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Prairie Home Companion and the origins of Perkunas Press

Posted in Events, Harmonious Companions, and Volume 1

Image of T-shirt saying Prairie Home CompanionI originally posted this on Facebook back on Dec 9, 2017, when Garrison Keillor got dropped down the memory hole, allegedly for some sort of “conduct unbecoming.” I thought I should reproduce it here, since it was my first sale of the first book published by Perkunas Press, in the spring of 1993. (And the only book so published for almost 20 years.)

Keillor's show that year was called something else, the title of which escapes me, but he went back to his older title (Prairie Home Companion) later.


I guess my 15 minutes of fame back in 1993 on Garrison Keillor's show has been erased along with every artist who ever performed for him, in the grand auto-da-fé that has consumed all his works.

Seems a bit much… Like the Lord Dunsany character who so offended the gods that they caused him not only not to be, but never to have been.

Back in the 80s and 90s, I wrote out a lot of 2-4 part traditional/collegiate songs which my post-college friends and I sang from. I collected 100 of them and did a nice songbook, then self-published it in 1993 from the newly-founded Perkunas Press. Several hundred of them are still in storage. Info here  and here.

(I still have the original sheets — maybe I'll reissue it sometime. But there's no demand for that sort of thing these days.)

Image of cover for Harmonious Companions, vol 1I sent out a mailer when the book was available, and Minnesota Public Radio returned with an order, and then invited me to the show in St. Paul, where Garrison & I led his chorus in 3 of the songs.

It was quite a hoot standing around backstage watching all the incredible regular musicians and sound effects professionals doing their jobs.

At the time, I was doing a weekly stint for a traditional folk music show at a public radio station (“WMNR, Fine Arts Radio, 88.1 on your FM dial”) in Monroe, Connecticut, so it wasn't that unusual for people in the local grocery store to recognize my voice. But coming back from the Garrison Keillor show and being asked for a signature in the hotel elevator by someone from the audience was a new first.

I've got arrangements for a couple of hundred more tunes, but alas no audience. Any singers out there?

Book fair in Altoona, PA – May 12, 2018

Posted in Events

Image of Altoona Book Fest poster
Click to see a bigger image

Come see me and lots of other authors at the first Greater Altoona Area Book Festival at the Altoona Public Library (a big modern building) on May 12. My books are already in the library there.

I have two book fairs lined up for this year, so far. The first is very local — Altoona is the nearest small city in my area, famous for its railroad history and the Horseshoe Curve constructed in 1854. The second is regional — The Allegheny Regional Festival of Books in its first year, in Bedford, PA, September 14-15.

Book fairs are something like camping trips — you lay out all your gear on the bed and make lists and try to make sure nothing is missing, with the added complication of checking that your credit card app (Square) still works with your current cellphone. Then there's the new cheap black tablecloth — is this one truly rectangular unlike the last one which surprised you at the last event you by being oval?

I've replaced my bad HollowLands business cards with better ones, so that I now have cards for Perkunas Press (publisher), HollowLands (writing colleagues), and Karen Myers Author (readers). I find it handy to cover all bases at book fairs like this, not just readers.

And, finally, I have to update the big display poster (3′ by 1.7′) that hangs from a stand and hopefully intrigues prospective readers from across the room. The posters themselves are very inexpensive, but this is my first with the new branding for Karen Myers Author and it had all sorts of imponderable issues. I really wanted to show off the new book covers for the Affinities of Magic series, though those books are not yet released. And the new covers have made me dissatisfied with the old covers for the Chained Adept series — my new cover artist has agreed to make four new covers for me, but in the meantime they don't look well compared to the new series.

By the time the second book fair this year rolls around, I may have new covers for the Chained Adept series, and there will be more entries in the Affinities of Magic series, so I'll be making a new version of this poster again.

Agar Art

Posted in Artwork, and The Affinities of Magic

Image of bacteria on a Petri dishMy new series, The Affinities of Magic, has a microbiological basis for magic.

What that means in practice is that I have to describe cultivating bacteria on an equivalent of Petri dishes as part of the contextual background for the novels.

That's a matter of diluting your source multiple times and scraping streaks across your dish, and other ordinary conventions of basic bacterial cultivation.

And then this comes along…

The American Society for Microbiologists hosted the first bacteria art competition called ‘Agar Art.’

Image of bacteria in Petri dishOf course, there's more than one way to cultivate bacteria.

Like the Horsehead Nebula? I especially enjoy the obligatory Hokusai and van Gogh homages.

Check out the full set of a dozen intricate “paintings”.

Image of bacteria in Petri dish

Image of bacteria in Petri dishes

The Chained Adept – German edition

Posted in Language, and The Chained Adept

I've commissioned my first translation. This is a new experiment for me, and very exciting!

I decided the German market was the place to start, since it has a well-developed interest in SFF, both locally written and in translation. While I have some knowledge of German (well, the language from hundreds of years ago, anyway), I naturally needed to turn to a professional.

My biggest concern is not just the accuracy of the translation, but the tone of it. I want to make sure it doesn't have any whiff of modern slang to throw the reader out of the story while still presenting itself in living German idiom. That requires a sensitive hand, willing to reset the phrasing as necessary instead of just processing the words mechanically.

Image of robot from Metropolis
From Metropolis, part of the long history of SFF in Germany

I am myself slogging through the translated results with the aid of automated translation (Google Translate) to try and catch any obvious issues with individual words, especially since my English vocabulary is broad and therefore a potential source of confusion. This has the added amusement of showing me German constructions I've never seen before, as when “bandy-legged” becomes “o-beinig” (bones shaped like an “O”, I presume — who knew?)

