Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Connections, Failure, Feedback, General Musings, Health, Hospice, Kindle, Marketing, Predictions, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, free, health, Her Final Year, hospice, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, literature, predictions, promotion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, writing
So, without a lot of fanfare I went ahead and scheduled a two-day promotion for the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams the other day, as mentioned. After I posted something about it on Facebook, John Bourke, my primary co-author on Her Final Year asked whether we might as well do a similar promotion for the Kindle edition of that book. D’oh! An oversight on my part.
But, I think, an understandable one. Right now I’m focused on writing St. Cybi’s Well, the prequel to Communion of Dreams. So there’s that.
And there’s something else. This passage from a post last February sums it up for me:
I am frequently struck just how much of our life doesn’t make sense until seen from a distance. Just recently I was surprised at the revelation of *why* the failure of Her Final Year to be more successful bothered me as much as it did: it was because I had seen the book as being a way to create something positive (for the world) out of the experience of being a long-term care provider. To have the book only reach a limited audience was, in my mind, saying that our roles as care-givers didn’t matter.
Yeah, that. In a word: disappointment.
And when things disappoint, it is only natural to disengage somewhat from them, to not sink a lot of additional emotional energy into it. At some point you just say “well, OK, that’s done — time to move on.”
Except moving on isn’t always the best course, or even possible. John reminded me of that. So I went ahead and scheduled the promotion for Her Final Year to run the same time as the one for Communion of Dreams did.
And guess what? Her Final Year, for the very first time, did better in terms of the number of downloads than Communion of Dreams did. Not by a lot — just a dozen books — but still, it did better. Whereas in the past when we did promotions for the two books at the same time, CoD almost always did better, by upwards of a factor of 10. And for the first time, one of my books was downloaded through the Amazon Australia portal. Guess which one it was. Right: HFY. And I think that’s pretty cool.
I hope you had a similarly good Thanksgiving holiday.
PS: If you missed this promotion, don’t worry. For people who get new computers/readers/mobile devices, we’ll repeat in shortly after Christmas. And of course you can always just go to the links above and buy either book for only $3.01.
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Well, yesterday afternoon I got around to prepping about half of them to dry:
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.
* * * * * * *
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:
* * * * * * *
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:
Why, yes, all of these things are connected.
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This morning, NPR repeated the story of Voyager 1 having apparently left the solar system.
I wonder why?
* * *
Philip James Bailey, Festus:
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
Life’s but a means unto an end; that end
Beginning, mean, and end to all things,—God.
* * *
We went shopping yesterday.
Big deal, right? Actually, it kinda was. It was the first time my wife had been in good enough shape to do so since her emergency appendectomy. Things are slowly returning to whatever passes for normal.
* * *
Dr. David Casarett is the director of hospice care at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He works with families as they try to navigate end-of-life decisions.
At least once a week, Casarett says, one of his patients expresses a desire to end his or her own life. “It’s a reminder to me that I have to stop whatever I was doing … and sit back down to try to find out what is motivating that request,” he says. “Is it really a carefully thought out desire to die, or is it, as it is unfortunately many times, a cry for help?”
It’s a good story.
* * *
Tomorrow’s the last day this month to get the free Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams. And this week is the last one to get entered into the drawing for a hand-bound leather copy of the special edition. Remember, you have to have posted a review on Amazon of the book, and then post a comment with a link to that review in this blog entry. There are currently 65 reviews on Amazon, but only 8 entrants for the drawing — don’t delay, as the end will come sooner than you expect.
As it usually does, for good or ill.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Amazon, Connections, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Publishing, Science Fiction, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, free, India, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, literature, memoir, promotion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Wales, writing
Thanks to everyone for helping make the promotion a success — I think we got an excellent response for a book which has been available for some 18 months, with 1,366 total downloads of Communion of Dreams! That breaks down as 1,193 in the U.S. market, 66 in the U.K., 102 in Germany, two in India, and 3 in Canada. It may be silly, but I think that it’s a real hoot that there are people in India who have downloaded my book.
I’ve been reading science fiction for over 40 years, and it’s my favorite subject, but I’ll be very honest and say that even after reading this entire book, I could not understand what the artifact actually was. I also did not understand what the burl was, nor what the gel was. I think this story could have been a lot more exciting if it was trimmed down by 50%. I applaud the author’s first efforts at writing, but I think he should try again.
Well, gee, I suppose that’s meant to be encouraging, and the reviewer does end with:
“Practice makes perfect — best of luck with your next book!”
So maybe they’ll like St. Cybi’s Well if I don’t spend too much time with characters, setting, or have too many difficult concepts in it. And I probably shouldn’t have it set in Wales, since that’s not science-fictiony enough. I’ll have to keep that in mind.
If you have some thoughts on the book to share, I’m always happy to have the additional reviews.
Well, maybe make that I’m usually happy to have the additional reviews.
