Feeding the Beast

Poe can’t read, so instead she absorbs the knowledge contained in books through her face. In this photo she is enjoying the only new addition to the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. Since I am about a hundred pages from the end of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow,¬†where the author is digging into the meat of the permanent disenfranchisement caused by even a hint of a criminal record in this, the land of the free, Caste seems like a good next book to read. After that will either be Matthew Desmond’s Evicted or Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

In fiction reading, I just started Paternus: War of Gods by Dyrk Ashton. This is the final book in the Paternus trilogy, and though I am only about fifty pages, it is already just as good as the previous two, and according to reviews it only gets better from here. So I have high hopes.

Writing this past week went very well. I passed 20,000 words in the work in progress, and that puts me well on the way to 40,000 by the end of the month. And if I manage to continue this pace I think I should have the first draft completed before NaNoWriMo. Of course as with any first draft, the first is really the zero-eth, and after the first round of editing, then I will have a first draft. So, maybe at the end of January. I can already see places where what the characters are doing necessitate going back and changing some of the story as already written, particularly in the first two chapters. I don’t see this being a particularly long book; likely to top out at around 80,000 unless the muse strikes me with a mighty big stick.

A new follower on Twitter asked why bother to keep word count as you really just write until the story is done. This is true, and also word count is a good way to track productivity, and while the story may go on for hundreds of thousands of words, a book is by necessity finite¬†‚ÄĒ though a series of books is not necessarily so. It was a good question and caught me flat-footed.

Then again the poster had never participated in National Novel Writing Month, and if NaNoWriMo instills one habit in a writer, it is the fanatical tracking of word count.

The Turning of the Seasons

Books accrued in the week of August 30, 2020

Oh, what a week that was. At work I have been taking Udemy classes with an eye toward getting certified as an AWS Developer Associate. I already know half of what I need to, but the other half is dense and complicated and the course is 30 hours long and though the teacher has a wonderful French accent I could feel my brain slowly turning to mush.

The transition between August and September brings a fine haul of reading material to the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the top left is The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, the final book in the Masquerade Trilogy. The first two were very good and more than a little disturbing, so I have high hopes for this one.

Top middle is Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, which I have been aware of for some time but have not had the bandwidth to dive into.

Top right is the new issue of The Paris Review, the subscription to which I keep as much for the interviews as for the writing itself.

Bottom left is Great Demon Kings, John Giorno’s memoir which came out a few weeks ago. Giorno finished the book a week before he died, in October 2019.

Bottom middle is Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, which I have been meaning to pick up for a long time. I am adding it to my TBR pile, near the top, once I finish the current two nonfiction books in which I am currently immersed.

Bottom right is the latest issue of the superb Boston Review, which becomes more and more relevant with every issue.

In reading news, I just finished Jesmyn Ward’s beautiful and heartbreaking novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. This one will, I think, stick with me for a long time.

I am in the middle of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and every page makes me angrier than the previous. Sadism is, in fact, the American national pastime.¬†I am also still progressing through the anthology Captivating Technology, which is a good companion to The New Jim Crow in that it shows the many ways modern technology extends the carceral state into everyday life beyond the walls of prisons and courtrooms.

In writing, I am 16,000 words into my novel, and hope to hit 40,000 by the end of September, which will put me in a good place to hit 80,000 and hopefully the end of the first draft by the end of October, at which point I will surely be ready to write something completely different for National Novel Writing Month in November.

I haven’t written 16,000 words of any single work of anything outside of NaNoWriMo. It feels good to finally be in a place where writing is part of my daily routine, after many years of having my creative energy devoted to other peoples’ work.

As it turns out, writing takes a lot of mental and emotional energy.

The Long Tail of August

No new books arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week, so here is a photo of Poe, sunning herself on the porch in the early morning of August 12.

