Another Mystery Model

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Stories Still In The Works

Actually, these stories are still mostly being written.

  • "The Apartment of the Goddess" is about someone who unexpectedly finds herself in another planet.  (I might never finish this one; I've totally lost interest in it.)
  • "Heather" is also a story set in a parallel earth, a love story about two cousins.
  • "Emily" is about a college teacher who has a nervous breakdown, and takes a semester off and has an adventure.
  • “Jana, Warrior Girl”. This one is complete; I lost the last part of the manuscript, so I had to complete it from memory, but it needs to be fixed up.  (It is about an alternate Earth in the Bronze Age, and set in a parallel Middle East and Mediterranean.)
  • “Honeymooners”. This is about a pair of lovers who get it together in “Helen’s Concerto”, but who hit the real world with a vengeance, as we’re all doing. I need to wait a few months or a year, since it will depend on how things turn out for all of us; you know what I mean.
  • “Julie”. Two friends from childhood learn about a woman who’s being abused, and encourage her to shelter with one of them. But the abusive boyfriend is unstable, and vows to hurt them. When he bombs the house of the girl who took the woman in, they decide it is time to go into hiding. Unfinished.
  • “Legs”, a story of two college mates. One of them is a swimmer, who has awesome . . . you guessed it.
  • “Yraid”, a story of a rather morose woman, who is very critical of everybody. I realized that the main character seems to be channeling “Daria”, from the animated feature that used to be on MTV. That put a damper on my inspiration, but I’m going to continue with the story anyway.
  • “Andromeda”, a lesbian take on Sleeping Beauty. It has been done, but this is going to be different. It is sort of an erotic fantasy, so almost any other project takes precedence over it.
  • “Etta and the Composer”, which is about an attempt to create an automaton that is a representation of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Don’t steal this idea, you guys; it is awfully easy to implement this idea badly.
Man, that was tiring enough to write down; I have no energy left to reflect on the situation.  Stay safe.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Laura Adams: Sleight of Hand

I had read this book some years ago; it is written by Karin Kallmaker, under the pen name Laura Adams.  The story was a very ambitious project; it is about three stories concerning the same characters; the first story is set in the 5th Century, about St. Ursula, who was ostensibly a convert to Christianity from the She-Bear Cult, and several young women who were either members of her circle of meditation, or admirers whom she encouraged to travel with her.

The two other stories are both set in the present time, in different places.  One is of a girl called Ursula, living in England, who meets an American tourist, falls in love, and once the visitor has returned home, follows her to the US, and meets a group of mystics in the US, with whom she uses spells of defence to protect herself and her friends from an evil influence that seems to want to destroy her.  Each of these young women are associated with a specific girl in Ursula's circle, in the fifth century.  The final story centers around a girl, Autumn, who makes her living as a conjuror and card sharp in Las Vegas, who cannot remember her past.  Echoes of the adventures of St. Ursula reach back to her too, gradually enabling her to work true magic.

The story proceeds in layers, switching back and forth between the action on the ship which is contracted to carry the unwilling St. Ursula to her husband, but whose captain Ursula and her friends persuade into taking her to Rome.  Events on board that ship run parallel to crises taking place in Pennsylvania, and in Nevada.  As the story proceeds, we find Ursula realizing that her love for her companions--in particular one stalwart girl--pales in comparison to her desire for the captain's daughter, who corresponds to the young amnesiac Autumn in Las Vegas.  As the modern-day protagonists see the action on board the ship in dreams and visions, they learn all about each other, though naturally Ursula's circle of friends are jealous and suspicious of the captain's daughter / conjurist Autumn, whom they never meet in the present day, but whom they have seen in mystical scenes.

Karin Kallmaker has the gift of writing very intensely emotional prose.  In addition, she uses the chants of Hildegard of Bingen (a 10th century mystic and composer, who composed several poems and chants to St. Ursula), whose poetry motivated the feelings of Karin Kallmaker's protagonists perfectly.  While the poems express the longing of the devotees for the presence of the object of their devotion, they also beautifully express how their devotions frequently crossed the line into romantic yearning.  Ursula, as an innocent but flawed wielder of powerful magic, is the perfect pivot for the stormy passions of the girls who want to protect her, and who also yearn to join with her, but cannot relax their vigilance without succumbing to the evil force that wants to possess and destroy Ursula.

