Geillan, A Prisoner’s Tale E-version!

Greetings rusty, dusty blog. Greetings great echo-chamber that is the blogosphere! I have been busy avoiding you by doing the kinds of things my main character, Geillan, enjoys. When my online presence diminishes, you can rest-assured I am stitching bits of a fox hide into a quiver, grinding deer toes into arrowheads, or collecting wild spinach for my lunch.

Alas, that stuff is considered very weird and not terribly helpful to my efforts as an author. But what is useful is finally having a low cost e-version of my novel available! The great and benevolent cabal of book Gods, known as has deemed it time for Geillan’s story to see the light of Kindle. If you are one of those folks who politely said, “I’d love to read your book, is there an e-version? No? Aw man. I don’t really read paper books anymore, so…” your excuse has officially expired.

I am still entirely excited about this book, in all honesty. So, while I continue to make fumbling attempts at book promotion, the easy part is saying with confidence that I’m proud of Geillan’s story and the world it inhabits. I am confident that it will transport people, and hopefully stimulate imagination and even questions or food for thought. So click here to buy Geilan A Prisoner’s Tale for kindle. Don’t do it to support me. Do it because it’s a good book that is well worth 5.99.

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Release Day!

Geillan A Prisoner’s Tale is officially released today. Feels good. I celebrated a head of time on April 15, by staging an evening of music and film. I present this playlist as evidence. Enjoy and share!


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Art V Commerce

The reality these days for visual artists, musicians, and writers is that our creative output is a commodity. For any of us who chase the brass ring, which for many of us would simply be making enough income from our art to pay the bills and live modestly, this produces chronic heartburn.

I was wondering this morning where it might have begun? There are exquisite works of art that date back tens of thousands of years. The most striking example is probably the cave paintings in Chauvet and Lascaux. Did the gifted artists who crawled through tiny passages to sketch out and color these masterpieces receive compensation for their work? The answers to a question like that are wrapped up in the bigger picture and philosophical question of whether human beings are better off living like our hunting/gathering fore-bearers or living in the postmodern ultra-technified state that we currently operate in. I talked about this at more length in a post a year ago So I wonder when goods, services, or currency were first traded for art. For example, these cave artists – presumably they had to devote enough time to their craft that they couldn’t hunt and gather as often as others likely did. In other words, their community might have supported and subsidized their art because the community clearly valued their art as a sacred expression. So…can we get back to that?

What we have instead is a culture obsessed with celebrity, which confuses fame with talent. People who are famous get published because they are famous not because they can write or because they have something to say. Meanwhile there are artists, writers, musicians of phenomenal quality who struggle to squeeze time in for their art amidst the everyday needs of survival. And to further complicate things, we have legions of mediocre artists. I don’t mind being called an elitist if being an elitist means that I believe some art is better than others. In my opinion, the reason the market, airwaves, bookstores, and internet are overwhelmed with mediocrity is that too many people whose true gift is something other than art are drunk on the lies being purveyed about fame and public adoration. So many young musicians are hell bent on being famous some day, as opposed to being consumed with artistic vision and a drive to create.

I don’t know what the solution is exactly, but I find myself somewhere in the morass where art grinds uncomfortably against commerce. I have a gift I have been given, which I long to give back. This gift is my novel – Geillan A Prisoner’s Tale.
In order to have a chance that people might get to read it, I must do what so many of us are – attempt to sell ourselves and our product in any means we can lay our hands on. The market does not seem to guarantee that those most savvy at doing this will be those bearing the greatest art. I am not suggesting mine is the best thing ever, or that it is more deserving than the next. I just wonder if there might be another way.

Apparently not for now! And so I’ll conclude this post and it will automatically go out over my various facebook pages where I’ll hope against hope that people will “like” it, etc. I shall carry on. And as the late great Kurt Vonnegut said when there was nothing else to say…so it goes.

