All Made Equal

In February 2021 my songwriting collaborator (and great friend) CP Butchvarov sent me some mp3 files that he had newly mixed from original recordings going back a lot of years. Among them was a song called “Pastry Blues” that I had completely forgotten about, until I heard it again. “Pastry Blues” is both hilarious and horribly tragic, with a gut-punch final line and an astonishing vocal performance by CP’s one-time musical partner Jo Flagg. It probably dates back to 1979, and I’m not boasting when I rave about it, because I had nothing to do with writing it.

Simply hearing a really good song is sometimes all it takes to kick my songwriting spirit into gear. I get a feeling reminding me that this is so rewarding, and so much fun! I’ve written before in this blog about my songwriting collaboration history with CP, so I won’t get into the weeds on that again.

There was an instrumental among these new mp3 files, and I thought I might try to write lyrics for it. I took the title, altered it slightly, and came up with maybe the most ethereal, wispy set of lines I’ve ever written. There might have been twenty syllables total in this all-but-vacant draft. They matched the music, and I could clearly hear them in my mind. But CP could not figure out how these lines in my head were intended to be sung against this guitar backdrop. There’s one of the major difficulties with long-distance songwriting collaboration.

I dashed off a couple of other proposed lyrics around the same time, and sent them to CP. One was a rant about technology surveillance, a pet topic of mine, obviously a major theme of my novel Wash Away. The song lyrics were heavily influenced by the schizo-cyber noir FX series “Mr. Robot,” in which most of the world’s financial data has been wiped away in a hack gone way haywire.

CP took two sketchy verses of these lyrics, originally called “All Will Be Made New,” and whipped up an arrangement with organ, bass, drum sequence and snaky electric guitar. As always, CP took ample liberties with the words as written. He changed them to fit into a rhythmic pattern, he jerked rhymes from place to place, and he found phrases that he thought were worth repeating. He also had the brilliance to change the word “destroyed” to “deleted.” Occasionally CP’s wholesale cosmetic gutting of my lyrics irritates me, but it’s better when I adopt the attitude that the first set I write is just a starting point.

I wrote four more verses once I understood the pattern of the lines CP had in mind. About half of those ended up in the song as CP developed it.

I believe that CP intended to re-record this song with a live drummer, but it didn’t come about, and he sent me this final mix the other day. He also suggested to me that “you might care to put the song on your website, perhaps with a discussion of how you and I manage to create such masterpieces.” All I can contribute to a discussion like that is what we did, as related above; “how” we manage to do it is, and always has been, a great and ravishing mystery to me.

Listen now: “All Made Equal.” All vocals and instruments by CP Butchvarov. Music by CP Butchvarov. Lyrics by JS Bowers. Copyright 2022, all rights reserved.

All Made Equal

Your own self-image is nothing but crude

Surveillance reveals the digital you

Firm data points replace memory scan

The last generation of unenhanced man

Synthesized music to match your taste

Selling your eyes, your attention, your face

When only machines discern what’s real

Algorithm understands how you feel

Bulletproof code of false review

Upcoming wipe where all’s made new

All made equal, all deleted,

All made equal, all made new

Manipulated pixels will make you feel better

Generated thoughts agree to the letter

Comparing results of a trillion samples

Outlying results negated and canceled

Minutes and hours of stuporous murmurs

Transferred to bits on distributed servers

When only machines reveal what’s real

Algorithm understands how you feel

Bulletproof code of false review

Upcoming wipe where all’s made new

All made equal, all deleted,

All made equal, all made new

Street cams recognize you by your walk

Find your crouch from the sentient flock

Head bowed, phone cupped in your hands

The last generation of unenhanced man

Compliance rejected, objection abandoned

Scatter point plots paired against the random

Throw your body on the gears of the wheel

The algorithm understands how you feel

Bulletproof code of false review

Upcoming wipe where all’s made new

All made equal, all deleted,

All made equal, all made new

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Now available!

Wash Away is now available in Kindle and paperback on amazon.com.

