Wondering Where I Am These Days?

I’ve been building a website for my new publishing imprint, Odd Sky Books! You can visit the “under construction” page to sign up for a newsletter to get updates that will be more frequent than I’ll be updating this blog. Here’s the URL: http://www.oddskybooks.com.

I am also busy preparing to publish a collection of short stories later this year, and getting ready to write a novella that continues the story of Mario Santa Maria from my recent short story, MIXED MEDIA. The idea to do that wasn’t mine – it was yours! Readers wanted to know how the story turns out, and I’m happy to oblige.

My publication plans for the next few years are very aggressive. I will not be spending time blogging, but I also will not take down this site. People seem to find it useful for two things:

1. The MailChimp + WordPress.com Tutorial

2. A Review of Ania Ahlborn’s Seed

You can always reach me by using the Contacts page on this site. The best way to find out what’s going on with me or my writing is to sign up for the newsletter, either using the link here, or by visiting Odd Sky Books. I will be sending a monthly letter that has the tone of an email from a friend, not a marketer. When Odd Sky Books launches, there will be additional benefits that current subscribers will receive. I’d love to have you join me!

As ever,

-aniko

Author Reading

Here’s a video of me reading the opening section of my surreal short story MIXED MEDIA. In it, the protagonist discovers that there’s something strange going on with the way he sees art.  Enjoy!


 

I wish that YouTube didn’t always choose the most awkward expression as the still video clip! :)


About MIXED MEDIA:

Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.


 

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Revision: Wanna See How the Sausage Is Made?

DIY Book Covers, Fiction Template #17

Cover Design based on DIY Book Covers Fiction Template #17

I love the freedom of the first draft. The only thing I love more is revising the ever-living bleep out of the first draft. Today, I’d like to share the revision the first paragraph of my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA. Originally titled REPRODUCTION, I wrote the first draft in 2008. The first draft is full of gory detail, bombast, and sins against English. I’ve chosen three examples of the first paragraph to illustrate my revision process. Now, let’s make some sausage!

Here is an exerpt from June 12, 2008:

My name is Mario Santa Maria.  On Tuesday I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black.  In the bright foyer of the visiting exhibit, natural light fell upon black canvas after black canvas, making the uniform paint gleam and reflect dark rectangles on the honey-golden floor freshly buffed.  I read the names of the works:  “Surreal Forest,”  “Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street),” “Submissive Ocean.”  Each canvas was a straight hung, edge-on-edge perfect patch of night set flush to the walls, and none of them more colorful than a square or rectangle of deep-space pitch.   The brochure describing the exhibit extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, and how each painting (various media) had captured the essence of light and life.  I chuffed a bit under my breath.  What a statement, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilistic representation on modern life or modern Nature!  It was, I decided, a gutsy if artless venture.

I warned you about the bombast and the sins, no? This paragraph is an Ouroboros, choking on  its own tail. I’ve gone beyond overboard with adjectives. The floor is not just “freshly buffed,” but also “honey-golden.” The paintings aren’t just on the wall, they are “straight hung,” “set flush,” and (ouch, this hurts!) “edge-on-edge perfect patch of night.” I think we all get it that paintings in a museum are hung in an orderly fashion upon the walls. Almost none of that description was necessary, and I may as well take a stick and poke it in the reader’s eyes: “You! Know what? Paintings hang on walls!” I used the word “chuffed,” because Steven King used it in a book; which book, I no longer recall. It’s a fine word, but overbearing and pompous in this paragraph. This paragraph is a “gutsy if artless venture!”

It was also the pinnacle of my ability at the time that I wrote in in 2008. I’d been writing three years, and for the equivalent of a literary toddler, it isn’t bad. Another thing that’s not bad is that I knew I wasn’t ready to publish, and I put the story aside,  took several writing workshops, studied, wrote tons more, completed my first and second novels, and then (then!) came back to revise.

Here is an excerpt from May 5, 2014:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black. I walked the perimeter, pausing to read the names of the works: Surreal Forest, Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street), Submissive Ocean. Each canvas was a straight hung, perfect patch of night set flush to the walls. The exhibit placard extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, how the paintings captured the modern essence of life. It was gutsy, if artless, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilism.

This is better. I cut entire swathes of needless description from the paragraph. I kept the first sentence and maintain that simple phrase was always the exact right opening for the story. I replaced the awkward double-quotes around painting names with uber-swank italics. I got rid of “chuffed.” I’ll have you know I actually, sadly struggled with that decision. “Chuffed” is a good word, not oft used. I wanted to bring it back. Or get it started, like a party. I cut it, though, and that was the right decision. Writing is funny, because as a writer, you fall in love with the strange bits you are pretty sure no one else will ever love. You really believe those bloated phrases like “straight hung, perfect patch of night” are simply misunderstood, and if people had sense (SENSE!) they would know what was good for them and LOVE it. Luckily, I have an editor. Her name is Jacinda Little. She doesn’t let me get away with atrocities against my readers. I sent her the version from May 5 for her to edit. I think you’ll agree that with her input, the opening paragraph turns into something that doesn’t make you want to gouge out your own eyes.

