“I for one welcome our new computer overlords” – The Audio!

ifowonco final

Hello there, everyone.

Here, at last, is the audio version of I for one welcome our new computer overlords, read by the author (me).  You are free to listen to it on this site, or to download it to listen at a later time, and even to share the file with your friends.  You are not allowed to charge anyone money, or to otherwise make money, from that process, nor to pass the work off as your own.  Other than that, however, please enjoy.  If anyone does a dance remix, please let me know, I’d love to hear it.

I apologize for the many imperfections in this audio file – there are inconsistencies in volume and tone, which make it clear where I began new recording sessions, and there is also the occasional air sound on the mic.  As I’ve written before, doing this is a learning process, and I expect that my next audio recorded story (probably Prometheus and Chiron), will have somewhat better production values.  Depending on the reception this one receives, there will be at least some delay before I do that; it’s a time-consuming process, and even though P and C is a shorter story than Ifowonco, on this one I must have put in  ten to twenty hours of work for each hour of the final recording (just over two).  I really must get back into full-throttle writing of Unanimity, also.  However, depending on how enthusiastic the reception is for this audio version of Ifowonco, as well as the inscrutable exhortations of my soul, I may turn to my next audio recording sooner rather than later.  I also plan to turn this audio into a video, which will likely just be the audio track, playing over some fixed image – probably the e-book cover, I shouldn’t wonder.

As you may notice, in order to be able to post the audio recording here, I’ve upgraded my site, and you shouldn’t be seeing advertisements on it anymore.  If you do, in the future, they’ll be ads I’ve put up myself.

And speaking of advertising…if you enjoy this audio telling of my story, I encourage you to buy the e-book version for Kindle.  It’s only 99 cents (in America, with equivalent pricing in other territories), and the Kindle app is free and can be used on any smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet.  Even though one loses the romance of the paper book, the convenience of being able to carry around an essentially limitless library in your pocket is hard to beat, as even Peter Lunsford admits.  I currently lug 118 volumes around with me wherever I go, and believe me, I’m just getting started.

To purchase, or just to peruse, the story at Amazon, just click on the image of the cover above, or on any of the full or abbreviated instances of the title written in this post (similarly, you can see Prometheus and Chiron by clicking on any of the links attached to its title or abbreviation).

Okay, well, without further ado (and there has been much of it, hopefully not about nothing), here is the audio version of Ifowonco, submitted for your enjoyment:

TTFN!

Now ’tis spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; Suffer them now and they’ll o’ergrow the blog post.

It’s the third day of Spring in 2018, and I congratulate all those in the northern hemisphere on the upcoming six months of longer daylight than nighttime.

It’s been a productive week, all things considered, though I haven’t quite started writing new material on Unanimity; I’m still engaged in rereading what’s already written, to get myself back into the swing of the story.  I’ve enjoyed that process more than I thought I might.  There were times, when writing it, that the words didn’t flow as easily as I would have wished, but as I’ve frequently rediscovered, such times often produce works that, when read, are superior to those fired by irresistible enthusiasm.  This reinforces the wisdom of so many superb authors, who advise that one should write even when—perhaps especially when—one does not feel the stirrings of the muse.  (I consider reviewing and rewriting to be parts of that process, so I don’t count my recent hiatus for review against my obedience to the recommendation, though it does chafe at me).

Of course, these processes would proceed much more quickly if I were able to devote my full-time efforts to them, but at least the continued need to earn a living by doing other things keeps me involved in many aspects of life that might elude me if I’d been a cloistered writer from the onset of adulthood.  I’ve had a tremendous number of fascinating experiences that have deeply influenced the content and nature of my fiction and my nonfiction, so it’s hard to complain too strenuously.

Still, these things are far from absolute necessities.  Arthur C. Clarke didn’t need to be part of a human race on the cusp of evolving to its next stage and joining the Overmind to write one of the most brilliant works of science fiction in the twentieth century, any more than Einstein needed to have personally experienced the process of traveling near the speed of light to work out Special Relativity.  All fiction is, in some sense, a form of thought-experiment.  This, I think, is one of the reasons storytelling is so ubiquitous and important to humans.

Thus, though I think I can make use of my exposure to so many of life’s vicissitudes, I don’t think it’s a pure necessity, nor do I think it should be an absolute requirement going forward.  That being said, if you want me to work more quickly, and to produce my works in greater number and frequency, I entreat you to please support my work and to spread the word about it, so that I can make my living solely by writing.  I, at least, would certainly not complain.

