Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Millions : Paucity of Art in the Age of Big Data: A Dispatch from San Francisco

The Millions : Paucity of Art in the Age of Big Data: A Dispatch from San Francisco

This is a very interesting essay on the need for more digital tech in novels, the novel as a social data driven artifact, and the question of the big novel in modern times. Important to think about for anyone who cares about fiction and where it's going in this modern age.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

POC and Where Things Stand...


Roxane Gay
There's a lot to note here in this rather short post by Roxane Gay. POCs are people of color. The graph she offers says it all, although it isn't a "scientfic" study. That said, I respect Roxane Gay immensely and think she's a very good analyst of real life in the book world, and a straight shooter to boot.

Here's the main take away: nearly 90% of the books reviewed in the NYTimes are written by so-called Caucasians.

What I find interesting is not that this may be evidence of how few books are published by POCs; rather, what's interesting is what these numbers say about books the NYTimes feels are important. As Ms. Gay writes in her Rumpus piece: "...if you are a writer of color, not only do you face a steeper climb getting your book published, you face an even more arduous journey if you want that book to receive critical attention."

I personally don't really care how many books are published by people of color. There are plenty of

Friday, June 14, 2013

Thank You, Apple, for Going to Court Over E-Books | Talking Writing

Go to the online magazine, Talking Writing, to see my latest essay (co-written with TW Editor-in-Chief Martha Nichols). It's not just a re-hash of the pricing fixing case going on in NYC. We offer important insights for writers and readers everywhere about what this decision can mean for the future of books in America...

Thank You, Apple, for Going to Court Over E-Books | Talking Writing

Lead-in excerpt:

"E-book “price-fixing” has a scurrilous ring, as if a bunch of shadowy hoods in business suits have been deciding the fates of humble readers. But in April 2012, that’s exactly what the U.S. Department of Justice accused five of the six big publishers and Apple of doing with e-book prices.

To date, all the publishers—Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster—have settled with the DOJ. (The “Big Six” of corporate publishing are now down to five; Random House is merging with Penguin.)

But when the publishers started settling last year, some with undue haste, an important opportunity was lost. We need a public discussion of the economics..." 

Go here for the full piece.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Vanessa Veselka and the Female Road Narrative

Vanessa Veselka (Click on her name)

Read the excellent essay called GREEN SCREEN: THE LACK OF FEMALE ROAD NARRATIVES AND WHY IT MATTERS by Vanessa Veselka. It's quite thought-provoking. See my comments at the end of the essay along with others. There's a lot of food for thought here for anyone concerned about women's issues, our broader culture, and the frontiers of fiction that await those who have the desire to expand our national narrative.

An excerpt of my comments:

"In the end, we are all lost souls on the road to nowhere. You can't write about that unless you are willing to embrace that. At least that's how I see everything from The Hobbit to Cormac McCarthy's The Road -- Huck, Ulysses, Ishmael, Ahab, Leopold Bloom, Japhy Ryder, Holden Caulfield on the run, etc. etc."


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Screwpulp .:. Free Books

Screwpulp .:. Free Books

While the corporate houses mess around about pricing, there are entrepreneurs doing quite innovative things with ebook and indie distribution. You can get dozens of books for FREE or practically nothing, all just in exchange for a little help promoting through your social networking system. This site should be #1 on every "How to Show Some Love to Your Neighborhood Writer" list. Check it out.

Get Your eBook Single Included in Thin Reads' Database - BookBaby Blog

Get Your eBook Single Included in Thin Reads' Database - BookBaby Blog

There's no doubt this is an interesting resource for writers, but I hope readers are paying attention to this opportunity too. Long reads are worth the effort and investment.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Watching Colin Kaepernick Will Be Special

It's a small thing to most people, but for those of us mixed-race adopted folks, tonight will be special. Colin Kaepernick is playing in the Super Bowl. 

I've written about what it feels like to grow up mixed-race and to be adopted. You'll find lots of posts here at The Formality of Occurrence. There is a sense of being completely alone in the world and wanting recognition that lies under even the deepest love and support from your family.