Wash Away is a science fantasy satire about chemistry, music, climate change, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, surveillance, corporate ethics, and entrancement — as well as mermaids and robots.

I’m grateful to all my beta readers and writing groups for advice, guidance, and support!

Later this month I will be running a free Kindle promotion. If you’d like to be part of the launch team and get a free Kindle copy, please sign up here and I’ll send you the details.

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Bobbie Falin

For my last post of 2021, I’m happy to publish an interview with Bobbie Falin. Bobbie is a science fiction/fantasy writer in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She’s also my long-time friend and writing group partner. I’ve read her upcoming novel, Flashing Dark, and it’s terrific. Thank you very much to Bobbie for this interview.

– Bobbie, you and I were in a writers’ group together in Kentucky.  Would you please tell us what this group has meant to you, and how is everybody doing?

First off, we all miss you very much, and I hope your new group appreciates what you bring to them. Your input was invaluable to us. Everyone in SKY Writers is doing well. Gerry Harlan Brown has a new book, Ring the Bell, coming out soon, and Noel Barton is finishing the last bits of what promises to be her best yet, Lucretia. Kimberly Bartley, being a teacher and a mom, has had to take a step back from the group, but she still works with us occasionally. And, obviously, you are still, technically, one of us. We are devoted to helping each other produce the best work we possibly can. We write in different genres, but, as we say, “good writing is good writing” regardless of genre, and we are capable of recognizing that. Being in a critique group has sharpened our skills as we learn from one another.

– Tell us about Flashing Dark.

Wow, summarizing this book has been very difficult for me, but I think I’ve finally got the hang of it. Captain Vivi Zant is haunted by the loss of her little brother, Anthy, during a botched rescue mission. When she sees another child at risk of the same terrible things she and Anthy experienced, she is determined to save the kid. It doesn’t matter that in the process she loses her partner, her ship, and everything that keeps her in space. She’s willing to put the future of the whole Earth Alliance on the line as she takes on the Moneyworld and all the aliens—friends and enemies—that come with it.

– I have the impression that you’ve been working on this project a long time, and it’s been through some changes. What’s the history of this story for you?

Oh yes. This idea came to me over 30 years ago as a character conversation about clones. That story is still in my head, as something that would happen in the character, Liri’s, future.

– I know that in your revision process, you made a major change to your main character. Could you talk about what it took to make this change? 

When I started querying the story it had a 140,000 word count, which is a non-starter for a first-time author. I managed to get it down to 130,000 words, then decided to change my protagonist from Greg Shap, to a woman named Vivi Zant, hoping to make it more marketable—yes, sometimes it makes sense to try to write to market. Greg was a roguish, outspoken guy with a dry sense of humor, so it was not difficult to substitute the ‘she’ for ‘he’ in Word, then read through and make the necessary tweaks. (I hope I got them all!) I know there are big differences in genders, but basically there’s a happy middle where we all meet on some things. This is not a romance, so some of the more distinct differences between the sexes were not an issue. Basically, if you want to do the right thing, there are limited options, whether you’re male or female. My word count was still too high to attract an agent, however. But that’s what it takes to tell the story.

– I think this may be the third time you’ve self-published one of your novels. What has been your experience with self-publishing?

I have found the self-publishing process relatively easy. I have used IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, KDP, and Amazon. They all offer free ISBN numbers if you publish with them, which saves money. Some are easier to work with than others, but they are all learnable. I think Draft2Digital is the easiest.

With self-publishing, I have control over my own work, not to mention I make a lot more money on a sale, since I don’t have to share commissions with editors and publishers. I would have to do my own promotion anyway, so I may as well make the decisions and reap all the benefits. I can also tweak my work when I feel the need. One of the benefits of self-publishing is that your book never goes out of print unless you say so. You can re-invent your promotions and put up a new cover when you decide to do it.

– What’s your writing process?  I believe you are primarily a pantser like me.  How do you develop your characters and your stories?

