Sunday, September 25, 2016

Music of the Ages

Let me tell you about Dan.

You may have heard of him, a few years back a video of his work went massively viral and caused quite a stir. The video in question was a nursing home patient named Henry. Henry had dementia to such a degree that he would hardly react to people talking to him, couldn't remember which daughter of his was trying to talk to him, and generally spent most of his time hunched over whatever chair he was in.

In short, there wasn't much of a life there.

Then came Dan, and his project to use the power of music to awaken this elderly man. He played him music, and Henry came alive. After listening to a few songs, it was like a fog had been lifted, and he was able to communicate and speak to people once more, and share things about his life that no-one had been able to get out of him before.

If you haven't seen it yet, you can watch it here.

Dan had come across something incredible, that music had the power to reach into those deep parts of the mind and pull the memories and pieces of self that had become lost. He'd found out they are not lost forever, merely hiding.

I had seen this clip some years ago but had never actually watched the documentary that it came from. This evening I did that. I watch Alive Inside, the documentary that followed Dan and his powerful journey through the nursing homes of America.

Dan and his filmmaker stumbled across a great many secrets and truths during the three years that the documentary followed him. A lot of those hit me harder than I thought they would.

My own grandmother had been stricken with Alzheimers and, if I'm being honest, I did not take it well. I held up well enough while she stayed at our home, as I knew it was hard for my parents too, so having a breakdown about it would not have helped anyone.

During this time, I knew she was still the same person she had been, she was kind, caring, with an independent streak a mile wide. Unfortunately, those parts of herself which gave her the experience to be independent were gone. She no longer had the tools to be herself. The personality was intact, but the building blocks of who she was, were missing.

Eventually, it came to be too much and she went to a nursing home. To my shame, I never once went to see her while she was there. Father went frequently, but I could always see in his face and eyes just how hard it was for him, not just to see his mother like that, but to see all the residents there who were suffering just for lack of companionship.

It ate at him, and I was afraid that I would never be able to handle it as well as him.

My grandmother passed away and I never said goodbye.

So why is that? Why was I so afraid of that nursing home?

For that matter, why are we so afraid of ageing? Why do we fear becoming elders in this world? Why is it a more and more common opinion to talk about doctor assisted suicide? Or even have the thought of 'I hope I die before I become that old'? Why do we fear such a natural part of our life cycle?

The medical industry has been driven by an image of people as being machines. Society itself is guilty of this. We are judged in our worth in jobs by how closely we can match an ideal of a machine-like perfection. When we are sick, it's because something in us is broken, our chemical levels aren't where they should be, and all that we have to do is fix the part, or turn a dial. We do this through medication, and procedures, endlessly popping pills and booking appointments, until finally, the machine ceases to function and grinds to its final ignominious end.

What Dan came across, was the truth that we are not machines. We are humans. From the earliest days to our final days, we connect, we yearn, we learn, we dream.  Giving music to the elderly was a gift of connection, connecting them to their lost selves. It was a gift of compassion, a man taking time out of his life to connect with these elderly. It was a gift of life, for music has within it, its own power to heal, to move, to connect.

Dan showed me why I was afraid of these homes. Why I never wanted to go into them. Because in those walls, we are no longer people, were just patients, old machines to keep going a little while longer. In that context, speaking of dying before we become that old isn't so alien a thing, after all, who wants to live for another 10 years in a place where we cannot be human? Where there is no freedom? Where we are told what to eat, what pills to have, where we can go, and what we can do? If we would not accept that at this point in our lives, why would we accept it then?

Dan's mission was to connect. If people were visited, if people connected, if people loved, in these homes, would it be such a terrible place? Why is it when our elderly reach a certain point, we just hide them away and try to forget they exist?

I don't have the answer for that. But I do know that we can change it. If we find the people like Dan, and rally around them, we can change it. If we become the kind of people who volunteer, who visit, who just talk, then we can change it. If we love, it will change.  Then maybe we won't be afraid of age. Maybe then, we can bring back the power of being an Elder. Maybe then we can let our older generation give back to us in the form of stories, wisdom, and an appreciation for connection. Maybe we can.

If you want to know more about Dan and his work, you can check out his website here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The New You! Or rather Us!

Right so not really the new you. More the new us. Big happenings over at Ravania, we've recently tripled the size of our art department, (which means we went from 1 to 3 art people). Woe is me, this means I have to update the website AGAIN. I mean it seems like only yesterday that I gave the book section a facelift, and if you haven't seen that yet, you should totally do that, it looks sweet.

