Funk and Fugue

With the inauguration now in the past the world exists in the consensual illusion of having returned to something like normal. That is absolutely not the case of course, and it will be a long time before we even have an idea of what normal looks like. It certainly won’t be what things looked like on this date four years ago, or even one year ago.

On this weekend in any other year I would be at ConFusion right now, hanging out with old friends, meeting new friends, talking about reading and writing and past cons and publishing and not getting published, and drinking and carousing and enjoying being in the company of good, smart, talented people.

Of course ConFusion is cancelled for this year, and I think ConFusion 2020 was the last normal thing I did before lockdowns began last March. I miss the experience terribly, but it is not as bad as it would be if it were going on and I was not there.

Right now I am sitting in the waiting area of a hospital, waiting on test results for a family member who is in poor health. This is part of a process which has been ongoing for some years now, so while it is not unexpected, it is also not a thing which could be predicted in any meaningful way.

Thus even though the exceptional chaos of the past four years is over, we are still awash in the ordinary chaos of daily life here in the cyberpunk hellscape that is the mid twenty-first century.


It’s been a quiet week for books here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. One book arrived – War Stories, an anthology courtesy of my subscription to Apex Book Company.

I am almost done with Democracy, Incorporated, and am about 120 pages into The Brothers Karamazov. I plan to round out the month with short stories before I pick up another book to follow the Wolin.

Writing is still going nowhere, though I can feel the knots in my mind loosening up and the creative juices beginning to flow again.

In the absence of ConFusion for inspiration I will need to rely on the mundane chaos of the world.

2020 Just Won’t Let Go

Just when you think you’re safely out of 2020, the eldritch, cyclopean terrors of the time rise up and pull you back under. More about that in a dedicated post.

Not a lot to report for this past week. Work has been keeping me busy, and at any given time during the day I likely have a small orange cat asleep in my lap, which is the exact opposite of motivation to be productive.

Two new books arrived this week. On the left is the new hardcover version (Kickstarter exclusive) of Dyrk Ashton‘s fantastic Wrath of Gods, the second book in the Paternus trilogy. On the right is Arkady Martine‘s A Memory Called Empire, from my most recent order from Books and Mortar.

In reading news, I am almost 100 pages into The Brothers Karamazov, which puts me at just under 15% of the way through the book. I am also less than 100 pages from the end of Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy, Incorporated, and I am no longer either angry or sad when reading. Now I am just taking notes.

Still not a lot of writing happening here, though I feel like some could happen at any minute. Yup. Aaaaaany minute.

Maybe once I get caught up on my sleep. So, sometime after 2035.

Hitting the Ground Running in 2021

We had a great start to the acquisitions process here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. The first full week of 2021 saw six new books arrive.

On the top left is Box of Bones, by Ayize Jama-Everett and John Jennings, from a recently-completed Kickstarter campaign run by the ever-excellent Rosarium Publishing.

In the top middle is volume 2 of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s A Writer’s Diary. I picked up volume 1 around 20 years ago, and I swore I had purchased vol. 2 at some point, but it is nowhere to be found and I suspect it was lost during a move or vacation or something. I had to buy this one used, as new copies sell for over a hundred dollars.

On the right is Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest book The Ministry for the Future. I am already 400 pages in, and it is magnificent! I have been a fan of Mr. Robinson’s work since I first read Red Mars over twenty years ago. The Ministry for the Future is more in line with his works like the Science in the Capitol series or even New York 2140, of which this could well be a prequel. Robinson shows his work and imbues his novel with a strong sense of hope, though hope born of difficult struggles and terrible loss.

The bottom row is the result of an impulse purchase made after I discovered The Russian Library series published by Columbia University Press. I have recently started following Read Russia, and they are in partnership with CUP to publish lesser-known (outside of Russia) Russian writers of the past 250 or so years; from the late 1700s to well into the 21st century. So far they have released about two dozen books, and many more are scheduled for the next few years.

On bottom left is Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry by Konstantin Batyushkov, translated by Peter France. In the middle of the bottom row is Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov, translated by Alexander Boguslawski. On the bottom right is City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov.

