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Distilled Notes: I Made a City — Part 1

New Portsmouth Topography

(and a bridge)

What the city would look like without the city part.

What the city would look like without the city part.

This is Part One of the construction and bringing-to-life of the fictional city of New Portsmouth.  While only a draft, the completed version will have demarcated neighborhoods and landmarks (such as the airport or baseball stadium) indicated on the ‘map’.  Hopefully this can help you visualize New Portsmouth.

Some locations are self-explanatory:

•  South Harbor is the strip running along the ‘bottom’ of the harbor

•  The Point, mentioned briefly but not yet visited by any character, is the piece of land jutting out of the southern side

•  Downtown is located along the eastern end of the harbor

•  The Inner Harbor, where Geno and Glenn live, is along the northern waterfront.

One other note: when hovering over Distilled Spirits, a drop-down option now appears.  This ‘character listing‘ is an account of all secondary yet significant characters that appear in the web serial.  I hope this can help keep details straight from week to week.


Distilled Spirits: Ch. 11 — Caitlyn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 3:  “Drought at the Fountain of Youth”


            Painting was as fun as Cait remembered.

She’d had classier clientele than the homeless of New Portsmouth, but not many.  Usually the more money someone paid, the more boring a painting they requested.  Like the flowers that some South Harbor apartment buildings wanted so they could reprint and plaster their hallways.

No one noticed that the blooming flora often resembled the female reproductive system.

“Thanks for this, Glenn,” Cait said.  “Just—thanks.”

“It’s the city’s money,” Glenn said.  “I can hire any ‘professional painter’, or so the fine print says.”  He was sitting on a stool beside her, lazily mixing some paint.  There hadn’t been a big crowd at the soup kitchen today.

“Professional?”  Cait paused with her thick brush an inch from the wall.  “I haven’t sold a piece for years.”

“Well, sometimes the city feels guilty,” Glenn said.  “They spread the money around during the holidays and elections.  When someone wants to look good.”

“Isn’t this illegal?” Cait asked, turning around.  “Like, nepotism?”

“Cronyism,” Molly said, walking up behind Glenn.  The tall girl—a bit shorter than Cait— had taken off her latex gloves to watch them paint, still wearing a stained white apron over her black shirt and jeans.  “You two aren’t related, right?”

Cait smiled at her.  Everyone who worked at the kitchen had treated Cait like a friend since she started painting.

“Thanks for helping,” Molly said.  “No one’s bothered you?  Some guys here can be a bit pushy when it comes to women.”

“No,” Cait said, “but—hey, Glenn, did you see Crazy Man Joe earlier?  He didn’t look well.”

Glenn frowned.  “What—what’s wrong?”

Cait put her brush down and wiped sweat from her forehead.  “He was leaning on that cane of his—had a pretty bad cough.”

“You still worried about him, Glenn?” Molly asked, glancing behind her.  The few homeless in line were being served by the two other volunteers.

“He worries about everyone,” Cait said.  “He can’t help it.”

Glenn sighed and stood up, reaching for his cigarettes.  He walked outside without a word.

The wall that Cait had been painting was pretty much done.

“He showed me your book,” Molly said.  “I liked the message.”

“Bit different than this,” Cait muttered, jerking a thumb at the wall.  She stretched her back. “What time is it?”

“Time for you to go home,” Molly said.  “You got here before me.  Have you eaten?”

“Eaten?”  Cait thought, rubbing her eyes.   “Yeah, I think a bagel or something.”

“Go home,” Molly said, and then she smiled.  The pure smile looked funny under her pierced nose and black mascara.  “Thanks again.”

Cait nodded and mentioned that she’d be back on the weekend to finish.  When Cait stepped outside, the low sun blinded her, and she slipped a sweatshirt over her paint-splotched shirt.

“Christ you look tired,” Glenn said.

Cait blinked.  Glenn was leaning against the covered bus stop and Cait sat down on a nearby fire hydrant, reaching her hand up.  Glenn took the cigarette from his mouth and handed it to her, lighting another one.

“No one wants to know they look tired,” Cait said, exhaling.  “Girls, especially.”

“You look pretty,” Glenn said, grinning around his smoke.  “You should get a purse to match your jeans.”

Cait glanced down—a couple of pink paint droplets trailed down her thigh.   “I like pink sometimes,” she said.  “In school, living in the Feminazi Compound—I know people called our apartment that—guys, I liked when guys bought me dinner, you know.  I still liked when they opened doors for me.”

Glenn didn’t have an answer, and they smoked in city-silence.

The 19A rounded their corner and Cait flicked her smoke, mumbling a ‘thanks’ to Glenn.  She sat by herself toward the back of the bus and let the conversations meld together without listening to one.  As she crossed the bridge, Cait was reminded of a song, and then couldn’t get it out of her head.

I spent the afternoon in cars,” she sang quietly to herself.

Cait blinked, and she was at her stop.  A figure was waiting in front of her building—Drew was early.  It was his day off, but he still looked professional in his slacks and button-up shirt that was tucked in for whatever reason.  His sleeves were rolled up and his shirt was tight across his chest.

“Waiting long?” Cait asked, keying open the door.

“A few minutes,” Drew said.  He followed her into the lobby.

On the third floor, Cait heard her apartment door close above them—Sid was leaving.  He nodded as he passed them on the stairs, slipping a jacket on.

“Hey guys—good timing,” Sid said.  “I’ll be out.”

“Why don’t you join us?” Drew said.  Even standing a step above Sid, Drew’s head was level with his.  “Tune out for a while?”

Sid’s eyes flicked between the two of them.  “Ask her,” he said, “about the one time I tried it.  I’m meeting Eri—have a good night.”

Cait watched him descend the stairs but he never looked back.  She wasn’t sure how many times he had gone out with Eri, but they were definitely sleeping with each other.  He sometimes came home reeking of sex.

“What did he mean?” Drew asked.

Cait swallowed.  “Oh.  I got him high one night—before I met you.  Things got weird.”

“Why are you grinning?”

Cait climbed the last few steps with heavy legs.  The door was unlocked and they went inside.  She dropped her bag of brushes and Drew was on her right away—hands enveloping hers, pressing her against the door.

“We have the place to ourselves,” Drew said after a kiss.

“Wait, I’m exhausted,” she said, “I feel—”

“How ‘bout the couch?”


Drew glanced at the couch that faced the fish tank.  A couple of the fish were pressed against the glass.  “Why not?  We’ve never done it there.”

“Sid bought that.”

“So?  Who cares?” he said, letting her hands go.

Cait wrung her fingers behind his back to scrape off dry paint.  She needed a shower.  “Can we just use my room?”

