Maybe I’ll Build a Fort With My Books

Briefly – Top left is the latest issue of Jacobin magazine, the contents of which are more and more necessary every day as Trump-instigated and Trump-led fascism comes to increasingly dominate the national discourse. Next to it is Indigo by Ellen Bass, from a Kickstarter run by the extraordinary Copper Canyon Press. Third is the newest issues of Poetry magazine, which includes a poem by local poet and professor Todd Kaneko. And on the right is The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang, which I finished reading a little over a week ago. I ordered a copy of the paperback when I was about a third of the way through the e-book, as I wanted a physical copy should I ever attend a signing. It is just that good!

In writing news I am still gathering notes, research ans musings for the book I hope to begin when my hellish project at work ends in three weeks. In reading news I am a couple of chapters into Mike Shel’s self-published novel Aching God, which was a finalist for the 2018 SPFBO awards.

Some crazy shit went down here in Grand Rapids over the past couple of days, and seems set to continue for some time yet. The national guard has arrived and in addition to the quarantine/lockdown we are also under a 7 pm to 5 am curfew until Wednesday. I will create a separate post about everything so as to not mix and dilute narratives with my day-to-day life.

 

The Big Snooze, and Some Thoughts on Self-Publishing

And that’s really what this whole spring has been, hasn’t it? Just at the cusp of getting out of bed we hit the snooze button and suddenly two more weeks have gone by. Here in Michigan, Governor Whitmer has extended the stay-at-home order until June 12, though she is gradually allowing the opening of more and more businesses under specific instructions as regards social distancing and the gathering of crowds.

For me, it won’t change anything as I am on my hellish project until (at most recent notice) June 18. 10 hour days, 50 hours a week, Tuesday through Saturday, 2 pm to midnight, for three and a half more weeks. It mostly isn’t really a problem except when the weather is beautiful (as it has been for the past week) and I can hear the neighbors hanging out in their back yards, drinking beers and grilling various meats. Then it feels like something which is being done to me, even though I volunteered, to the extent that anyone volunteers for a project when the alternative is likely unemployment.

But the books do continue to trickle in, though that is not a reliable or accurate way to measure the passing of time. On the left and right of the above photo are the most recent deliveries from Two Lines Press, Echo on the Bay by Masatsugo Ono, and On Lighthouses, by Jazmina Barrera. In the middle is the new Girl Genius collection, Queens and Pirates, from Kaja and Phil Foglio, just delivered from their latest Kickstarter. World events caused many delays in the delivery of this beautiful graphic novel, but they persevered and it is now in my greedy little hands.

In reading news, I just finished M.L. Wang‘s superb The Sword of Kaigen, which recently won the 2019 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. This is some seriously quality work, and should remove any doubts as to the quality of self-published fiction available to read. I, fortunately, had already had those doubts removed thanks to meeting stellar writers like Dyrk Ashton, T.L. Greylock, Phil Tucker, D. Thourson Palmer, Mike Shel, and many others at the ConFusion science fiction convention over the past several years, as well as Jean Davis here in West Michigan, who we worked with extensively back in the heyday of Caffeinated Press.

At ConFusion 2020 earlier this year I attended a panel about self-publishing and everyone was talking about the SPFBO, so I finally looked it up and, well, it is magnificent! 300 entries whittled down to ten finalists and then one winner over the course of about ten months. All volunteer run, and coordinated by author Mark Lawrence. The sixth year of the SPFBO has just commenced and I find myself continually distracted by the commentary on social media. It even prompted me to (o god) reactivate my Reddit account so I could keep up with everything on r/Fantasy.

All of this is timely, as now that things are less chaotic (but by no means¬† normal) I have the brain-space to think about writing again. I dusted off my failed 2016 NaNoWriMo novel (ran out of steam after 13,000 words), and discovered that there are the bones of something I can turn into a good book. My partner has recently finished setting up her home office and has been burning the midnight oil putting her thoughts to paper so it feels like there is something in the air, and that if I don’t at least lay the groundwork of a book in the next few weeks the opportunity will pass me by and my life will be the poorer for it.

Writing a fantasy novel is also a good escape from the stresses of the mundane world right now, as real-world travel is difficult and problematic during a pandemic-induced quarantine.