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Partially related to stuff which happens in St. Cybi’s Well, but also I suspect because I just turned 55, I’ve been thinking about “time” a lot. The perceptions of it, how it ‘works’, how it is portrayed in books and movies. This topic is hardly new for me, though, since tropes about time travel are so common in Science Fiction.
Anyway, one interesting little side-track I was considering this morning was what you could do with a series of stories/books premised on a slightly different concept of time than what we commonly work with. Specifically, I was thinking of time as a manifestation of other aspects of the universe, analogous to how weather is a manifestation of other physical characteristics on a planet. You could have something like a “time forecast”, wherein changes in the quality of time itself had an impact on the story/characters. Perhaps our little corner of reality has long been in a ‘calm’ period of time weather, with things moving along smoothly and placidly, so that we’ve come to expect that it will always be that way. What happens when there’s a change? Perhaps a new front moves through? A storm? A tornado? Does everything get jumbled, a la October The First is Too Late? Perhaps it could literally be the best of times and the worst of times simultaneously.
Something to play with. But for now, I need to get back to work. And you, if you haven’t already, should take advantage of this last day of the week-long promotion and go download Communion of Dreams and/or Her Final Year.
Filed under: Babylon 5, Connections, Music, Predictions, Science Fiction, Travel, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: Babylon 5, blogging, jim downey, literature, predictions, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, travel, Wales, writing
Thought I’d share something I hinted at last week, and which explains a bit why my posting to the blog has dropped off so much in recent weeks: I’ve shifted over from primarily working on the structure and individual scenes of St. Cybi’s Well to writing the bulk of the text. To use an analogy, I’ve got the skeleton done and am now putting flesh on the bones.
So while I only have about 23,000 words in the manuscript so far, and very little of that is what most people would recognize as parts of a novel, it’s actually probably a significant fraction (perhaps one-third? half?) of the overall amount of work which will go into the book. That’s because I know not only the overall plot and major characters of the book, I also know the pacing, the locations, and how all the major elements will work together throughout. In fact, you could grab a map of Wales and then find each of the locations tied to the individual chapters to get a sense of how the whole thing will progress. Here’s the working list of chapters:
- Prelude: Cardiff
- Chapter One: Pennant Melangell
- Chapter Two: Holywell/Conwy Castle
- Chapter Three: Portmeirion/Caernarfon
- Chapter Four: Snowdon
- Chapter Five: Ffynnon Gybi/Criccieth
- Chapter Six: Pistyll Rhaedr
- Chapter Seven: Pentre Ifan
- Chapter Eight: St. Non’s/St. David’s
- Chapter Nine: St. Govan’s Chapel/Gumfreston Church
- Chapter Ten: Deheubarth
- Chapter Eleven: St. Cenydd’s Well
- Chapter Twelve: Brecon Beacons
- Chapter Thirteen: Maen-du Well/Ffynnon Gynydd
- Chapter Fourteen: Tintern Abbey/Stonehenge
- Chapter Fifteen: Ynys Môn
- Chapter Sixteen: Ffynnon Gelynin
- Chapter Seventeen: Ffynnon Sarah
- Chapter Eighteen: St. Cybi’s Well
- Chapter Nineteen: Castell y Bere
If you care to dig around my various travelogues, you can actually find descriptive passages about each of these places. Those passages will be used as part of constructing verisimilitude through the novel.
And yes, “Prelude” rather than “Prologue.” Partly it ties in with this. Partly … well, you’ll see.
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But that doesn’t mean that the book has to have an old look. Not at all. I’m playing around with some design ideas which will incorporate the cords, but which will feel more modern. Watch for some preliminary posts on that in a couple weeks.
OK, how about this?
Well, this afternoon NPR’s “All Things Considered” had a good piece about the tree, and the drought. And already I’ve had people ask whether it was the same one I had written about/used for the cover of Communion of Dreams.
Yup, that’s the same one. Here’s from the NPR website:
Well, can you take a guess what sort of design motif I’ve decided to use? Here, take a look:
Now, if you look at those images closely, you’ll see that there are a pair of lines just to the left of the tree trunk. Those indicate where the spine will be, just as with the paperback edition of the book:
Now, that’s all well and good, but how to create the ‘raised cords’ effect overall? Like this:
So far, so good. Now let’s test how it would look with some calfskin adhered down over that:
OK, I like that. But how will it look with goatskin? Here’s that:
OK, keep in mind that these are just tests to see how the leather looks over the raised cords. I’m happy with the results. But now I need to convert that simple bas relief 2-dimensional effect into a fully functional 3-dimensional sculpture which also happens to be a comfortable-to-read book, using some of the cords above as part of the actual structure of the book.
Sound difficult? Yeah, but remember that this has been my profession for over two decades. I like a nice challenge.
Just thought I’d share that little progress report.
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Any work of literature is, to some extent, part of the society in which it was written, and needs to be understood within that context. Whether you’re talking The Bonfire of the Vanities or On the Beach or Life on the Mississippi or just about any novel you care to name, it is, to some extent, a reflection on the culture surrounding it.
