Hats Off to Cedar

MY YOUNG FRIEND CEDAR SANDERSON once again shows me up (I’m glad to acknowledge). I keep promising myself that I need to do more to keep up my blogs — posting daily about substantive matters, cleaning up the sites, developing new modes of content display, interlinking my efforts here, there and elsewhere. But Cedar has done something I keep thinking I should do and thus, I hope, prodded me into doing what I’ve known all along I should do.

See, she wrote a short-ish blog post about the Silk Road. It’s a subject that interests her. Well, me, too. And millions of other people. The Asian trade routes carry much of the history of the development of human society and, for writers of spec fic, hold a great deal of lore and wisdom on world-building. At least, that’s why I’ve read so extensively (and, might I add — hungrily) on the region.

Well, that and the heart of Pasu civilization is located in the Kunlun Shan mountains of western China, so it’s of interest to me in my world building for the BabyTroll Chronicles. So, hats off to the girl. Well done!

Now Comes the Hard Part

THE DOLLY STORIES form an arc — fifteen-to-twenty novels currently planned, maybe more. I may get bored and bail before it’s over. I dunno. I love the little doll so much and want the stories out there, so, as torturous as it may get for me sometimes, I want to at least commit to trying.

Today I’m “working” on the front matter for The Genesis Undertaking (too much distraction to really concentrate on a real project, like the art for the cover, so I’m noodling around, dipping into Facebook, listening to the songs of the Dolly Playlist) and the Chris Isaak song “Wicked Game” comes up in the rotation. In the Dolly ficton, it’s the story of how Drummond and Witchlet fall in love. (Who’s Witchlet, you ask?














Drummond’s lady love just before Dolly. Astarté kills her at the climax of Geppetto’s Log.












OK. You can come back.Anyway. Listening to that song, I get a yearning to run off and write that book. But I know I shouldn’t. Because: other books to write. Although kicks off the whole cycle, I have a whole raft of other stories to tell first, before it comes around on the guitar.

But even so… I get these urges…

Cut off Nose in Despite of Face

PASSIVE GUY REPORTS that Random Penguin intends or doesn’t intend to cut back on mass market paperbacks by merging Berkley into Putnam/Dutton. What. Everrr. Seems like somebody has lost the concept of mass market. If they’re having problem making ends meet, seems to me they’d be better off to put less investment into hardbacks and put a big push on paperbacks. Camping on the high end of the market doesn’t strike me as the ticket to the big time. It’s never been that customers wanted to pay higher prices for the same goods.

Well. Not never. There’s one born every minute, as the saying goes. And you should never give one an even break. But, still.

Worldbuilding My Ficton: Upothesa


The name Upothesa was not used commonly much before 1780. Nor was it ever adopted formally as the name of a business enterprise, syndicate, or network — which is the true nature of Upothesa, also called the enterprise colloquially among its inherents. Like the Cosa Nostra, which followed Upothesa, and arose from a different circumstance, the entity was and remains deeply secret and secretive and no members of it ever discuss it with — or even reveal its existence to — non-members.

The word shebang appears to have been coined or to have evolved during the American Civil War, as a reference to huts or hooches that soldiers lived in in the field.

The organization has its roots in the distant past of the stone age, when proto-doric peoples inhabited the Balkan Peninsula and there arose among them the practices of worship of individuals who later came to be viewed as the Gods of Olympus.

These individuals were not, in truth, Gods as myth would have them. They had and have no overwhelming influence over weather, climate, agricultural success, the treatment of souls in the afterlife or the like. Nor has any of them ever claimed to have created the universe from scratch, although a good deal of credit goes to them collectively for the current shape of our world. There, they have had a great deal of influence. But the creation was not the mere waving of a hand plus the speaking of a word or two of power. Rather, it was a matter of patient years, decades, centuries of pushing and pulling individual humans this way and that.

Toward this end, in Stone Age Greece, a group who, as I say, later came to be called the Gods of Olympus, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Dionysus, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hermes, entered into an agreement with a clan of normal humans that the former would support and — to the best of their abilities — protect the latter in perpetuity. The humans agreed to heed the Gods, and follow their lead. It was not a master-student relationship or one of god and worshiper, but a partnership, in which each side contributed what it had to a common weal, which was ordered and managed to the benefit of all.

