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.

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

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.

October’s Waning Daylight

The slide from October to November continues, accompanied by a rapid reduction in both daylight and warm outdoor air. I can no longer sit outside for an hour every morning before work and read and write without being attacked by Poe the Ricochet Kitten. I must now take frequent breaks to play with her lest she make of my toes a sampling of ors d’eouvres.

Just a small stack of new reading material this past week. On the left is the November issue of Poetry. On the right is Harmada, the latest work from Joao Gilberto Noll, published in translation by Two Lines Press.

Writing has fallen by the wayside due to upheavals in my personal life, though I have thought through the narrative blockage in the book and should be ready to hit the ground running on November 1. In reading news I am keeping up the pace for the Sealey Challenge and with six days left and reading list planned out I will easily make it to the end, assuming certain looming family issues don’t come crashing down before the end of the month.

That’s all for now. 2020 is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Re-centering Poetry

One of the advantages, if you can call it that, of working at home in the Days of COVID is that I can see the day-to-day progression of the diminishing daylight as we move from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. When I close down my laptop at the end of my shift the sun is just a little closer to the horizon, the light a little more golden – or red, depending on the drift of smoke from the west coast. And each day it is just a little more difficult to pull myself from bed early enough in the morning to complete my morning routine.

Two things are helping keep me on my game as winter approaches: Poe, who still insists on being fed at 5:00 every morning, and a large stack of poetry books and chapbooks to read through as part of the Sealey Challenge. I am managing to stay on schedule, mostly thanks to a large pile of unread chapbooks which have arrived over the past four years as part of my subscriptions to Horse Less Press (currently on indefinite hiatus) and Ugly Duckling Presse, which is still going strong though I had to let my subscription lapse for financial reasons. I note that traditionally the Sealey Challenge has run during the month of August, so next year I will align myself with the rest of the poetry universe and complete the challenge in the appropriate month.

An excellent pile of books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the top left is a new one from Subterranean PressEdited By, a collection of stories which have been edited by Ellen Datlow. The collection itself is, well, edited by Ellen Datlow. So there’s a lot of meta going on with this one.

In the top middle is Francesco Verso‘s Nexhuman, the latest delivery from Apex Book Company, to which I have a subscription through Patreon. Editor Jason Sizemore was kind enough to reach out to me when the original print run for this shipment ran a few short and he allowed me to pick any title from the Apex catalog. This was my first choice, and it was fortunate they had copies in stock, as I am slowly picking up every book Apex has published, thanks to Patreon, Kickstarter, and purchases at various ConFusions over the past several years.

On the top right is Road to HeavenBill Porter‘s beautiful travelogue/story of wandering the mountains of China looking for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits who maintain a tradition once much revered in Chinese culture.

Bottom left is The Collected Ghazals by the late, great Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press recently released this collection, as well as the book in the bottom center, Letters to Yesenin. I have been a fan of Jim Harrison since a college professor turned me on to him back in 1993, when he picked up a copy of Wolf. Since then I have read almost everything Harrison wrote, and have bookshelf dedicated to his poetry and prose.

On the bottom right is the new collection from Garrett Stack, Yeoman’s Work. I first heard of Stack when we published a few of his poems in an issue of The 3288 Review. This is an excellent collection, and well worth seeking out.

In reading news, I have so far read 18 poetry books and chapbooks, and am keeping a running tally of the list up on Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t taken a deep dive into poetry like this since the late 1990s, unless you count the thousands a year I read as editor of The 3288 Review, which is not really the same thing. The Sealey Challenge has been a wonderful experience and with 13 more books to read my mind will be in a wonderful place when NaNoWriMo starts on November 1.

I just finished reading For Exposure, Jason Sizemore’s brilliant history of Apex Publications, with contributions by half a dozen or so of the editors and other contributors, employees and supporters of his wonderful company. I picked up For Exposure at ConFusion back in, I think, 2015, when I managed to spend a few minutes talking to Sizemore about the trials and tribulations of running a small independent publishing company. He is a Righteous Dude, as the kids say these days, and I offer all the kudoes to him and his team for the work they do in the literary world.

Writing hasn’t been going as well as reading, though I managed to put down a couple hundred more words in the book as I try to work through this one lynchpin chapter and scene, from which the rest of the book will flow, which tells me I may need to just mash my fact against the keyboard until something clicks and I can move ahead. The goal is still to complete a first draft this year, and with luck even complete the draft during NaNoWriMo, though I am having more and more concrete thoughts about a series of short stories which might eventually become chapters in a new book. All I know is that I will spend a lot of time writing in November 2020, assuming the slings and arrows of the mundane world allow me the mental space and emotional clarity to do so.