Now that I am on a normal work schedule for the first time since late March, I have fully re-immersed myself in my morning routine, which looks something like this:

  • get out of bed when Poe wants food and attention, but in any event no earlier than 5:00 and no later than 5:30
  • feed the ricochet kitten
  • meditate, chi kung exercises, stretch, calisthenics, tai chi practice,etc
  • play with Poe
  • write until approximately 8:15
  • eat breakfast
  • if my partner is still in bed, go up and cuddle until around 8:45
  • log in for work at 9:00

If I stay focused, this gives me a solid 90 – 120 minutes of writing time, five days a week. I can’t say I necessarily spend all of my dedicated writing time actually writing, though I do try to stay focused. The current state of the world makes for a very fragmented and short attention span.

I finished this week with approximately 8,300 words written in my book. I had hoped to hit 10,000 total yesterday, but let myself get caught up in the shitshow of the world as represented in social media. It was like the opposite of writing – not only did I not write, the experience prevented me from writing after I had put my phone down. What I really wanted to do was walk around the block or neighborhood or city for a few weeks, but it was just too hot.

A comment on a post on Instagram turned me on to a series of videos which Brandon Sanderson has posted to YouTube – his 2020 Creative Writing lectures at Brigham Young University. These lectures are a gold mine! Sanderson is a brilliant writer with many years of experience, and his advice and lessons are spot-on. The advice has been a big help, and one lecture in particular, where Sanderson brought in guest speaker Mary Robinette Kowal to talk about short stories, has some of the best advice for writers I have found anywhere. Now I want to go back through all of my short story rough drafts and re-write them all with reference to these videos. It would certainly be worth the time.

Now the weather has turned and last night was the first comfortably night for sleeping in many days. So even though I only got about four hours of sleep (though given the realities of this year I should be celebrating the fact that I got four hours of sleep), I woke up refreshed and energized for excellent outdoor classes in tai chi and kung fu.

In reading, I finished one more of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms book,¬†The Ghost King,¬†and can now put all of that behind me for the next few months and focus on nonfiction, poetry, and genre fiction books which feature characters not named Drizzt. I am still working my way through Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and as night-time reading I recently started Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is lush and beautiful and heartbreaking and disturbing and I am only two chapters in so far. For interstitial reading I pulled from the shelf San Francisco Beat: Talking to the Poets, a collection of interviews with beat poets edited by David Meltzer. As I said to my partner, the interviews make me want to go back to San Francisco, but to go back to San Francisco circa 1968, if such a thing were ever possible. I suspect that if I do return to San Francisco, it will be closer to 2022 than 1968.

If we still live in a world where such travel is possible.

 

Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Year?

I imagine I am not the only person making that request of the universe. Though I have managed to keep myself gainfully employed through the first six months of the Plague Time I am doing my best to not take it for granted that I will still have a job come the end of the year.

To that end I continue to accumulate books against the day I find myself with a sudden abundance of free time, though on balance I would rather have a steady income, as I am in my fifties and the tech world is unkind to programmers who are not willing to work nights, weekends and holidays. And that is me. Been there, done that, not willing to do it again.

Speaking of accumulated books, the past week brought in three new volumes to the Library at Winkelman Abbey. On the left is the new issue of Reckoning, the journal of Creative Writing on Environmental Justice. The wise and wonderful Michael J.  DeLuca, who I met at the ConFusion Science Fiction Convention several years ago, is one of the founders of Reckoning, and it was he who introduced me to this excellent little magazine.

In the middle is the novel That Time of Year by Marie Ndiaye, and on the right is Home, a collection of Arabic poetry in translation, both published by Two Lines Press, a project of the Center for the Art of Translation. I keep forgetting which subscriptions I have cancelled and which are still active, so it is always a pleasant surprise when a new package shows up on my porch.