The Gods, you see, were merely humans at the right end of the bell curve. They were stronger, faster, healthier, longer-lived, more intelligent, and able to do some things ordinary humans could not — or, at least, could not without extensive, narrowly-targeted training. The longer the Gods lived, the stranger they became, but they never completely lost their humanity.

Originally, the alliance was only supposed to raise the humans’ lot above the average of those surrounding them. But, as the generations passed, the clan grew more numerous and, on average, richer and more powerful than their neighbors. Eventually, they became kings. One of their number — Tantalus of Mycenae — even founded a dynasty of sorts, which dynasty gets its name from one of Tantalus’s descendants, Atreus. The name is Atreidae, or as in modern popular fiction, the House Atreides. Descendants of Atreus include his sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus. It was the latter’s marriage to Helen and her kidnap by Paris of Troy which precipitated the Trojan War, a watershed event of the Bronze Age which had a ripple effect all around the Mediterranean for centuries thereafter. The syndicate’s negative experiences in politics led eventually to the principle that Upothesa did not seek to rule. Not to say that those in Upothesa did not get politically involved, only that the main focus was on commerce and that the rule of nations was left to others.

Of further interest is the story of the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the fallout from it, including the story of Electra, who, it is told, avenged the murder of Agamemnon by Clytemnestra along with her brother Orestes. This is of passing interest to our readers because pseudo-psychological carping within Upothesa attributes the so-called Electra Complex to Dolly.

In any case, the fortunes of the Atreides waned and many of them — second sons and black sheep — migrated overseas to Hellenic colonies in Asia Minor, where they fell under the influence of the Akkadian Empire of King Ilushuma, then, later, the Persians under Cyrus the Great.

There, they founded colonies in river deltas and on islands along the coast of the Aegean. When Hellas grew powerful enough to claim those colonies over the Persians, they became Greek again, though the decades and centuries spent abroad, as it were, inculcated in them a love of commerce, and from that time, they derived their self-identity as merchants and traders.

Along the way, they founded religious cults. (Though, knowing Gods most intimately, they worshiped in no religion, as a matter of policy, they did follow local traditions wherever they found themselves doing business. In short, they went to church with their neighbors.) Being eastward of their land of origin, they associated themselves with Eos, Goddess of the Dawn — more as a matter of camouflage than of any sincerity. They founded religious and social mutual support societies called Dawn Phraetries and, eventually, acquired the habit of adopting the surname East, or its equivalent in the local tongue.

The notion of in deserves some comment. The word is used to demark one’s status as an initiate. One is said to be in to the degree one is inculcated and indoctrinated to the secrets of the enterprise. The farther in one is the more secrets one possesses. There is no precise calibration in any official sense, though the social behaviors surrounding the concept can get to be quite strong and severe — nearly darwinian, in fact. The first sign of one’s being in generally comes around a family dinner table in family conversation within East family households.

A graduation of sorts comes upon one’s admission to the multi-campus university, the strictly private East College, which has campuses on several continents. The campus of East College of the Americas (ECOA) is on the former family farm of the William Makepeace branch, whose daughter is/was Gabrielle Francesca (1830-1929), the 125th and all-time most successful Childe of the East, the figurhead leader of Upothesa from 1838 to 1863. Dolly (Baby Troll) is the karmic successor to Gabrielle Francesca.

Covering Your Asterisk

cvr genesis 0116THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION — and I admit it hasn’t been easy here lately — may be aware that I and my cohort are in the final stages of preparing my second novel for publication. The MS is with my alpha, who is promising to get back to me ASAP. She’s not a robot in returning comments and so-forth, but I wouldn’t want her to be. One of the things I prize her for is her very humanity. Waiting is. When waiting is filled, I will move to the next cusp. The cover. I have an advantage, here, and that is that, since this is a series, I have already done a lot of the thinking on this subject. A Baby Troll Chronicles cover looks like so and so and so — only the images and colors change. And, while I wait for feedback, there are a few details I can put through the grinder. Well, I already have. And herewith lies the lesson.

