Communion Of Dreams

“Ripped from today’s headlines!”

That was a fairly common advertising phrase used to promote books and movies back in the day, referencing spectacular murders and crazed drug orgies. Writers/publishers/moviemakers would try and cynically cash-in on the public attention these events generated by getting their books & movies out quickly.

And recently, it’s  a phrase which has been haunting me.

I’ve mentioned previously that sometimes it feels like I am being a bit too prescient about our own future in writing about the alternate timeline of St Cybi’s Well / Communion of Dreams. Like I told a friend this morning:

I’ve made the comment a couple of times, but let me reiterate that it is just plain … creepy? … scary? … to be hearing comments from the CDC and WHO about the spread of this Ebola outbreak, and how it is a virus we don’t really have any treatment for, and how quarantines are necessary to try and control it … *ALL* of which could be coming right out of the SCW stuff I am writing about right now. Blimey. It’s seriously playing with my brain a bit.

Well, at least I know that all the ‘news’ stuff in SCW will have the ring of truth to it …


News? Ring of truth? Try this on for size:

CORNISH: How have past Ebola outbreaks ended, and what do you think needs to be done to end this particular outbreak?

GEISBERT: Outbreaks usually end when the public health agencies are able to come in and quarantine the affected individuals, and, you know, eventually the outbreak runs its course, and it’s over. You know, in central Africa these outbreaks have tended to occur in a very defined geographic area – for example, a village. And the public health agencies, like the World Health Organization and humanitarian aid organizations like Medecins Sans Frontieres, have come in, quarantined that area, and the outbreak has been contained. I think what’s been difficult with West Africa is that it’s so widespread, and it’s occurring simultaneously in so many different areas, that you really stretch that experienced resource thin, and so that’s a huge problem.


Or this:

How bad is the current outbreak?

Bad — very, very bad. It’s concentrated in three small West African states: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where reports of Ebola infections first emerged in February. The outbreak has claimed more than 670 lives and, worryingly, infected medical personnel attempting to stop its spread. A prominent Liberian physician died Sunday.

What’s particularly scary, though, was the recent death of a Liberian man in Lagos, the bustling coastal mega-city in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. The man, a consultant for the Liberian government, had traveled from Liberia through an airport in Lome, the capital of Togo, before arriving in Nigeria. The hospital where he died is under lockdown, and the WHO has sent teams to Togo and Nigeria.


So, yeah, the phrase “ripped from today’s headlines” has been kicking around in my head entirely too much the last couple of weeks.

Ah, well, maybe that just means that some large publisher or famous director will knock on my door and hand me a very large chunk of money so I can ignore everything else and finish the book in a few weeks …


Jim Downey

Goodbye, Herr Gutenberg.

My wife came through the kitchen, past the back door, and stepped into my bindery. I was in the process of gathering and folding the sections for the limited edition of Communion of Dreams. I paused, looked up.

“Did you see Annie’s email?” she asked.

I sighed. “Yeah, just a few moments ago.”

* * * * * * *

Because of the crazy weather we’ve had this spring, it seems like everything has been out of kilter in the garden. As a result, I’m just now getting around to doing the usual spring maintenance on the raised strawberry bed. Yesterday, as I was finishing up the weeding, having removed a couple bushel baskets worth of henbit and no small amount of rogue grass, I decided to see if I could get out the entire root of some large and nasty prickly thing.

To do this, I dug down into the surrounding soil with a weeding tool, then grasped the base of the plant with a large pair of old pliers. These plants are tenacious, and this is about the only way I have found to get most of their roots out of the ground without resorting to explosives. Anyway, I got a good grip on the root with the pliers, positioned myself, and pulled mightily.

The root started to come out. But then it snapped off suddenly. My right hand, grasping the pliers, flew free. For about 8 inches. Then it encountered the back edge of the concrete block used in construction of the raised bed. I knew I had broken the fourth metacarpal (the bone in the hand which goes from the wrist to your little finger) before I even raised my hand to look at it.

* * * * * * *

I met him by accident, and it changed my life. It’s a story I’ve told many times, but I don’t recall writing about it before.

