Fugue

Oh, that I had time to read all the books which arrive at my house, and Oh, that I had the time to write all the stories which are bouncing around in my head.

A small but significant stack arrived this week. On the left is Empire of Gold, the final book in the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty, I have unfortunately only read the first in the series. I now have the set, but likely will not have time to read the next until the end of the year.

Second from left is volume 6 of the superb Long List Anthology of Hugo Award finalists. Again, I have the complete set but have only read a few stories from each book. And again, I really need to spend more quality time with the books I already have.

Second from right is the latest issue of Amazing Stories, of which I most certainly do NOT have the entire set, as it has been around since 1926.

And on the far right is the latest issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, the excellent literary magazine published by Small Beer Press. Again, not the full set etc., though as this is issue #42 I could in theory hunt down all the past issues. Hmmm…

In writing news, there is no writing news.

In reading news, I have been catching up on short stories, and will post the list of such which I read in November, at the beginning of December. I am also making my way through Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story, which is brilliant and entertaining and I am slowly working my head back into the space from which stories come, though I doubt it will be in time to make even a bit of difference for NaNoWriMo 2020.

I am also still working my way through Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, which is no longer making me angry. Rather, it is making me deeply, profoundly sad for everyone involved, with a few noted exceptions where obvious sociopaths are involved in the eviction process. Fuck those guys.

The year is winding down and, other than a few Kickstarter rewards, I don’t expect to acquire many more books and magazines before January. Just as well. I don’t seem to have time to read the ones I have already picked up.

Writing or Not

Thing in my life are back to normal in the sense that I am now working long hours and weekends, thanks to a series of miscommunications at work. Each time it happens I say “never again!”, yet when circumstances conspire to require me to work until 20:00 on a Tuesday or something I do it, grumbling the whole time, and invent self-justifications to keep from feeling too resentful about the loss of another chunk of my extremely limited free time. Rinse, repeat.

Another small stack for the library this week – the new issue of Jacobin, and Damn Fine Story, Chuck Wendig‘s guide to writing, which I ordered during the run-up to NaNoWriMo, only to receive it in the middle of the month when I have given up on NaNoWriMo anyway. 2020 is just not my year.

In reading news, I am working my way through Apocalyptic, an anthology of short stories about (you guessed it!) the apocalypse, which I received as part of a Kickstarter campaign held by Zombies Need Brains. These stories are just what I need right now, and they distract me from the feelings engendered by reading Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, which infuriates me enough that I can only read a few pages at a time before I want to go out an cause an apocalypse or two of my own.

As mentioned above, NaNoWriMo for this year is pretty much a bust, unless I miraculously come up with significantly reduced stress along with vast chunks of free time over the next two week. But I am trying to keep my head in that space. I created a list of twenty (so far) possible topics for short stories, most based on past calls for themed anthologies to which I never actually submitted stories. Though this year has been incredibly stressful, I am still feeling energized by the recent acceptance of one of my short stories. Now I want to do nothing but write, but of course not one writer in a hundred thousand makes enough at their craft to support any kind of stable life. So I write code for money, and stories for pleasure.

If only it were the other way around.

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.

October’s Waning Daylight

The slide from October to November continues, accompanied by a rapid reduction in both daylight and warm outdoor air. I can no longer sit outside for an hour every morning before work and read and write without being attacked by Poe the Ricochet Kitten. I must now take frequent breaks to play with her lest she make of my toes a sampling of ors d’eouvres.

Just a small stack of new reading material this past week. On the left is the November issue of Poetry. On the right is Harmada, the latest work from Joao Gilberto Noll, published in translation by Two Lines Press.

Writing has fallen by the wayside due to upheavals in my personal life, though I have thought through the narrative blockage in the book and should be ready to hit the ground running on November 1. In reading news I am keeping up the pace for the Sealey Challenge and with six days left and reading list planned out I will easily make it to the end, assuming certain looming family issues don’t come crashing down before the end of the month.

That’s all for now. 2020 is the gift that just keeps on giving.

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.

