The Corvid Chronicles

Fire from the Gods

First Raven and First Crow had flown the skies of Earth for eons before First Human showed up. They didn’t know where these odd beings came from, and they didn’t care. The fact was, there they were. Skinny and hairless, no claws, pathetic flat little teeth, they were utterly defenseless. They could neither fly nor swim nor run fast. Raven and Crow wondered how they came to be so ill-equipped to survive in the world.

The cousins perched in a tree overlooking a band of humans huddled together below them. “They’re sitting ducks down there,” Raven said, his breath frosty in the frigid dawn light. “They’ve got exactly zero advantages, and no defenses. And they don’t know squat.” He pulled a tick from under a wingpit, spat it out.

“They’re pretty good with their hands,” Crow mused, “though they have not yet learned to adapt to this cold world. I do not know what it is they pack inside those huge heads,  but it sure ain’t brains. We should lend a wing. You know, help them out a bit.”

Raven looked at his cousin and shook his head. ”Are you insane?” He stood up on his branch and unfurled his great wings. “Remember the old corvid proverb: No good deed goes unpunished. You mark my words, Cousin. The best policy is non-interference.”

“I am not interfering,” Crow said defensively, rising up to remain eye-to-eye with his cousin. “I am helping. And so should you, Cousin. How can you sit up here in your warm downy feathers, your stomach fattened by daily gluttony, due in large part to the abundantly wasteful habits of yonder humans. Yet still you look with such a cold eye upon those poor hairless fools shivering in the dark?”

Raven looked down upon the poor hairless fools and wondered why in the Great Orb it was his problem. “I’m sure they were put here naked for a purpose,” he said, yawning.  “They got big brains in those skulls–don’t you remember the one who fell off the cliff? Schmucked ‘em all over the rocks. What a feast it was! Remember?”

Both birds paused for a moment. Recalling, salivating…

“There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t figure out how to stay warm,” Raven said, blithely. “Who taught us? No one! We learned. We had to make our own mistakes, and we’re better for it.”

But Crow was overcome with pity. “How would you like to be out in this wind in your bare skin?” He felt sad for the humans. They were cold and hungry.

In the morning, Crow left his roost and dropped to the ground and told the humans, “You must learn to make fire to keep yourselves warm.”

The Chieftain looked at Crow blankly, his teeth chattering in his nakedness. “M-m-make f-f-fire?”

Crow spent many days teaching the humans how to make fire, but it was all magic to them, and they had great difficulty acquiring the skill. ”It was like the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing,” he reported to Raven on the dismal lack of progress. “Like their own two hands didn’t belong on the same body, and they argued with each other all the time.”

“You’re wasting your time, Cousin,” Raven said with a yawn. “Let them shiver. Necessity is the Mother of Invention, you know.” He hunkered down in his warm feathers and shut his eyes.

The sound of the humans teeth chattering on the ground below irritated him however, and he couldn’t sleep. “I really don’t see what the big deal is,” he said, opening one eye. “It’s a simple exothermic, oxygen-consuming process brought on by the excessive heat generated from the friction of rubbing two sticks together. Intuitively obvious to the most casual observer. I grow weary of their dim wits.”

“But it’s so unfair!” Crow wailed as he paced back and forth on the branch. “We didn’t have to find our own feathers, did we? No, we came with them. But these humans have neither feather nor fur. They’re cold. Who can think critically when they’re cold?”

Thunder rumbled across the valley, and the shivering humans buried their heads in fear under their arms. The wind picked up, and a few pellets of cold rain hit Raven on the head. The sound of wailing below grew louder.

“That tears it!” Raven said angrily. Without further word or warning, he unfolded his great wings, leapt into the air and flew off into the darkening sky.

Alarmed at Raven’s sudden departure, for the storm promised to be a very wild one, Crow called out: “Cousin, no, don’t go!”

But Raven heard him not, and he flew right into the thunderstorm. Powerful winds and sheets of rain battered him, yet he was steadfast in his purpose. Staying low near the ground, Raven dodged lightning bolts until one struck the tree right in front of him, sending fiery projectiles in all directions.

He caught a flaming branch in his beak and bore it out of the storm, back toward the freezing humans. As Raven approached, the skinny hairless things were trying with all they had to get a fire lit, struggling to remember what Crow had taught them. Arguing heatedly with one another, they had no patience with their own ineptitude.

“No, Dufus,” one human said, irritably. “You have to rub two sticks together, otherwise the fire won’t work.”