Tonight, Colin represents all of us. When he's older and he has his own kids, he'll think back to what he did tonight and understand that little tiny thing that was in his mind trying to be acknowledged. You feel oddly disconnected to the world when you stand on a stage. But you also know quite well how to connect and express your love of life because that's what gets those of us who are adopted and hard-to-define through life. It's also what makes us special. Everyone's special, of course, but that's our special.

I am spurred to write this because I just saw Colin interviewed on the pre-game show. That very real and true sense of being lucky and being blessed by ones adoption is the greatest and most cherished feeling all of us like him can feel. His success in life comes from great parenting and great older siblings. Love is an amazing thing. 

Congratulations for getting this far, Bro. Hope you make it all the way...





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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Super Powers and Magic? The League of New Indie Writers

Super Woman
Super Woman (Photo credit: anitasarkeesian)
I'm amazed at how many unbelievably talented writers there are in this world toiling away in every nook and cranny imaginable. Peeps in my raggedy-ass tribe of indie authors and bloggers live and work in India, Africa, Canada, South America, Great Britain, Australia, etc. as well as the U.S.

There are thousands of astounding writers so easily discoverable all over the Internet now. It's like there used to be this small group of successful Super Men and Super Women or maybe it was a special guild of wizards, witches, warlocks, and magicians, I don't know. They were special and easy to spot. Their books congregated in stores that we shopped at. They wore lots of black, more often than not they had dark circles under their eyes, drank coffee when the sun was up and wine or whiskey when it was down...and smoked in secret. 

But now we discover there's so many more of them. SO MANY. Imagine a comic book world where there's a superman on every block and superwoman in every coffee house and diner. Or what about a world where you go to the train station or the airport and every sixth person is a language wizard buzzing around in a lotus position on their laptop? That's where we are now. The question is, what exactly are these writers using their superpowers or their magic for?

I try to read stuff by all of these people as I move through the Internet because you only learn how to be a better writer by reading other writers. That's actually a hazard in the book world. It's hard to turn off the "writer as student" frame of mind when checking out stories and blog posts. I do my best. I know other writers are the same way. 

Last week I read a post by an indie author I respect immensely who advocated for less blogging and more focus on story writing. I share that sentiment to a certain extent, however, I watch the world on TV, listen to the radio, and walk around my neighborhood every day. There's a lot wrong with how things are being done. Take for instance last week's bizarre scene in our country's capital with the House Speaker scuttling a bill to provide support to New York and New Jersey, so utterly decimated by Super Storm Sandy...or the slayings of innocent children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.

Good writing is a gift, in my opinion. Most people just don't got it for whatever reason. But some do. In fact, that's what is going on here with this whole League of New Indie Writers. All the unnoticed and misfit scribes in the world are now stepping out and kicking up their heels offering the world everything from Fifty Shades of Grey to Siren Suicides and The Homeless Killer. Some are finding astounding success with their novels and short stories. Others are still building their new careers. Many of us may never make much with our words, but we keep on keeping on because it's who we are. 

In so many cases, though, these new great writers stick steadfast to fiction and social networking about fiction and book sales. Many of their blog posts and freelance articles are about the writing life or bullet lists for marketing success as an Indie. Some absolutely fabulous writers can be found in the book review quadrant of the Internet. So many talented writers blog about marketing and social networking and sales it's truly a wonder more of us aren't successful yet. 

What I'd like to see is more writers using their superpowers and their magic on social issues and stuff in the real world that's close to their hearts. It doesn't have to be political. You can write on your personal pain about watching friends go through a divorce, or the insanity of trying to pay for college when you have three kids, or how angry it makes you that women in other parts of the world are treated as second class citizens. 

Look at some of the traditionally published writers you love. Most of them publish personal essays and do the occasional op-ed on issues that are important to them. Sometimes they get into pissing matches too, and that's always fun to watch at places like The New York Review of Books or Huffington or Salon.

