Revisiting Art

For me, writing projects take years, a labor of love. I’m often awe-struck when I pick up a work from a favorite writer at Barnes and Noble, grab my phone to find the last published date, and notice 18 months prior their name stood atop the bestseller list. Some professional folks can churn out a masterpiece in six to eight months. Top-flight mystery writers push out a compelling romp annually, like clockwork. With choosing a cover, initial draft, ongoing editing, etc., I have no idea how the laws of physics are so frequently broken. Call this perspective. Or an excuse? Yes, I have a daytime gig; yet, creating any opus takes persistence, planning, and a fierce dedication to a formal process. Is that work? Or enjoyment? Or both? Who knows?

For me, I try to create unique constraints (point of view, time, word count, or use your imagination) for each project to condense the completion time; otherwise, one can write forever. Despite noble intentions, these tiny opuses of mine take years to polish and finish. A labor of love. And these said constraints, turning into towers of a future achievement in my own head, all leverage a certain medium.

A Common Phenomena

Why do you think the turn of the century writers use long and flowing sentences? I’ve touched on this during a prior post but some theorize the verbose has to do with quills and writing pieces–the technology at the time. Instead of going back for more ink, making a mess, the theory goes 18th-century masters wrote until the reed ran dry. The result? Yes, I already answered. Grand and verbose sentences dependent on the amount of ink on the tip. No splotches on the parchment. Songwriters have the same beautiful challenge with medium constraints with varied results. Records (shorter songs). Eight tracks. CDs (hard transition to vinyl without four records). Streaming (see below for an expanded article).

Reading Aloud

For the Dark Harp, I designed the book to be completed in bursts, chapters to be read aloud to a young child after a long day of playing cars or iPad swiping. Ever try to read Harry Potter to a sleepy child? If you’ve attempted the feat, one can assume your voice became completely hoarse halfway through The Boy Who Lived. I wanted to solve this challenge. For Maven’s story (the dutiful narrator of my tale), I wrote the initial draft for a kid’s requested Christmas gift and pushed out the work after multiple drafts years later. By design, one of two followed constraints, most chapters never cross the 1500 word barrier. And I read this work aloud so many times, a test to keep a kid awake and one’s voice from wavering. The end game? I wanted to give my son comfort a troubled Prince could make his way in a brutal, challenging world filled with demanding parents and other such mischievous what-nots like lava fields and bullies. When finished, I published the book online for free dutifully on Sundays at 7pm, a chapter each week, on its own unique site. Serial books can be fun. The original cover and each chapter utilized digital art and original paintings crafted by a boy and his dad, the final constraint. I’m proud of this work along with the collateral littered across the basement including glitter (can you ever truly clean all of this up), splotches of paint, and litany of unfinished tattered canvases.

The Constraints Change

Remember King’s The Green Mile? Most forget the original version came out in six installments monthly. Despite compilations going for less than a ten spot, one can still find the paperbacks fetching exorbitant prices on eBay. After my children’s serial novel ran its course online, I researched a new home on Kindle and the Unlimited Program. If you’re not familiar, this gives folks the ability to read as much as they want and pays the author back on number of read pages. It’s an imperfect program leading to an influx of pirated books, summary novels (far worse than cliff notes), and romance genre conspiracies. Since last year, the Amazon Platform has been the home of a children’s book with an evil King, an Oracle, a beautiful Queen, and these monsters wanting to conquer the impenetrable fortress of Silver Throne. Sound exciting?

Well, it is a different way to read. More convenient. Like streaming music, not necessarily better.

Upon publishing, I realized the soul of the book, our art, never translated to a device built for an audience seeing in a black and white lens. So, we found an artist and set to work, striving for a fresh coat of paint with new constraints:

  1. The original painting is, by far, the best piece of art I’ve ever owned. Being biased, I mean this truly. I often marvel at my tiny canvas up close, I find conveying the complexity of the design, imagination, and sheer luck that happened over months of sloppy play and experimentation impossible. I love this painting. And this is why visiting museums matters; internet snippets can never capture an artist’s brush. By creating anew, the old had to come along. I think an artist said it best this week on an eruption on creativity between Olivia Rodrigo and Courtney Love.

“You take the broken piece of one thrill and make a brand new toy.”

Elvis Costello

The original Dark Harp design, mixed in with a few masterpieces from the Chicago Art Museum

  1. For the interior pages, I wanted to keep the act format from the original but these had to be sketched in black and white to handle the device constraints. If you’ve never held an antique Morte d’Arthur (the original King Arthur and the Knights of the Round) in your hands, take a quick look. These illustrations are amazing and tried to work along a similar path.

Final Product and Changes

Eventually, I plan to print (more on this in the future); however, I’m still tweaking a companion modern day tale (think the Brothers Grimm move to modern day New York City and start writing at a coffee shop near Wall-Street) and portions of the original.

Is anything ever finished? Or, should we always be improving? Declaring a book done is an ever moving target, that’s why we have extended editions, new releases, and the ten year anniversary version.

If you’ve already read the trials and tribulations of Prince Evan, I’ve improved the flow, added a chapter, revised hated descriptions, and added a missing plot point based on reader feedback. Yes, you also miss punctuation, etc., when you read aloud, a means to make excuses for my own mistakes.

The Latest Iteration

One day soon, I’ll fire up the press for a wider distribution, but, for now, I’m still playing with the layout. Until then, I uploaded the new cover and interior art to a new and improved Kindle book. Download and take for a spin. More importantly, let me know what you think–I do take feedback. I tried to keep the originals quirky charm, the narrator’s voice is hard to revisit.

So, read Maven’s tale. Better yet, tell your kid a story. Thanks again to all who support this work.

Other Notes

  • The NY Times had a piece on music complexity and economics in a streaming world. There is a reason why The Beach Boys made the perfect record, they wrote for the medium. And sometimes, the medium leads to unintended consequences. Is this good music? Now and then, one should go see an artist live.
  • The perverse constraints of the Kindle Unlimited program. Does this platform lead to good fiction?
  • I embedded the link to the Kindle book for ease; however, I’m not a fan of their preview engine and built my own taking advantage of Robin Sloan’s handy eBook creator. If you click on preview, this may take a minute to load but works across any device.
  • On average, I take five years to write an opus based on my own process and editing–someone asked and am noting this for posterity. Considering the perverse consequences of free literature, I do accept tokens of appreciation. Or, read the book and drop a review (I appear to lost these in the update).
  • If you’re a fan of Jason Sheridan, I’m going on a decade-plus between chronicles; however, fear not, I haven’t forgotten. Sadly, I have too few constraints with this project.