(Yes translators are important, and they deserve as much recognition as the writers.)

So between these books, and Doctor Zhivago which arrived last week, and my slow but steady process through The Brothers Karamazov, I am in for an interesting few months of reading.

Speaking of reading, I am currently making progress in three books: The aforementioned The Ministry for the Future, the aforementioned The Brothers Karamazov, and Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated. Cheerful stuff, here in the first full week of 2021, four days after an insurrection and attempted coup at the nation’s Capitol Building.

Assuming society still exists next week, I will post an update to my progress through these books.

Publication Announcement – Coffin Bell #4.1

Today is a grand day! My short story “Occupied Space” was just published in issue 4.1 of Coffin Bell, a “journal of dark literature”. This my first unsolicited prose piece which has been published since, well, ever. I have had a few things published here and there over the years, but they were always requested in advance. So this is kind of a big deal for me.

“Occupied Space” started during NaNoWriMo 2018 as “Crossing Zones”, one of a dozen or so short stories I wrote in lieu of 50,000 words of a novel.

I submitted the story to several venues before and after sending it to Coffin Bell back in late January of 2020. Not expecting it to get picked up, I submitted my story at the $10.00 tier in order to receive editorial feedback. 2020 became kind of chaotic after January, and I lost track of my submissions until September, when I realized I still had one outstanding. I sent a note requesting a status update, and in early November I received notice that “Occupied Space” had been accepted.

The editors also sent their notes, which amounted to a couple of pages of bullet points which were immensely helpful even after the fact, because how we write one thing is generally, in a technical sense, how we write everything. The feedback helped me solidify some ideas I had been mulling, and now I think “Occupied Space”, rather than being a one-off story, will become part of a larger series or collection, or perhaps even the seed of a novel.

According to my trackers at Duotrope and The Submission Grinder, this submission had a response time of something over 250 days, but again, in 2020 I give everyone a free pass on everything. I’m just happy that Coffin Bell managed to stay open and in business during the Plague Times.

Reading through the Coffin Bell blog, I felt a strong sense of deja vu, particularly in this post about litmag financial transparency. Point by point I saw every problem, complication and decision we had made at The 3288 Review duplicated in another publication. I am sure if I searched the sites of a hundred other small magazines I would find 99 other posts or stories which echo this one. It isn’t easy to run a literary journal. It has to be a labor of love, or nobody would ever do it.

So please: read my story, and also read the rest of the stories and poetry in this and all the other issues. The work is beautiful and the pieces well-chosen. I will probably submit work to this venue again, after a cooldown period of a year or so.

Last of the Old, First of the New

And with that, we are in the first book post of the new year.

On the left is the last book to arrive during calendar year 2020: Some Kind of Monster by Tim Waggoner, from my subscription to the catalog of Apex Book Company. On the right is the first arrival of 2021: Boris Pasternak‘s magisterial Doctor Zhivago, translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have translated so very many of the great works of Russian literature.

I am a bit ashamed to say that I have never read Doctor Zhivago, nor seen the movie. In the larger picture, despite devoting more than a little of my life to studying Russian culture and literature, I have many gaps in my education. To make up for this short-coming, I have just started reading Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov for about the fifth time. To clarify I have started it for the fifth time. I have not yet made it more than about 40 pages in, though this time I am pacing myself and have managed to stay focused for 30 pages. Pacing is the trick, and one which helped me read Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina to completion back in the mid-1990s when my attention span was much shorter than it is now.

2021 will be the year of Russian literature for me. I recently (re-) discovered Read Russia, an organization devoted to Russian literature and book culture. Through them I have found a wealth of contemporary and current Russian writers whose works have been translated into English as part of The Russian Library series from Columbia University Press. Currently they have over two dozen books in print, with more being translated and added to the collection every year.

Welcome to 2021, everyone! May your year be full of beautiful writing.

One Hundred and Eighteen Seconds

Today here in Grand Rapids we will get just under two minutes more daylight than we had when I published the previous post on December 20. And those 118 seconds make all the difference.

We are on the far side of the winter solstice and also of the Christmas holidays, with three days and change left in 2020.