Her room was as warm as her skin—she had left the heater on.  Cait threw her sweatshirt off and cracked the window above the record player.  Drew’s arms easily wrapped around her body, squeezing her close.  He had taken off his shirt.  Cait’s hips grinded against his by reflex before she stopped herself.

“Drew, wait.  Can we—”

“You know you want it,” he said.

His fingers trailed down her stomach and he undid the button on her jeans, breath hot on her neck.  Drew took her ear lightly between his teeth—he knew what to do.  It wasn’t fair.  He never needed much training.

“Can you—can you grab me two?” Cait asked him, gesturing to her bed, and the pressure was immediately gone.

Cait tried to count the grooves on the album that she had listened to that morning.  She dropped the needle as Drew handed her a glass of water and two tabs of morphine.

The sky is blue most every day,”—Track 4 began mid-song.

She tried to give a tab to Drew but he shook his head.

“No,” he said, looking away.  “It makes it harder for me to . . .”


“I lose feeling,” he said.

“That’s the point.”  Cait tossed the tabs in her mouth, chewing one.  “We could—we could just lay together.”

“No, I need this.”

“Lonely as a cloud

in the Golden State.”

Cait took a long drink of water.

“Okay,” she said.  “Do my zipper.”

He unzipped her jeans and she shimmied out of them.  He kept his hands on her hips—it felt like he could toss Cait across the room if he wanted to.

“You own pink panties?” Drew said.

Cait smiled, eyes following the curves of his shoulders to the visible lines of his stomach—the strip of hair that forced her gaze lower.  Sometimes she didn’t mind shorter guys.

“Surprised I’m a girl?” she said.  “Why are you still wearing pants?”

Drew leaped across the room and flipped the lights off.

“The only substance is the fog

and it hides all that has gone wrong.”

Before Cait’s eyes adjusted, Drew picked her up and tried to lay her on the bed but she gripped his back, pulling him on top.  He was naked—everything pressed against Cait like a heavy blanket.  They kissed and their fingers locked.

Be still this old heart.

Be still this old skin.

Drink your last drink.

Sin your last sin.”

Drew’s breath coated her body—he pulled her shirt up and kissed his way down her stomach.  He gripped her panties, tongue circling her naval.

“No, skip that,” Cait said, grabbing a fistful of his short hair and pulling his head up. “Just hold me down and fuck me.”

Cait’s body sunk into the mattress and she closed her eyes.

“Four seconds was the longest wait.”




Spicy San Francisco — Pork Katsu Curry (The Richmond)

Restaurant Name:  Volcano Curry of Japan

Location:  5454 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121


“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”


Double Volcano Pork Katsu Curry

(pork cutlet and white rice covered with Japanese curry with soft potatoes and carrots)

         Volcano CurryI can’t think of a more appetizing name.  Volcano + food product is an instant sale for me, so when I passed Volcano Curry of Japan on my way to getting a Gordo’s burrito, (which has some pretty hot salsa), I knew I had to return one day.  Nestled right in the middle of the Richmond on Geary, this restaurant is surrounded by eateries–yet, for a 10 foot radius, all that a passerby can smell is authentic Japanese curry.

If you can find togarashi at your supermarket, TRY IT!  Subtle yet strong foreign spice?  Yes please!

If you can find togarashi at your supermarket, TRY IT! Subtle yet strong foreign spice? Yes please!

It smelled glorious.  Since returning from living in Japan, I had yet to find a place that transported me back to that country so perfectly.  But if you’re familiar with Japanese Curry you may know that, of all the Asian styles, it is traditionally the most mild.  It was very difficult for me to find Japanese curry that I would consider spicy at all–often I would have to pour schichimi togarashi onto my meal.

          Thankfully, the ‘Volcano’ part of the restaurant’s name is no joke.  Any item on the rather large menu can be served at varying levels of heat: mild, medium, hot and VOLCANO.  When I asked the nice girl working the register about which was the spiciest, she recommended any of the curries.  Before I could order my favorite and the most filling (pork katsu), she stopped me and leaned over the counter:  “You can actually order it double or triple volcano, but we don’t tell people that.”

Instant dilemma.  My goal is to reach the perfect mix of heat vs taste (and volcano already sounded like enough)–but, the idea of doubling down, or even tripling, was too mouthwatering to pass up.  Double volcano, please!

Around $8.75 -- this katsu curry was AMERICA SIZED and spiced to kill.

Around $8.75 — this katsu curry was AMERICA SIZED and spiced to kill.

Before going on to the heat, briefly: the katsu (cutlet) was perfectly cooked and you could eat it with just a fork, like it should be.  Crispy and warm throughout–this is such a perfect cold weather meal.  Along with ramen and udon, Japan really excels in winter eating.  The carrots and potatoes, however, were nothing to write home about and a bit undercooked.

Pork Katsu Curry Heat vs. Taste Scale (‘Z-Scale’)


(-10) •   (-5)     (0)  X   (5)     (10)

Z-Scale Score of +2

Explanation of the Z-Scale


          Let’s talk about the heat–first, some baseline modifiers:

•  I ordered it, specifically, ‘Double Volcano’

  I added nothing to the dish–no togarashi or sriracha

  I drank two (large) glasses of water

There is a large toppings list that can modify your meal–I selected none

          I knew it was only a matter of time before I ate a meal with a positive Z-Scale Score.  To put this into some perspective: in my life, a score near +10 is what I would give to a few dishes that I’ve eaten that caused physical pain for over an hour, and instant regret.  Items that can barely be classified as food. A score of +2 is perfectly edible, and I have no regrets.

The ‘Volcano’ part of the meal, it turned out, is something special they add and is completely unknown to me–it didn’t simply mean they poured more curry sauce over the meal.  And I was impressed from the first bite to the last.  The heat came on extremely fast and it never stopped building.  By the middle of the meal, I had a solid sweat going and my nose was running.  I wish I had brought a handkerchief like I used to carry in Japan.

          I wanted to give this curry a perfect 0 Score because portions of it hovered right around there, but the majority of my time was spent thinking about and dealing with the heat rather than savoring the taste.  From about the halfway point on, I lost track of the somewhat-sweet nature common to Japanese curry and the deliciousness of the katsu.  But this didn’t stop me from scraping my plate with a spoon to get it all.  The heat stayed with me, too–it strongly lingered for around 10 minutes,

          This restaurant has an amazing menu and I can’t wait to come back to try something else.  I have a theory that, if ordered at ‘regular’ volcano, Volcano Curry of Japan might be capable of producing the first Perfect 0 for Spicy San Francisco.

