Tag Archives: Books

Making a Fractal Coloring Book

FinalFrontCover

A lot of the projects I take on are just natural extensions of the things I immerse myself in (i.e obsess about). Even before being contacted by a publisher I’d been considering a fractal coloring book project for a little while. I had a lot of the programs I’d need, and 1000’s of images I’d generated in producing my previous two fractal books and subsequent posts. All I  would need to do is select the best of them, maybe write a good intro, and I’d have a quality book.

I think the only way we take on big projects is by deluding ourselves into thinking they’re not big projects, then plowing forward full steam ahead.

For a start, fractals that are good to color have a very different set of criterion from most of the fractals I’d been creating up to this point. You want something intricate but not so detailed that you can’t color it. You want some kind of pattern, but nothing too regular. You want something very open to interpretation, but with some common points of reference to give you guidance. You want a good variety of images, while providing people enough of what they’ll like. You need to cater to different difficulty levels, and because I like to teach about fractals as well, you need to use different generation techniques.

That’s a lot to think about when you’re trying to make 25 images.

Creating fractals for this book fell into one of a few different modes. There were a few, including the dragon curve and the Apollonian Recursive Gasket (see below), that were “classic” fractal designs that I felt just had to be in a book like this (though for the life of me I couldn’t get a Mandelbrot Set image I was happy with, maybe next book). In the case of the gasket, my insistence on including it might have had a little to do with spending 8 hours trying to write the code that would correctly generate the image (including learning a new way to think about circles, more on that some other time).

004_Bubbles (1-3)

Other designs were created by looking at things around me, a pattern on a quilt, a set of kitchen shelves, and playing around with some L-Systems interpretations of those objects until I got something I liked. Or other times I would draw out a small axiom on paper, sketch out a potential replacement rule, and just see what happened.

The third method involved perusing the thousands of Julia and L-System pictures I’d previously generated for my two fractal books and for posts on this site (this is where my new $50 kindle came in handy). The Julia images in particular took a lot of work, as the generation time to get an image with a good drawing edge is pretty long (2-8 hours on my quad-core laptop). L-Systems by comparison usually take at most only a few minutes, meaning you can experiment a lot more with tiny changes to see what the new result might be. This is probably why 19-20 of the images in the final text are variations on L-Systems and Turtle graphics.

Overall I produced well over a hundred images, culled from potential lists in the 1000’s. By comparison the selection process from those 100 was pretty simple: print the image out, run it by my wife to see if it’s a good candidate, and try not to make too many agonized screams when an image that took many hours to generate is rejected. Actually, my wife had a lot of good suggestions for potential ideas, or questions about tweaks I could do to make an image better.

The initial arrangement of the final images was done on my basement office floor, with one of us playing goalie to keep the dogs from walking all over the paper. Some things are just easier when you can see them out in front of you. We marked each image with a crayon indicating the rough level of difficulty, and moved sheets around until we got an arrangement we liked.

And this was all before I’d written a word.

Just to be clear, this was all great fun for me. I’ve seen other examples of coloring books where people slap together a bunch of stock images, or throw a bunch of their own previous work in without a lot of thought as to whether it would be fun to color. I didn’t want to make a book like that. I always like to create something new. Sure, there were times when I’d create 15 images and only get one good one, but that’s pretty much the experience with every creative endeavor. And there were plenty of “rejected” images that I had a new idea about, and made something even better.

This applies to just about any kind of writing. Writing something you later cut is never wasted effort. Everything is part of the process of making the final product, and even the things you look at and go “what was I thinking” had a part in shaping the final whole. And into making you a better writer or artist.

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My new book, Adult Coloring Book: Fractals is available now on Amazon. Published by Green Frog Publishing. You can see some of the fractals from the book, and color art by my wife (“the little red-haired girl”) on my new website bentrubefractals.com.

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New Release – Adult Coloring Book: Fractals

So here’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of months…

FinalFrontCover

My latest book, Adult Coloring Book: Fractals, is available now on Amazon!

I’m excited to publishing this book with Green Frog Publishing, a small Indie Publisher based in Vermont. This book is actually the second in a series of coloring books, the first of which is a great set of hand-drawn images of the Adirondacks by Dave Campbell.