Here’s the final revision to the opening paragraph, from June 1, 2014, nearly four years after the first draft was penned:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, all of the paintings at Vos Museum were black. The works in the visiting gallery had names like Surreal Forest, Submissive Ocean, and Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street). Their placards extolled the sensuous representation of Nature. The nihilism was gutsy, and I wondered why there hadn’t been a bigger media splash.

Ahhh, isn’t that better? There are specific details to ground you in the scene, both the painting names and the name of the museum. I no longer try and painfully describe that paintings hang on walls (!). I also finally tell you why the fact that this is gusty matters to Mario or to you, the reader: no one else has noticed or mentioned that there is an exhibit of paintings that are just black canvases. It immediately gives you the interesting fact that Mario alone is remarking upon this particular phenomenon. I’ve also clued you in that Mario is in the museum on a day when most grown-ups are working, and possibly you wonder what’s up with that, which would be great, because a reader with a question is a reader who keeps reading to find the answer. Perhaps I could have come up with shorter names for the paintings. I think they’re clever, and Jacinda didn’t object, so they stay. I hope we can agree that the removal of “chuffed” improves this paragraph.

May your sausage making be guided by an excellent editor!

xoxo,

-aniko


 

About MIXED MEDIA:

Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

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A Sort of Sex/Wine Triumph

My editor, Jacinda Little, is amazing. Jacinda’s guidance in structuring MIXED MEDIA is responsible for the tension that makes the juicy bits all that more delicious.  Thanks to Jacinda, the protagonist of MIXED MEDIA discovers the sensuality thrumming beneath the surface of a still life.

Still Life with Figs by Luis Egidio Melendez, via Art.com

Still Life with Figs by Luis Egidio Melendez, via Art.com

An Excerpt from MIXED MEDIA:

An angel with a pixie cut, she sat at the end of a bench. She conceded a small, welcoming smile before shifting attention to her work. I wanted to swallow her whole, digest the miracle of her fixed stare. Instead, I took a place next to her and started drawing. Together, we created twin reflections of Melendez’s still life with figs. We caressed the sensual curves of the fruit; lovingly shaded the leavened bread; detailed the sweet-juiced slit of an opened fig. Sarah and I finished at the same time, a sort of sex/wine triumph.

I glanced at her. She laughed and said, “I never noticed how thoroughly sexual this painting is. Even the bread looks feminine.”

“Maybe it’s only erotic because we looked at it together.”

“Are you hitting on me?”

I closed my sketchbook, hiding the juicy fig.

“Don’t blush. I didn’t mind.” She extended her charcoal smudged hand. “I’m Sarah.”

 About MIXED MEDIA:

Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.


The image included in this post is courtesy of Art.com, where you can purchase prints of this work, and thousands of others. Want some art? Click the Rafflecoptor button to enter for a chance to win a $25 (USD) gift certificate at Art.com!

Click to enter!


 

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We Always Want to See What Is Hidden

Le Fils de L'Homme by Rene Magritte, via Art.com

Le Fils de L’Homme by Rene Magritte, via Art.com

Magritte’s Le Fils de Le Homme (The Son of Man) inspires a sense of dread. The blank water behind him, the obscured face, and the surreal placement of an apple all conspire to make you want to do one thing: see what the man looks like. In MIXED MEDIA, the protagonist Mario Santa Maria discovers he can only see artwork when he intercepts the communication between the viewer and the piece of art. The blank, featureless black that devours the paintings at the Vos Modern Museum is analogous to Magritte’s apple. Mario’s ability to see through the darkness is the equivalent of plucking that apple out of the air and exposing the features of The Son of Man.

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Excerpt from MIXED MEDIA:

“What do you see when you look at that book on the coffee table?”

“A picture of a man with a floating green apple in front of his face.”

“Do you know what I see?”

She shrugged.

“Nothing. I see a black rectangle where the picture should be. Magritte, the artist who painted this, explained it by saying ‘everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.’”

Darla clutched the bear to her chest. “What does it mean?”

“I think it explains what’s happening to me.”

“What, Mario, what’s happening to you?”

“I’ve been chosen for something.”

“Chosen?” she repeated.

“You make it sound crazy.”

About MIXED MEDIA

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?


The image included in this post is courtesy of Art.com, where you can purchase prints of this work, and thousands of others. Want to help me celebrate publication? Click the Rafflecoptor button to enter for a chance to win a $25 (USD) gift certificate at Art.com!

Click to enter!


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Wisdom Tooth in the Belly of a Worm

The difficulty with having a mystical experience is that no one is going to believe you. You probably won’t believe you. Insanity seems like a better answer than discovering you’ve got some special access to the truth underpinning reality. I put Mario Santa Maria, the protagonist of my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA,  in the situation of being called to an extraordinary purpose that also happens to be unbelievable. His girlfriend, Darla, thinks he’s lost it and wants him to get help. Mario himself isn’t sure what to make of it all. I chose The Scream as the perfect painting to represent the terror, shock, and apparent insanity of Mario’s new abilities.

