Communion Of Dreams

February 22, 2012, 10:04 am
Filed under: Press, Promotion, Religion, Science, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

Following up to yesterday’s post, here’s the second question/answer:

2. Give me the old chicken-egg breakdown as it applies here. Which threads came first with this novel – characters, concept, something else?

The concept of what would happen if we just found something completely alien is what came to me first. It’s at the heart of science, as well as science fiction: how do we make sense of the world and new discoveries? That is such a human question, that it may very well define us. It certainly defines much of our culture throughout human history.

Another one tomorrow!

Jim Downey

First question.
February 21, 2012, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Art, Guns, Heinlein, Press, Promotion, Robert A. Heinlein, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

So, last week I got a series of questions from a reporter for the local paper, who is working on a story about Communion of Dreams. I spent a lot of time thinking about my answers on my drive to and from Iowa last weekend, and have been working on writing my responses in the last day or so. And I thought that it might be fun to share both the questions, and my answers, over the next several days.

Here’s the first question/answer:

1. First off, just clue me in to the first pieces of science fiction writing that really captivated your attention. Obviously, you’ve written in quite a few different contexts – how prominent a place does science fiction writing occupy in your heart? Do you feel as if you’ve applied any of the tools or ideas gleaned from this genre to other writing projects or pursuits (or vice versa)?

I very much think that good writing is good writing, whatever the venue. As writers, we’re always looking for clarity, insight, information – to convey something we know or feel to the reader. That holds true whether I am writing about a local artist (as I did when I was writing for the Tribune), or discussing my opinion of the quality of a given firearm (as I do for, or sharing the emotional truth of caring for a loved one (Her Final Year), or opening up the possible reality I envision in fiction. So, in essence, all of my writing is related, though perhaps my imagination has been given greater play due to my reading/writing science fiction.

In terms of what science fiction grabbed my attention when I was young . . . well, that’s really hard to say. It’s been a long time, with a lot of life in-between. I know I liked the Heinlein ‘juveniles’. Dune was an early favorite. But by the time I was in early adolescence I was voraciously reading everything in the ‘science fiction’ section of my local library, hungrily devouring book after book.

More tomorrow!

Jim Downey

We are made by those we’ve known.
February 20, 2012, 6:37 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation, NYT, Science, U of Iowa Ctr for the Book

I’ve mentioned book conservation a few times in the five years this blog has been up. It is, after all, my actual profession. And I’ve mentioned the University of Iowa Center for the Book (UICB), the program through which I got my professional training. And I’ve even mentioned Tim Barrett, a good friend and mentor at the UICB who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called ‘genius award’) a couple of years ago.

Well, there’s a very nice profile of Tim in this past Friday’s New York Times: Can a Papermaker Help to Save Civilization?

It’s a good piece. And I was lucky to have learned much about paper and craftsmanship from Tim. Very lucky.

That reminds me – I owe him a copy of my book. When he gave me one of his, and signed it, I promised that someday I’d return the favor.

Jim Downey

A ‘graphic novel’ version?

Heading out here in a bit for a weekend of mixed business and pleasure, so I won’t be posting until early next week. But a couple of quick notes before I go . . .

A reader passed along a note that the webcomic Questionable Content has been running a sequence for the last couple of weeks which includes a hologram-manifesting AI (actually, two different ones) very much like the ‘experts’ in Communion of Dreams. I really like the rendering, and it is exactly how I envisioned Seth and the other experts manifesting in the book. The sequence starts here, and is quite fun (I’m just a sporadic reader of QC, but enjoy it when I do get to reading it). Perhaps I should send J. Jacques a copy of the book and see if we can get a graphic novel of the book going . . .

