Category: writing life

RIGHTEOUS BLOOD: The evolution of the cover design

I had a dickens of a time with the cover of Righteous Blood.

For some reason, I resisted doing what I’d done on previous occasions: go on-line, to a site like RedBubble (or some place similar), tap in “dark fantasy art” as my search term and see what came up.

For So Dark the Night I must have looked through over a thousand images. Easily.

Not only was the effort of actually finding art to match the mood and message of Righteous Blood daunting, if I did manage to identify an illo that appealed to me I’d have to locate the artist (not always easy), secure their permission to use their art for a reasonable fee (ditto) and then, y’know, come up with the money for the transaction.

Earlier this spring I needed a break from writing, retreated to my basement dungeon where I like to paint and shoot my strange, short films, and slopped away happily on a couple of canvases. Both pieces turned out well, but my favourite was inspired by apocalyptic thinking: global warming, the massive wild fires that have raged around the world due to drought conditions and human tampering. I titled it “Red Skies” and quickly recognized how it might be the answer to my cover art woes.

RedSkies

(Click on images to enlarge)

Mark Rothko was definitely an influence, wouldn’t you say?

I sent a Jpg of “Red Skies” to Black Dog Press’s longtime cover designer Chris Kent last week, told him to use it as source material but not feel slavishly bound to the original. We had to be careful with other people’s artistic efforts but I wanted to give him permission to play with the image to his heart’s content.

Chris is a full-time teacher, a husband and father, an athlete constantly in training…but he also has an artistic side that he loves to indulge, a passion for design and art that’s very much a holdover from childhood.

Over the next few days, he tinkered with my painting, spitballing me a few initial notions like this one:

RIGHTOUSBLOOD1

Cool, eh?

But I got a sense these first salvos were sort of tentative, Chris not sure how much license he had to tamper with my work.

But then, with his next flash of inspiration, he abandoned all fealty to the original and just fucking went for it. I opened up the file he sent, sat back and gaped at the shattered, fractured version of “Red Skies” that now graced the cover.

And went absolutely mental over it.

Sent him a few minor suggestions, nothing of any great import, he went away did some more polishing and then delivered the final version. His masterpiece.

What do you think?

Final cover

A “toxic” essay and more

driverEnduring a spring cold at the moment, my neck glands throbbing like the bass line of a Eurotrash pop song.

Never mind, if we are to believe the Buddhists, “life is suffering” and there ain’t a whole helluva lot we can do about it. Just pop plenty of Tylenol, drink green tea and hope for the best.

A philosophy perfectly in synch with our do-nothing times.

A lovely bit of news this morning, Hollywood North has posted (in two parts) my critical essay on the films of Canadian auteur and enfant terrible, Alain Marchant. You can find the article here–Hollywood North is an on-line site devoted to Canadian film-making and thus I was pleased that they recognized the merits of “The Toxic Cinema of Alain Marchant”.

I’ve followed Marchant’s career with a kind of sickened fascination for the past 8-10 years and in terms of sheer hubris and poor taste, only Danish director Lars von Trier can compare with Marchant. Have a look at my feature, you’ll see what I mean.

Great weather of late, which helps pick up the spirits. Hard to stay inside, slaving over a desk, with the sun shining and birds singing.

Sigh.

But such is my lot.

Back to work…

What happened to February?

minerGone in a flash.

Or, at least, that’s how it seems.

Where did the past month go? Well, I’ll tell you:

Mostly it was swallowed up by a 12,000-word novelette set in my “Ilium” universe. At one point I spent eighteen consecutive days slaving away on said project, from eight in the morning until eight at night. Fun, fun, fun.

Because for me to be at my most creative I have to be fully immersed in a work, utterly incognizant of the “real world” around me.

And so it’s been with this latest piece.

I’ve barely been reading, just some essays from a posthumous collection by the great Tony Judt. So burned out the most I can manage in terms of entertainment the last few nights are a couple of old Gene Autry westerns. I kid you not. The singin’ cowboy a balm on my brain.

But yesterday I finally printed up my “Sherron Draft” and this weekend my devoted and long-suffering wife will go through the novelette and render her verdict. And from there: revisions and more revisions until at last I’m satisfied I’ve got it as note perfect as I can.

The ceaseless grind. That’s the part they don’t tell you about in those helpful “how to” articles in Writer’s Digest or that expensive creative writing class you just enrolled in. Creation, getting words down on paper, that’s the easy part…it’s the process that comes afterward that tests your mettle. How much effort are you prepared to expend to make your story or poem the best it can possibly be? Meticulous, tireless editing.  That’s the difference between genius and wannabes.

Somehow I also managed to complete an overview of a fictional Quebecois film-maker and enfant terrible, a 2000-word “mockumentary” that’s the best piece of satire I’ve written in ages. I have some plans for that one and will likely release it in the next week or so. I’ll update you as soon as there’s anything to report on that front.