My mind, at least, has freedom to roam.

A Sudden Bump in Book Stocks

After several weeks of small or nonexistent book orders coming in to the Library at Winkelman Abbey, several appeared at the same time. This was due to various subscriptions, Kickstarters, bookstore orders, and one impulse purchase from an independent publisher.

On the top left is Wild Sun by Ehsan and Shakil Ahmad. This one arrived unexpectedly from Dreamforge as a thank you for supporting their Kickstarter. In the top center is Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott, the latest from my subscription to Apex Publications. On the right is Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie, which I ordered from our local indie bookstore Books and Mortar.

Middle row left is the latest issue of Poetry magazine. The next three are poetry books which I ordered from Books and Mortar – Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova, How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy, and Simulacra by Airea D. Matthews. I subscribe to several poem-a-day email services, of which the most prominent two are Tracy K. Smith’s The Slowdown and the Poem-a-Day from the Academy of American Poets. When a poem resonates, I will find a recent book by the poet and add it to one of my lists on Amazon. When I feel the need for more poetry in my life I will order a few of the books on that list from Books and Mortar. When they arrive, I remove them from the list on Amazon. It’s the opposite of the people who browse local bookstores then order the books they want from Amazon. Those people are jerks.

The bottom row contains the three books I ordered from the Literary Conversations series, published by University Press of MississippiConversations with William Gibson, Conversations with Gary Snyder, and Conversations with Samuel R. Delaney. At present count I have about a dozen of the Literary Conversations collections. They are extremely well done, quite enjoyable to read, and valuable resources for research.

In reading news, I recently burned through R.A. Salvatore‘s Dark Elf TrilogyHomeland, Exile and Sojourn. These were all re-reads of books which I have not revisited in at least fifteen years. Once upon a time I read everything I could get my hands on which was set in the Forgotten Realms. I think I burned myself out. But it felt good to dive back in. They are not great literature by any means, but they are good stories with engaging characters and quite complex worldbuilding. It was a complete comfort read, and now I will probably read a few more before I return to the world of LitFic.

Plus, I decided I want to write a fantasy novel, and Salvatore’s work is a great place to start putting my head in that particular space.

What I Read in April 2020

My plan to read a short story a day for the entire year has, thanks to existential uncertainty and the attendant disruption of my life, not happened. Four months in and I am only a fraction of the way to where I should be. But what I lack in quantity this past month I more than made up for in quality. Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is a wonder, and I cannot recommend highly enough the stories therein.

I had some unexpected down time so I read several novels in April. It felt good to let my mind travel to far realms away from and therefore better than the current timeline.

  1. “The Merchant an the Alchemist’s Gate” Chiang, Ted (Exhalation)
  2. “Exhalation” Chiang, Ted (Exhalation)
  3. “What’s Expected of Us” Chiang, Ted (Exhalation)

Publication Announcement: Portage Magazine

I am overjoyed to announce that Portage Magazine has just published two of my poems in their 2020 issue. You can read “Afternoon Traffic” and “Percussion” on their website, as well as the rest of the excellent collection published by this gem of a journal.

These are the first poems I have had published since 1999. This is also the first unsolicited work which I have had published since 1999, when I placed in the 1999 Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition and was subsequently published in that year’s issue of Voices.

I became aware of Portage Magazine when I was looking for possible venues for submission. There are of course thousands of outlets for poetry but that doesn’t mean a specific outlet is right for a specific poem. Since I am a Midwesterner, and therefore a Midwestern writer, I tried to use certain keywords to filter the lists from Poets & Writers, Duotrope, and other lists, but that still left several hundred possibilities. So I abandoned all of that and simply looked through the author bios of the 12 issues of The 3288 Review which Caffeinated Press published over the past five years, and wrote down the venues which had also published the poets which we had published. That left a much more manageable list, and Portage Magazine was right there in the middle of it all. And they do a very good job of publishing and promoting their authors.

Thank you for reading!

Municipal Existentialism and Ricochet Kittens

[I meant to post this yesterday, but kitten.]

The lockdown and associated overabundance of attention are beginning to wear on Poe who, in response, is beginning to wear on the humans here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey.

