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.

Boom, etc.

The annual ritual of pretending to blow up every goddamn thing in the city is over for the year, or at least until tonight. All political opinions aside, the mode of celebration of Independence day, to wit: simulate acts of destruction, has been done to death. Maybe from now on we as a country should collectively do something constructive with our holiday time. Like volunteer at veteran’s hospital or something.

Nah, that will never happen. This is America! Belligerence is freedom! Compassion is socialism, or something.

Anyway.

Now that the McHenry LARPing is done I can get back to my regular schedule of 4-5 hours of sleep a night, rather than 2-3 as has been the case this past week. No matter what time I go to bed, I am awakened by Poe at cat o’clock, which tends to be in the 4:45 to 5:15 time slot. With my rest time returned to “barely adequate” I may have the focus and mental energy to begin writing my new novel, which I had planned to start last week, before the glacier of burnout calved and filled the ocean of my mind with the icebergs of FUCKIT.

Anyway.

This past week was a good one for books here at the library at Winkelman Abbey. Ten new books, chapbooks and periodicals arrived since last Sunday. On the top left is the super-fun Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike. I recently finished reading the e-book version and liked it so much that I bought a physical copy, in the event that I ever run into Mr. Pike at a convention, assuming conventions ever happen again.

Second from left is the final book in Dyrk Ashton’s Paternus trilogy, Paternus: War of Gods. The first two, Paternus: Rise of Gods and Paternus: Wrath of Gods, were fantastic, so I have high hopes for this one.

In the middle of the top row is LatiNext, the fourth book in the BreakBeat Poets series of anthologies published by Haymarket Books. I cannot recommend this series highly enough. The power, passion, precision, beauty, anger and love in these pages is unequaled in my experience. They are just that good!

Fourth in the top row is The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, which has been on my to-read list for several years. Times being what they are, it seemed the appropriate time to dive in.

On the top right is Captivating Freedom, a collection of essays on the extrusion of the carceral space into the daily lives of “free” or non-incarcerated citizens. I came across this one while reading Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism back in late 2019. I have only read the introduction so far, but it was enough to recognize that there are some important and frightening lessons to be learned therein.

On the lower left is the latest issue of Poetry magazine. Next to it is the latest issue of the ever-wonderful Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, published by Small Beer Press, one of the very best of the small, independent presses in operation today.

The last three in the lower row are Trusting the Mind, A Day in the Life, and The Missionary Sutras, chapbooks of Red Pine’s translations of Buddhist writing, published by Empty Bowl. I have enjoyed Red Pine’s writing and translation for many years, and am always excited to discover something new in which he has had a hand.

(Note that links to author info and purchasing options are collected on the 2020 Books and Reading List.)

In reading news I finished Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes, and it was quite good. I didn’t feel that it was quite the equal of The Sword of Kaigen or Orconomics, but it was an enjoyable read all the way through and I recommend it to any fans of pirates and magic. I am also about halfway through Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician, and so far really enjoying it. It reminds me a little of Michael Flynn’s The January Dancer, in the way that Künsken treats the dispersion and fragmentation of humanity in a far future set in a boundless space.

A few days ago and purely at random, I pulled up on my Kindle Saga of Old City, Gary Gygax‘s first (and best) Gord the Rogue novel. This is pure comfort reading. It is passably well-written (6/10) for its time (mid- 1980s) and Gygax’s excitement and joy in writing his first novel really comes through. Unfortunately the subsequent books in the series do not measure up to the first, becoming increasingly encumbered by unnecessary hooks and references to the source RPG material. By the last in the series (Dance of Demons) they are nearly unreadable, except as artifacts of the history of fantasy RPG novels.

It is on my bucket list to do a complete re-edit of Saga of Old City and Artifact of Evil, the first two books in the series, and the only two written by Gygax which were published by TSR.

(Note that with reference to 21st century sensibilities, none of these novels aged particularly well)

I have one more week of vacation, and I have reduced my writing expectations from 20,000 words to 10,000 and likely down to 5,000 by the time next Sunday rolls around.