In reading news, this past week I finished The Orc King and The Pirate King, both by R.A. Salvatore, part of his long-running adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden the Drow Elf Ranger. Of the 35 books I have read in this calendar year, 18 have been books from this series, and I think I am done with the adventures of Mr. Do’Urden and company for the rest of 2020. Plus, they clash with the other books I am working my way through – The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and The Making of the Indebted Man by Maurizio Lazzarito. Though the fantasy novels are fine adventures and excellent entertainment, they are very much escapist and I can’t deny a certain feeling of fiddling while the country burns when I can be educating myself about the state of the world, and the past states which got us to this state.

In writing news, I am a little over 5,000 words into my new novel. That puts me squarely in the middle of chapter 4, and just above the lower limit of progress I set for myself for the rest of the year. 5,000 words a week, minimum, until the first draft is done. In theory this is a piece of cake, as during National Novel Writing Month I occasional turned out more than 10,000 words in a day. I think my record was 18,000 in an unbroken 9 hour stint. Of course I was single at the time, and in a position where I could take a sick day when the muse struck.

I was stuck in the third draft of chapter 1 when I watched the Wizards, Warriors and Words podcast, which includes as one of its panelists Mr. Dyrk Ashton, whose books have graced these pages several times in the past. I met Dyrk at ConFusion a few years ago, and for each of us it was the first time we had met someone in real life who we had first connected with on Twitter. It was from Dyrk I learned of this podcast, and it was from his paraphrased advice from Stephen King that I made it through my writer’s block. The advice was, roughly, “You don’t need to know how the book will end when you start writing it.” So I finished the chapter and if I need to go back and rewrite it to accommodate a change in the story 50,000 words from now, so be it. I expect this book to be between 80,000 and 100,000 words when the first draft is complete.

Speaking of ConFusion – ConFusion Science Fiction Convention has been cancelled for 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board of ConFusion felt that it was in everyone’s best interests to table ConFusion 47 until 2022. This was a difficult decision, and the decision-makers have my sympathies for what must have been many sleepless nights arriving at this conclusion.

On the bright side, that gives me an extra year to write and hopefully get something published, assuming the world hasn’t fallen further into chaos and fascism by January 2022, and such things as creativity, optimism and hope are still allowed.

Back From a Brief Break

No blog post last week, obviously. I was on vacation from work, during which time I got caught up on about six months of household tasks, chores and errands. I finally finished my taxes, and (more important!) I replaced one of the air chambers in my bed. Now I no longer go to sleep on a near rock-hard surface only to wake up in a bed as soft as one in the worst budget motel in Miami Beach the week after Spring Break. Not that I would know what those beds are like.

No books came in the previous week; these are all from the week of August 9. On the top left is the latest issue of Pulphouse Fiction Magazine. In the top middle is the latest issue of Dreamforge Magazine. On the top right is the latest issue of Jacobin.

On the bottom left is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I have been meaning to pick this up for some time, after a series of conversations with my partner and several friends involved with equity and social justice. This title fits in nicely with the other books I have been reading about the carceral state, prison abolition, and reforming the police.

In the bottom center is The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, which I also learned about through various conversations with various friends involved with equity and social justice.

On the bottom right are two books by Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man and Governing by Debt, published by Semiotext(e) as part of their Interventions series. I am sure i will have many things to discuss as I dive into these books.

In reading news, despite my best efforts I was unable to pull myself away from R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books, and am still working my way through the series. I have just started The Orc King, the first of the series which is not a re-read for me. There are two more books after this one in the trilogy, and that should get me to the end of August, which is a good place to set aside fantasy novels for a while and focus on reading some nonfiction.

In writing news, I just finished the second chapter of my fantasy novel, tentatively titled Up the River to the Mountains. I expect it will weigh in at between 80,000 and 100,000 words when I am done. I really, really hope to finish the first draft before November, so I can concentrate on other things for National Novel Writing Month. If that doesn’t happen, then I will finish it during NaNoWriMo and split the final word count between the novel and few short stories. Or something. I don’t know. Writing is complicated.

