Damn It’s Cold Around Here

Cold weather has settled here on West Michigan and I can feel it yea unto my very bones. I have to remind myself that I am 50 now, and the physical discomfort which in past years would have dissipated in a flood of angst and testosterone now lingers like the uncomfortable memories of actions performed under the influence of angst and testosterone. Thus there is symmetry in the universe.

Only one addition to the library this week – the latest issue of the excellent New Ohio Review. I bought a subscription when I submitted a few poems to them, around this time last year. Obviously they didn’t accept the poems or I would now be rolling in money, as poetry is one of the most lucrative form of writing.

In reading news I am almost halfway through Black Leopard, Red Wolf and still loving the hell out of it. Just a damn good book.

I just started reading Tobias Buckell‘s It’s All Just a Draft. This was another Kickstarter reward and already it has paid for itself. I opened it to a random page and there was Buckell’s system for systematically submitting stories to venues arranged in a spreadsheet according to a sophisticated (to me anyway) algorithm. Start at the top, and as rejections arrive, work your way down to the bottom. If you reach the bottom, archive or bin the story.

This approach had never occurred to me, though it was obvious from the submissions we received at The 3288 Review that something like this was standard operating procedure for a number of submitters. The methodical approach is, in the long term, more successful than the haphazard. Once NaNoWriMo is over I will put together a list and a few packages of poems, and hit the internet.

I also just started reading J. Michael Straczynski‘s memoir Becoming Superman. I am only a chapter or so in, but already it is quite compelling and I can see it taking reading time away from the Marlon James book.

This past Friday I hit the halfway point in my NaNoWriMo project – 25,000 words in nine days. I didn’t add to the total at all yesterday and have only added about 200 so far today. I hope to hit 35,000 or more by end of day Friday because this upcoming weekend will be exceptionally busy and I want to keep my momentum going. I am sorry to report that the neighbor who is the central piece of this book keeps giving more material to work with. At this rate I could easily complete a trilogy.

A few hours ago I delivered the latest templates for the schedule page for ConFusion 2020. Two months and one week until the convention, and I am counting the hours. This will be my sixth time attending, I believe, and I regret all of the ones I did not attend after the first. I do sincerely enjoy volunteering for ConFusion. I have a set of skills they find useful, and it is so much more fulfilling (if not quite so profitable) than using those skills at work.

NaNoWriMo 2019

At last, it has arrived! NaNoWriMo 2019 started on Friday, November 1. At the time of this post I have written just under 12,000 of the target 50,000 words for the month. Almost 25% of the way there in four days. While I in no way expect to keep up this pace I would really like to actually complete this story/novella/novel within 30 days, instead of hitting midnight on November 30 and suddenly running out of steam partway through the project.

This year I am writing a literary fiction novel titled Neighbor: A Malediction. For the past seven years I have lived across the street from an obnoxious neighbor who has tried my patience, mucked up the neighborhood, and generally behaved like an obnoxious jackass in any number of ways and at every opportunity. This project has good parts and bad parts. On the good side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. On the bad side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. I am playing around with the order of events and the specifics of dialogue and interactions for the sake of narrative flow and dramatic hooks, but everything will be based closely or exactly on real life events. In the event I complete the book and try to get it published I will change names and what-not, of course, but people who know the neighborhood will certainly recognize the characters.

My user name at the NaNo website is JohnFromGR. If you are participating this year feel free to send me a buddy request.

This week we received a small yet interesting stack of books. The first two books in the above photo, They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears by Johannes Anyuru and Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono, came in from my subscription to Two Lines Press. I was planning to let my subscription lapse, but in the latest Two Lines Press newsletter they announced a collection of science fiction short stories from Chinese writers, so now I feel conflicted.

Next up is the latest issue of Peninsula Poets, published by the Poetry Society of Michigan.

The last book, Hebrew Punk, is one I grabbed from Apex Publications during their selling drive to raise funds for the next year of publishing.

In reading news, I finished (and liked!) Insides She Swallowed by Sasha Chacon. I am about one third of the way through Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and LOVING it! I wish I had the time free to just sit and plow through the entire book in one day. I think I could do it, though it would likely do bad things to my connection with the consensual reality.

The next few posts will likely be quite terse as I all myself to become fully engulfed in the NaNoWriMo mindset. Selah!

October is Winding Down

It was another quiet week here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, which is a good thing, what with NaNoWriMo starting in a few days, and the ten thousand tasks which come with closing down a publishing company and publishing our last literary journal. Things are just busy.

On the left is the most recent issue of Poetry. On the right is Alexandra Erin’s Kickstarter-backed collection First Dates, Last Calls. I have not yet had time to do more than the briefest skims of each, but they both promise to be very good reads.

Speaking of reads, I am a little over a hundred pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and still enjoying it immensely. It is a surprisingly easy read for all its length and the density of the prose. Given a few multi-hour blocks of reading time I could have it finished by Thanksgiving. Since I seriously doubt that will happen I have resigned myself to keeping at it until the end of the year.

