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.

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.

What I Read In November 2020 – Short Prose

 

Looks like I will be ending the year as I started it, immersed in short fiction. This month was the first time since March that I put any particular effort into reading short fiction despite my plan at the beginning of 2020 to try to read at least 200 short stories. That sounds like a lot, but considering the average short story takes about half an hour to read at a reasonable pace, that number could easily be doubled without taking a lot of time out of any given day.

There are nineteen short stories in this list, from two anthologies – The Book of Dreams, published by Subterranean Press, and Apocalyptic, published by Zombies Need Brains. I am fairly certain I picked up the Subterranean Press book as part of one of their occasional Grab Bags. Apocalyptic was part of a Kickstarter, the third or fourth annual such which ZNB puts on in order to support the publishing each year of a trio of themed anthologies. I submitted a story to one of their previous calls for submission but, as you may have gathered from the lack of cheering and shouting it to the heavens, that story was not accepted.

[NOTE: That story was later accepted by a different publisher, and will be released on January 1, at which time I will cheer and shout it to the heavens.]

I won’t make any predictions about what I may read in December, which starts (egads!) tomorrow. I am writing several short stories against rapidly approaching submission deadlines, and the holidays are always chaotic, although ironically much less so this year, when everything else is so much more so. I may read a lot or not at all.

The List

2020.11.09: Silverberg, Robert – “The Prisoner”,  The Book of Dreams
2020.11.10: Shepard, Lucius – “Dream Burgers at the Mouth of Hell”, The Book of Dreams
2020.11.10: Lake, Jay – “Testaments”, The Book of Dreams
2020.11.10: Baker, Kage – “Rex Nemorensis”, The Book of Dreams
2020.11.10: Ford, Jeffrey – “86 Deathdick Road”, The Book of Dreams
2020.11.10: McGuire, Seanan – “Coafields’ Catalog of Available Apocalypse Events”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.10: Picchi, Aimee – “Solo Cooking for the Recently Revived”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.10:  Huff, Tanya – “To Dust We Shall Return”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.11: Holzner, Nancy – “End of Eternity”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.11: Blackmoore, Stephen – “Little Armageddons”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.11: Johnson, Zakariah – “Almost Like Snow”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.11: Malan, Violette – “Shadows Behind”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.12: Keramidas, Eleftherios – “A Tale of Two Apocalypses”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.13: Enge, James – “Zodiac Chorus”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.13: Ning, Leah – “Last Letters”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.14: Vaughn, Thomas – “Gut Truck”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.14: King, Marjorie – “Sass and Sacrifice”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.15: Palmatier, Joshua – “The Ballad of Rory McDaniels”, Apocalyptic
2020.11.15: Jessop, Blake – “Trust Fall”, Apocalyptic

The Warm Days of October

We are in the middle of a gorgeous mid-October heat wave, with temperatures in the upper 70s during the day, and abundant sunshine and a light breeze which makes the autumn trees shimmer like kaleidoscopes seen through a good dose of psilocybin.

Only one book arrived at the house this week – Recognize Fascism, an anthology of resistance-themed short pieces edited by Crystal M. Huff and published by the always-excellent World Weaver Press, from a recently-completed Kickstarter campaign. This is a follow-up to the 2018 anthology Resist Fascism, also edited by Huff. If you think you have noticed a theme in the books which I have collected over the past couple of years, well, you are not mistaken.

In reading news I have managed to keep up the book-a-day pace for the Sealey Challenge, and having this volume and density of poetry in my life is doing wonderful things for my state of mind.

In writing news, I have done almost none over the past week though I think I have figured a way through the snarl which kept me from completing the current scene in the book. I will hit it Monday morning and see if my idea will play out on paper.

In other exciting news, I was just notified that a short story I had submitted back in January of this year has just been accepted for publication! The issue in question will go live on January 1, 2021, and at that point I will announce the venue and post the link and all other sorts of fanfare and information.

In all the chaos, misery and uncertainty abundant in the world right now, this was a very welcome piece of news.

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.

