Mad Max Fury Road Common Threads (2 of 4)

The visual motif that Mad Max Fury Road shares with I Town, the first novel of the Trintico Tour Quartet is the giant treadwheel. With a pair of treadwheels, humans raise an elevator and pump water to Immortant Joe’s citadel and they also solve a problem of the limited space of the mesa by revolving crops into the sunlight. This odd technology appears in MMRF for only a second but is an important feature in the second Trintico novel Agrarianna.

Agrarianna, the nuturing Motherland of Trintico, provides the food that fuels the walkers on the treadwheels of I Town. Calories are very important. Each walker must consume as much energy in food calories as he or she will generate in electricity. Space inside the protective and controlling Iron Curtain perimeter of the Motherland is valuable. Most has been devoted to producing high-calorie foods like meat and dairy. But as the walkers of I Town suffer increasing health problems, the dietitians of the corporate society advise an increase in fiber from raw vegetables. When Jackson is given the task of increasing vegetable production without using more space in the Motherland, his solution is very similar to the revolving gardens in the Immortant Joe’s citadel.

The idea for a revolving garden came to me from Al Silano, PhD, a good friend and valuable information source. Back when I was still writing I Town, he gave me a copy of the July 2012 issue of Popular Science Magazine. Popular Science July 2012 cover

I filed the magazine away becuase at the time I had a very different notion of what Agrarianna would be about and what the Motherland of the tripartite Trintico Corporate Society would be like. But as the prose flowed and the place took shape, I was pleasantly surprised to see themes naturally transferring over from the first novel. The idea of revolving gardens suddenly made perfect sense and I scrambled to find the magazine Dr. Silano had so wisely shared with me. So that makes twice in two books that he delivered the ultimate point of enlightenment for the plot. Thank you, sir.

The third common thread will be revealed in Part 3.

Mad Max Fury Road Common Threads (1 of 4)

Four potent visual motifs that appear in Mad Max Fury Road also occur in the four novels of the Trintico Tour Quartet.

The first novel in the quartet is I Town. In it, the people of Induction Town walk on giant treadwheels to generate electricity. In MMRF, access to Immortant Joe’s citadel is via a human-powered elevator. The energy that drives it is comes from humans walking on giant treadwheels.

The wheels have very different designs, opposite even. The MMRF wheels have the walkers outside, walking on revolving slats, like rungs on a ladder, while the wheels of I Town are huge drums with walkers climbing the inside curves. But the idea is the same. The apocalypse has turned the world upside down, inverted our existence. Instead of reaping the benefits of revolving motion, of wind or of coal powered turbines, we turn the wheels so the machine of civilation can go on operating, at our expense.

The harnessed human effort pumps water up from a deep well, giving Immortant Joe’s Citadel power and dominion over the masses below. It also engaged the second common thread, a highly effecient use of precious space on the mesas that make up the citadel. This motif is a feature in Agrarianna, the second Trintico Tour novel. Seeing it on the movie screen thrilled me.

More on that in Part 2.

Finding the Right Places

It’s been just over a year since I unpacked the first copies of I Town from the printer. Last year I traveled all over the place with copies, giving them to libraries and offering them to readers at libraries and bookstores. The highlight of the year was the Ozark Regional Craft Fair where I sold more copies than I had at all the other events of 2014 combined.

This year I began again, doing what I knew to do, mainly library author days. The problem with library author events and signings is that most people don’t come to libraries to buy books. The problem with bookstore events is that bookstores have lots of books about lots of things and the people who visit the stores have as wide and varied interests. Each person who walks through the door is as like to be interested in horticulture as dystopia, and if they’re there about African violets, then they’re probably not going to want steampunk.

But if I hadn’t gone to the author event at the Joplin Public Library, I wouldn’t have met Ellie Ann. And if I hadn’t had all that time to sit and chat with her, she wouldn’t have suggested Comic Con. And I wouldn’t have had the wonderful opportunity in St Louis to sell meet more interested readers and sell more copies in a single weekend than I did all last year, including that great time at the craft fair.

So, sometimes in the course of the self-publishing journey, we can think we’re getting nowhere, that we’re wasting our time. But being out there, doing something, even if it’s not bringing immediate success, is still all we can do until we find the things that do work.

Later this month I’ll be at Jackson, Mississippi, for the Mississippi Comic Con. Next month it’s Houston for the <a href=”” />Space City Comic Con. I can’t wait to meet new potential readers, to watch their eyes light up as they hear the premise of I Town, and to see them walking away with a copies in their shopping bags.