My point here is just to suggest that all these good writers should push the envelope with their talents. If you have a platform website already, what the hell? You don't need to be in The Atlantic or New Yorker to put your words out there. Use your powers not just to sell yourself, but send some of those superpower incantations you wield out into the world with strong and vivid messaging. Provoke the hell out of readers. Use your art to push the boundaries of social discourse every once in a while. Surprise yourself. Surprise your friends and colleagues. Give the world more vision and possibility.

George Saunders
George Saunders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We read last weekend in the New York Times Magazine, a wonderful essay by Joel Lovell called "George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You'll Read This Year." The last line of the essay quotes the end of a magazine article Saunders wrote for GQ: "Don't be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen."

That's the secret to your superpowers and magic. And that's why it seems to me there's a lot of work for us all to do still. ...world without end...

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Friday, December 14, 2012

When Things Fall Apart: The Confusion That Susan Rice Symbolizes

Source: The McCain Train, Phoenix New Times
Whenever our national politicians get seriously odd, you have to wonder if they know what they’re really saying. Attacks on Susan Rice, particularly by John McCain (who I’ve always felt was a decent and intelligent man with a balanced sense of decorum), over the past several months are a case in point. The general argument, somehow, was that she is either incompetent or a liar in the role she played communicating what happened in the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Things became seriously heated when a post-election Obama team began to bandy her name about as a successor to Hillary Clinton as Secretary State. On the face of it, this could just be a simple case of skewering the President at a time when there is a sense that he won a mandate from the people. Rice is a good friend of Obama’s and is certainly close to Oval Office personnel. For a party that lost a historical election and is now expected to back down on the bizarre tax structure gang-plank they let a non-elected ideologue build for them, sticking it to the President in any way possible might just take him off his game (it’s worth a try anyway, right?). At the very least, forcing him to deal with something somewhat personal creates one more wedge to work with in negotiating the country away from the so-called fiscal cliff. Some folks also point to the politics of McCain's cohorts: Lindsay Graham is up for re-election soon and newbie Kelly Ayotte needed an issue she could sink her teeth into.

But poking at Susan Rice’s eyes and impugning this Rhodes Scholar, Stanford Phi Beta Kappa graduate’s intelligence really does seem over the top and just strange. Especially in light of the fact that McCain was someone who nominated Condoleezza Rice to the same post in a Bush Administration that will go down in history as either truly inept or outright despicable for conjuring up “evidence” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — with Rice playing a key communications role as National Security Advisor.

By now, you know all of this. You should probably feel as well that the way the Administration handled this disaster was pretty wishy-washy. It’s interesting that Hillary Clinton kept herself out of the mix. And if you read Fact Checker’s breakdown of “he said, she said,” there’s no question that Obama’s team really screwed up here, but that John McCain et al continue to willfully twist the truth, and have no case to stand on. As Fact Checker concludes: “Susan Rice essentially mouthed the words that were given to her.” As my dad would say, "Weird!"

The politics of this whole kerfuffle (and that’s really all it is) are probably muddied by a lot of stuff the media has only partially reported. Rice is a somewhat polarizing figure and has, as they say, demonstrated “sharp elbows” during her career. She has ticked off people on both sides of the aisle. There are also reports that Secretary Clinton did not support her nomination. At the same time, Presidents get their way with who they nominate to head the State Department.

So what gives? Is this just a simple case of beating up yet another smart African American who would be nominated to one of the highest offices in the land? Was Susan Rice getting the same treatment that Elizabeth Warren got — another whip-smart, fearless, “in your face” charismatic woman — when she was under consideration to oversee a consumer financial watchdog institution that would finally reign in Wall Street excess? The obvious subset of these two categories goes without saying. A liberal black woman may well be some people’s biggest nightmare.

But I don’t think any of this is even that rational (and it is rational if you try to think like one of the good ole boys). Nope. There’s more going on here.

Recall that the Democrats took a huge step this year, particularly our President, by coming out foursquare in support of same sex marriage. And then they won the election. Every major national poll shows that the country as a whole is trending markedly towards acceptance of gay marriage.