In addition to rereading Unanimity, I’ve also been working steadily on editing the audio version of I for one welcome our new computer overlords, which should become available within the week.  I have to say, it’s been a surprisingly enjoyable process.  Of course, the work is amateur, but I don’t feel too badly about that, since I’m not going to charge anyone to listen to it.  As with all things, doing this well is a skill, and developing any skill involves trial and error.  Still, it’s been a blast; even the seemingly tedious process of editing out my gaffes and retakes is amusing, and I’ve also been able to use the sound-editing software to introduce a few “dramatic” effects.  Don’t expect too much from this—I don’t want you to think there are going to be sound effects and background music.*  But I was able, for instance, to remove breath sounds (for the most part) from the speech of a character who does not need to breathe when he speaks, and to leave them in during the dialogue of the other characters of the story, at least when they are appropriate to the performance.  That such a thing might be beneficial and even necessary would never have occurred to me before this undertaking.

There are residual flaws that irritate me, and which I can’t correct on this recording without going back and re-doing the whole thing, such as the occasional sound of air striking the microphone when I speak too closely to it.  Some of that can be edited out, but not all of it.  I don’t think it will detract significantly from your listening enjoyment, though, and for future recordings, I’ll take preventive measures against the problem.  Again, it’s been an enjoyable experience, not the least because it’s been a learning process.  The finished product will be about two hours long, and I hereby give permission to download it, if you have that capability, and listen to it at your leisure.  You can also share it, if you like, though obviously you do not have permission to charge anyone for that sharing (as if you would).

That should about do it for this week.  I have to stop somewhere, and usually it’s someplace arbitrary, since I otherwise tend to be the writing equivalent of the Energizer™ bunny.  Next week I plan to post my author’s note for Ifowonco, which will nicely coincide with its audio release, and to follow up subsequently with that for Prometheus and Chiron and then Hole for a Heart.  Then I’ll have caught up with my published works, and should be near completion of Unanimity.  After that, I’ll probably do another short story before beginning my next novel (which is a sort of modern fable, and which I’ll discuss more as it approaches).

Thank you all for reading.  I hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves and continue to enjoy my writing going forward.  As always, your comments are eagerly welcomed.

TTFN!


* I actually dislike it when background music is added to audiobooks.  There’s no music playing in my head when I read a book, and I don’t need sudden bursts of it to heighten the tension in a story performed by a voice actor.  If the writing doesn’t elicit the intended emotion, then that’s its own problem.  Added music just calls attention to the fact, and is a distraction, as far as I’m concerned.

Author’s note for “If the Spirit Moves You”

This author’s note for If the Spirit Moves You is the last one from Welcome to Paradox City, and though it’s the middle story in that small collection, I think it was the last one that I wrote.  It’s also the lightest-hearted story in the book, though it still qualifies as one of “three dark tales,” because its subject matter is ghosts…or the “unquiet dead” as one of the characters in the story asks us to say.

This was not a title-driven story.  The idea for it was triggered by a comment I heard while staying with my parents and my sister for a few months, after having completed Work Release at the tail end of my sojourn with the Florida DOC.  It was October and, as was their wont, my sister and mother had put up many holiday-related decorations in and around the house, including the front lawn.  One morning my sister came in from raking some leaves and she said to my mother that, while she was out front, a ghost fell out of the tree near her.  I knew she was referring to one of the decorations she had put up earlier, but her statement made me think about what might happen if a person were outside and a real ghost fell out of a nearby tree.

Of course, ghosts, as understood in popular culture, aren’t normally prone to falling, so the idea seemed humorous to me.  I wondered under what circumstances a ghost really might be subject to the usual influence of gravity.  I also wondered under what circumstances a person might actually see such a thing happen.

The story didn’t develop right then and there but percolated and fermented and sporulated and incubated and underwent all sorts of other metaphorical processes for quite some time.  Finally, it popped out in more or less complete form:  What if people don’t see ghosts anymore, not because we have come to know that they don’t exist, but because the increasing disbelief in them has deprived them of their power?  If that were the case, and if they realized it, how might they seek to change the situation, so that they could regain their influence.  Also, why would they want to do it?  I thought it would be more interesting, and more fun, if they weren’t trying to accomplish anything sinister, but rather to bring themselves to the attention of the modern world, so they could enlist the aid of modern science in helping to free them from their prison as earthbound spirits.

The purpose of writing this story was just to play with the idea.  I suppose that’s ultimately true of any story at some level, but I also wanted to make this one funny, at least a little.  Thus, the almost slapstick nature of the young ghost’s tumble from the tree while trying to practice hanging himself, and the confused subsequent interaction between him and Edgar Lee, the story’s protagonist, in which each only slowly realizes the other’s nature.

