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.

Fugue

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

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

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

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

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

In writing news, there is no writing news.

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

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

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

Writing or Not

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

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

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

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

If only it were the other way around.

The Sunny Warm Days of…November?

I took this picture in the late afternoon of Saturday, November 7. At the time the temperature outside was around 70 degrees, Fahrenheit here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The air smelled of dry leaves and moist earth, an odd juxtaposition of the scents of spring and autumn.

Two books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, from an impulse purchase from Subterranean Press. On the left is Seven of Infinities, and on the right is On a Red Station, Drifting, both by Aliette de Bodard. The first was published by Subterranean Press; the second by the now-defunct Immersion Press.

I have not read much of de Bodard’s work; a handful of her many, many short stories, probably in one of the superb Long List anthologies. With these books I will begin my 2021 reading project early, to wit: exploring the novella, much as I spent the first few months of 2020 exploring the short story.

Speaking of novellas and short stories and the like, NaNoWriMo 2020 for me is on the very cusp of crashing and burning. I started strong, with 2,000 -3,000 words a day for the first four days, but the election, work, family, and life in general sapped my time and energy and I am several thousand words behind schedule with little time available to make up the lost ground. I will keep writing, however, and if I can get back to 2,500 words a day for the remaining days of the month I should be able to squeak through on the 30th.

In reading news, I finished the Sealey Challenge (referenced in my previous blog post) and in the midst of all that read the publishing memoir For Exposure by Jason Sizemore, head of Apex Publications, and Road to Heaven, Bill Porter’s magnificent travelogue of searching for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits of rural China, back in the 1980s. These nonfiction works, plus 31 poetry books and chapbooks, helped me keep my head in a good place for emotional and psychological stability during the run-up to, event of, and long, torturous denouement from, the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden won, and while things are far, far from good, at least they are not getting bad quite as quickly as they were last week.

Whether that changes remains to be seen.

The Sealey Challenge 2020

The Sealey Challenge for 2020 is complete. 31 poetry books and chapbooks in 31 days. These are the books, in the order in which I read them. I listed them on Instagram and Twitter as I read them, but this is the the first and only photo of all of the books in one place. According to the statistics at Library Thing I have just over 270 poetry books and chapbooks in my library, and the 31 I read over the past month have put a significant dent in my TBR pile.

Traditionally the Sealey Challenge is held in August, so I have eight months to collect 30 more poetry books so I can go into the challenge with a new stack of unread material. Or maybe I will just hit a few used book stores and buy 30 back issues of Poetry magazine, since each issue is essentially a good-sized anthology of contemporary poetry.

I regrettably do not have any books by Nicole Sealey, the founder of The Sealey Challenge, but I hope to remedy that before the end of this year.

Here is the list of titles, in reading order, with links to the author’s information pages:

2020.10.01 – Rogin-Roper, LeahTwo Truths and a Lie
2020.10.02 – Danos, StephenMissing Slides
2020.10.03 – Mandelstam, OsipVoronezh Notebooks
2020.10.04 – Almeida, AlexisI Have Never Been Able to Sing
2020.10.05 – Kaneko, W. ToddThis Is How the Bone Sings
2020.10.06 – Coolidge, Sarah (ed.) – Home: New Arabic Poetry
2020.10.07 – Cooper, WynChaos Is the New Calm
2020.10.08 – ortiz, mónica teresaautobiography of a semiromantic anarchist
2020.10.09 – Brace, KristinThe Farthest Dreaming Hill
2020.10.10 – de Alba, Cassandrahabitats
2020.10.11 – Le Guin, UrsulaWild Angels
2020.10.12 – Matthews, Airea D.Simulacra
2020.10.13 – Rogal, LisaFeed Me Weird Things
2020.10.14 – Amezcua, EloisaOn Not Screaming
2020.10.15 – Stafford, WilliamMy Name is William Tell
2020.10.16 – Stack, GarrettYeoman’s Work
2020.10.17 – Brandt, EmilySleeptalk or Not At All
2020.10.18 – Olszewska, DanielaAnswering Machine
2020.10.19 – Marinovich, FilipWolfman Librarian
2020.10.20 – Harris, JosephLogically Thinking
2020.10.21 – Harrison, JimCollected Ghazals
2020.10.22 – Bettis, ChristineBurnout Paradise
2020.10.23 – Gleason, RachelNew Kind of Rebellion
2020.10.24 – Khayyam, OmarThe Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
2020.10.25 – Cáceres, OmarDefense of the Idol
2020.10.26 – Chang, KristinPast Lives, Future Bodies
2020.10.27 – Goff, NicholeAluminum Necropolis
2020.10.28 – Gurton-Wachter, AnnaBlank Blank Blues
2020.10.29 – Burns, MeganSleepwalk With Me
2020.10.30 – Trier-Walker, Amy JoTrembling Ourselves Into Trees
2020.10.31 – Harrison, JimLetters to Yesenin

And now, time to put down the poetry books and pick up the pen for National Novel Writing Month, which starts in just under six hours.