I finally returned to this novel and finished it last month. After an initial two drafts I’d finished what I thought was a final manuscript of The Soul Institute in December 1999, and I was proud of the result. Yet, inexplicably, I placed the manuscript securely in the desk drawer for over a decade. I think this was primarily because I assumed (I’m sure quite correctly) that an offering of 1,064 pages and 266,000 words by an unknown author was way too long to be seriously considered by traditional print publishers–and I had no concept of the e-publishing industry which was in its infancy at the time. I think the idea was to get one of my shorter novels published first and then TSI might be considered for a second one. But whatever the excuse, the real feeling I’ve had all this time about the 1999 TSI is shame that I didn’t even try to send it out. Putting it in the drawer was a signal that I was out of contact with my art. Yes, I was always writing nonstop and developing my craft, but now I see that doesn’t really mean much if you’re afraid to even try for publication. That feels like being 70% a writer. It feels as if you yourself are consigned to the desk drawer. And I didn’t realize until later that 70% commitment to anything is really psychic pollution. Continue reading →
Following is a list of my novels and novellas with terse little elevator pitch summaries and some notes as to their fates. If there are novel title links, they lead to their detailed info pages on the mothership, www.sortmind.com.
The Soul Institute, 2011
Himal Steina realizes his recurring dream of a mythic return to the sanctuary of a vast foggy university of Soul when he’s appointed Writer in Residence at the Soul Institute and falls in love with one of its numerous faculty goddesses. But as the Soul Institute splinters under the weight of its unhinged Director and his secret society of Overcrons, the Director’s teenage son consolidates command of the Paint Sniffing Gang, and panic and violence build in the small coastal Texas college town.
Published or About to be Published
The Martian Marauders, 2012
To be published Jan. 2012 by Double Dragon eBooks
After the evacuation of the Earth’s population to Mars, the crew of the Typhoon I spaceship must fight native Martian terrorists led by their new human Emperor, political agitator and traitor Sam Hergs. But Captain Jack Commer compromises the mission when he kidnaps the Emperor’s consort and falls in love with her. Book One of The Jack Commer series.
Jack Commer, Supreme Commander, 2012
To be published by Double Dragon eBooks
Jack Commer brings poor negotiating skills to the war with the fascist Alpha Centaurian Empire, losing his crew to Centaurian brainwashing as he and his wife are sent to be tortured on a barren planet. Book Two of The Jack Commer series.
Nonprofit Chronowar, 2012
To be published by Double Dragon eBooks
Ranna Kikken creates The Committee to End Suffering on Planet Earth at her nonprofit Cat Farm, but its first conference in 2020 is destroyed when intruder Joe Commer time travels from 2036 to lecture CTESOPE on the coming breakdown of the solar system and the destruction of the Earth itself in 2033. Book Three of The Jack Commer series.
The First Twenty Steps, 2011
Available as an eBook from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com
(Novella) An ex-convict finds himself mixed up in a motorcycle gang’s plan to heist a hyperspatial supercomputer. Continue reading →
In the small enclosed world of Rice University, late 1971 to May 1974, there was “word of mouth” about the Wiess Crack, a weekly humor publication consisting of two legal sized sheets folded in half to make an eight-page magazine. It was of course only one of a million things going on in that environment, but the Crack had achieved that word of mouth status, and it was read, talked about, looked forward to each week. As a web site at Rice today it would likely be ignored, just one of many accessible but psychically neutral ways to waste time.
Wiess rhymes with Rice, with a long “i.” The silly pun of the title wouldn’t work otherwise. Some friends from high school in Northbrook, Illinois wondered if I’d suddenly developed a speech impediment in 1970. Hadn’t I told them I was going way south to “Rice”? What was this “Wiess” business? And then I’d explain that Wiess College was my residential college, one of eight at Rice …
Some of the Wiess Crack’s popularity was due to its previous incarnation as a dull college student humor rag long before I took it over, as well as the fact that it was free and traditionally placed outside the dining commons of all the residential colleges shortly before Thursday evening dinner. However, I and my two principal accomplices, Bear and Joe, took it in an entirely new direction that caused renewed interest and controversy.
What is Career Art? Art executed in the pursuit of success and recognition, seeking opportunities, rising, gaining influence and power. How is this any different at all from rising through an insurance organization?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a career in any profession–we need insurance agents, believe it or not. We’re all interested in making a living doing something we love. The point is that the art career with a life of its own no longer has anything to do with exploration or truth. Maybe that’s why, as an example, musicians can put out such crap along with a few good songs. You’re working fast, there are a million things going on, you trust your talent to help you keep rising, you have to fill out an album, you convince yourself this is good stuff. Other people’s agendas and your own chaotic inner forces are pushing in so many directions, and opportunities are rare and must be grasped quickly. There is little time to read, think, feel, evaluate, step back and see the whole.