This story is the first of three books:
Sleight of Hand,
Seeds of Fire,
Forge of Virgins,
but the third book apparently never got written.  Based on the obvious difficulties of writing a piece of fiction on two layers, I could easily imagine how easy it would be for Karin K. to shrink from the task of completing the trilogy.  It would be a snap to complete it badly, but to complete it with a third book in the quality of the first two could be too demanding of anyone.  (It is also quite possible that there may have been conceptual inspiration from some human source for the first two books that has, for reasons known only to Ms. Kallmaker, slipped from her fingers.)  Still, I am wishing, and wanting, as hard as I can, that Karin Kallnaker will complete this trilogy, which could be a modern-day classic.  The confluence of music, history, witchcraft, mysticism, romance and adventure is irresistible

K. H. B

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Much-Admired Cover, which is now No Longer in Service!

When I first began uploading stories to Smashwords, they had to be accompanied by a “cover”, which was basically an illustration from the story, plus normal title page material.
I was only too happy to oblige, since one of my hobbies was fooling around with (the equivalent of) Photoshop.  For the people in the images, I went to a website that had royalty-free images; that is, photographs of almost everything under the sun, which customers could buy, but not have to pay something to the people in the photos on a per-commercial-use basis.  It was using this resource that I made up practically all my covers.
Eventually, though, I thought the stories deserved truly original covers, and for that purpose I joined a website called DeviantArt, whose purpose was to showcase the artwork of artists, and also, connect artists with those who needed artwork.
Members of  DeviantArt were considered primarily artists, though a large proportion of them are, like me, more art afficionados than artists.  To my excitement, I found that there was actually a genre of artwork based on modification of photographs!  So now I could upload the best covers that I had created by photo-modification, while I looked for an artist to create original covers for me!
The old covers were duly uploaded, and I set out to look for suitable artists to commission new covers.  I found two of them: Sreya Halder, whose professional name is HALCHROMA, and Lisa M. Schwartz.  Schwartz's style was what is called ‘comic style’; the pictures are the type of illustration with a black outline, colored in with minimal or no shading.  In contrast, Halchroma supplies actual paintings, in the style of oils on canvas.  (It isn’t really oil on canvas; she uses electronic painting equipment.)
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that HALCHROMA has painted several artworks for me, starting with one just of Helen, then one of Helen and Sharon, then one of Helen and Lalitha, and most recently Helen at Westfield.
Helen and Lalitha was partly super successful, and partly a minor disappointment.  Why super-successful?  Because her depiction of Lalitha was completely on the money!  Why a minor disappointment?  Because her depiction of the 30-year-old Helen, while it looked plausible, had minor features that weren’t quite right, but I am quite unable to pinpoint what those features are.  (If I did tell HALCHROMA what they are, she would fix them in a flash!)
But, to my amazement, the old cover for that book, which is now of mostly historical value, is collecting lots of admiration on DeviantArt!  Not a day goes by but I get a notification that so-and-so has given a star to Helen and Lalitha, meaning the old cover.
If you look at the cover (shown above) closely, you will see that the photograph has been textured in two ways.  Firstly, I have overlaid a pattern of curves on their faces that follow the contours of their faces.  This was a favorite technique of mine, which, unfortunately, I cannot do any longer, because my software does not run on modern computers.  (The company was bought out by a competitor.)  Secondly, I overlaid an allover floral pattern on the sarees.  The two processes, together, gave the images an enormous amount of texture, which is at least partially the reason for all the love this cover is getting.
There’s not a lot more to say.  I recently re-read Helen and Lalitha, and I was once again struck with how well I had written a large part of it; in fact almost all of it, except for the chapters that dealt with what happened between when Helen left California, and arrived in Philadelphia.  This is all despite tons and tons of editing, in which I ripped out vast quantities of text which I had considered too self-indulgent, and bordering on pornographic.  Now, seventeen years after I wrote the original story, I can’t even write that sort of prose; I have grown too old for it.
I hope everyone is distancing successfully!  So far, so good.  Friends and relatives of mine, unfortunately, are in circumstances not conducive to avoiding infection.  So, those of you who live in relatively low-infection parts of the world: be grateful.  And help your circumstances along by wearing a mask when you go out in public.  It does three things: it filters out bacteria—and viruses—from your breath when you breathe out; it filters viruses coming into your lungs, if someone in your vicinity happens to be infected; and finally, it encourages other people around you who are wearing masks, or are thinking of wearing masks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Bumped Off Facebook :(

I was thrown off Facebook for not being a Real Person.

At least they're throwing off people who might be Russian troll agents; that's good.

I had hardly any prescence on Facebook, and they were not making any money off me, so, all things considered, it makes sense that my account bites the dust!

