Communion Of Dreams


Self-sustaining.

Earlier this month I had mentioned that Communion of Dreams had more or less stabilized at an Amazon ranking of about 30,000.

Well, since then things have changed. The big Kindle promotion last weekend was one. But as I noted the other day, evidently some other things have changed as well. The spike in sales of Communion on Thursday (total of about 50) dropped off a bit on Friday when there were just 25 or so. But then it picked up again yesterday, with about 40 total. With the result that the Amazon ranking has moved up to about 5,000 – sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower – and Communion of Dreams has pretty consistently stayed somewhere in the top 50 “Science Fiction – High Tech” category. And other than blogging a bit here, I haven’t done much to promote the book this week. So it’s entered a kind of self-sustaining reaction, like reaching critical mass.

What I find interesting is that in trying to track down and understand what happened to help promote the book, I discovered that a number of sites are starting to list the book as a “recommended read” of one sort or another. Usually this is being done as part of an Amazon affiliates program, where if you buy the book via their site they get a small commission. No complaint from me – this is all advertising, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m happy that others are able to generate a bit of income to support their sites.

Now, what’s curious is trying to figure out what it will take to kick the whole thing up another notch. What is the equivalent of “tickling the dragon’s tail” – of pushing the self-sustaining reaction just a little further, so that it speeds up but doesn’t just figuratively blow up in my face? The story of Louis Slotin remains a cautionary one, after all.

I suppose we’ll see.

Jim Downey



From small beginnings…

Got a note from a friend, with a link to an article. The note said “Yet another shade of Communion of Dreams.” Here’s the start of the article:

As Bison Return to Prairie, Some Rejoice, Others Worry

WOLF POINT, Mont. — Sioux and Assiniboine tribe members wailed a welcome song last month as around 60 bison from Yellowstone National Park stormed onto a prairie pasture that had not felt a bison’s hoof for almost 140 years.

That historic homecoming came just 11 days after 71 pureblood bison, descended from one of Montana’s last wild herds, were released nearby onto untilled grassland owned by a charity with a vision of building a haven for prairie wildlife. Some hunters and conservationists are now calling for bison to be reintroduced to a million-acre wildlife refuge spanning this remote region.

This is from the first page of Communion of Dreams:

He could see four or five thousand buffalo, one of the small herds. They stretched out in a long line below him, wide enough to fill the shallow valley along this side of the river, coming partway up the sides of the hill, not fifty meters from where he stood. The sky was its perpetual blue-grey, as clear as it ever got at this latitude, though the sun was almost bright. Late winter snow, churned into a dull brown mass by the buffalo where they trekked along the valley floor, nonetheless glinted along the tops of the hills. Weather forecasts said more snow was coming. It was Friday, April 12.

He leaned on the railing, looking down, the windows of the research station behind him. He liked the solitude of the open sky of the National Buffalo Commons. Though he had many painful memories associated with these plains, they could fill the void inside him in a way that no place else could. He had grown up not too far away, back when people used to live out here. Now there were only the stations – small shelters where scientists could study the herds as they migrated, or where people with enough connections could escape for a few days.

The Commons had been borne of the fire-flu, with so few people left out in the great northern plains after it was finally all over that it was a relatively simple matter to just turn things back over to nature.

Every writing instructor or book out there will tell you that the opening sentences/paragraphs of a novel has a huge job: to establish the set and setting, introduce tone, and intrigue the reader enough that they want to keep reading. I think the opening page of Communion does that.

And so does the release of two small herds of bison.

Jim Downey



“There is always hope. Only because that is the one thing no one has figured out how to kill. Yet.”*

Ah, Spring.

Got my pepper plants last night, unboxed them and set them out in the sun this morning. Six each of Bhut Jolokia, Red Savina, and Naga Morich.

Yesterday was good in another way: had some 50 downloads of Communion of Dreams. That’s about 4x what daily sales of the novel have been this week. No idea why. I can’t find anything which would explain it – if you know, please clue me in. Today things seem to still be running a little ahead of what passes for normal, but not as busy as yesterday.