I usually start with just a conversation or an idea that I jotted down. As a pantser, I may write more little vignettes, and they slowly morph into a story. I love word processors, as I can move the bits around! That was not easy when everything was typewritten—yes, I’m that old. As I write I continue to move forward, but I am constantly going back and editing in. It’s like, get the idea down, then go back and fill in the details. I feel it makes for better cohesion of plot and character.

– You’ve been a good role model for me and others with the way you focus on revision.  Can you talk about what it’s like to revise your drafts?  How do you approach it?  Do you find that your final drafts are far different than your first draft?

Thank you. I think I have the heart of an editor, but I lack perfect grammar skills. My story may change a lot from the very beginning concept, but it tightens down as it goes along. I get surprised along the way, but it seems a natural progression.

Do you feel that you have always been a person with an active imagination?  What stimulates you to imagine alien worlds and harrowing adventures?

I have always been artistically inclined, and have a degree in Art. I can draw and paint very well, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Isn’t that the way it always goes? We want what we don’t have. But I guess the challenge of learning to be a good writer has been good for me.

– Do you think of yourself as a genre author?  How do you describe or categorize your writing?

I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy. I remember the first science fiction book I read, in the fourth grade: Elevator to the Moon. I am definitely a genre writer, though I read widely.

– Could you tell us about your other books, the Starchild series? 

The Starchild Series is about a young girl who discovers her people have lied to her about her Birthstar and that she was born to what she believes is evil. She flees out into an alien world and is captured by three warriors, who demand she fix the damage her Birthstar has caused to their world. The damage, however, is immense and ongoing as her evil uncle seeks to restore his power through her, so they find themselves in a bigger, prolonged battle. It’s an adventure story of found family.

– Who are some of the authors who influenced you?  What books do you really love?

So many writers! If I like one, I read everything they write. I love CJ Cherryh, Terry Pratchett, Anne McCaffrey, Glen Cook. John Ringo, and Steven Brust. I also love Stephanie Plum and Jack Reacher books. And Amy Tan! They’re stories that have strong characterization and astounding worlds and they all teach me something about the art. My absolute favorites are Paolo Bacigalupi—he just astounds me—and Cordwainer Smith.

– Was there a particular book as a child that made you feel that you wanted to be a writer?

My grandmother used to send me paperbacks about the adventures of twin Christian teen boys that really inspired me. Then I read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and began to make up stories with my own characters.

– You and I both have upcoming books that share the same cover artist.  For the Starchild series, I think you designed your own covers.  What have you learned about cover design?

There is a science to it and a good professional knows the best way to do things. I have a degree in art and have done two of my own covers, but I have studied a lot of book covers and I wonder if I would sell more if I had professional covers. The RIGHT cover. That matters most.

I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work. Writing is hard, even if we love it, and people showing an interest means a lot. I know people are going to be very excited when they get your first book in their hands.

Thank you so much to Bobbie Falin! I encourage you to read (and review) her books. Watch for Flashing Dark early in 2022!

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Wash Away

I will be pitching my novel Wash Away on twitter tomorrow (#pitmad). Wash Away is a science fantasy satire, complete at 78,000 words. Mermaids meet artificial intelligences meet mutated beetles meet viral video meet corporate greed, all in the house that’s been abandoned by a deported mad scientist Russian spy anarcho-chemist, leaving her grandchildren Zenna and Alex scrabbling to feed themselves.

Grateful thanks to my beta readers and to my Lock Keeper Six writing group, who gave invaluable help in getting this story to shine. I’m eager to query any literary agents who may be interested.

“We now kill robots, not people,” chuckles Waelder Vunkstad, CEO of Fospey Industries, as he reports to the board that there are no longer any union issues at the factory because there are no longer any humans working there.


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Dueling and Dancing

My oldest recollection of CP Butchvarov is associated with exhaustion and annoyance, circa 1974: I carried a 40-pound sheet of plywood on my back, hauling it about a mile into the woods.  CP was the designer of the next-generation fort my friends were building in the wild undeveloped area behind Hickory Hill Park.  To elude the bikers who kept tearing down our forts and firepits with axes, this one would be built underground.