Distilled Spirits: Ch. 10 — Geno

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 3:  “Drought at the Fountain of Youth”


          Geno hated working on Washington Ave, but the boat owners on these slips were universally loaded.  That meant more money to their lawyers and, just like Reagan always wanted, it meant more trickled down to him.  At least it was a weekday—the popular boardwalk that ran along South Harbor was free of weekend warriors, out-of-towners, and old people reenacting their Beta Sigma collegiate years.

It’s also where the girl named S worked twice a week.  The café / bar that she waitressed / bartended at was pretentious, but compared to rest of the street, the female and male staff wearing low-cut kilts wasn’t that weird.  With the exception of the girl he followed here, all the other women wore tops that drooped and revealed generous scoops of skin—the manager had a preference.

Geno watched them bus tables from the railing overlooking the water, and wished he had asked Glenn for a cigarette to make his spying more natural.

Sidney couldn’t come this time.  His friend didn’t say why, but he was pretty sure it involved a girl.  One of Caitlyn’s old Feminist friends from art school.  Geno missed hanging with them—Val had taught him a few cool brush techniques, but he generally passed on the nude painting parties.

He hoped it was a date.   Geno couldn’t remember the last time Sidney went on one that he wasn’t tricked into.

“Why are you following me around, dude?” a voice said from behind, and Geno froze.

The girl was gone from the café and a male waiter glanced in his direction.

“I gave a description of you to Peter—I’ve seen you around,” she said.  “Geno Roark.  That’s you.”

He turned around and saw the short girl named S—she came up to about his shoulders and wore a form-fitting t-shirt over long-sleeves that barely covered her slender hips.

“So you know my name.”  Geno’s thoughts slowed, and he fought to maintain eye-contact.  The kilt was very low-cut.  “What’s—uh—what’s yours?”

“Nu-uh,” she said, brushing away bangs that sharply angled down over one eye—they fell back.  “It doesn’t work that way.”

“Starts with an ‘S’, though.  Right?  I could’ve asked your neighbors.  But I didn’t.”

“Should I thank you for not breaking into my apartment, too?” she asked.  “Whatever—it’s Scarlett.  I’m Scarlett.”

“ . . . like the fever?”

She glanced away.  “Like the girl’s name, asshole.  I never liked it—I feel like I should live in Georgia.”

“What if I called you Scar?” Geno asked.

“Like the bad guy in Lion King?”

“Maybe.  Yes.”

“No,” she said.

A medium-sized yacht passed beneath the bridge.  The slip where that boat parked probably cost more than Geno’s apartment.  Even if Glenn hadn’t given him a good deal.

“What’s in the bag?” Scarlett asked.

“Camera equipment,” he said, putting his back to the water.  “There was a boating accident under the bridge and the lawsuit . . . You don’t actually care, do you?”

“No,” she said.  “I’m not good with cameras.  Listen, buy me some ice cream and I’ll forget this whole thing.”


“A couple buildings down,” Scarlett said.  “Sweet Freeze.  It’s really good and I need to sit down—I’m on break.”

She started walking down the boardwalk, the wind ruffling out her kilt and—Geno glued his eyes to the back of her head.  Her hair was cut ragged short at different intervals, one long strip covering an ear.

Geno had no choice but to follow—he could almost hear Glenn’s voice in his head telling him that he owed her.

It was crowded, but Scarlett found them a table and Geno went for the ice cream, and it was only when he started ordering that he realized that he had never asked what she wanted.  He looked back but she had this tilted grin on her face.  She waved him along like he was a car in traffic.

Geno came back with a cup of chocolate and a cup of vanilla, setting them down in the middle of the picnic table so that neither was closer to either person.  Two scoops were in each.

Scarlett bit her lip and picked up one of the spoons, pointing it at him.  “You think you’re really goddamned clever.”

“I do,” Geno said.

Balancing a chocolate scoop delicately on her spoon, Scarlett transferred it to the other cup, and did the same with the vanilla, sliding one closer.

“What if I wanted chocolate chip cookie dough?” she asked around a mouthful.

“Risk vs. reward,” he said.


“One of my university minors was—never mind,” Geno said.  “This was statistically the safest play.”

“Safe, huh.”

Scarlett was alternating bites between both while he worked solely on vanilla.

“You took my job, you know,” Geno said.  “One of them.”

“Peter told me,” she said.  “I saw some of your landscape work. It’s not terrible.  But, hey, this ice cream is great and all, but why were you following me?”

Geno thought for a moment.  “I needed to figure out what your deal was,” he said.  “Why you were cutting in—you even started street painting tourists on Saturdays.”  He looked her in the eyes.  “That’s the same day I do it.”

“Hey—I set up two blocks away,” Scarlett said. “It’s not my fault people prefer a girl in a short skirt to a guy with nice shoulders. Why don’t you just get a real job, huh?  People your age—”

“I don’t want one,” Geno said.  “Wait a sec—”

“Really?  You don’t?”

“I don’t.  Why?” Geno asked.  “Why don’t you get one?  I was doing this first.”

“Because I can’t hold one,” Scarlett said.  “I fuck everything up.  Everything I touch—I can’t finish anything.”

“No way, I’ve seen your work.  I’m sure—”

“Part-time art is just a hobby,” she said.  “I failed out of law school.”

“So?” Geno said.  “People—”

“I tried my hardest,” she said, “and I failed.”


“You wanna know something that’ll really piss you off?” Scarlett asked.

Geno didn’t say anything.

“I’ve only been landscaping for two months.  And I don’t even like it!  There’s no challenge.”

Geno stuck his spoon in his ice cream.

Scarlett kept talking: “I’ve been accepted into a music program.  I’m going to be a concert or jazz pianist.  Maybe both.”


“Because I think I can do it,” she said.  “What did you want while you were in school?”

“I wanted enough money to live on,” Geno said.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” he said.

Scarlett suddenly grinned.  “Once, I was a prostitute—”

“You were never a prostitute,” Geno said.  “I’m drawing the BS line there.”

“I could’ve been,” she said.  “I’m pretty good.  One guy said—”

Geno looked away.

“You’re easy to embarrass, huh?  You wanna know something else?”  She leaned over her cup and brushed her bangs out of her eyes, but she didn’t whisper:  “I’m not wearing any underwear.”

An old man sitting nearby coughed loudly, and his wife scowled at anyone who looked their way.

“I could hold a job if I wanted to,” Geno said.  “I could get promotions.”

“Have you even tried?  Could you really?”

“Of course!  My photographs have been used in court cases,” Geno said.  “I’ve edited my friend Sidney’s writing—and he’s really good.  I can landscape, paint, sing a bit.  I’ve driven taxis, boat tours, and I’ve been a freelance bike messenger since I learned people paid you to ride a bike.”