Worse, perhaps, we saw the de-criminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado. It’s only a matter of time before the cards fall nationally on this issue. Along with the morality of legalization for users, the revenue and justice system logic is just too strong. But marijuana is not like alcohol. Cannibinoids are psycho-active chemicals that typically alter people’s minds in very interesting ways. Grass ain’t acid or peyote, but it tends to raise a user's mind about things like authority, the beauty of nature, and the pleasures of the senses. This may sound stupid, but marijuana truly is a big threat to the American Way of Life (of course, to some of us who love this country dearly, that’s a good thing).

There’s more too. As the election approached, Hurricane Sandy smote waterfront neighborhoods in New Jersey and New York. Both sides had shamefully stayed away from talk of climate change, but Mother Nature herself reminded everyone with half a brain about what’s real and what ain’t. It was the biggest nail in the coffin that global warming deniers are making for themselves.

So when you add all of this up, plus the re-election of a young, princely, intelligent, handsome, vibrant bi-racial leader unafraid to speak his mind, well, how over-the-top does that make certain people in this country? Recall as well, that Republicans had more money at their disposal and that one of the key propaganda techniques they used was distorting the truth (Susan Rice’s situation is just a carryover).

I’m still quite perplexed that John McCain is at the center of this babbling lunacy. He’s made a fool out of himself and given voters even more reason not to want to elect Republicans in the next election. He’s also very likely really pissed off the President, not to mention the Ambassador to the United Nations. Why would you do that if you weren’t just freaked out of your mind at how this country is changing and how it’s not going your way?

To close, just let me predict that this type of behavior will continue from Republicans over the next few years. One of the things about people who feel that morality is more important than reason (and that is the distinction here folks) is that when their backs are against the wall, they lose their common sense. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all dealt with that guy who yells louder than anyone else at a meeting because folks disagree with him. Or the parent at the soccer game who runs out onto the field threatening the ref? Or how about all those bullies we all had to deal with in junior high? That stuff doesn’t go away when you become a politician, you just get better at grabbing power so that you don’t have to use it.

So watch what happens over the next few weeks as we all approach that fiscal cliff. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it. Things are going to get very interesting. And we’re all going to forget about McCain’s lunatic month of truth or dare, because someone else is going to step up to the microphones. No telling who it will be or what they will do, but I assure you, it will sell papers and keep you glued to the news for at least 5 days until Sunday's NFL games.

God bless the United States of America…and God bless Susan Rice and her sharp elbows, too. God bless us one and all.

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Monday, October 08, 2012

One Trippy Book Trailer Coming Right Up: Beyond the Will of God





Just in time for the fall reading season (and thinking about holiday presents for the hard to shop for), I'm proud to present this video book trailer for my novel Beyond the Will of God. I'm especially happy with this creation because of the music. I've written about Global Illage in the past here, but I love the drum work done by here by my good friend Jim Hamilton and the atmospherics of his bandmates, Tim Motzer, Dan Sears, and Chris Cuzme. Without a doubt, once you read my novel, you'll understand when I say this is transcendant music of the first order. We are a nation built on freedom and improvisation. Don't ever forget that. 






Tuesday, October 02, 2012

African Violets: A Story Excerpt


Below you will find the first few pages of a story featured in my new collection Implosions of America: Nine Stories, due out this fall. 

