My First Time Off in Six Months

That’s right, oh my коты and котята: starting tomorrow I have two weeks off from work. This is my first real break since the Christmas holidays of 2019. I did have a couple of days off for ConFusion 2020 but that really wasn’t down time, as such. This will be two weeks of going to bed late, waking up late, drinking yummy drinks, spending quality time with my partner, and loads of reading and writing.

Of the left is the latest issue from The Boston Review, “The Right to be Elected”. On the right is issue 5 of DreamForge, the subscription to which I had accidentally let slip, so this is a sort of catch-up issue.

This past week, for the first time since late March, I was back on my regular morning schedule, which involves me getting up at cat-thirty in the morning to feed the Ricochet Kitten, then staying up and doing stuff instead of getting back into bed. I have made some headway on the story, but not enough as I am having difficulty getting a feel for my main character. I might just skip to chapter 2 and then fill in chapter 1 when I have built up some momentum. I have good ideas for the main plot and the shape of the story, but I haven’t yet developed the voice. That will come with practice, undoubtedly, and of course, as Hemingway put it, the first draft of anything is shit. Then again he also said that the hard part about writing a novel is finishing it, and I admit that between those two quotes I find it difficult to be encouraged.

This time of year I always feel a sort of restlessness, as we are just past the longest day of the year and already the days grow shorter though I did not have the opportunity to enjoy the slow walk to the solstice. Such are the tribulations of working second and third shift. The year is half-over and I have sat on the porch with my coffee, listening to the birds and bathed in the scent of blooming milkweed, exactly five times. I have not truly resented anything else about the state of the COVID world, but I resent this. My mornings are few and precious, and so many of them have been taken away from me. True, I have at least three more months where I will be able to sit on the porch in comfort, but goddammit, leave my simple joys alone!

My only goal for the next to week is to get down the first 10,000 words of the book. Once I have that, if past NaNoWriMo experience is any indicator, I should be good to go to the last page of the book.

Or maybe I’ll just sleep for a couple of weeks. I kind of need that too.

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.

 

Shifting From Third to Second

Poe in her perch

No new reading material this week, so here is a photo of Poe in her element.

In reading news, I just finished Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, and it was magnificent. I now feel compelled to seek out the rest of the books in the series, as well as the rest of her writing in general.

I have also found myself thoroughly sucked into a re-read of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels, which I first read as they were released in the early 1990s through early 2000s. They are fun reads and definitely lighter than my usual fare, and I will probably skim through them much faster than I would through something opened for the first time. I enjoy seeing how much Salvatore’s writing improves as the series progresses. It’s also interesting to see how much the (viewed through the lens of a reader in 2020) cliches and tropes endemic to the genre thirty years ago change over time. I offer kudos to Salvatore for keeping his writing fresh over a long and productive career.

For my own writing, I am gathering notes to begin a novel and/or a series of stories based around a particular idea which can be explored in a wide variety of settings and genres. Or a setting which can be explored through a wide variety of ideas and genres. Like I said – gathering. Not organizing. When I begin my work in earnest I will post more specific comments.

In an effort to stay engaged in the book reader/writer/lover community I have started to regularly post to Instagram (@johnfromGR). I have never really engaged that platform in any meaningful way, though at first glance it seems much less toxic than Facebook and Twitter. Time will tell.

As the COVID-19 lockdown continues here in Michigan I can feel my life fraying at the edges. For the past month I have worked third shift, 12-hour days, four days a week, on a project at work. Starting tomorrow that will move to second shift, 10 hours a day, five days a week. This will last through the second week of June, at which point the project will end and I will rejoin the waking world, in whatever form that may be. As I said before, third shift was a whole lot easier when I was 21.

One of the unexpected benefits of my new schedule is a slow but steady loss of weight. I am not working out anywhere near as much as I usually do so I assume the change is from loss of muscle mass combined with only eating two meals a day, along with some healthy snacks. I don’t know if ongoing sleep deprivation also causes weight loss, but if so, I may have discovered a new diet regimen.

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)

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.

 

What I Read in March 2020

I had such high hopes for March. As it turns out, existential dread and uncertainty are not conducive to good reading habits. Much easier to watch and re-watch and re-binge the myriad television shows on the various streaming services. There was one high point though – I have re-immersed myself in the writing of Roger Zelazny, who was one of the first writers whose work made me also want to be a writer. I think Zelazny and Douglas Adams (of course!) were the biggest influences on lighting in me the creative urge which, though it is not as consistent as I would like, has never gone away.