Again, tapping those of you who have been paying attention, if you have been following along, you have seen the cover for my first novel. If you haven’t, there’s a link in the right-hand sidebar where you can see the cover. And, while you’re there, buy the book, why don’t you? And, if you have (it’s been selling at a walk here lately), why haven’t you left a review. Was it that terrible?

That cover was mainly blue and featured a background of linked hexagons, representing the benzine rings of a testosterone molecule, and an iconic image of Dolly shooting her service pistol on the run. (And, as has been noted in other articles on cover design, this is a sell, and not documentation, Dolly’s hair is not shoulder-length and in a ponytail in the story, though she is wearing a cheongsam in a couple of scenes. That the book has sold (at all) amid the noise and the Tsunami of Carp that is Amazon’s e-book sales tells me that the cover typography is not utterly shitful, so, until somebody manages to gen up an absolute formula for same, I think mine is a worthwhile example.

First, fonts: I use two. A commenter was fooled early on about the faces on The High T Shebang, but there are only two: Clarendon and Nuptial Script. I have used two weights and two widths — Heavy and Medium Condensed of the Clarendon. The Nuptial only comes one way, but I have fattened it a bit with strokes the same color as the face. I have been tempted from time to time to play with a variety of faces in the same design, but have almost always ended up with a cleaner, easier-to-read design trusting to variations among a single face or family of faces, rather that entirely other faces.

Second: type elements. There are two, basically, the title and the author’s name. Other elements may be present, but they are nowhere near as important and are to be de-emphasized, if not deprecated entirely. In my case, these are: the slug line which tells this is a book in a series and which it is — this is important in genre fiction, but as I say, not to be emphasized; and the publisher’s colophon (on the left margin midway up). In my case, the main type elements are given more-or-less equal weight. The author’s name is set in a single line in a color which stands out in a condensed face, but almost two inches tall when printed. Having stared at it on the Amazon pages for hours on end over the last two years, I can tell you with some authority that the author’s name is recognizable, readable at small size and low resolution, and, by its presence on this cover alone, should be a household word real soon now.

The title is a bit trickier. It starts out with “The”, which is a nearly invisible word — like “said” — and doesn’t need any emphasis but the spare breath of its being said. The second word is the key word of the novel. In the case of the first, The High T Shebang, the High T referred to a state of High Testosterone, which the lead characters were poisoned with, and which made for the central plot point of the story. This second one, the main character’s creation — or Genesis — as an artificial person, brought to life by the Goddess Aphrodite as the culmination of a millennia-long effort. In both cases — and, as I intend, in all future cases in this series — the third word — a noun — is selected from the list of translations from the Greek Upothesa, which is the name by which its members refer to the secret syndicate of Men and Gods to which the main (and indeed, most) characters belong. In this case, the U noun is Undertaking. The novel does not encompass the entirety of the Genesis Undertaking of Aphrodite’s, (that’s left for two additional novels to fill in), but it details the first twelve hours of life of the creature thus created.

I used a single-word slug for the power word in the title — High T on the first and Genesis on the second, set in Clarendon Heavy and placed in the middle of a hexagonal shield, which echoes the hex grid background. I use a goldenrod yellow (approximately a PMS 137) as a color that will stand out on the Amazon page and read against the background.

And the U noun — Undertaking — is set in Nuptial, in the same goldenrod, with a 1-pixel outline in the same color. All type in this new cover has a black drop shadow approximately 10 pixels down and to the right to enhance contrast with the background.

As has been noted elsewhere, The Chronicles are fantasy — contemporary or urban fantasy — and maybe paranormal romance, so the cover art practically requires an illustration and most effectively a “realistic” image of a human figure, illustrative of the kind of story it is — but not necessarily a scene from the book. The use of an iconic silhouette on The High T Shebang was an error I hope some day to correct, but I felt that drawing a suitable image was beyond my ability-time resources and I couldn’t find stock imagery that suited me, so I fell back on what I could find-slash-make work. On The Genesis Undertaking, I feel like I have a little more room to stretch out and have suitable stock-type images available, so I have a couple of options, one a scene from early on in the book emphasizing the fantastic myth nature of the story and the second, a bit of a spoiler, which portrays a scene from later on in the book which emphasizes the action/adventure aspect of things. More on that later, as I work the concept and have results to show.