African Violets

One of our kids started Claudie out with an African violet about a year ago. She put it on our kitchen window sill above the sink. Right around then I started thinking about the fact that I seemed to be on the way out of our marriage. It wasn’t Claudie, it was me.  
After a month in our kitchen, the plant was almost dead. I found her at 5:30 one morning standing at the sink crying.
“We’re going to kill every plant that enters our house,” she said softly. “What does that say about us?”
Claudie cries quietly when she’s mad at herself. I know enough to keep my mouth shut when she’s crying quietly.
“Look at this thing,” she continued between sniffs. “I love its furry leaves. Even now.”
She was still taking deep breaths, but seemed to be on the downside of her pain.
I peered at the plant and sure enough, its wilted leaves had a graying mat of fuzz on them. I thought they looked like my tongue felt sometimes when I’d been drinking too much at night and sneaking smokes out back of the office near the parking lot with some of the secretaries and maintenance crew.
“I went to the library and found a book on houseplants,” she continued. “Did you know the botanical name for African violets is Saintpaulia ionanantha? Can you believe that? Saint Paul. And there are dozens of different hybrids with names like Whispering Hope, Little Dancer, Baby Sunshine, and Ravishing Ruth. I looked at photos of some of them. Their blossoms are so beautiful, and they’re not just purply. There are blue and white flowers, fire red and sunset pink.”
She seemed like she wanted to cry again, sniffing some unknown sweet liquid sadness through her nostrils every few minutes. “I really wanted to see what kind of blossom ours produces. But look at it.” She stopped and we both looked at the little plant, a shriveled fist of hairy, dying leaves that seemed like they would fall into the garbage disposal if you touched them.
I held my wife in my arms and wondered who would grow to hate me for leaving her. She told me that besides beautiful tiny flowers, healthy African violets had thick emerald leaves that glowed in the sunlight, and some of the leaves could also turn blood purple like the palm of a newborn.
We eventually decided that she should talk to people at our neighborhood garden club. It’s well-known in the region. Every several years at least one of the members wins an award in the Mid-Atlantic Flower Show. We read about them in our neighborhood newspaper. 
Claudie imagined that most of the members would have an air of preferred knowledge about them. We’re both scientists. Claudie is a pharmacist and I am a laboratory technology researcher at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. It is part of the scientist’s job to pass knowledge on to people. Scientists are only stuck up about statistical truth, not their opinions.
“I’m going to go to a meeting,” she finally said. “But I’m just going to get information. Those people are probably no different than wine connoisseurs or the Dayton’s.” The Dayton’s are a couple we know who are on the board of directors at the Melton Art Gallery. They have a son at Oberlin and a daughter at Princeton. People who consider themselves experts are despicable if they make you worry about whether you should have an opinion about something like a glass of wine or a watercolor.

We were married just after college but waited another ten years to start having kids. The first two arrived in our mid-thirties. Jake, the youngest, was not planned and showed up when I was forty-three. I think I had been falling away from Claudie since Jake started Kindergarten and Neddy was heading off to college with Tyler already on the run with his friends and lost to teendom.
I watched younger women on the street, at work, in restaurants, in stores, admiring as much as wanting them, attracted by their aesthetics and the promise of -- what? I don’t know. Perhaps only the promise of my imagination. Breasts you imagine have still not yielded to long-term physics. Asses shaped like half a small planet rather than rolling up flat the curve somehow lost to age, hidden beneath draped skirts, long sweat shirts, and looser jeans.

     There was one person in particular with an uncommonly deep voice. She rode her bike to work most of the time and showered in the bathroom off the employee wellness center. Her name was Angeline. At a Christmas party several years back she joked...

<snip>

Read the rest of this story when it's released in November. Sign up for emails from this website near the top of the page.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fourth-Wall Friday: Support Your Local Blogger

I've written about book bloggers in the past. I recently had an op-ed piece published at TalkingWriting.com that brought bloggers up as the solution to fake and paid reviews on Amazon. You can read that piece, "Can You Trust Online Reviews?" here. It's a prelude to the column I will be writing for TalkingWriting.com called "Talking Indie." Watch for the column's first entry in November. 

Today, though, I wanted to point folks towards one of the more creative and exuberant book blogger sites you'll ever find, CabinGoddess.com. Kristine Morton, aka Cabin Goddess, is truly remarkable. You need to bookmark her site and read her reviews. Also, her bacon porn references are downright oral. 

Kriss just posted a little conversation I had with Janie Hawthorn (who happens to appear in the title story of my new, soon to be released collection, Implosions of America) in the middle of the country about the meaning of Beyond the Will of God (which she is also a character in, a dark, but silly character). Kriss has a whacky feature she does called Fourth-Wall Fridays where authors submit creative guest posts that she then gussies up into a wonderful page that's fun to visit often. This week she gave me her attention. Check it out here, "The Body Era" and then go peruse some of Kriss's other pages. She's amazingly off-beat and kooky. You gotta love her!

Make sure to wander around TalkingWriting, too, when you go there (use my link, above). I know you don't have a lot of time. But I also know there's really cool stuff online if you just give it 15 minutes. 

