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)

Liminal Kittens and the Decades of April

As far as months go, April 2020 wasn’t the absolute worst ever, but it was right up there. My third-shift project and the COVID-19 disruption of the world has left me in a mental and psychological space where the days are undifferentiated and blur together into an indefinite now and the hours disappear in a blink but the weeks last forever. Z continues to improve from her sprained ankle and with the warmer weather we are able to spend more time outside which, even if we almost never leave the property, is a huge improvement over being stuck in the house all day.

I’m still in something of a lull in book acquisitions, but the page of new reading material never fully stops. On the left is Tobias Buckell’s novella The Executioness, published by Subterranean Press. I picked it up after I read its companion volume, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist (also from Subterranean Press) and realized that I was missing half of the story.

On the right is a new anthology of short stories from Atthis Arts, Community of Magic Pens. This is from a Kickstarter campaign run by E.D.E. Bell, who I know through volunteering at ConFusion. She and her team have turned out quite an impressive collection of anthologies, and are doing a great service to the writing and reading communities.

A few days ago Z and I picked up a harness and leash for Poe. She took to it immediately and seems to love being outside, though she is quickly overwhelmed by all of the sensory input and so can’t stay outside for more than about twenty minutes at a time. Her favorite activity seems to be chasing all of the flies which the warmer weather has awakened.

Perhaps May will be a kinder month than April, though with the lockdown in Michigan extending through the end of the month, and the emasculated manbabies continued protesting of the quarantine, I suspect things will get worse before they get better. Stay safe, stay distanced, and if you see a heavily armed white man complaining that a woman told him to stay in his room, offer him sympathy for his toxic daddy issues but don’t approach. They are easily frightened and tend to lash out if cornered.

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.

 

Books for Social Distancing

As of a few days ago COVID-19 has made landfall here in West Michigan, so we are all hunkering down for a long haul of avoiding significant social interaction. Fortunately I have several hundred books in the house that I have not read. They should last me a couple of weeks. I also have a job where I can work from home so, until the toilet paper runs out, I have no real reason to interact with other human beings beyond my wonderful girlfriend. She is a school teacher, so she will be hanging around the neighborhood for the next three weeks until the schools reopen.

On the left in the above photo is the latest issue of the superb Rain Taxi, because of which I will undoubtedly order several new books in the upcoming months. On the right is the latest delivery from Deep Vellum, Girls Lost by Jessica Schiefauer. 2020 is starting out with a much slower acquisition rate than the previous several years, and for that I am kind of happy, as I was beginning to feel the pressure of insufficient shelving. I mean, I still feel that pressure, but it is not an immediate concern.

In reading news, I am hopping randomly through volumes III and IV of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, published by NESFA Press. These stories are just wonderful! I have been a Zelazny fan since I first read Nine Princes in Amber back in the early 1980s.

I am also reading Tentacle by Rita Indiana, one of the books from my subscription to And Other Stories. One chapter in and I am fully hooked.

My writing game has been significantly off these past few weeks so I am switching over fully to editing several short stories. I have four so far which I think will be worthy of publishing.

Assuming there is such a thing as publishing as we work our way further through this very stupid timeline.

Since you’ve made it to the end of this post, here is a picture of Poe.

 

Books to Entertain and Intimidate

It’s been a busy week here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. Yesterday we had our kitten spayed. She recovered nicely from the surgery and spent most of yesterday evening and night, well into today, being a psychotic beast. Only in the last couple of hours (a full 24 since the surgery) has she calmed down enough to sit still for more than about a minute. Thus, no kitten in today’s photo.

A small stack of books arrived in the past week. On the left is the newest issue of Jacobin. In the middle is the latest from Deep Vellum, The Love Story of the Century. And on the right is an impulse buy from Semiotext(e), The Coming Insurrection, the first title in their Interventions series.

The Coming Insurrection was briefly famous back in 2009 when noted fascist bootlick Glenn Beck spent several weeks pissing himself in terror on Fox News over what he called “the most evil book he has ever read.” Coming from someone who at the time worked at white nationalist propaganda outlet Fox News, that description is hilarious. I doubt Beck or any of his catamites (the ones who can read, anyway) made it past more than the first few pages of this small text.

So I have some good reading for the week ahead, while I nurse our kitten back to health.

Poe Approves of Books in Translation

Here we have the famous book critic, Poe Kitten, expressing her approval of the latest book from Two Lines Press, b, Book, and Me, by Kim Sagwa, Though Poe has not yet read this book she approves of it because it is another thing for her to be briefly curious about and possibly gnaw on.

Not much new on the book acquisition side of things which is a relief as I am still cataloging the many books I picked up at ConFusion two weeks ago.

(Jeez. Was it only two weeks ago?)

Reading and writing continues apace. I have a few pieces still out there seeking new homes, and I am collating the stories I read throughout January, for their own post.

Now if you will excuse me, the Superbowl is on, so I have some nature documentaries to watch!