Art on Your Own Terms

In addition to Dexter Dogwood’s Fables from Elsewhere, which I wrote about on Saturday, Paul McComas sent me the fifteenth anniversary edition of his novel Unplugged. I have to admit, I looked at it with some skepticism. It’s the tale of a rock star named Dayna Clay who survived childhood sexual abuse and suffers from depression. On the last night of a big tour, she disappears off stage to go home and attempt suicide by asphyxiating herself with carbon monoxide fumes in her garage. Fortunately, a squirrel falls from the rafters and she feels she can’t take another life with her, even a small one, so she moves herself and the squirrel to safety.

After the suicide attempt, she gets in the car and retreats out west to the Badlands of South Dakota. Once there, she goes on a personal quest to discover who she is and whether or not she can continue with her music career. On the surface, it seems a lot more introspective and possibly even sad book than I would go in for. I will admit that I’ve had low points in my life and have even heard that frightening siren call from the back of my brain that made me think about suicide. Fortunately, between my amazing family and my own stubborn self-preservation instinct, I never got all that close to the brink, but I’ve glimpsed enough to know how scary it is and hesitated getting closer, even in fictional form. Despite that, I found myself captivated with Dayna’s story and how she becomes enchanted by the Badlands and the people she meets along her journey. Even though the novel opens with Dayna in a dark place, the novel proves hopeful and even fun at times as Dayna finds help for her depression and rebuilds her life.

One aspect of the novel that I particularly enjoyed was Dayna’s early decision that if she was going to return to the music world, she would return on her own terms. Dayna has a demanding agent, a full public appearance schedule, and pressure to get into the studio to record more songs. Dayna’s story actually parallels a lot of writers I know, who have numerous publishing obligations and travel to science fiction and comic conventions every available weekend. There are intense pressures to move the books already published and produce more books at a steady rate. In fact, I know some writers, editors, and agents who will insist that this kind of intense schedule is the only viable career path available. Anyone not on this path is a failure as a writer and should quit wasting their time.

I’m sorry. I just don’t accept that. All it takes to be a musician is to make music. All it takes to be a writer is to write. All it takes to be a painter is to paint. All it takes for something to be a career is that money from the occupation must flow to the person doing the job in some sustainable way. How an artist makes that happen is between the artist and those paying for the art. For any occupation to be sustainable, the person occupied must feel satisfied with their life as a whole. For me, right now, satisfaction with life includes spending time contributing to astronomy through my work at Kitt Peak, spending time with family, in addition to writing. I choose writing jobs and projects that both give me satisfaction and allow me to do the other things that give me satisfaction.

I’m glad I joined Dayna on her journey to the South Dakota Badlands and visiting the real Badlands is now something I must do. You can find the novel at: https://www.amazon.com/Unplugged-Anniversary-Novel-Paul-McComas/dp/1564746046. As I’ve mentioned, this is a novel about a musician. It turns out that Paul McComas has collaborated with Maya Kuper to create an album of Dayna’s music and it’s a pretty amazing listen. It’s also a great example of what can happen when you do art on your own terms. It frees you to explore and I was delighted to hear Dayna’s songs come to life. “Jack-o’-Lantern” and “Karma Bomb” will likely get frequent play from me, but all of the songs are great. You can listen and buy at: https://daynaclay.bandcamp.com/

Proceeds from both the novel and album go to benefit two causes. One is the Kennedy Forum, which works to improve the way mental health and addiction issues are treated in this country. You can learn more at kennedyforum.org. The other cause is the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network which runs the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. In addition to these two great causes, I want to share the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in case anyone reading this needs it: 1-800-273-8255

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Disharmony of the Spheres

I’m proud to announce that my story “A Vanishing Past” featuring Captain Firebrandt and the crew of the Legacy has just been released in the anthology Disharmony of the Spheres published by Nomadic Delirium Press.

Mental illness is very common in our society, but it’s also very misunderstood. Many view those with mental illnesses as being weak, but there is a great deal of strength in those that must battle their own minds on a regular basis.

Disharmony of the Spheres focuses on characters with mental illnesses that are still able to be successful. They may not completely overcome their illnesses, but they are able to beat them back and succeed.

In addition to my story, you will find the fiction of Ian Brazee Cannon, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, M.H. Bonham, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Kate Runnels, Michael Morgan, L.J. Bonham, Carol Hightshoe, Francis W. Alexander, and Terrie Leigh Relf.

This book is dedicated to all of the science fiction fans and writers that must battle their own personal demons every day, and half of all of the profits from this book will go to The Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Organization, a group that battles teen suicide.

My story in this book was inspired by a trip I took with my mom to her hometown of Des Moines, New Mexico, while she battled dementia. The trip was at once challenging and amazing. It reminded me that our society finds it all too easy to hide seniors from sight and keep them out of the way.

Although my mom spent much of the time repeating sentences and phrases over and over, she also shared stories and wisdom with my daughter and I that she had never shared before. It was early springtime in New Mexico, which meant there was still snow on the ground up in the northeastern corner of the state and that presented challenges to her mobility, but with some help she still was able to get around and I feel the success of that trip added to the quality of her final years.

We visited Capulin Volcano National Monument and met a ranger who knew my grandfather and told us stories about him. It was like finding buried treasure because these were stories my mom either didn’t know or had forgotten. So in my story, Captain Firebrandt goes on a treasure hunt with his father who is suffering dementia. In the process they learn that his father still has much wisdom and a self-sufficiency that would be all too easy to dismiss.

You can buy Disharmony of the Spheres at: