Re-centering Poetry

One of the advantages, if you can call it that, of working at home in the Days of COVID is that I can see the day-to-day progression of the diminishing daylight as we move from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. When I close down my laptop at the end of my shift the sun is just a little closer to the horizon, the light a little more golden – or red, depending on the drift of smoke from the west coast. And each day it is just a little more difficult to pull myself from bed early enough in the morning to complete my morning routine.

Two things are helping keep me on my game as winter approaches: Poe, who still insists on being fed at 5:00 every morning, and a large stack of poetry books and chapbooks to read through as part of the Sealey Challenge. I am managing to stay on schedule, mostly thanks to a large pile of unread chapbooks which have arrived over the past four years as part of my subscriptions to Horse Less Press (currently on indefinite hiatus) and Ugly Duckling Presse, which is still going strong though I had to let my subscription lapse for financial reasons. I note that traditionally the Sealey Challenge has run during the month of August, so next year I will align myself with the rest of the poetry universe and complete the challenge in the appropriate month.

An excellent pile of books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the top left is a new one from Subterranean PressEdited By, a collection of stories which have been edited by Ellen Datlow. The collection itself is, well, edited by Ellen Datlow. So there’s a lot of meta going on with this one.

In the top middle is Francesco Verso‘s Nexhuman, the latest delivery from Apex Book Company, to which I have a subscription through Patreon. Editor Jason Sizemore was kind enough to reach out to me when the original print run for this shipment ran a few short and he allowed me to pick any title from the Apex catalog. This was my first choice, and it was fortunate they had copies in stock, as I am slowly picking up every book Apex has published, thanks to Patreon, Kickstarter, and purchases at various ConFusions over the past several years.

On the top right is Road to HeavenBill Porter‘s beautiful travelogue/story of wandering the mountains of China looking for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits who maintain a tradition once much revered in Chinese culture.

Bottom left is The Collected Ghazals by the late, great Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press recently released this collection, as well as the book in the bottom center, Letters to Yesenin. I have been a fan of Jim Harrison since a college professor turned me on to him back in 1993, when he picked up a copy of Wolf. Since then I have read almost everything Harrison wrote, and have bookshelf dedicated to his poetry and prose.

On the bottom right is the new collection from Garrett Stack, Yeoman’s Work. I first heard of Stack when we published a few of his poems in an issue of The 3288 Review. This is an excellent collection, and well worth seeking out.

In reading news, I have so far read 18 poetry books and chapbooks, and am keeping a running tally of the list up on Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t taken a deep dive into poetry like this since the late 1990s, unless you count the thousands a year I read as editor of The 3288 Review, which is not really the same thing. The Sealey Challenge has been a wonderful experience and with 13 more books to read my mind will be in a wonderful place when NaNoWriMo starts on November 1.

I just finished reading For Exposure, Jason Sizemore’s brilliant history of Apex Publications, with contributions by half a dozen or so of the editors and other contributors, employees and supporters of his wonderful company. I picked up For Exposure at ConFusion back in, I think, 2015, when I managed to spend a few minutes talking to Sizemore about the trials and tribulations of running a small independent publishing company. He is a Righteous Dude, as the kids say these days, and I offer all the kudoes to him and his team for the work they do in the literary world.

Writing hasn’t been going as well as reading, though I managed to put down a couple hundred more words in the book as I try to work through this one lynchpin chapter and scene, from which the rest of the book will flow, which tells me I may need to just mash my fact against the keyboard until something clicks and I can move ahead. The goal is still to complete a first draft this year, and with luck even complete the draft during NaNoWriMo, though I am having more and more concrete thoughts about a series of short stories which might eventually become chapters in a new book. All I know is that I will spend a lot of time writing in November 2020, assuming the slings and arrows of the mundane world allow me the mental space and emotional clarity to do so.

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.

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.

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.

Books and Cats and Books and Cats

The week leading up to ConFusion 2020 was packed and chaotic, full of kitten hijinks, shenanigans and tomfoolery. And also a few books.

The top two, Half Way Home and the Principia Discordia, I picked up at ConFusion from the stack of free books.

The bottom row starts with Franco Berardi’s Breathe: Chaos and Poetry from Semiotext(e), a publisher for whom I have re-developed a profound love. Next is This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I picked this one up hoping that Mohtar would sign it at ConFusion but alas! she did not attend this year.

Third in the bottom row is Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade which I DID get signed at ConFusion, and next to it is Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, likewise signed. I will talk more of ConFusion and books and signing in an upcoming blog post.

For reading, I managed a couple of short stories, but was too busy for much other than the usual half-hearted browsing of random internet pieces.

Yeah, ConFusion was a lot of fun.

Poe Try Poetry

I would say this past week was another quiet one here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, but with a new kitten nothing is ever quiet. I did manage to get Poe to sit still long enough to enjoy Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson, the only new book to arrive in the past week.

