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Blasting with Phil and Dave Alvin

A little music today.

Though I love Dwight Yoakam’s cover with Pete Anderson raging out a 3-minute solo to finish the song, there’s nothing like The Blasters.

This is my kind of music: growling gravelly vocals, bass and drums stomp stomp stomp, and a guitar that slams you against the wall and keeps kicking till you’re down.

That’s what you get when you blend growing up with Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams with discovering Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple in your teens.

Get The Temporal Lisle Before the Price Goes Up

My newsletter people got the news a couple weeks ago, so Rafe Keyn and the Temporal Lisle already has a couple 5-star reviews; I love this one:

I’ve been reading science fiction for close to 50 years. This book has a new twist—and an ending that surprised me.

I stayed up to finish reading it in one sitting.

What more could one ask of a book?

On July 1st we’re going wide and wild with the news, at which time the price goes up from 99¢ to $2.99 so if you’re thinking about a fun time-travel fantasy, now’s the, erm, time.

The Best Beloved Seal of Approval

When Sue read the near-final draft of Rafe Keyn and the Temporal Lisle I only wanted one piece of feedback: does it work?

No writerly feedback. No plot ideas. No character suggestions. None of the stuff people always want to say to writers.

Did it suck you in and keep you in?

This late in the game, that’s all I need to know.

And her answer was “Yes.”

It’s being proofread right now, and I have one or two sentences that need polishing after my current read-through. The cover is done. (See? Right there above.)

I can see the checkered flag. I’ll keep you posted.

Buffing and Polishing and Prepping for Launch

One of the first steps in my editing process is to upload my entire manuscript to AutoCrit, an automated online editing tool which is light-years beyond all the others I’ve investigated. Not only does it analyze my writing, it’s configurable to help me with my specific bugaboos. Over time it’s helped me reduce those.

Except that’s wrong. D’oh.

As Anne “The Writer’s Process” Janzer posted recently, work from the outside in. Read that at her blog (scroll down to The Cycles of Self-Revision for this specific point.) First, read the book as a book and see if it works, if at a high level, all the parts come together. Then tidy up the specifics.

I’m parking the book for a week and then I’ll read it like a book. Yeah, it should be a month, to let myself forget all the brilliant turns of phrase and unbelievable bits, but this book is nearly a thousand days old and I’m being impatient. It’s also pretty good just as it is, so I’m pushing.

Watch for it in early summer. Or sooner . . .

Time for My Time Travel Fantasy

A half-mile south of the official end of the Wild Rivers Trail in northern Wisconsin there is a railroad bridge. The tracks end 100 feet north of the bridge.
Knowing how closely our emotional and physical health are tied it is no surprise to me that I came down with a vicious cold the week I pushed to finish Rafe Keyn, nor that it continues as I keep working.

My diminished mental capacity makes creativity difficult, but I can still read the printed manuscript and find obvious typos and make other notes as they occur to me.

Eating well, getting my rest and plenty of fluids. I wish those fluids included rye whiskey and a local craft brew, but our water is good and still my favorite drink.

I’m on track to release it early summer.

Across the Finish Line: Rafe Keyn and the Temporal Lisle

After 912 days, most of it spend wallowing rather than writing, I just typed the final scenes for Rafe Keyn and the Temporal Lisle.

A bit over 60,000 words, making it my longest novel yet. Verbose as I am, you’d think my books would be longer.

There’s still edits and rewrites, but I’m not going to prolong this. Planning on releasing it early summer.

It feels pretty magnificent.

Unheroic

When I found out he had two weeks to live, I didn’t go see him. Not that I don’t know what to say; I’ve had training in dealing with bereavement and grief and death.

I should have gone. But one time I thought about it, I felt like I didn’t know him well enough to matter. Another time, I let the unorthodox family situation stop me; wasn’t sure who’d be there and how they’d be feeling or acting. Another time, I felt overwhelmed because though we weren’t close, I’d thought we would be; he was a good guy, smart, good conversationalist, sense of humor.

Talked myself into it. Excused myself out of it. Talked myself into it. Waited too long.

In the end I just waited too long to do the right thing.

They say heroes dash into burning buildings or flaming cars to rescue people without thinking. They act before they have a chance to get scared. My first impulse when I heard was, I have to go see him.

But I gave myself time to think, and I kept thinking until it was too late.

900 Days

Tomorrow it will be 900 days since The Temporal Lisle came to me in a flash.