And lastly, someone “followed” me on Twitter. OK, that isn’t too weird – while I don’t do a lot with Twitter, it is a promotional platform I use and part of that is following people and being followed in return. But this came out of the blue, before I had followed this person or had any contact with them. Who was it? Alan Parsons.

Actually, further digging indicated that it was the account for the Alan Parsons Project. I’m not sure who administers the account. It might be Mr. Parson, or it might just be some flunky.

Now, I have referenced music from the Alan Parsons Project here a couple of times. I’ve always had a lot of respect for their stuff, as well as Parson’s work as a sound engineer in his own right. But what I haven’t mentioned previously is that instrumental tracks from the Alan Parsons Project pretty much were the ‘soundtrack’ behind writing Communion of Dreams. As in, almost without exception, that is the music I put on when I was writing. It was energizing without being distracting, and helped me get into the proper mental zone to work on the book – a kind of induced syneshtesia.

So it was more than a little weird to have APP follow me on Twitter, regardless of who handles the site. No idea why.

Which leaves me with a lot of more-or-less happy confusion, and hope for the future.

Jim Downey

*Galen, of course. Whom I have mentioned previously.



The gift that keeps on giving.

Man, sometimes I think the TSA exists solely to provide me something to write about when other news is slow. To a certain extent, it’s just too easy to rant about the ongoing farce. And constantly harping on the idiocy does nothing for my blood pressure.

But sometimes there’s a run of things which just require you to at least point to it and laugh. First, some items from Xeni Jardin over on BoingBoing (all links have a lot more content):

Who did the TSA terrorize today? A 4-year-old girl. Why? She hugged her grandma.

After picking on the elderly, today the TSA is bullying children. A 4-year-old girl who was upset during a TSA screening at the Wichita, KS airport was forced to undergo a manual pat-down after hugging her grandmother. Agents yelled at the child, and called her an uncooperative suspect.

And…

TSA screeners in LA ran drug ring, took narco bribes

Four present and past security screeners at LAX took 22 payments of up to $2400 each to let large shipments of coke, meth, and pot slip through baggage X-ray machines. Oh, we are so very, very shocked.

And…

TSA agents harass 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and developmental disability

The Transportation Security Administration launched the “TSA Cares” program to assist disabled fliers just four months ago, but a story making the rounds today proves that the TSA definitely does not. The Frank family was traveling from New York City’s JFK airport to Florida, and were abruptly pulled aside after a dispute over how their 7-year-old daughter Dina was screened. The child is developmentally disabled and has cerebral palsy. She walks with crutches and leg braces.

You can guess what happened next, of course.

Then there was this item from Cory Doctorow earlier this week:

95 year old veteran and 85-year-old friend humiliated, searched and robbed at San Diego TSA checkpoint

Omer Petti is a 95-year-old USAF veteran with artificial knees and a heart condition. Madge Woodward, his partner, has an artificial hip. They recently flew home to Detroit from San Diego, and were humiliated and robbed at the San Diego airport TSA checkpoint. The metal in their bodies set off the TSA magnetometer, and Petti was instructed to put his $300 in cash in a bin. Then he was further detained when a swab detected the nitroglycerin residue from his heart pills. He and Woodward were subjected to humiliating patdowns, and then discovered that their $300 had gone missing. When Petti asked where his money had gone, the TSA agent required he and Woodward to remove their shoes again and empty out their pockets, and asked if they were “refusing his request” when they objected. The TSA manager checked the security footage, but reported that it was “too blurry” to see what had happened to the money. The two elderly people were loaded into their wheelchairs and taken to their plane at full tilt, barely making it. They never got their money back.

In each case the response from the TSA is some variation on the theme of “TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper screening procedures…”

No surprise there.

And lest you think this is just BoingBoing’s obsession, how about this article from Kip Hawley, former head of the TSA, who has decidedly changed his tune:

Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How To Fix It

You know the TSA. We’re the ones who make you take off your shoes before padding through a metal detector in your socks (hopefully without holes in them). We’re the ones who make you throw out your water bottles. We’re the ones who end up on the evening news when someone’s grandma gets patted down or a child’s toy gets confiscated as a security risk. If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably hate us.