Fortunately for the non-felid cohort here, the books continue to accumulate. On the left is Stan’s Kitchen, a limited edition collection of short works from Kim Stanley Robinson, published by NESFA Press and distributed by Subterranean Press. I was lucky to get one of the very last ones, as after the run sold out (which, as far as I can tell, took about four hours) a few more were added and I was lucky enough to see the notice as soon as it was posted. Thus a new book!

On the right is N.K. Jemisin’s new novel The City We Became, which is about the souls or anthropomorphic personifications of the great cities of the world. I’m about 120 pages in, and this book is magnificent!

On a related note, I feel a sense of, I don’t know, call it kismet, or deja vu, or something of the kind, because during National Novel Writing Month in November 2017 I wrote the first draft of a novel I called Vicarious City, which was about the anthropomorphic personification, the genius loci, of Grand Rapids. And given when The City We Became was released, it is likely that Jemisin was writing her book when I was writing mine. I guess there was a particular energy in the air at the time.

I love coincidences like this!

My story was inspired by a few things – issue 51 of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic (“A Tale of Two Cities”) , Bruce Sterling’s novel Zeitgeist, Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities, the character Map from the Hellblazer comic, the spirit from Paul Bowles’ short story “The Circular Valley” and the various genii loci from Roger Zelazny and Megan Lindholm’s novel Donnerjack. And in a larger and more subtle sense, this idea as presented by Alan Watts:

Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.

Maybe my novel will see the light of day in some form, but in the meantime I am delighted to read Jemisin’s book. She has a presence, and an aesthetic, and a sense of empathy and justice which makes her work compelling and readable in the highest degree.

In other reading news, I finished Ferret Steinmetz’s wonderful The Sol Majestic, and it makes me want to spend the day wandering a food-centric city in his company, talking about cuisines and words and the synchronicities which can be found therein.

I will likely have another post sometime this week, regarding some writing news, but for now, time to prep for work.

Books to Ride Out the Lockdown

It’s not that I am unused to spending days at a time inside without seeing another human being. It’s just that I am used to doing it on my own terms. In any other year I would be out stomping the trails at all of the parks within a hundred miles of my house. This year? Not so much.

I finally have my schedule settled in so that I have more concentrated reading time, which is good because the books, they just keep coming in.

On the left is the latest edition of Pulphouse. In the middle is a gorgeous illustrated novel from Deep Vellum Publishing, Above Us the Milky Way by Fowzia Karimi. On the right is the new book from Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology, which is a companion volume to his magisterial Capital in the Twenty-First Century. At over 1,100 pages it will take a few days to read, I think.

I am finally back in my reading groove. In the past week I have finished William Gibson’s Neuromancer (a re-read), David Walton’s The Genius Plague, Rita Indiana’s Tentacle, China Mieville’s The Last Days of New Paris, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist. It was a binge, and it was wonderful! I have since started The Sol Majestic by Ferret Steinmetz, and am browsing at random Jim Harrison’s collected nonfiction Just Before Dark.

My writing in the past month and more has fallen completely by the wayside though I have jotted down a few ideas for poems.

I feel pressure to pack the spare moments with simple pleasures. Starting tomorrow, and likely to extend through the end of My, I will be on a project in which I will be working four twelve hour days a week, 6 pm to 6 am. I haven’t worked third shift since I was 21, and that nearly killed my, though it was only for about six weeks as well. Then again, that was in a factory for minimum wage, and this will be sitting in my home office for substantially better pay.

Such is the exciting life of a developer.

 

What I Read in March 2020

I had such high hopes for March. As it turns out, existential dread and uncertainty are not conducive to good reading habits. Much easier to watch and re-watch and re-binge the myriad television shows on the various streaming services. There was one high point though – I have re-immersed myself in the writing of Roger Zelazny, who was one of the first writers whose work made me also want to be a writer. I think Zelazny and Douglas Adams (of course!) were the biggest influences on lighting in me the creative urge which, though it is not as consistent as I would like, has never gone away.

Hopefully April will provide a little more stability, or at least consistency (predictability?) around which to rebuild my reading schedule. If not, look for more short lists, and perhaps a list of those lists, in order to track them.