All the best to y'alls.

-dcb

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Implosions of America: A Cover Story

This is a draft of the cover for Implosions of America prepared for a review copy I'm sending out to short story bloggers for the title story. I will continue working on this for another 10-days or so, then move to press -- both digital and paperback to proof the whole book. I know what I want by way of a cover photo. I've written the photographer to ask his permission. He does great work. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Here's the list of story titles. 

Drink, Smoke, Search

Choices

So Beautiful

Implosions of America

African Violets

A Civil Marriage

Everyone Always Wants to Do the Cooking

The Exact Black of Night

Stripers



Thursday, September 13, 2012

Implosions of America: A Sample Short Story

Read "Stripers" from Implosions in America
The story "CHOICES" was posted here from September 14 - 17. It is from the collection Implosions of America: Lessons in Love, Loss, and Confusion. You can read the first third of it at the Work in Progress page on my main website, davidbiddle.net

"Choices" is one of several stories in the collection, Implosions of America, that addresses love, romance, and marriage in a non-genre fashion. Romance novels are usually about how people fall in love. But they should also be about how people stay in love, and how they lose that love, how sad they become, but also how much they want love to work. Is there anything more important in life than keeping love going? And what is it that lets some of us continue to love even after our partnerships break down and our hearts break apart?

There's a lot more to Implosions of America than mature love. Stay tuned. You will be able to buy the book in digital or paper form soon enough.

-dcb




Monday, September 10, 2012

On Beauty, Genius, and Paying Attention: Tim Williams Got Me Through So Much

"Morning of the Magicians"
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shitao/3197160727/in/set-72157625031441773
From about 1993 through 2000 I worked as best I could on my first novel. I am deeply indebted to nearly 20 friends and colleagues who read various drafts over that period.

From 2000 through 2005 I tried to get agents and publishers to pay attention to my insane story -- best described as a psychedelic mystery about music and consciousness. I came close a couple times, but no one took me on. After over 100 rejection letters and cards I packed it in and tried to focus on my day job (environmental consulting). I wrote my friend Paula Silici, "That's it. I'm done. No more writing. What a waste of time. How could I have done that to myself?"

I went on with my life. My mom died in 2007. My oldest son graduated from college in 2010, the same year my second oldest son was a first round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school.  And Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad and the iBook Store which became true competition for Amazon's Kindle system. The other thing that happened in 2010 was that my youngest son was old enough to tell me what he thought of me, which amounts to, "Dad, I thought you were a writer. Why'd you quit?"

"Missouri River Above Easely"
By Thanksgiving of 2010 my wife and I began to research the whole indie author scene, and by June of 2011 I was back at work, ever so gently, on my novel. I knew it needed some modernizing. I also wanted to see what would turn up if I Googled places like Rocheport and Easely, Missouri near where my novel takes place. I wasn't feeling inspired. I was really just going through the motions, looking, inquiring, diving as deep as I could in search of something...I didn't know...just something to pull me in again where that thing they call MoJo is. I was looking for the keys. I needed to start the engine up again. 

That's when I stumbled upon Tim Williams' artwork -- on Flickr of all places. The first piece I found was called "Yahweh's Bluffs in Rocheport Missouri." The next was called "Missouri River Above Easely." These paintings of Missouri completely flipped me out. I recall a Sunday afternoon just randomly looking at the sets that the artist had posted. I had no idea who he was. And at that time I wasn't really very mindful of pursuing the brilliant talent behind the art. I didn't even pay attention to the fact that The Artist Tim Williams went by the name of Shitao (which is such a great Buddhist name!). 

"An Almost made Up Poem (Self-portrait)"
Nope. I didn't pay attention to much, except that this work had illuminated the MoJo machine I'd lost inside myself. That art work had somehow been in my mind as I wrote the insane story of The Redhouse Gang where Elvis, Jesse James, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and so many others still lived. I needed to get back to the story I'd given so much of my mind to for so many years. 