I suspect I’ve spent 800 of those days doing nothing but suffering over the struggle.

Though the battle with Resistance is never won, I have been writing steadily for weeks. There are 16 chapters left to write. That’s not much. Yesterday I realized I’d left a major character hanging in limbo; they walk offstage and simply disappear. It took four short chapters to resolve their story in a way that organically served the larger story, and I wrote it all in a single sitting.

Come November 3, 2018, the 3rd anniversary of the burst of creativity, this book will already be published and selling well.

And the next one ain’t gonna take three years.

Feet First

He looked down the cliff’s face to the water. It wasn’t the distance that concerned him; he’d gone into water from far higher than the 30 feet it looked to be.

No, what concerned him was the dark surface. It might mean deep water.

It might mean shallow water with a dark bottom.

Even deep water could have jagged rocks, old tree trunks, any manner of solid sharp debris.

If you have no choice but to go in, it doesn’t matter whether the water is deep or shallow, or so he told himself. What matters is that you go in feet first. An injury to one or both legs could be survived. Head injuries, out here in the middle of nowhere, probably not.

The first arrow hit the dirt close enough behind him that he heard it, felt a tiny shock in his feet. They would wait until they were close enough before loosing any more.

He leaped.

And as he went over the edge feet first, one foot snagged in the tangle of a tree root sticking out, flipping him completely, holding for less than an instant before he dropped again.

Head first.

Three Applauses

I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.

Obviously, there’s applause at the end.

And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.

Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.

Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.

Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.

Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.

Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.

As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.

Loss

Found out this morning that a dear friend and spiritual mentor died yesterday.

We were supposed to get together for lunch soon. I keep thinking about what we would have chatted about, how much we laughed when we visited.

Death is not, as many claim, a natural part of life. Death is unnatural, an enemy.

This space is too small to hold everything I believe about life and death and love and loss. I’ll just say I’ll miss him, and hope all the rest of you are happy and well.

Anniversary Flavors

For our 14th anniversary on December 26th Best Beloved bought me The Flavor Bible. Pick a food, any food, and find suggestions from obvious through interesting to bizarre (but still right) for flavor combinations.

Not a cookbook. Dishes are mentioned by name only. The suggestions are classed by the number of world class chefs recommending them.

This book is the epitome of principles rather than rules, my favorite way of gaining expertise. I want to be, not just a good cook (already there in spades) but an excellent cook, an interesting cook. Knowing how to follow a recipe is important, but on its own does not lead to creativity.

Long before I discovered it is an unusual ability, I used to taste combinations in my mind. I’ve long chosen spices based on what works in my head, and I’ve rarely been wrong about a combination. This requires great familiarity, though. Spices or foods I’ve never or rarely eaten don’t work this way.

Seeing what brilliant chefs find interesting but tasty allows me to think about new ways to combine flavors while still keeping it delicious.

Stars: a Song by Fiona ER Canfield

Recorded the vocal for this about 2012, when Fiona was 6 or 7. It’s taken all these years to learn enough about music and have the equipment to put it to music.

I was astonished to discover that other than a few flat notes, she’s singing perfectly in the key of F. This is worth investigating. I wasn’t aware a small child could, a capella, sing exactly in key. (I adjusted the final note because she was precisely two semitones flat; I suspect that was voice control, not pitch awareness. Also she was 6.)

Maybe children are more musical than I’m aware. Maybe I have an overdeveloped proud father muscle. Maybe I just love my little girl and music and when they come together, why wouldn’t it be perfect?

Stars
Fiona ER Canfield

If the stars could talk
What would they say?
Would they say those words to you?
If the wind could tell secrets
Would it share them with you?
Would you protect them with all of your strength?

If the sun could make you smile
Would its smiles be for you?
Would your eyes have protection from the rays?
If the moon could give you dreams
Would they be happy?
Would the dreams be for you?

Good night for now
And when we wake up
We’ll have dreams of the things that I said
And when we meet again we’ll discover
That the dreams have come true

Our Hummingbird

not our little guy, someone else'sThere is a ruby-throated hummingbird that lives in the neighbor’s tree. That’s an assumption, of course; I don’t know where it lives, but every morning I see it perched on the highest twig, surveying its domain, watching for errant pigeons to dive bomb.