  1. “Fair Game” – Dick, Philip K. (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 3)
  2. “The Hanging Stranger” – Dick, Philip K. (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 3)
  3. “The Venus Effect” – Hill, Joseph Allen (The Long List Anthology, vol. 3)
  4. “Rain” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  5. “By Design” – Sestanovich, Clare (The Paris Review #232)
  6. “This Mortal Mountain” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  7. “Auntie Han’s Modern Life” – Tam, Enoch (That We May Live)
  8. “Zombie Capitalism” – Buckell, Tobias (Vice)
  9. “The Man Who Loved Faioli” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  10. “Angel, Dark Angel” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  11. “The Hounds of Sorrow” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  12. “The Window Washer” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  13. “The Eve of Rumoko” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 4)

Poetry at the End of Days

Ugh. That was a week. The project I have been on for the past month crashed and burned, and I had the delightful and familiar experience of being thrown under the bus. Such is the life of a developer. The project manager was a good sort – smart, driven, creative, good ideas, but really bad with organization and communication. Thus the current view from under the bus.

A nice collection of reading material arrived this week, a combination of subscriptions, an online order, and a delivery from our superb local bookstore Books and Mortar.

On the left is the new issue of Poetry. Next to it is autobiography of a semiromantic anarchist by Monica Teresa Ortiz. On the top right is Kristin Chang’s collection Past Lives, Future Bodies.

Bottom row left is Palestine+100, a companion volume to Iraq+100, which I picked up a year or so ago. These are collections which imagine what the respective countries will be like 100 years from the catastrophic events which befell them, in the case of this book, the nakba in 1948. Lower middle is Barn 8 by Deb Olun Unferth, and bottom right is Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy. These last two are the latest from my subscription to And Other Stories.

My girlfriend and I have adjusted to the new reality of both of us being home all the time and not being able to get out and walk around due to her recently-sprained ankle. We both have personal projects to keep us occupied, and house and kitten do take a lot of maintenance to keep them livable.

Speaking of kitten, Poe has been with us for just over three months. I think we will hit the 100 day mark on Friday, which will probably warrant its own blog post. Poe is a treasure, and her presence in the house is a wonderful stress reliever, even when she wants to be fed and entertained at 5:00 a.m. At this moment she is laying in my lap cleaning herself, sprawled across my left arm and partially tucked under my laptop. She is just too cute for words.

This past week I only read random bits of things, nothing meaningful enough to blog about. Likewise with the writing. The combination of existential uncertainty, coupled with the significant disruption to the daily routine, has diminished my ability to focus on what needs to be done. Even editing old work takes more mental energy than I currently have available.

But spring is here and the days are longer, warmer and brighter, and though the amount of time I have available hasn’t really changed, deep down in my bones I feel more energized.

The Marchest March that Ever Marched

Well that was a hell of a month. Not much read, not much acquired.

On the left is the new issue of Dreamforge, which tends to the hopeful and uplifting, which is much needed here in the Nth week of the quarantine. On the right is The Ides of Octember, A Pictorial Bibliography of Roger Zelazny. I picked this one up as a companion to the six-volume Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny. In the middle are the rewards from Dyrk Ashton‘s Kickstarter to release a hardcover version of his wonderful book Paternus: Rise of Gods. Dyrk is one of the first people I met once once I became a regular attendee at ConFusion. He is an excellent writer and a wonderful human being. He opened my eyes to the vast world of self publishing, which I admit I had not paid much attention to. The opportunities there are boundless.

In reading, not much has happened lately. I am still working my way through Rita Indiana’s wonderful Tentacle. I also pulled Thomas Piketty‘s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Sheldon Wolin‘s Democracy Incorporated off the shelf and am about a chapter into each. In particular I can only handle a little of the Wolin at a time, as I find myself beset by fits of rage about once a page.

As for writing, I haven’t accomplished much since the early parts of March. Too many distraction and an increasing number of vicissitudes have kept that part of my brain too occupied and distracted to put anything meaningful on paper. In any event, once we come out the other side of the other side of the COVID-19 season, I expect the world, publishing and otherwise, will look much different than it did a month ago.