Among many influences on the story, one is my love of manga and anime, a taste I acquired only after I was already in my thirties.  The supernatural stories in manga often have a different kind of sensibility than many traditional Western tales.  This is probably partly because of the cultural heritage of Shintoism, which considered spirits to be integral and essential parts of the world.  Many anime and manga have characters who—unlike nearly all of their fellow modern humans—can see and interact with spirits of one kind or another, good and bad.  This would be just the sort of person who might encounter an inept ghost falling out of a tree.  Thus, Edgar Lee, I decided, had at least some Asian heritage…including a great-grandfather who had, in China, used a peach wood sword to exorcise demons.

I enjoyed combining seemingly contradictory attributes into individual characters in this story.  There’s the inept and clumsy young ghost with a bit of a snarky attitude, who is a fan of James Randi—that rock-star of the skeptical debunker community.  There’s the ghost’s friend and fellow spirit, the instigator of the plan to reawaken belief in and awareness of ghosts, who is painfully PC in his sensibilities and tries to raise consciousness about the inappropriate use of stereotypes regarding the “unquiet dead”.  There’s Edgar’s father, a sober and rational retired electrical engineer who is utterly unsurprised when Edgar discovers his own supernatural ability, and who says, “These things happen.”  And of course, there’s Edgar himself, a struggling copywriter for a PR firm who realizes that he is possibly the last person on Earth who can see ghosts.

This obviously isn’t supposed to be a deep story, though I do try to take it and its characters seriously within their own world.  It’s always harder to be funny than it is to be scary—probably for good, sound, biological reasons—so I rarely write to try to make other people laugh.  In this story, mostly, I was writing to make myself laugh, or at least to smile, while still creating interesting characters with a problem that really would be bad if we were faced with it.  How horrible would it be to be trapped on Earth for eternity, unable to have any effect whatsoever on anything that happens?  Pretty horrible, I’m thinking.

The story makes a nice buffer between the other two in Welcome to Paradox City, neither of which has much humor, and both of which have very non-happy endings.  If the Spirit Moves You ends on a rather optimistic note, and I like sometimes to imagine what sort of events might have followed the story’s conclusion.  I hope that some readers think about such things as well, and that at least a few of them share my bizarre sense of humor and get a modest laugh out of the story.

Finally, a brief word about the title.  The first draft of the story was complete before I even started thinking about what to call it, and that task required a few solid days’ pondering.  I considered and rejected several rather stupid and ham-handed plays on words, including one which turned out already to have been used by a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  Finally, I decided just to go with a slight variant on the dry joke Edgar’s father makes at the end of the story.  He is, probably, my favorite character in the tale, and is partly modeled after my own father; giving him (nearly) the last word as well as the honor of naming the story seemed entirely appropriate.

Nymph, in thy orisons, be all my blog posts remembered

Okay, well, it’s a new week, and a new month, and this is a new blog post…as is probably obvious.  Last week I posted my author’s note for Son of Man, and next week I’m going to write an author’s note for If the Spirit Moves You, the last of the stories in Welcome to Paradox City to receive such a treatment.  I suppose that I’ll subsequently write an author’s note each for the three short stories that have followed, and that are now available in Kindle versions (only 99 cents each, and cheap at twice the price).  I did write about them each on this blog even as they took shape, but there are, nevertheless, further insights to be delivered, for those readers who are interested.

Now, though, having finished the publication of all three of my most recent short stories, I have returned to work on Unanimity.  I’ve been rereading all that I’ve written of it hitherto, just to get back into the swing of the story.  This is, nominally, against Stephen King’s advice in his excellent book On Writing, but I’m doing it only because I took a break to hone those short stories for publication, so I think this case merits an exception to the King’s recommendation.  The rereading has been enjoyable so far, and the book is better than I occasionally felt it was while writing it.  This happens to me quite a lot:  the works that feel forced and inelegant while I’m writing them turn out to be much finer than I expect, and sometimes are better than those which seem to flow more readily—even inexorably—from whatever it is that produces creativity.  This may make perfect sense.  After all, those things in nature that come forward with great speed and power are often rougher in their original shape than more gradual phenomena and require more honing in the end.  I wouldn’t imagine that this is a law of physics, but it is a phenomenon I see in my own creativity.

