EvoDev cover

Evolution Device front coverBack in 2012 when I hit a bit of a writer’s block for the novel I was working on — the one that would become Evolution Device (fondly nicknamed EvoDev) — I started fooling around with ideas for the cover. I knew that publishers don’t generally give authors much say in what the covers look like but this was early days. Publishing was  just a distant dream.  

For a while I played with digital images instead of working on my novel. Most of them I used in Mage Music, my first serious venture into blogging. I’m not going to lie — at first I just used images I found on the web. Pretty soon I started using NASA images because they are mind blowing.  But it wasn’t long before I started getting creative. I started using digital art I put together myself. They were based on or inspired by Jimmy Page, because his work was what inspired me to start the blog.  

I wasn’t interested blogging as a fan, however. Mage Music is about the magic of creativity, and while I mostly used Jimmy Page’s work for examples the blog was not about him. Which brings me to EvoDev.

Eddie Edmunds, lead guitarist and founder of the band my book is named for — Evolution Device — is very decidedly not Jimmy Page. Anybody who thinks “inspired by” is code for “about” is going to be disappointed.

Eddie is part Apache, a fact which few people are aware of and most people wouldn’t care about if they knew. But that fact makes all the difference in who Eddie is and what he becomes.

And so when I started playing around with book cover ideas I looked to guitarists’ body posture, and then features from Apache and other native faces that appealed to me. When I had created an image of what seemed to express a truth about Eddie I placed it on an image that had started out as the Horsehead Nebula. 

I liked it. And then I pretty much forgot about it until eight years later when I thought to send it to my publisher. Who liked it, too.

Here, then, are some images from my files that might give you and idea of my process.

Evolution Device is almost here!

Cover proof for Evolution Device

I am absolutely thrilled to share the cover proof of my novel, Evolution Device.  It will be hitting the bookstores JULY 28, 2020.  

This book gave me chill bumps, it was written so well. It pierces the world of the rock star, the rock band, and the audience of each.

I particularly liked the characterization of the Muse. She, too, was so real I felt I could touch her. And if I did she would’ve escaped my fingertips as she does in this remarkable novel.
~ Gerald Hausman, author of The Evil Chasing Way

Evolution Device is the story of British rock guitarist Eddie Edmunds in the wild times of the 1970s. His muse, Lily, is an entity of pure energy drawn into physical existence by what some might call magic.   She is the only one who recognizes the other side of the energies that Eddie flirts with:  if he doesn’t face the music, all the drugs in the world won’t shield him from the danger of uncontrolled power. 

This baby’s been a long time coming.  My first file save was in 2011, so the late summer release date will make it a 9 year labor.

Evolution Device will be published under the Positronic Publications Imprint, which has published authors like George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Zelazny.  

I’m SO EXCITED!!!

On Writing

Many words written in journals and on scraps of paperI’ve been addicted to the written word forever.  I blame it on my father’s mother, who read to me soon as I was old enough to appreciate it.  She sat me on her lap and followed the words with her finger, and that’s how I learned to read (for a very brief while I could read some Swedish, too).  

I’m not sure when I started writing, but it wasn’t long before I submitted my first story to be published in my school’s creative writing publication.  That was a long, long time ago, but I never stopped either reading or writing.  I’m not sure I could do so and stay sane because TV and movies just don’t make it for me.  I haven’t lived with a TV in my house since 1993 and I don’t stream either.

photo URL https://public.fotki.com/hypoint/arabians/arabian_album_cmk/bennasrif17317378cs.html

Me & Ben Nasrif on the endurance trail in the 1980s

I wrote about horses a lot in the 1980s and 1990s because we were breeding and endurance racing our Arabian horses then.  Somewhere amidst all the junk I’ve got stored I’ve got stacks of magazines with the equivalent of blog posts in them — mostly stories about how I screwed up, since that seems to be the most entertaining kind of story of all.  Like the time we drove half a day to a ride camp, only for me to discover I had forgotten to bring my saddle.  Ha ha. I was the camp entertainment as I walked from rig to rig hoping someone had brought an extra saddle that would work for me and my horse.

It was around then that I ventured into my first self-publishing experience, creating trail guides for the biggest, toughest 100 mile endurance race in the world — The Tevis Cup — which uses the trans-Sierra portion of the Western States Trail. I sold more copies than I expected and actually recovered the publication costs.  