Well, sales of CoD have finally gone from a trickle to drought. Haven’t sold any for the last couple of days. Not too worrying, since I have been busy setting up things for the next promotional push (hope to have some news on the scheduling of that next week). But still, if you’ve read the book, do me a favor and just tell a friend about it. Help get the word out. And take a moment to go ‘rate’ the book on Amazon, perhaps even write up a review (or say whether one of the other reviews were useful). Oh, and if you’re an Amazon Prime member, *please* take a moment and ‘borrow’ the book – costs you nothing, and helps me out in several ways.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jim Downey

“Watch her take the pleasures from the serpent that once corrupted man.”
February 15, 2012, 12:45 pm
Filed under: Blade Runner, movies, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction, YouTube

Sharing this just because it is so completely insane:

And the long sequence of her dancing with the snake reminded me very much of the ‘Miss Salomé and the snake’ scene in Blade Runner. Given the rest of the futuristic theme of this clip, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that it provided the inspiration for Ridley Scott twenty years later. It’d be interesting to find out. Maybe if Scott winds up doing the film adaptation of Communion of Dreams . . .

Jim Downey

A different kind of luck.
February 14, 2012, 1:57 pm
Filed under: Connections, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

There’s a fascinating article in the current New Yorker on the story of Quentin Rowan, who last fall was revealed to have largely plagiarized the much-vaunted spy novel Assassin of Secrets. What is curious about the plagiarism is that Rowan had used passages from a very large number of other works, blending them together to create his novel. From the article:

Like a spy hiding in plain sight, “Assassin of Secrets” appeared to be a bizarre aberration: an homage to Bond that plagiarized Bond. Jeremy Duns, alerted by the Bond forum, began checking the text, plugging phrases into Google Books. He found a sentence from the American spy writer Charles McCarry, and another from Robert Ludlum, the author of the “Bourne” books. “I quickly realized that the whole novel was ‘written’ this way,” Duns wrote on his blog. He informed the book’s British publisher, and on November 8th, five days after the book’s publication, Little, Brown recalled all sixty-five hundred copies and issued a press release: “It is with deep regret that we have published a book that we can no longer stand behind.”

By then, Edward Champion, the editor of the culture Web site Reluctant Habits, had joined the hunt. Champion had exposed plagiarism before, and he told me that “generally people stick with one source, or two or three.” In “Assassin of Secrets,” he found thirty-four instances of plagiarism in the first thirty-five pages, taken from sources ranging from multiple Bond continuation novels to James Bamford’s 2001 nonfiction book about the National Security Agency to Geoffrey O’Brien’s 1988 account of the nineteen-sixties, “Dream Time.”

How did this come to happen? Well, the article goes into considerable depth exploring that question and Rowan’s answers. It’s an excellent and insightful psychological profile, and well worth the time to read it.

But what interests me is how Rowan managed to get the book published in the first place. Again, from the article:

At first, Rowan described “Spy Safari” to me as “pretty much my own,” but after a minute he admitted that he “must have” lifted some passages from pulp novels, “just because it was such a deeply ingrained thing.” He sent the manuscript to an agent named David Vigliano—a former student of Rowan’s father, at Friends—who was known for representing memoirs by celebrities such as Jessica Simpson. Vigliano passed the book along to one of his employees, a twenty-six-year-old agent named David Peak.

He knew someone. He had a connection to an agent. That agent handed the manuscript off to an employee. That employee placed the book a few months later with a publishing house. The rest of the story spun out from there.

One of the things I have written about here over the years is my belief that conventional publishing is essentially broken. Almost five years ago I wrote about the experience of David Lassman, then the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath in the UK, who ran an experiment to see what would happen if he submitted the work of Jane Austen under his own name to a bunch of established publishers and agents. All the submissions were rejected, and only one even recognized the work. Mr. Lassman, you see, didn’t have an old student of his father’s handy.

Now that Communion of Dreams is self-published, and slowly selling as word of it spreads, you might think that this is a moot point, or should be. Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps I should just ignore things like this, focus on concentrating on doing my own promotional stuff and selling copies of my novel here and there.

But the truth is that while I can at least point to the book getting some distribution, some positive reviews and word-of-mouth, I do not have the kinds of resources that even a minor publishing house has for advertising and promotion. Luck still plays a huge part. And that is either blind luck, or the kind that comes from having connections.

I don’t have that kind of luck. But perhaps you do, and will put in a good word for me with the right person. I promise that Communion of Dreams is all my own work. Really.

Jim Downey

Brussels, we have a problem.
February 11, 2012, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Amazon, Failure, Kindle, Publishing, tech

I wonder whether this is some small payback from other members of the European Union who resent some of the silly bureaucratic rules which have come out of Brussels.

What is?

