Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why I Live in Colorado, for February 2018 Reasons

When the light is just so.

My wife sends me out for coffee. I drive up to the westside supermarket on a blustery midday Thursday, find the coffee, and oh-so-heroically don’t buy anything else but the coffee. (I returned the energy drink to its endcap fridge; another bad habit I’m giving up.) I drive back home—run upstairs, grab my camera, and go right back out. There was a curious clarity to the San Juan foothills and its environs on the western frontier of Monte Vista today. The high, thin strata that haunt the skies this time of year seemed slightly higher and more diffuse, and created an interesting ambient light.

So what does it look like where you go to the store to buy coffee?

This shot and the ones that follow are all due south of the Big R/Top Value Supermarket/ San Luis Valley Federal Bank complex, looking west across the pastures.

Most rural Colorado towns, and even Old Colorado City in west Colorado Springs, have their town blocks bisected by narrow dirt and gravel alleys. This is the one between Morris Street and Chico Camino, looking south from where I came.

A calendar shot if there ever was one.

Imagine you’re here in the days before permanent human settlement, wading through miles of this grass to the forbidding mountains beyond.

I lived alongside the Front Range in Colorado Springs for nine years, and as frustrated I would become with the cultural and infrastructural entropy there, I never got tired looking at Pikes Peak. Never. I had a view from the kitchen window, the living room windows, and the master bedroom window. There’s something about a mountain that never grows old.

It’s the same out here. I look around at these peaks on a range whose name I’ve forgotten (and is harder to Google than you’d think; the available topo maps being abbreviated and unhelpful) coming off the San Juans. I marvel once again how the land out here looks so different from the land three miles east on the opposite side of town. As the song goes, there’s a feeling I get when I look to the west. I can feel all the promise of Utah and Nevada and California right behind it all. Deserts and forests and mountains. Mountains all the way to the sea.

No, I can’t honestly say it “calls” me, or anything like that. I’m happy where I am. I’m happy everything is where it is. As for the east coast where I’m from, that belongs to the past. As a wise old Russian observed, the past is another country, and they do things differently there. I’m somewhere else because it’s better for me here. Nothing personal.

Well, okay, so it is, but no hard feelings. We’re all where we want to be.

The one shot I took of the complex, looking at it towards the northwest. Note the green utility box in the middle of the field. Parcels of land on this field are for sale for those who want to build with a view of the back end of a three-tenant complex to the north, and all those wide open spaces everywhere else.

Zoomed in halfway, the perspective is especially wacky here. The lightboard sign over US 160 W is warning motorists that they will need chains for Wolf Creek Pass half an hour down the road, and that oversized vehicles are prohibited. Don’t like the weather here? Take a drive 40 miles in either direction; you’re bound to run into a change.

The perspective works a little better pulled back here.

This shot just about says it all for west of Monte Vista. You see those strange, conical, teepee-shaped hills and mountains stretching off to the Rio Grande National Forest and the San Juan Mountains, and the traffic on US 160 stretching away another mile or so before it turns northwest towards Del Norte, 15 miles away.

Wide open spaces. They’re not for everyone, thank God.

Oh, and I forgot to mention—these shots were taken at the western edge of the parking lot of the bank.

So how’s the view from your bank’s parking lot?

I feel fortunate to have gotten all these shots, as it was so bright, along with chilly and blustery, I couldn’t see what was on the screen. I squinted at the vague shapes, squeezed the lens-clicky thing, and hoped for the best. Faith was rewarded.

Photos I took towards the beginning of this shoot seemed the most appropriate way to conclude this photo essay. I’m down by the edge of the grassy parcels behind the shopping and banking center, where the road ends...for now. One hopes this place doesn’t fill up with lousy little crackerbox modern construction, but give it a few decades.

For now, I love this barricade, and the empty, grassy spaces behind. I love that Jeep-sized trail leading off around the right edge of that barricade even more. It means something to me. Maybe it’ll mean something to you, too.