Hopefully April will provide a little more stability, or at least consistency (predictability?) around which to rebuild my reading schedule. If not, look for more short lists, and perhaps a list of those lists, in order to track them.

  1. “Fair Game” – Dick, Philip K. (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 3)
  2. “The Hanging Stranger” – Dick, Philip K. (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, vol. 3)
  3. “The Venus Effect” – Hill, Joseph Allen (The Long List Anthology, vol. 3)
  4. “Rain” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  5. “By Design” – Sestanovich, Clare (The Paris Review #232)
  6. “This Mortal Mountain” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  7. “Auntie Han’s Modern Life” – Tam, Enoch (That We May Live)
  8. “Zombie Capitalism” – Buckell, Tobias (Vice)
  9. “The Man Who Loved Faioli” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  10. “Angel, Dark Angel” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  11. “The Hounds of Sorrow” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  12. “The Window Washer” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 3)
  13. “The Eve of Rumoko” – Zelazny, Roger (The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, vol. 4)

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.

 

What I Read in February 2020

February was a fairly good reading month though I was sidetracked by a long weekend away, some family stuff, and the act and aftermath of getting the kitten fixed. Turns out that the drugs they use to anesthetize cats for surgery sometimes turns them into psychotic Tasmanian Devil beasts for about a day.

Most of the short fiction for February came from three sources – The Long List Anthology volumes 3 and 4, and Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov. The rest were random picks from journals, both print and online.

I am also pushing through to the end of Sayak Valencia’s Gore Capitalism, which I started reading back in January. I hit a point where I had to put it down, and fully expected that to be the end of it, but there was something about the book that just would not let go of me, so I picked it up again and am going to try to get to the end in the next few days.

Here is the list of short prose I read in the month of February 2020.

  1. “Waiting Out the End of the World at Patty’s Place Cafe” – Kritzer, Naomi (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  2. “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue” – Anders, Charlie Jane (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  3. “Confessions of a Con Girl” – Wolven, Nick (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  4. “Utopia, LOL?” – Wahls, Jamie (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4 )
  5. “Lullaby for a Lost World” – de Bodard, Aliette (The Long List Anthology, vol. 3)
  6. “Terminal” – Tidhar, Lavie – (The Long List Anthology, vol. 3)
  7. “The Scholast in the Low Water Kingdoms” – Gladstone, Max (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  8. “Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands” – McGuire, Seanan (The Long List Anthology, vol. 3)
  9. “Things with Beards” – Miller, Sam J. (The Long List Anthology, vol. 3)
  10. “On the Slate” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  11. “At Night” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  12. “Carpenters” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  13. “Paradox” – Kritzer, Naomi (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  14. “A Personal Quota” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  15. “The Parcel” – Shalamov, Varlam (Kolyma Stories)
  16. “Sour Meat” – Tse, Dorothy (That We May Live)
  17. Gonzales, California” – Berardino, Christopher Seiji (Blind Corner Literary Magazine)
  18. Aquacultural Appropriation” – Glanzman, Kimberly (Blind Corner Literary Magazine)
  19. “Angel of the Blockade” – Acks, Alex (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  20. “The Fisher of Bones” – Gailey, Sarah (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  21. “Crispin’s Model” – Gladstone, Max (The Long List Anthology, vol. 4)
  22. “The Atheist and the Angel” – Buckell, Tobias (Patreon)

If you made it this far down the page, you deserve a picture of a kitten.

Poe in the Window

Apex Delivery

February ended on a cold note but here in the first day of March I walked along the river with my honey in late afternoon sunshine and an air temperature in the upper fifties, Fahrenheit. We still have three more weeks of winter, technically, but fifty degrees in winter is much better than fifty degrees in summer.

The library of Winkelman Abbey only saw one delivery this week, from Apex Publications, with the two books pictured above – Winterglass and Mirrorstrike, both by Benjanun Sriduangkew.

In reading news I rounded out the month of February with a little over twenty short stories completed, which put my brain in an excellent space to start revising a couple of first drafts. I will post the list later this week.

Writing for the past week was about on par with writing the week before, to wit: Not a lot started or finished. I was just completely brain-fried and needed to take a little time off. But now that we are in a new month I intend to get back into my daily routine tomorrow at 5:30 am sharp. If I can keep that up for the month that should be enough time to get another story to a point that I can begin shopping it around to some lit journals. And maybe give me time to start working on a new short story for one of the thirty or so calls for themed publications I have bookmarked for the rest of 2020.

That’s all for now; time for bed.

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.