The fact that it seems to be impossible for someone who lives in Belgium to download the Kindle version of Communion of Dreams. Oh, plenty of people have downloaded it in the UK. And Germany. And even one person in France. But a fan who ordered a signed copy of the paperback, and lives in Belgium, wanted to also get the Kindle edition. And he can’t. I’ve even tried sending him a ‘gift’ copy of the e-book.

Nothing works. At least nothing that we’ve been able to come up with.

Anyone have any suggestions or work-arounds?

Jim Downey

Another one.
February 10, 2012, 10:49 am
Filed under: Amazon, Art, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing

Got another very positive review of Communion of Dreams. It goes over a lot of ground, but here’s an excerpt that’ll give you an idea what the author thinks:

One of the things I enjoyed most, as a science fiction fan of many decades, was finding little bits of reference to various other writers, either in a conceptual sense or, sometimes, in a name used or a place mentioned. So many science fiction novels touch on psychology, sociology, scientific and technological progress, philosophy, religion or just sheer adventure. This one has it all, and I do mean *all* of it. My mind was a whirl of ideas and thoughts, all intertwining as I read about the discovery of the artifact, watched different people react based on their perception and frame of reference, and saw their attitudes change over time as more and more was discovered.

Check out the whole thing, along with the other reviews so far, and vote whether the review was helpful to you.

I am very happy to see a positive review, of course, and hope that this helps to spread the word (hint, hint) about the book to others. But I am even more pleased to get the feedback that the book ‘works’ for the reader. That’s always a crap-shoot for any author or artist: you work to produce something (an artifact, if you will) which is then put out there for interpretation by each and every person who encounters it, and at that point it is out of your hands.

So yeah, it is very rewarding to get this kind of reaction. Of course, additional sales and riches would be nice, too . . .

Jim Downey

Of knitting needles and space stations.
February 9, 2012, 11:01 am
Filed under: Amazon, Feedback, ISS, Kindle, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Space, YouTube

Ah, fun with physics up on the ISS:

Very cool.

Book update: if you ordered a signed copy of Communion of Dreams prior to February first, you should have received it in the last day or two. The next batch of books will be going out the middle of next week – so there is time to get in your order!

Actual sales of the book continue to plug along as well, 3-4 per day. Not stunning, but steady. And I keep hearing from people how much they have enjoyed it – that’s always great, thanks! Please, if you have read the book, go write a review and help spread the word to your friends and any forums you participate in.

Sometime later this month I’ll probably offer another one-day promotion when anyone can download the Kindle edition for free – watch for it!

Jim Downey

It’s brilliant. Brilliant, I tell you!
February 7, 2012, 10:24 am
Filed under: Failure, Humor, Politics

Today is election day in Missouri. Yup, we are holding a completely pointless Primary. I say that because due to a campaign trail mix of politics, ineptitude, inertia, and simple waste the election is nothing more than a beauty contest: there will be no delegates won, there is mercifully little political advertising, and most of the GOP candidates have completely ignored the state.

And this morning, I had an idea. A brilliant and cunning idea. One which would have been entirely too much fun to have done. Unfortunately, note the past tense verb there. That’s because I needed to have had this idea a month or two ago. And I didn’t. Oh well, might as well share it anyway: Think how much fun it would have been to organize a write-in candidacy for the Primary. We could have set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote The Chosen One. Get thousands of people to pledge to go to the polls today, maybe bring poll workers a box of donuts or something. And we could turn this pointless election into a bit of performance art. And our write-in candidate could at least provide a good laugh.

No, it wouldn’t be me. And not Mickey Mouse or anything like that. I’m thinking someone all the Republican candidates love, and most of the GOP faithful revere: Ronald Reagan.

Of course, since President Reagan is dead, we’d have to run him as the Undead candidate. Yup, Zombie Reagan.

This would tie in with the zeitgeist perfectly. And wouldn’t it have been fun to listen to NPR have to report that Zombie Reagan had won the Primary? We could make jokes about how he would be more lifelike than Mitt, and make more sense in his speeches than Newt. Ricky would like him because he’d be pro-(after)life. And Ron (no, the other Ron) would envy his hair.

Damn, why didn’t I think of this a couple of months ago???

Jim Downey