But, whichever way I go, you can see that I have left a space below the title where a picture can be montaged or vignetted in.

I did the design in GIMP. The original cover was lain out in a combination of CorelDRAW and Photoshop. But, since I no longer have Photoshop available to me on my home machine and no longer have a work machine, I have had to adapt the .psd file in GIMP. The layering should be somewhat obvious. What is not, perhaps, is that I grew frustrated with the difficulty of setting and scaling type within GIMP, so I took the design as far as I could — layered in GIMP’s native .xcf format then exported a flattened version to .png, which I imported into Inkscape, where the vector capabilities made it easier for me to, first, set and scale type and set fill and outline strokes, and, Second generate a drop shadow (which I did by the expedient of duplicating the type to be shadowed and coloring it black before offsetting it manually right and down by 10 pixels. Then I re-exported to .png for the final image you see above and at right.

Still left to be done, are, of course, the illustration(s) for the front cover, images for the spine and back cover of a trade paper binding Ebacks don’t need back covers or spines, so I’ve never done one. However, I have looked at CreateSpace’s guidelines and see nothing I can’t accomplish there.

When and as those are done, I’ll post what looks newsworthy here.

The Genesis Undertaking

THE GREEK WORD Upothesa translates as meaning, variously, AFFAIR; HYPOTHESIS; ASSUMPTION; BUSINESS; CASE; CONCERN; CAUSE; MATTER; CONJECTURE; PREMISE; PRESUMPTION; SHEBANG; SUPPOSITION; UNDERTAKING. I found it by accident when trying to find the Greek word for business (Epicheirese Anonymos Etairia): (Enterprises, Incorporated).

“Upothesa” is the name applied from 1780-ish onward to the loose syndicate of businessmen and Gods that extends back in history to the late stone age, first in the Balkans, then extending throughout Greece and the Hellenic world, and then globally. It is a core world-building element of my series, the BabyTroll Chronicles.

I have recently (in the last couple of days) finished a final edit on a 15-year-old manuscript of a story now titled The Genesis Undertaking, which relates the events surrounding the first 12 hours of life of the titular character, Baby Troll — Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East — the figurehead of Upothesa, called the Childe of the East.

I have turned the MS over to my Alpha reader. In a short time, I will be seeking Beta readers for the book, which I intend to publish this month (via Draft to Digital, I imagine) in eBack and trade paper.

Watch this space. I will also be expositing the process of developing the cover art.

How Aesthetic Choices are Made

SERENDIPITOUSLY — almost by accident.

Back in the early’70s, when I was about a junior in high school, I was a photo bug. I had saved my pennies from my after-school job cleaning a vet clinic and put Nikkormat FTN camera and a couple of lenses in layaway. It was a dream camera. It took advantage of the truly superior Nikkor optics and Nikon’s Spotmatic metering to come as close to a perfect autoexposure as you could get at the time.

I shot Kodak Tri-X Pan film — a black-and-white 35mm movie film (though the emulsion was available in other formats), rated at ASA 400 (iso 400). I developed my own negatives and “pushed” the film two F-stops to ASA 1600 in development, using a developer called Diafine, along with Kodak’s house brand stop bath and fix. (Sodium Hyposulfate used to “fix” the silver salts in a grain-based “continuous tone” grayscale image. Diafine was magic to us amateurs, because it would develop a Tri-X negative (as well as Ilford, Agfa, or Fuji black-and-white negative films) perfectly, without regard to the speed it was shot at. Never did figure out how it knew. Magic. I truly hope it made its inventor rich.