…and like everybody else, I’ve been watching the political shenanigans south of the border with growing incredulity.

Here’s my two cents worth:

hillary

Hilary Clinton, “progressive”, consorting with Henry Kissinger, war criminal

First of all, this talk of a “contest” on the Democratic side is a joke. Hillary has the money and power, Bernie is a nice guy with some cool ideas. Bernie represents a movement; Hillary is a fucking machine. She’s got this one wired tight. End of story.

Regarding the Republicans, I’m starting to see shades of Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Name not familiar to you youngsters? He’s the dude who famously said: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice”.

Still doesn’t ring any bells?

Never mind. The point is that in 1964 Goldwater and his followers were like today’s Tea Party—pissed off about special interests and insiders controlling Washington, the whole thing in need of a radical overhaul, etc. Richard Nixon and the GOP hierarchy came to the conclusion that Lyndon Johnson, wearing the mantle of an assassinated president (JFK), was unbeatable in 1964 and decided to let Goldwater and his lunatic fringe seize the reins of the Republican party. Once they were annihilated, they would go slinking back to their rat holes and the true king-makers and lever-pullers could take back the party in time for 1968.

Which is exactly what happened.

Makes me wonder if today’s Republican poobahs aren’t intending the same thing in 2016. Let Trump and his dickhead followers lead the party to certain ruin against the Hillary juggernaut, and then regain control in time for congressional and senate elections and a run at the presidency (hopefully with a more proven, viable candidate) in 2020.

Right now the GOP establishment is spooked—their two star candidates, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have failed to produce any excitement or momentum. Bush, in particular, never looked statesmanlike and comfortable in the spotlight and clearly wasn’t interested in making a serious bid. Hopefully, we’ve seen the last Bush in the Oval Office (my daily mantra). Rubio’s been rallying of late but does he have the balls to go toe-to-toe with the Donald? That remains to be seen. He needs better gag writers and he has to take the gloves off. Marco, if you can’t manage to engage with and whup a coiffed, spoiled blowhard, frankly you don’t deserve a shot at the big chair.

I’ve been a political junkie for as long as I can remember and that sphere (especially south of the border) just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Money has distorted the process and attaining power and stature have become the primary motivations of those seeking to represent us.

Public service? Accountability? Transparency? Ethics?

Mere words, lacking currency or value in a world increasingly fixated on satisfying selfish desires, while consciously and arrogantly absolving itself of the consequences of its greed and stupidity.

Reform? Revolution?

Don’t make me laugh.

People, it has been said, get the form of government they most deserve.

In that sense, today’s theatrics and hijinks don’t say much about us as a society and civilizing influence, do they?

barry

 

 

Looking ahead (hopeful premonitions)

Welles:pictureOne of my resolutions in 2016 is to raise and enhance my creative profile by getting better at promoting my work.

I make that commitment with, I confess, some serious misgivings. My absolute nightmare is emulating my hero, Orson Welles, who spent the vast majority of his time trying to beg, borrow or steal the money he needed to finance his pictures. He frequently bemoaned wasting his energy on this soul-destroying scut work when he could have been, y’know, making great movies. When he died, he left a string of unfinished projects and his body of work was far, far smaller than it should have been. That represents a crime against cinema itself.

I measure myself by the latest project in front of me—and that’s a major drawback. Once I finish a book or short story or poem I quickly lose interest, already eying the next challenge. I admit it: I have been completely negligent when it comes to plugging the ten books this press has released thus far. I send out review copies, write up some accompanying background material…and then pretty much forget about it. Onward and upward!

But I’m a sentient creature, I can learn, adapt, change. So during the past week I’ve signed up for both Smashwords and Wattpad, making a substantial selection of my writings available for free downloading and sampling on those sites (see: the “Links” sidebar to the right of this post). I’ve also contributed comments to a couple of writing forums and reached out to a few fellow indies.

As well, in the coming weeks, I’ll be giving you a step-by-step (blow by blow?) account of my efforts to publish the next Black Dog Press offering, a reprint of Righteous Blood, a volume featuring two terrifying novellas originally released by PS Publishing back in 2002. You wanna know how to publish a book, experience the joy and (mainly) torments of that process firsthand, well, keep watching this space.

I spent part of last autumn getting the text of Righteous Blood into shape, making sure there were no formatting glitches, etc. I also wrote a foreword and some end story notes. That part is pretty much ready to go. But I still need to find cover art, select an interior layout person (Chris Kent will once again handle cover design) and start the production ball rolling. My tentative release date is April 1st—better get a move on.

So…busy times. But I can’t forget to leaven all that labor with a little bit of fun.

Which means…see you at the first home game of this province’s new professional lacrosse team, the Saskatchewan Rush. I’ll be driving in to Saskatoon on Friday, attending the match with four of my favourite lads (including my two sons). The forecast is for cold weather but that doesn’t deter the hardy sports fans in this part of the world. Watch for me, I’ll be the guy in the yellow/gold Bruins hat, imbibing good, Canadian ale and grinning from ear to ear.

