Communion Of Dreams

Taking stock.

I decided that I needed to go through and re-read the entirety of St Cybi’s Well so far, start to finish, just as a way to refresh all the different elements of it in my head and to get an overall picture. While I regularly bounce back and forth in the text to make sure I’m getting this or that specific detail correct, it’s good to get a complete overview now and then. Being at the halfway point in the actual writing (though with all the planning and prep work the book is more like 3/4 complete), this seemed like a good time to do it.

So over the weekend, I did.

I’m happy to say that I’m pleased with it. Perhaps to be expected, since I am the author. But usually I’m very critical of my own writing, and seldom think that it is as good as it should be.


A year ago I gave a preliminary chapter list, and said that I had about 23,000 words of notes and descriptions. Well, I still have the notes and descriptions (and I am still very happy using Scrivener for the organizational aspects), but I now have a solid 55,000 words of actual book done. Here’s the actual title list so far:

  • Prelude: Cardiff
  • Chapter 1: Pennant Melangell
  • Chapter 2: St. Winefride’s Well
  • Chapter 3: St. Seiriol’s Well
  • Chapter 4: Snowdon
  • Chapter 5: Ffynnon Gybi
  • Chapter 6: Pistyll Rhaeadr
  • Chapter 7: Dinas Maelor
  • Chapter 8: Pentre Ifan
  • Chapter 9: St. Non’s Chapel

And the title of the chapter I’m currently writing is Y Garn Goch. These are all real, actual places, and you can look them up online if you want. In fact, each chapter opens with a brief passage from an online site (cited) giving a description/history of each location. So far some of the ‘beta readers’ have really liked this , where others … haven’t. At least not so much.

Oh, speaking of that, I could stand to have a couple new people take a look at the book so far and tell me what they think. If you’re interested, drop me a note.

Just thought I’d share this little progress report.


Jim Downey

PS: Remember, there’s just until this Friday to get your bid in to be immortalized in St. Cybi’s Well!


“I prefer the term ‘Artificial Person’ myself.”

Catch this news this week?

Synthetic biology: New letters for life’s alphabet

The five bases found in nucleic acids define the ‘alphabet’ used to encode life on Earth. The construction of an organism that stably propagates an unnatural DNA base pair redefines this fundamental feature of life.

* * *

Sorry about the sparseness of posting lately. I’ve been … busy. Have had a couple of interesting things happen which could play out in some very good ways. One is still enough in an embryonic stage that I won’t mention anything about it yet, but the other is far enough along that I’ll share: there’s a literary agent who is potentially interested in representing me, something which I have been thinking about for a while.

And it seems like a good enough fit that I took all of last weekend to put together a submission package for formal consideration. That meant going through and doing fairly thorough revisions to the first few chapters of St Cybi’s Well, using the feedback I have gotten from half a dozen ‘beta readers’, as well as composing a formal synopsis of the book. Frankly, both were a lot of work, and somewhat skewed my normal work schedule such that it is just now getting back to what passes for normal in my life.

But it was also helpful, and forced me to clarify some things which I had left unfocused for the rest of the book. Because of the way I am writing this (using Scrivener), it has been fairly easy for me to block out both the overall arc of the book as well as character developments. But doing so has been based on chapter notes more than anything, meaning that it was still somewhat in flux. Creating a full synopsis meant that I had to put the whole thing into one coherent document. And even though it was something of a pain in the butt, the result is helpful.

I’ll keep you posted as to any concrete developments.

* * *

Remember this scene from Aliens?


Considered a classic, and rightly so. But I’ve always thought that a big part of the brilliance of it is how it sets up what happens immediately after:

Back at the groups’ table, Bishop holds up his hand and examines a tiny cut closely.

BURKE: I thought you never missed, Bishop?

To Ripley’s horror, a trickle of white synthetic blood runs down his finger. Ripley spins on Burke, her tone accusing.

RIPLEY: You never said anything about an android being on board! Why not?!

BURKE: It never occurred to me. It’s common practice. We always have a synthetic on board.

BISHOP: I prefer the term ‘artificial person’ myself.

BURKE: Right.


* * *

Oh, one more thing: in observation of Mother’s Day, the Kindle edition of Her Final Year is available for free download through Sunday, May 11th. If you’re new here, just a quick note: this is our care-giving memoir about the challenges and rewards of caring for someone with dementia, as well as the long recovery/reflection period which comes after. It seems to have helped a lot of people. Perhaps it can help you or someone you know.


Jim Downey

Not brick by brick.

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.