More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.

The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.

Bruce Schneier, who recently debated Hawley in the pages of the Economist, has his (very positive, all in all) reaction here.

Any bets on whether or not this will change anything in the slightest?

“Welcome to the TSA checkpoint. Hand over your valuables and grab your ankles, please.”

Jim Downey



New around here?

Thanks in part to the almost 6,000 people who downloaded Communion of Dreams last Sunday, there are more followers of this blog and the associated Facebook and Twitter accounts.

So I just wanted to take a moment and say “welcome” to everyone. I don’t do much song & dance here (or anywhere for that matter, and if you heard me sing or saw me dance, you’d be thankful for this), but I do ramble about a bit, and you can never be entirely sure what I might write about next. Because I’m never quite sure.

I would invite any and all who have had a chance to read Communion of Dreams to please write a review or “Like” the book over on Amazon. It may not seem like it, but this helps me a great deal, and I would really appreciate it if you took the time to do so.

I would also appreciate any word-of-mouth promotion of the book. That could be in a formal setting like Goodreads or on your favorite forum, or informal discussion with friends in whatever venue.

Lastly, feel free to contact me directly by email, Twitter, or through comments here or on Facebook. I’m usually pretty quick at responding, depending on how many other things I am juggling at the moment.

Thanks. And Welcome!

Jim Downey



Game-changer.

The other day I posted a video clip which nicely demonstrated one particular aspect of “game theory” and mentioned that it tied in to Communion of Dreams, though I wasn’t explicit how (nor did I explain what I found so interesting in the clip). Partly this was just due to my being preoccupied with the Kindle promotion that day, and partly it was because I like to leave people to figure things out for themselves.

Well, yesterday Bruce Schneier, whom I have mentioned here a number of times, posted an excellent explanation of what was so interesting about the clip (which has been making the rounds). Here’s the gist of the explanation:

Think about Nick’s strategy. He can’t trust that Abraham will split. More importantly, he can’t trust that Abraham will do what he said, because it’s in Abraham’s best interest to say one thing and do another. So he changes the game. He offers to split the pot outside the game — set up a meta-game of sorts — and removes Abraham’s incentive to lie.

Read the whole thing – it’s only a couple of paragraphs long, and nicely goes over exactly why this strategy works.

And that is also why I thought it had such a strong connection to Communion of Dreams: because in one very real sense, the whole book is about what happens when you unexpectedly ‘change the game’. The character of Chu Ling is the key in this regard, both literally and metaphorically, and that is why I had to have her as a game theory prodigy.

Just thought I’d share that.

Jim Downey



Feeling . . . experimental.

I mentioned yesterday “Stay tuned for further developments.” Well, what I’ve had kicking around in my head for a while was trying something . . .

That something is this: seeing if now that Communion of Dreams is starting to show some real traction with readers, perhaps I can attract a conventional publishing deal.

See, while the self-publishing thing seems to be working, it is taking a *lot* of time and energy (which I expected). And frankly, I would much rather put that time and energy into writing another couple of books. Because I have at least two more books in the Communion of Dreams ‘universe’ which I have been wanting to write for a while. Both of those are actually prequels – then there is also the matter of whether or not I want to attempt a sequel to Communion.

Were I to land a conventional publishing deal favorable enough, I could contract for another two or three books as part of the package, and turn over at least a substantial chunk of the time spent on promotional efforts and bookkeeping to the publisher. Chances are, they would even have some money for advertising, not to mention getting the book into conventional bookstores.

Oh, I know the reality of modern publishing well enough to realize that I would still have to do a lot of work to promote the book(s). But being able to hand most of that over to others would be worthwhile. And getting a sufficient amount of money in advance to take off some of the financial pressure of needing to earn money day in and day out would be a big help as well.

I’ve also considered doing something like a ‘Kickstarter’ project to get advertising money and something akin to an advance check, but I don’t think I’m to the point where that is a viable model. But going to a publisher with proven stats of 14,000 downloads in the first three months, as well as the very positive reviews, might be viable.

So I am giving this serious consideration. Thoughts welcomed.

Jim Downey




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