This memory has had such an impact on me that I wrote the whole thing into chapter two of my novel Silver Sparks, which is to be self-published later this year, or as soon as I get organized.

Twelve hundred miles from home in summer 1976, I unexpectedly encountered CP again.  He had a job at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, and I managed to sign up there a few days behind him.  He had his guitar along: I’m pretty certain that in his entire life, CP Butchvarov has never traveled anywhere without his guitar.

CP wouldn’t play, you know, folk songs for party sing-alongs.  His entire purpose in owning a guitar is to write and perform original music.  I listened to him play a few of his songs, and he told me about a rock opera he wanted to write.  I was intrigued by the story he had in mind, about a defiant philosopher to be executed for thought crimes.  I wrote a page of verse from the point of view of his main character.  CP heavily amended my words and incorporated them into a song called “When I Was Free.” 

No other songs have been written to date for this rock opera.

(Incidentally, I predict here that CP is going to quibble with me about when we first met or what was our first song.  Never mind: this is the official, authorized history.)

I’m writing a few gilded, hazy words about CP today to celebrate the release of our newest collection, “Dueling and Dancing.”  https://cpbutchvarov.com/Dueling-and-Dancing/  All lyrics written by me on this album; all music, performances, and production by CP Butchvarov.

A torrent of my gratitude goes out to CP for making and recording these songs.  At a point where our oldest collaborations are celebrating their 45th anniversary, CP told me he felt compelled to breathe life into some of them, to give them a showcase, to put them into the world.  With this release, he has greatly exceeded that promise.  The recordings are pristine and gorgeous.  The musicianship is passionate.  The songs are, well, some outstanding and some lesser.  (I would say the same thing about “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”)  Open the link, plug in your earbuds and judge for yourself.

I’ve written before about the joys and trials of working in a creative songwriting collaboration with CP. For me, this album comes along as one hugely rewarding and undeserved payoff.  After spilling ink onto sweaty pages in years gone by, now these recordings come to the surface in order to provide royalties for my retirement!  What?  No royalties?  We’re giving away the recordings for free?

I’ll write more about CP soon.  Stop reading and go listen to these songs.

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Transformation

I first interviewed Susan Balogh for this blog in October 2020. Susan is a holistic healing and happiness coach, but more importantly (as far as I am concerned), she’s an amazing writer with tremendous insight. Her books are all about personal transformation and blissful wellbeing. Susan publishes her books through her own imprint, Wish*More Wellness. Since our first interview only nine months ago, Susan has written and published two new books, which are highlighted here. It’s always a very great pleasure to talk with Susan.

Susan, your new book is titled There’s MAGIC in this MANIFESTING JOURNAL: It’s Your Imagination: 100 Days of Make-Believe to Attract Your Wishes & Dreams.  Can I ask first: What is a manifesting journal, and what made you want to write one?

I would imagine there are many different types of manifesting journals, but they are generally offered as a way for us to invite or attract our true desires into our life. 

I decided to write this because it’s something I practice as often as I can, and I wanted to inspire others to do the same. I also found myself eager to receive the delivery of my author copies so that I could start using it. So I suppose I wrote it for myself as well.

Your manifesting journal offers 100 days of exercises which (to me, anyway) are very much like writing prompts, and each one asks the reader to write about their own ideal life.  Do you believe that the act of writing is a key that helps lead people to a more perfect, happier life?

I wanted to propose the kind of questions that would evoke the most interesting or transformational answers or results.

As you write out your answers to the prompts, you can find yourself aligning your thoughts and energy with them. And that can begin to change your life’s circumstances in surprising ways. There’s no limit to the wellbeing and happiness you can achieve, and if nothing else, using this process can open you up to the possibilities available to you.

How does using our imagination help us find better health, more joy, and success in following our wishes and dreams?

Our imagination allows us to create just about anything we want. As I believe Einstein said, it’s a preview of life’s coming attractions. Visualizing ourselves as we wish to be, and watching ourselves act out how we want things to be, is one of the most powerful tools to create our ideal future, or may even turn out to be something better. 

