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.

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.

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.

It Has Re-Begun

As the quote goes, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. The project from hell has returned for one more round. This time I will be on first shift, Monday through Friday, so I have my life back, if not my sanity. More important, I have my mornings back, when I can relax and have ample quiet time to read and write, plus or minus the attentions of one small orange cat.

On the left of the above photo is the new issue of the ever-superb Rain Taxi. In the middle is the anthology Where the Veil is Thin, a Kickstarter reward from a campaign run by Outland Entertainment. On the right is the anthology Hath No Fury, which is an add-on reward for that Kickstarter.

In reading news I just finished Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike. It was great! A wonderfully-written satire which would fit comfortably on a shelf with the Discworld novels or Terry Pratchett or the Myth Adventures by Robert Lynn Asprin. Between this and the previous read, The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang, I am completely sold on the quality and readability of the finalists and winners of the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off. I just grabbed the e-book of the 2017 winner, Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes. I expect it will be every bit as good as the previous reads.

I still plan to start the real work of my own book this week, though with recent events, both work and otherwise, I am completely burned out and brain-dead, so I doubt I will make much progress. I have two weeks off after this week, so that should get me somewhat back on track though times being what they are, any such predictions are necessarily fragile.

 

It Is Done

At long last, after ten weeks of second and third shift work, fifty hours a week, the project from hell is done. I got out of bed around noon today after shutting down my workstation at 11:00 last night. I don’t remember the last time I was this tired, or burned out, or otherwise completely done with the world. Early February 2013 maybe, or mid-May 2009. Something like that. The difference here is that, other than the crazy work hours, it was not a negative or traumatic experience; simply a lot of work across a lot of hours at a time of day when I am usually asleep.

In the last ten weeks I have lost around 10 pounds, most of that muscle mass as far as I can tell, from the complete disruption of my workout schedule as well as the lack of sleep, which is now well into the territory where if it were being inflicted upon me by a government agency it would count as cruel and unusual punishment. Since it is instead being inflicted upon me by capitalism it is considered being a good employee and contributing member of the team.

The part of my life I have missed most, and which I most look forward to, is waking up before the dawn, after a good night of sleep, and practicing tai chi on the front porch, then relaxing with a cup or two of coffee and reading and writing as the world wakes up around me. Three hours of quiet time before work is the bare minimum to keep my head on straight, and I have not had that since there was still snow on the ground.

So here we are in the last full week of spring, as the days are just about as long as they will get before the night starts creeping in again, and now I get to start enjoying the warm weather.

Being well-rested and healthy will also certainly be of benefit to my relationship in any number of ways, not the least of which will be that when Z proposes that we do anything at all, I will feel something other than depressed and tired at the idea of having one more goddamn thing to think about. I look forward to looking forward to things again.

Only one shipment of books this week, from Zombies Need Brains LLC, a small indie publisher which runs an annual Kickstarter where they fund and call for submissions for a trio of anthologies of varying themes. This is the second of their Kickstarters I have funded. I submitted a story to the previous round of books, and though it was not accepted for publication they sent an encouraging rejection letter. So I will try again, if and as as I have time to write.

Speaking of writing, I have a steadily growing pile of handwritten notes for the book I plan to write this summer. The plot is coming together, as well as a couple of the primary characters – protagonist and antagonist. I like the feel of it – secondary-ish world fantasy, post apocalyptic; though with enough history in the world, everywhere and everything is post- some apocalypse or other. Or mid-, or even pre-apocalypse. Kind of like right now here in the real world.

In reading I am partway through Derek Künsken‘s book The Quantum Magician, and really liking it so far! I met Künsken at ConFusion a few years back, and his book has been gathering dust on my shelves until last week. Like the other small press and self-published books I have read this year, it is really good! I look forward to snagging the sequel sometime later this year.

Now off to get caught up with the world, which seems to have moved on without me over these past two and a half months.

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)