I love lacrosse. Fantastic game. Canada’s real national sport.

Go Rush!

Bruins

Read the blog, ogle the t-shirt

T-shirt

I have one of the best writing sites on the entire net…and now there’s a t-shirt that proves it.

My son Sam came up with the design and had a shirt run off for me as a Christmas gift.

This blog is eight years old and still going strong.

And there’s much, much more to come.

Christmas, 2015

autrySherron decorated the tree last night, while I looked on, sipping good, Canadian whiskey (Pine Creek) and humming along to our Gene Autry Christmas CD.

I’d count Gene among my first heroes, along with Bobby Orr, Neil Armstrong and William Shatner (“Captain Kirk”). The Yorkton TV station used to play old Gene Autry serials early Saturday morning and I can recall watching them on our cube-shaped black and white television. Listening to his Texas twang is like a trip down Memory Lane on an air conditioned tour bus with an open bar. Sherron, sadly, does not share my affection for the singin’ cowboy–if she hears “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” one more time, she’s going to string me up at high noon.

It’s finally starting feel like Christmas around here. Usually, I’m a lot more excited and pumped for the arrival of St. Nick, but with both of our lads grown up and moved away, there isn’t the same kind of ambience. Ah, well. They’ll both be joining us for the holidays, along with Liam’s wife, Erica, who has learned to tolerate our goofy, stubbornly immature family and their strange antics. This 105-year old house will be rocking with music and laughter.

Frequent visitors to this blog will know that, despite my cruel, cynical outer veneer, I am a sucker for Christmas. This time of year finds me very reflective, emotional and sentimental. It doesn’t last long, thankfully, by New Year’s Day I’m back to my cranky, hard-bitten mindset…but for awhile, a week-ten days, the world doesn’t seem quite as bleak and hopeless.

In the past, I’ve posted about the real history of St. Nicholas and released a Christmas “ghost story” involving two of my most beloved characters, Cassandra Zinnea and Evgeny Nightstalk.

This year, I think I’ll confine myself to a few words of gratitude directed toward the the Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS) operating in this universe, the timeless, inscrutable force  directing and inspiring us, trying to help us achieve our great Destiny. When I’m really on, working at a high level, fully immersed in my writing, I can sense the proximity of that force, that consciousness, feel like I’m part of some eternal, infinite continuum. That is…intoxicating. Nothing like it. It’s why I put up with the physical, mental and psychic pain that accompanies the artistic life, the despair, the anonymity, societal indifference. Anything for a few, fleeting moments of contact/collaboration with the Ineffable.

Throughout autumn, I worked on one short story after another–over eighty (80) pages of prose. Why? There are few decent fiction markets any more and they’re so inundated with submissions, it’s hardly worth the effort of sending anything their way. The short story format is nearly as dead as the dodo…or poetry, for that matter. So why bother? Search me, you’d have to ask my Muse for the answer to that one and she’s famously enigmatic and unhelpful.

I write, therefore I am… (apologies to Rene Descartes).

For me, nothing else matters but words on paper, regardless of the genre, length, marketability, whatever. Just keep my pen moving across the page, the flow of words uninterrupted.

Keep the words coming.

My prayer for the past thirty+ years…and for 2016, as well.

Drop by once in awhile, see where all those words are taking me.

Some very odd soul journeys ahead.

Stay tuned.

Tree

 

Listen up, NaNoWriMo Wannabes: Richard Bausch quote

“…these people…want to be considered serious writers; but they have come to believe that they can accomplish this by means of a convenient shortcut. And the industry that produces how-to manuals plays to them, makes money from their hope of finding a way to be a writer, rather than doing the work, rather than actually spending the time to absorb what is there in the vast riches of the world’s literature, and then crafting one’s own voice out of the myriad of voices.

My advice? Put the manuals and how-to books away. Read the writers themselves, whose work and example are all you really need if you want to write. And wanting to write is so much more than a pose. To my mind, nothing is as important as good writing, because in literature, the walls between people and cultures are broken down, and the things that plague us most—suspicion and fear of the other, and the tendency to see whole groups of people as objects, as monoliths of one cultural stereotype or another—are defeated.

This work is not done as a job, ladies and gentlemen, it is done out of love for the art and the artists who brought it forth, and who still bring it forth to us, down the years and across ignorance and chaos and borderlines. Riches. Nothing to be skipped over in the name of some misguided intellectual social-climbing. Well, let me paraphrase William Carlos Williams, American poet: literature has no practical function, but every day people die for lack of what is found there.”

Richard Bausch, in The Atlantic Monthly

***

Would the posers and wannabes out there PLEASE note: when you’re a real writer, every fucking month is “national novel writing month”.

Now go back to flipping burgers or whatever it is you do, and leave literature to the professionals…the people who, through years of sweat and sacrifice, have earned the right to call themselves authors.

Shame on you for daring to include yourself in their company…