It is Ended, Redux

The crazy project I have been on since early April, which ended at the end of July, then started again, has just ended again. For the first time since there was still snow on the ground, I am back on a regular first-shift schedule. And as soon as I am attached to a new project I will be writing code instead of assembly-line financial paperwork.

On the left in the above photo is the latest book from my subscription to Apex Publishing Company, Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup. I have heard good things about Jessup and look forward to diving into this one. On the right is an impulse buy, of sorts, from a recently completed Kickstarter by Nord Games. The title is The Ultimate Bestiary: The Dreaded Accursed, which get my vote for the most on-point title of any book I have picked up in the last year. It is a third-party sourcebook for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, one of a great many which have found success on Kickstarter. This is a high-quality product, with beautiful illustrations throughout.

In reading news, I just finished R.A. Salvatore’s The Silent Blade and The Spine of the World, and now I think I will take a break from the Forgotten Realms books and maybe read some poetry.

In writing news, today I wrote the first 650 words of the first chapter of my new book. Not a lot, to be sure, but this is the third time I have started the first chapter and this time I hit the groove, so I expect to hit a stride of 1,000+ words a day starting maybe tomorrow. Maybe

This is a photo of my new pen. The fountain pen my girlfriend bought me two years ago has sprung a small leak. One of the seals around the nib has apparently decayed. And with a fountain pen a small leak makes a big mess. This new pen is a ballpoint from Cloth & Paper, from a gift-box subscription to CrateJoy. Specifically, this is the M&G AGPH 9902 0.5mm pen. It writes like a dream.

Have I mentioned that my girlfriend is The BEST?

Noticeably Shorter

The days, that is. I am in my fifties now, so I may be as well, if only as measured by the most delicate and expensive of medical instruments. Poe consistently wakes me up at 5:00 am, which is only a little before my alarm goes off and once she wakes me up I never really get back to sleep again, so why not enjoy the extra half-hour of stillness as the world wakes up around me?

This past week saw three new additions to the Library of Winkelman Abbey, but what this stack lacks in height it more than makes up for in importance.

On the left of the above photo is an inscribed copy of Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology by Iowa writer Chila Woychik. I became acquainted with Chila when Caffeinated Press published a couple of her lyric essays in The 3288 Review, thereby greatly expanding my awareness of the world of creative nonfiction. I had the great honor of reading a draft of Singing the Land last summer when Chila approached me for a cover blurb, which was a first for me. And Singing the Land is wonderful! Chila has a fine sense for tone and cadence, and to read her work is sheer joy.

In the middle is the latest issue of Salvage, the leftiest of leftist literature I read regularly. The articles herein are dense and intelligent and thought-provoking, which is to say also angering a fair amount of the time, as is most leftist literature these days, as the global cultural center continues to scream rightward. We are well into neofeudalism/neofascism at this point, wearing late-stage capitalism as a flag of convenience. Note that Salvage is genuinely leftist, not the milquetoast American version of “the left” which by any rational measure would be called “right-wing authoritarian”.

(One of these days, when I have finally given my last fuck about employment-based stability in my life, I will write some blog posts about the specifics and details of my political sensibilities. Or I could write about them now and hasten the process.)

On the right is an ARC of Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus: War of Gods, the final book in the Paternus trilogy. I picked up a copy of the official release a couple of weeks ago. This volume is a Kickstarter reward and is (w00t!) inscribed by Dyrk, and is therefore a much-appreciated addition the the library.

In reading news, I am still buried in R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels as comfort and wind-down reading in the few quiet moments of my days. I finished Passage to Dawn a few days ago and am now several chapters into The Silent Blade. I expect to finish it by the end of July, at which point I will pivot back to more literary fiction, as spending too much time in someone else’s world makes it difficult to create a world of my own.

I am still working through Captivating Technology, and becoming continually more disgusted by the purposefully sadistic confluence of corporate capitalism and carceral practices described therein. I mean, it’s nothing new, but the fractal nature of the profit-based cruelties and cruelty-based profits described here leave me feeling more than a little guillotiney.