You know what I hadn't done only yesterday though? Update this blog. Turns out it's been about a year. I guess I got a little self conscious. Back in the bad old days when the only content we had to share on the Facebook page was blog posts, it seemed like I was posting a blog post every week. 

I remember quite clearly that after sharing one said post, our like count went down by 1, and my post had a negative feed back in the insight. It did not take a genius to figure out what had happened. I suppose when you sign up for an entertainment company, and all you see is blog posts over and over again, it could be a little hard to take.

I just hadn't realized it had been a year since my last post. This came up at our last Ravania Meeting, where I was commenting on the fact that the blog section of the website was essentially useless. To this, Patrick commented that he'd actually been updating his. I didn't believe him, so I called up his blog on my phone right there in the middle of the meeting. Not only had he been updating his blog, but he'd been posting some really neat art and stuff. I was clearly and thoroughly wrong. 

I suppose that's what inspired me to dust this thing off. It'll probably get a lot more interesting too, because we've just got so dang much going on. The amount of progress we've made from last year to now is astonishing. The website is growing and so is our following. Now we've just got to keep on track so we don't let all of you down.

As for what am I doing? Right now I'm working on a re-release of Wayward Guardian. The original, though a good story, showed off my staggering lack of editorial prowess. There are comma's everywhere, and there their and they're scattered almost interchangeably through out. Mercifully I've come a long way, but not only that, I've found a new grammer checking suite which is working marvelously. When I plugged in the first 4 chapters, it came up with 318 errors. I was not amused.

Along with this re-release will be a shiny new cover from the man who did the original. Like me, he's come a long way, and is eager to give it a face-lift that will be more eye-catching and dynamic (is that a word you can use when describing art?) than ever. I'm excited. 

I'm also excited by this new found energy we've got. The fresh blood in the company is really helping us grow. We are humbled that all of you are here to see this, and we hope you stick around. The best is yet to come!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ding Dong, the specter of memory

I watched Inside Out with my oldest niece and her friend the other day.

I have to say, that movie was simply delightful. I was entertained, amused, and moved, all in the same movie. The movie looked good, and felt good.

The movie had a lot of heart, which is something I sometime struggle with in my own work.

For those of you who don't know, the movie is about the mind basically. It follows the personified emotions of a little girl, as they go about the business of being emotions and driving the actions of the little girl.

That in and of itself is a subject worthy of philosophical discussion. Maybe later. The is a lot I could pick at about this movie, but for now, one major thing for me.

In the movie you meet an imaginary friend. A fellow by the name of Bing Bong. Anyway, for reasons of her growing up, he doesn't see much of the little girl anymore. This kind of tweaked at me.

I began to think about the things that sat in my own mind when I was younger.

I don't remember any specific imaginary friends, no purple dragons or magic cats, but I did have an Imagination friend, as in a person who I used to play in my, and his, imagination with.

That person was my older brother. Warren and I, when the chance arose, would exist in a world which we had built up over months and years of shared interaction. When we drove to town on errands, we'd play in the world. When we had nothing to do at home, we'd play in the world. When we had a new thought, we'd play in the world.

But it wasn't just a world. It was an empire, a universe. We were leaders, builders, protectors, the marshals of an entire galaxy. We would construct amusement parks that spanned planets, so people could have fun. We'd assemble fleets of power ships to fight off great evils threatening the worlds we protected. We'd invent new technologies to better serve our worlds.

In short, we meant something.

As I watched the movie, I remembered this. Broken snippets of what used to be grandiose whole. Scattered memories of what once was entire worlds full of people, places and things.

Now that I think of it, I realize, I'm still playing with pieces of those old worlds. The framework of long lost civilizations which mean nothing to anyone except me and my brother, have become the pieces on which I build new worlds.

The tragedy is, my brother has difficulty with his eyes when it comes to reading. Reading is a painful chore to him. The new worlds I'm making, which our play had such a part of making, are hard for him to experience.

That's a very good reason for me to make audio books too.

But anyway, that's my thoughts for the night.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

An act of kindness

In my last post, I regaled you with my light impressions of a city called New York. Or as I called it, my reason 1 of having not been writing as much as I'd like.

Well tonight you get Reason 2: a new job.

I still work full time, so it really shouldn't have that much of an effect, but it seemingly has. Mentally speaking, it doesn't take much to force my train of thought onto lesser used paths. A new job, and subsequently new people, duties, and lingering aches, would be just such a thing to make my train wander.

