Communion Of Dreams


You can’t tell a book …

So, a week or so ago I linked to a new review of Communion of Dreams which was very positive overall. But the reviewer made a comment which echoes things some other people have said:

Another item that would likely help get this book moving is a different cover. I understand the imagery now that I’ve read the book, but definitely think it will keep hard-core sci-fi fans from buying a copy (and people do judge books by their covers).

Like I said, every so often a comment to this effect will pop up in a review. And I don’t spend much time thinking about it (and I’m not going to change the cover image at this point), but now and then I wonder just what kind of a cover would appeal to ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’ and still make any kind of sense in relation to the story. Maybe some nice images of Saturn or Titan from the Cassini mission? A depiction of some of the spacecraft (which aren’t described in much detail in the book), or perhaps the Titan Prime space station? Go with a charming post-apocalyptic montage of ruined cities and microphotographs of viruses? To me, none of these would fairly represent the story, and to a certain extent would unnecessarily limit the appeal to only ‘hard-core sci-fi fans’.

But I’m curious what others think. So feel free to post a comment here or over on FB. Over even on Amazon, as a comment on an extant review or in  new review of your own. In a week or so I’ll go through all the various comments I can find, and pick someone to get a jar of my latest hot sauce (or something else if they don’t want that).

Jim Downey

PS: there’s another new short review up on Amazon you might want to take a look at as well.



I wonder if I need to notify the authorities …

As I’ve mentioned previously, it was a good year for peppers. Well, in addition to making the big batch of sauce at the end of the season, I also dried approximately 5 gallons of seeded habaneros of various sorts. And this morning I got around to crushing them. Here’s the result:

Quart jars of powdered evil.

Quart jars of powdered evil.

That works out to something like 8 ounces (fluid volume) of crushed habs per gallon of fresh/frozen. Yeah, baby!

 

Jim Downey



“They are near-death experiences in a bowl of guacamole.”

Mmmmm:

In recent years, “superhots”—chilis that score above 500,000 on the Scoville scale—have consumed the attention of chiliheads, who debate grow lights on Facebook (“You can overwinter with a few well-placed T-8s”), swap seeds in flat-rate boxes (Australian customs is their nemesis), and show up in droves at fiery-foods events (wares range from Kiss My Bhut hot sauce to Vanilla Heat coffee creamer). Chilis, in general, are beautiful. There is a reason no one makes Christmas lights in the shape of rutabagas. Superhots come in the brightest colors and the craziest shapes. Their names, evoking travel and conquest—Armageddon, Borg 9, Naga Morich, Brain Strain—sound as though they were made up by the evil twins of the people who brand body lotions. Trinidad 7-Pots are so called because it’s said that one of them is enough to season seven pots of stew.

* * *

Eating, more than breathing or sleeping, lends itself to competition. There are bake-offs, wing wars, contests to see who can eat the most hot dogs, bratwurst, Twinkies, tamales, cannoli, apple pies, buffalo wings, ribs, oysters, pastrami, sweet corn, deep-fried asparagus, ice cream, pancakes, pepperoni rolls, and boiled eggs. Superhots are the most accessible of thrills—fugu straight from the garden. For the culinary extremist, or exhibitionist, they provide an outlet for impulses that might have compelled his adolescent self to drink a concoction or try to swallow a teaspoonful of cinnamon. (A recent study found a positive correlation between chili-eating and “sensation-seeking” behavior.) As a leisure activity, superhots offer some of the pleasures of mild drugs and extreme sports without requiring one to break the law or work out. They are near-death experiences in a bowl of guacamole.

* * *

Barrus consumes whatever people send him, from raspberry-chipotle fudge to ranch-dressing soda. Armed with a jar of peanut butter and gallons of milk (casein, a protein in dairy products, can alleviate the effects of capsaicin), he regularly sets himself such stunts as eating twenty-one of the world’s hottest peppers: seven bhut jolokia, five Trinidad Scorpion Butch Ts, four Douglah 7-Pots, three Trinidad Moruga Scorpions, two Jonah 7-Pots. (He made it through eleven of them.)

 

Hmm. Sound familiar?

Superhots!

Superhots!

 

Yay, baby!

 

Jim Downey

 



Oh. Yeah.

Remember this?