And finally, I am slowly working my way into Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. which has been on my to-read list for well over a year. I am only in the first chapter but I can see that this will be one of the best books I read this year. Or maybe this decade.

Now that I am back on a regular sleep schedule I think I am ready to begin writing the novel again. I will likely shelve the work I have already done, which is two partial versions of chapter 1, and start over this upcoming Monday morning, which is the first Monday in August. My initial goal will be a minimum 5,000 words a week, which will get me to 80,000 words sometime in November, and will also allow me a NaNoWriMo boost if I need it in order to finish the book and maybe work on some supplemental material.

July Doldrums

The Paris Review, issue 233, Summer 2020

I have lived through many hot summers in Michigan, and though I have experienced many hotter days, I do not remember such a sustained stretch of unnecessarily hot days. I’ve used my air conditioning more this summer than the past two or three combined, and I am sure my electric bill for July will equal my gas bill for February, and that’s saying something. Thus I keep crunching away at my day job in order to pay for conditioned air so that our cat doesn’t melt and my girlfriend doesn’t spontaneously combust, and I don’t keel over of heatstroke.

Right now it is 06:50, Monday, July 20, and I am sitting at the table on my front porch. Poe is on her leash and exploring the potential amusements of chasing the groggy insects which swarmed my porch light, and remain on the windows and doors too hung over from artificial bright lights to attempt the flight home. Wherever home is. A small orange cat chasing flies around in the cool air of the morning is entertainment that money just can’t buy.

Pictured above is the new issue of The Paris Review, which was the only new reading material to arrive at the Library of Winkelman Abbey in the past week. I’ll add it to the big pile of books which I will eventually read when I am no longer employed, assuming that happens before I die, and not well after, as seems increasingly to be the intent of the world.

In reading news I have completely given in to being burned out and am working my way through the Forgotten Realms books written by R.A. Salvatore. In the past week I have finished The Halfling’s Gem, The Legacy, Starless Night, and Siege of Darkness. I have read the entire series previously, and some of the book in the series many times before. This is pure comfort reading. R.A. Salvatore spins a damn fine yarn and thirty years on, his books are still enjoyable.

I also on a whim pulled out and read Saad Z. Hossain‘s remarkable novella The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday. This is one of the best books I have read this year. If you like the works of Ted Chiang and Hannu Rajaniemi, it should be at the top of your reading list.

I haven’t written much this month, due to the afore-mentioned burnout as well as schedule volatility. Now that I am on first shift again I can set aside regular time for creative pursuits and though I am not advancing the narrative of the new novel at the moment I am taking copious notes and fleshing out the plot as well as the world in which the story takes place. I guess that’s progress.

Back to Work, Again

Vacation is over, and while it was restful and relaxing, I could have used several more weeks of it, including about a thousand more hours of sleep. My planned writing never happened, other than a redo of the first few paragraphs of the first chapter of the new book, which of course I should not do until the first draft is complete, but here we are.

Two books arrived this week. On the left is the latest from my subscription to Deep Vellum, Mike Soto’s A Grave is Given Supper. On the right is local author Jean Davis’ new collection of short stories, Dreams of Stars and Lies.

In reading, I am still indulging in comfort-food book. Right now I am partway through R.A. Salvatore’s The Halfling’s Gem for at least the fifth time. I should reach the end in a couple of days.

While I would rather still be on vacation, my work schedule does give me discrete chunks of time in which to write if I can focus my mind enough to put pen to paper.

And no, I am not recovered from being burned out. Ask me about that one again at the beginning of 2021.

 

Boom, etc.

The annual ritual of pretending to blow up every goddamn thing in the city is over for the year, or at least until tonight. All political opinions aside, the mode of celebration of Independence day, to wit: simulate acts of destruction, has been done to death. Maybe from now on we as a country should collectively do something constructive with our holiday time. Like volunteer at veteran’s hospital or something.