I was a couple semesters into work on my MA in English Lit at the University of Iowa. I was looking to get a drop/add slip signed, and opened the wrong door.

See, there were these two doors, side by side. The one on the left went where I intended to go. The one on the right led into the Windhover Press, the fine letterpress at Iowa. But I didn’t notice the sign on the door, and didn’t realize my mistake until I was already a step or two inside.

A short, greying man wearing thick glasses was busy doing … something … behind a piece of machinery I didn’t recognize. He looked over the top rim of his glasses, and gruffly asked: “Can I help you?”

It should have been my cue to stammer out an apology for interrupting him, then turn and leave.

Instead, I stopped, looked around more. It started to sink in what it was I was looking at. “Wow, what *is* this place?”

My appreciation for tools and fine equipment must’ve shown on my face.  He smiled. Just a little. And stepped out from behind the Vandercook proof press he was working at, wiping his hands on the  (once) white apron he was wearing. “Like it says on the door, this is the Windhover Press. The fine letterpress. We make books here. By hand.”

“People still do that?” Well, I knew that they did. In the abstract. But being confronted with the no-nonsense reality of it had me a bit stunned.

“Yeah. Let me show you around.”

He did. I was fascinated. I did drop the class I was planning on dropping, but rather than some class on literary theory I added in a class on “The Hand Printed Book”.

* * * * * * *

‘He’ was Kim Merker. I spent two semesters taking his class. And I learned a lot about letterpress printing, about paper, about ink. And a bit about bookbinding. I also met one of my closest friends, Annie, who was Kim’s assistant at the press and who usually referred to him as “Herr Gutenberg”. Actually, it was Annie who taught me a lot of what I learned there.

Because Kim was gone a lot. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was busy putting together something new. Something which necessitated a lot of meetings, a lot of schmoozing, a lot of travel. That something was the embryonic Iowa Center for the Book.

So Kim and I never became particularly close. Oh, I got along with him just fine, and was always happy to see him in the press when I went there for one of my ‘classes’. And he did teach me a lot, himself.

But I found I was more interested in the simple bookbinding techniques I learned, and shifted my attention to doing more of that as time went on, moving on to taking other classes, learning from other artisans who had been brought together for this new and somewhat vague ‘program’ called the UICB.

Still, without him allowing his work to be interrupted and taking the time to show a gob-smacked grad student around, I never would have become a book conservator and book artist.

* * * * * * *

I felt the sharp pain that comes with a bone break. Dropping the pliers, I lifted my hand and looked at the back of it. There was already a knob there at the point of impact. I felt it. Flexed my fingers. Couldn’t feel any shifting of bone or fragments. And while it hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, there was no additional pain from moving my fingers. Just a weakness in my grip in the little finger.

Yeah, I broke the metacarpal. I was certain of it. I finished up the last few bits of the weeding I hadn’t done, using my left hand, and then replaced the boxwire panels which protect the strawberry plants from birds and critters.

I came inside, washed my hands, and again did an assessment. Was there any reason to seek medical attention? Not really. I’ve broken enough bones and had enough other injuries to be able to tell when I should see a doctor or head to the ER. In fact, I’ve broken four metacarpals in my life, and this was actually the second break for this particular one. Only for the first one was a cast needed — because I had shattered the bone when I was 16. (That was the last time I hit anything in anger.)

As I explained to a friend: I prefer to lead a somewhat rough & tumble life rather than a completely safe one. Sure, there are more hurts that come along with that, but the risks are generally worth it.

* * * * * * *

My wife came through the kitchen, past the back door, and stepped into my bindery. I was in the process of gathering and folding the sections for the limited edition of Communion of Dreams. I paused, looked up.

“Did you see Annie’s email?” she asked.

I sighed. “Yeah, just a few moments ago.”

Kim Merker had passed away two weeks ago. Word was just now getting out beyond his family and those who knew him best.  There was a statement up on the UICB website.

I had looked at the dates of his life. And counted the years to when I first met him. I’m almost the same age as he was then.

“I’m going to want to try and attend the memorial service they have for him this fall,” I said.