Last of Summer, First of Fall

A nice pile of reading material arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week. Four books from subscriptions, and the latest issue of a lit magazine.

The first two books are from my subscription to And Other Stories. On the left is Slash and Burn, written by Claudia Hernandez, translated by Julia Sanchez. Next to it is What You Could Have Won by Rachel Genn.

In the middle of the photo is the latest issue of Rain Taxi Review.

The two books on the right are from a Patreon sponsorship of Apex Publications – The Convent of the Pure, followed by The Labyrinth of the Dead, both written by Sara M. Harvey.

In reading news, I finished Dyrk Ashton‘s Paternus: War of Gods, which was a superb conclusion to the superb Paternus trilogy. For anyone who has any reservations about the quality of self-published books, let this series put those worries to rest. This was a welcome distraction from The New Jim Crow, which was as angering a book as I have ever read. Sadism is indeed the defining characteristic of the American spirit. In the spare moments I am still working through San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets, published by City Lights Books. Right now I am at the end of the first interview with Michael McClure. Such good stuff!

It was an excellent week for reading, but not really for writing. I managed only a couple of hundred words which was discouraging after several weeks in the multiple thousands. I’m going to consider this a week of rest and try to dive in again Monday morning and get at least 7,500 words by the end of the work week.

Assuming the world still exists in any meaningful sense.

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 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.

The Long Tail of August

No new books arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week, so here is a photo of Poe, sunning herself on the porch in the early morning of August 12.

Now that I am on a normal work schedule for the first time since late March, I have fully re-immersed myself in my morning routine, which looks something like this:

  • get out of bed when Poe wants food and attention, but in any event no earlier than 5:00 and no later than 5:30
  • feed the ricochet kitten
  • meditate, chi kung exercises, stretch, calisthenics, tai chi practice,etc
  • play with Poe
  • write until approximately 8:15
  • eat breakfast
  • if my partner is still in bed, go up and cuddle until around 8:45
  • log in for work at 9:00

If I stay focused, this gives me a solid 90 – 120 minutes of writing time, five days a week. I can’t say I necessarily spend all of my dedicated writing time actually writing, though I do try to stay focused. The current state of the world makes for a very fragmented and short attention span.

I finished this week with approximately 8,300 words written in my book. I had hoped to hit 10,000 total yesterday, but let myself get caught up in the shitshow of the world as represented in social media. It was like the opposite of writing – not only did I not write, the experience prevented me from writing after I had put my phone down. What I really wanted to do was walk around the block or neighborhood or city for a few weeks, but it was just too hot.

A comment on a post on Instagram turned me on to a series of videos which Brandon Sanderson has posted to YouTube – his 2020 Creative Writing lectures at Brigham Young University. These lectures are a gold mine! Sanderson is a brilliant writer with many years of experience, and his advice and lessons are spot-on. The advice has been a big help, and one lecture in particular, where Sanderson brought in guest speaker Mary Robinette Kowal to talk about short stories, has some of the best advice for writers I have found anywhere. Now I want to go back through all of my short story rough drafts and re-write them all with reference to these videos. It would certainly be worth the time.

Now the weather has turned and last night was the first comfortably night for sleeping in many days. So even though I only got about four hours of sleep (though given the realities of this year I should be celebrating the fact that I got four hours of sleep), I woke up refreshed and energized for excellent outdoor classes in tai chi and kung fu.

In reading, I finished one more of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms book, The Ghost King, and can now put all of that behind me for the next few months and focus on nonfiction, poetry, and genre fiction books which feature characters not named Drizzt. I am still working my way through Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and as night-time reading I recently started Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is lush and beautiful and heartbreaking and disturbing and I am only two chapters in so far. For interstitial reading I pulled from the shelf San Francisco Beat: Talking to the Poets, a collection of interviews with beat poets edited by David Meltzer. As I said to my partner, the interviews make me want to go back to San Francisco, but to go back to San Francisco circa 1968, if such a thing were ever possible. I suspect that if I do return to San Francisco, it will be closer to 2022 than 1968.

If we still live in a world where such travel is possible.

 

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.