Hab harvest, 2013

Hab harvest, 2013

 

Well, this morning I got started turning those into this:

Simmer, simmer

Simmer, simmer

 

Which resulted in this, after other ingredients were added and it was allowed to simmer for a while:

Mmm.

Mmm.

 

Which was then run through a blender for a bit, then cranked through a Foley food mill to remove seeds and skins, resulting in this:

Oh. Yeah.

Oh. Yeah.

 

Which became 30 half-pint jars of just incredible sauce. So, there’s about two full habs per ounce of this stuff. I just had about 1/8th a teaspoon on a burger, and my oh my.

I think I’ll call it Scorpion Blood, since it includes (among other varietals) two different ‘Scorpion’ peppers: the Moruga Scorpion, and the Trinidad Scorpion.

Mmmm.

 

Jim Downey

Recipe, for those interested:

  • Approximately 500 peppers, crown removed and cut in half
  • Half a gallon of natural apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of Kosher salt
  • Quart of homemade tomato sauce
  • 20 ounce of chopped garlic
  • 2 yellow onions, rough chopped

Prepare all ingredients. Put peppers, onion and vinegar in 5 gallon stock pot, simmer until peppers & onion all soft.  Add other ingredients, simmer about an hour, stirring often.

Scoop into blender, do a rough blend for 15 – 20 seconds. Then pour into Foley food mill, and crank until just seeds and skins are left.  Transfer to jar, can.



A good year for peppers.
October 18, 2013, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Habanero, Weather | Tags: , , , , ,

My sister dropped me a note. It included this:

Also, now that it has been a bit, how are you doing without Alwyn there?  I’m sure that you miss him terribly!!

 

* * * * * * *

Typical for this time of year, weather forecasts are now starting to include the possibility of frost. I decided that this afternoon I’d go out and harvest the rest of my Habanero crop in advance of some rain we’ll probably get tonight. This is what I brought in:

Hab harvest, 2013

Hab harvest, 2013

 

Compare that to three years ago:

 

Or three years before that:

Habenero Harvest

 

Notice the difference? Yeah, a *lot* more fully or partially ripe ones in this year’s crop. Even though both of those other picks were taken about two weeks later in the season. Interesting.

There’s about 700 – 800 in this year’s pic, based on the totals listed in those earlier posts. Should make for a nice big batch of insanely hot sauce.

 

* * * * * * *

My sister dropped me a note. It included this:

Also, now that it has been a bit, how are you doing without Alwyn there?  I’m sure that you miss him terribly!!

My reply:

Yeah, definitely. Still keep expecting to see him when I turn a corner, still by reflex go to call him when I go out to take something to the compost pile, and so forth.

“And so forth.”

That would have included going out with me this afternoon to pick peppers. He just loved going outside with me, any chance he got.

Yeah, I miss him.

But it’s been a good year for peppers.

 

Jim Downey



Before and after.

Remember these?

20130912_154245

Well, yesterday afternoon I got around to prepping about half of them to dry:

20130915_211208

Overnight I dried the peppers.

* * * * * * *

An interesting take on incorporating an additional dimension into photography:

Photographer and historian Marc Hermann has done a beautiful job pulling historic crime scene photos from the New York Daily News archive to blend them with photographs of the same locations today. For those who live in New York now, it may be easy to forget just how rough the city was in the not-too-distant past.

Grisly violence is an undeniable part of New York’s DNA and the juxtaposition of the old, black and white images with the modern “Times Square” version of what most people expect today is incredibly fascinating – truly making ghosts walk amongst us.

* * * * * * *

Remember this?

What has also been my plan, but which I hadn’t quite been able to sort out how to accomplish, was that in St. Cybi’s Well much of the story will revolve around *how* this character came to have those dream-visions in the first place. This is further complicated by the fact that I don’t necessarily want the character to realize the full import of what he experiences within the context of the story – the reader should be able to draw out conclusions which the character wouldn’t, especially if the reader had already read Communion of Dreams.

OK, got all that? So, here’s what I experienced at Baia Castle: the revelation that the classical sculptures of Greek and Roman mythology could themselves be the conduit for the dream-visions. I got this by walking through the collection – not just walking through it, but by seeing the juxtaposition of different sculptures within the somewhat under-lit and under-stated layout of the museum.