Writers react to the events around them. Even science fiction authors like yours truly. We really can’t avoid it.
I mentioned events in Boston the other day. Just a blog post. But it is some measure of what has gotten my attention. So it would be safe to assume that to some degree it will show up in St. Cybi’s Well. And it will. But perhaps not exactly as you might think.
Almost five years ago I wrote this:
This is nothing more or less than the peace of the gun. This is the abrogation of civil liberties as a solution for incompetent governance. Of course people like it – let things get bad enough that they fear for their lives more than they value their liberties, and you can get people to do almost anything.
Now, I don’t think that what happened in Boston was anything like what led to that blog post about HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. in August of 2008. In that instance, it was chronic problems with crime rather than a couple of domestic terrorists which brought about de facto martial law.
And I think that the police agencies involved in determining who was responsible for the attacks, and then seeking the suspects in a major metropolitan area did a very professional job. Just compare it to another recent dragnet and you’ll see what I mean.
But I keep coming back to that earlier blog post. Why? Because seeing a major city shut down, and then para-military operations going house to house searching for a suspect, gives me pause. I certainly can’t fault the police for taking precautions intended to protect their own lives and the lives of citizens. SWAT equipment and tactics have been shown to be very effective.
… I feel somewhat like the owner of a couple of highly trained and massive guard dogs, who has just watched those dogs chase off/control a threat. There’s a satisfaction in watching them do the task so well. But there’s also a nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, things could be bad if they ever decided that they no longer wanted to obey commands.
Nah – no need to worry. That has never happened before.
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So, yesterday’s post was #1,500 here. The last Big Round Number was posted on December 9, 2010. Since I started the blog in January 2007, that means that the pace has actually been fairly stable, in terms of my posting — about 250 a year, more or less.
I never really expected it to last this long. But I’m glad it has. And I’m glad that so many people have shared some or all of the ride with me. Have been witness to my efforts to get Communion of Dreams published conventionally. Have shared my experiences as a care-provider for someone with Alzheimer’s (and the subsequent book). Have supported me when I decided to self-publish CoD. Have helped to spread the word about that novel. Have encouraged me to write the prequel.
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A number of friends and others have asked me how the writing is going on St. Cybi’s Well. It’s a natural question, but it’s a little hard to explain. Here’s the gist of what I have been telling people:
Using the Scrivener software, it really is a different process than what writing Communion of Dreams was like. It’s less linear. But it’s more balanced & comprehensive. Let’s put it this way – I have components now done in all 19 chapters of the book (plus the prelude). Some of it is just landscape descriptions, drawn from my previous travelogues. Some of it is character sketches. Or specific scenes. Or notes about something which needs to happen. It’s different. It feels more productive. But it’s kinda hard to explain.
This morning, after I got up at 3:00 for physiological needs, as I was trying to get back to sleep I was thinking more about this (well, and thinking through some scenes for the book — I do a lot of that in the middle of the night), and I came up with a couple of analogies which may help non-writers understand what the different processes are like.
First is constructing a building. Writing Communion, the metaphor would be that I picked a nice location for my building, leveled the ground, poured a concrete pad of sufficient size, and then started building a brick wall on one corner, working my way around the entire pad brick by brick as I went, making determinations as to locations of doors and windows and whatnot according to a rough plan I had in my head. Once the exterior wall was completed, I put a roof on it, then proceeded to do much the same process inside the building for interior walls and all that, using the mostly set exterior as a hard limit to what could be done internally.
With St. Cybi’s Well, the metaphor would be that I went to an architect/engineer, and did all the design and layout of the building in advance. Before a single footing was dug, or materials ordered, I knew pretty exactly how I wanted the entire thing to look. Then once all that was sorted, the actual construction was done entirely differently. Footings were dug, concrete poured. Then a steel framework was put in place for both the interior and exterior walls, and roof trusses positioned. Once this internal skeleton was finished, then I would start to put up sheathing material for the walls and roof, proceeding to finished surfaces.
See the difference? One feels almost organic, and makes sense to the outside observer from the very start. The other feels a little more arcane or artificial, and it isn’t obvious what the finished product will look like until well into the building process.
OK, let’s try another metaphor: art. Specifically, painting.
Some artists work in a way which seems natural and obvious. They pick a subject, usually do some rough sketches on their canvas to help get all the elements sorted out & proportioned. Then they’ll start to apply pigment according to their particular style or technique. Some of which may be a little hard to understand for a casual observer, but the basic process makes sense — you can see the different aspects emerging organically.
But there are artists who work in a completely different way. They have a concept in their head, and will proceed to do a series of fairly random strokes of paint. Each stroke is crucial, each one in the perfect place, but the end result isn’t clear to the observer until the final moments, when the last few elements are done and suddenly the artist’s vision breaks through. Like this:
Now, don’t try to over-think these analogies, or to take them too literally. They’re just intended to help illuminate some of the differences in process between this current novel, and the last one.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work on my building.