Nah, that will never happen. This is America! Belligerence is freedom! Compassion is socialism, or something.

Anyway.

Now that the McHenry LARPing is done I can get back to my regular schedule of 4-5 hours of sleep a night, rather than 2-3 as has been the case this past week. No matter what time I go to bed, I am awakened by Poe at cat o’clock, which tends to be in the 4:45 to 5:15 time slot. With my rest time returned to “barely adequate” I may have the focus and mental energy to begin writing my new novel, which I had planned to start last week, before the glacier of burnout calved and filled the ocean of my mind with the icebergs of FUCKIT.

Anyway.

This past week was a good one for books here at the library at Winkelman Abbey. Ten new books, chapbooks and periodicals arrived since last Sunday. On the top left is the super-fun Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike. I recently finished reading the e-book version and liked it so much that I bought a physical copy, in the event that I ever run into Mr. Pike at a convention, assuming conventions ever happen again.

Second from left is the final book in Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus trilogy, Paternus: War of Gods. The first two, Paternus:¬†Rise of Gods and Paternus:¬†Wrath of Gods, were fantastic, so I have high hopes for this one.

In the middle of the top row is LatiNext, the fourth book in the BreakBeat Poets series of anthologies published by Haymarket Books. I cannot recommend this series highly enough. The power, passion, precision, beauty, anger and love in these pages is unequaled in my experience. They are just that good!

Fourth in the top row is The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, which has been on my to-read list for several years. Times being what they are, it seemed the appropriate time to dive in.

On the top right is Captivating Freedom, a collection of essays on the extrusion of the carceral space into the daily lives of “free” or non-incarcerated citizens. I came across this one while reading Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism back in late 2019. I have only read the introduction so far, but it was enough to recognize that there are some important and frightening lessons to be learned therein.

On the lower left is the latest issue of Poetry magazine. Next to it is the latest issue of the ever-wonderful Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, published by Small Beer Press, one of the very best of the small, independent presses in operation today.

The last three in the lower row are Trusting the Mind, A Day in the Life, and The Missionary Sutras, chapbooks of Red Pine’s translations of Buddhist writing, published by Empty Bowl. I have enjoyed Red Pine’s writing and translation for many years, and am always excited to discover something new in which he has had a hand.

(Note that links to author info and purchasing options are collected on the 2020 Books and Reading List.)

In reading news I finished Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes, and it was quite good. I didn’t feel that it was quite the equal of The Sword of Kaigen or Orconomics, but it was an enjoyable read all the way through and I recommend it to any fans of pirates and magic. I am also about halfway through Derek K√ľnsken’s The Quantum Magician, and so far really enjoying it. It reminds me a little of Michael Flynn’s The January Dancer, in the way that K√ľnsken treats the dispersion and fragmentation of humanity in a far future set in a boundless space.

A few days ago and purely at random, I pulled up on my Kindle Saga of Old City, Gary Gygax‘s first (and best) Gord the Rogue novel. This is pure comfort reading. It is passably well-written (6/10) for its time (mid- 1980s) and Gygax’s excitement and joy in writing his first novel really comes through. Unfortunately the subsequent books in the series do not measure up to the first, becoming increasingly encumbered by unnecessary hooks and references to the source RPG material. By the last in the series (Dance of Demons) they are nearly unreadable, except as artifacts of the history of fantasy RPG novels.

It is on my bucket list to do a complete re-edit of Saga of Old City and Artifact of Evil, the first two books in the series, and the only two written by Gygax which were published by TSR.

(Note that with reference to 21st century sensibilities, none of these novels aged particularly well)

I have one more week of vacation, and I have reduced my writing expectations from 20,000 words to 10,000 and likely down to 5,000 by the time next Sunday rolls around.

Writing is hard. Starting to write is harder.