As you know, I believe that creativity and imagination are gifts to us from the universe that are available to everybody.  Do you feel that anybody can benefit from using your manifesting journal?  Does a reader need to have some specialized set of beliefs in order to make use of it?

I believe anyone could use it and hopefully enjoy it, but if the concepts mentioned above are unfamiliar to them, they will just need to be open to trying it. 

My experience with using your manifesting journal is that the exercises feel light-hearted when I read them, but as I start to write, they gently nudge me to dig more deeply into my own desires.  As a result, I feel that I’ve started to visualize my own success in a much more specific way than I ever have up to now.

It thrills me every time I hear something like this from a reader! Thank you for sharing that with me. It means so much to me, truly.

Your previous book, Dear Wellbeing… 100 Days on My Path to More Joy is also organized in a workbook format.  In that case, the questions seemed designed more for a “short-answer” format with each day’s responses centered around a single topic.  You seem to be a writer who really wants to engage your readers and invite them to work on their own wellbeing and happiness.  Did you have this in mind when you started writing, and is it an effective approach?

Yes, I think it’s so important to make self-development books as interactive as possible. That’s really where the true transformation comes in. Rather than just reading the words of a book, you’re brought to a place of feeling something as you’re writing out your thoughts. It’s a wonderful way to practice feeling how you wish to feel, which is primarily what my books are all about.

This is your third book from Wish*More Wellness.  Are you following a plan with your books?   Do you plan to offer a course?

I have a couple more workbooks to offer in the series, and I plan to write many more journals. As for the course, I’ve been working on creating a 100-day course that is based on the three steps I offer in my first book. It will be split into three 30-day courses, for anyone who’s only interested in one particular step. And once I’ve completed those I will be selling it together with an additional ten days. The last ten days will be a quick overview which can be used as a refresher, as desired. I intend to make it light and fun, and a nice easy way to practice feeling how you truly wish to feel. The idea is to practice more consistently until it feels like a part of who you are and hopefully provides a life-changing transformation for you. 

Our grateful thanks to Susan! Here is Susan Balogh’s author page at amazon.com.

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Waiting

Waiting to be made
Formless as a seed
Lightless in the void
Breathless, coiled and waiting, waiting
 
Waiting for the word
Weightless as a thought
Trembling on the verge
Nameless, cold and waiting, waiting
 
Waiting for the light
Breaching from the sky
Sparking into life
Promise curled and waiting, waiting
 

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Planet Urff

Guest post by Alexander Cherny

** Puddles **

Pud.  Dulls.  Puddles.

You’re walking in the woods and the path gets muddy and then there’s water pooled ahead.  That’s a puddle. 

You can walk through it or you can jump over it.  You might consider what shoes you’re wearing before you splash into it, because they’re going to get wet and dirty.  Same if you’re a dog.  You’ll have to lick your paws clean later.

Puddles happen downhill.  You can find a low point by where the water puddled.  What does it mean to say low point?  Means, like, where a marble will stop if it’s rolling. 

Air is the sworn adversary of puddles.  You leave a puddle out unattended in the sunshiney air and it will backward-melt.

Puddles are made of water but you can imagine a puddle made of something else.  Milk puddle.  Blood puddle.  Puddle made of dreams.  You could possibly experience vivid hallucinations by staring into a dream puddle.  Puddle made of music.  You stir the puddle with a stick and a melody comes bubbling up.

What’s the difference between a puddle and a pond? Just, like, the limits of your imagination, man.

Wishing you the best of luck with all your future puddles.

Planet Urff by Alexander Cherny is presented as a public service for the education of animals, aliens, and artificial intelligences.

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Original Causes

I self-published in 1980.  That’s right: before it was easy, before it was cool.

I was fortunate enough to attend the University of Iowa, where if you aspire to write fiction, you’ll get plenty of encouragement and support.  I signed up for multiple sections of fiction writing, poetry writing, and the undergraduate workshop.  Eventually I took so many creative writing classes that the registrar would not grant credit for all of them.  (I graduated anyway, with a degree in Communication Studies.)