All photographs Copyright © 2018 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Blurbity Blurb Blurb, Your Logline So Fine

My D.I.Y. so fly. Or something.

Among the many chores requiring my attention in the run up to the release of The Wrong Kind of Dead and the simultaneous re-release of its companions, Bleeding Kansas and Grace Among the Dead, I need to shape up the back cover promo copy and punch up the loglines (bolded).

[To clarify: A logline is one sentence, no more than two, that sets the stage for your presentation. The best ones I know come from modern films. “In space, no one can hear you scream.” “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.” If you can come up with something like these for your book—and, like it or not, you must—you’re off to the races.]

I find that I’m a lot more critical of my stuff when it’s posted for public consumption. So here’s the back cover copy for the “digitally remastered” editions of my first two books, already available for your post-apocalyptic reading pleasure. 

For Bleeding Kansas:

Derek Grace leaves his sick wife in Colorado Springs for a job interview in Kansas City. In a few short days, that nuisance of an early summer cold afflicting one-third of the population becomes the deadly Final Flu. As infrastructure falls to absenteeism, Grace finds himself miles from home, trapped between anxious police and National Guard, and all those Final Flu victims arising from their mass graves to attack the living. As he fights his way out, the long-unemployed Grace discovers a new skill set that serves him well in the New Weird Order. It’s a good thing, too, because the risen dead aren’t the only ones in his way. Only the strong will survive BLEEDING KANSAS.

Here’s the original from the 2013 first edition (the 2018 remaster will be the third):

If you have trouble reading the above, it’s probably for the best. I was thrown when my editor first asked me to write my own jacket copy. Like a lot of newbies, I fumed and fussed that I had to do the job the promotions departments of publishers used to do. This is an...unintelligent...thing to do for two reasons: 
1. It is what it is. If you’re an aspiring author, and you’re not well-connected in that upper middle class Real Artists’ Caste that’s always been with us, but in the last 30 years has been dropping the portcullises and raising the drawbridges against us peasants—you’re not getting published. They won’t even look at you. However, expressing anger and bitterness about it serves nothing but the continued amusement of the Big Publishing gatekeepers, while eliciting annoyed grunts and sighs from the rest, so...
2. Instead of being angry, be of good cheer, and especially grateful for this indie publishing revolution that allows us a platform that didn’t exist so many years ago. If it’s a little D.I.Y.-intensive, rejoice! Do you really trust a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears HR hires to promote you and your work with any understanding (let alone sympathy) of who you are and what your work means? These people are, for the most part, your generic common lazy slobs drawing breath and a paycheck. You’re doing your life’s work. Who can do this better?

I remember reading an interview with Gore Vidal around the turn of the century in which he was asked if he found writing fiction or non-fiction more difficult. “Writing is writing for writers,” he replied. “Others, I’m told, have problems.” 

Put more colloquially, “Is you or is you ain’t a writer?” Promo copy and the like should be no more difficult for you than writing the stuff you want to be rich and famous for.

With that rant put to bed (for now), I present the jacket copy for my 2018 digital remaster of Grace Among the Dead:

Returning from his Kansas adventure too late to save his wife and teenage children, Derek Grace loses himself in booze, books, pills, and the occasional killing spree among the undead. But then a stowaway and her fatal secret flush the Dead Silencer from hiding and into a busy post-apocalypse already in progress, where he must decide whether life is worth living when he’s already lost everything that matters. In the heart of darkest horror, you will find GRACE AMONG THE DEAD.

There’s more to the story than is mentioned in that short paragraph, and I bring the best of all that together with a secondary logline, “A Tale of Love, Redemption, the Living Dead and a Monster Truck,” which informs potential readers that the book isn’t going to be all gloom and misery. And having written that out, I realize I should come up with a logline independent of the titles of the other two books. Those loglines make great title banners over the cover copy, as seen in my primitive attempt here:

As you can see, there’s not much change from the above cover copy. The layout needs improvement, so I’m changing some words around so they will fit. 