One book and one magazine arrived in this past week. They are likely the last of the 2020 reading material.

On the left is the 100th (!) issue of the superb Rain Taxi Review of Books, which highlights lesser-known authors and smaller, independent presses. The quarterly magazine, along with their excellent website, are hazardous to my bank account in the same way that living a hundred yards from the best pizza and deli in the city is, well, hazardous to my bank account.

On the right is Mythological Figures and Maleficent Monsters, from a successful Kickstarter run by EN Publishing. This is a sort of spiritual successor to the old Deities and Demigods rule book for Dungeons and Dragons. Though I have not yet read through the book, I can say that the artwork is beautiful.

In reading news, not much happened last week, due to long work days and prep for holidays. Ditto for writing news.

This is the last of my weekly updates for 2020. I will post a few end-of-the-year roundups over the next week. Thank you all for reading, and good luck to all of us in the run-up to 2021.

Orange Days

Eleven days left to the end of the year, and tomorrow is the beginning of winter. That leaves a ten day no-man’s-land at the end of 2020, a sort of lame-duck December where we try to recover from 2020 and hope there is enough left in us to appreciate the first day of 2021.

One new book arrived this week – The Essential Ruth Stone, edited by the poet’s granddaughter Bianca Stone (a fine poet and artist in her own right) and published by the always-excellent Copper Canyon Press. Poe, of course, has mixed feelings; not because of poetry per se, but because there is only really room for one orange thing on the cat tree at once, and a book ain’t it.

In reading news, I have been working my way through my large pile of novellas published by Subterranean Press. Some have arrived as part of their annual-ish Grab Bags, and some by the more deliberate process of purchasing directly from this most excellent publisher. Since the beginning of the month I have read Rude Mechanicals by Kage Baker, Lost Souls by Kelley Armstrong, Book of Iron and Ad Eternum by Elizabeth Bear, and Final Girls by Mira Grant. I also read On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard, which was not published by Subterranean Press but was sold by them. Novellas are the perfect length to finish in a couple of evenings before I go to bed.

In writing news, still no new writing. Maybe after the beginning of next year.

Or the year after that.

Or after that.

2020 can go to hell.

Hot and Cold Running Books

As this weird, terrible, chaotic year winds down, so does my energy, and I find myself drifting without thought or emotion from one moment to the next. The days of December are blurring together undifferentiated, as did the days of November, October, and the rest. I have not left the house for more than an hour in several weeks, and there are times where I don’t leave the house at all for two or more days in a row.

That just ain’t no way to live.

Fortunately I have my girlfriend, our cat, and a great big heap of unread books to keep me from going completely feral here at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A small but most excellent stack of reading material arrived at the house this past week.

On the left is Camille Longley‘s Firefrost, from her recently completed Kickstarter campaign.

In the middle is a signed (!) copy Jeff VanderMeer‘s Ambergris, which includes the three books of the Ambergris series – City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek: An Afterword, and Finch. This beautiful compilation arrived from Midtown Reader in Tallahassee, Florida. I read part of Finch many years ago, but at the time couldn’t really get into it. In the intervening years I read (and deeply enjoyed!) all of VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy as well as Bourne, and so I think I am ready to re-enter the world of Ambergris.

On the right is the new issue of the Boston Review Forum journal. This issue is devoted to articles about climate change, climate justice, and the like.

In reading news, I am working my way through the superb sixth volume of the Long List Anthology of short fictions which were nominated for, but did not win, the Hugo awards. These books are brilliant, and I wish someone had thought to create such anthologies many years before.

In writing news…there is no writing news. Ideas, yes, but no writing. So it goes.

That’s all for now. Three weeks left in this energy-sucking vampire tick of a year. I can make it three more weeks.

The Beginning of the End of 2020

It is just my imagination, or did November seem to last several weeks longer than usual? I’m sure the drama around the elections contributed, but also likely the stress of watching NaNoWriMo come and go without participating past the first week. The last time that happened was (I think) 2016. It is quite discouraging as a writer, in particular because it was NaNoWriMo 2013 which got me back into the habit and practice of writing after well over a decade away from it. I feel like I have somehow disrespected the craft.

