Shaded Pain

The nearly forgotten song “Shaded Pain” on the 1987 LSU (a.k.a. Lifesavers Underground) album of the same name includes the lines, “We throw off all the shackles, then we wear the chains, shaded pain. We find out who we are, then we lose our names, shaded pain.”

When I was a teenager listening to this song on cassette, I was moved to tears many times.  It’s strange hearing it now.  I can’t separate from the nostalgia to hear it with objective ears, and suspect that it probably wasn’t the work of genius that it seemed to be as I stared out of a backseat window all those years ago.  It isn’t available on streaming services, just obsolete formats like CD and vinyl.  The sentiment, that people (particularly Christians) are shamed into hiding their pain, is still carries a lot of weight.  And yet, since the song came out in the 80’s the opposite trend– oversharing– seems to be growing, too.

There was a tragedy today.  I, like many people feel a need to talk about it on social media.  I feel like I need to commemorate it, to stain the otherwise banal stream of pleasantness in my feed to match the outside world.  I’m not sure what it accomplishes or if I even have the right to do it.

I was off work today and listened to the audiobook forms of James Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.  The first of these was a more dedicated listen, with a physical copy on hand to underline and dog ear especially well-written passages.  Both were disconcerting, but at a remove- one from the past and the other from some uncertain future.  After finishing the second of these I checked the news out of habit and learned of the latest tragedy.  The chaos so carefully sequestered into my books had leaked into the present after all.

The Wikipedia entries for The Devil Finds Work is a fraction of the length of the one for Annihilation (links above).  There is no question that James Baldwin’s work is exponentially more important, but it, like Shaded Pain, suffers from belonging to a pre-internet era.  There really is no history in the Internet, just a continuous present that gets preserved.  Voluminous Wikipedia entries about Shakespeare’s plays only attest to the present focus on their worth, not what they actually meant at the time of their writing.

I don’t know the meaning of this, other than the desire to write what I know.  A tragedy has happened today.  One in a series, soon to be displaced by the next.  I feels wrong to say nothing, but also wrong to talk about what I don’t know.  So I’ll write about what I know and hope it is enough.  On Amazon used copies of Shaded Pain are selling for $2 on CD and $200 on vinyl, so maybe somehow it’s worth a lot and not that much at the same time.

shaded pain


Inception, a Korean action movie and Philip K Dick

Inception is a pretty great movie.  So when I saw an article in The Verge comparing the South Korean movie Fabricated City to it I had to check it out.  One problem: it’s not on any of the streaming services… I had to cough of the cash to get the Blu Ray.  I guess my eccentric streak was strong enough to compel me to go for it- the same way it led me by by the DVD of the surreal Iranian film The Cow, but that’s another story.

Fabricated City was decent.  I’d give it a solid A- for overall entertainment value. A little overlong, and with some laughable special effects, but an interesting story and good action.  I didn’t really get the Inception connection though.  It seemed to have more in common with paranoid thrillers like Enemy of the State.  By some random fluke though I did come across a story recently that seemed to share a lot of the themes from Inception: Ubik by Philip K. Dick.

I know of Philip K. Dick as the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the book that inspired Blade Runner, though I haven’t read/watched either of them yet.  I have however read the 900 page door stopper of a book The Exegesis of Philip K Dick, a bewildering tour of the seemingly endless pages of stream-of-consciousness metaphysical writings he left behind.  It seems to be the product of a creative, disturbed and paranoid mind.  It is sometimes fascinating, other times boring, and occasionally L Ron Hubbard-ish.  Anyway, I finally got around to reading Ubik, and without spoiling the plot, I can safely recommend it as a better fit than Fabricated City for fans of Inception.   It has it all- layers of reality, people who are not what they seem, and a head-scratching ending Christopher Nolan could be proud of.  It’s a pretty quick read, and fast paced.  Highly recommended, especially if you are looking for a way to kill time until your Blu Ray of Fabricated City arrives in the mail.

Why making an audiobook makes no financial sense…and why I did it anyway Part 2

In part one I explained all the reasons why turning Vague Pains into an Audiobook made no sense money-wise.   Here’s the other side of the story.