Writing is hard. Starting to write is harder.

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 Is Done

At long last, after ten weeks of second and third shift work, fifty hours a week, the project from hell is done. I got out of bed around noon today after shutting down my workstation at 11:00 last night. I don’t remember the last time I was this tired, or burned out, or otherwise completely done with the world. Early February 2013 maybe, or mid-May 2009. Something like that. The difference here is that, other than the crazy work hours, it was not a negative or traumatic experience; simply a lot of work across a lot of hours at a time of day when I am usually asleep.

In the last ten weeks I have lost around 10 pounds, most of that muscle mass as far as I can tell, from the complete disruption of my workout schedule as well as the lack of sleep, which is now well into the territory where if it were being inflicted upon me by a government agency it would count as cruel and unusual punishment. Since it is instead being inflicted upon me by capitalism it is considered being a good employee and contributing member of the team.

The part of my life I have missed most, and which I most look forward to, is waking up before the dawn, after a good night of sleep, and practicing tai chi on the front porch, then relaxing with a cup or two of coffee and reading and writing as the world wakes up around me. Three hours of quiet time before work is the bare minimum to keep my head on straight, and I have not had that since there was still snow on the ground.

So here we are in the last full week of spring, as the days are just about as long as they will get before the night starts creeping in again, and now I get to start enjoying the warm weather.

Being well-rested and healthy will also certainly be of benefit to my relationship in any number of ways, not the least of which will be that when Z proposes that we do anything at all, I will feel something other than depressed and tired at the idea of having one more goddamn thing to think about. I look forward to looking forward to things again.

Only one shipment of books this week, from Zombies Need Brains LLC, a small indie publisher which runs an annual Kickstarter where they fund and call for submissions for a trio of anthologies of varying themes. This is the second of their Kickstarters I have funded. I submitted a story to the previous round of books, and though it was not accepted for publication they sent an encouraging rejection letter. So I will try again, if and as as I have time to write.

Speaking of writing, I have a steadily growing pile of handwritten notes for the book I plan to write this summer. The plot is coming together, as well as a couple of the primary characters – protagonist and antagonist. I like the feel of it – secondary-ish world fantasy, post apocalyptic; though with enough history in the world, everywhere and everything is post- some apocalypse or other. Or mid-, or even pre-apocalypse. Kind of like right now here in the real world.

In reading I am partway through Derek Künsken‘s book The Quantum Magician, and really liking it so far! I met Künsken at ConFusion a few years back, and his book has been gathering dust on my shelves until last week. Like the other small press and self-published books I have read this year, it is really good! I look forward to snagging the sequel sometime later this year.

Now off to get caught up with the world, which seems to have moved on without me over these past two and a half months.

Split

Oh, what a week it has been, with the fallout of the protest and following riot here in Grand Rapids. Note that those were two separate events with (mostly) two separate sets of people, with two entirely different agendas.

So it is appropriate that my birthday gift to myself arrived on my birthday – Schizo-Culture, a boxed set containing a facsimile of the journal Semiotext(e), volume III No. 2 from 1978 (The Book), and the papers from the Schizo-Culture conference on madness and prisons (The Event) sponsored by Semiotext(e), November 13-16, 1975, at Columbia University. I would have loved to attend, but I was six years old.

The list of writers, readers and panelists herein is breathtaking – Michel Foucault, William Burroughs, Kathy Acker, John Giorno, John Cage, The Ramones, and over three dozen others.

This kind of reading – decidedly leftist, decidedly intellectual, decidedly radical – puts my head in a good space for making sense of the utterly chaotic state of the world. In the past three months the COVID-19 lockdowns have increased the interpersonal and societal pressures to the point that the protests in response to the deliberate murder of George Floyd by police officers have spread around the world and show no sighs of diminishing or abating. Indeed they seem to be growing, if the news from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are any indication.