But I am still writing. I still get out of bed at 5:00 and write as much as I can, though with the Ricochet Kitten demanding play time after breakfast it can be difficult to focus for long enough to write a thousand words before work. Or even 100, on some days. If Poe is sick on the couch cushions, well, it really kills the creative mood.

I have a list of calls for submission to themed anthologies stretching out over the next 24 or so months, and the first of those deadlines is midnight, December 31. I have rough drafts ready for editing against the end of the year, but the holidays, even in the COVID era, take up time and, worse, attention, that I would rather put to literally creative use.

Three new volumes arrived this past week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the left is the magnificent Appendix N., recently arrived from Strange Attractor Press, where great literary work is accomplished across the pond. Next to it is a standalone short story, “People of the Pit” by A. Merritt, which was included as a lagniappe along with Appendix NAppendix N. collects 17 short stories from authors whose work provided inspiration to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson when they created the original version of Dungeons and Dragons. The book is named after Appendix N., a page of notes in the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, which listed source material and inspiration for the game.

On the right is the Winter 2020 issue of The Paris Review, which I will probably read as a counter-balance to the reality-warping power of large stacks of genre books. Not that literary fiction is necessarily any more grounded in reality than are books about ghosts and rogue AIs.

In reading news, I have been working my way through the various novellas in the library. In the past week I completed Aliette de Bodard’s wonderful On A Red Station, Drifting and Kage Baker’s Rude Mechanicals. And I just started Kelley Armstrong’s Lost Souls, which I am really enjoying so far.

I am close to the end of Matthew Desmond’s enlightening, infuriating, depressing, and brilliant Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. I just…goddammit. This book, after reading The New Jim Crow and Carceral Capitalism, angers me to the point of wanting to do something rash RIGHT GODDAMN NOW, and at the same time bringing to light the complexities, interconnections, inertia, and above all the unnecessary cruelty of things-as-they-are, which is to say that complex problems do not have simple solutions, or solutions at all that would be feasible in the current neo-feudal mode of American culture and capitalism.

And now, off to start the day, after I extricate myself from under a sleeping kitten.

November, Come and Gone

With the election finally over and the orange idiot on his way out, November subjective time has smoothed out and though the first week seemed to last a month, the remainder of the month seemed to last little more than a week. In three days December will begin and we will be in the last month of the strangest year of my life so far.

A small stack of reading material arrived this week, in keeping with my overall reduction in purchases this year.

On the left is Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora. This one arrived from a Kickstarter campaign I backed in February of this year. The collection is gorgeous and it was absolutely worth the wait.

In the middle is Aetherchrist by Kirk Jones, the latest shipment from my subscription (via Patreon) to the Apex Publications catalog.

On the right is the December 2020 issue of Poetry, which arrives not a moment too soon as I am in dire need of poetry to sooth my soul here in the waning light of 2020.

In reading news, I finished Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story which recharged my writing energies, though not in time to allow me to win NaNoWriMo this year. I also completed The Kragen, a novella by Jack Vance, published by Subterranean Press as a beautiful little hardcover. I haven’t read any Vance in years, and so this felt like a rediscovery of his remarkable prose.

In writing news I spent a few hours this past week pruning my list of themed publication deadlines. I removed all those whose deadlines had passed since I last looked at the list, and added a couple dozen from various calls for submissions in various social media groups and also the deadline calendar at Duotrope, which always has at a minimum 200 upcoming deadlines, stretching from tomorrow (always tomorrow, no matter when you look at the list) to well into 2022. One of the anthology publishers has half a dozen calls for submission on various themes, but on looking them up on Absolute Write it looks like the publisher is one terribly overworked person and the anthologies are often riddled with editorial errors. So I may have to remove half a dozen opportunities from the list.

I have notes prepared for three short stories, one of which I hope to complete two drafts, have beta-read, and finally whipped into shape by the submission deadline of December 31. The other two have deadlines several months away so I doubt I will have trouble completing the stories in time. Assuming, of course I start them in the first place.

And the starting is usually the biggest hurdle.