It wasn’t till after 9/11 that I turned pro — and that was only because I couldn’t stand one more day of my brief stint as a substitute teacher (sorry, but I just do not like kids).  I have no idea why the newspaper hired me, but suddenly I was a reporter and feature story writer for a weekly regional here in western New Mexico. My beat was the county I live in — all 7000 square miles of it.  I attended every meeting I could get to, showed up at every accident that I found out about, covered every oddball incident I could discover — but best of all, I interviewed a lot of… um… fascinating locals.  My county is full of them.  

Fast forward to spending about a decade writing for a natural resource research and analysis institute in southern New Mexico, and then a few years after that of working as a contract writer for my county (and several others). The politics of it — OMG. It was worse than being around kids all day. So I waved goodbye to a real income and, with the help of NaNoWriMo, plunged into writing novels.

Note that breaking into the field of fiction writing is not something I recommend for anyone who plans on supporting themselves or their family.  I could do it because I was by this time a senior citizen and receiving Social Security.  It’s not going to be a get-rich quick scheme for me, since I only recently found a publisher for one of the two novels I’ve completed (Evolution Device).  But besides a few self-published chapbooks and two (2) short stories , that’s it.  And yet I’m writing all the time.

Writing is not what I do, it’s what I am.  A state of being. Lines of dialogue and narrative float through my brain as I scoop horse poop, a mindless task that has become a kind of meditation for me.  Some of what free-associates its way into my consciousness is actually useful. Sometimes it just gets lost, like dreams upon waking. Ideas come from all over the place. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store and get caught staring. I smile and find something else to look at, but I really wasn’t staring so much as forgetting to look away.  A story has captured my attention, you see — sparked by the person, or the conversations around me, or who knows what — and it’s unfolding in my mind and I’m lost to the real world.

I have a tiny field notes book with me almost all the time, though I seem to more often end up scribbling ideas on the backs of envelopes, receipts, or paper napkins. I’ve found that dictating my thoughts to my phone as I hike works, too. When I get home I put the phone’s speaker next to my laptop’s mic, open Google Docs to a new document, click on Tools/Voice Typing, and let Google do the transcribing.  Oh yes, the transcription is ugly — Google is a riot with its interpretations of what I’ve said, not to mention all the oh sh*ts and ums and backtracking and such — but at least I’ve got someplace to start.

I may have been born to write, but that doesn’t make it easy. Those words bubbling around inside are delicate things that need to be lured onto the screen or paper. Skittish things that will dissipate if handled roughly. Elusive and shy, even when they demand attention. They can’t be forced, but they can’t be ignored, either.

Writing is like being a slave to words. 

Evolution Device – a novel of magic and music

 

Mock-up of Evolution Device coverI am absolutely thrilled to let you know that my novel, Evolution Device, will be hitting the bookstores late this summer.  

Evolution Device is the story of British rock guitarist Eddie Edmunds in the wild times of the 1970s. His muse, Lily, is an entity of pure energy drawn into physical existence by what some might call magic.   She is the only one who recognizes the other side of the energies that Eddie flirts with:  if he doesn’t face the music, all the drugs in the world won’t shield him from the danger of uncontrolled power. 

This baby’s been a long time coming.  My first file save was in 2011, so the late summer release date will make it a 9 year labor.

Evolution Device will be published under the Positronic Publications Imprint, which has published authors like George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Zelazny.  

I’m SO EXCITED!!!

 

A book from start to finish

Last April I worked on a rough draft of what I hoped would be a novel that became a novelette that then changed its mind and became a novella… or at least that’s where it is now. Dragon/Mage is just over 51,000 words and unfinished, so maybe it’ll grow up to be a real novel someday.

The main character is the dragon L’ra, named for my friend Laura.  I’ve been writing stories for her for Christmas for the past few years and this novelette/novella was written to be this year’s present.

As Christmas 2019 approached, though, I was feeling like it wasn’t the gift I had in mind.  I had gaps in the manuscript that I hadn’t written yet and no time left to write them.  So I figured hey, I’ve always wanted to make a book, so why don’t I just bind the pages of this manuscript. It’ll be a unique present that I’ll be proud to give

No matter that I’ve never bound a book before.

Day one – two days before Christmas

I plunged into the project the way I always do:  no prep, a lot of optimism, and a willingness to wing it as necessary.  

I spent all that morning figuring out how to print the pages in folio form so the manuscript could be stitched and glued like a regular hardcover book.  I wasted a bunch of paper, and I ended having to painfully print folios individually (pages 1-16 using 8 sheets of paper, pages 17 – 32 using 8 sheets of paper, etc).  Then I stitched the folios on my sewing machine and I figured out how to make a press to hold the folios together so I could glue it.  (Note to self: remember to replace the sewing machine needle — stitching paper has dulled it and it’ll mess up fabric)

Stitched folios for bookbindingThe so-called press was a wood clamp and two vise-grip pliers that applied pressure on window shims (approximately 1″ wide x 12″ long thin strips of wood). (Note to self: research DIY book presses and make that my next project. Or pretty soon. At least before I make my next book, whenever that might be.)