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It Takes a Village

Hillary Rodham Clinton famously wrote a book and popularized the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Naturally this raised the ire of the James-Dobson-parroting conservative millions, who seized on it as an attack on family values. It wasn’t the first or last time they got worked into a lather and missed the point entirely. After all, families have traditionally always been a substructure that is part of some kind of “village,” thereby making that village an important influence on the development and values of that child. That is, unless the family in question chooses to remain isolated and fearful inside their suburban McMansion, never speaking to their neighbors until they are shouting at them from behind placards at a Rick Santorum fundraiser. That of course is a mere extension of the isolationist rhetoric that puts each family in a castle and the United States on Zeus’s mountaintop throne….what did I sit down to write about? I digress…

That was a non sequitur. Maybe the mention of Rick Santorum will bring my blog up on someone’s unsuspecting Google search. What I really wanted to say a few words about is that the exercise of bringing a creative work into the world sometimes mirrors this saying. The saying, by the way, is generally attributed to one of several similar proverbs from various countries in Africa.

As I sent the final round of proofing notes to my editor and jotted a quick acknowledgments page, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I am aware that, when writing a novel as an new and as yet unpaid (but let’s hope this changes soon) author, simply getting the job done was a far loftier peak than I could have imagined. And I must be honest and say that I was in fact presumptuous enough at the outset to think I could do it on my own. I can certainly imagine that having a million-dollar advance would make this closer to being possible. The most precious commodity to many writers, at least this one, is time. And time can indeed be purchased in a manner of speaking. However, I think I have learned a lesson here. Even if I am so fortunate to someday write for a living with nice advance, my work will be better for having undergone a “communal” experience. My “book child” will be raised better, more prepared to face the real world, if I exercise some humility in allowing others into my process. It was a necessity this time around, but now I believe that my best art will emerge from me with the help, feedback, and support of those in my “village.”

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Dreams that are True

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel (May 10 – Ecco Qua Press), Geillan A Prisoner’s Tale.

Ilyara stared with piercing black eyes. She no longer wore a mischievous grin. Instead her lips tightened in obvious concern. “What you saw was dark, yes? Better you see it now and begin to understand. That way, when the light comes, you will know where to shine it.”

“But I don’t understand any of it. What are these dreams I am lost in? I am less sure now that this mad journey hasn’t been one long nightmare.”

“No, I assure you. You are indeed here with Ilyara on a sea of ice. You have seen the things you think you have seen. And the dreams are true. Some are real and others aren’t. I cannot say which is which. But do not waste your remembrances of them. So that you remember, tell me your first dream, before you met the white bear and kind Ilyara.”

Geillan struggled to an elbow and swallowed water that Ilyara offered. With faraway eyes he cast his mind back to that first vision he saw. It seemed as if he had walked inside it again, and every detail returned to him.

“I sat up in the curragh and saw that the sun had disappeared. The moon was nearly full and was directly above me so that everything was visible, but the colors were all shades of blue and white.”

Dreams, fantastic stories, myths, legends…these seem to be a vital part of the human experience. We are storytelling animals. We need to translate events into narratives. Some themes are archetypal and found in many cultures’ mythologies and histories. Some are more personal, they mean something only to us. A dream that we know somehow matters but we can’t put our finger on it, or a story that strikes a chord so deeply that we are taken aback by the emotion it inspires.

It seems that whether we are stuck in some ancient past, as I am to a degree, or whether we revel in our postmodern existence enamored with every new tablet (not the stone kind) or Apple product, we need stories. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have millionaire narcissists sequestered in the Hollywood Hills. We wouldn’t have millionaire country music songwriters. My concern is: how do we choose which stories to tell? How do we select which heroes and villains to mythologize? If we choose wrongly in the name of “entertainment?” what is the impact on our culture at large and on our own souls?

A few decades ago we mythologized Rambo and Terminator and Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Did the telling of the these stories and the deification of the muscular man-boy with a machine gun soften our hearts toward war efforts which we now know had nothing to do with our well-being, but in fact had to do with oil, wealth, and power? Why is our culture so in love with telling stories of graphic torture – from movies like Saw and Hostel to shows like 24? What will this incarnate or is it already? Then what of the all the narratives we consume and re-tell that deify youth and beauty, denigrate human sexuality, trivialize everything and anything into a sarcastic morass?

My opinion? We would do ourselves a service by choosing better stories. There might be a reason why, after 9/11, our country seemed desperate for a bit of mythology with depth and illumination like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We will incarnate the stories we tell, and of course vice-versa. It seems to be a feedback loop.

As my wise character, Ilyara, says, dreams are true. Whether or not they are “real” may be less important. If we treat our dreams and narratives like fast food, we do so at our peril.

So, for my part, I want to tell stories that scatter light and beauty, and alter the feedback loop. I hope you will join me.