Writing isn’t really the sole and lonely activity we like to say it is. It’s about one person transferring an idea to another person. It’s about sharing those innermost and exclusively private ideas in my head with other people. Having boxes of unread copies of I Town in the next room has been one of the hardest parts of this writing and publishing endeavor. Now that I’ve found a great way to get those copies into readers’ hands, I’m not holding back!

Jackson, Houston, Little Rock, Collinsville, Cincinnati, Tulsa . . .

How I Town compares to Maze Runner

I Town and Maze Runner covers

Like the maze Thomas and his new friends are trapped in, I Town is a crucible, a place of constriction and forced change. Runners searching the maze hope to find a way out of their situation or an explanation of why they’re in it, but the population of I Town doesn’t doubt what it’s supposed to do, how to do it, or why. They walk. They are the best and most reliable renewable energy resource, at least the ones who are big enough. The question is, how long can they keep doing it? When Jackson gives Shevi a novel from the days of the old Carbon Nation, she gleans a truth that shakes the certainty of her world and makes her question everything she’s ever been told.


Concrete Blocks and Editing

My dad was a bricklayer, and a blocklayer. He built foundations for houses and walls for schools and fire stations. He once asked the guy who owned the local concrete block manufacturing plant why he didn’t make a better block. (The ones he made were out of square, course, had chipped edges and corners, et cetera.) I’ll tell you what the guy’s reason in just a bit. First I want to tell you about a time when I shared this story with one of my architecture professors.

We’d been talking about declining product and construction quality and I started to tell him about the conversation between my dad and the block maker, but I misquoted. I said that my dad said, “Why do you make such a crappy block?” This was the way we talked about them out on the job. “Crappy”, exactly that. Because they were. But I backed up and said to my professor, “No. What he actually said was, ‘Why don’t you make a better block?'” My prof thought I was editing my dad’s words to make him sound more thoughtful, considerate, but I had to revise the quote to its proper syntax to set up the black maker’s response, which was, “Because I can sell all of theses that I can make.”

You see? He wouldn’t have been able to make that great come-back to “Why do you make such a crappy block?” It wouldn’t have made sense.

The same thing happens sometimes in character and scene development. Sometimes I’ll have to go back and fix one character’s word choice or action to set up another character for a better outcome. When I first started learning the craft, I heard about following the characters along to see what their story becomes, and that’s effective to a degree. But I am the creator and god of their world. “I am that I am,” and without me they wouldn’t be. I’ll give them their freewill as long as it suits the story, but I have to put the most important people first.

The story is about the characters but it belongs to me. I’m doing all the work. I’m giving birth to them. And it is hard work. At least it is for me. Writing is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It strains my brain. It wipes me out. I love it, but not because it’s easy.

Then there’s the dear, sweet and blessed reader. The reader always ranks above the writer and the characters. Without the reader there’d be no point in having a story.

Yes, interesting things come up in the course of a story coming to life, but all these things are coming from the writer’s mind with the reader’s pleasure at the forefront.

Fort Smith Public Library Book Talk


I’ll be at the Fort Smith Main Public Library, 3201 Rogers Avenue, at 5:00pm on December 9 to talk to the Page Turner teen reading group about I Town, teen fiction, the craft of writing, and the challenges of self-publishing.

Where did the idea of an entire society walking on giant treadwheels come from?
How was I Town different from anything else I’d ever worked on?
Why do I write for teens, and why do so many adults gravitate to that section of the library or bookstore?
When and why did my voice (as a writer) change?
Why did I decide to publish I Town myself and what did I give up?
How did I balance the art and business of producing a novel?

Go to the Facebook event page for more info

Friends of the Self-Published Author

The goal of writing is to share stories with readers. The word fulfillment in the world of online retails means getting products to buyer. To the writer it’s all about getting the story in front of the readers. When I decided to stop waiting for a publisher to take me on, I eliminated some links to readers. The big bookstore chains don’t want to deal with the indie and most indie stores can’t spare the resources. So I’m truely proud of the outlets I have and want to thank them for their help.

My local indie store Nightbird Books has graciously allowed me some valuable shelf space. Hastings Entertainment is open to author/publishers. I’m thrilled to have I Town on their shelves. And the Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis is such a beautiful store that I was shocked to realize it was an indie. I’m very proud of the fact that they accepted I Town.

Thanks to all of these retail outlets for giving me the chance to achieve fulfillment as a writer.

This is Self-Publishing (Shipping)

20140515_122720_resized_1The first run of I Town arrived last Thursday. It was a big day for us. It marked a milestone in a journey that began ten years ago when I decided to try to become a published writer and one that began three years ago when I did my first one-page sketch of the idea of people walking on a treadwheel. The day also included yet another of the odd tasks involved in the work of self-publishing: trucking a thousand copies of I Town home.

