The Ides of March playing “Blue Storm Rising”. Still rocking after more than 55 years.
And what a week this past week was. Due to family emergencies, trips to the vet, favors for friends, and the necessities of a new project, I have had almost no time at all to read, write, relax, sleep, or clear my head. My only quiet time was the drive to Jackson from Grand Rapids, in which a visit was cancelled at the last minute, and so I drove a total of over four hours in order to deliver a sandwich.
At this point, after the last twelve months – and tomorrow it will be exactly twelve months since the quarantine really took hold for me – I can’t even get angry about this kind of thing any more. But it is frustrating to see the days grow longer and the weather grow warmer and not be able to enjoy it as I have in years past.
Two bound collections of words arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week. On the left is Elemental, a collection of stories in translation from Two Lines Press. This is the third anthology published under their wonderful Calico series, which is one of the reasons I am continuing my subscription to their catalog.
On the right is the March 2021 issue of Poetry Magazine. One day I will sit down and read all of the back issues which I have collected over the years, which are regrettably collecting dust on my shelf.
In reading news, things have been going slow though I did finish Deepak Unnikrishnan‘s weird and wonderful Temporary People (Restless Books), and am now about two-thirds through Arno Geiger‘s beautiful The Old King In His Exile (And Other Stories, translated by Stefan Tobler). Geiger’s book is his memoir of taking care of his father, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, which is a thing which has struck down a few in my immediate and extended family, so it is a…well, I wouldn’t call it a comfort read, exactly, but it is supportive.
In writing news, there is no writing new, other than some journaling. Maybe next week.
So it goes.
Iko and such.
It was almost exactly a year ago that the COVID lockdown hit West Michigan and I began working from home. As the joke goes, this is not March 7, 2021, it is March 372, 2020.
A small pile of books and periodicals arrived here in the past week. On the left is volume 3 of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. This was difficult to find, as it is a very specific volume 3 which is part of a set which was published in 1992. I picked up volumes 1 and 2 from the remainder shelf of Schuler Books and Music sometime around 1995. I kept hoping volume 3 would show up for cheap, and I left the bookstore in 1999 with that dream unfulfilled.
Next is The Best of Apex Magazine, which is volume 1 of a series, the other volumes of which have not yet been published. Apex Magazine went on hiatus in 2019 and has just recently come back, so future volumes of the anthology will hopefully be printed in upcoming years.
Next is Notes from Childhood by Norah Lange, translated from the Spanish by Charlotte Whittle and published by And Other Stories.
And last but not least is the latest issue of The Paris Review, which has managed to stay in print and excellent and relevant for over fifty years, which is admirable.
In reading news, I am well into Deepak Unnikrishnan’s weird and wonderful novel Temporary People (Restless Books), which started out as a collection of short stories in the literary fiction genre, but soon blew straight through magic realism into the realms of satire and surrealism. And it is really, really good.
In writing news, events of the mundane world sapped away much of my free time and emotional energy and I accomplished very little. I still feel the drive and desire to be creatively productive so perhaps next week will be more fulfilling.
Tune in next week for such thrilling tales as “Welp. Here I am again,” and “Here are some books,” and if time and energy allow, “Here is some stuff I have been thinking about.” See you next time, loyal reader(s)!
I have recently joined the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which I discovered through the excellent blog of author Jean Davis.
And as a newly active member of the group, this is my first IWSG monthly first-Wednesday question:
Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?
That is a very good question. Two things motivate my reading choices: a diversity of reading, and that one book I just gotta read right now. And there are secondary concerns, such as books which have been sitting around forever, and when my mind is in a particular space in which it will only be satisfied by e.g. poetry or Russian literature. Or Russian poetry.
I take as my guiding star Karen Lord‘s advice to “read well”. Find the books which are good examples of the kind of book I would like to write and, well, read them!
That doesn’t mean everything I read is practice for something I hope to write. I am motivated more than anything by curiosity. In my library I have scores of anthologies covering a great many subjects and styles of writing. My day job is mentally demanding and I am happy to indulge in purely escapist reading as time and opportunity allow. For example, last summer I did a deep dive into the Forgotten Realms novels and read the first twenty or so Drizzt Do’Urden novels by R.A. Salvatore.
