Once upon a time
The woman to whom for a while I was married used to tell me, “You have every symptom of Attention Deficit Disorder, except you finish everything—eventually!” The comment was always a rebuke. A school counselor, she was unreasonably bothered about this. Instead of moving between several apparently different projects all going at once, she kept pressuring me to pick one and junk the rest.
Several times I tried to explain that, in fact, I had no symptoms of ADD. Never, I would insist, did I lose sight of anything I had going. All the pieces that she believed separate were (and are) aspects of a single, encompassing project. She just couldn’t see that.
Stepping back from a drawing, a text or some other construction was sometimes necessary so everything more or less kept pace. Sometimes I needed to clarify what came next with whatever seam I had been stitching. That was not a problem because all along I had been thinking in parallel about the other pieces. Like making Thanksgiving dinner, at any moment one thing demands action. A good cook never forgets the pots on the back burners or the bird in the oven.
Sometimes all the parts hit a pause together. Whenever that happened, I strapped on my bass guitar and gave the whole vision a chance to simmer while heart and fingers danced free of mind. This often provoked another rebuke. “No one wants a bass player who plays melodies instead of rhythm.” What she meant was that nobody in the Iowa backwater where I suffered marriage wanted that kind of bass player. I knew a few people in Texas who loved my approach to bass. Anyway, I never missed other voices when I played. The solitary plucker who later abandoned the bass for an Irish bouzouki was already forming.
One day I realized I was not nourished by that marriage. Another day somewhat later I realized I did not have to stay in it. Thankfully, my creative method came with me through the divorce. The method has evolved without disconnecting from its roots. These days still find different parts of the vision developing in parallel. The fact that a given part is not the primary focus this afternoon or tomorrow does not mean it has been abandoned. Take that to the bank.
Writer and rewriter
This is the case with the narrative fictions of Habdvarsha. They have not occupied center ring during recent years, but they have never been out of mind. They were present throughout creation of the Habdvarsha artifacts. Sometimes I would step back from whichever artifact was on the table in order to spend an evening working on rewrite of the early novels. Sometimes I needed to sketch pieces of the stories that have still to appear. Sometimes I needed to refresh details of the world in order to keep the artifacts and novels consistent. The stories are always with me.
A fair question in light of the indifference that greeted the artifacts is why would I continue chiseling away at a world in which there is no interest? It’s certainly a question I have asked myself. The only necessary answer is that I am interested. I want to finish what I have begun. I want to see the arc complete. I want to tell the entire tale to the spirit of the child I never fathered and to my own better self cheering from the future. That is reason enough, but there is more.
Way back when I pivoted from poet to novelist, I dove head first into the unknown. I had vision, a plot, a fairly detailed outline, and experience reading novels. What I did not have was any idea how or how much the mental labor of writing fiction differed from what I had written before. Reading fiction—in fact hundreds of novels and short stories—had not made clear that writing fiction demands a mode of thought distinct from writing essays or poetry. The difference is ontological as much as stylistic. There are authors capable of intergrade, certainly, and we justly celebrate those straddling masters. That wasn’t me. Aiming for lyrical prose, I managed florid, verbose and overwrought. The wonder is that I found publishers as naive as I was. Unsurprisingly, those imprints have vanished. I came away with three interesting tales poorly told.
Fortunately, a compelling germ lurked within their pages. A germ compelling enough that the editor of an indie magazine in New Mexico reached out to commission a novella for serial publication. Equally fortunate, I am capable of change. The magazine only lasted long enough to print the first installment of what became Rose Moon, but paid for the second installment before collapsing. With a novella half paid for and by then three quarters written, I decided to push on and publish it myself. Thus, Stikmantica was born. Along the way, lights came on and I got a clue about what had crippled my novels.
Rose Moon was a step in the right direction. Taking its lessons to heart, I went to work tearing apart and rebuilding the first novel of the cycle, Prelude to a Change of Mind. Here I insist that if you have not read the Stikmantica version, then you have not read the book. The story is the same, but the substance is not. Where the earlier versions are half-baked, I stand behind the Stikmantica release as a work of art. That’s why it’s subtitled, the Author’s Edition. If you do not own it, please buy it. If you have not read it, please do.