“What’s stopping you then?”

“Nothing—goddamnit, I’m happy!” he said.  “Happier before you came along.”

“So why the hell are you bothering me?” Scarlett said, crossing her arms.

“Everything was fine before you,” Geno said.  “How—how old are you anyway?”

“Is that what gets you?   My age?”

“You don’t bother me,” he said.

“Well you irritate the shit out of me, dude.  I’m 23.  You?”

“Older,” Geno said.

Scarlett checked her phone.  “Listen, you know where I live, right?”

Geno nodded.

“Well?” she said.  “Play fair.”

Geno sighed.  “Across the water.  1018, 5th St.  #505.”

Scarlett thought something over.  “You know Port Pizzeria?”


“Order a pizza Thursday,” Scarlett said.  “8:00—I’m on delivery.  If you tip me well, maybe—maybe I’ll teach you something I’m good at.”

“You mean I have to pay you for—”

Scarlett pushed her nearly finished ice cream away.  “Choose your next words very carefully.”

“You,” Geno began, “you didn’t ask if I have a girlfriend.”

“You stalked me, and now you think I’m asking you out?” she said, standing up.  “Order a fucking pizza, dude.  That’s it.  You owe me.”

“You swear a lot.”

“I have three brothers,” she said.

Straightening her kilt, Scarlett walked back down the boardwalk.  Halfway to her café she stopped, leaned over, and scratched her leg—and Geno realized she told the truth at least some of the time.

When Geno walked to the nearest bus stop he saw her blushing while she served tables.




Distilled Spirits: Ch. 9 — Sidney

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 3:  “Drought at the Fountain of Youth”


            If they had to spy on someone, Sid was glad they could do it from an outdoor café with good iced coffee.

An hour had passed since the girl called S left an office building downtown, and Sid figured that he and Geno had been breaking some law for at least as long.  The small girl was easy to follow—innocent people don’t often check to see if someone is tailing them.  And she didn’t walk particularly fast.  But when the two of them boarded her crowded bus that ran west through South Harbor, Sid realized his friend might get them both arrested.

There was something wrong with what they were doing, but after the first thirty minutes it was like an M. Night Shyamalan film—Sid just wanted to see how it ended.

Geno shook his head when Sid opened his mouth to speak, and pointed with one finger across the street.  The girl was chatting with the cashier at a gourmet bagel shop.  Maybe they were friends.

All that Sid knew about the girl—all that Geno had told him—was that she was stealing work from him, and he needed to find out where she lived.  If she lived on this side of the harbor though, she couldn’t with just part-time work.

The afternoon was sunny, but most of the light was blocked by the high-rise residential and commercial buildings of South Harbor.  If the breeze came at the right angle, Sid could almost smell the water a few blocks away.  Jefferson Ave. was sterile—clean sidewalks, clean streets, and a trashcan every thirty feet.  Not a homeless person in sight.  The lazy Monday crowd was thin, and those who weren’t passing through had a choice of a liquor store, rare book shop, Jewish deli, café, and a fancy bagel place on this block.

Sid checked his phone: he still had an hour until his only appointment that day.  At least they were going in the right direction.

Geno hadn’t taken his eyes off the girl—she wore a baseball cap with only a little hair falling out.

Sid whispered over his drink: “What are you gonna do to her?”

“Do to her?” Geno repeated, glancing away from the bagel shop for a moment.

“I mean—”

“She’s moving,” Geno said, standing up.

“You know,” Sid said, tossing away his drink and picking up his backpack—he peered across the street, “you didn’t tell me that she’s kinda cute.”

“She’s evil,” Geno said.

“She’s a Destroyers fan, too?”  Sid whistled.

“Shut up.”

Sid tilted his head.  “Man, she has—”

“Just follow me,” Geno said, already walking away from the table in the same direction as the girl.

Sid caught up to his friend and they melded into the sparse crowd as best as they could, giving the girl a twenty foot lead.  She had slipped white earbuds on and didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry.

The commercial strip of Jefferson Ave. ended after a few blocks, and the street became a quieter stretch of apartment complexes and parking garages.  They were getting close to The Point, and Sid started to really wonder who this girl was.

The only people who lived on the tip of New Portsmouth, at the mouth of the harbor, were the city’s elite—a waterside park ringed by condos and hotels, The Point was a magnet for wealth that made the regular rich of South Harbor drool.

The girl turned a corner and they followed her down the street that separated the two neighborhoods.  Halfway down the block she entered a large, ubiquitous apartment building and the two of them stopped on the other side.  Her building was old and had maybe ten or fifteen floors.

“Well?” Sid said.

Geno was scrutinizing the building like he could see through the walls.  “It’s only a matter of time, now.”

Sid stifled a laugh and checked his phone, touching his friend’s arm to get his attention.  “I gotta go meet my kid.”

Geno nodded.  “What’s up tonight?”

“You aren’t gonna be busy with her?” Sid asked.

“I just—” Geno ran a hand through his hair.  “I just wanted to see where she lived.”

“And then?”

“Christ, I don’t know!” Geno said.  “Would it be weird . . . would it be weird to try and talk to her?  She’s killing me—she’s taken a third of my work.  Did you know she also plays piano?  She gives lessons.

“So?” Sid said.  “Don’t you play the horn or something?”

“That’s not the point.  She’s younger than—”

“Whatever, anyway,” Sid interrupted, “I’m having dinner with Cait later.  Probably just a normal Netflix night.  I gotta go.”

Sid left his friend, and he hoped the next phone call he got wasn’t from jail.

He understood Geno’s problem.  Maybe too well.  The two of them—all four of them, really—were only getting older, and it felt like each day was taking them further away from where they wanted to be.  Or maybe that was just Sid.  It had been almost a month since a new job came in, like the well of writing work had dried up, but just for him

At least there was one other thing that he was good at.

His client lived a few blocks away, on the 19th floor of some highrise with a French name that Sid couldn’t pronounce.  The old man at the reception desk looked him over like this was the most exciting thing to happen today.  The man wore a suit and tie and had turned his job into an exact science.

The receptionist’s fingers hovered over the keyboard.  “Name?”


His forehead creased.  “Full name.”

“Sidney Jay Nolan.”

“The J?”

“It’s Jay,” Sid said.  “My father’s name.”


“Unit number?” the receptionist asked.

“19-36,” Sid said.

The old man rang the unit and, after a few quiet words, he nodded and jerked a thumb toward the elevator bank.  When the doors opened on the 19th floor Sid walked slowly down the carpeted hallway and admired the framed, generic artwork on the walls.  He wondered how much they cost—how much the artist made.  Every single one was either a flower or a plant.

