The Sunny Warm Days of…November?

I took this picture in the late afternoon of Saturday, November 7. At the time the temperature outside was around 70 degrees, Fahrenheit here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The air smelled of dry leaves and moist earth, an odd juxtaposition of the scents of spring and autumn.

Two books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, from an impulse purchase from Subterranean Press. On the left is Seven of Infinities, and on the right is On a Red Station, Drifting, both by Aliette de Bodard. The first was published by Subterranean Press; the second by the now-defunct Immersion Press.

I have not read much of de Bodard’s work; a handful of her many, many short stories, probably in one of the superb Long List anthologies. With these books I will begin my 2021 reading project early, to wit: exploring the novella, much as I spent the first few months of 2020 exploring the short story.

Speaking of novellas and short stories and the like, NaNoWriMo 2020 for me is on the very cusp of crashing and burning. I started strong, with 2,000 -3,000 words a day for the first four days, but the election, work, family, and life in general sapped my time and energy and I am several thousand words behind schedule with little time available to make up the lost ground. I will keep writing, however, and if I can get back to 2,500 words a day for the remaining days of the month I should be able to squeak through on the 30th.

In reading news, I finished the Sealey Challenge (referenced in my previous blog post) and in the midst of all that read the publishing memoir For Exposure by Jason Sizemore, head of Apex Publications, and Road to Heaven, Bill Porter’s magnificent travelogue of searching for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits of rural China, back in the 1980s. These nonfiction works, plus 31 poetry books and chapbooks, helped me keep my head in a good place for emotional and psychological stability during the run-up to, event of, and long, torturous denouement from, the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden won, and while things are far, far from good, at least they are not getting bad quite as quickly as they were last week.

Whether that changes remains to be seen.

Feeding the Beast

Poe can’t read, so instead she absorbs the knowledge contained in books through her face. In this photo she is enjoying the only new addition to the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. Since I am about a hundred pages from the end of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, where the author is digging into the meat of the permanent disenfranchisement caused by even a hint of a criminal record in this, the land of the free, Caste seems like a good next book to read. After that will either be Matthew Desmond’s Evicted or Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

In fiction reading, I just started Paternus: War of Gods by Dyrk Ashton. This is the final book in the Paternus trilogy, and though I am only about fifty pages, it is already just as good as the previous two, and according to reviews it only gets better from here. So I have high hopes.

Writing this past week went very well. I passed 20,000 words in the work in progress, and that puts me well on the way to 40,000 by the end of the month. And if I manage to continue this pace I think I should have the first draft completed before NaNoWriMo. Of course as with any first draft, the first is really the zero-eth, and after the first round of editing, then I will have a first draft. So, maybe at the end of January. I can already see places where what the characters are doing necessitate going back and changing some of the story as already written, particularly in the first two chapters. I don’t see this being a particularly long book; likely to top out at around 80,000 unless the muse strikes me with a mighty big stick.

A new follower on Twitter asked why bother to keep word count as you really just write until the story is done. This is true, and also word count is a good way to track productivity, and while the story may go on for hundreds of thousands of words, a book is by necessity finite — though a series of books is not necessarily so. It was a good question and caught me flat-footed.

Then again the poster had never participated in National Novel Writing Month, and if NaNoWriMo instills one habit in a writer, it is the fanatical tracking of word count.

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.

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.

New Old Story

Back in 2013 I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. My project was a science fiction murder mystery set in and around a twenty kilometer tall tower located in the Gabon Estuary near Libreville. It was a fun exercise and I learned a lot about writing, but there were many (in hindsight) problematic aspects to the story and I have not done much with it since.

In 2014, as Caffeinated Press was starting up, the editor in chief approached the members of the writing group which had spawned the press and announced an open call for stories for an inaugural anthology. I wrote “Hvalur,” a 9,900 word prequel story to the 2013 NaNoWriMo project, and it was accepted and published in Brewed Awakenings I.