By that evening I was gluing while talking with my mother on the phone.  I don’t have a headset so most of what I was doing on the book was one handed. Sometimes I crooked my head to hold the phone between my chin and shoulder so I could use two hands… well, let’s just say that it’s not the best glue job I’ve ever seen.  I have cleaned the mess off the table and various objects nearby that failed to duck when glue came out of the bottle in huge globs.

I hoped the glue I used would work.   Elmer’s Craft Bond is recommended for book repair since it’s acid-free and flexes when dry.  Seemed to me that would be good glue for making a book. I could have sworn I had some white Elmer’s glue but I couldn’t find it.  I figured Elmer’s Wood Glue would have to do.  Maybe not so flexible when dry — but heck, this isn’t meant to be a book to last the ages, right? It’s not even an ARC.  At any rate, it was wood glue or no glue.

And it fought me the whole way. (Note to self: Buy some Elmer’s Craft Bond. Also more Elmer’s Wood Glue).

Glued foliosGlued foliosThe glue dried in no time at all. When I removed it from the “book press” I started giggling.  It actually looked something like a real book! 

I decided to end the day’s work on that high note.  Sure, the next day was Christmas eve, but that still gave me lots of time to put the cloth binding on and make the covers.  

 

 

Day two – Christmas Eve

After putting the cloth binding on the back of the book — a fairly simple process (emphasis on ‘fairly’) — I moved on to the cover.

Did I mention I did no prep work before starting this project? First thing I had to do was disassemble a matted photo to steal the backing cardboard for the covers of my book. I could have used something thinner or thicker, but the matte cardboard was perfect. (Note to self: get more cardboard and repair the photo).

Cardboard for the coversI very carefully cut the covers. I swear those were perfect right-angled corners when I measured, but somehow… never mind. Then I carefully measured and cut the fabric. I swear…

Then I used more globs of wood glue to glue the fabric to the covers. Um. Apparently the glue is to be used sparingly, but the cap had broken off the glue bottle and it would only come out in globs suitable for furniture building but not so good for book binding. I spread the glue as thinly as I could but it soaked the cardboard and warped it.

Time out to press the cardboard while the glue dried. And to calm down before the next step: gluing the folio to the back cover.

I will admit, there was a certain amount of cursing going on while all this was happening. The glue would not allow for repositioning, for one thing. I know for a fact that my inside paper covers were squared but then of course the cover itself wasn’t, so…

So I just let it go. If I was going to give this book to Laura for Christmas I couldn’t take till New Year’s to make it perfect. I got everything all glued together and then I stepped back and looked at the results.All glued together

It was a book. An ugly book, to be sure, but I had done it. The cover was wrinkled, the inside covers were wrinkled, as were the first and last few pages, due to the moisture in the glue. The instructions said that I could iron out the wrinkles but I wasn’t sure wood glue would take kindly to ironing. So I decided to just press the book overnight and see what it looked like in the morning (the title page photo shows still-damp pages that night).Title page showing wrinkles from moisture from glue

 

 

Day three – Christmas

What it looked like in the morning was… almost done. The wrinkles weren’t too bad. But there wasn’t any way to tell the front from the back cover. I needed to put the title on it. I had this idea of using iron-on transfer of the lettering but I still wasn’t sure about the heat factor and that glue.

So I cheated and used a metallic ink Sharpie. That certainly gave it the home-made look to match the rest.

I gotta tell you, when I wasn’t cursing, I was giggling as I made this book. I knew the end project was kind of ugly, I knew the manuscript was not complete — but I didn’t care.  The making was the joy for me. I can create a complete and polished looking book someday if I want to — but there will never be another first book that I ever made.

The Dragon/Mage bound book is no longer in my possession but it’ll always have a special place in my heart: a book that’s all mine, from the first word written in April to the last word written on the cover.

 

I can’t wait to do another!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#amwriting #bookbinding

But is it fun?

Keyboard  2019 Lif Strand photoThe day after my birthday earlier this year, I complained that I spent it working.  I just looked back at that day in my journal — what I recorded was “wrote, made soup, called Mom”.  Not what I’d call a fun birthday, but it was an okay birthday.

Still, it seemed to me that other people do fun stuff on their birthdays.  So the day after my birthday I declared that the next month on that day and every month thereafter I would have a Lif Day, a regularly scheduled day when I would do only the absolutely necessary chores and I would stay offline so the rest of that day could be for myself.  To have fun.