He knocked on the door to #1936.  After a few seconds, a 10 year old boy answered.

“Hi,” Sid said.  “Are you James?”

The boy nodded.  “My mom will be back soon.  She said it’s okay for us to start.”

“Okay, cool.”

The boy hadn’t moved from the doorway.

“She said you had good references,” James said.  “You do this a lot?”

Sid smiled.  “Back in college I used to tutor kids all the time.”

“In math?” James asked.

“Yeah, sometimes.”

The boy let Sid inside and he closed the door.

The apartment was small, but modern with wood floors—directly inside was an efficiently designed, clean kitchen that was closed on three sides by a long countertop.  Beyond that, the living area had its furniture arranged in a blocky formation around a table and faced a large television.

James walked over to the table where a notebook, pencils, and a textbook were already waiting.

Sid put his backpack down and started to open it when he saw something on the wall.  He stared.  “Why is there—why do you have a framed copy of Chrono Trigger’s box on your wall?”

“My mom,” James said, opening his math notebook.  “She did some work for Square, and someone gave it to her.  A birthday present or something.”

“Really?”  Sid squinted at it.  It wasn’t what he remembered how the Super Nintendo release looked.  He walked over and saw that there was Japanese written beside the game name—it wasn’t the English version.  A signature he couldn’t read was written in black ink.

“I have the most trouble with math,” James said.  “Our first test is next week.”

Sid tore his eyes away from the box.  “When did you say your mom gets back?”




Distilled Notes: The Number 58, Story Continuity, Editing, and a Peek at Episode 3

Incoming character header images.  Who could this prototype image represent?

Incoming character header images. Who could this prototype image represent?

If I could tell past-me that I successfully hinted at the Season ending for 3 of my 4 characters in the very first chapter, I think he would be happy.  If I showed past-me a breakdown of the 58 errors I made in the first episode, he would be overjoyed.  Because he thought there would be much more.

Before Episode 3 begins, I decided to go through the first four chapters of Distilled Spirits and determine how well they stood up.  And I may do the same for Episode 2 before Monday.  The nature of the errors were not surprising, and though I don’t have a statistical breakdown on their type (maybe next time), I have a rough idea:

•  The majority were stylistic decisions that I made at the start of the web serial that I thought would work.  They didn’t.

•  The next largest group was formatting errors.  Why did that sentence deserve three spaces?  Why did a new paragraph begin there?  Why italics in that spot?

•  Finally–the smallest group comprised overlooked errors, both typing and grammatical.  Essentially, editing mistakes.  And it would be arrogant to think I caught ‘em all, but I like where Episode 1 stands.

Actually, there’s one more problem subset that involves:

Continuity / World Cohesion

           We are now 8 chapters deep—each of the four characters has explored unique places in New Portsmouth, and each has secondary or tertiary characters splitting off from them.  The amount of both will only grow.  The story is roughly where I wanted it to be at this point, yet with every added chapter, the odds of contradictions and forgetfulness increases.

How I stay organized.  Within each folder, is cheater chapter along with individual notes.

How I stay organized. Within each folder are individual character chapters along with their notes notes.

This time, continuity errors were rather inconsequential.  For example: the Inner Harbor neighborhood in New Portsmouth uses the definite article ‘the’, while South Harbor will always be referred to as just that–in a couple of places, they were reversed.  If you’ve lived in a city in the United States, the importance of this might make a lot more sense, but it’s slightly harder to keep track of when everything is fictional.

The more a certain setting is visited—the more any given character speaks, even, the harder and yet more vital it becomes to keep everything straight.

          Episode 3

          The image at the top of this post, while not the final photo, is a hint at one particular character’s header image.  If all goes according to plan–all four will have their own unique image starting in Episode 3.

The title for the next Episode will be:  Drought at the Fountain of Youth

This is likely enough to figure out what I’ve been doing with the episode titles for anyone curious, and It also points toward the source for this web serial’s name.  In the coming episode, you can expect a focus on age and time, as well as the immutable clock that ticks away something different in everyone’s life, real or fictional.

A few notes:

•  I thought about asking a design-oriented friend to do map work for New Portsmouth when I decided, for better or likely worse, to do it myself.  I plan to reveal it in stages as it’s finished, starting soon.  A lot of the rudimentary details can be articulated without much skill, and I’ll go from there.

•  I will soon be updating the Distilled Spirits hub page to include brief character descriptions for the primary four, and I will be creating a more centralized navigational system for the web serial

Look for Episode 3 to begin no later than Monday!

Sci-Fi Undercover — Christopher Anvil / Kelly Freas

Title:  Pandora’s Planet (Unofficially Book 1 of Pandora’s Planet Series)

Listed Author:  Christopher Anvil [1925 – 2009] (wikipedia) — pseudonym used by Harry Christopher Crosby.

Original Publishing info:  DAW Books, 1972

Pages:  192

Cover Artist:  Kelly Freas [1922 – 2005] (official website) / (wikipedia)

[Link to larger image of cover]


          I decided to do something differently this time around–instead of giving the author sole billing in the preview post title, I’ve included the cover artist as well.  Though the goal of Sci-Fi Undercover is to bring attention to works and authors that may be out of print and out of mind, it’s the artist who dictates which book I read.  Especially after my recent and revealing Q & A session with illustrator David B. Mattingly, I will try to paint a fuller picture of the novel.

Unfortunately, this time, there is no chance at a Q & A since both artist and author have passed away.  I encourage you to visit the website of artist Kelly Freas listed above–he enjoyed an incredibly distinguished career and a lot of his artwork is on sale.  Besides being elected to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (which is a real thing and I now have to go), Freas has won the Hugo Award for Best Artist eleven times.

I couldn’t find the cover to Pandora’s Planet on sale, which is a shame because:

•  there’s a beat-up, dour lion holding an automatic weapon

•  there’s a beautifully seductive human opening Pandora’s Box

•  and these two images are the most concise explanation of the entire plot of the book


•  I’m pretty sure Karl Marx’s face appears on the right side, along with other famous people that I can’t place (yet)

Karl Marx fits with the story, too.  After I realized Pandora’s Planet was the book for me, (it only took one glance at the lion-man-WWII era depressed alien), I read the back cover.  An excerpt:

“. . . [Earth] surrendered and decided to give their leonine conquerors everything humans could wholeheartedly grant.  So they exported installment payments, loan sharks, communism, fascism, planned obsolescence, food fads, religious cults, and all the other delights we are so accustomed to on our home world.”