And I did. It took another year and a life-changing realization that I had to leave my 30-year career as a consultant on a hook somewhere so that I could fully focus on writing fiction, but I published Beyond the Will of God as an ebook in June of 2012 and then as a paperback (pbook) on July 4th. 

A month later, after a lot of sliding up and down the book marketing learning curve, I had time to reflect on what I'd done. Rather quickly, I recalled the paintings that had started me down that last bit of road I needed to travel to get to where I am today. It sucks being 54. I couldn't remember the artist's name. I couldn't remember the web address for those paintings. I spent a whole day trying to triangulate and Google my way back in time. 

"When night becomes day...the ride of Rhodopis"
Eventually, my hard and essentially random desperate typing paid off. I found the Yahweh Bluff painting again. From there I backed into all of the oils and water colors in Shitao Tim Williams' Flickr photo sets again. And this time (maybe because I am 54 and not 53) I made sure I bookmarked the land I found myself in. I also noted Tim's contact info and started digging. I wanted to track down his email address. It took some guesswork and luck, but I eventually stumbled into his Tumblr account. And then I moved to FaceBook and found him fairly easily. 

Tim lived just outside of Columbia where the novel takes place. He was a devout Buddhist and highly respected. His artwork was part of several online music and poetry videos. I read up and down his FaceBook wall. I wanted to leave him a message and tell him how important his work was to me. It was so important. It changed my life. 

So I read up and down Tim's wall. We were alike in many ways although he was older than me. His Tumblr art was always accompanied by spare but beautiful poetry he admired. He was focused on Oriental principles a lot in that Tumblr work. I liked that. I never had that kind of discipline. I should have. 

I read up and down, and then I stopped. 

Tim's wife had posted on his wall in the spring that he had died unexpectedly on December 19, 2011. I had just read a Tumblr entry of his from December 18. His birthday was February 26, 1953. Mine is February 26, 1958. I do not know the details of Tim's passing. It hardly matters. He is gone and I never got to tell him what his work meant to me...and what meeting him would mean to me. 

Yahweh's Bluffs in Rocheport Missouri

An unattributed poem was posted at that last Tumblr entry:

Since entering the mountain,
too dried out and emaciated
Frosty cold over the snow
After having a twinkling of revelation
with impassioned eyes
Why then do you want
to come back to the world?


It would have been easy to pay attention on that day that those paintings so inspired me. My feet were lit up by Tim's swirling oily flaming dimension. I would have done well to send a quick note to the artist as I watched my legs and torso catch fire. That's what they were doing. But I wasn't paying attention. I was self-absorbed and rather over-pleased with my new mental state. I thought it was mine -- that mental state. I didn't understand...I do now. 

I also know the importance of paying attention. It's not easy. We slide and glide and twist and turn through images on the screen and the smell of audio smoking in our brains. Paying attention is hard because the object is to look for what matters. But there's so much that doesn't matter. If you're not careful, like me, you forget to pay attention, and you miss what matters. Sometimes that just drifts away and you never remember what might have been. But sometimes, like me, you tumble backwards and get lucky, you pay attention just enough. Only I wasn't quite lucky enough, was I? 

I originally thought of this as one of those tragic lost opportunities that is a hard slap on the back. But we are all trained to forget lost opportunities and hard slaps on the back. Otherwise, life would be nothing but a series of disappointments and regrets. There are always lost opportunities. I still appreciate Tim's work -- and his spirit and what his presence in my life (however ephemeral) taught me about paying attention. But there's something more there, too. The strange connection I fell into when first I saw Yahweh's Bluffs was what all this art stuff is about -- paintings, stories, music, plays, sculpture -- it's all connected when you pay attention and you let your mind do what it wants to do and say what it wants to say. It's why we feel that our best work is coming through us, and why art has the power it does in this world. That's something most people forget. Tim didn't. Now I won't either. Pay attention when your feet light up and the flames start flashing up your legs. Be consumed by the fire. It is you, within, and it is the rest of us too. We are all in this together.

Thank you Tim. You did more than you'll ever know. 

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To see the full set of Shitao's photo images of his paintings, go HERE.

To check out his Tumblr page, go HERE