The idea that eyes other than mine might be looking at these things is a great motivator. Given where I am on the learning curve here, I’m grateful I don’t have a huge audience for this blog. Yet.

My third and final book in the SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series is coming along, and it helps to have good jacket copy over the desk to maintain focus. But is this good jacket copy? I’ll have to look at this again. And then a few more times...I don’t like that I have it sectioned, but this is a bigger, far more complicated book than I have ever written. Like all the jacket copy before, it doesn’t even cover half of what’s going on, just one big narrative thread running through the novel. 

One year has passed since the dead climbed from their graves to feast on the flesh of the living. Having consumed nearly every living thing that walks, creeps, or crawls in the cities, even the mountain to which Derek Grace and his community have retreated becomes a killing floor as millions of walking corpses fan out into the countryside in search of food.
What if, in the midst of escalating chaos, you could go back to the way things were? When all you needed was a job so you could have a place to stay and accumulate stuff, watch TV, surf the Internet? To go about your business without fear of bandits, wannabe warlords, or hordes of cannibal corpses?
The Redoubts, fortified oases of modern civilization in the remotest rural areas of North America, offer all of this and more. As Derek Grace and his family learn, though, there are no safe spaces. Don’t get caught among THE WRONG KIND OF DEAD.

A secondary logline for this—certainly not the logline—goes, “The Numbers Are Against Us.” It’s an apt refutation of the hubris of the Redoubts rulers, but a little too generic. On the other hand, I have no other logline for Bleeding Kansas, either. Nothing is jumping out at me at the moment.

So, let’s close with a few promo images, post this, and check back from time to time for further inspiration.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Adventures in Beginning Podcasting: The Struggle Gets Realer

Yesterday, I put the first two minutes and five seconds of my first podcast to bed. This involved opening music, with a minute or so talking about that music. Today I will install the bumper I cut out of an MP3 file (note to self: cut some more), and work on filling out the segment in which I’m actually introducing myself to the podcast world. 

Putting together a podcast is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I wanted to do 30 minutes, but I’ll be lucky to break 15 with this one. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way I’m going to be able to do this is to do it until I can do it my sleep. 
Looking southwest at sunrise on Groundhog Day.

Same view at mid-morning four days later. This snow is months late and several inches short. We’ll take it.

And it just keeps getting funnier by the minute. Two weeks into recording (it’s taken me that long to come up with the tone I wanted) I came across a podcasting tool called OBS Studio. I wish I’d known about this software a couple of weeks ago, but hey. My first podcast will be produced with Audacity, because I’m invested right now. But we’ll see how the OBS Studio thing works when I do my second podcast, which will also be my first poetry reading special.

If I end up using a third piece of production software for the third episode, so be it. This has to happen.
The view from porch level, sometime around one or two o’clock. Note the line of storm clouds racing along the range southwest of town. These clouds got darker and more ominous as the afternoon progressed, but this was all the snow we were going to get. At least somewhere in the San Luis Valley got precipitation.

I’d hoped to make a full 30 minute ‘cast, but it looks like I’ll be lucky to make it to 15. Now I know why I put this off so long. At least it’s happening. Stay tuned. I’m as curious as anyone to see how this turns out.

All Ginger Puff wants are the scraps from my chicken dinner. She’ll get them, too.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Holding Down the Fort

Complaining and cat pictures. If this ain’t pure Internet, then I don’t know.

Yesterday I managed to make the opening bumper for my podcast, with music and super-reverbed title announcement. That, and a transitional bumper clip was as far as I got, though. Yeah, I know. I know. I need to tuck in and just do it.

Meanwhile, let’s check in with the local feline population while I talk to myself here.

A cat for every tree. After they take their afternoon kibble they like to play around the poplars.

This post-Christmas season has been harder than most, though I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the usual post-Christmas letdown blues. One would think that this being an unusually mild winter would have improved my mood. Instead, all I do is look at the clock as the sun sets and cheer a little bit for the extra minute of light we get versus the day before. Mild as it is, I’m done with this winter already. Bring on the long, warm days already.