And I say it is far past time that the police and the police state were held to account for the increasingly right-wing, fascist state of this country, of which Donald Trump is both a symptom and an accelerant.

Given recent events and my own recent readings in capitalism – carceral and otherwise – and similar, these are timely books, and I expect many more such will come my way over the coming months.

My reading over the past week has been decidedly escapist. I am about two thirds of the way through Mike Shel‘s Aching God, a self-published fantasy novel about which I had doubts at the start, but how has me thoroughly hooked.

For writing, I am mostly journaling though when I can get my head in that space I continue to accumulate notes for the book I hope to write this summer. In fact for my birthday yesterday I wrote the first sentence, just because it seemed the thing to do.

This assumes that there will be a world left in which to publish a book when it is finished. We can but hope.

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.

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.

A Sudden Bump in Book Stocks

After several weeks of small or nonexistent book orders coming in to the Library at Winkelman Abbey, several appeared at the same time. This was due to various subscriptions, Kickstarters, bookstore orders, and one impulse purchase from an independent publisher.

On the top left is Wild Sun by Ehsan and Shakil Ahmad. This one arrived unexpectedly from Dreamforge as a thank you for supporting their Kickstarter. In the top center is Last Dragon by J.M. McDermott, the latest from my subscription to Apex Publications. On the right is Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie, which I ordered from our local indie bookstore Books and Mortar.

Middle row left is the latest issue of Poetry magazine. The next three are poetry books which I ordered from Books and Mortar – Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova, How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy, and Simulacra by Airea D. Matthews. I subscribe to several poem-a-day email services, of which the most prominent two are Tracy K. Smith’s The Slowdown and the Poem-a-Day from the Academy of American Poets. When a poem resonates, I will find a recent book by the poet and add it to one of my lists on Amazon. When I feel the need for more poetry in my life I will order a few of the books on that list from Books and Mortar. When they arrive, I remove them from the list on Amazon. It’s the opposite of the people who browse local bookstores then order the books they want from Amazon. Those people are jerks.

The bottom row contains the three books I ordered from the Literary Conversations series, published by University Press of MississippiConversations with William Gibson, Conversations with Gary Snyder, and Conversations with Samuel R. Delaney. At present count I have about a dozen of the Literary Conversations collections. They are extremely well done, quite enjoyable to read, and valuable resources for research.

In reading news, I recently burned through R.A. Salvatore‘s Dark Elf TrilogyHomeland, Exile and Sojourn. These were all re-reads of books which I have not revisited in at least fifteen years. Once upon a time I read everything I could get my hands on which was set in the Forgotten Realms. I think I burned myself out. But it felt good to dive back in. They are not great literature by any means, but they are good stories with engaging characters and quite complex worldbuilding. It was a complete comfort read, and now I will probably read a few more before I return to the world of LitFic.

Plus, I decided I want to write a fantasy novel, and Salvatore’s work is a great place to start putting my head in that particular space.

Publication Announcement: Portage Magazine

I am overjoyed to announce that Portage Magazine has just published two of my poems in their 2020 issue. You can read “Afternoon Traffic” and “Percussion” on their website, as well as the rest of the excellent collection published by this gem of a journal.

These are the first poems I have had published since 1999. This is also the first unsolicited work which I have had published since 1999, when I placed in the 1999 Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition and was subsequently published in that year’s issue of Voices.

I became aware of Portage Magazine when I was looking for possible venues for submission. There are of course thousands of outlets for poetry but that doesn’t mean a specific outlet is right for a specific poem. Since I am a Midwesterner, and therefore a Midwestern writer, I tried to use certain keywords to filter the lists from Poets & Writers, Duotrope, and other lists, but that still left several hundred possibilities. So I abandoned all of that and simply looked through the author bios of the 12 issues of The 3288 Review which Caffeinated Press published over the past five years, and wrote down the venues which had also published the poets which we had published. That left a much more manageable list, and Portage Magazine was right there in the middle of it all. And they do a very good job of publishing and promoting their authors.

Thank you for reading!