He (I’m assuming it’s a he, who knows?) disappeared for a while when the weather turned cold (cold being a relative term here in southern Arizona.) I worried he’d left us, but he’s been back for a while, buzzing around the little tree where he lives and dodging in and out of the huge mesquite in another yard in the neighborhood.

We become attached to what’s familiar. Thoughts, like that little hummingbird, flit, buzz, hover, dive, soar, disappear, return. After while, we accept our frequent thoughts as truth. When they serve us, motivating or comforting, that’s a good thing. What about when we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, when we tell ourselves that The Other is somehow lesser than us, or too different to be accepted?

Don’t believe everything you think. Go ahead and believe in hummingbirds, though. That’s fine.

Embarrassment and Death

Patrick, the little kid up the street who ate 3/4 of a stick of Imperial margarine trying to get the crown to magically appear in his head like in the commercials, had a swimming pool. Just once, all the kids in the neighborhood were invited over to swim while his father played lifeguard. Patrick, tiny as he was, jumped into the deep end like a fish. My older brother and Rose the neighbor girl both swim around in the deep end. And there I was, in the shallow end, with the babies. Except Patrick. He was a baby, but perhaps margarine made him buoyant.

I said I wanted to swim in the deep end, too, and Patrick’s father said, “Why don’t you swim over to the ladder on the side and let’s see how you do.”

I confidently ducked under, knowing I could swim farther underwater, and in about 3.4 seconds, ran out of breath and popped to the surface, yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”

There was a huge splash and someone lifted me out of the pool and set me on the side. Patrick’s father, from in the pool, said, “Perhaps you should stay in the shallow end for now.”

It is astonishing to me that 50 years later, I still find it embarrassing. I’m not saying I would have preferred a tragic death in front of my friends to being rescued. I’m not saying that.

We are strange creatures indeed.

The Time in Maggie’s Room

Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?

Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.

Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.

Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.

As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.

Her clock read 4:15.

She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.

It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.

Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.

And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.

Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.

Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.

4:13.

A Winter of Sorts

You can tell when the conversation is running dry because the talk is all about the weather.

Turned the heater on this morning for the first time since a 4-day stretch in December. It was 63º inside the house. Upstairs. It’s normally about 76º up there.

Fiona sleeps with her window open and her face near the window. I used to sleep like that as a kid in San Diego. Winter nights there get down in the 40s, so I always had cold air to breathe. I like heavy blankets and cold air when I’m sleeping. Trying to sleep when it’s warm is hard.

Took a drive today and listened to all 19 songs I’ve written so far this month. I’ve done well. Two more I need to finish, a travel song for with Fiona, and a third song to go with Not Just Believe and Laminated Map of the World.

Thus far, every song has been entirely voice and tenor guitar (except a collaboration, which really needed bass and screeching electric guitar; if someone shares their lyrics I play what they need, not what I want.)

More Songs, Including My Daughters

I’ve written another handful:

but the real treat is that my two girls collaborated on one, and we can actually hear the Little One singing: Sister.

Choosing Wealth

In Vagabonding traveler and author Rolf Potts talks about choosing how we define wealth. Rather than assuming that “wealth” and “money” are the same thing, he suggests measuring wealth in what we value. Wild concept, I know.

I would love to have more money for things like a trip to Ireland or new tires on the car or a new instrument (still deciding between octave mandolin and mandocello, but it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to ponder it.)

It’s not what I value most. Every time discontent creeps in I remind myself that I have plenty of the stuff live is made of: time.

I rarely wake to an alarm.

Nearly every day, I play some kind of game with my daughter, the last of our 7 children still at home.

Every day, I cook three interesting meals for my wife while she runs the business.

Every day in February, I’ve written a song. Every single day. And recorded a demo thereof.

Deadlines are almost unknown around here. A day off only requires balancing personal needs or desires with what’ll have to be done tomorrow.

Want to spend August in northern Wisconsin (highs in the low 70s) instead of southern Arizona (highs in triple digits and humid as an old sock)? Arrange our work schedule to allow it, plan for gas, the primary expense, and go. (Our travel requires two other factors, a location-independent business [check] and oodles of friends to stay with to avoid expensive hotel bills [check] but those didn’t happen by accident either.)

Today I’m worried about money. Ausoma has lost two big clients (they love us, but need to get other things done before they come back and work with us again) and for the first time, rent for the 1st of the month isn’t a slam dunk. It always works out. Always. We both have faith, Best Beloved and I, and it always works out.

So today, I’m going to enjoy the time I have and not worry about what I don’t.