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Mario Faces Darla’s Doubt

The Scream by Edvard Munch, via Art.com

The Scream by Edvard Munch, via Art.com

An Excerpt from MIXED MEDIA:

“I haven’t lost touch with reality.”

“Then what is this?” Darla spread her arms, indicating the coffee table, the mess, me.

“I’m sorry I’m such an inconvenience for you. I thought you understood why I had to quit that job. Retouching prints with cheap paint to give it an ‘authentic texture’ was perverse. It killed my inspiration, and then stole my dreams.” I finished shading a wisdom tooth in the belly of a worm, and tossed the sketch book onto the coffee table.

Darla’s lower lip quivered. Her nose whistled, a high-pitched reminder of the all the coke she’d done. “You need help,” she repeated.

“Thanks, but I’m fine.” I passed her the Vos bag. “I got this for you.”

She pulled out the bear and adjusted its tiny shirt. “Do you really think you can fix this with a stuffed animal?”

“No. There are postcards in there, too.”

Darla tucked the bear under her arm and fished in the bag. She shuffled the postcards. Escher and Munch appeared and disappeared in exquisite detail. When she set them on the table, the images morphed to black. “Should these mean something to me?”

About MIXED MEDIA:

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?


The image included in this post is courtesy of Art.com, where you can purchase prints of this work, and thousands of others. Want a chance to win $25 at Art.com? Click the Rafflecoptor button to enter the giveaway!

Click to enter!


 

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DUSK AND SUMMER, by Joseph Pinto

I met Joe through friends of writer friends. He is a contributor to the esteemed Pen of the Damned writing collective, a friendly commentor on my blog, and has the sweet charm and humor found most purely in horror authors. He asked if I would host him as part of a blog tour to announce and celebrate the publication of his newest book, DUSK AND SUMMER, and I agreed because I like Joe, and I enjoy his work with Pen of the Damned. I didn’t know what to expect of DUSK AND SUMMER, but what I got was a new perspective on aging, life, and learning how to live with the specter of mortality.

If you haven’t read Joe’s guest post, please do! If you haven’t read DUSK AND SUMMER, you can puchase it here:

Amazon: US |UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | India | Brazil

CreateSpace | Smashwords

Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes (Apple)

Joe is donating a portion of the proceeds to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

Pancreatic Cancer

Please leave a review for Joe on Amazon or Goodreads!

xoxo,

-aniko


DuskAndSummerThere are two types of coming of age stories. The common one, with which we are all familiar, examines the psychological and emotional landscape of a boy becoming a man. The less common concerns the next great leap, a transition for which we have no name, but which happens when our parents pass away and we are left to understand a world in which we are the elders, the guardians, the guides. DUSK AND SUMMER, a novella by Joseph Pinto, is of the latter type.

In the forward, Pinto reveals that he lost his father to the ravages of pancreatic cancer. DUSK AND SUMMER is Pinto’s tribute to the man who loved, raised, and inspired him. It is a beautiful elegy that transcends the personal nature of the content to reveal something essential about life: DUSK AND SUMMER shows us the unselfish nature of love. Love, in Pinto’s narrative, is about shared moments as much as it is about knowing when to let go, and intuiting the wholeness that only death can restore. Eons ago, Epictetus advised  “never say about anything, I have lost it, but say I have restored it.” People of faith have ritual and community to guide them to acceptance. If there is a hereafter, then Omega is Alpha, and the only reason we cannot recognize that in the same dry, factual way in which we recognize the elements in the periodic table is because we are limited – locked into – our Now, our Here. The challenge of discovering faith in a “beyond” is the hallmark of this second, nameless coming of age. DUSK AND SUMMER is the story of moving to the acceptance that what is lost, who is lost, is restored to wholeness in a way we cannot rationalize, touch, or mentally conceive.

***Spoiler Alert! Some plot points are revealed in the next paragraph, but the true magic of the myth is preserved. You’ll love the way Pinto brings it all together, so get the book!***

Pinto presents his theory of this transition as a myth. Myth is the most natural means humans have to absorb ideas that exist outside of reason. DUSK AND SUMMER leads the protagonist, an intentionally unnamed Everyman, on a mystical  journey from the symbolically laden memories of the Tolten, a sunken ship, to the concrete locale of 141 Sea Cargo Drive. His dying father sent him there, with instructions to do what must be done. A woman of otherworldly beauty meets him on the beach. The protagonist understands, with a soul-shock, that he is tasked with helping her guide his father’s soul to the other side. Initially, he fights the idea of his father’s departure. This is the vestige of the child in him, crying and gripping his father’s trouser leg. It is this sentimental attachment that must give way to unselfish acceptance in the second coming of age. His father gave him everything he needs to enter the second stage of adulthood, and to honor all his father gave, the son must let go. The son fully takes on the strength which was in the father, and uses it to carry his father across the threshold to a new life. The end of a life, and of DUSK AND SUMMER, is bittersweet. The myth is completed, and the narrator arrives in the next phase of his maturity. DUSK AND SUMMER is a beautiful tribute, and a salve for all psyches battered by the loss of a beloved parent.


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