A pallet of boxes came from Grand Rapids and was supposed to be brought directly to my home. I paid a little extra for delivery by a truck with a lift gate to come to a residential neighborhood. I expected a two-and-a-half ton truck, the size of U-haul’s biggest rig. When the driver called and said he was in an eighteen-wheeler, I agreed that he probably didn’t want to try to navigate the streets in this old part of town. So I met him at another drop where he transferred the pallet from his truck to mine.

It was just another example of the things that pop up for a writer who decides to self-publish. Publishing a book, taking it from the double-spaced, Times New Roman 8-1/2X11 Word doc to a standard acceptable format and getting it into readers’ hands, is one of the most challenging tasks I’ve ever taken on. Writing is a lonely job, and that’s one of the things I like best about. But publishing is a massive job that has consumed most of my time over the last few months. If I weren’t by nature such a DIYer, I never would have made it this far.

The Map

Since I decided to publish I Town on my own, I’ve found myself journeying down a strange new road with as many twists and turns and dips and bumps as the writing process itself can have. Most recently I came up against the challenge of the signature. The signature has nothing to do with how I’m going to autograph those first copies when they finally arrive. It’s about the offset printing process as done on 24×36 sheets of paper, which are cut and folded into sets of pages. I learned about the signature when I started looking into doing a picture book for kids. Those books have only a few words, 250-500, and are all about the signature.

As I understand the process, picture books are printed eight pages to the sheet, four on each side. The total page count, including the title page, copy page, back matter, and story will be a multiple of eight. Thirty-two is the standard. I had this in my head as I was doing the page layout and came up with 376 pages after doing some tightening. (It was actually a bit more crowded than I would have liked.) Then it occurred to me that a 6×9 novel wouldn’t be laid out on a 24×36 sheet the same way a big picture book for kids would be. I was looking at a 32 page signature, and, wouldn’t you know it, 32 is not an equal division of 376. I needed to add eight pages back into my layout. At first I figured that wouldn’t be a problem since my layout was so crowded, but when I had relaxed my per page word count a little by pushing in my margins and added the few buffer pages I wanted here and there, I was still three pages short. I didn’t mind the idea of have a pair of blank pages at the back–lots of books do that–but three just didn’t feel right. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that extra page.

All the members of my editorial board have encouraged me to include images to help explain the setting. Ages ago I had drafted a map showing the relationship of the three regions of Trintico, so a grabbed it, added some detail and showed it to “the Board”. They rejected it, saying that it didn’t show enough of Induction Town and gave away too much about the other books. So I went back to the drawing board. I came up with a detailed plan of Induction Town that ended up impacting the text in some subtle ways. So, yes, I had to redo the ebook files again, for the umpteenth time.

Thanks to the critical guidance of my editorial staff, here is the image that will be opposite the title page in the paperback, which will hopefully be available early next month. And, thanks to its imposition on the text, I included it in the redo of the ebook.

Plan of Inducti0on Town

Great Fuel!

The 7:20 mile

Milk and cookies make great running fuelThis morning I had my all-time, best ever, blow-the-doors-off-my-previous-record, run time. Over the winter I’ve worked my way back up to the 185 range, about ten pounds heavier then I’d like to weigh. Lots of fast carbs: fudge, cookies, candy, cookies, fudge, cookies–you see the pattern. And desirable running weather has been especially hard to come by this particularly precocious winter. Considering that last fall I had my mile time down to 8 minutes, running a mile in over nine during these bleak months has bordered on depressing. But this week , with the passing of an exceptional stretch of snow for these here parts, I had another running breakthrough.

This happened last year too. I suddenly went from averaging around 9 minutes per mile to 8:20. A delightfully shocking accomplishment. (I think I mentioned it.) I credited it to the addition of squats, lunges, and the Fun album Some Nights to my running routine. But what new method could have allowed me to suddenly average 7:20 after an 8:15 first mile and a 9:15 pace  just last week. There is only one possible factor . . .

This new burst of speed I must attribute to my ultimate oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I had avoided making them for a while because there was just too much good stuff around and I really really love this recipe. They have a presence that beckons to me, a spirit that calls out to me, like no other snack I know. But fortunately I gave in and cranked out a batch–for the kids. I did it for the kids. They like em too.

And whaddayaknow! ZOOM!

I’m so glad I did.

Here’s the recipe:

Cream 2 sticks of softened butter with 1-1/2 cups of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of white sugar. Beat in 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Stir in 1-1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/3 teaspoon salt. Then 3 cups of quick oats and a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I’ve started makeing them bigger, about 60 from a batch, baked at 375 for 6 minutes or so–repeatedly testing the batter during the baking process then comparing it to the taste of the fresh baked cookies toward the end (This part is essential to the personal and professional development of the baker.)