It’s not just me, either. Lots of people are reporting feeling more irritable, depressed, and unmotivated to do anything. Something in the air? Who knows? It is what it is, and we’ve got to power through it.

Puff is holding a staring contest with...

...Angel, one of the two white cats we used to have around here. We never found out what happened to her sibling Boo. Angel has taken to sitting on the table by the door and looking inside.

We’re almost through the first month, though, and I have a feeling 2018 is going to be a very different, very transformational year.  Just a feeling, but my guts have rarely steered me wrong.

Whether these differences and transformations will be for good or ill, of course, depends on how I engage them.

It’s heart-rending to see the outdoor cats looking in at the fire in the wood pellet stove. Nine more cats (our core feral population) added to the five already inside would be untenable, however. Please feel free to drop some funds for kibble in my PayPal at upper right.If I had enough funds, I’d love to trap and spay and neuter all the ones outside. That’s down the road, though.

For me, the main issue is getting up and engaging, period. So far, the plan is to get this post up and take a long walk outside. When I get back, I need to turn on the microphone, and just see where talking to myself takes me. It seems to have worked well enough here. It’s not as if the words are having trouble coming out. Might as well take advantage.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Everything Available On Demand But Desire

Musings on how we electronically entertain ourselves in the latter part of the second decade of the 21st century.

These 25” screen floor models were as good as it got
in the 1960s. My family had to settle for a 19” black-
and-white screen until 1974, when we traded up to a
color 19” screen. Still, whatever your station in life, if
you wanted 
to see the hot new show everyone was
talking about, you needed 
to have your backside
planted at the appointed time.

Something I’ve noticed when older folks talk about how media was consumed—or, as we called it, “watchin’ TV/goin’ to the movies”—is that, for all the usual cliches about how There Was Only Three Channels and PBS, et al., no one brings up how you couldn’t just watch “on demand,” as the surprisingly apt expression goes.

If you had a favorite show, you either made time to watch when it was broadcast, or you waited for the summer reruns. VCRs didn’t come down in price to be popular until the late 1970s. “Getting your kid to program the VCR for you” was a joke clear into the late 1980s, as interactive menus didn’t catch on with video recorder manufacturers until then. 

Until the release of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, you had to wait a year for the movie to go to video. It was a big deal that the film, released to theaters in late June, would be available for video purchase by Christmas. If a movie was popular enough, it would run in theaters for up to, and sometimes over a year. (This happened with 1973’s The Sting, a then-hugely popular comedy no one remembers anymore.) Tim Burton’s Batman changed that forever. Now, even the most popular films are out of the theaters within six weeks, and in a spinner rack in the supermarket shortly after.

Sometimes when my tinfoil hat is pinching, I’ll wonder
if the reason once-smash hit films like these aren’t
celebrated is because they would forcibly remind
audiences how insufferably weak today’s “stars”
and films are today.
One can go over this again and again—I have—and it’s still difficult to appreciate the enormity of how we’ve changed our habits as a mass-media consuming audience. 

Or maybe people are sick of hearing (or even remembering for themselves) when there were only three national broadcast networks plus the snowy-pictured PBS station, which your humble scribe does remember.  Nothing personal, Grandpa, but that story’s been told over and over again, so much so that it’s matched that half-century old (and still going strong sentiment), “I don’t own a TV” for tediousness.

I joined the “I don’t own a TV” crowd upon moving to the San Luis Valley in 2016.  There is no broadcast television whatsoever in this vast, slightly tilted flatland between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo range. We’re entirely dependent on the Amazon Fire Stick, and whatever we can bring in from the Internet through it.

As it turns out, this is all I’ll ever need. Or don’t, given that I hardly watch anything at all anymore. I can watch a decent variety of movies on my Prime account, but I simply cannot commit to putting my backside on that sofa cushion.

I often reflect how, as a boy, I would have been beside myself knowing I could watch any one of my favorite half-dozen Star Trek episodes whenever I wanted, instead of having to wait for them to come up in the syndication queue, and hoping I can get some uninterrupted quality time when the day and the hour rolls around. Yet I can’t even be bothered to sit and watch the things I actually like.