This book has been a real collaborative effort, including the proofreading talents of one Mr. Brian Buckley, cover and website art by my wife, and editing by Cecilia Bizzoco. Green Frog’s been just great, providing a lot of personal attention and developmental feedback to make this a better book than anything I could have done alone.

The Adult Coloring Book: Fractals is a collection of 25 fractal images for you to color and enjoy. Along the way you’ll learn the basics about fractals, and how some of the individual images were created. Most of this is all new material exclusive to this book (we’ll talk more later in the week about the production process). There’s also an extensive glossary with even more fractal explorations and resources (any glossary that includes a definition for the “Genesis Effect” is okay in my book).

I think fractals are uniquely suited to adult coloring books in that they offer a lot of freedom for interpretation. How you color these images is entirely up to you. Just seeing some of the work my wife put together really made these fractals come alive for me.

You can check out some of the images from this book on my new website BenTrubeFractals.com or buy the book from Amazon.com. Particularly check out the “Play with Fractals” tab for some of the unique L-Systems in this book.

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Guest Post: Carrie Bailey – “Confirmed Independent Publisher”

We all take different roads to becoming a writer. Some of us have been writing since before we can remember, while others put pen to paper far more recently. As the first of what I hope will many posts from other fellow travelers, I’d like to introduce Carrie Bailey. Carrie is a fellow avid coffee drinker, and has the dubious distinction of being one of my first four Twitter followers (sorry for that, Carrie).

Carrie is very generous and encouraging to other writers around her. And she has a wonderful and unique voice born from ten lifetimes of experience crammed into one. She writes honestly and openly about the tough spots in life, while still having plenty of room for the whimsical and the fantastic. If you’re not reading her work, you really should be.

Anyway, enough out of me…

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rural-library-bookmobile

I’m a confirmed independent publisher. I knew I was more attracted to making books than fame and fortune before I started, but I lived a justified lie about my writing for years.

In truth, I’m a librarian. Or I was when I started. I drove a bookmobile once, years before I started. One of the regular patrons brought her writing to me. I blew past the first pages trying to imagine how not to hurt her feelings and I was shocked to see by the third page, she’d created a scene every bit as good as the sort of romantic fiction I respect, but couldn’t be forced to read.

That happened in 2008.

By 2010, I’d worked my way across forums and social networks posing as a writer to make contacts and figure out how to get her published. And then the guilt set in.

The writing community doesn’t ignore anyone. Someone will read your work. Someone will love it. Someone will be negative. Someone will be critical. Someone you want to care about your work will ignore it. And if you keep writing, you’ll probably get stalked a little, too.

I still chat with the people I met online that supported me when I was a fraud. In an uncoordinated huddle, they changed the course of my life. I began to organize them so we could write joint publications and form online writing communities. I knew a passion I had only ever felt before while drinking coffee even if I went months without working on my own fiction.

My artistic skills never involved language. I’ve earned significantly more money as a painter than a writer. And as a librarian, I repeated this conversation daily:

Everyone, “So, you must like to read a lot, huh?”

Me, “No, I read nonfiction sometimes. Online. Librarianship requires database management skills more than anything else.”

I published my first novella after moving to New Zealand from Oregon to study my Masters in Information. My confusion about identity, writer or librarian, deepened quickly. I began to add insightful footnotes to my work in progress while quoting humorous popular fiction in an academic context. Professors were not amused.

Thirty thousand words of nonsense cobbled together from Star Trek’s Ferengi culture, Ayn Rand and Machiavelli appeared on Amazon before I completed my thesis. On a whim, I’d made a fake book cover for a reptilian personal finance book to amuse my sister and then, for practice, wrote the book to go with it.

That barcode has been viewed MILLIONS of times, because someone liked the idea, borrowed the code and put his own false covers on books in actual bookstores. He went viral. I saw no increase in sales. I had a good idea, but someone else executed it better. At least, he used my ISBN.