My reading schedule is waaaaaay off for this time of year, thanks to Poe, who is distracting in the very best ways. I am reading a lot of short fiction, as I planned, and loving it! My subscriptions to Pulphouse, Amazing Stories, The Paris Review, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, etc., are finally paying off.

I have also been closely following the 2020 State of the World conversation over at The Well. Sterling, Lebkowsky and company are touching on some interesting and deeply concerning topics, as well as pointing out that the unease (to put it mildly) that Americans are feeling right now is basically how most of the rest of the world has felt for decades, and to a large extent how things have been for us for a long time, though we do tend to take pride in our ability to live in denial. Food for thought as well as loads of writing fodder.

My next literary update will likely be a little late and will certainly be loaded down with books from ConFusion 2020, which starts in FOUR DAYS!

 

My ConFusion 2020 Schedule

ConFusion 2020 will take place from Thursday, January 16 through Sunday, January 19, 2020. I am participating in two panels this year:

Title: Collaborating With Your Publisher On Book Promotion
Day/time: Friday January 17, 5:00 pm
Room: Maintou
Track: Pro
Panelists: Annalee Flower Horne (M), John Winkelman, Yanni Kuznia, Suzanne Church
Description: Most writers don’t know what book promotion is going to look like when they sign that first contract. What will the publisher do? What are they responsible for doing themselves? How do they best collaborate with their publisher on promotion to get the most out of their joint efforts? Is spending part of your advance on promo ever worth it? Do you need to worry about a publisher pulling back on promotion if they see you doing your own? And is it even possible for author promo to turn a book that’s not a lead title into a breakout success, or is that all just down to luck? Our panel of authors and publishing pros discuss the best ways for an author to drive sales of their trad pubbed book.

Title: Great Lakes and Inland Seas In Secondary Worlds
Day/time: Sunday January 19, 12:00 pm
Room: Isle Royale
Track: Literature
Panelists: Anthony W. Eichenlaub (M), Marissa Lingen, Phoebe Barton, John Winkelman
Description: It’s hard to really get a sense of the scale of the American Great Lakes if you’ve never stood on one of their shores. Those of us used to thinking of lakes as more akin to very large ponds are often surprised by the dunes, the waves, the wind, the distant horizon. Writers who know the lakes offer advice on how to incorporate great lakes and inland seas into our fantasy worlds–as a narrative setting, what separates lakes from oceans? What unique or surprising storytelling opportunities do lakes provide?

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.

The Passive Acquisition of Reading Material

And just like that, the year is half over. Moderately more ups than downs at this point, which is entirely reasonable.

This was a slow but interesting week for the acquisitions department at Winkelman Abbey. Two Kickstarter fulfillment packages arrived, as well as two journal issues. On the left is Frozen Hell, the newly-released deluxe hardcover version of the John Campbell story which inspired The Thing. On the left-of-center is The Writer’s Book of Doubt, an anthology of encouragement for writers, by writers. Center right is the new issue of the always excellent journal Reckoning, and on the right is the latest issue of Poetry. These all just kind of appeared at my doorstep and I didn’t have to lift a finger.

In reading news, just before midnight last night I finished the book which I have been beta-reading for the past two months. It was superb, but I need to let it sit for a month before I offer my feedback to the author. I am also about 20% through the book of essays for which I will be providing a blurb in a few week. For pleasure reading I picked up Ken Liu‘s novella The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary. I quickly realized that, while a beautiful story, it’s a terrible story, if you follow me. Or, as Tom Waits would put it, “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”. I’ll likely finish it this evening if time permits.

June 30 was the last day of submissions for the October 2019 issue of The 3288 Review, and I am hard at work sending out acceptance and rejection letters and contracts and other various communications on behalf of Caffeinated Press. After an extended bout of self-inflicted FUBAR around the previous issue, this one is coming together nicely, which makes me very happy as I finally have some breathing room in my life, so I can enjoy the summer with my wonderful girlfriend. Maybe I’ll even do some writing. And maybe it will even be good. And with a whole lotta luck and some good old-fashioned elbow-grease, I’ll get something published by the end of the year.

 

I Got Nuthin’

For the first time in many month, I have endured a terrible week where no new reading material arrived at the library of Winkelman Abbey. At this rate I may end up reading as many as 50% of my books before I die of old age, and that thought makes me feel oddly claustrophobic.

In reading news, I finished Ours is the Storm by D. Thourson Palmer, and have just opened The Nine by Tracy Townsend. This is another ConFusion acquisition, as was the Palmer book and several others from earlier this year. I love being able to read and enjoy the works of people I know personally (if not well). ConFusion is wonderful like that. I am also progressing through Jessica Comola’s poetry collection everything we met changed form & followed the rest. I hope to have both books complete by the beginning of June, as summer looks to be extremely busy.

The photo for this post is one of over five dozen fish in a mural created at 555 Monroe Avenue here in Grand Rapids. The specific fish was created by local artist James Broe.