          Where are the grotesque aliens?  The space ships and laser guns?  Where is mention of the lone hero, and the impossible odds he must overcome?  Am I really going to read a novel about bureaucracy and American culture–about administrative management?  The answer is yes, and after now having read the first 50 pages, I’m happy with my choice.  Pandora’s Planet is not your typical 70s Sci-Fi story–it focuses on the aftermath of a defeated Earth, the stubbornness of man, and the viral nature of our culture.  The cultures of Earth ARE incredibly infectious, and when viewed from the perspective of ignorant aliens–incredibly dangerous.  There are enough similarities to Harry Turtledove’s alternate history series Tilting the Balance to keep me intrigued.   The war is over . . . or has it just begun?

         Check back later to learn what exactly was in Pandora’s Box, and find out if it was too much for our unfortunate large-cat invaders.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to read about office drudgery and economic theory–as viewed by aliens.

Spicy San Francisco — Chicken Tikka Masala Kati Roll (Tenderloin)

Restaurant name: Kasa Indian Eatery

Location:  1356 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109 ‎


“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”


Tikka Masala Kati Roll

(“classic street food like a small and tasty Indian burrito”. w/ masala marinated chicken, onions, green samosa sauce, basil, and in a crispy roll)

          “This is going to very spicy!” the worker told me, and I instantly became very aroused excited.  I was already overjoyed when I found the “fast food” Indian place in the Tenderloin and stepped inside to smell the normal smells of any Indian restaurant.  As he assembled my meal with a wicked smile, I thought back to the last time I ate something similar and remembered Roti Roll in New York City–an absolutely fabulous joint that’s attached to a disco dance bar in the upper west side of the city.

If you’ve never had a Kati Roll (or something similar with a different name), it’s basically a quickly made Indian wrap.  Inside is a self-contained Indian meal–the kind you would see on any “regular” restaurant menu.  After you choose your dish, the only thing left to decide is how many you want, and how spicy you want it.  Calling it a burrito though, would not be accurate it all–it’s an open ended wrap, crispy, and it’s not even covered in tin foil!

Normally I have three rules for Indian food:

•  if vindaloo is an option, I order that

  if they have samosas, I get at least two

  if I can afford a mango lassi, I drink one

          Unfortunately, vindaloo was not on the menu, but I was pleasantly surprised when the worker told me that chicken tikka masala was the spiciest choice.  Normally the creamy nature of the dish precludes it as the spiciest selection, but I’ll trust the person who prepares the food at any given restaurant.

A kati roll, two samosas, mango lassi, and sauce.  ~$12 and delicious!

A kati roll, two samosas, mango lassi, and sauce. ~$12 and delicious!

          Before I talk about the main attraction, let me briefly discuss the what’s on this plate.  The samosas were rather standard and not particularly fresh, and the same can be said about the mango lassi.  I had never thought it possible to be disappointed by a lassi drink, but if it was actually made that day I would be surprised.  The green sauce, topped with the red, is what you would expect from any Indian restaurant–green is spicy, red is sweet.  The green samosa sauce was also inside the kati roll, and I would say it had pretty normal heat–nothing that should bother an average customer.  The creamy white sauce beside it is yogurt based.

Chicken Tikka Masala Kati Roll Zeroed Heat vs. Taste Scale (‘Z-Scale’)


(-10) •   (-5) X    (0)     (5)     (10)

Z-Scale Score of -4

Explanation of the Z-Scale


          Let’s talk about the heat–first, some baseline modifiers:

•  I requested it “extra hot”

•  Nothing was added by me, but I did end up spooning more of the green sauce onto the wrap from the plate

•  I did have a mango lassi, but no water

         At a Z-Scale of -4, the dish could’ve been spicier without hurting the taste.  Actually, no, that wouldn’t be possible and here’s why: the extra heat in the dish came from a mysterious white-brown sauce, and there was so much of it that the wrap was falling apart.  This is no exaggeration–by the end of the meal, there was almost soup on my plate.  If there had been any more of this spicy (yogurt based, I think) sauce, I would’ve requested a straw.

However, the fact remains that a mango lassi was certainly not necessary to finish this dish–a glass of water would’ve sufficed.  Halfway through the wrap, I had to stop eating samosas and drinking the lassi in order to properly gauge the heat.  It peaked very early at a -4 and was well distributed  and consistent throughout the wrap.  While certainly never painful or even uncomfortable, I would definitely classify it as a spicy meal.

         I feel somewhat lied to by the worker who made a big deal out of how spicy it would be.  He seemed to be genuinely excited by the prospect–like this was going to be something he normally didn’t do for his customers.  And maybe it was.  But if you load up a meal with a comical amount of your spiciest sauce, I expect to be blown away.

          However, I would order this dish again simply because the roll was delicious–I want to try all the other options!

Distilled Spirits: Ch. 8 — Glenn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2:  “Troubled Times”


         Glenn tried again, and this time the call went straight to voicemail.

“Hey Sidney,” he said into his phone outside the busy, South Harbor soup kitchen, “give me a call back sometime will you?  I heard—I heard everything worked out with the rent.  Maybe I can help you find some work?  Call me back.”

His friend hadn’t answered a single call since Glenn convinced him to drop the video game project run by the racist.  It didn’t take much convincing—Sidney knew it was the right thing to do and, given enough time, the ‘right thing’ was what Sidney almost always did.

It’s what he usually did.

Glenn wasn’t sure how he had become the bad guy recently, but no one seemed to have time for him.  Caitlyn was never in one place for more than half a day and Geno wouldn’t even play Mario Kart, instead locking himself in his room and ‘practicing’.  And this was the worst practice that Glenn ever had to endure—the unknowable smells from the kitchen, the brass sounds and curses from his room, the stained and chemically treated pants left to dry on the windowsill had all turned the apartment into just a place to try and sleep.

‘Practicing’ used to mean Geno beating his best track time on Rainbow Road.

Something had gotten into Geno—he had this look in his eyes like he used to get when he added a new major while in university.

“You’re gonna burn yourself,” someone said, and Glenn looked at his hand.

His cigarette had burned to the filter and was warm between his fingers—he dropped it and stepped on it, then put the butt back in his pack.  A couple of homeless people loitering around the kitchen were watching, and laughed.

“You can take off, you know,” his coworker Molly said, leaning against the wall beside the entrance, “the lunch rush is over and today’s pretty slow.  It’s fine,” she added when he started to object.

Glenn had met girls in more than a dozen countries, and Molly might’ve been the most discordant and impossible to understand of them all.

And they had the benefit of a common language.

The lanky-looking girl could trip over her own feet, yet Glenn had seen her dancing on weekends.  She wore mostly black but her room was decorated pink.  She was a vegetarian while believing a bacon cheeseburger should be listed among the unalienable rights of man.

