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!

October is Winding Down

It was another quiet week here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, which is a good thing, what with NaNoWriMo starting in a few days, and the ten thousand tasks which come with closing down a publishing company and publishing our last literary journal. Things are just busy.

On the left is the most recent issue of Poetry. On the right is Alexandra Erin’s Kickstarter-backed collection First Dates, Last Calls. I have not yet had time to do more than the briefest skims of each, but they both promise to be very good reads.

Speaking of reads, I am a little over a hundred pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and still enjoying it immensely. It is a surprisingly easy read for all its length and the density of the prose. Given a few multi-hour blocks of reading time I could have it finished by Thanksgiving. Since I seriously doubt that will happen I have resigned myself to keeping at it until the end of the year.

I am almost done with Sasha Chacon’s Insides She Swallowed, and it is a really good collection. Seems that the people with the best words are the ones who actually have something to say. Who knew?

And that’s all I have for now. The next few weeks will likely be crazy busy so posts will be even more terse and infrequent.

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.

It’s the Little Things In Life

Not much to add to the stack at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week. The latest issues of The Paris Review and Two Lines arrived a few days ago, but life has been so busy I have not even had time to look through their tables of contents.

For reading, I finished The Hammer by Brazilian poet Adelaide Ivánova. It was quite an experience. The poems deal with rape and assault and infidelity and rage; what Tom Waits would call “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” Highly recommended.

Right now I’m reading A Hero Born by Jin Yong. I won it a couple of months ago from a sweepstakes held at Tor.com. I have practiced martial arts for thirty years and seen scores of martial arts movies, but until now I have never read a wuxia novel. It’s great! Good characters, an interesting plot, and loads of great fight scenes.

I am also browsing through Andrés Neuman‘s book How to Travel Without Seeingwhich I received in September 2016 as part of my subscription to Restless Books. This is a travel book of sorts. Neuman wrote it as a collection of sentence- to paragraph-sized vignettes describing scenes and moments in his travels throughout Central and South America.

I have read other books written like this – Trysting by Emmanualle Pagano (excerpt). Notes From a Bottle Found On the Beach at Carmel and Points for a Compass Rose by Evan S. Connell. I love this technique – collections of notes, distinct in themselves, which when assembled create a compelling narrative. And the writing is beautiful; each vignette could be a short poem; each chapter a lyric essay.

Now that Autumn approaches my reading time will be in short supply, with the deadline for the next issue of The 3288 Review arriving in October, and National Novel Writing Month in November.

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate already.

A Winner Is Me!

So there I was, waiting for the holiday to begin and SUDDENLY OUT OF NOWHERE* there appeared an ARC of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born. The publisher ran a sweepstakes thing a few weeks back and I entered, as one does, not expecting anything to come of it. This just proves that hope is real.

The other two books in the top row are the latest from Deep Vellum Publishing – a collection of the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Blood Sisters, a newly-translated novel from South Korean writer Kim Yi-deum.

The bottom row consists of my rewards from a Kickstarter campaign I backed back in fall of 2018. Zombies Need Brains LLC publishes anthologies centered on various subjects and topics. Last year they announced Portals, Temporally Deactivated and Alternate Peace. I submitted a story to Portals, which was rejected, though it was a personalized rejection so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

ZNB just announced the themes for the 2019/2020 collections: Apocalyptic, Galactic Stew, and My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark. The submission window will open when the Kickstarter launches the first week of August. Keep an eye out, and warm up your pens!

In reading news, I had a great, relaxing few days over the Independence Day weekend and dove into some science fiction from Patrick TomlinsonThe Ark and Trident’s Forge, which I picked up (and got signed!) at ConFusion a couple of years ago. Now I am about a third of the way through Rebecca Roanhorse‘s Storm of Locusts, the sequel to her excellent Trail of Lightning.

To keep myself on task I have begin transcribing all of the poetry sitting unattended in my (over 25 years of) journals. A lot of it is already in Google Docs, but the exercise of re-writing it by hand is useful for seeing where the poems can be improved and also gives me a sense for how my style and sensibilities have changed over the decades.

And maybe I’ll submit something to somewhere sometime.

* actually delivered by a postal employee

Books, and What Could Have Been

A small but distinguished selection of reading material appeared at Winkelman Abbey this past week. From left, we have Cursed and Skull & Pestle, two anthologies from World Weaver Press. Third is the inaugural issue (!!!) of DreamForge Magazine. And finally, and most eagerly awaited, Terminal Uprising by Jim C. Hines.

A year ago this month I spent most of my free time putting together a story for Skull & Pestle. I completed about 90% of a first draft but realized that I would need to either burn a week of vacation days or break up with my girlfriend in order to complete and edit the story in time for the deadline. Therefore I shelved it. The story is good, I think, involving a colony of Old Believers, teen angst and bullying, the Midwest, and of course Baba Yaga. I may complete it at some point and see if there is still need for such stories.

But hey! Even if I didn’t submit my story to this anthology I still get to read the anthology, and that is a very good thing. And World Weaver Press consistently produces some top-quality anthologies.

In reading news, I finished The Blood-Tainted Winter by TL Greylock, and moved on to Death March by Phil Tucker. This was a much faster read and I had more time available for reading, so I completed it Friday night. Last night I started The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark. 25 pages in, and I am completely hooked! Of course it is a short novella so I will probably finish tonight or tomorrow. Then likely on to Terminal Uprising, though The Nine by Tracy Townsend is suddenly looming large in my attention, due it being discussed in the most recent episode (14.7, “How Weird is Too Weird?”) of the Writing Excuses podcast.

Currently goals: Structuring life so I have time to both read well and write well.

Links and Notes for the Week of January 13, 2019

Links and Notes for the Week of January 6, 2019

Links and Notes for the Week of December 2, 2018