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 Künsken’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 Künsken 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.