In the same way, in your busy writing career you might try to pawn off a lesser quality chapter, a lesser quality character, a lesser quality novel, and naturally you have some reasons to justify this: other parts of this novel were excellent, this lesser section is nevertheless integral to the plot, I can’t be perfect all the time, I don’t have time to revise this, I need to move on to the next writing project, I don’t want to know my work is lesser quality, readers have no choice but to put up with it, hey, this is my blind spot and it’s none of your damn business anyway!
I don’t find artist statements useful. In fact, most of the numerous ones I’ve read strike me as obligatory but unintelligible fluff. But, as I begin to wallow into yet another reassessment of my visual art, I resurrect an older essay, “Visual Art 2007,” which I’m removing from www.sortmind.com and revising here. The essay still rings true but a few edits have updated it for 2011.
Manifestos come about because we’re battered by the hurricane of universal energy and we want to fix our methods, our shelters against that wind. But manifestos themselves get remixed into that hurricane. They wink in and out of existence.
The universe is looking for vessels into which it can pour its raw energies. We need to enhance ourselves to receive these gifts. To demand that the universe merely give us gifts (“I am an artist!”), to aggressively seek the transcendence which accompanies the gift, is self-defeating. That’s why artists burn out, go on ego trips, become dishonest, squander their energies.
We want methods because we want to be assured that the universe will still call on us. But our methods soon become empty rituals. We may have seasons of a certain way of doing things, but we need to be open to changing everything entirely. We need to recognize that any process has to be reevaluated when the universe decides that something new is to be poured. Continue reading →
In August 2011 I’ll have four large paintings showing at the Renner Frankford library auditorium in Dallas. The link–URL also shown at the end of the post–takes you to the Renner page with hours and location. The show runs August 3-30 (hanging day 8/2 and pickup day 8/31).
This 7’ x 7.5’ canvas is one of four large ones I’ve done this year to exorcise an ancient demon of wanting to paint extremely large. Actually, I might want to paint these sizes again, but the vast scale of these unstretched canvases changes my procedures and materials dramatically, not to mention realities like supply expense, transportation, and difficulties in lighting and photographing. And the fact that often you’re standing in the middle of the painting while executing it. Also it made me wonder how pour artists like Helen Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollock dealt with wrinkles on the unstretched canvas. As well as cat hair and other miscellaneous debris. A large unstretched canvas has a surprising weight and is a challenge even to pick up or roll properly.
The original canvas I worked on was twice this size–7’ x 15’. Maybe I was trying to set some sort of personal size record and so offended the muse somehow, but when I painstakingly C-clamped the heavy awkward thing to a makeshift wall in my studio and finally took a look at it, I realized how bad it was. It was so large I could not get back far enough to take a decent picture of it. It was horribly dark and dull and static and ponderous, over-planned and … mediocre. I found myself unwilling to even look at the thing. I already knew it was a wrong-headed mistake, but when my wife Nancy gave some excellent comments on exactly why it was mediocre, I was consciously able to crystallize why I needed to cut the canvas in half and simply have fun doing some total sloppy improvisation on two halves.
Since all four of these large paintings are unstretched, they can be rolled and stuffed into my car from dashboard to rear window; however, this process mandates curtailing my usual love for built up texture. I wanted the canvases as light as possible, and with a flat surface to minimize damage while rolled up or being transported.
If I ever take it into my head to staple these canvases onto stretchers, which would reduce the overall size by a minimum five inches on a size, I might consider revising them with more texture and some additional color. In their unstretched state they seem like rough drafts of paintings, with all the awkward exuberant energy of a rough draft of anything. I found myself thinking as I did these large works that these were depictions of large paintings, something you might commission an artist to do as backdrop for a theatrical production about an artist who painted large scale …
copyright 2011 by Michael D. Smith
link to Renner location and hours: http://dallaslibrary2.org/branch/renner.php
If you’re well known and announce on your blog that you’re “going dark” to work on some major project, your readers may accept this in anticipation of some future gift. If nobody reads your blog and you announce that you happened to have gone dark due to some major project, well, this is not so impressive, as nobody missed you in the meantime and if anybody happened to, they don’t give a flip about your darkness.
In my case, which I suspect runs along the lines of the latter, a long-standing desire of mine shoved aside other writing projects, including blog.sortmind.com, for almost two months. This was to scan in and correct the entirety of the 1,587 page rough draft of my novel Akard Drearstone, written from February 1976 to March 1978. I’ve been asking myself if all this hasn’t been a waste of time and energies better spent on new fiction, but I think this dig into the past has been beneficial. Besides, I just finished a new novel in May, Seven of Cups/Beyond DamnStar, and here was an opportunity to relax with some easygoing archeological work. Obsessive, all-consuming, easygoing archeological work.