Kay H. B.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

A New Cover for Westfield, and J. K. Rowling's Essay about Gender

Firstly, there is a new cover illustration for Helen at Westfield on Smashwords; if you've gotten the book, feel free to get a new version, with the new cover.  If you haven't got the book, please do get it; it isn't terribly dramatic (or maybe it is; I had forgetten everything there was in it), but it is closer to my heart than some of the other books, because it contains Helen's adventures in music, as well as her adventures in the classroom.
I only recently learned that J. K. Rowling had expressed unhappiness about the rights of transgender persons.
Before I had read the essay she had written and posted on her website, I too had begun to think that it is not appropriate to grant to transgender persons every right that they demand.  But read Rowling's essay for yourself; it is available on her personal website.  It isn't easy reading, because it is nuanced.
Same-sex couples had fought for their rights for many years, and finally won them about a couple of decades ago.  Subsequently, transgender people fought for an entire set of rights, some of which were not parallel to the rights of gays and lesbians at all, and they have persuaded authorities to give them all sorts of legal rights. 
Firstly, the term 'transgender' can mean many things.  Apparently in the north of Britain, a person can merely assert their interest in being considered to be a gender different from that of their birth, and be certified as transgender.  Now, I don't know whether that is universally true, but according to J. K. Rowling, it is.  And her objection to the matter is that she does not wish to relinquish the right that, let's call them conventional women have had for centuries, to have a protected feminine space, namely the Ladies' Room, into which no one with a penis can obtain entrance.
So much I can completely sympathize with.  And now I have to read carefully, and see what rights and privileges various flavors of transgender people are demanding.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Black Lives, White Privilege, Defunding Police, Systemic Racism

These are terrible times.
All the changes that we have been hoping for, all the meanness that has poisoned our lives: most of it has been led, and orchestrated, and perpetrated by white folk.  I'm not writing as a white person or a non-white person now; I'm just trying to be objective.  Most of the important leadership--both in the direction of progress, and in the direction of foolishness and wrongness--has been led by white folk.  It is as if only whites can do anything, accomplish anything, get any respect, stand for any office, be recognized as anything in our world.  It is not just that blacks get killed, often for nothing significant, for no serious offence.  In all my reading, I see the recognition everywhere that the entire system has been conceived to keep the balance of power in favor of whites.
Police forces were actually created to control blacks and former slaves.  A look at John Oliver's episode on The Police shows you memos, newspaper articles, laws, messages that make it clear that the whole intention of inventing police in the USA was to keep a foot on the heads of blacks who might be inspired to get a bit above themselves after the abolition of slavery.
Not all whites are aware of the original sin of the police forces across the country.  This, in turn, is an aspect of what black thinkers are calling White Privilege: the blissful ignorance of whites about the built-in handicaps against blacks in a society that has thus far been a white society.  This means that many whites, who we might call innocent, do not consider the de facto subjugation of blacks in US society as part of their background.  They have been oblivious to it, but suddenly now, in our generation, this fact has jumped forward into our consciousness.
This has happened in every generation, it seems.  And whites have succeeded, each time, to gradually forget it: for a while, everyone--whites and blacks alike--know that blacks can't get the same justice in a court of law as whites can.  But this is terrible knowledge, and it is human nature to try to forget it, and it is possible to forget it.
The police has been a pivotal agent in maintaining this systemic inequality.  This is why, in our present confluence of bizarre politics, imploding economics, catastrophic pandemics, disappearing health providers, and unbelievable death rates, and massive ignorance of basic science and hygiene, it is possible that something might happen to rock the police equation to the point at which something useful may happen.  Everyone, blacks, whites, hispanics, orientals, everyone, is looking at the police with disappointment.  Horror, anger, but also disappointment.

As an author, I too am guilty of only writing stories with a white point of view, with white protagonists, with white interests (classical music, etc), with practically no presence of black folk of any kind!  As such, I have no right to talk about blacks at all!  I hope any black folk reading this would not object to my use of the word 'black' in preference to 'African Americans', it seems that the latter is a clumsy euphemism, which I could bring myself to use if I was sure that it would be preferable to black folks.  I'm only too aware that often whites take it upon themselves to create what they think of as nice euphemisms on behalf of black folk.  In actual fact, it might just be another way for these white folk--however well-meaningly--to avoid their own discomfort!
I seem to have stopped discussing the politics of the day and moved on to Kay Hemlock Brown's fiction; I have little to say beyond what I have said already.  The number of blacks that I have made friends with have been few; not that I have consciously avoided mixing with blacks, but that my interests did not connect me up with a lot of blacks.  The few I did meet with were such that I was not even conscious of the fact that they were blacks.
There are a very few characters in my stories that are clearly black.  For no good reason, I'm going to talk about them.
In Music on The Galactic Voyager, Helen makes friends with a woman called Megan Barrows.  Megan is half black; her father Pete Barrows is black, and we meet him before we meet Megan.  As in all my stories (or most of them, anyway,) all the protagonists are people we would enjoy meeting, but Megan is particularly nice (for lack of a better word), and I'm proud to be her creator.  Now that I think of it, there were lots of people among the Dropouts who were black by implication, but I don't think that counts.
In Prisoner!, I introduce a couple of black healers, who are Maia's ardent supporters, and who conduct the heroes of the story to safety after a major military defeat.  They too are decent folk.
In Helen on the Run, I introduce a young student called Jerry, or Jerry the Alto!  I didn't make him obviously black, but in my mind, he was definitely black.
Finally--and this does not make any sense!--in my mind, the girl Jana, a Czech girl with whom Helen has an affair, has been becoming black, in my imagination.  Whenever she appears in a story, I imagine her being black, though of course there are no blacks in the Czech Republic, and certainly no Black Czechs who emigrate to the US in search of work.  Jana is a lovely person, but I have not included a lot of details about Jana in any of the books I published on Smashwords, because Helen's and Jana's relationship was at least half physical.