Jim Downey

Pssst …

I haven’t been doing a lot of blogging the last couple of weeks. Partially, that was due to my having actually come down with the actual flu — and getting that shortly after I had finally gotten rid of the last vestiges of the previous illness really sorta sucked my energy level down.

But there was another reason: I’ve been writing St. Cybi’s Well.

Well, kinda. Kinda-sorta.

See, I’m using Scrivener. Which I like a lot, but which is completely different from my previous work habits in writing a book. In an odd way, it’s more comprehensive, more systematic. I’m still learning how to use it, and it is taking some fumbling around and a bit of mental re-organization to get the hang of it.  But rather than just having an outline and building one chapter after another, I find I’ve been constructing a framework and then working on individual scenes scattered through different chapters. By the time I finish with St. Cybi’s Well I’ll really understand how to use these tools efficiently, and hopefully that will mean more books, sooner, after this one. We’ll see.


I hope to have some solid things to share in a month or so. But in the meantime, I would invite you to browse my 2003 and 2006 travelogues of trips to Wales. You’ll get a pretty good glimpse into the locations and descriptive language for St. Cybi’s Well, since I am basing a lot of the book on those very real experiences. Consider it something of a sneak preview, just because you read the blog.

And thanks for that, by the way. It’s good to know I’m not just talking to myself here.



Jim Downey

“Involved, Intense, and Very Thought-Provoking”

Just a few quick notes to share…

First is a new review up on Amazon. Here’s an excerpt:

The author deftly crafts a tale of a group of humans who endeavor to understand more about this artifact and in the process make some profound discoveries. The characters, both real and virtual, are well crafted and the story is well written with very few (I think I noted one) flaw in the text.

It is a mind-boggling tale with some tie-backs to present time.

As always, I’d ask anyone who has read Communion of Dreams to please consider doing a review, or at least rating/liking the book on Amazon, Good Reads, or elsewhere — honest reviews really do help.

A quick follow-up to Friday’s post: in case you didn’t see the additional note, the printer realized that they’d made an error with the job, and are going to do a complete reprint. It means a bit of a delay, but nothing serious — and I really respect that they’re going to make things right. So many businesses might try to weasel their way out of that responsibility.

I’ve decided that I like the Scrivener software, so am going to be using it for the bulk of the initial writing of St. Cybi’s Well. I’ll probably post further thoughts on it as I get deeper into the actual writing, but I really like that I can use it for collecting research as well as jotting notes/scenes in a way which is fairly intuitive and seamless to use. Not exactly like having my own Seth around to help me, but …

Have a good Monday!


Jim Downey

Have another hit of conscience.

As I’ve noted before, writing a long work of fiction is a strange thing, at least for me. I spend a lot of time intensely chewing over ideas, doing research, starting to conceptualize a narrative theory for the book, outlining various relationships between images and characters, sorting out what it is I really want to say more than the actual words to use.

Betwixt & between all of this, some honest to goodness writing gets done, then reorganized and shuffled, with plans and outlines changing. More research, more thinking, more feeling my way through the darkness with the only illumination occasional flashes of lightning.

This morning, after a lot of consideration, I downloaded Scrivener. Over the next week or so I’ll play around with it a bit, see whether it will be a useful tool.

And over lunch, some research & reading. It might be interesting, or even telling, what it was that I found. Here’s an excerpt:

The effects aren’t entirely dissimilar. An easy, airy confidence. A transcendental loosening of inhibition. The inchoate stirrings of a subjective moral swagger: the encroaching, and somehow strangely spiritual, realization that hell, who gives a s—, anyway?

There is, however, one notable exception. One glaring, unmistakable difference between this and the effects of alcohol. That’s the lack of attendant sluggishness. The enhancement of attentional acuity and sharpness. An insuperable feeling of heightened, polished awareness. Sure, my conscience certainly feels like it’s on ice, and my anxieties drowned with a half-dozen shots of transcranial magnetic Jack Daniel’s. But, at the same time, my whole way of being feels as if it’s been sumptuously spring-cleaned with light. My soul, or whatever you want to call it, immersed in a spiritual dishwasher.

So this, I think to myself, is how it feels to be a psychopath. To cruise through life knowing that no matter what you say or do, guilt, remorse, shame, pity, fear—all those familiar, everyday warning signals that might normally light up on your psychological dashboard—no longer trouble you.

Interesting, indeed.

And not unlike the high which comes with creating. Or entering a manic phase in my mild bipolar cycle.

Yes, interesting. Quite.

Jim Downey