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.

Back From a Brief Break

No blog post last week, obviously. I was on vacation from work, during which time I got caught up on about six months of household tasks, chores and errands. I finally finished my taxes, and (more important!) I replaced one of the air chambers in my bed. Now I no longer go to sleep on a near rock-hard surface only to wake up in a bed as soft as one in the worst budget motel in Miami Beach the week after Spring Break. Not that I would know what those beds are like.

No books came in the previous week; these are all from the week of August 9. On the top left is the latest issue of Pulphouse Fiction Magazine. In the top middle is the latest issue of Dreamforge Magazine. On the top right is the latest issue of Jacobin.

On the bottom left is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I have been meaning to pick this up for some time, after a series of conversations with my partner and several friends involved with equity and social justice. This title fits in nicely with the other books I have been reading about the carceral state, prison abolition, and reforming the police.

In the bottom center is The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, which I also learned about through various conversations with various friends involved with equity and social justice.

On the bottom right are two books by Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man and Governing by Debt, published by Semiotext(e) as part of their Interventions series. I am sure i will have many things to discuss as I dive into these books.

In reading news, despite my best efforts I was unable to pull myself away from R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books, and am still working my way through the series. I have just started The Orc King, the first of the series which is not a re-read for me. There are two more books after this one in the trilogy, and that should get me to the end of August, which is a good place to set aside fantasy novels for a while and focus on reading some nonfiction.

In writing news, I just finished the second chapter of my fantasy novel, tentatively titled Up the River to the Mountains. I expect it will weigh in at between 80,000 and 100,000 words when I am done. I really, really hope to finish the first draft before November, so I can concentrate on other things for National Novel Writing Month. If that doesn’t happen, then I will finish it during NaNoWriMo and split the final word count between the novel and few short stories. Or something. I don’t know. Writing is complicated.

It is Ended, Redux

The crazy project I have been on since early April, which ended at the end of July, then started again, has just ended again. For the first time since there was still snow on the ground, I am back on a regular first-shift schedule. And as soon as I am attached to a new project I will be writing code instead of assembly-line financial paperwork.

On the left in the above photo is the latest book from my subscription to Apex Publishing Company, Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup. I have heard good things about Jessup and look forward to diving into this one. On the right is an impulse buy, of sorts, from a recently completed Kickstarter by Nord Games. The title is The Ultimate Bestiary: The Dreaded Accursed, which get my vote for the most on-point title of any book I have picked up in the last year. It is a third-party sourcebook for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, one of a great many which have found success on Kickstarter. This is a high-quality product, with beautiful illustrations throughout.

In reading news, I just finished R.A. Salvatore’s The Silent Blade and The Spine of the World, and now I think I will take a break from the Forgotten Realms books and maybe read some poetry.

In writing news, today I wrote the first 650 words of the first chapter of my new book. Not a lot, to be sure, but this is the third time I have started the first chapter and this time I hit the groove, so I expect to hit a stride of 1,000+ words a day starting maybe tomorrow. Maybe

This is a photo of my new pen. The fountain pen my girlfriend bought me two years ago has sprung a small leak. One of the seals around the nib has apparently decayed. And with a fountain pen a small leak makes a big mess. This new pen is a ballpoint from Cloth & Paper, from a gift-box subscription to CrateJoy. Specifically, this is the M&G AGPH 9902 0.5mm pen. It writes like a dream.

Have I mentioned that my girlfriend is The BEST?

Noticeably Shorter

The days, that is. I am in my fifties now, so I may be as well, if only as measured by the most delicate and expensive of medical instruments. Poe consistently wakes me up at 5:00 am, which is only a little before my alarm goes off and once she wakes me up I never really get back to sleep again, so why not enjoy the extra half-hour of stillness as the world wakes up around me?

This past week saw three new additions to the Library of Winkelman Abbey, but what this stack lacks in height it more than makes up for in importance.

On the left of the above photo is an inscribed copy of Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology by Iowa writer Chila Woychik. I became acquainted with Chila when Caffeinated Press published a couple of her lyric essays in The 3288 Review, thereby greatly expanding my awareness of the world of creative nonfiction. I had the great honor of reading a draft of Singing the Land last summer when Chila approached me for a cover blurb, which was a first for me. And Singing the Land is wonderful! Chila has a fine sense for tone and cadence, and to read her work is sheer joy.