I anticipate this will be ready by the end of the summer. Now I have to study up on my international marketing skills.

 

 

The villains of Atlas Shrugged

Posted in Characters, and Villains

Image of cover for Atlas ShruggedIt's not the heroes of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (1957), nor its peculiar human simulacra, nor its polemical message that make it such an influential book, still a perennial best seller after 60 years (800,000 copies/year). According to a Library of Congress poll, Atlas Shrugged is the second most influential book after the Bible, at least in America.

It's the villains.

Like many others, I came across the book at the perfect age and in perfect circumstances — I was 13, working summers in my father's company, just like Dagny Taggart. I had no notion of political flavors, had never heard the term “libertarian” (much less “objectivism”), and was as stunned by the length of John Galt's speech as anyone would be, but I still found the book absolutely fascinating.

At the same time I was well down the road of total immersion into what science-fiction and fantasy was available in the mid-1960s. I read it all, and when I say that, I really mean that I bought everything in the genres that was available in paperback. Everything. Thus began a habit that has run to hundreds of books per year for five decades (somewhat fewer during the dark days of New Age…).

I recently participated in a Facebook discussion where people were asked to name the most influential SFF book they read, and I suggested Atlas Shrugged. It's nominally set in the future (from 1957) even though it's not a standard genre specimen. While some agreed, others spouted the usual objections: paper characters, flawed plot, debatable ethics, and so forth.

I've never understood the visceral hatred for the book from some people. Sure, it has plenty of flaws, and it's message fiction which is generally objectionable. But no one has ever suggested it was a perfect book — why does it bear some special burden for perfection as compared to, say, Frank Herbert's Dune, or Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan?

What the detractors don't care for, I've come to believe, is Rand's depiction of the villains, the various wreckers of civilization. They are many and various, and they range from journalists, scientists, industrialists, bureaucrats, and politicians to ordinary people — wives, parents, strangers.

We see these same villains every day in the news. They couldn't be more familiar to us, now.

Image of White Suit manga villainsThat must be unbearable to some people. Some scene will feature one or more of the these villains mouthing the same pious elite words that seek approval today, and Rand makes it perfectly obvious just how little good faith is involved and how clearly and comprehensively these policies lead to disaster. As a bonus, she illustrates the resentment that is the underlying motive for many of them.

Other SFF authors (Mil SciFi comes to mind) have dwelt upon a limited subset of these people, in the context of a (military) bureaucracy gone mad, but no one has been so thorough and wide-ranging and… accurate as Rand.

I reread the book every few years, and the villains become ever more non-fictional. The heroes may not be 100% convincing, but the villains certainly are. I'd be delighted if I could make my own villains half as compelling.

Cover reveal – Structures of Earth

Posted in Artwork, and Structures of Earth

Alas, all good things must come to an end. My cover artist of the last couple of years, Jake Bullock, got a full-time job (good for him) and is prohibited from doing freelance projects (bad for me). The good news is that I had just finished The Chained Adept series, but I already had a cover from him for book 1 of The Affinities of Magic series. So I had to start over again for that.

Happily, I've partnered with a new cover artist from Poland, Michal Wojtasik.

His audition blew me away. I only asked for a simple sketch of the scene I had in mind, and look what I got, a day later.

Needless to say, he buried his competitors.

He's completed the cover for Structures of Earth and is working on the one for book 2, Fragments of Lightning. I'll be writing book 4 before I release the first 3 books in the series, one right after another, to try and build up some momentum for the new series.

Taking stock of 2017

Posted in Goals

Still Life and Street, M.C. Escher, 1937It's time to look back on 2017 and take stock — what worked, what didn't, and where I spent my time.

Accomplishments

Early in the year, just after I released the 4th and final book in The Chained Adept series (On a Crooked Track), I decided to pause my miscellaneous plans, including my audiobook recording, in order to devote the year to a major ascension of my learning curve for marketing, making 2017 the Year of Marketing.

* Third website (for Readers) with professional branding elements – KarenMyersAuthor. This is a companion to HollowLands (for Writers) and Perkunas Press (Publishing). Facebook & Twitter persona to match.
* Courses in Amazon Ads and Facebook Ads
* Advanced newsletter services and landing pages
* Related tooling up in video and other image processing
* New author photos and bio (not getting any younger)

Images of plansNot all of this was finished in 2017, but everything except the Facebook Ads is now up and running, and the first FB ads should get implemented fairly early in 2018.

While I was doing all this technical stuff, I also tooled up in other ways — republished 20 titles, created ONIX records to make broad distribution more professional, and even added a fancy email signature with the new branding, for engaging with readers or fans.
Image of signature

On the publishing side, there were several unexpected developments.

* Two paid consulting gigs bringing manuscripts to market for a couple of authors, one a colleague and one a stranger.
* New imprints. Three old friends who are not in a position to get beyond the manuscript stage themselves (age, infirmity, tech competence) have manuscripts that need publishing, indie style. I have a long and trusted relationship with them, and it's a great way to get started publishing other authors

Finally, on the writing side, I was able to get some work done. I completed the paused Structures of Earth, the first book and prequel for the new series The Affinities of Magic. I'm well along on book 2 (Fragments of Lightning), and I've lined up a cover artist for the series since my old cover artist is no longer available (stay tuned for several cover reveals).

I also released a few SciFi short stories.