Then again this past October I participated in the Sealey Challenge and read 31 books of poetry in 31 days. And a couple of weeks ago, after almost three decades of attempting it and failing, I finally read the entirety of The Brothers Karamazov.
So what motivates my reading? Ultimately I think I read whatever it feels important that I read next. And that could be anything.
And on a tangent, this wide and varied reading habit helps me through bouts of writing block and imposter syndrome. Usually if I am reading something which is too close to what I am writing I start to compare the one with the other, and therefore reading something outside of that channel is a good way to reset myself, mentally and emotionally, so I can get return to the writing practice with a clear mind.
What motivates your reading? Let me know in the comments!
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group
is a community dedicated to encouraging
and supporting insecure writers
in all phases of their careers.
I have finally done it.
After about 25 years of trying and failing, I have finally completed reading all 364,000+ words of The Brothers Karamazov. It was magnificent, and difficult, and dense and occasionally fragmented, and absolutely worth the time and effort I put into the seven weeks it took to read the book from the beginning to the end.
With Dostoevsky out of the way for the moment, I turned my attention to the embarrassingly large stack of books in translation I have collected over the past half-dozen years, but not read. Items 7 through 12 on the book list below are the results of that first pass. These shorter, non-Dostoevsky books just seem to fly by.
Because I have been reading so many books, my short fiction reading has sort of fallen by the wayside. Still, a dozen or so in a month is pretty good.
- Wilkerson, Isabel, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2021.02.03)
- Dostoevsky, Fyodor (Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa, translators), The Brothers Karamazov (2021.02.12)
- Giorno, John, Great Demon Kings (2021.02.15)
- Berti, Eduardo (Coombe, Charlotte, translator), The Imagined Land (2021.02.16)
- Tenev, Georgi (Rodel, Angela, translator), Party Headquarters (2021.02.17)
- Masatsugu Ono (Turvill, Angus, translator), Lion Cross Point (2021.02.18)
- Baltasar, Eva (Sanches, Julia, translator), Permafrost (2021.02.22)
- Yoss (Frye, David, translator), Super Extra Grande (2021.02.23)
- Bae Suah (Smith, Deborah, translator), A Greater Music (2021.02.24)
- Buckell, Tobias S., “The Bars at the End of the World”, Patreon (2021.02.01)
- Goder, Beth, “History in Pieces“, Clarkesworld #173 (2021.02.02)
- Laban, Monique, “The Failed Dianas“, Clarkesworld #173 (2021.02.02)
- Bookreyeva, Anastasia (Nayler, Ray, translator), “Terra Rasa“, Clarkesworld #173 (2021.02.02)
- Ulmer, James, “Gardenia”, Coffin Bell #4.1 (2021.02.03)
- Rodgers, Craig, “Return Policy”, Coffin Bell #4.1 (2021.02.03)
- Bernardo, Troy, “Smoky”, Coffin Bell #4.1 (2021.03.02)
- Woolf, James, “Mackenzie’s Leap”, Coffin Bell #4.1 (2021.03.02)
- Punzo, Andrew, “Hair and Nail and Blood and Bone (You’re Beautiful)”, Coffin Bell #4.1 (2021.02.03)
- Rusch, Kristine Kathryn, “The Last Surviving Gondola Widow“, Clarkesworld #101 (2021.02.14)
- Clare, Gwendolyn, “Indelible“, Clarkesworld #101 (2021.02.20)
- Robson, Kelly, “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill“, Clarkesworld #101 (2021.02.24)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading “I Am Waiting”, from his 1999 album A Coney Island of the Mind.
February was unexpectedly chaotic, though the ups and downs seem to be tending upward, in part due to a steadily increasing outdoor temperature and amount of sunlight. The lack of a card-carrying white supremacist in the white house also helps.
Three books arrived this past week. On the left is Neeli Cherkovski‘s biography of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, released in 1979, when Ferlinghetti was 60 (!). I picked this up from Third Mind Books in Ann Arbor, which is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the Beats, as well as the Modernist, New York School and Black Mountain poets.
Ferlinghetti died this past Monday, at the age of 101. When I get get my head sorted out about this I will post an article or two.