Since Prelude, I have been tossing coins to decide which comes next. By internal chronology, Entranscing is the second novel of the cycle. But Entranscing is also an interpolation written at the insistence of a publisher. It has a place in the cycle now, but its flaws may be deep because it took me a long time to understand that it’s necessary. Sleeper Awakes was and is more interesting. Although third in the cycle, it is, in fact, the mother book that spawned this whole universe. I started it even before Prelude. Its pull is strong. It’s also much funnier than Entranscing, and I can use some fun.
Meanwhile, as I tried to decide which novel to rewrite next, I drafted a novelette. The Seven Jewel Bird does not directly involve the Dvarsh. Nevertheless, like Rose Moon, it takes place in the Habdvarsha universe, and like Rose Moon, it will leave tracks in the fourth novel of the cycle. Of the open fictions, 7JB (my shorthand) was closest to done when I set narrative aside to jump into the artifacts. As it is short and completely new to my readers, I incline toward finishing it for release as an ebook before turning back to the cycle proper.
Hopefully, a new story will sell. An infusion of material support would really help right now, and the existing catalog attracts few takers. Ebooks, however, are problematic for a self-publishing indie author. The major markets—App/e Books, W*l-Mart and Am*zon—pressure indies to price low, but then siphon all but pennies from every sale. Really, if you rely on the robber barons for your reading material, you do almost nothing for your favorite authors. Low prices are never at the expense of shareholders. Profit springs either from gouging the consumer or denying labor the fair value of its work.
This is one of the reasons I push Bookshop as much as I do. Yes, prices for a physical book are higher on Bookshop than on the big three. Partly this is so because Bookshop pays a significantly larger cut to its suppliers. For a self-publishing indie author, the difference is substantial. It’s even greater if a buyer purchases through an author’s associate store on the Bookshop site, as those sales earn a commission for the associate. In this case, that is me. It really is a matter of dollars vs.cents. Purchasing a Stikmantica title new through Am*zon nets me a fraction of what I make with purchase of the same title through my store on Bookshop. If you hope to materially support the creator behind the title, there is no comparison. If your entire aim is to pay the lowest price possible, you serve the robber barons far more than you serve art. Excuse me for being blunt. Reality is not always pretty.
Before I get off the soapbox, I want to comment on used books. if you buy a used copy of a title by an indie author, your conscience should drive you away from mirrors. Buying a used title by a dead author may be one thing, depending on circumstances. Buying a used title by a living author incurs a moral debt that can only be discharged by directly compensating that creator. Don’t even whisper about information wanting to be free. Art wants to be unleashed, but its creators deserve to be compensated. Unleashed and gratis are not the same. Now, if you want to explore different approaches to compensation, pull up a chair and let’s talk.
Working for tips
Since beginning this episode of Musings I set up accounts with Ko-fi and Buy Me a Coffee. I did it with no more idea than to find some way of keeping the work of years alive. The accounts I created are the most basic. Essentially, they are tip jars. Although my profiles on both are not yet fully featured, several of you responded immediately and generously. There are not words apt enough to say adequate thanks.
After exploring the possibilities of both platforms, I think I’ll keep the accounts basic, at least for now. An appealing strategy focuses on these sites, especially since some of the Musings draw kind comment. My thought is to post as I have and ask readers to respond through the tip jars. I may offer supporter-only content in the future, maybe something like an ebook novelette. For now, hit me with a tip if something Stikmantic past or present moves you. But, please, hang out here rather than elsewhere. That encourages me to hang out with you.
The future and beyond
Along with coffee, the next Musings already brews. I’ve been writing poems in Spanish almost since stepping off the plane thirteen months ago. Side by side with the poems, I have been drawing, and some of the drawings are satisfying. I’m looking for words—in English—to talk about poemas y dibujos and how they fit into my larger vision. Chances are also good for another family story. Let’s see which comes first, poemas or family.
The buttons for tips and a link to Bookshop are in the right-hand column. You may have to scroll to find them. Together we can do so much.