In the middle is the latest issue of Salvage, the leftiest of leftist literature I read regularly. The articles herein are dense and intelligent and thought-provoking, which is to say also angering a fair amount of the time, as is most leftist literature these days, as the global cultural center continues to scream rightward. We are well into neofeudalism/neofascism at this point, wearing late-stage capitalism as a flag of convenience. Note that Salvage is genuinely leftist, not the milquetoast American version of “the left” which by any rational measure would be called “right-wing authoritarian”.

(One of these days, when I have finally given my last fuck about employment-based stability in my life, I will write some blog posts about the specifics and details of my political sensibilities. Or I could write about them now and hasten the process.)

On the right is an ARC of Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus: War of Gods, the final book in the Paternus trilogy. I picked up a copy of the official release a couple of weeks ago. This volume is a Kickstarter reward and is (w00t!) inscribed by Dyrk, and is therefore a much-appreciated addition the the library.

In reading news, I am still buried in R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels as comfort and wind-down reading in the few quiet moments of my days. I finished Passage to Dawn a few days ago and am now several chapters into The Silent Blade. I expect to finish it by the end of July, at which point I will pivot back to more literary fiction, as spending too much time in someone else’s world makes it difficult to create a world of my own.

I am still working through Captivating Technology, and becoming continually more disgusted by the purposefully sadistic confluence of corporate capitalism and carceral practices described therein. I mean, it’s nothing new, but the fractal nature of the profit-based cruelties and cruelty-based profits described here leave me feeling more than a little guillotiney.

And finally, I am slowly working my way into Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. which has been on my to-read list for well over a year. I am only in the first chapter but I can see that this will be one of the best books I read this year. Or maybe this decade.

Now that I am back on a regular sleep schedule I think I am ready to begin writing the novel again. I will likely shelve the work I have already done, which is two partial versions of chapter 1, and start over this upcoming Monday morning, which is the first Monday in August. My initial goal will be a minimum 5,000 words a week, which will get me to 80,000 words sometime in November, and will also allow me a NaNoWriMo boost if I need it in order to finish the book and maybe work on some supplemental material.

July Doldrums

The Paris Review, issue 233, Summer 2020

I have lived through many hot summers in Michigan, and though I have experienced many hotter days, I do not remember such a sustained stretch of unnecessarily hot days. I’ve used my air conditioning more this summer than the past two or three combined, and I am sure my electric bill for July will equal my gas bill for February, and that’s saying something. Thus I keep crunching away at my day job in order to pay for conditioned air so that our cat doesn’t melt and my girlfriend doesn’t spontaneously combust, and I don’t keel over of heatstroke.

Right now it is 06:50, Monday, July 20, and I am sitting at the table on my front porch. Poe is on her leash and exploring the potential amusements of chasing the groggy insects which swarmed my porch light, and remain on the windows and doors too hung over from artificial bright lights to attempt the flight home. Wherever home is. A small orange cat chasing flies around in the cool air of the morning is entertainment that money just can’t buy.

Pictured above is the new issue of The Paris Review, which was the only new reading material to arrive at the Library of Winkelman Abbey in the past week. I’ll add it to the big pile of books which I will eventually read when I am no longer employed, assuming that happens before I die, and not well after, as seems increasingly to be the intent of the world.

In reading news I have completely given in to being burned out and am working my way through the Forgotten Realms books written by R.A. Salvatore. In the past week I have finished The Halfling’s Gem, The Legacy, Starless Night, and Siege of Darkness. I have read the entire series previously, and some of the book in the series many times before. This is pure comfort reading. R.A. Salvatore spins a damn fine yarn and thirty years on, his books are still enjoyable.

I also on a whim pulled out and read Saad Z. Hossain‘s remarkable novella The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday. This is one of the best books I have read this year. If you like the works of Ted Chiang and Hannu Rajaniemi, it should be at the top of your reading list.

I haven’t written much this month, due to the afore-mentioned burnout as well as schedule volatility. Now that I am on first shift again I can set aside regular time for creative pursuits and though I am not advancing the narrative of the new novel at the moment I am taking copious notes and fleshing out the plot as well as the world in which the story takes place. I guess that’s progress.

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)