See, like in most of the museums we had visited, the climate control there was non-existent. And whether in order to keep down temps a bit, or just to save money on electricity, the only lighting throughout the space was from windows along one side of the building. And the layout of the building was a series of almost cave-like ‘bunkers’ – rooms which were kinda long & narrow with a relatively low ceiling, and done up in neutral grey tones.

It was perfect. And in a moment my mind made the leap to imagery for St. Cybi’s Well. Because, like many of the different ‘holy wells’ in Wales, it dates back to the middle of the 6th century – not that long after the fall of Rome. And, in fact, the spread of Christianity to the Celtic lands was part of the cultural transference which took place. It’d be easy to tweak the history just a bit to include ‘lost’ sculpture & myth.

I felt in that moment the same way I feel now: like laughing maniacally.

And an appropriate (and somewhat telling) image from that same blog post:

Prometheus. Not Ridly Scott's version. The original.

Prometheus. Not Ridly Scott’s version. The original.

* * * * * * *

A passage from an excellent essay on the roots of Enlightenment thought about justice.

Rarely in the history of thought do I have a chance to say the outcome was so simply good, but it worked.  Within their lifetimes, Voltaire and Beccaria saw real reform, a sincere and solid transformation of the legal codes of most of Europe, the spread of deterrence-based justicial thought.  Within decades, judicial torture virtually vanished from European law.  The laws of America, and of the other new constitutions drafted in the latter 18th century, all show the touch of Beccaria’s call.  It worked.  The change was not absolute, of course.  Torture, the primary target, retreated, as did the notions of retributive justice, avenging dignity, and purging sin.  But prisons were still squalid, punishments severe, and other things Beccaria had campaigned against remained, capital punishment primary among them.  But even here there was what Beccaria would call progress.  The guillotine lives in infamy, but it too was a consequence of this call for enlightened justice: a quick, egalitarian execution, death with the least possible suffering, and equal for all, giving no advantage to the noble, who had long been able to hire an expert and humane headsman while the poor man suffered the clumsy hackings of an amateur who might take many blows to sever a writhing neck.  Most states judged death still necessary, but agreed that law and punishment should bind all men equally, and that unnecessary pain did not serve the public good.  It is strange to call the guillotine a happy ending, but it was in a small way, and even more victorious was the dialog it that birthed it.

* * * * * * *

Overnight I dried the peppers. Here they are this morning:

20130916_064646

Why, yes, all of these things are connected.   ;)

Jim Downey



And then there are these.
September 12, 2013, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Gardening, Habanero | Tags: , , , ,

As a follow up to Tuesday’s post about tomatoes, here’s what I just brought in from the garden:

20130912_154245

From left to right:

Oh, and Tuesday’s tomato harvest? In addition to plenty being used in meals the last couple of days, they also made 9 full quarts of rich, delicious sauce. Yum!

Jim Downey



With little to show for it.

There’s a new review up on Amazon.

* * * * * * *

I woke from a *very* strange dream about 2:00 this morning. It was a partially lucid dream, where the awake part of my brain kept trying to re-arrange the dream components to solve a problem.

The problem? How to coordinate and communicate with a very large workforce in the basement of a huge construction site. For whatever reason, the foundation of the building had been put into place, but there were huge piles of random junk all throughout the various compartments of the basement. Each time I tried to come up with a way to make sure that everyone did what they needed to do, and was accounted for (in terms of safety and actually working), the size of the basement grew, as did the piles of junk to be dealt with.

* * * * * * *

I’ve posted a fair number of items to the blog this week, but all of it has been quick links to videos I found of interest, or the sort of simple status updates I like to share about how the book is doing. There are all kinds of reasons why I post this stuff. It’s good to have these benchmarks noted on the blog for archive purposes, and people enjoy the oddball vids I come across. But these sorts of posts don’t require a lot of mental effort on my part, and when I post a string of them it usually indicates that something else is going on.

Sometimes I’m aware of what that “something else” is, sometimes it is only obvious in hindsight.

* * * * * * *

I’ve been fighting a sore throat for more than a week. Nothing too bad, started out as just an ache. I figured at first it was probably just due to allergies and a little drainage. Then I figured I had a mild virus (there’s always something going around). But it persisted. Yesterday morning I took a look in the mirror, and saw that my uvula was just about the size, shape, and color of a very ripe habanero.