Wandering trains, there's a weird image.

Anyway, since a week and a few days ago, I am employed at a bus depot, dealing with freight and passangers. I've got to say though, it's going swimmingly. It pays more than my last job but isn't loads more difficult. It's actually about the same level of of physical exertion.

The people at this new job are pretty swell too. I get along good with them... well so far, but I'm pretty easy going.

Me getting this job is a huge blessing in my life. And it's one I actually have to thank my previous boss for.

You see, I got the call for the job on a thursday. But they wanted me to start friday. I, trying to be a decent sort of fellow, and genuinely liking the people at my last job, wanted to do right by them and give them proper notice. When I told my new boss this, he didn't seem entirely sure that would work.

I had resigned myself to letting the job go, not wanting to be unprofessional or do a discourtesy to my old boss. However, when I told my old boss this, she said to me that she knew how important it was to me to find a new job, and that if it was a difference between me getting the job, and me not getting the job, I should just go take the job and not give her notice.

Immeditaly called my new boss back and told him I could start friday.

I spent the rest of that suddendly last day at work in something of a state of shock. I simply couldn't believe that the job I had been ready to let pass me by was suddendly mine. And I could hardly believe the kindness of my boss in her offer to me.

I found out later in the day that two members of her staff had also quit/given notice. I felt bad for her situation, but that knowledge just made her act of kindness towards me all the more powerful.

I will be sending her a copy of my fantasy book when it's done, and a nice thank you card.

Well that's it for tonight. Farewell for now.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Traveling Tome

Ahhh so it's been a while hasn't it?

My last post is dated at April 18th, so yeah, I think that's an accurate statement. Very sorry friends. Well I mean I would be sorry, except I have valid reasons to have been late.

Reason 1: I went to New York, New York, for a week. On a trip to go visit my girlfriend, I had the chance to see the big apple itself. I took a walk down by the Hudson river, which is a most lovely river to my eyes. It had nice waves, and sound it made while it went on its way was very expressive. I did learn some interesting things at about the river, such as how part of it will reverse direction based upon the time, and as such, parts of it will alternate from fresh water to salt water.

I also had the chance to go up to the Empire State building and see the city spread out before me. You can choose to take an audio tour while you go, and learn about the construction of that towering edifice, and if you're into that kind of thing like I am, I'd recommend it. In the tour I learned of the absolutely staggering pace of construction, near the height of it, they were finishing a floor a day. Of course, they didn't just work on one floor at a time. They laid the scaffolding, did the riveting, pour concrete, and so on and so forth. I found it absolutely fascinating. I also learned how the iconic spire was a kind of last minute addition to ensure that the Empire State Building was indeed the tallest. They had stiff competition from a neighboring tower.

That poor spire. Meant as a mooring mast for passing passenger blimps, it stands as a monument to bygone dream of the future. I love blimps. I have a few dreams about how that dream could come to be again, but alas, I do not have that kind of funding yet. I'm hardly the first to imagine a future with blimps, as is evident by the existence of the mast itself.

The other thing about New York city that struck me is the feeling of it. I found it all a little overwhelming, but it has an energy to it, a sense of age and massiveness. Even when you are down in the streets where you can't see everything, and you could be convince you were just in any other city, you know you're not. You know that there are millions of humans all around. To me it was at once exciting, and a little bit oppressive. All those people going about their business, going about the business of being human. And yet, if you aren't directly involved in the business you might as well be invisible.

I can't say I really blame them in their choice of zoning things out though. With so many people everywhere, if you opened yourself up to everyone and acknowledged everyone, you would quickly be overwhelmed. You simply can't find a good quiet place to be alone easily.

My brother Brenden once said that a city is a great place to go if you want to be alone. I see what he meant, you aren't alone in the sense that there's no one there, but you can be alone in the sense that there's no one with you.

It was a great experience all in all, and I hope that it might get used in my writing, but I wouldn't want to live there. 

So anyway, that's one of the reasons. I'll bring up the other reasons in later posts.

Huh, there's an odd thought. I'm bringing up the reasons why I haven't writing my blog, by writing in my blog. Crazy.

Till next time people!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Johnny Mead, this time it's personal.

Johnny Mead has been released on the world.

You can see Vance's reaction to this going on, here, and you can get the book in question, here. I mean, sure there's some other stories in the book, and I'm sure they're all quite important and well written by my fellow co-conspirators, but really, all you need to know is that some character named Johnny Mead is in it and that I wrote him into existence.