I was a nerd before the term was invented — I think. I geeked out over photography: I lusted after the next better camera than mine (the legendary Nikon F), more lenses, a perfect darkroom, the Cadillac of enlargers, hard rubber print developing trays, calibrated glass-bulb mercury darkroom thermometers, print dryers, and so-forth. I spent all my pocket money on film and chemicals. I raged to make beautiful photographs. I “specialized” in candid shots of my schoolmates and focused on the pretty girls. I made some truly gorgeous shots — mostly by luck, because I didn’t understand as an artist at a gut level what it was I was doing. That didn’t happen for a very long time.

What I did get fairly good at was snap-shooting — seeing an image in scene and capturing the moment. I could even do it without really thinking. I practiced it as a method for getting candids without spooking my subjects. (For some reason people don’t like having their pictures taken and can get pretty shirty when you try.)

I would lock the mirror up The mirror was part of the through-the-lens magic of the single-lens reflex camera, but, in Nikon cameras, it was like a machine gun. The mirror, in concert with motor driven film magazines is the noise you get in the barrage of a gaggle of Japanese tourists or paparazi looking for the latest upskirt oops of the flavor of the week. A good candid photographer wants to be invisible. So you locked the mirror up. Otherwise, it flopped up, out of the way, in synch with the shutter, temporarily blinding the viewport, so locking it up eliminated the vibration and made it so you couldn’t (didn’t have to) look through the lens at the moment the shot was taken. Thus, the shooter would have to exercise a little Zen discipline and know where the lens was pointed through kinesthetic sense and Kentucky windage.

Then I’d stop the lens down all the way — F16 or F22, making the aperture as small as possible, and set the focus ring on Infinity. The last two adjustments were calculated to bring maximum depth of field to the image, keeping the most possible objects at all distances in focus. You would have made several general scene readings for light and to arrive at a good shutter speed for the environment (generally a 125th of a second would capture enough light to give a clean, contrasty image while being fast enough to freeze most motion). You’d hold the camera in close to your body to brace it and keep it from moving as best you could, and aim the camera by looking out over the barrel of the lens at your scene and trip the shutter or use the timer, which was a lever on the front of the camera and delayed the shutter for 15 seconds. You couldn’t do fine composition this way — you’d have to do that in the printing process in the darkroom. But you’d gather the most imagery you could.

I still do that with digital cameras. Cell phone cameras don’t react fast enough to the controls. And the mini-SLR’s (like the Coolpix L) rely too much on autofocus. (Shooting with autofocus through a car windshield can be an exercise in frustration for a perfectionist — the wrong thing is always out of focus.)

But we’re here about aesthetic choices. Around that time, my step-paternal grandfather moved out from Norwood (home of the GM Assembly Division) to the burbs, where he tended a largish lot (which is still in the family), including a thriving vegetable patch.

One summer, he broke down his roto-tiller to rebuild the engine or some-such. On one family visit to the country, the tiller’s engine was sitting on a sheet of cardboard in the driveway. This was a machine that was, perhaps, thirty years old or older and looked every day of it. It had what Og calls witness marks to beat the band. There was rust and other corrosion (of other metals), flaked and abraded paint, stains from gas and oil ground into the surface of it. The different metals and forming methods — cast, ground, milled, torch cut, etc — made for incredibly complex and beautiful patterns of texture.

I shot about a half-roll of film of the thing and, a week or two later, had some — as I say — gorgeous prints (done on matte paper, if memory serves), one or two as large as 11 x 14, which was a freakin’ poster to me back then. I showed them to my mom, who remarked that she thought I had an eye for industrial photography. It was tantamount to a throwaway line. But it encouraged me. And I ran with it. I started shooting a different aesthetic. Instead of looking for sleek, conventional beauty, I started appreciating textures of corrosion and decay, and various materials, and playing more with light than surfaces — looking for depth and space.

I stopped carrying a Coolpix around a couple of years ago, but I have a Coolpix L310 that I might start taking to work with me, to see what I get different with from my cell phone camera.


I Think About Time A Lot

THOUGH YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT from what I write. I could never write a time travel story, though, because I have too hard a time with the possibility.

In order to accept time travel, one must accept one or the other possible models of time — one as a continuum — without discrete ticks of the cosmic clock. Or of time as a series of discrete, quantum events, with ticks of the cosmic clock analogous in time to a Euclidean point in space — defining a discrete and unique locus with no dimension.