My wife nodded. I went back to gathering and folding sheets.


Jim Downey

Looking back: Privacy? You don’t need no steenkin’ provacy!

While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007).  This item first ran on November 12, 2007.


Over the weekend, news came out of yet another “Trust us, we’re the government” debacle, this time in the form of the principal deputy director of national intelligence saying that Americans have to give up on the idea that they have any expectation of privacy. Rather, he said, we should simply trust the government to properly safeguard the communications and financial information that they gather about us. No, I am not making this up. From the NYT:

“Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,” Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, told attendees of the Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s symposium in Dallas.

* * *

“Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity,” he said, according to a transcript [pdf]. “But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past.”

The future, Mr. Kerr says, is seen in MySpace and other online troves of volunteered information, and also in the the millions of commercial transactions made on the web or on the phone every day. If online merchants can be trusted, he asks, then why not federal employees, who face five years in jail and a $100,000 fine for misusing data from surveillance?

Or, from the Washington Post:

“Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,” Kerr said. “I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn’t empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere.”

This mindset, that allowing the government to just vacuum up all of our personal information, to monitor our email and phone communications, or whatever else they are doing but don’t want to tell is, is somehow equivalent to my posting information on this blog or giving some company my credit card number when I want to buy something, is fucking absurd. First off, there is a fundamental difference between what I willingly reveal to someone in either a personal or commercial exchange, and having my information taken without my knowledge or agreement. To say otherwise is to say that just because my phone number is listed in the phone directory, everyone who has the ability to do so is free to listen in on my phone conversations.

Even worse, it shows how we are viewed by this individual, and our government: as their subjects, without rights or expectations of being in control of our lives.

And the notion that we can just trust governmental employees with our private information is patently ridiculous. First off, saying that we should because we already trust commercial businesses with our private information is completely specious – how many times in the last year have you heard of this or that company’s database having been hacked and credit card, personal, and financial information having been stolen? This alone is a good reason to not allow further concentration of our private data to be gathered in one place. Secondly, think of the many instances when hard drives with delicate information have been lost by government employees in the State Department, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, or even at Los Alamos National Laboratory – and those are just the things which have actually made it into the news. Third, and last (for now), anyone who has had any experience with any government agency can attest to just how screwed up such a large bureaucracy can be, in dealing with even the simplest information.

I recently went round and round with the IRS over some forms which they thought I had to file. I didn’t, and established that to the satisfaction of the office which contacted me. Yet for six months I was still being contacted by another office in charge with collecting the necessary fees and fines – three times I had to send a copy of the letter from the initial office which cleared me of the matter, before they finally, and almost grudgingly, admitted that I owed them no money (for not filing the documents I didn’t need to file). These are not the same people I want to trust to handle even *more* information about me.

Allowing the government to take this position – that the default should be that they can just take whatever information about us they want, so long as they promise not to misuse it – is to abandon any illusions that we are in any way, shape, or form a free people. It would turn the entire equation of the Constitution on its head, saying that the government is sovereign and we its subjects. That such a thing is even proposed by a government employee is extremely revealing, and should cause no little amount of concern.

Jim Downey

Getting attention.

Marketing a self-published book is the single biggest hurdle any author faces. Well, perhaps other than all the other hurdles such as writing the book in the first place, competently editing it, getting it put into an attractive format with a nice cover, …

Anyway, marketing is a huge problem. That’s why I did the KDP Select program, with the ability to offer special promotions. It’s why I blog & tweet and generally blow my own horn. It’s why I bug my friends and fans and ask that they help to spread the word. It’s why I leverage any connections I might have into any press outlets. It’s marketing. And you’re never sure what works or what doesn’t.

And I thought I would share one more item I’m trying: direct communication with the Diane Rehm Show. Here’s the text from a letter I am sending them with copies of Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year:

Diane Rehm Show
WAMU 88.5 American University Radio
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016-8082


I’ve long been a listener of the Diane Rehm show, and know that Ms. Rehm is a fan of intelligent, thoughtful science/speculative fiction. My recently published novel is generally considered to fall into that genre, and has been generating considerable interest. I am enclosing an article from this past weekend’s local newspaper supporting this claim, and a check of the reviews on Amazon will do likewise.