Jack Lantern never did know what hit him. His first book was written and done, and the rough draft of the second too, before Johnny was more than a little spark. See I was reading that Second draft of Jack when I happened to watch a episode of a show called Gravity Falls that had something called a Jack-O-Mellon. The Jack-O-Mellon was basically a watermelon carved like a Jack-O-Lantern. Upon seeing that, and having been recently been reminded of Jack Lanterns pumpkin head, I had a image flash through my head of a character in the Jack universe who was a little like jack, but... different. A bit of an oddball.

It was with this image in my mind that Johnny began to take shape. I told Vance that I wanted to write a spoof for the Jack Universe and immediately got to work. I wrote half the story in a single night, and wrote the other half a few days later, it was a whirlwind of intensity, with the character of Johnny practically writing himself. He was simply delightful!

I read the story out loud to the Smith brothers of Ravania, and their laughter was music to my ears the whole time.

I really like that kind of music. It's addictive, and seeing as I was in the process of writing Guardian of Isolation at the time, it wasn't a kind of music I was getting a lot of. It felt really good to take a comedy break.

Now the funny thing, that story isn't the one that's in this newest book. No no, that story will be out in the next volume of Tales by Lantern Light. This book got a new story, a kind of proper introduction to the wonderful madness that is Johnny.

You see I wrote the first story for the second Jack book (which isn't even out yet!), and then since Vance liked it so much, had to go write a new one for the first Jack book.

I really like this second story too. It's a blast.

I am wonderfully excited to be able to play in Vance's sandbox, especially with such a chaotic force such as Johnny Mead. I look forward to doing more of it in the future, but for now, you should give it a look. That's Tales by Lantern Light. Find it on this page.

That's it for now friends. Wizard OUT!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The two paths to reviews.

So, bit of a strange week for me here. Guardian of Isolation has been out for a little while now, and I've been trying to get ready to do something special for it. My thoughts had been focusing on Wayward Guardian and in doing another free promo for it in an effort to hook people and drive interest toward Guardian of Isolation.

Now I've done a free promo before. I learned a lot from my run, and then I had the chance to do another promo for my friend Vance Smith for his book series, Jack Lantern. This second promo I did for Vance went a heck of a lot better than my first one for Wayward did. Whereas I got 180 downloads for mine, he got 1800. I chalk it up to lessons learned of course. But you've heard this story before.

Back to the Guardian series. One of the hurdles with being both and independent author, and with doing a free promo, is at any given time, a large number of other small authors are trying to do the same thing you can. You need some way to stand out. The accepted wisdom on that is to get reviews on your book. That's a bit of a viscous cycle, because if you don't have reviews, no one wants to read your book, and if no one reads your book, no one reviews it.

Bit of a problem isn't it?

So how do you over come that? Over time you'll accumulate a certain quantity of reviews based just on sheer numbers, but you can't get those numbers if people don't want to take a risk on your book. Those first five reviews are the hardest, and arguably the most important.

The reason for that importance is that most book websites won't run your promo if you don't have 5 for more positive reviews on your book. But of course, if you can't run the promo, how can you get the reviews?

Two methods are open. Book bloggers, and paid reviews.

Book bloggers are fickle bunch, and get massive waves of review requests from all the authors that find themselves in a situation such as I do. They can't, and won't, read everything, and unless you are really compelling or (surprise surprise) have a few reviews already saying it's not a massive waste of time, they just won't. Or you'll have to wait forever. But book bloggers do have an advantage. They're unbiased. Well most of the time anyway. A review from a book blogger that says you're book was good, feels good, because you know they actually enjoyed it. It means more.

However, paid reviews have their own advantage, you're guaranteed a review, and usually within a time frame. But I've run into the uncomfortable fact that you can't be guaranteed an honest review, just a quick one. I had the pleasure of working with one nice reviewer, and I could tell by what she wrote on her reviews that she was an honest reviewer, but unfortunately, she stopped taking reviews. It really was a shame. I've found it difficult finding a paid reviewer that feels impartial and honest. I'm hopeful that I may find some, because the quick turn around time is very useful when you're trying to plan a marketing blitz.

I've decided that I might well start doing my own reviews on this blog, as I kind of feel it's a do as I do situation. We'll see. I'll start small, after all, I'd rather write my own stories than reviews.

Till next time, Wizard out.