I am almost done with Sasha Chacon’s Insides She Swallowed, and it is a really good collection. Seems that the people with the best words are the ones who actually have something to say. Who knew?

And that’s all I have for now. The next few weeks will likely be crazy busy so posts will be even more terse and infrequent.

Archives Are In the Attic

Yesterday whilst out shopping with my girlfriend I picked up some cardboard bank boxes, and filled them with books which, until that point, had been on my bookshelves.

Two things prompted this decision. First, as I no longer live alone, space in our living quarters is at somewhat of a premium and, well, I have a lot of books. Second, the two books which arrived last week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey are HUGE.

On the left is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Labyrinth of the Spirits, the last of the four volumes of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It is 880 pages long, several inches thick, and quite heavy. On the right is the latest delivery from And Other Stories, Endland by Tim Etchells. It is also quite hefty. At almost 400 pages it is probably the longest book I have received from this publisher.

So books require space. So do relationships. Therefore one corner of my attic is now the archive, and the first 60 books from my collection to be stored are now in boxes. Since I have significantly slowed my rate of acquisition (again, relationship) I don’t expect to need to shuffle books around more than once every six months or so.

I don’t have a firm criteria for which get archived, other than that I don’t anticipate wanting to read them, or needing them for reference, or otherwise finding them all that interesting at the moment. That could change in years to come, so I am trying to come up with a tracking system of some kind so I can, if need be in the years to come, find specific archived books with a minimum of hassle.

In reading news, I finished re-reading Jim Harrison’s True North, and it was every bit as good as I remember from the first read ten years ago. I am in the middle of Insides She Swallowed, a poetry collection by Sasha Pimentel Chacon which I picked up at Arkipelago Books in San Francisco in June 2018. I haven’t read enough to form a solid opinion, but the poetry therein is beautiful.

As the year winds down my already limited reading time becomes even more scarce and suddenly fifteen uninterrupted minutes is a precious commodity. NaNoWriMo starts in eleven days and the volunteer work for ConFusion 2020 is slowly ramping up. All of this is fun and wonderful but O, the time disappears so quickly.

Gearing Up and Winding Down

My life has been crazy busy for the last several months, and though things are beginning to wind down, the psychological and emotional hangover is just beginning. I’m tired. Really, really tired. I spend my (still limited) free time reading books. So some things haven’t changed.

This past week most of the acquisitions came from subscriptions of various kinds – the latest issue of Pulphouse, two books from Deep Vellum and one from Restless Books. I did go out of my way to pick up J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming Superman, as it has been on my list for a few months, and is now at the top of my to-read stack.

In reading news I am a little over 100 pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I seriously love this book! It is amazing, and I wonder what the hell reviewers were talking about when they compared it to Game of Thrones, because other than belonging to approximately the same broad genre, they are absolutely nothing alike. It’s like saying that fans of Lonesome Dove will really like Blood Meridian.

I am also re-reading True North by Jim Harrison. I recently loaned my copy of Dalva to a friend and realized that I had not read any of Harrison’s fiction in at least a couple of years. His work still holds up, and I wish I had a fraction of the talent he brings to the page.

Two weeks until NaNoWriMo!

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Probably Do Again

So what we have here is a big pile of poetry books and one issue of Poetry. The magazine came from a subscription. The books came from the bookshelves of Write616 (formerly the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters).

Why, you may ask, do I have a big ol’ stack of poetry books from the shelves of Write616? Well, therein lies a tale.

For the past couple of years, the GLCL/Write616 has shared space with Caffeinated Press, the publishing company of which I have been a part owner/director/executive/dogsbody since 2014. This past weekend the Powers That Be of Caffeinated Press met and decided that, as we are all of us older, exhausted and burned out, we will be closing down the shop at the end of 2019. Parallel to this decision, the Powers That Be of Write616 made a similar decision.

Thus closes a chapter of my life which has been front and center to my day-to-day existence for just over five years. I started as an editor in September of 2014, just after the publication of the first volume of the Caffeinated Press house anthology Brewed Awakenings. I joined the board in early 2015, and shortly thereafter we launched our journal of arts and letters, The 3288 Review (named after the miles of coastline in Michigan, as measured in 2000).

We still have a few projects in the works which are mostly completed. The last issue of The 3288 Review will come out at the end of this month. The remaining few books which are in process will be complete by the end of the year. All of the paperwork, finances, etc., will wind down by December 31.

And I will, for the first time in five years, have free time in my life on a regular basis. Of course, knowing me, I will immediately fill it with something else. Already I have ideas for a new lit journal, one which would focus more on art, interviews, and specifically the Grand Rapids literature scene.

But before I do anything like that I will start writing again. And submitting my work for publication. I have dozens of poems in various states of completion, as well as more than a score of short stories and essays. And they need homes. Also, National Novel Writing Month begins an about three weeks, so it’s time to start planning something to write.

So it goes.