Since then, Caffeinated Press has gone out of business and the rights to the story have reverted to me. Rather than consign “Hvalur” to the long-tail limbo of Amazon.com’s back shelves I decided to put it up here on my website where it can be read for free. Aside from some minor line edits, this is the version which appeared in the anthology.

“Hvalur” is the first of what will eventually be a large collection of my writing which I will release publicly. If I get positive feedback I might even set up a Patreon account.

Click here to read “Hvalur.”

 

Another Nano, Come and Gone

And just like that, NaNoWriMo 2019 is over. For me it was the most successful one yet. I hit 50,000 on November 20 and added around five thousand more in the last ten days. Final tally, somewhere north of 55,500 words. If I hadn’t abruptly run out of steam right after winning I could have hit 70,000 and still had more story to tell. Such are the vicissitudes of life.

This was a good week for the Library at Winkelman Abbey, mostly thanks to various Kickstarter campaigns.

At upper left is the latest Pulphouse magazine. Next to it is the fifth annual Long List Anthology of short stories which made it to the preliminary round of the Hugo Awards but did not win. Next to it is the latest issue of Poetry.

In the bottom row are the three books from the reward from a troubled Kickstarter campaign which, though it took a year longer than anticipated, finally came through with flying colors. Knaves, Scoundrels and Brigands all look to be excellent anthologies and I look forward to reading them as soon as they get to the top of the TBR pile.

To the far right of the pile are two books from Semiotext(e). On the top is Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang. On the bottom is Gore Capitalism by Sayak Valencia. I first heard of Wang’s book when I was researching the various manifestations and rhizomes of capitalism after browsing through The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism, the third volume of which I picked up in San Francisco this past summer. Given that this is the major purchasing month of the year I feel like these books, along with A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari, might have some interesting things to teach. These are the kinds of things I read when the holiday season has me in a certain mood.

Blame that on a decade of working retail in West Michigan.

50K and Counting

At 9:00 pm on Wednesday, November 20, I passed 50,000 words in my NaNoWrimo 2019 project titled Neighbors: A Malediction. It. Felt. Wonderful. This is by far the earliest I have passed 50,000 words in the seven years I have participated in National Novel Writing Month. This is also my fifth win. I gave myself a much-needed break and slept in until 7:30 am yesterday, instead of the customary 5:15 which arrives oh, so early as the days get shorter and the nights darker.

Now that the bulk of the writing is out of the way I have time to read and catch up with my journaling, which has fallen by the wayside these past few weeks.

Three books arrived this past week, and none the week before. On the left is volume 1 of The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction, which I grabbed from the Write616 archives scattered around the floor of the Caffeinated Press office when I stopped by to pick up a few copies of issue 5.1 of The 3288 Review to ship to a customer. In the middle is Lesley Conner’s The Weight of Chains, which I received as a surprise lagniappe for backing a Kickstarter campaign for Apex Publications. On the right is the latest arrival from my subscription to Restless Book, Silence of the Chagos by Shenaz Patel, which looks like something I might need to bump up a few tiers in my TBR pile.

I have managed to set aside a little time for reading this month. I finished both J. Michael Straczynski‘s extraordinary memoir Becoming Superman and Tobias Buckell‘s extremely helpful book of writing advice It’s All Just a Draft. I am still working my way through Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and loving it more with every page. And for my night reading I just picked up Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton, which I picked up (and got signed by the author!) at ConFusion 2019 back in January. I’m only about two chapters in but it is every bit as much fun as was the first book in the series, Paternus: Rise of Gods.

For  the last week of the month I plan to add a few thousand more words to the NaNoWriMo novel to get to the end of the first draft. Of course “first draft” is perhaps overselling the novel at this point. It is really the “pre-first” or “box of scraps” draft. A thorough re-read and hefty rewrite will bring it up to first draft.