  1. A new perspective on the book.  After years of getting to know my characters, I thought I knew them all pretty well, but a good narrator can make them surprise you.  That This was clear even from the first lines in Vague Pains, which is a passage from Henry’s journal.  In my head I had imagined Henry reading the lines back in an apathetic, numb state of mind.  Instead, in the audiobook version, the performance conveys a sense of fear.  It was just as true to the character as my version, and really opened my eyes.  It was thrilling to hear different nuances in the performance I hadn’t expected.  As an author it was a unique and special experience.
  2. A broader audience.  I rarely read ebooks.  I love underlining and dog earing.  The digital equivalents just aren’t the same.  My book-consumption habits are probably about 50% physical and 50% audio.  Everyone has their own preferences, so having Vague Pains in as many formats as possible helps open it up to more people.
  3. Ok…I admit it. I listen to Audiobooks so often that I just wanted one of my own.  Maybe it is a bit of a vanity project in that sense.  I have no idea if or when I will write another novel.  I want to make the most of it!

Why making an audiobook makes no financial sense…and why I did it anyway Part 1


I am an AVID audiobook listener (as you can see from my Audible stats), so I always envisioned there being an audio version Vague Pains.  When it came time to crunch the numbers it became clear that it made no financial sense.  Using (a pretty cool service) it is free to post the completed file on Audible, iTunes, etc.  Side note: being an Amazon company, ACX will take a smaller cut of the sales if you agree to just post it on Audible.

The real cost is in making a good recording.  Sure, home recording set ups are relatively inexpensive, but most authors aren’t so great at being narrators.  I remember listening to a clip of Joseph Heller reading a passage for Catch 22- included as a bonus feature at the end of the professionally-narrated Audiobook.  Guess what?  Pretty underwhelming by comparison, even though the work was his vision!

I gave narration a try.  It wasn’t pretty.  Hiring a talented narration can easily cost into the hundreds of dollars per hour of finished audio.  It takes some pretty optimistic math to imagine enough sales to make it a money-maker.  That being said, I still went for it.  I’ll explain why in the next post!

Letting it out

I’ve noticed two opposing impulses when I think about people reading my book.  First is the thrill of knowing that people will have a chance to share in your vision.  It is so humbling to think that someone, somewhere, has spent some of their money and time to read what I have to say.  But at the same time, it was nerve racking to submit a final version for publication.  Maybe the reason is that I am such a perfectionist that I probably could spend the rest of my life writing and re-writing Vague Pains– though I’m not sure how emotionally healthy that would be!  If I’m honest with myself there is another factor: putting my book out there makes me vulnerable.  What if it sucks?  Perhaps worse than being merely bad, what if its boring?!  As long as it remains a work in progress, I can tell myself that it will be a work of utter genius…at some point.

A few months ago, after years of rewrites, something changed.  I started to feel a sense of peace, that the story was finally done.  It reached a point where (after 10 years) I felt that it finally did justice to the idea I had way back at the beginning.  Still…I can’t shake that same anxious anticipation that all authors must feel when they have their first release.  Oh well, here goes!

I love Kickstarter


As a first time author I learned (and still are learning) a lot as I navigated getting my book out into the world.  Theoretically you should make a budget when you self publish, but so much depends on the sales numbers- which of course you can’t anticipate- that any theoretical budgeting rapidly goes out the window.

That was one reason I decided to use a Kickstarter campaign to finance the publishing of my book.  I could see how many people were actually interested in buying the book, and offer some extras to bring help offset the expense of editing and graphic design.  I was really thrilled with the results.  Having a successful campaign was a real confidence booster too!  It was a great feeling to have over half of a box of my books sold before they even arrived (and over a month before the release date).

“Write what you know”


One of the most common pieces of advice for aspiring author is to write about what you know.  When I first started doing rotations in the hospital as a medical student I knew it would be an interesting setting for a story.  Still, when I began writing Vague Pains all those years ago I still felt like an outsider in the hospital.  It was easier for me to write through the eyes of a patient (Henry in the book).  Over the years my perspective changed, so I added a doctor-in-training, and finally a practicing physician.  None of these character are fully autobiographical, but I did put a little of myself into all three. In a way the book is a conversation with myself in different stages of my life.

Hard to believe


It’s hard to believe that after about 10 years of effort Vague Pains is almost in print.  Instead of developing my skills as an author by writing many different stories (like most sane writers) I just kept rewriting my first story.  I knew this was the one I wanted to tell.  By the time I got the the end, I would go back to the start and find things to improve.  At times it was a very painful process, but at least it was a sign I was growing as a writer.  I’m still growing as a writer (I hope!), but I finally feel that I was able to do justice to the story in my head.  I can’t wait to see it in print.