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A Deeper Surrender

Hello world. I am sorry I disappeared for so long. My book, Geillan: A Prisoner’s Tale, is in the latter hours of it’s birthing process. I guess I could say we are in labor now. Or I could say the book is in the design and layout phase. Either way, what it means for me is that I have to let go of it now to a great degree. I have a great deal of work ahead of me in promoting this book, but as to the creative work itself I must now surrender.

I was thinking yesterday of the relationship between three words: rend, render, and surrender. To rend is to pull something apart or away violently. It can also mean to take something or someone away by force. To render can mean several things. It can mean to give or provide or furnish. Rendering can also be part of a creative act: to make something into something else, to translate something from one form or language into another. So, not just to give away but to give away with new meaning.

Surrender is to me one of the most important spiritual ideas, and one of the most challenging to fully wrap my arms around.  Merriam Webster defines it in the following ways:

1. a : to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand <surrendered the fort>b : to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another
a : to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner. b : to give (oneself) over to something (as an influence)

The origin of these three words lies in the French word, rendre, which means to give or to give back. Hmm. So perhaps surrendering in some instances is giving back something that never belonged to us in the first place. I won’t delve any further. I’ll let you read my book, and you might better understand my fascination.

Instead, sit back and enjoy the little video at the beginning of the post. I am planning an immersive creative experience drawing on Geillan: A Prisoner’s Tale and songs that I have been writing. Here is a concept piece for some film material I plan to include. The lovely Irish baritone reading from my book is my dear friend Robert Stratton.

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Draft Four-ish…and Beyond!

Hello blog and invisible readers. I have missed you and neglected you.

A quick update on the novel, with which this blog is supposedly concerned. I have lost track, but I believe I am closing in on the 4th revision. Here is how I imagined the process, back when I had written a few chapters and outline. At that time I was certain they were virtually pure literary gold requiring only the gentlest of editorial hands to refine them.
1. First few chapters sent to editor
  • Editor says, let’s do it. You have a lot of work ahead of you. Start by fixing problems a, b, and c in your prose and then send me some more chapters.
2. I attempt to correct a, b, and c, and write a few more chapters with these new good habits in mind. I send them and hold my breath.
  • Editor says, great you fixed a, b, and c and now have unearthed problem d. Try to fix it and get back to me.
3. Somewhere in here, perhaps between those steps, I completed the first and second drafts of the manuscript, made some adjustments in attempts to correct problems a, b, c, and d and send a
third draft to Editor.
  • Editor congratulates me on having churned out the raw material and informs me that we have a long way to go. I swallow hard and crack my knuckles.
4. Editor begins to send me one chapter at a time of her line edits with suggestions and questions of clarification. I realize and confess the growing list of shortcomings in my pure gold manuscript  and begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A deep sense of gratitude develops that I am not going it alone or self-publishing; that this book may in fact be readable in the end.
  • I send my comments on her comments back, determined to contradict her only when it is absolutely vital to the story.
5. Editor asks me if, to move the process along, I could go through chapters 10-20 (second half of the book) and attempt to correct some of my own dense, clunky, overwrought…eg. overuse of adjectives…prose. I begin to do so, and find great joy in slashing adjectives, phrases, and the occasional paragraph from my own writing.
  • I feel like the lump of granite is really beginning to look like something. I am working on chapter 15 and hope to deliver all the remaining revised chapters to her in several weeks.
6. Then she will line edit them, and we will be very close to a final manuscript….unless we aren’t.
I will mark this as an official return to my dusty, tumble-weed strewn ghost blog. Check in tomorrow when I’ll wax philosophical about myths, fate, destiny, and God’s will.

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Useless Beauty?

“Art turned its back on beauty. It became a slave to the consumer culture, feeding our pleasures and addictions and wallowing in self-disgust.” – Roger Scruton

A fleeting glimpse at the title and brief description of Roger Scruton’s BBC film, “Why Beauty Matters” nearly had me pounding the table with shouts of “Amen!” The fact that I so wholeheartedly agree with his argument about the erosion of our society’s value of beauty furthers my suspicion that I am quickly becoming a fossil.