Five years, four boyfriends and six apartments on three continents later, I finished my novel and rather than query and I find a small press that wanted it. I released it on Amazon. I earned a 100 USD per month for the first six months, which were most pleasantly, the last six months of my writing career. Then, over the holiday, still intensely pleased with myself, I opened a physical copy to take notes for the second book in the series and discovered every single version I’d created had been a draft complete with typos and an unrevised ending where two critical characters had the wrong background.

I ignored everyone who said that it read like a draft, because I thought they were just being negative. Writers have to be positive. We can’t network with the naysayers.

This is 2016.

I love writing. I made a Jurassic Park-style world with extinct Pliocene-like megafauna, because post-apocalyptic genetic engineers needed something better to eat. I killed 13 million people with two sentences. I have people obsessed over finding a specific strain of coffee. The entire Old Testament hierarchy of angels has gotten a knowledgeable if irreverent fantasy world makeover worthy of a Final Fantasy game. I wove in some Chippewa mythology to honor my father. And I’ve just started to realize my great vision to coordinate a choose-your-own story where one man searches for coffee and dies multiple horrible deaths as contributed by other writers and delivered via website.*

No, I know who I am now. I never wanted to just write books or just catalog them or just design the covers. I want to make books. To format them and feel their spine and the hours I spent building them page-by-page. To carry them to the post and mail them. And I absolutely love it.

*only a massive undertaking if you consider the structure and number of pages involved.

 

So what does being an indie author mean to you specifically?

I believe independent publishing allows us to send a ripple out into the world, specific and unique to our own experience, as artists. Certainly, I have to learn more technical skills to distribute my work, but I get to say exactly what I want before becoming so popular a publisher is willing to take risks with me.

One reviewer said my first novel, “…felt like a warm ’emergency-jumper’, the one you throw on to slob about at home in and is always the most comfortable item in your wardrobe.” He found and delivered my motivation for publishing independently better than I could have expressed it. No chasing trends. No fear of the bottom line. Not for me.

After fifteen years watching people walk in and out of libraries looking for distraction when their life became too turbulent and making safe spaces for people to hide from the world, books stopped looking like books. They’re ships. They’re hugs. They’re helping hands. They’re a new palette for weary artists. With books, we can sail through the hardest experiences and emotions, the complexities and yet, emerge with hope or trigger a cathartic purge from the bilge of our most guarded thoughts. We unveil inspiration in the parallel universes of other people’s minds. With books.

Books aren’t books. They’re thoughts. They are us. And independent books represent the most potentially genuine expression a person can make.

Some writers use their unique voice to scream, “I want your money and I think you’re stupid!” They care so little for readers that not even the most desperate publishers want their work. But, many independent writers roll out every sentence for their readers like a red carpet. Even if the first show isn’t that great, it’ll get better.

 

What happened with your friend’s writing? Do you two still keep in touch?

We were very close for a few years. I even went on a chartered fishing trip with her extended family. And we talked about jealousy when I started writing, but in the end, it damaged our connection. I can certainly feel the distance when we chat.

I don’t think she ever got comfortable enough to put her work in circulation. Maybe she wrote from a deeper place that I may not understand, but I can face criticism.

 

Where do you do most of your writing?

During daylight hours and on the weekdays, I rent close to town. I have few possessions, being a minimalist, and most of them are art supplies. They fit comfortably in that small space. On the evenings and weekends, I am out of cellular range at my boyfriend’s home though I do bring my laptop whenever I spend a week here and there at friends’ homes and work a few hours out of their spare rooms.

I’ve tried working in a coffee shop before I left New Zealand, but I distract too easily and fail to keep ordering refills when a scene starts coming together.

 

Do you remember your first cup of coffee?

I was a thirteen year-old high school freshman in a small town on the Oregon Coast during the 1990s. I left campus to get lunch at the local grocery store. A 20 oz Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid, two packets of non-dairy creamer and a red straw to stir it cost fifty cents.

I didn’t need the coffee, but it had symbolic value. Coffee represented adulthood and the freedom I craved. I drank it almost everyday like an elixir, not in quantity or for quality, because it felt so hopeful. I never stopped.

I did not need permission to start drinking coffee and no one could stop me. At times, people have discouraged my coffee habit, but they do not understand the joy it gives me. This is also true of being an artist or a writer. Coffee reminds me to endure resistance we encounter and share the passion wherever I go.