If time is a continuum, you could never land anywhen for certain, because there never is a discrete quantum moment which can be defined as any when, which would require a certain conservation of events. Every branching of events — every time a particle goes one direction rather than another, a new universe is created in which that probability eventuated. Things get too messy and probabilities end up merging when they’re too close to each other, which sort of obviates the quantum nature of things.

The notion of the conservation of events is, to the best of my knowledge, original to me. It means that the probability of any given event or sequence of events is directly proportional to the number of individual beings or objects (in the case of objects, to their mass and in the case of beings to the influence they have on still other beings) affected by the event. And that, with events above a certain moment — probability weighting — the number of subsidiary events which must be altered or prevented grows ever larger, the greater the probability. In other words, it does no good to go back and kill Hitler in order to prevent the Holocaust or World War II — some other figure will rise to take his place. But you may be able to save the life of his loyal Alsatian shepherd dog from death in the bunker in April 1945, if you can find just the right combination of events to tip the odds in her favor — killing any number of historical figures won’t do it.

This combination also works “sideways,” as you may call it — for the creation and meeting of parallel worlds or universes. Of course, there are an infinite number of possible branchings for any given either-or choice, all the way from the subatomic level up to the movement of civilizations or people’s lives. But each branching of a quark’s path does not create or fail to create a whole civilization or that civilization’s end in a war. Branchings between what might be considered discrete world lines are usually caused by historic cusps — whether this king or that one is the one whose kingdom is the first to develop agriculture, animal husbandry, the domestication of cats, the brewing of beer, with all the civilizational changes that follow in train with those choices. Like that public TV series, Connections. And world lines with similar sequences of probability branchings made will tend to cluster around the moment of those probabilities, conserving events of greater moment across world lines and possibly several lines at once. So there will be several lines in which the Irish discovered America, but the Vikings were the first to plant settlers there among the Indians, while the Spanish were the first successful colonists. In others, it will be the Dutch, the Italians, the Portuguese and the English, in still others, the Chinese — coming from the West — colonize the Americas long before the Irish set out westward in their coracles. The variations among these, such as are found in alternate history fiction cause similar world branchings, but tend to cluster around key events of greater relative moment.

This is the model I use in building the world of the Baby Troll Chronicles. I would love to hear from y’all with your thoughts on the matter.

Just Want to Make Sure Y’all

KNOW THIS: I’M BLOGGING AGAIN. Well, I intend to. So, if you’ve fallen out of the habit of checking in here, because I haven’t been posting a lot for … a long time, you can fall back in.

Or add this blog’s feed to those you follow, with some assurance that there will be frequent, albeit maybe not terribly regular, content to read.

Oddly Enough, I Write Long

IT’S VERY HARD, IF NOT impossible for me to write short. Which is why I type myself as a novelist — a specialist in a long form. In fact, a longer form — an epic series, which is what the Baby Troll Chronicles are.

When I first set out to blog, I thought to establish two weblog sites — one, called BabyTrollBlog, which was to be the working journal of my writing on the Chronicles, and a second, called A Jaundiced Eye, which was to contain my rantings about politics.

In the decade-and-a-half since, my online presence has morphed — as has not everyone’s? — into Pinterest boards, Facebook posts and comments, and … not very much blogging.

But the desire, the need for the outlet has not diminished. Instead, what has taken place is ALL of my writing has suffered (to the point where none of the Dolly stories have moved very forward), and what I do write daily is distilled down to bilious spews on Facebook.

But my inability to write short has stifled me further. I never finish a thought, let alone edit one into coherence. Like tonight. I want to go to bed. I’m dog tired and sore and need to get moving in the morning. It will take me hours to get down the spare notions that have popped into my mind in recent hours. And, yet, I know I will not have the time to make them so. I need to change. Maybe disciplining myself to write it down, cut it short as time allows — or demands — is the answer. And, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly. Maybe I might along the way down learn to express complex thoughts with greater brevity.

Maybe I can hope to post her more frequently, given the resolve to write something — anything — every day, without regard to subject matter. Maybe it will get easier for me to write short.