Next is Anders Dunkers’ Rediscovering Earth: Ten Dialogues on the Future of Nature, (OR Books) a collections of conversations with writers and thinkers discussing what may be and what will be the state of nature and our place in it, going forward from here.
On the right is Cuba in Splinters, a collection of short fiction in translation from Cuba. This was an impulse buy from OR Books, which I picked up when I ordered Rediscovering Earth. My attention was probably primed because I was in the middle of reading Super Extra Grande by Cuban science fiction writer Yoss.
I spent the last week reading books in translation, and completed three more of my backlog of such books – Permafrost by Eva Baltasar (And Other Stories), Super Extra Grande by Yoss (Restless Books), and A Greater Music by Bae Suah (Open Letter Books). Now for a change of pace I am reading Starship’s Mage by Glynn Stewart, which I picked up last year at ConFusion. I’m less than 100 pages in, and really liking it so far.
In writing news, I am working on edits to a short story I wrote for a call for submissions for the Grimm, Grit and Gasoline anthology published by World Weaver Press. The story was not accepted, obviously, but I think it has promise.
This past Friday I had the great good fortune to spend some time talking the story over with Jason Sizemore of Apex Book Company. The opportunity was made available to supporters of the Apex Patreon, which I am and have been for a couple of years now. I met Jason at ConFusion back in (I think) 2016, where we spent a few minutes discussing the ins and outs and ups and downs of the publishing business. Obviously Apex is doing much better than Caffeinated Press ever did, but there were many similarities in the experiences of running our respective independent publishers.
The increased reading and the access to a professional editor have me feeling reinvigorated, and warmth and sunlight are always energizing. It’s time to get writing.
Poe and Pepper are enjoying a beautiful Caturday of poetry and music, in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
This photo is courtesy of my wonderful girlfriend Zyra.
A series of unexpected life events have me feeling nostalgic, so here is a story about the first rock concert I attended, and associated memories.
I had been aware of Blue Öyster Cult for some years before I attended the concert, but had never really paid attention to them, other than to appreciate whatever of their music made it onto the radio in my nowhere farm town in rural nowhere in southern Michigan — “Don’t Fear the Reaper“, “Burnin’ For You“, and so on.
At the beginning of my sophomore year at Grand Valley State University (September 1988) I was in a mythology class, sitting next to a due with long hair, and out of nowhere he said “You like Blue Öyster Cult?” We got to talking, and suddenly I had a ticket to see BÖC in concert at Club Eastbrook (now The Orbit Room). December 4, 1988.
This was the “Bedtime Story for the Children of the Damned” tour in support of their album Imaginos. We stood in front of a bank of speakers, just left of center stage and behind a wall of big dudes in biker gear. The venue absolutely reeked of pot smoke, which was the first time I had smelled that smell and known what it was. In my defense, I was a sheltered (and isolated, socially, emotionally and geographically) child.
I don’t remember the opening band. I think they were regional, and in the dusty halls of my memory they seem to have been quite good.
After the concert I bought a tour t-shirt. Three years later, when the t-shirt was past its prime, I wore it to my job at the GVSU student cafeteria, and some of the more conservative students complained to the management that one of the employees was promoting Satanism. I had to round out my shift with the shirt turned inside-out. This incident says a lot more about the conservative teenagers of the early 1990s than it does about BÖC.
I saw BOC again at Club Eastbrook on October 1, 1989, and they were just as good. Again, I don’t remember the name of the opening band. Thirty years is a lot of time gone by. I still have the ticket for this one, safely tucked into a scrapbook.
Somewhere in here I discovered the Michael Moorcock / BÖC connection in their songs “Black Blade” and “Veteran of the Psychic Wars“, based on Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné novels. This inspired me to get the vanity plate “Stormbringer” for my car at the time, a gray 1977 Cutlass Supreme 2-door, with a 350 4-barrel and T-tops. I once beat a Porche out of a stoplight, which was amazing, because most of the time when I stomped hard on the gas, Stormbringer would sputter and stall.
All of which is to say, Blue Öyster Cult was a signifiant thread through my (still-ongoing) formative years, and my life is most definitely improved by their presence and influence.
And they still rock.