 

What is the first rule of acquisition?

Once you have their money… you never give it back

I found it hard to switch from being an altruistic book-loving librarian to a heartless ebook vendor. I love and respect independent writers, but some of the publicity schemes show so little respect for readers that it embarrasses me to say I self-publish.

And when I worked in libraries, I had a few colleagues who dismissed all books from smaller publishers as inferior and blamed all digital formats for reducing public support and funding. I watched their anger spread to all ereaders, all non-print media and even to all the independent writers who upset the system and made it difficult to identify the “good” authors. I’ve been equally embarrassed to say I was a librarian.

As an independent publisher, I embrace ebooks as the fastest, simplest and most accessible method for transmitting a story or information between two people. As a former librarian, I want to increase the quality of my work until I can confidently say it is worthy of public collections. As an artist, I know my novels, print and digital, are a work in progress.

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unnamedCarrie Bailey is working slowly on the second book of the Immortal Coffee Novels while planning an escape from Vermont, which is too cold. She tweets as Peevish Penman even though someone bought the domain with same name out from under her in 2013. And she’s a huge fan of Ben’s blog.

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So why fractals?

I’m going to be honest with you about something. I honestly had no idea I’d be sitting here, having already written two fractal books and with ideas for more, across from a shelf packed with reference material. I have more books on fractals than textbooks I saved from my actual degree. In fact, I have three books that basically have the same title:

  • Chaos, Fractals, and Dynamics
  • Chaotic Dynamics and Fractals
  • Chaos, Dynamics, and Fractals

I have a fractal wish list with more than 40 books in it. If you were to list three things you know about me, “likes fractals” is one of those three.

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So why do I like fractals, and more importantly, why do I still like them?

As a programmer – Creating fractals has taught me a lot about graphics formats, string management, and handling large amounts of data. I’ve learned new programming languages by trying to write fractal programs. I’ve used some of my color ramp algorithms professionally, and used fractal information as data sets. Simply put, writing fractal programs is challenging, engaging, and a great avenue for learning new things.

As a writer – Fractals can seem like an intimidating area of math. It doesn’t have quite the reputation of say calculus, but a lot of people look at fractals and go “that’s way beyond me.” As someone who owns a shelf full of fractal books, I can say that some of the problem is with how these things are presented. A formal mathematical text isn’t going to draw people in unless they’re already a professional mathematician. Writing about fractals has always presented the challenge for me (as a very technical person) to write about something complicated in an easy-to-understand way. I’m as prone to techno-babble as the next engineer, but if I actually want to get the people around me interested in what I have to say, I need to find better ways to explain it. This is a great challenge for any writer.

As an artist – I’m not a painter like my Mom, but I do like creating cool designs. Creating fractal images can be a very playful and exploratory experience. And unlike a canvas, if I screw up, I can just generate a new image. And I do have my own aesthetic. Fractal calendars have a tendency to make everything over busy, or to shy away from what I would recognize as a fractal. I like clean lines that highlight the natural beauty of the math, without imposing a lot of my own will onto it.

As a publisher – Writing fractal books has taught me more about eBook formatting, finding niche markets, evaluating royalty options and just finishing projects than anything else I’ve done. Fiction can live in a nebulous world of constant revision, whereas non-fiction can have a finite goal and a known finish point.

As a math geek – Fundamentally I just think fractals are cool. They’ve shown me different ways to look at dimension, complex numbers, even how to define a circle. And some of things you can do with the “Chaos Game” and Iterated Function Systems are just so cool. Order rising from randomness. Even more predictable things like L-Systems can always surprise you. You think a design is going to turn out one way, and it ends up looking completely different. And it’s a young area of math, there is still much to be learned and discovered. There’s real territory out there for people to make their mark.

What are you surprised to find has become a focus in your life?

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Chasing Technology: Worse Than Chasing Aliens

What do we tell young authors? Avoid publishing trends. By the time you write a book on the latest hot topic, the trend has long since passed you by. This happens on a smaller scale in blogging, a news topic may be relevant to write about today, but be yesterday’s news tomorrow.

