Jeffrey Catherine Jones, “Birch,” and EXIT VECTOR

Jan 10 is not marked on my calendar. I would have blown past the date, oblivious, had not the filmmaker Maria Carbardo shouted on twitter, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JEFF!

It was the birthday of Jeffrey Catherine Jones, my favorite artist, called by Frazetta “the greatest living painter,” gone nearly two years now. Regular visitors to this site will nod at the frequency of Jones paintings, images, and links I’ve posted in the 4 years (next month) that I’ve been online; Jeffrey’s paintings haunt me. The fragile beauty of his/her brushstrokes ache with a yearning that is never answered, a transformation never attained. And for the past few months I’ve been haunted by one painting in particular, Birch.

Jeffrey C Jones_birch_shadow_edge

We need to rewind a little. It was mid-November 2012, and I could already smell the foul stench of chestnuts roasting on an open hellfire as the hated month of December lumbered toward me slow and unstoppable with its freight of deaths and births and sour aniversaries and fucking Christmas and ho ho ho and oh my Christ, I have never been a fan of December but in recent years a new painful wrinkle had been added to the joyous Deathmonth: the memory and anniversary, the deathtime of a story I had created and cared about, a failure of a tale that was not only told badly but left without a proper ending. Yeah, December, December; every year we remember. And I was sick of remembering this particular shithole of an anniversary. I realized I didn’t want to spend every December of every year for the rest of my life twisting my guts over a botched unfinished mess. This was the December, I decided, that I would give the story not only an ending but its proper due, tell the tale still inside me, a tale I still wanted to tell, this was the year and the December that I would finish fucking Exit Vector.

ev_mss_shot_rev

Telling friends and allies that I intended to return full-bore to Exit Vector for the month of December felt like a mouthful of rocks in my mouth, it was akin to sidling up to them at a party and whispering “Hey buddy I just shit my pants, would you hand me that big roll of paper towels, please…”

It made me feel gross, dumb, stupid, ugly, idiotic, enfeebled but most of all guilty to tell my friends I would finish Exit Vector.

My friends couldn’t have cared less.

“Okay.” They smiled, said, “Whatever, Drax. Do it.” They said this not out of indifference but with the casual unblinking encouragement my friends always offer me, familiar and loving and without judgements, and yet I am always surprised to receive it, surprised and grateful.

(Or maybe my friends have all learned the grievous error of questioning the current draxian master plan—whatever the plan might be for that given month/season/phase of the moon, I don’t know.)

Anyway, confessing to my friends made me feel a little better. Less poppy-pants. Slightly less gross. Now I had one last spell to cast: the cover.

I live with a madmen in the cave of my skull; you know him from these pages as The Creep in the Art Department. The Creep never stopped assembling pictures of sad young women that—for continuously superficial reasons—struck him as “capturing the essential essence” of Mori Kim Marr, EV‘s heroine. Here’re a few of them.

‘Problems in your head’ by Zakhar Krylov

Problems in your head by Zakhar Krylov

ev_untitled_slot-k_flickr
Untitled, by Slot. K on flickr
for EV from Medical_S
Melissa Smith
Yet another anon Tumblr Mori
Unknown, via tumblr
There were a few final cover treatments, too. The Creep made competent use of the transcendent photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto…
Hiroshi Sugimoto_EV_variant_1
But it was Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ Birch that pushed all other graphic evocations aside, finally. The “ache in her shoulders, the sorrow-laden angle of her head, her body half-bare, half-draped in funereal-black that roots her to the floor of the fragile woods, a place between life and death…” Yes, those and other reasons and feelings, dream-echoes. Birch was the picture.
Jeffrey C Jones_birch_shadow_edge
The spell had to be properly started, and every spell in my world starts (sadly, at times) with the cover. Though I told myself that completing a final version of Exit Vector could not possibly be contingent upon using a particular image for the cover design, the superstitious spellcaster in the shadow of my soul and brain gathered his nerve and no small of amount of balls. I wrote to the family of Jeffery Catherine Jones, and I hoped, hoped.
I could offer the estate no real practical compensation. I was practically asking the family to give me the rights to use Birch as the cover for EV. I hoped, yes, but I was fully expecting that I would have to come up with another “spell” for the cover, and quickly, because God I wanted to fix this broken and bloody story once and for all, to get it right, to walk away from it.
On January 7, I received a response from Jeffrey’s daughter, who wrote:
I’m glad my father’s work has meaning to you. That always makes me happy to hear.
I have to admit I haven’t fully read your story, but upon scanning it seems to be a science fiction story. (my father enjoyed thrillers and science fiction stories)
You have my blessing to use “Birch” as your cover.
Good Luck with your book.
I was thrilled, honored, grateful, and I composed my letter of thanks to Jeffrey’s daughter as fast as my fingers could jab the little keys of my mobile device. Yes, I was very happy, relieved that if nothing else, the revamped EV would now be armed with unassailable class and beauty…

SmallEVwShadow

But obviously a beautiful cover may only evoke, tantalize; it is up to the tale itself to deliver the goods, the completion of the spell and the dream. So here I am again, opening the door to a rite of exorcism and release, allowing the very troubled ghost inside me the freedom at last to die, and perhaps to live forever.

I may very well switch off the screens and shut down the site (again) in order to complete this terrible little tale. December’s already a memory, and time has no mercy. We will see.

It was Hell to set down this little post. It will be a worst Hell to finish this tale once and for. But it is a Hell of my making, and for better or for worse, a Hell that I now embrace. So here’s to exorcism, and conclusion.

Or else.

Ω

2 Comments

  1. That is an awesome tale. And a hell of a cover. Good luck my friend. You’ll do it. But when the time is right of course. Up the irons!

    • Thank you!


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