In addition to resuming my work on Unanimity, I’ve returned to my previous plan and begun audio recordings of my short stories.  Specifically, I recorded the first draft audio of me (!) reading I for one welcome our new computer overlords last week and am now in the process of editing it.  I’m extremely thankful for the amazing advances in technology that allow sound editing to be carried out on more or less any reasonable computer.  I won’t say that my equipment or program is absolute state of the art, but since we’re not dealing here with a musical recording, but with an author reading aloud one of his stories, it’s more than adequate.  When I think of the complex machinations the Beatles and George Martin went through to produce their ground-breaking and innovative musical effects in the sixties, my mind soars.  Just imagine what a modern equivalent of Lennon and McCartney—or of Mozart—could do with the tools available in the early twenty-first century!  As far as I can tell, though, we still await the next arrival of such era-defining genius.

In any case, thanks to that wonderful technology, it shouldn’t be long before the audio version of Ifowonco will be available, and when it is, I shall post it on this blog, free for those who wish to listen at their leisure.  Of course, being compulsive about such things, I shall no doubt follow this with audio versions of Prometheus and Chiron and Hole for a Heart, though I’m not sure how quickly that will happen.  I’ll probably eventually do audio versions for all three of the stories in Welcome to Paradox City as well.  I don’t think, however, that I’ll do so for my novels, at least not in the short term.  I’m a bit disappointed in this prediction, but the time scales are simply too daunting.  The final recording for Ifowonco—a long short story, I’ll admit—will probably be on the order of about two hours long, and production takes much, much longer.  If that length pattern holds, my novels would end up about ten times that duration, and it’s hard for me to see myself sparing the time to produce them anytime soon.  It’s really too bad, because I do enjoy reading books aloud, and I expect my skills at both performance and production to improve with practice.  Unfortunately, given the fact that I also need to work to make a living, recording time inevitably eats into my writing, and that is my first and major calling.  I have so many books to write (and short stories, too), and my time is woefully limited.  One must, it seems, prioritize, and so enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.

Alas!  Poor audio.

It is with no honest regret, though, that I’ll return to Unanimity, and thence to its younger siblings, proceeding at full throttle.  Unanimity isn’t a happy story—what horror novel is?—but I’m definitely happy to write it, and will be just as happy, if not more so, for others to read it.

While you wait for that to be finished, keep your eyes peeled for my next author’s note, and keep your ears pricked up for my upcoming audio releases.  As always, I thank you for reading, I welcome your feedback, and I wish you well.

TTFN

Author’s note for “Son of Man”

Son of man icon

[Spoiler Alert:  Parts of the discussion below reveal aspects of the book that the first-time reader may not want to know…which, I suppose, is the basic definition of “Spoiler Alert”.]

Son of Man is the oldest of my published works—oldest in the sense that it’s the oldest of my story ideas that has been fully written and published.  It is also oldest in the sense that it is the published book I started writing longest ago.  I began it in the nineties, while I was in med school and was living in White Plains, New York.  I don’t recall the exact amount that I wrote at the time; it may have been only the first five or six pages.  But the book as it now exists begins with a scene almost identical to what I wrote then, reconstructed from memory, including the names of the first three characters introduced.  The character Michael was also present in the original idea.  I might have gotten as far as his introduction into the story at the time; certainly, his entrance, and even his initial words, have been fully present in my head for the last two decades. Continue reading

Hole for a Heart

holeforaheartredgreywith frame

While driving through central Pennsylvania on a road trip from New Jersey to Chicago, Jonathan Lama spies a peculiar pairing on top of an approaching hill:  A huge pecan tree, next to which lurks an out-of-place scarecrow.  Intrigued, and craving a break in his long drive, he pulls off the highway and goes into the nearby gas station.

There, he hears the story of a man named Joshua Caesar, a person of possibly supernatural evil, who terrorized the region almost seventy years before, and was finally brought to rough justice by his neighbors in retaliation for his crimes.  Local legend holds that the figure of the scarecrow is Joshua Caesar’s body—not changing, not decaying, staked out next to the highway for nearly seventy years.

Jon is entertained but of course does not believe the tale.  Then his car suddenly refuses to start, and while he waits for a tow-truck to arrive, stranger things begin to happen…things which lead him to doubt his sanity, and to wonder if, just maybe, the legends of Joshua Caesar’s unchanging scarecrow corpse are actually real.

Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blog.