I am also enclosing a memoir published last year, which deals with another issue I know Ms. Rehm has covered and seems to care about: care-giving for a loved one. In this case it was Alzheimer’s, and the memoir is a joint effort of myself and another man, along with our spouses. We were each care providers for our respective mothers-in-law, a relatively unusual role in our society, but one which is going to become increasingly common (and necessary) in the coming years. The book is based on each of our writings as we went through the multi-year experience, and includes blog posts and email communications.

I understand that Ms. Rehm, and likely the entire staff there, are probably overwhelmed with story suggestions and books to be considered. But I hope that you will find time to take a look at either or both of these books. The matter of care-giving for someone with dementia is extremely important to me, and I would like to see more people aware of the role that men play concerning this. And the novel which I wrote during my time as a care provider tells another story, one of how unexpected discoveries sometimes show us what really matters. I think it is easy to see how these two things may be connected.

Thank you for your time,

James Downey

Will it do *any* good? No idea. Maybe. If you would like to help get them to consider it, post a note on their Facebook page. Send ’em a tweet. Drop them an email through the ‘contact us’ form on their site. It might help.

It might not.

That’s marketing, at least as a small, self-published author.

If you have any other ideas or suggestions, or know other outlets/individuals which might be open to providing coverage, let me know.


Jim Downey

Pretty remarkable.
March 5, 2012, 8:39 am
Filed under: Amazon, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Press, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction

So, there was this little promotional event yesterday. And a newspaper article.

And things went a little nuts.

If you know me via Facebook or Twitter, you have some idea. For those who don’t, or want to know the final tally: altogether 5,277 people took advantage of the freed Kindle edition promotion. And there were even some regular sales of both the Kindle and paperback editions.

5,277. That’s pretty remarkable. And puts to total number of the finished version of the book out there over 6,000. That’s in about 6 weeks time – and amounts to the average number of people who downloaded the earlier PDF versions of the book in an entire year.

Yeah, I call that success. Stunning, actually.

I’m a bit exhausted by the whole thing, to be honest. Almost like a hangover. So I’ll probably take a break for a day or two, concentrate on getting other things done which I neglected in preparation for the promotion.

But I wanted to let everyone know the results – and to say Thank You to everyone! Oh, and to ask – if you got the book yesterday, and read it, and enjoy it – to please tell your friends, go and rate or like or even review the book on Amazon and anywhere else.

Thanks again.

Jim Downey

Cross posted to the BBTI blog.

. . . go!

Anticipation no more: the day is here, the article posted. Here’s how it starts:

The future, it has been said, is unwritten.

But this really isn’t so, at least to the degree that gifted local writer Jim Downey has penned a vision of what’s to come in his recent science-fiction novel, “Communion of Dreams.”

Downey once occupied space in these very pages as a Tribune arts columnist. His versatile, incisive writing style has been applied to topics that range from handguns to the humanity seen through the creases of Alzheimer’s disease — in September, features writer Jill Renae Hicks detailed the story of “Her Final Year,” a caregiving memoir Downey co-authored with John Bourke. By approaching the fictional worlds of “Communion” with his well-rounded cadre of concerns, Downey was able to draw out themes related to psychology, religion and spirituality, reminding us that no matter how technologically advanced we might become, our future will be a human one.

There’s more, and all of it very positive (to my eyes, at least.) Take a look, share it, comment on it if you’re a subscriber to the Tribune.

But more importantly, take advantage of today’s Free Kindle Edition promotion, and go download the book. Please. Please please please.

You help me out by doing so, both by pushing up the book’s ranking, and by just reading the thing. Because most people really like it, once they get into it. And if you like it, you’ll probably tell your friends. Or maybe “rate” or “like” the book on Amazon or on Facebook. Or maybe even take the time to write a review (there’s a new review just been posted overnight!). All of these things help me, and I very much appreciate it – why I’m willing to offer the book for free.

So, thanks again! Go forth and download!

Jim Downey

On your mark, get set . . .