“Fine, Dumass, you do it, then.” Dufus said. He threw the fire stick down and walked off in a rage.

At that moment Raven swooped in, a veritable ball of fire in the downpour. His black feathers glistened as a lightning bolt shot across the sky.

The humans cowered and pleaded for mercy, thinking they would be punished for being stupid, for failing to learn their lessons, for failing to make fire. But Raven said nothing. He dropped the burning branch right into the fire pit.

“Don’t let it go out, you Fools!” Raven called out as he flew away.

When Raven got back to the tree, Crow was overjoyed to see him. “I thought you were goners, Cousin. Whatever made you go out at that moment? That was a nasty storm.”

“Just taking care of a little business,” Raven said and shut his eyes.

The next day Crow flew to the human encampment where they had a roaring fire, and were roasting many fish on sticks. Some were dancing around the fire, others were eating.

“How marvelous this fire!” Crow cried as he skidded to a landing right next to the Chieftain. “I’ve got to hand it to you, Chief, I never thought you’d get it, how to build a fire. And now this! I am astonished!”

The Chieftain looked puzzled. Humans hardly ever could tell ravens from crows, and so he had no idea that it had not been Crow, but his cousin Raven that had brought fire to them.

The rain abated and the entire tribe had stayed up all night, keeping the fire lit. They stoked it with anything they could get their hands on.

Someone threw a dead fish onto the fire and the odor of its roasting flesh created a thunderous roar among the stomachs of the tribe . They fished the flesh out of the fire and devoured it.

“Look what we discovered, Crow!” the Chieftain exclaimed. “If you put fish into the fire, it comes out great! Try it!”

Crow beaked a few chunks, and agreed. “Marvelous! May I never eat it raw again!”

“Likewise,” the Chieftain said, as bits of pink salmon flesh fell from his mouth.

“We thank you for the gift of fire, Crow, Bearer of the Flame,” the Chieftain said as he pulled a whole salmon from the fire. He handed the meat to Crow and called out to his tribe. “Hear ye, Crow! Hear ye, Human! Hereafter, Crow, you and your kind shall be our friends, gods though you may be. In our camps, wherever we gather, Crow is always welcome.
“In token of our gratitude for bringing us fire, you will forever feast at our table, for all the days of your natural life, and your children’s and their children’s, until such time as children stop being born. Crow and Human will share friendship.”

“And meat,” Crow murmured.

“And meat,” The Chieftain added. “May we never have less!”

Crow flew back to the tree and dropped the remains of the blackened fish the humans had bestowed upon him at Raven’s feet. A few chunks had fallen to the ground on the way back. Still, there was plenty left for his cousin.

“See here, Raven,” Crow bragged, “you laughed every morning when I went off to teach the humans how to make fire. You said they’d never get it. Well, you were wrong, Cousin. They finally learned. For my excellent teaching, they promise me a chunk of meat, cooked to perfection, every day for the rest of my days, and my children’s days, and their children’s days, on into infinity! I will share it with you, Cousin, even though you laughed.”

Raven chuckled. “How precious you are, my dear Cousin. I am happy to know the humans finally learned something. It’s a small victory, though. Chances are we’ll be dragging them kicking and screaming into the Old Stone Age before too long. I reckon you’ll have to beat them over the head with a simple stone tool before they could figure out how to make one.”

“But they sure are grateful!” Crow said as he snagged a chunk of meat.

“For now,” Raven said. “we were gods, once. Remember?”

The two cousins gorged themselves on the leftovers from the human table again later that day, and every day after that, for all the days that Crow and Raven lived on Earth. Their children and grandchildren gorged all the days of their lives. And their Great-grandchildren…..

My Mother, My Bookcover …

In the Beginning…

…there was a painting. Several in fact. I do a lot of art in various media—jewelry, pottery, graphic art, drawing…but I do not paint a lot. My mother did, though. I grew up with oil paint. The odors of turpentine and linseed oil brings back happy memories of my childhood.

My house is full of her paintings—from the Realism of the 1950s, the Abstract Art of the 1970s…Landscapes in the 1980s, and in the 1990s she switched to watercolor and went all in for Abstract Realism, or Real Abstractions.

Before Watercolor and after Oil Paint, acrylic paint showed up, thanks to Ives Klein’s International Blue and a French chemist revolutionizing paint. Mom tossed her oil paints over her shoulder and never looked back.