I also had a regular writing group, which met on the front porch at Joseph’s house.  I’m grateful for all the members of that group, including Lorraine, Kent, Harry, and Stephanie.  Everybody who’s serious about writing fiction should have a group of people they respect and admire, to critique and give feedback.

In spring 1980 I signed up for an Introduction to Typography class taught by Kay Amert. The final project for the class was to set type for a book, by hand, and to print copies, one page at a time, with ink rolled across the type.  We used letterpresses belonging to Windhover Press in the Journalism building.

I sweated Original Causes that whole semester, carrying around scraps of paper with test print paragraphs.  It took many hours to hand-set the type, one letter at a time.  The story went through multiple drafts with my group, and I appreciate their patience hearing it over and over. 

The extraordinary artist Jim Carpenter provided the illustration for the cover (copyright 1980 by Jim F. Carpenter, all rights reserved).  It had been on a concert poster, and I repurposed it, with his permission.  I revised my story to incorporate the cover scene.  Carpenter also designed my logo for the Tea Stain Press.

I intended to print 100 copies of Original Causes, but I screwed up cutting the paper for the cover, and as a result I could only produce 75.  The book earned me a B for the course.  I made quite a few poor design decisions, most notably using too big a typeface on the cover.  My margins were misplaced as well.  Since every book was printed by hand, some of the copies were in better shape than others.

And yeah, Original Causes was for sale at the Prairie Lights Bookstore, where they had a rack for independently-published authors.  At a buck a pop, I sold five copies, which didn’t put me on any bestseller lists.  I gave away the rest of the press run, and now I only have one copy left.  Here’s a PDF scan of my last remaining copy of Original Causes, copyright 1980, all rights reserved.

Hoping to get around to the sequel eventually.

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Dreamxng

My friend Ed says retired guys like me should get up early and get in gear.  It’s good advice!  I’d never dispute it, but I’m not stellar at following it. 

Maybe this is only an excuse for sleeping late, but people doing creative work need dream-time.  I like to wake up in the morning and, before I open my eyes, nail down what I was dreaming.  I might remember a whole complicated narrative.  Sometimes it’s good enough to write it in a dream journal.  Not too long ago I dreamed that a robot was telling me a fairy tale and telling it very poorly.  That dream became the story “The Elves and the Shoe Designer,” which is my contribution to Pages Penned in Pandemic.  Now available, highly recommended!

I’m interested in lucid dreaming, where you try to become aware that you’re in a dream and take control.  It’s suggested that you use lucid dreaming to ask an important question.  I already have a question in mind: “Why don’t I fly in my dreams?”  I find that I do a lot of walking in my dreams, and I get lost pretty easily, and I quite often forget what I was carrying and leave it somewhere in the dreamscape and then I worry about how I’m going to get back there and find it.  But lucid dreaming is challenging.  It’s hard to partially wake, just enough that you’re aware, but still in your dream. 

I have been working on song lyrics this week, at the invitation of my collaborator, the amazing CP Butchvarov.  I sent him some lines and suggestions yesterday.  He may hate my suggestions, and he may hate the lines I sent also.  That’s part of our process.

When I put myself in lyric-writing mode, I start to notice everything I see and hear.  I’m watching for arresting images and I’m asking my mind to translate those to words and rhythms.  At some point I start to write these down, and that begins a cascade, because the words I put on paper combine to become lines, and they generate more ideas.  Then some line really catches my eye (ear), and from there on it’s a matter of building it up from the inside: making new lines to match the ones already made.

I found myself doing this a couple of nights ago, and it was late.  I turned off the light and was curled up in bed, but as I tripped over into the sleep state, a pair of rhymed lines introduced themselves to me insistently.  I flicked on the light long enough to scribble them down in my notebook.  This happened three more times before I finally dropped off for good.  Slept late the next morning.

I won’t tell you the lines but I’ll tell you later if CP thinks they’re garbage.

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