Anticipation is a good thing. I think that, particularly when you get a little older, get a little jaded, it is easy to lose a sense of excitement about something that is coming. Or perhaps not lose it, but no longer trust it. Because so very few things ever turn out like we want, or plan.

Life’s experiences, life’s disappointments, teach us this. It is hard not to be cynical, just out of simple self-preservation.

And yet . . .

And yet, I find myself looking forward with anticipation for the first bit of press attention to Communion of Dreams. Even though I already know what it says. Even though I know *exactly* how it was put together, having myself written many such columns/articles about the arts for the very same small-town paper. Even though I have had countless other articles in the press about me and the things I have done or been part of.

Why? I’m not sure.

I “believe” in the value of the book, and the story I tell. But then, I also “believed” in the value of Her Final Year, and look how completely flat that book fell on its face.

But still, I am looking forward to tomorrow’s article. To the Kindle promotion. I’ve even created a Facebook “event” for it. I guess you might say that I have “hope.”

And that reminds me of an appropriate quote:

“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”

See you tomorrow.

Jim Downey

Looking back, looking ahead.
March 1, 2012, 11:23 am
Filed under: Amazon, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Predictions, Press, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction

Some good news items to share this morning.

One, the piece in the Tribune this Sunday about Communion of Dreams is going to be quite substantial. I’ve seen the preliminary copy, and I think that people are going to enjoy it. A lot.

Two, some numbers from last month/since we launched the book.

In terms of visits to the site, there were over a thousand in February. That’s pretty decent, and I would like to thank everyone.

In terms of how many copies of the book are now out there (the Amazon editions, not the PDF version), I am happy to report that it is now about 850. That includes both the paperback and Kindle editions. And again I would like to thank everyone who has helped to make this a reality. And in particular I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to let me know they’ve enjoyed the book, or have gone and written a review on Amazon. That is both rewarding and very helpful.

Of course, I would love to double that number this weekend with the free Kindle download. Or even sales! So please, share the news with friends and people who love to read.

Thanks again!

Jim Downey

Planning ahead.
February 28, 2012, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Amazon, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Press, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction

So, I just got word that the local paper, where I used to be a columnist covering the arts, is going to run some variety of story about Communion of Dreams this coming Sunday. This was the reason why I ran the interview Q&A series last week. I don’t yet know exactly what the nature is of the article – it could just be a passing mention, part of some larger column, or a full feature. We’ll just have to wait and see.

But I am going to go ahead and set up a Promotional Day for the Kindle edition of the book – meaning that anyone will be able to download the book for free on that day.

I would like your help: spread the word. Feel free to tell people about this post, or just tell them that the Kindle edition will be free this Sunday. Mention it on your blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook/G+/LJ/Whatever profile. Remember, you don’t even need to own a Kindle in order to get & read the book: there is a free Kindle emulator for almost all computers/tablets/mobile devices.

Please, particularly if you’ve already read the book, and enjoyed it, help me get the word out. It doesn’t cost you anything but a little bit of time. And your friends/readers will appreciate the news of the free book. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate something free, particularly when it is brilliant and entertaining?

Thanks. Seriously, I mean that.

Jim Downey

And finally: it depends.
February 26, 2012, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Marketing, Press, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

Time to close out the question/answer series. Been an interesting experiment, but I’m unsure whether I’ll repeat it in the future, presuming that this won’t be the last time someone wants to ‘interview’ me this way.

Anyway, here’s the last one:

>6. What other projects do you have on deck? Do you intend to do something similar for your next book project or would you prefer to do something wholly different?

A number of people who have read CoD have asked this, and I consider that a good sign. For a couple of years now I’ve been thinking about a prequel, to explore a critical moment in the ‘backstory’ of the current novel. And of course, a lot of people are wondering what happens after the closing revelations of Communion of Dreams, and that’s fun to think about. Partly which direction I go will depend on what the response is to this book – of course, I’d love for it to be a huge success, and for folks to be demanding that I revisit that ‘universe’. If not, I’ll see where inspiration leads me. I certainly have no plans to stop writing.

Perhaps more later today.

Jim Downey