Molly hated anything that resembled work, and last week she had put in more hours in the kitchen than anyone else.

“Lighter?” She held out her hand.

“How long have I been out here?” Glenn asked, handing his over.

“Like twenty minutes, or something,” Molly said.  “It’s slow, I said—don’t worry.”

Glenn watched a homeless man pick up a drifting plastic water bottle and toss it in the recycling bin, and he remembered someone.

“You know who Crazy Man Joe is, right?”

“Yeah,” Molly said.  “Bamboo spear guy?”

Glenn nodded.  “You seen him recently?  I mean, does he ever turn up here?”

“A few times,” she said, handing the lighter back.  “It’s been probably three weeks.”

“I haven’t seen him in a while either,” he said.

She saw the look on his face.  “They’re called transient people for a reason, Glenn.  Christ, they don’t stay in one place.  He’ll turn up.”

“Or he won’t.”

“Or he won’t,” Molly admitted, squinting behind Glenn.  “Wouldn’t be the first time.  Um,” she gestured with her cigarette, “does that guy know you?  Cause he’s headed right for you.”

“Shit,” Glenn said, looking over his shoulder.  “I gotta go.  I’ll be in on Thursday.”

Caitlyn’s boyfriend was walking toward them, a few buildings down, and Glenn met him halfway.

“Have you seen Caitlyn?” Drew said when they were a few strides apart.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Have you seen her?  Caitlyn,” Drew said again, and glanced around like he had been walking without paying attention to his surroundings.  He was wearing nurse’s scrubs on his legs and some light-looking exercise shirt.

“We had a quick dinner together a couple of nights ago,” Glenn said, “but—”

“She’s not answering her phone,” Drew said.  “But it keeps ringing—it’s working.”

“She’s probably just—”

“That stupid—”

“What happened?” Glenn interrupted, steering Drew down the street.  There was a coffee shop on the corner that gave away one free donut per person every Monday—the owner had the facial memory of an FBI database.

“She’s dealing,” Drew said.  “She’s selling the morphine.”  He put his arm out when Glenn made to enter the shop.  “Sidney—Sidney won’t even let me in the apartment!”

Glenn hadn’t known almost any of this, and quickly put it together—where the rent money had come from.

“You’re mad—” Glenn started but was cut off.

“Damn fucking right I am,” Drew said, moving away from the entrance so a homeless woman could go in.

“About the mor—”

“About Caitlyn,” Drew said, clenching his fists.  “I’m worried about her.  Look, I’m not a bad person, Glenn.  You know me a bit.  We fight—me and her—who doesn’t?  I’m just . . . worried.  I need to find her.”  He leaned against the coffee shop window.  “I need to tell you something about her.”


“She—she almost died once,” Drew said.  “She got some impure shit off the street and it nearly killed her.”


“Six months ago,” Drew said.  “You were out of the country I think.”

“Shit—what?  Isn’t that—” Glenn pulled at the hair on the back of his head.  “Is that how you met?  You picked her up at the hospital?”

“That’s how we met, yeah.  It’s safer this way,” Drew said.  “I can control it and—well, I like the high, too.”


“I can make sure she’s safe—I can,” Drew said, “but not if she ignores me.  If she tries cold turkey, or if she goes to a dealer, she could—”

“Okay,” Glenn said, deciding.


“She worries me too sometimes.” Glenn said.  “But she’s not stupid, even when she acts it.  So here’s what’s gonna happen: I’ll text Sidney, and I’ll tell him that I’m giving his number to you.  I’ll tell him to answer your call, but he might not.”


“You should know something if you don’t already,” Glenn said.  “Sidney knows about all this.”

“He won’t if you don’t tell—”

“No, those two share everything,” Glenn said.  “Sidney knows how you met, but I don’t think he knows where the money came from.  That’s why I’m doing this.  Maybe the two of you can help her—she won’t listen to me.”

Drew thought a moment and checked his phone.  “Okay, fine, thanks,” he said.  After he gave Glenn his number, Drew started walking back in the direction of his hospital, and stopped. “You’ll text him, right?”

Glenn didn’t answer and stepped inside the coffee shop.

All of the old-fashioned donuts were gone and that was all wanted.  He left and went back to the soup kitchen—a few more hours of work, and not thinking about anything else, was exactly what Glenn needed right now.





Q & A with Science Fiction and Fantasy Illustrator David B. Mattingly

 “Are there space ships in the book?”

I said, “Yes, but they don’t play a part in the narrative.”

To which she said, “Who cares!  Go home, forget about the book, and paint a space ship.  We need to sell a few books.” (Q#3)


Most recently, Sci-Fi Undercover has discussed the book Desperate Measures by Joe Clifford Faust.  On a whim, I decided to e-mail the cover artist for the novel, David B. Mattingly, to see if he would answer some questions–and everything turned out better than expected.


(official website)

David B. Mattingly has illustrated over 500 science fiction and fantasy covers during his career and some, like the Honor Harrington series, were not strangers to the NY Times Best Sellers list.  He has worked as a matte artist for many years and you can check out his illustration guide, The Digital Matte Painting Handbook, on  I wish I had the skills for it!

Currently, Mattingly teaches craft at both The School of Visual Arts and Pratt Institute in New York City.

Below, the (5 question) Q & A session is reproduced in full.  My questions are in italics along with any editorial clarifications I make.  No changes have been made to Mattingly’s text beyond formatting.  I would like to excessively thank David B. Mattingly for his time–this has been an incredible experience.


Question 1) My decision to read Joe Clifford Faust’s Desperate Measures was based entirely off of the cover art, and you have produced over 500 covers in your career.  Have you ever thought about how much your work corresponds to books sales and notoriety for an author or novel?  Do you think science fiction and fantasy cover artists get appropriate credit?

Mattingly: “I know that when I do a good cover for a book, it will probably sell better than when I do a mediocre cover.  I certainly always try to do great work, but over the course of a year, I will generally go one or two top-notch covers, 12 or 14 reasonably good one, and one of two that are not up to my general quality.  It is hard to control what will come out great, since it is partly due to artistic inspiration. It is true that if I allow more time for an important book, I can skew the odds of doing something better, but sometimes a book just appeals to an illustrator, and a great picture jumps out for the cover.