Saturday, May 16, 2020


Dear Readers:
A little aside to begin with: when I think of my readers in the abstract, I find myself being inexplicably fond of them, and insanely curious about them: what are they like?  What are they thinking?  Which passages do they like?  Which characters?  Which scenes? and so on, and so on.
Then I imagine meeting one face-to-face, and I think: what if he or she is a pain in the butt?  What if they're ugly as sin?  What if I want to get away in a hurry?  This is the reason I absolutely don't want to meet anyone of my readers physically at all.  Above all, what if they really don't like the stories, and just read them because they're free?  If that is the case, just don't tell me.

Charles Dickens was asked about writing, I read somewhere, and was asked, specifically, what his advice to young writers just getting started was.  I read this some years ago, so I don't remember all the details, but he said, to the best of my recollection: detail, details, details!  Or it may have been: describe, describe, describe.
Bear in mind that Dickens wrote serialized stories for the newspapers, and for those of us who write in larger (or smaller) forms, the advice may not apply mutatis mutandis, as they say in the learned literature.  (Wait; I gotta look that up, to make sure that that's what I mean . . . Oops; no, that is not what I meant.  So I need to rewrite that sentence . . .)  Dickens's advice may not apply, without changes, to those who write larger-scale pieces.
The serialization of a novel, if that is the primary mode in which the novel is to be published, would be a peculiar thing in a few different ways.  For one thing, it would be very desirable to end every episode with a cliffhanger.  This need not be a requirement, but editors of modern-day journals would strongly suggest that style of writing.
For another thing, incorporating a lot of detail would be desirable, especially if it stretches the story out, in the case where the author would be paid by the episode, so the more episodes, the merrier.  For yet another thing, the author has the luxury of creating new, subsidiary characters in an episode, who need not survive the episode.  They could just wander off into the sunset, having performed the task for which they were created.
Which sort of Details?  Some readers would love to have the settings described.  Some would love a detailed description of the scenery.  Some others would prefer a detailed psychological profile of the characters; some would prefer the thought-processes of the characters as the action unfolds.  (I do this, and not much of anything else!)  Some would value a physical description of a character above all else.  (I do a little of this, even though I should keep it down.  The readers' own image of a character could really be as valid, if not more valid.)  I have read stories where the author describes the actual makes and design lines of the clothing and the shoes that the main character wears: Vuitton, or whatever.  Really?

I recently read (again!  How pathetic?) one of my earliest stories: Jane.  Oh my word (please forgive me) some passages had everything.  This story has no plot, really; it is about a girl who is a photographer, and falls in love with two of her models, to begin with, and then they both die.
More than a year later, she meets up with another model, and again they fall in love.  In a sense, this relationship saves her sanity.  Not that she was contemplating suicide, or anything; but just that it turns her life around 180 degrees, from sheer, plodding existence, to great happiness.
Then, unfortunately, my inspiration took a dive, and the ending of the story is pathetically sad.  I freely admit it, but I think the story is worth reading for the various segments of it, which are amazing.  You may not recognize the writing as mine; it is much more passionate and emotional.  I was younger.
In the Helen saga, too, a lot of the description was passionate and emotional, and detailed.  But in the process of condensing the story into the three books of (1) Helen at Westfield, (2) Helen and Sharon, and (3) Helen's Concerto, I, for some silly reason, took out most of this detail, which is what made the story so vital, when it was still unpublished.
In contrast, I think some of the detail in Concerto actually make the story weaker.  I can't fix the problem without making the story worse.
Oops, gotta go; I got a phone call.

Kay Hemlock Brown