The Emperor’s New Books

What, you can’t see them? There a stack right there, just above these words!

Another slow week for acquisitions here at the Library. No new reading material, which allowed me to catch up on some work, reading, and quality time with my honey (the last of which is NONNA YA BIZNIZ!)

Yesterday afternoon I finished Ted Kooser‘s Local Wonders, and it was, as Jim Harrison wrote in his cover blurb, magnificent. And I have just finished Christine Rhein‘s beautiful and sorrowful poetry collection Wild Flight. The two books together have further rekindled in me the writing itch, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, as well as an impending significant uptick in my available writing time, I have high hopes for the rest of the calendar year.

I have just started reading Marlon James‘ novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I am one chapter in and already hooked. As this book is something over 600 pages long I expect I will be finished around the end of the year, with shorter works interspersed as time and attention span allow.

The Last Day of Summer, 2019

The cover art seems apt for the eve of the darkening of days toward the winter solstice. This is the trade edition of I Am the Abyss, the Kickstarter-exclusive edition of which arrived here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey a few weeks back. Dark Regions Press has turned out a truly excellent product with this book which, given the difficulties they had with various printing and distribution resources, is quite an accomplishment.

In reading news, I finished A Hero Born and 45 Thought Crimes a couple of days ago. Both were excellent reads for entirely different reasons. A Hero Born was loads of fun, full of exciting battles, intrigue, compelling characters, and a surprisingly complex story line for an adventure novel. 45 Thought Crimes was energetic and angry, pointing out at the multiform cruelties of the 21st century here in the USA – economic, social, racial, gender-based, sexuality-based, and class-based. Sadism is, more and more, the national hobby.

Currently I am reading Ted Kooser‘s memoir-ish Local Wonders, as I need to let my brain cool off a little. I love Kooser’s writing – close to the earth, humble, insightful, and seasoned with a sly and wry humor which comes from a lifetime spent paying attention to the small details of the world.

In poetry I just started Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason, though I have not yet read enough to form an opinion one way or another.

Only forty days remain until the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month. I was not sure if I would participate this year, but recent events have freed up some time and brain space, and I will give it a shot, though I do not yet know what I will write, nor whether I have a chance of reaching 50,000 words in thirty days. Time will tell.

A Break in the Drought

Oh it’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks, but to make up for the stress of work, work, and, uh work, we received a refreshingly large pile of reading material here at the library of Winkelman Abbey.

Top left is the latest issue of Dreamforge. Next to it is the latest issue of Rain Taxi, which means I will probably soon be ordering a few more books, based on the reviews in Rain Taxi. Third is The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain, which I picked up from Amazon on a whim. Last in the top row is the latest Tensorate series book from Jy Yang, The Ascent to Godhood.

Bottom row left is She Had Some Horses by newly-installed Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo. I am somewhat embarrassed to say this is the first of her poetry I have read. Next is the Ted Chiang’s newest collection Exhalation. Second from right is How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This one has been on my radar for some time, and in anticipation of its arrival I have watched several of Kendi’s lectures and interviews on YouTube. Dude has some seriously powerful things to say about institutional racism.

Rightmost in the bottom row is the newest book from my Patreon subscription to Apex Books, Ration by Cody T. Luff.

I haven’t had much time to read this past week, what with work hours and the run-up to the release of the next issue of The 3288 Review. I am about 30 pages from the end of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, and about a dozen poems from finishing Lynn Breedlove’s  45 Thought Crimes. After that, the next thing on my reading list is sleep.

It’s the Little Things In Life

Not much to add to the stack at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week. The latest issues of The Paris Review and Two Lines arrived a few days ago, but life has been so busy I have not even had time to look through their tables of contents.

For reading, I finished The Hammer by Brazilian poet Adelaide Ivánova. It was quite an experience. The poems deal with rape and assault and infidelity and rage; what Tom Waits would call “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” Highly recommended.

Right now I’m reading A Hero Born by Jin Yong. I won it a couple of months ago from a sweepstakes held at Tor.com. I have practiced martial arts for thirty years and seen scores of martial arts movies, but until now I have never read a wuxia novel. It’s great! Good characters, an interesting plot, and loads of great fight scenes.

I am also browsing through Andrés Neuman‘s book How to Travel Without Seeingwhich I received in September 2016 as part of my subscription to Restless Books. This is a travel book of sorts. Neuman wrote it as a collection of sentence- to paragraph-sized vignettes describing scenes and moments in his travels throughout Central and South America.

I have read other books written like this – Trysting by Emmanualle Pagano (excerpt). Notes From a Bottle Found On the Beach at Carmel and Points for a Compass Rose by Evan S. Connell. I love this technique – collections of notes, distinct in themselves, which when assembled create a compelling narrative. And the writing is beautiful; each vignette could be a short poem; each chapter a lyric essay.

Now that Autumn approaches my reading time will be in short supply, with the deadline for the next issue of The 3288 Review arriving in October, and National Novel Writing Month in November.

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate already.