The man passed out on table is author Joe Clifford Faust. as drawn by Mattingly

The man passed out on the table is author Joe Clifford Faust. as drawn by Mattingly

As for  Joe Faust’s book, I was assigned his first book, A Death of Honor to do, I loved it, and I actually wrote him a fan letter telling him how much I enjoyed it.  We wrote back and forth, and actually met up and had dinner once in New York city.  So we became friends in the course of working on the book.  The cover came to mind pretty quickly, without having to agonize over it.  By the way, the guy lying drunk on the bar (in the cover of Desperate Measures) is the author, Joe Faust.  I asked him to photograph himself so I could use him as the model.  It is an “in” joke, since Joe is actually a committed christian, and anything but a drunk.  He was a good sport and sent me the photos of himself to use as reference.

The book (A Death of Honor) did reasonably well for Del Rey Books, so I got the chance to do Desperate Measures.  I should mention that part of the inspiration for that cover was the work of one of my favorite comic artists, Joe Kubert. In Joe’s work, the storytelling is so strong that you always have to speculate about what happened a moment after that image happened, and I think I did that with Desperate Measures.  You can’t help but wonder what happened 5 seconds after this image.

As for do  science fiction and fantasy cover artists get appropriate credit, it is nice that the cover artist is listed today.  For many years the cover artists were anonymous, so at least people can find out who did most covers.”

2)  I would like to talk a little more about your work with Joe Clifford Faust, specifically.  Is there any insight you can give into the relationship between cover artist and author?  Can you recall how much conversation you had with Faust before you began your work, or how much detail a cover artist and author typically discuss?

Mattingly: “Generally the cover artist and author have no conversation at all.  In fact, as an illustrator, if you contact the author, and the book company doesn’t know about it, you can get in trouble for it.  The reason for that is actually pretty clear–the author has worked for months, or even years on the book, and often has a very specific vision of what the cover should be. However, for the publisher, the cover is a selling tool–you need to get people to buy the book, and their vision of what makes a good cover for the book, and what the author thinks may be different.  So if you contact the author, and suddenly they are dictating what the cover should be, you can be caught between a rock and a hard place with the publishing company.  I always ask the publisher before I contact an author, just to keep clear of the politics of the cover.  Some publishers, like Baen Books, are totally cool with you contacting authors for more information, as long as you understand that the final word on the cover comes form the publisher, not the author.  The publisher has to sell the book, and if the author has a different vision for the cover, it is still the publishers call.

So the long and short of doing the covers for Joe Faust is that he was totally cool about not trying to dictate the covers, but helped me out to make the covers as accurate as they could be.

Joe and I made a very funny pair–Joe a devoted christian, and me a left wing atheist.  But I loved his books, and we came together to do some books I am sure we are both proud of.”

3)  You have worked on some hugely successful franchises during your career, and I will name Animorphs and Honor Harrington as examples simply because they were favorites of my youth.  Was there a significant difference between your work on these projects compared to a smaller publication, like Desperate Measures for example?  What kind of publication did you typically enjoy the most?

Mattingly: “Actually, I wouldn’t call Desperate Measures a small project.  It was published by Del Rey Books, the premier publisher of the day.  But I know what you mean–David Weber’s book constantly hit the NY Times best seller list, so there is some real gravity when I start doing a cover for him.  But the truth is I basically put myself in the same mind space for every cover I do–I always want to do something wonderful that attracts the reader’s interest, and also reflects the authors intent, if possible.

An artist with friends. Image links to biographical page.

I’ll tell you a great story about one of the most amazing editors I ever worked for, Judy Lynn Del Rey.  Judy was a dwarf, and stood well under 4 feet high, and I am well over 6 feet high.  But Judy was one of the most towering personalities I have ever met.  She taught me a valuable lesson about book illustration that I would like to pass on.  I was under contract to Del Rey for several years, and they actually facilitated my moving from Los Angeles to New York.  After working for her for a while, I was “feeling my oats” as an illustrator, and perhaps started to get a little picky about what covers I was doing.  I was assigned by Judy a book that I thought was morally offensive, and very poorly written, and I made an appointment with her to tell her I had decided to turn the book down, since it wasn’t up to my standards. Judy listened to my explanation patiently, and then said the following:

“David, first, I don’t care about your opinion of the book.  You are an illustrator, not a literary critic. Not that you deserve to know, but this author is very old, and has been with Del Rey a very long time.  He is in failing health, and we are publishing this book partially so that he can pay his medical bills.”

I was stunned, and then said “But Judy, there is nothing to illustrate in the book, There are no science fiction elements that would make a good cover!”

She replied, “Are there space ships in the book?”

I said, “Yes, but they don’t play a part in the narrative.”

To which she said, “Who cares!  Go home, forget about the book, and paint a space ship.  We need to sell a few books.”

So from that point on, I have tried to withhold my literary judgement, and always deliver as good a cover as I can, regardless of what I think of the book.  I admit, when I love a book, like happens with Joe Faust, or David Weber, my inspiration may be higher, but that really isn’t my job to judge the books I illustrate.”

4)  In your website’s biography, you mention your transition to digital illustration.  Many artists have had trouble with this, and I wonder what do you think enabled you to be successful?  Is there anything from your older methods and mediums that you miss?

Mattingly: “I miss a lot of things about painting traditionally.  There was magic in putting paint on a canvas, and that is lost when I work digitally.  However, when working digitally, I have access to some of the most wonderful tools an artist could ask for, so it was worth if for me to make the chance.  I still love to paint traditionally when I am on vacation, but when I am doing professional projects, digital is the medium for me.

I actually wrote an essay for a book that explains my feelings about the digital transition in depth, and I will include it at the end of this.  If you want to use it as part of the interview, feel free.  The editor of the book edited it a bit, and I actually like the original version I am attaching better, so it would be nice to see it used somewhere.”

Mattingly’s essay, Everything I Know About Being a Digital Artist, is reproduced here with permission from the author.  The link is to a document viewer that requires no downloading or anything besides a click from your mouse.

5)  For authors and publishers, the digital age has meant tremendous upheaval with still an uncertain future to come.  The rise of e-books and self-publication has more permanency than a trend.  What do you think this means for cover artists—those who are getting out of school now, and want to do exactly what you have done for a career?  Do you have any idea what this profession might look like in the future?

Mattingly: “It’s a challenging time to be an illustrator.  When I got started, I thought I would spend my entire career working traditionally, like the great masters I admired like Wyeth, Pyle and Frazetta. The change to digital ruined a lot of markets for illustrators, since art directors could use stock photos instead of commissioning something new.  But a lot of new markets have opened up, like video game art, and concept art for movies, so thing have been lost, and things have been gained in the field. I feel very lucky to have been able to make my living as an artist for over 40 years now, and I think if you have that burning desire to be an artist, the chances of “making it” are the same as they ever were.”

End of Q & A


The latest artwork from Mattingly–“Cover art for a reference book about David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe to be published by Baen books.”