A big moment

Hey all.

This is the fourth time I’ve been through the indie book development process, but actually it’s the first truly indie experience I’ve had.

Why is that.

Because for my first three books I was shepherded through the steps by CreateSpace, and this time I’m doing the work myself. Well, perhaps better said I’m handling the contracting myself. Things like this cover, done by a talented young art student for a small fee.

Everything is a balance. You can spend literally thousands of dollars on a cover, or you can spend five bucks. Me, I wanted a custom image of a spaceship that closely represented what was in my new book; this turned out to be no easy task. No easy task to communicate my vision and have it turned into what I exactly wanted within my budget.

Well, I think the cover above does a nice job of balancing budget, vision and cost. I can fairly say it is the best of my four covers so far, and I plan on using this same artist for a number of books into the future.

I’m sure there will be a learning curve, and I am looking forward to seeing what other covers she develops for me into the future.

But yeah, this one checks all of my blocks.


Alright, readers, a quick one today to let you all know that I am still alive.

Actually, I’m very busy with writing chores at the moment, I am churning through the final edit of my latest manuscript before I submit the RD (rough draft) of “The Storyteller’s Heaven” to my editor.

It is a tedious process, but utterly necessary to deliver a serviceable product to my editor, who will proceed to bleed all over it.

This is the polish that you need in order to deliver a publication ready book. This pain, this endless dissection of the MS (manuscript). If you don’t do something like this, be prepared for a whole passel of justified one-star reviews on Amazon. A book is not a first-grade coloring project, and there are no substitutes for the most professional work that you can deliver.

It’s a form of respect for your readers. Deliver the best product that your ability and budget will allow, your people will see that you have put your best foot forward.

But that’s enough of that spiel.

In the screenshot above you can read the words “backwards edit.”

What does that mean.

My mentor gave me this technique, it is terrible in its soul-draining majesty. But darn does it work good!

Here’s what you do.

You start at the end of your book and read it paragraph per paragraph backwards, so that you do not get caught up in the flow of the story.

Trust me, you’ll spot a lot using this technique.

You’ll also get a migraine and a desire to do something, anything, else.

But it needs to be done. This is why I give myself hard deadlines, and I strive to stick to them. Onerous tasks are frequently the most necessary, and by close of business tomorrow I owe my editing team the RD MS of “Storyteller’s Heaven.”

In fact, I am playing hookey from just that as I type this brief message.


The Black Fiddle

Shown above is the one material thing that remains of my Great-Grandmother, a mixed indigenous woman from Minnesota. All of my life I have seen this black violin, as kids we used to play with it. It was hers, her son inherited it when she passed. Eventually it ended up with me sometime in the nineties.

Just for the heck of it, a picture of her, Grandpa, and the family dog in the early thirties.

I wonder how often she played this fiddle. What kind of music she played. How she came into its possession. Now, I do know a few things about this violin, but not from any family memories.

No, I learned some of its story when I took it to be professionally repaired around 1997 or so.

First, it is a 3/4 violin. Grandma was a small woman, so that makes a certain amount of sense. Second, the fiddle is from the 1870’s or 80’s, and the wood and brass case is older than the violin itself. Finally, it is a good quality violin with real ebony and purfling, although it is certainly not a Stradivarius as a glued paper tag by the sound post purports.

The fellow who taught me how to play, an old wizened gentleman named Clarence, chuckled when he saw the tag. He had an enormous collection of fiddles, and he set up Grandma’s when it left the shop. He said “Yeah, a lot of those old fiddles had those stupid tags. But it doesn’t affect how they play.” After he tinkered with the black fiddle, he put it under his chin and played it like you wouldn’t believe.

Boy, could Clarence play. He was an old-fashioned real Appalachian fiddler, there was no sheet of music anywhere around.

Satisfied, he set Grandma’s fiddle aside. He spoke.

“I see why she kept this fiddle.” He paused. “It has a sweet sound.”

I later learned from Clarence that that was high praise. His personal fiddle dated from the Civil War era, wow, was it nice.

Clarence passed on twenty years ago, I think I was overseas. I do wonder what happened to his ancient violin. I guess I’ll never know.

But obviously, I still have Grandma’s fiddle. I hadn’t played it in I don’t know, fifteen or so years. My daughter expressed an interest in playing, so it got me thinking about my couple of violins.

The music died in Afghanistan, I couldn’t bear to play for a decade.

But for my daughter?

Yeah, I could at least set the fiddle up, I still remembered how to do that. I decided to loan her my violin, a nice 4/4 I bought at an antique store overseas around 1998 or so. It dates from the early twentieth century, and Clarence told me it was an old orchestra violin with “a decent sound.”

But he liked the black fiddle better.

Of course, it was a 3/4, and I needed a full size violin, so I mostly played the 4/4 when I felt like playing.

Clarence taught me how to play as he knew it, no sheet music, everything done by ear.

Kind of tough these days when your ears got blown out by an RPG.

Plus, hell, I just couldn’t stand it anymore.

So maybe it’s a good sign that I picked up the fiddles and tuned them. But boy, have I forgotten a lot. I even forgot the names of the strings and I had to google them when I tuned the old girls.

I did my 4/4 first. Then I did the 3/4.

A 150 year old fiddle, and it holds a tune and plays so sweet. Shady Grove, one of my favorites, played in a sad minor key.

But no way can I play Ashokan Farewell anymore. However, I am happy that the black fiddle can still do the thing.

Thanks, Grandma.

Sleeper Agent by John Birmingham, a review

BLUF: Can’t-put-down action and intrigue with a sci-fi twist.

Alright, readers. Long time hangers-out at this site know that I’ve done some work with JB, and I think he’s a pretty cool guy.

What you should also know is that I’ve been a fan of his work since the 00’s, and this fact way predates me coming into contact with him. His writing is tight, awesome, and rich. In fact, I haven’t run across something of his that actually sucked, ever. If I did, I would call it as it is.

Well, lemme say that his latest, “Sleeper Agent,” is a very long way from suckage.

It’s a pretty awesome book.

Here is my official review:

I’ve been a big fan of John Birmingham’s work for well over a decade- ever since I found a dog-eared copy of one of his paperbacks in a GI mini-library. Back then, I read a few pages and I was hooked. Fast forward some thirteen, fourteen years and maybe the media type has changed (Audible), but his writing has not. Sleeper Agent, his latest, was crafted to the same high standard as the rest of his catalog. 

What can I say? The book’s start drew me in with a confrontation between the protagonist and some bad guys, and it escalated from there. The narrative tension kept ratcheting upwards as it should, and what seemed at first to be a conventional spy novel transformed into a near-future yarn with strong science fiction elements. 

All of it was credible, there was very little suspension of belief necessary as the tale rolled forward. I enjoyed this book during a couple of long car rides and it helped out during household chores. It was great, and at no point did I have the desire to shut my iPad and walk away. Each chapter found me wanting more.

This. This is what good fiction does. Highly recommend for lovers of general action, spy craft, and science fiction

Now that you guys have seen the boilerplate, I’d like to add a few notes.

The narrator for this book worked very well, it suited the genre and story nicely. Absolutely loved this thing on car rides, it made a few three-hour slogs turn into almost invisible exercises. This is the true acid test of an audio book, IMO.

As an aside, I was very impressed with my iPad’s interface with Subaru’s Apple CarPlay. See image below:

Alright, maybe I’m a technological Philistine, but I was amazed by the flawless ease of use with this system, and the ability to play JB’s latest through the car’s audio system.

But I digress.

By all means, go ahead and buy this book.

It’s pretty sweet!