This is the first time I have completed a novel during NaNoWriMo. In the first year I came close, though on re-read there are many things about it which were problematic and will need to be changed. But perhaps at this time next year I will be able to announce that I am shopping a novel around, looking for a publisher.

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.

NaNoWriMo 2019

At last, it has arrived! NaNoWriMo 2019 started on Friday, November 1. At the time of this post I have written just under 12,000 of the target 50,000 words for the month. Almost 25% of the way there in four days. While I in no way expect to keep up this pace I would really like to actually complete this story/novella/novel within 30 days, instead of hitting midnight on November 30 and suddenly running out of steam partway through the project.

This year I am writing a literary fiction novel titled Neighbor: A Malediction. For the past seven years I have lived across the street from an obnoxious neighbor who has tried my patience, mucked up the neighborhood, and generally behaved like an obnoxious jackass in any number of ways and at every opportunity. This project has good parts and bad parts. On the good side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. On the bad side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. I am playing around with the order of events and the specifics of dialogue and interactions for the sake of narrative flow and dramatic hooks, but everything will be based closely or exactly on real life events. In the event I complete the book and try to get it published I will change names and what-not, of course, but people who know the neighborhood will certainly recognize the characters.

My user name at the NaNo website is JohnFromGR. If you are participating this year feel free to send me a buddy request.

This week we received a small yet interesting stack of books. The first two books in the above photo, They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears by Johannes Anyuru and Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono, came in from my subscription to Two Lines Press. I was planning to let my subscription lapse, but in the latest Two Lines Press newsletter they announced a collection of science fiction short stories from Chinese writers, so now I feel conflicted.

Next up is the latest issue of Peninsula Poets, published by the Poetry Society of Michigan.

The last book, Hebrew Punk, is one I grabbed from Apex Publications during their selling drive to raise funds for the next year of publishing.

In reading news, I finished (and liked!) Insides She Swallowed by Sasha Chacon. I am about one third of the way through Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and LOVING it! I wish I had the time free to just sit and plow through the entire book in one day. I think I could do it, though it would likely do bad things to my connection with the consensual reality.

The next few posts will likely be quite terse as I all myself to become fully engulfed in the NaNoWriMo mindset. Selah!

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Probably Do Again

So what we have here is a big pile of poetry books and one issue of Poetry. The magazine came from a subscription. The books came from the bookshelves of Write616 (formerly the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters).

Why, you may ask, do I have a big ol’ stack of poetry books from the shelves of Write616? Well, therein lies a tale.

For the past couple of years, the GLCL/Write616 has shared space with Caffeinated Press, the publishing company of which I have been a part owner/director/executive/dogsbody since 2014. This past weekend the Powers That Be of Caffeinated Press met and decided that, as we are all of us older, exhausted and burned out, we will be closing down the shop at the end of 2019. Parallel to this decision, the Powers That Be of Write616 made a similar decision.

Thus closes a chapter of my life which has been front and center to my day-to-day existence for just over five years. I started as an editor in September of 2014, just after the publication of the first volume of the Caffeinated Press house anthology Brewed Awakenings. I joined the board in early 2015, and shortly thereafter we launched our journal of arts and letters, The 3288 Review (named after the miles of coastline in Michigan, as measured in 2000).

We still have a few projects in the works which are mostly completed. The last issue of The 3288 Review will come out at the end of this month. The remaining few books which are in process will be complete by the end of the year. All of the paperwork, finances, etc., will wind down by December 31.

And I will, for the first time in five years, have free time in my life on a regular basis. Of course, knowing me, I will immediately fill it with something else. Already I have ideas for a new lit journal, one which would focus more on art, interviews, and specifically the Grand Rapids literature scene.

But before I do anything like that I will start writing again. And submitting my work for publication. I have dozens of poems in various states of completion, as well as more than a score of short stories and essays. And they need homes. Also, National Novel Writing Month begins an about three weeks, so it’s time to start planning something to write.

So it goes.