Charming.

I had planned to ride out the weekend, then if my throat was still bugging me to see my usual doc sometime. Instead, I popped over to the clinic. Saw the doc on call. She took one look at my throat, prescribed antibiotics, told me to take it easy.

* * * * * * *

I knew that I was just spinning my wheels last week. I didn’t feel all that well. But I was getting some good work done in the bindery, and more or less kept forward momentum going on marketing & promotion, other things.

More importantly, I’ve been doing a *lot* of thinking about St. Cybi’s Well, the prequel to Communion of Dreams which I have mentioned often, but for which I have very little to show at this point.

It is hard to explain how this process works sometimes. But the conscious part of my brain recognized what was happening in my dream last night. How even though the foundation of the book may be laid, it is still necessary to get a handle on all the many different elements I need to work together to complete the thing. Oh, some of the details will sort themselves out as you go along — characters will take on ‘life’ and become real, a metaphor will become clear, that sort of thing — but you have to at least get the major elements in place, or you can never hope to build the book.

And just when you think you have things sorted out, you realize that the task before you is even larger than you realized. There are more factors to consider. More characters to understand.

It’s frustrating. And exciting. And exhausting.

* * * * * * *

There’s a new review up on Amazon. Here’s part of it:

I highly recommend this book. It’s exciting, thought provoking, and entertaining. I hope Mr. Downey continues to produce science fiction of such high caliber.

That helps. Thanks.

Jim Downey



Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes*

This ain’t Pyrrus.

* * * * * * *

About two weeks ago I mentioned this:

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.

* * * * * * *

Great story:

HATCH: For Jefferson’s to come out into this garden was sort of an affirmation of his vigor in so many different ways. And even at the age of 83, Jefferson read about giant cucumbers in a Cleveland, Ohio newspaper. And he wrote to the governor of Ohio and asked him for seeds of this cucumber, and passed them around to his friends in Charlottesville; grew them in his garden; typically measured how long each one was that came out of his garden. And Jefferson once wrote that although I’m an old man, I am but a young gardener.

* * * * * * *

It was a difficult year. A painful year. And while that pain has lessened over the months, it still causes difficulties for me in terms of limiting my energy and ability to focus on what I need to do.

I’m 53. Be 54 in July. Overall, I’m in much better health than I could be, as my doc reminded me at my recent annual physical. I don’t like to think of myself as being limited in what I can do. Oh, I have no illusions that I’m still 20 or anything, but still I find it frustrating that there is this factor which intrudes on my ability to accomplish things.

* * * * * * *

This ain’t Pyrrus. The gravity isn’t twice Earth normal. All the flora and fauna isn’t dedicated to the notion that it should kill me as quickly as possible, and I don’t have to be in peak physical condition at all times to just have a *chance* to survive each day.

That’s what most people remember about Harry Harrison’s classic novel Deathworld, if they remember anything at all. What is too often forgotten is that the real story was one of adaptation and learning to live with the environment of Pyrrus rather than just battling it in a forever war.

And out of necessity, that is the lessen I am going to attempt with my garden this year. Where for most of the last decade I have put a huge amount of effort into trying to keep the local critters out of my substantial garden, I just don’t have the time or energy for that now.

I’m scaling back the whole garden – yeah, a bunch of hot peppers, but other than that I’m just going to plant a half dozen or so tomato plants. Enough to provide us fresh toms this summer and fall, perhaps with some extra for a couple batches of sauce. But I’m not going to try and set up to can my usual 60 pints of chopped tomatoes and a couple dozen pints of sauce. And I’m not going to put down a double layer of landscape fabric to keep down weeds. Perhaps most importantly, I’m not going to set up a 200′ perimeter deer fence 7′ tall with a 2′ chicken wire base to try and keep out all the critters. I’ll take some other steps to try and keep the individual plants safe, but that’s it.

This is a big change for me. I really enjoyed gardening the way I have for the last few years. But I just don’t have the necessary energy to do it, given the other things I have to see to.

But everyone makes those decisions. You have to change, or you die.

Maybe this place is more like Pyrrus than I thought.

Jim Downey

*Of course.



“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.




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