I was able to place my heartwarming novella about a motorcycle gang on amazon.com, via their Kindle Direct Publishing program. So The First Twenty Steps can now be downloaded to either a Kindle or a Nook. The price is still $1.00, and the book is still available on Barnes and Noble.
This was an interesting experiment because it was a completely different (and not so straightforward) process than with Barnes and Noble’s PubIt, and involved saving a Word document as HTML and then having that converted with free third party software, MobiPocket Creator, into something called a “.prc” format, as opposed to PubIt’s .epub format, which seems to be evolving to be the standard.
I was able to use the same digital cover photo, and the two editions are identical. The Kindle URL is:
and PubIt meanwhile has updated my URL to:
Harry, the novella’s hero, is an ex-convict, just released from prison in the afternoon, who later that night finds himself mixed up with a motorcycle gang’s plan to steal a supercomputer from the dreaded Dataflux building.
The novella is not available in print, but someday I may investigate the whole Print on Demand technology. I would love to see one of those POD machines in operation. Here’s an interesting overview of the pros and cons (or, as the article seems to indicate, mostly the cons) of POD publishing:
Feel free to write a review of The First Twenty Steps on either amazon.com or the PubIt site, or as a comment here on the blog. It would be nice to get a comment from someone other than Russian pharmaceutical spammers, BTW. And if anyone is setting up as blog and would like me to explain why blogs attract so much comment spam, and such spam’s relation to Google search results, let me know. WordPress has a nice add-on that blocks these creepy but often hilarious literary gems.
copyright 2011 by Michael D. Smith
My novel The Martian Marauders is scheduled for publication with Double Dragon eBooks in January 2012. The Martian Marauders is the first in my Jack Commer science fiction series, which includes Jack Commer, Supreme Commander and Nonprofit Chronowar. I’m halfway through a fourth novel in the series, with a working title of Seven of Cups/Beyond Damnstar.
Publication of The Martian Marauders is scheduled for January 2012. But there’s no way this crude cartoon–one in a set of bizarre Tarot cards I drew a long time ago–would be the cover of the novel!
In 2033 Captain Jack Commer drops the planet-wrecking Xon bomb to end The Final War, forcing a hasty evacuation of the remnants of Earth’s population to Mars. But by June 2034 previously unknown native Martians have risen in rebellion, led by their new human emperor, the political agitator and traitor Sam Hergs. Amid family squabbles arising from the presence of four Commer brothers aboard his ship, Jack finds himself in the deep Martian desert battling Martian insurgents armed with shatterguns that crack their victims into millions of jagged pieces of glass.
Jack’s ship, the Typhoon I, is sent to Mercury to destroy a Martian death ray designed to incinerate what the Martians now consider a despoiled Mars. There John, the youngest Commer brother, impetuously rams the ship into the enemy base in a suicide attack, killing all crewmembers and marooning Jack and Joe in deep space.
Though the brothers are eventually captured by Hergs’ agents, taken to yet another Martian base on Venus, and finally escape, Jack compromises the entire mission when he kidnaps the Emperor’s consort and falls in love with her.
copyright 2011 by Michael D. Smith
I’ve long had a history of straddling the two horses of writing and painting, and there have been a few times where I seriously thought I should ditch writing in favor of art. Yet what has always felt best is to say that I’m 80% a writer and 20% a visual artist.
I can allow those percentages to vary a bit as I try to keep one foot in each horse’s stirrup, hoping they head more or less in the same direction. But while painting is necessary, the writing horse must lead. This does not mean illustration, just that the energies involved in my visual art—and they do differ from writing energies—are literary.
I’m not sure I can really pin down how that works. But I’ve noticed that in all cases where I’ve flirted with abandoning writing in favor of art, I’ve been out of contact with myself, even if the surrounding energies have been high. Visual creation can take on too much importance, luring me with its physicality and immediacy. Three examples are:
- Walking back across the soccer fields from the Media Center one February morning my freshman year at Rice, I had the sudden certainty that I should chuck the difficult, lonely writing quest in favor of the power of painting. While my actual output of that time was mediocre, I was immersed in the studio, the materials, the other artists, the art community, and the high-energy experimentation. It was natural to respond to that energy.
- Spring-Summer 1986. During this time I was experiencing a renaissance of painting energy and a rededication to developing my visual style, not just trying to repeat older processes. Although at the same time I was connecting with some new writing energy, with two new science fiction novels that year, the visual energy was in ascendance, and I began to consider whether I should pursue art first.
- The Summer Art Career, 2006. After a period of several years of doing one-man shows and selling some art, I took early retirement from the library with the hope that visual art would lead to career and financial success. But this delusion didn’t last through the summer. Continue reading →