Right.

Every Lif Day since has been pretty much the same story.  I’m a kind of workaholic.  The To Do list is long and I’m always trying to get one more thing in.  That tends to eat up a Lif Day.  I’m not very good at taking a day off to have fun.

Last evening my friend Laura and I were chatting via email, as we do, and I reported to her that I had spent the day writing a story draft of almost 4000 words.

Me:  I guess I had a lot of word pressure built up in me. I’ll let it sit for a few days then look at it again. I was offline most of the day because I was writing. It was heavenly.

Laura:  A Lif Day in mid-month — what a concept!

Me:  A Lif Day is supposed to be a day when I just relax and have fun. While I love to write, I want my Lif Days to be goof-off, do whatever days.

Laura:  Writing isn’t fun?

Me:  I love to write.  It’s not necessarily fun.  It is satisfying, it is necessary, it is what I love to do.  But fun?  Only occasionally — when the writing is going very, very well.

Laura:  I have trouble matching “love to do” with “only occasionally fun”, but OK.

Me:  Hmmm. It seems clear to me that there’s a difference, but how to articulate it? I’ll give that some thought.

So along with the 4000 word story, I let the difference between “love to do” and “fun” ferment in my brain till it was ready to come out.  It didn’t take long.  This evening I Googled “fun”, and that told the story.

Fun is something that’s “amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable”.

Reading is fun. I enjoy doing it, it’s entertaining, sometimes amusing enough to make me chuckle or even laugh out loud.  So yeah, definitely fun.

Writing is not fun. It is not amusing.  I rarely laugh when I’m writing, even when I’m trying to be funny. Writing isn’t amusing or entertaining to me, it’s work. It takes mental effort, and focus, and it’s something I do because I feel a powerful need to do it.

I could say that writing is enjoyable, in that it’s pleasing to come up with sequences of words that sound good to me, to come up with story twists that add to the richness of what I’m writing, and it’s so very satisfying to be done writing and have the feeling that I’ve written well that day.

The enjoyment factor is important — if I wasn’t able to write at least as well as I now do, I would be frustrated and unhappy, especially if I kept writing anyway and never got better. The reward for writing is when I read something I’m done with and I really like it. As for anybody else liking it — that’s pretty far from a given. Never knowing if my writing’s any better than only good in my own eyes is definitely NOT fun.

What writing is to me has little to do with fun, though it fills a deep need in me.  I have to write.  How different is that from, say, being addicted to heroin? I don’t know.

At least writing probably won’t make my teeth fall out or my veins collapse.  That wouldn’t be fun at all.

 

Website renovation

Raven in Flight 2019 Lif Strand photoI can’t believe it took me the better part of two days to renovate my website.  I did it because of advice on what an author’s website should include in order to get literary agents and/or publishers to bite the hook.

Oh whoops, that sounds so crass.

Except it’s the truth, the whole truth, and I’m sticking to it.  An author’s website is supposed to be professional.  I confess I’m having a hard time toeing that line.

What an arduous task, but it needed doing and I did it.  Now I’ve got a static home page — meaning it doesn’t change each time I post something to the blog (what you’re reading now).  That alone took a bit of reconfiguring of the website.

Most of the work went into the About page, the one that literary agents and/or publishers will go to to learn about me and my fiction writing without having to actually read any of that writing.  The About page includes a link to my resume, which had to be updated, and a link to a bibliography of my writing.  I had to figure out how to upload the PDFs to my domain via WordPress and a few other tricks.

Now that this task is done, it’s time for me to get back to the literary agent/publisher hunt.

Oh, and the raven photo?  Because I love the ravens that live in my valley.  Thought I’d share the love.

More bread

Selfie with yucca crownBefore I say anything about bread I want to say something about the image posted here.  This is my version of a selfie.  I take photos of my shadows and mess with them.

This one particularly pleases me.  It’s called Self-portrait with yucca crown.  It would make a great album cover if I ever recorded an album (don’t hold your breath on that one — the world is not ready for my ukulele playing).  I have put it on the back cover of my limited edition chapbooks, though, and it looks pretty cool there I think.

So about that bread

I like making bread.  It’s not hard using the recipe I’ve shared with you and I like not buying bread from the store.  But I also like that making bread is such a great metaphor for the writing process.

Making bread and writing?  Well, yes — my writing process at least.

Bread dough is amazing stuff.  There are only three ingredients needed:  flour, yeast, and water.  And writing is an amazing process, too, if you’re crazy enough to be serious about it.  There are only three “ingredients” to writing:  writer, ideas, and writing implements.

Oh wait, there’s a fourth and fifth ingredient for each:  time and peace.

Bread dough ingredients get mixed together and then the yeast needs to be left alone.  No poking at it.  No jiggling it around.  No interruptions and no hurrying it along.  I’m convinced bread rises better and ends up tasting better when the rising is done in an emotionally peaceful environment, too, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

So yeah, it does seem to me that making bread is just like writing.  A writer needs the time to write and the peace to write — at least this writer does.  I can’t happily write if I feel the psychological equivalent of poking, jiggling, interruption, or hurrying.  I am in awe of those writers who can create novels by stealing a few minutes here and there from their busy lives, but I need time and peace.  Blocks of time and the peace of no interactions with the outside world.

That’s why I’ve designated the month of April as a writing month (I already take November for participating in NaNoWriMo). This is my time and peace month, when I’ve myself permission to just say no to everybody. No I can’t go anywhere, no I can’t take the time to __(whatever)__.  For a hermit like me it’s a relief to be antisocial anyway, but to be creative I have to get aggressive about guarding my time and peace.

It truly is more than just luxury to be able to settle into the world I’m writing about and just hang out there. Time and peace allow the yeast of my imagination to give form, breadth (oooh, see what I did there), and depth to my ideas.  Immersion in the world I’m building protects the dough of creativity that’s rising in me from the poking finger of collapse.

Well, enough of metaphor.  I better get to work.  But first — I think a slice of last night’s baked bread is in order.

Back cover of self-published chapbook

Sometimes it’s good

Moon rising in evening skyI write all the time

I don’t mean all the blabbery on social media.  I’m talking real writing — at least by my definition of “real”.

Stories.  I stopped writing them a long time ago but now I do again.  Why?  Don’t know.  I write the occasional poem.  I’m no poet, believe me.  I journal and have done so since I was a kid.  I wrote my first novel-length manuscript nearly 40 years ago and nowadays I’ve always got a novel in the works.  Two at this time, with a third that I’m poking at.  I write scenes for what I’m working on or for no reason at all.  I jot down ideas about character motivation.  Sometimes I just spew words that have to come out and because I don’t know what I’ll do with them I email them to myself and then forget about them.  In November I commit to NaNoWriMo and drive myself crazy keeping up.  I wake up in the night and record my dreams.  I scribble phrases, sentences, paragraphs, scenes on scraps of paper or I text them to myself.

It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.

I mean, if I was a published author — which I am not, having just today received yet another story rejection — what I write would be Important.  It’d be MeaningfulSignificant.  It would Matter.

But I’m just another wannabe writer.  Um. By wannabe I don’t mean I’ve never been paid to write, since that’s how I earned my living for the past two decades. I mean I want to get paid for writing what I want to write, and for me that’s fiction.  In other words, I don’t want to write about what’s out there but what’s in here.  In me.

So yeah. I have this burning desire to be paid for writing what I want to write, not what somebody else wishes they could write but they can’t so they hire me to do it.

I want to make stuff up.  To transform possibilities into reality by writing them. That’s a kind of magic that has always attracted me.

I love writing.  Good thing, because I have to do it.

I love writing but I have to do it?  Hah!  That’s kind of like saying I love being high and oh, by the way, I’ll go into withdrawal without that drug or drink.  Ahem.  So what.  I have nothing against drugs or alcohol (but remember — don’t drink and drive, my friends).

I love writing.  I love the process and challenge of making a direct connection between the inside of my head and the outside not-me world.  I seek to capture the words that express precisely what’s percolating in my brain.  I call it flavor — the fullness of what I’m trying to convey.  Not just description but the wholeness of it.  When it’s good it’s as close to psychic sharing as I can get.  That quality of writing gives me the shivers.

It’s a kind of magic, that, and I love letting that power flow through me.

But whoa — just like a drug addict  I need more.  I can’t just write in the dark.  I can’t just write for me.  I’m compelled to wreck the sublime joy of capturing my inner imaginings by exposing the writing — and myself — to the world.  As scary as it is, I have to risk it.

Because oh yeah, I need the audience.  I crave applause.  I want outside validation that my writing is doing what I want it to do.

I wanna get paid

And there’s the rub, isn’t it?  I want to get paid for what I create — in today’s world, payment being the functional mark of approval.  So it’s not just about writing for myself, is it?  I have to write stuff other people want to read.

Do I write for me or do I write for you?

Obviously… the answer is yes.

 

PS You can become a patron of mine, yes you can!  A buck a month will get ‘er done!