Well, it’s that day of the week again (Thursday), when I write yet another blog post for the entertainment, and occasionally the edification, of those who want to read it.  As I did two weeks ago, I’m breaking up my author’s notes, interspersing them with less specific ramblings on my current, past, and planned writings.  Next week, I’ll continue my author’s note series, with a note on Son of Man.  Once I’ve caught up with the notes up to and including my latest published story, I plan to start periodically posting sample first chapters of my published works, as teasers to get readers interested—or, alternatively, to let them know for certain that they are uninterested—in the books and stories from which they’ll be excerpted.  This should be fun, I think, and will certainly be less work for me on those weeks when I post them.

Right now—so to speak—I’m near the completion of preparing to publish Hole for a Heart.  We at Chronic Publications are still struggling over the final form of the cover design for the story, though the basic design is already confirmed.  As those of you who have read it when it was available here know, it’s a dark story (how atypical for me, right?), but I like it a lot.  Thankfully, that’s more or less universal about my stories, and I can’t stress enough how thankful I am for the fact.  Of course, there are flaws in all of my works, and my earlier ones are less polished than those that follow, but I still enjoy thinking about them, and occasionally rereading them.  This almost always leads me to find errors that were missed in the editing process, as well as stylistic issues that I would now have changed…hopefully to improve upon them.  In the long run, I may create second editions of some books, especially the earlier ones, but that process requires time, of which commodity I am in short supply.  As is often the case (and as I think I’ve mentioned before) I frequently find myself quoting Andrew Marvell to myself: “If we had world enough, and time…”

Alas!

As is the usual case lately, I’ve been having difficulty finding new fiction that grips me enough to read, and I find this terribly depressing (it’s not the fault of the books).  Likewise, because I lost essentially everything I owned seven years ago tomorrow, I don’t have physical copies of all the hundreds of books that I’ve read and reread over the course of my life hitherto—for entertainment, inspiration, and edification.  Over time, I’m gradually trying to re-accumulate at least some of them, mainly in Kindle format, because that way I can carry my library with me wherever I go.  But even with e-book versions, to reproduce my previous library would cost a great deal of money, so it’s a piecemeal process at best.  I’m also always looking for new recommendations, and the other day on his Facebook page, Stephen King gave one for a book called The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor.  I looked up the book on Amazon—it’s available on Kindle—and it does look good.  I also like the author’s name, not that such a thing is of great importance.  Still, I can’t help playing word games, and inevitably thought of the fact that if you combined the surnames of the recommendee and the recommender, you’d get the phrase “Tudor King.”

Such are the processes that take place in my mind.

In any case, that book will likely be the next fiction book I purchase, and I’ll try to remember to let you all know how it is, once I’ve read it.

I do find myself able to read nonfiction, and I also use Audible, listening to a great deal of nonfiction on my commute to and from work.  Lately, I’ve been in Steven Pinker mode, a fact at least partially triggered by the recent release of his newest book, Enlightenment Now.  I’m currently visually reading one of his earlier works, The Stuff of Thought, about language and the human mind, and listening to his second most recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.  Once that’s done, Enlightenment Now already awaits on my Audible app, and I look forward to it eagerly.

I couldn’t easily exaggerate Pinker’s value as a thinker and writer.  His books are not short, and neither are they diffuse.  He packs a great deal of information and ideas into them, but his writing style and style of thought are exceptional and engaging.  If you want a taste of the enthusiasm and fun he brings to his work, and engenders in those who come to it, watch the following video of his presentation on The Stuff of Thought at Google.  His discussion on the nature of swearing—with numerous examples explained and explored—is both hilarious and thought provoking.

 

As I think I’ve said before, reading about ideas and concepts, even rather difficult ones, isn’t merely a way for me to pass my time between reading and writing fiction.  Even if it didn’t have any other value (it does), such exploration strengthens the mind’s muscles and makes it more fit and able to perform every task to which one puts it, including the writing of fiction.  Also, I think it improves one’s skill at narrative.  When an author can take a dense and complex subject and write about it in prose that’s both gripping and clear, that style of writing is surely one from which a writer of fiction can learn many lessons.  Some stories are good enough that they can be carried along simply by the power of the plot, even if the prose is awkward, but when one can add to such stories a structure made of language both beautiful and elegant, well…that’s a spicy meatball!

I’m about a hundred years too young to consider comparing myself to someone like Pinker, or to other great writers of fiction and nonfiction alike, but that just means that I can learn a great deal from them in the meantime.  In fact, a writer/reader’s marginal rate of return is probably greatest long before he or she begins to be in the same league as the one who wrote what he or she is reading.  So, I can heartily recommend that writers read books by those who are far better writers than themselves, and as often as possible.

But, also, do read some of my books in between.  I’ll do my best to keep raising my standards.

TTFN