Maybe I’ll Build a Fort With My Books

Briefly – Top left is the latest issue of Jacobin magazine, the contents of which are more and more necessary every day as Trump-instigated and Trump-led fascism comes to increasingly dominate the national discourse. Next to it is Indigo by Ellen Bass, from a Kickstarter run by the extraordinary Copper Canyon Press. Third is the newest issues of Poetry magazine, which includes a poem by local poet and professor Todd Kaneko. And on the right is The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang, which I finished reading a little over a week ago. I ordered a copy of the paperback when I was about a third of the way through the e-book, as I wanted a physical copy should I ever attend a signing. It is just that good!

In writing news I am still gathering notes, research ans musings for the book I hope to begin when my hellish project at work ends in three weeks. In reading news I am a couple of chapters into Mike Shel’s self-published novel Aching God, which was a finalist for the 2018 SPFBO awards.

Some crazy shit went down here in Grand Rapids over the past couple of days, and seems set to continue for some time yet. The national guard has arrived and in addition to the quarantine/lockdown we are also under a 7 pm to 5 am curfew until Wednesday. I will create a separate post about everything so as to not mix and dilute narratives with my day-to-day life.

 

Another Nano, Come and Gone

And just like that, NaNoWriMo 2019 is over. For me it was the most successful one yet. I hit 50,000 on November 20 and added around five thousand more in the last ten days. Final tally, somewhere north of 55,500 words. If I hadn’t abruptly run out of steam right after winning I could have hit 70,000 and still had more story to tell. Such are the vicissitudes of life.

This was a good week for the Library at Winkelman Abbey, mostly thanks to various Kickstarter campaigns.

At upper left is the latest Pulphouse magazine. Next to it is the fifth annual Long List Anthology of short stories which made it to the preliminary round of the Hugo Awards but did not win. Next to it is the latest issue of Poetry.

In the bottom row are the three books from the reward from a troubled Kickstarter campaign which, though it took a year longer than anticipated, finally came through with flying colors. Knaves, Scoundrels and Brigands all look to be excellent anthologies and I look forward to reading them as soon as they get to the top of the TBR pile.

To the far right of the pile are two books from Semiotext(e). On the top is Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang. On the bottom is Gore Capitalism by Sayak Valencia. I first heard of Wang’s book when I was researching the various manifestations and rhizomes of capitalism after browsing through The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism, the third volume of which I picked up in San Francisco this past summer. Given that this is the major purchasing month of the year I feel like these books, along with A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari, might have some interesting things to teach. These are the kinds of things I read when the holiday season has me in a certain mood.

Blame that on a decade of working retail in West Michigan.

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.

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

The Passive Acquisition of Reading Material

And just like that, the year is half over. Moderately more ups than downs at this point, which is entirely reasonable.

This was a slow but interesting week for the acquisitions department at Winkelman Abbey. Two Kickstarter fulfillment packages arrived, as well as two journal issues. On the left is Frozen Hell, the newly-released deluxe hardcover version of the John Campbell story which inspired The Thing. On the left-of-center is The Writer’s Book of Doubt, an anthology of encouragement for writers, by writers. Center right is the new issue of the always excellent journal Reckoning, and on the right is the latest issue of Poetry. These all just kind of appeared at my doorstep and I didn’t have to lift a finger.

In reading news, just before midnight last night I finished the book which I have been beta-reading for the past two months. It was superb, but I need to let it sit for a month before I offer my feedback to the author. I am also about 20% through the book of essays for which I will be providing a blurb in a few week. For pleasure reading I picked up Ken Liu‘s novella The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary. I quickly realized that, while a beautiful story, it’s a terrible story, if you follow me. Or, as Tom Waits would put it, “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”. I’ll likely finish it this evening if time permits.

June 30 was the last day of submissions for the October 2019 issue of The 3288 Review, and I am hard at work sending out acceptance and rejection letters and contracts and other various communications on behalf of Caffeinated Press. After an extended bout of self-inflicted FUBAR around the previous issue, this one is coming together nicely, which makes me very happy as I finally have some breathing room in my life, so I can enjoy the summer with my wonderful girlfriend. Maybe I’ll even do some writing. And maybe it will even be good. And with a whole lotta luck and some good old-fashioned elbow-grease, I’ll get something published by the end of the year.