I don’t know if this is some depression-generated anhedonia or me getting cranky with old age or all of the above. It just is.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

More Than Zombies: Landscapes and Poetry and Cats

Molly’s fingers touched his wrist. Very light, very soft. “Drew, maybe in the house there they’d spare us somethin’ to eat?”
A white line showed around his mouth. “Beggin’,” he said harshly. “Ain’t none of us ever begged before. Ain’t none of us ever goin’ to.”
Molly’s hand tightened on his wrist. He turned and saw her eyes. He saw the eyes of Susie and little Drew, looking at him. Slowly all the stiffness went out of his neck and his back. His face got loose and blank, shapeless like a thing that has been beaten too hard and too long. He got out of the car and went up the path to the house. He walked uncertainly, like a man who is sick, or nearly blind.
— Ray Bradbury (with an assist from Leigh Brackett),
“The Scythe,” The October Country

It’s not quite as dire as with the starving Okies in Bradbury’s tale quoted above, but I prefer not to wait until I’m forced to live out of my car.

Starting this Patreon is something I’ve been resisting for a long while. Even after deciding to do it, I’ve put off making the necessary videos to promote myself. It’s equal parts stage fright and simple mortification for having to do this in the first place. 

It's more than finishing the last book of Yet Another Zombie Apocalypse Series (of which mine is more than that, thank you). I’ve gotten positive responses to my photo essays, and would like to continue them, and with a proper DSLR, at that. I’ve been writing poems as a form of creative exercise and a way to vent emotions, and it turns out people want more of those, too.

A man’s gotta eat. Often at his desk, if he wants
to get anything done.
Meanwhile, there’s overhead, if not quite hell, to pay. A mortgage note, cats to feed, wood pellets and gas bills for the subzero days of winter ahead, et cetera and so on.

So, here we are. My ultimate goal is to build a cyber-oasis away from the usual angry drama in the media at large. If you like a bit of fictional ultraviolence, I’ve got a tab for my zombie novel excerpts. Otherwise, flowers and sunlight, old architecture and cats for days. (Trust me, with all the darkness I jam into my fiction, I need all the sunbeams and hollyhocks and tabbies I can get, with a side of food porn.)

Should I deem it necessary to write some terse lines about throwing away an old television or the shadows of the ants in late afternoon light, well, trust me. It beats arguing contemporary affairs, foreign or domestic. 

Of course, maybe that’s just me.

Let’s find out. Should you decide to support me, let me know what you want to see more of, and I’ll do what I can to make sure you get it.

If you’re not sure you want to commit to a monthly thing, but if you feel up to buying me a beer or six, there’s always the PayPal tab, too. Every bit is appreciated.

My Patreon Pitch

I’ve been worrying over the Microsoft Word file for months. Only tonight does it occur to me—what if I put this thing up on the rack in my blog, where the finished product was going anyway?

Hello, I’m Lawrence Roy Aiken, author THE SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER zombie apocalypse series, which so far includes BLEEDING KANSAS and GRACE AMONG THE DEAD. 

A series of setbacks over the last couple of years has delayed the production of my third and last book. That’s many long stories I’ll be happy to tell on my upcoming podcast. As it is, I’m back on track with the writing, and here on Patreon to ask for your support. 

As I am entirely new to this, I’ll be working out the rewards as I go. If you can’t commit to a monthly schedule, I’ve got a PayPal account. Anything you can give, however you give it, is greatly appreciated. Thanks for watching. Enjoy the show.


I’ve been trying to force myself to sit down and write the above since last summer. How long will it take for me to do the video I need to do, plus get those podcasts going?

UPDATE: The ninth take of the video was the charm. It’s not the exact words, but my memorization is still fuzzy, and it was important I got this in one take without sounding or looking like I was reading from something.

My Patreon went live at 1356 hours (GMT-7). Now on to those podcasts I was talking about.