Writing technology into your story can fall into the same set of problems. The X-Files got its much anticipated return to television last night (I haven’t seen it yet, and probably won’t till next weekend, so no spoilers). I, like many others, took the opportunity of its return to start re-watching some of the old episodes.

Woo boy.

There’s two levels on which the X-Files engaged with tech, as a means of moving the story forward (i.e. a tool), and as the main subject of the story (usually the antagonist). In the tool category you just write what’s around today, which in the era of the X-Files was huge cell-phones, dial-up modems, floppy disks, and data cassettes (remember those?). Remember 90’s websites?

I’m not a fan of Jimmy Kimmel, but he did a pretty funny sketch about X-Files tech (see below):

When technology is the subject of the story, you run some risk of being dated. I actually think the upload story (Season 5’s: Kill Switch), holds up, since talk of the singularity is just starting to enter the public consciousness, whereas older AI episodes (Season 1’s: Ghost In The Machine) feel corny (even though malevolent AI plots are still a staple of sci-fi).

So how do we make technology stories feel less dated, while still having something to say about where we are with our relationship with technology today? Below are some brief thoughts, things I learned along the way while writing Surreality:

Technology doesn’t catch up everywhere: There are still people who use VCR’s. Police department funding is probably not at the level of what you see on NCIS and CSI (itself a now dated reference). You’ll get some grace for a little while, since not everyone is going to have an Occulus Rift, or even the latest tablet or smartphone, today.

Story matters first: Probably one of the reasons “Kill Switch” holds up (aside from being written by William Gibson), is the story. You could replace the orbiting laser platform with a drone strike, and the rest of the story would still hold up. The characters are interesting, the dialog is funny, and the style choices (the expert use of “Twilight Time”) make it unique and memorable. Sure we had virus programs written on CDs and lots of wires and huge cameras, but the core still works.

You can always revise: Surreality was written and rewritten over an interesting period. Social media went from something casual between a few college students, to pervasive throughout our lives, and provided on more platforms than you can imagine. You don’t have to know every variety of platform, but Twitter and Facebook have been around a while. Same rules apply here as they do when you’re building your author network, write what you know, don’t throw in something you think might be good if it serves no other purpose than name dropping.

Jump a little ahead: It’s probably not that hard to imagine some things that might be possible in a few years time. AI has been a staple of sci-fi since the 40s and 50s, and we’re still a long way from having a true strong AI, in the Data from Star Trek sense of the word. Attitudes about AI may seem dated, but the concept itself so far is evergreen.

Or a little behind: There are numerous indie games produced that capture the look and feel of classic games from the 90’s, down to the pixel art and MIDI music. A lot of tablets and phone games also go for this pixel idea. If a fictional game you’re writing about seems behind the times, it might be deliberate, a style and nostalgic choice. We may not ever be nostalgic for floppies, but we certainly are for records and old games.

The big take away here should always be, story comes first. Write a good story, and people will forgive that you talked about big desktops like they’re still a thing. They might even find it kind of campy, which is not a bad place to be. Certainly hasn’t been for the X-Files.

If you liked this, you may like my latest technological mystery: Surreality.

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It’s A New Year, Charlie Brown!

My oldest fandom, and the only thing I would even consider getting tattooed on my body (when I’m y’know, like, 80) is Peanuts. You might have guessed this from my occasional references to my wife as “the little red-haired girl” or the fact that I have at times used Snoopy on his doghouse at the typewriter as my avatar.

I still remember the thrill of finding new Peanuts collections at Half Price Books (a one-time haul of 15 paperback books being a true highlight). I still have all my old collections (in storage for a future gift to our hypothetical children) and a number of digital, hardback and Peanuts miscellany throughout the house. Our tiny 3 foot Christmas tree has plastic Snoopy ornaments from years of Whitman’s chocolate boxes, and even my desk at work has Snoopy the doctor, Snoopy making valentine’s hearts, and Joe Cool Snoopy playing the guitar.

