niche and opens it, smiling at the bright turquoise that winks at him from among the ashes inside the urn. He cradles the stone in his hand, relishing the notes it sends coursing through his body, the longing for home and family. But this isn’t the stone Abél is looking for. He puts it back into the urn and replaces the urn in its chamber. With a single syllable, he re-seals the niche.

Humming softly in harmony with some of the stones, in counterpoint to others, Abél moves on. Day is coming and he knows he must get well away from the temple grounds before the sun rises. He’s been accused of theft before. He knows he’s not the thief. A sigh of regret sifts through his head as he turns toward the space outlined in sepia light. The way out.

A sudden buzzing between his brows draws him up short. The stones in his pocket quiver and squeal, directing his attention to a chamber to his left. A purple glow emanates from within it. This one is newly sealed and easy to open. The urn inside is particularly elaborate—unusual for these austere days. Is that real gold outlining the figure on its lid? The figure looks like a tree in flames.

Abél looks back at the cover stone he removed from the niche and squints hard at the writing on it, trying to make sense of the letters. A name comes into focus. “So it’s you,” he mutters. “And this is how they try to own you?” The little stones resound to the silken clarity of his voice. He lifts the lid from the urn and is overwhelmed by a steady brilliance. The purple stone fills the palm of his hand. It’s warm to his touch and resonates with more colors deep in its core.

He knows this stone. Not long ago, it was his own.

But something is wrong. He places the stone in his pocket and reaches back inside the urn, digging into the ashes. He digs deeper and lets the ashes run through his fingers. And then he knows. These are wood ashes. There are no remains here.

“This one has continued,” Abél whispers. The space between his eyes pulses and his throat constricts around the unvoiced words. This one is still among us.
When Donna Dechen Birdwell was about ten years old, she became obsessed with the idea that if she was thinking with her brain, she ought to be able to think how it works! She’s been trying to wrap her mind around reality (and how humans experience it) ever since. She made a career out of anthropology—that utterly boundless science of humankind and how we got here—and then sidestepped into Buddhist philosophy and then art and photography and writing stories that tend to fall somewhere in the neighborhood of speculative and/or science fiction. She’s a big fan of Ursula LeGuin and N.K. Jemisin.

In her EarthCycles series, Donna imagines a far, far future world in which pockets of survivors of a global apocalypse have evolved new ways of being human. “Not altogether new,” she says. “More like rearrangements of certain aspects of our inherent human potential.” The first volume of EarthCycles, Song of All Songs, received the 2020 silver medal from Self Publishing Review. The book introduces a mixed-race main character making her unique way through a deeply conflicted world. The second book in the series, Book of All Time, is set for release in August of 2021.

Donna’s first trilogy (Recall Chronicles) is set in a hauntingly familiar 22nd-century world in which nobody grows old, an achievement that turns out to be not nearly so utopian as one might expect. Each volume tells the story of a different character’s experience of that world, but the stories are intertwined and some of the same characters turn up in all the books.

A stand-alone contemporary fiction book, Not Knowing, explores intergenerational PTSD in the life of an archaeologist working in Belize. Donna worked as an ethnologist in Belize for many years, so there’s a lot of her heart in this one.

Before anthropology, Donna worked as a newspaper reporter, and beyond anthropology she studied Buddhist philosophy (and practice) and then became an artist and photographer. Her paintings are done in acrylics on handmade Nepali lokta paper. Her primary photographic interest is in Miksang contemplative photography.

Donna earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and previously taught at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

How We Mind
By Donna Dechen Birdwell

Do you visualize a story when you read? Some people do and some don't. Really. At its most acute, this condition is called “aphantasia”—the inability to conjure concrete imagery in the mind. I became aware of this phenomenon during the writing of my EarthCycles series, in which my main character is clearly the polar opposite of aphantasic! Of course I had to learn more.

There was a quiz. I took the quiz. And here’s what I learned from it: I learned that the ability to visualize is not an either/or thing, but more of a spectrum. Also, I discovered that my own visualization abilities are not the strongest!

That didn’t come as a total surprise. I always thought that the detailed visualizations demanded by my Buddhist teachers were not intended to be literal. Apparently, they are! Some people really can conjure Green Tara in every detail without reference to a physical image, just as I supposed some of the characters in my novels could do.

What I do recall vividly is physical context, the configuration and feel of being in a space and an environment. I recall this far more vividly than I recall the visual details of what color the walls were or what kind of tile was on the floor. I also recall the sensations of my emotions even when I have forgotten what it was that gave rise to those emotions. When I write, I search for words that have the right feel, the right sound, the right rhythms to convey what my characters are experiencing to my readers.

The reviewer who called Song of All Songs “visceral” had me pegged.

There are probably good reasons why I’ve always been comforted by Graham Greene’s insistence that “All good novelists have bad memories. What you remember comes out as journalism; what you forget goes into the compost of the imagination.” My own compost heap is huge and rich and steamy, and the deeper I dig into it, the richer it gets. The mind is a weird place, and our assumptions that we all think in the same way is seriously misguided. Look around: You see how diverse we all are on the outside? We are equally diverse on the inside, and especially so when it comes to that convoluted mass of neurons we call the brain.

Some people dream in black-and-white, while others dream in vivid color. Some people can’t recognize faces. Some recall whole symphonies of music, while others hear only the melody (and that may be off-key). Some have perfect pitch! My niece always recalls exactly what she ate in the context of a memorable event.

The task of the writer is to somehow appeal to all kinds of minds, offering up visual images and physical sensation and a whole soundtrack of time and place. I think if we do our job well, we can guide our readers (and ourselves) into ways of seeing and thinking and imagining that expand our experience beyond our accustomed patterns. I look forward to meeting you on this adventure!

For further reading, click here!

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