Communion Of Dreams


Man, I love serendipity … all along I had planned on including the Pillar of Eliseg as one of the sites in St Cybi’s Well. It was one of the first places I saw in Wales, and I’ve always loved it and the nearby Valle Crucis Abbey. Well, they’ve recently discovered that there is an Early Bronze Age cist under the medieval ‘pillar’ — something which I also wanted to include for other reasons related to the story.

Now, the protagonist of this novel — Darnell Sidwell — lives in Tel Aviv, and we know from Communion of Dreams that he has some history doing volunteer work on archeological digs in Israel. So I checked the Wiki entry for Tel Aviv University, found a member of their archeology faculty who it would be logical for Darnell to have known and volunteered for. I just like to have those sorts of details all accurate or at least plausible. Yeah, it’s part of the reason why this book is taking me so long to write.

Anyway, I found a faculty member who fit the bill, and who is a specialist in the Early Bronze Age. Cool — everything worked out just fine. But in continuing to dig a little into that guy’s background and research, I found that he has done a lot of work at one particular site which it would be logical for Darnell to have also visited, if not actually volunteered there: Tel Megiddo, or often as just Megiddo.

But you probably know it as “Armageddon“.

Hehehehehehehe …

Jim Downey

Several things …

First, thanks again to one and all for helping to make my recent promotion a success! We did finish the weekend with just under 500 total downloads worldwide. Yay!

In addition, there’s a new review up over on Amazon. Here’s how it starts:

4.0 out of 5 stars A good story, and an excellent first novel.

This kept me interested until it was finally done.
For a first novel it was very good.
There were a couple of awkward sentences I had to re-read, but most books have that.
The plot was good, and different.

I am a bit amused that some people focus in on the “first novel” thing, and sometimes it seems that they feel like they can’t give a 5-star rating just on that basis. But perhaps they’re just trying to be nice in comments. If you have a chance, and haven’t yet done so, please consider posting your own review on Amazon (or elsewhere). Thanks!

There have been a couple of fairly scary pandemic stories in the news lately. One which has gotten a lot of attention is the Ebola outbreak, and how it has spread more than previous outbreaks. One which is even more frightening (to me) is word of an accidental anthrax exposure which went undetected for upwards of a week at a major supposedly secure research lab, the CDC bioterrorism facility in Atlanta. From one article:

Unfortunately, such scenarios are very real threats to not just lab workers but to the general population should a deadly contagion escape undetected the same way the CDC anthrax exposure remained undetected for possibly an entire week. That much time lapse for a deadly viral infection could prove devastating to the world population.


As it turns out, I am right at the point in St Cybi’s Well when first reports of the fireflu outbreak has hit the news. At first it is thought to be a Sarin gas attack at Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. From the book:

“Jay, I’m here at the Georgia International Convention Center, just west of the airport. Authorities have turned this into something of a command center for the developing crisis, since they have put the entire airport terminal on lock-down.” She was reporting from a large, open room. In the background there was a stage and podium, where a small knot of government officials were standing and taking turns addressing the crowd of reporters and film crews down on the floor in front of them. “As you can imagine, the situation here is very confused at present, with conflicting reports coming from the airport itself about how many people have been injured in the attack, when it likely happened, how it was detected, and what steps are being taken to protect the public. What is certain is that while this airport – one of the busiest in the world – always has a number of arriving and departing flights, that the attack came sometime late at night has meant that the number of victims is much smaller than it could have been. We’re due to receive an update on the situation at 3:00 AM local time, which is in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Back to you.”


Serendipity. Scary, scary serendipity.

Edited to add this tasty tidbit of news which broke just in the last hour:

Smallpox Virus Found in Unsecured NIH Lab

Scientists cleaning out an old laboratory on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md., last week came across a startling discovery: Vials labeled “variola” – in other words, smallpox.

* * *

In a statement Tuesday, the agency said scientists did indeed find smallpox DNA in the vials. Scientists are now testing the sample to see whether any of the is still capable of causing disease. That testing will take two weeks.

The laboratory on the NIH campus had been transferred to the Food and Drug Administration in 1972. It was being cleaned out as the FDA was preparing to move that lab to its main campus.


Yeah baby!


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

Done with ‘backwards’.

I just printed out the following text:

Following the completion of my successful Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well in the Fall of 2012, I proceeded to make arrangements for a limited edition print run of Communion of Dreams to be bound by hand. See the Colophon on the dedication page of this book for details.

However, there was an error at the printer’s with the first printing. In spite of having had a correct proof copy, the initial printing was done entirely backwards – laid out as though the book was intended to be read back-to-front, with the spine on the right side, and in which you turn the pages from left to right.

At first I thought the entire print run would need to be recycled. Indeed, once the printer realized their error, that’s what they asked me to do with the printed sheets in order to save them the cost of shipping.

Errors are part of the handmade process. In this case, the error wasn’t mine, but came from the printer. Whoever set up the print run managed to load the pages backwards, and in the process opened an unexpected door. When things like this happen, I’ve learned to roll with it. It’s like a little surprise, something special the universe gives you – serendipitous art.

So I decided to hand-bind a few of these ‘backwards’ books, as curiosities. How many? Just 15 copies – thirteen ‘lettered’ copies (A – M), and two artist’s/author’s proofs. This copy is letter _____.


Add a designated letter, and my signature, and then those sheets will be the ‘paste-down’ sheets for the back cover — er, I mean front cover — of the backwards books.  Yup, I’m all done with that little binding project. There are still 7 copies unclaimed, but now that they’re actually made I expect that they’ll find homes fairly soon.


Jim Downey


The little photo essay of making these books isn’t fundamentally different than the first set shown, but it’s kind of fun to see the larger volume of the whole process.

Sheets for collating.

Sheets for collating.


Sheets gathered & folded into sections.

Sheets gathered & folded into sections.


Text blocks sewn, lined, stacked to dry.

Text blocks sewn, lined, stacked to dry.


Making the covers. Note the stack of cut boards, the stack of cut pieces of book cloth.

Making the covers. Note the stack of cut boards, the stack of cut pieces of book cloth.


Boards mounted, turning in the edges & corners to finish the covers.

Boards mounted, turning in the edges & corners to finish the covers.


"Pasting in" - the process of mounting the text blocks to the covers.

“Pasting in” – the process of mounting the text blocks to the covers.


Finished books, stacked and drying.

Finished books, stacked and drying.


And all done.