But my most prized Peanuts possession are the collections of complete strips put out by Fantagraphics every year for over a decade. Each Christmas my parents have bought for me another box containing two books with four years worth of strips stretching from 1950 to the last collection released (1995-1998). This year will be the last year for these collections, a body of work of more than 50 years.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I got to thinking that it was time to read through all of Peanuts from the beginning. To do this I need to read a little over 50 strips a day, or about two weeks per book (there are 24 on my shelf).

Peanuts has meant a lot of different things to me over the years. It’s always been good for a laugh, and for having someone to relate to in Charlie Brown. Watching some of the specials and reading early strips I’m beginning to wonder if children in the 50’s had a better grasp of the classics than we do now (Charlie Brown has to read War & Peace at 8 years old, something I haven’t managed to do by 30). In the last decade my favorite strips have often involved Snoopy at his typewriter as we both strive to become published authors, but there are always strips that strike me in new ways at different ages.

So far in three days of reading I’ve discovered a few things about early Peanuts:

  • Snoopy doesn’t get his name until about 100 strips in.
  • Shermy, Patty and Violet are the main characters along with Charlie Brown.
  • Charlie Brown is younger or at least smaller than most of the other kids. He doesn’t get the stripe for over 100 strips.
  • Snoopy doesn’t have a clear owner, though Shermy seems to be the one taking care of him. Also, Snoopy still looks very dog-like in appearance and manner.

There’s a lot of what I love about the strip that’s still yet to come, and yet there are still simple moments that I can relate to as someone who owns a beagle:

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Image Source: GoComics

This strip could be redrawn with Murphy easily.

I imagine this next year will get me writing and thinking about Peanuts, something I may share with you from time to time.

What have you loved since before you can remember? Do you still go back to it?

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Surreality – Arvo Part

Music has always been an integral part of my writing process, whether it’s selecting music to listen to while working, or choosing pieces to specifically reference in the book. Surreality actually depicts several musical pieces including a Massive Attack song for one of Ms. Klein’s performances, but my personal favorite is the choral piece that Keenan hears at the Palace Theater, Arvo Pärt’s Kanon Pokajanen.

ArvoPart_KanonPokajanen

The Kanon is a modern classical masterpiece, but its origins lie in centuries old tradition. The text is taken from the Eastern Orthodox Canon which consists of nine odes centered around repentance (thanks Wikipedia). The second ode, Moses’ rebuke of the Israelites, is often omitted from recitations and is not present in Pärt’s composition (a fact my characters discuss in context with the events of the book).

My first encounter with the work was accidental. I didn’t even learn to pronounce Pärt’s name correctly for many years. It’s ‘Pear+t’ like the fruit plus a ‘T’, not ‘part’ like the widget, or ‘par’ which incorrectly assumes that the ‘T’ is silent. A two-disc copy of the CD was in the library book sale when I worked there my senior year of high-school. I had no idea what the CD was, and it smelled heavily of cigarettes, but for a dollar I sated my curiosity. The first nine seconds of the disc are silent, and I remembering wondering if there was something wrong with it. I probably turned my boom-box (yes I was still using one of those in the early 2000’s) to its maximum setting, only to met with the full blast of an SATB chorus a few moments later.

Pärt’s style is very spare, borrowing a lot from Gregorian chant, and mixing one or two of the parts together in different combinations. Large sections are sung in recitative fashion (meaning one part sings and another repeats). It’s ethereal and reflective. The piece gets your attention, retreats to the heavens, builds to an midway climax, then lets you go gently.

Pärt uses silence to set tone. The initial silence emphasizes the contrast of the entrance, and further silences throughout allow the notes to fill the cathedral space in which it was recorded. I’ve sung in old churches only a few times, the most memorable being a trip to San Francisco in 2004. Notes can carry on for seconds, long after the people have stopped singing. It’s a particular treat to study how harmonies blend and produce all the overtones and magical things that can happen when voices come together perfectly. It’s spiritual, not just to listen to, but to experience when singing.

My character’s not as fascinated by choral music as I am, but I hope that the moment is a nice space to reflect on what’s happened in the book so far, and what’s coming next. It’s still one of my favorite scenes to read, and has been present in the book in one form or another since the first draft (though Pärt’s specific selection came later I think).

My latest book, Surreality, is available on Amazon and Smashwords or wherever eBooks are sold.

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