I used to write reviews of local musicians’ albums for an entertainment paper, and for the most part did so under a pseudonym. I confess that to make the often painful exercise a bit more fun, I did engage in snarky wit when I felt at a loss for thoughtful commentary upon listening. My father and I have had numerous discussions or arguments over the years about this kind of criticism, essentially revolving around the tension between the “I like what I like, so what?” approach to music and the “it is possible to hear something and deem it…bad” approach. I think what I most often found, and still find, irritating was music or any art which was more concerned with what it said than with how it is said. It seems to me that from the beginning of human culture (at least since the beautiful cave paintings at Lascaux, France but likely long before that), art has had at its core a spirit of service to one’s culture by beautifying and drawing meaning from the common human experience. At its best, art has transcended that simple but noble role and added to it nuances of interpretation and transformation. The highest art beautifies, transforms, challenges, and transcends the physical reality we all experience. But somehow very recently we have bought tickets to see the emperor parade with no clothes, willingly accepting that his clothes are so spectacular if only we are clever enough to see them. Why should we accept the proposition that art is “art because I say it is?” Now art can simply be placing a found object on a pedestal, or perhaps profaning a found object with excrement and then placing it on a pedestal. We now accept that art is important because of the potency of its statement, not the quality or depth with which it is rendered.

I agree with my new friend (he doesn’t know we’re friends yet) Roger Scruton, and I would rather be a part of creating a world that is beautiful than one that is obsessed with narcissistic or even altruistic statements draped in arrogant “courage” to be ugly and vile. Transcendent beauty and fearless engagement with society’s ugly truths are not mutually exclusive.

Near the conclusion of his documentary, Scruton speaks about the commonplace beauty of quality human-scaled architecture saying, “This is not great or original architecture. Nor does it try to be. It is a modest attempt to get things right by following patterns and examples laid down by tradition. This is not nostalgia, but knowledge passed on from age to age.” This is all I hope to attain with Geillan: A Prisoner’s Tale; to get things more or less right and to tell a story with some beauty that adds meaning to the world of stories and ideas, instead of assaulting those worlds for commercial or pseudo-statemental reasons.

I highly recommend locating and watching Why Beauty Matters, and then do what I plan to do next, buy the book: “Beauty” by Roger Scruton.

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Another Milestone

I exhaled a long sigh of satisfaction this morning as I placed the final few chapters of Geillan A Prisoner’s Tale in the mail to my editor. In effect it represents the third draft that has emerged since I began in June of 2010. The second draft emerged echoing the first, as I wrote the first extremely rough draft and immediately edited those chapters a few at a time. Then, at the urging of my editor, I began at the beginning again to improve the whole manuscript. It seems that writing a novel is a bit like sculpture. The first pass is all heavy tools and flying shards of granite. On the next go round, an organic form begins to flex its muscles and rise from the rock. Finally, sandpaper and files bring out the eyes the hair, the details that fool the heart and eye for a moment.

My biggest fear? That I will be required to break out the chisels and safety goggles again. We shall see!

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Home Stretch Part 2

I must confess that when I began writing Geillan: A Prisoner’s Tale back in June, 2010, I was a bit idealistic. It turns out the process of moving from a conceptualized story, which comes to me like breathing, to a completed first draft involved substantial sweat and self-enforced regimens to simply get the work done. That was the first reality check.

As I wrote the first draft, I edited one or two chapters at a time as I went along. When I completed the story, each chapter had been revised one time and this left me with a great feeling of satisfaction. I think I really had the idea a few months ago that I was 99% complete with the whole journey. The second reality check came in constructive criticism alerting me to the fact that the story and the writing would benefit from further revision. At first, this process felt like a form of torture. It felt unnatural, and I felt as though I were a marathon runner who, elated at the finish line, is then required to turn around and walk the 26 miles backwards while working out calculus problems in my head. The revision felt like it was the same path, yet walked in a maddeningly alien fashion. However, as with most things, after simply forcing myself to put in the time and do it, the exercise made more sense and I found a flow. In fact, somewhere around the middle of the manuscript I began to find genuine enjoyment in reliving the work. It turns out I really like my book! I appreciate the story which has found me somehow in a much more profound way. Now that I have only four chapters left to revise, I find myself getting excited about revisiting and improving various aspects of it. I think, ooh that’s right, I get to work on such a such a vignette tomorrow!

So, I am at yet another home stretch. There will be at least one more home stretch after my editor sees the completed manuscript and I am mentally preparing myself for whatever new adventure that stage my bring with it. Now, back to pyramids and soul-devouring croco-hippo-lions.

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