Church in Golden, New Mexico

My mother and I did some art together—as in sitting side-by-side drawing. We’d go out east of the Sandia Mountains that overlooks my childhood home of Albuquerque, and draw the weathered shacks and corrals and the old church just off the highway in Golden whose existence came about through a brief history in (wait for it!) a brief history of gold mining.

We also liked to stop up the road in Madrid  (pronounced MAD-rid), and sketch the old houses built during the coal boom that had lasted til the 1950s. Almost everyone moved out, Madrid became a sparsely populated ghost town among the ruins of the old houses built during its heyday. (Or is it “hayday”?)

Miner’s Cabins, Madrid, NM

The old houses were interesting to sketch, while imagining the ghosts that might still be there. Anymore Madrid is a tourist town—all the houses that weren’t falling down have been renovated, and people live in them, as well as operate coffee shops and art galleries out of them.
The film, Wild Hogs was filmed in and around Madrid…

In the 1950s, my mother, Rita M. Simmons, named the highway that we drove to get to Golden and Madrid. It was Highway 10, name changed to Highway 14, and now is Highway 337. But the highway  through Golden, Madrid, and its sister tiny town with a copper mining history, Cerrillos further up the road, comprise what has been known since the 50s as the Turquoise Trail.
She won a set of luggage.

Ok, then…where am I? Oh–yes, my book cover.

If not for my mother, I may not have painted it. If not for my mother, I may not have done any of the artwork that has informed my life on Earth.
Corvus Rising’s book cover is not all paint, however. It’s more a multi-media event featuring watercolor, ink drawing, clip art, and of course Photoshop.

I painted the background of Wilder Island, and the river at sunset. Or sunrise. With the dark forests reflected in the water. There were several attempts. I cut them up and made bookmarks out of them. Here’s what made the cut, in its original form:

Untitled-1

Then the crows came. After the old hermit, Maxmillian Wilder died on Halloween in 1937, thousands of crows and ravens flew in a circle above the island, in mourning. A local photographer, Frederick T. Nelson, snapped the photo and titled it Murder of Crows. In Alfredo Manzi’s time, the photo hung in the Ledford Library.

In my time, I scanned the watercolor painting, hauled it into Photoshop and applied a gazillion actual clip-art crows and ravens flying in a circle above the island. This is the banner image on my Corvus Rising Facebook page.
Adobe Photoshop PDF

Next, in Photoshop, I altered a photograph of a tree, and added corvids–also via altering a photograph and copying it a bunch of times. Like 13. That’s how many corvids are in the Great Corvid Council
WithTree_AndCrows

And now the text…

Publishers have all sorts of rules about book covers—things like how large the font can be on the spine, how much room the fold will take up, and arcane things like slug and bleed—which have to do with the margins around the actual size of the cover. It’s good to pay mind to that so that important things like the last letters of your title or an important part of the cover art doesn’t get chopped off at the printers.

Fortunately, the publishers provide this information and there are many sources to find templates so that cover art and text where you want them. Here’s some screen shots of the guidelines that I used to layout my book cover in Photoshop.

AllCoverText
Front Cover and Spine Text……………………Back Cover Text added…………………Barcode, Publisher’s icon added

In Photoshop, I just typed what I wanted—the Title, or my name, or the back cover text— in a layer over the cover art. And I moved it around and played with fonts and sizes and places until it looked “right”.
It’s tricky to have a complex book cover with lots of colors and make the text show up. So I had to do things like fade out a portion of the spine so the title would be readable; make a separate line of text in a different color over the island on the back cover so it would show up.

For Paperbacks, a Barcode is required, which you get when buy an ISBN# (don’t!—unless you plan on writing a whole bunch of books. One is pricey, and though there’s a price break at 10, it’s still a hundred or so bucks…and 10 is likely more books than I will probably write). Amazon will give an ISBN# and its barcode for free–they buy them by the thousands so one of these things are essentially free to them too.

eBooks do not need barcodes, but like print books, need to have an ISBN#….which gives info on price, who the publisher is, where the book was published, etc. ISBN means International Standard Book Number, and has nothing whatsoever to do with author’s ownership of books… <more about isbn’s here>

Lastly I placed the Barcode (there’s rules about barcodes too…how big, where to place, etc), my webpage address, and a little mouse, for “Ecofantasy Press”–which is my own privately owned publishing company.
That’s one cool thing about self-publishing…being your own publishing company. Not to be confused with who actually physically produces the book in print.

The Whole Enchilada…

Adobe Photoshop PDF

BY THE WAY….I am on the downward side of finishing Book 2, by the way, after 7 years…

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