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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Summer Done Gone

This is a photo of Poe sunning herself in a west-facing window, atop a pile of curtains which coincidentally are the same color she is. Maybe she thinks I can’t see her. That would explain why she attacked my hand when I reached down to scritch her.

We had our first truly cold nights this week, with lows in the upper 30s, Fahrenheit. We have managed to not yet turn on the furnace, but those days are coming to an end. Fortunately the rest of the month looks to be bright and sunny during the days which means my big old house will store enough heat to last us through the longer nights.

No new books arrived this week, which is happening more regularly as I regulate my book-buying habits, what with a global pandemic and employment uncertainty bringing to the forefront of my attention the necessity of frugal behavior.

In reading news I finished Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow which left me feeling rage, sadness, depression, despair, and a sullen bitterness about the entrenched sadism which is one of the keystones of the American psyche. TNJC, along with Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism, and the first few essays from Captivating Technology, have me further convinced that complete prison abolition is the only equitable response to the overwhelmingly racist (by deliberate intent and design) carceral state which is one of the central, defining characteristic of American society here in the post-Civil War USA.

Anyway.

To cool my brain, I am reading Dyrk Ashton‘s magnificent Paternus: War of Gods, which brings to a close the Paternus trilogy which Ashton began with Paternus: Rise of Gods. I am a little over a third of the way through, an I am getting to the point where I may need to take half a day from work in order to get through the rest of the book, because I seriously don’t want to put it down. Ashton’s work is just that good!

On a related note, Dyrk has a Kickstarter running right now to print the second book of the series, Paternus: Wrath of Gods, in hardcover. In addition to being excellent reads, the artwork for the books is gorgeous and the books as physical artifacts are well worth owning.

In writing news, I ended the week just shy of 25,000 words in my work in progress. I have the current scene all sketched out and the first few hundred words written, but I hit a minor bout of writer’s block which, rather than trying to muscle through, I sat back and let it run its course and accepted that it might leave me a little shy of my goal for the month of 40,000. Better a blown deadline than burning myself out doing something I love. I can always make up the word count, and the schedule and deadline are mostly arbitrary, beyond that I would like to complete the first draft before November 1.

If you are curious, here are some of the things I am researching as I write my book:

labyrinths, memory palaces, traditional martial arts training techniques, phytoremediation, river ecologies, genetic engineering, mantras, mudras, mysticism, resonant frequencies, resource depletion, peak minerals, repressed memory, symbiosis, salvage, biomaterials, ceramics

With a little luck, when strung together by a narrative framework, it will make a good story.

Feeding the Beast

Poe can’t read, so instead she absorbs the knowledge contained in books through her face. In this photo she is enjoying the only new addition to the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. Since I am about a hundred pages from the end of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, where the author is digging into the meat of the permanent disenfranchisement caused by even a hint of a criminal record in this, the land of the free, Caste seems like a good next book to read. After that will either be Matthew Desmond’s Evicted or Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

In fiction reading, I just started Paternus: War of Gods by Dyrk Ashton. This is the final book in the Paternus trilogy, and though I am only about fifty pages, it is already just as good as the previous two, and according to reviews it only gets better from here. So I have high hopes.

Writing this past week went very well. I passed 20,000 words in the work in progress, and that puts me well on the way to 40,000 by the end of the month. And if I manage to continue this pace I think I should have the first draft completed before NaNoWriMo. Of course as with any first draft, the first is really the zero-eth, and after the first round of editing, then I will have a first draft. So, maybe at the end of January. I can already see places where what the characters are doing necessitate going back and changing some of the story as already written, particularly in the first two chapters. I don’t see this being a particularly long book; likely to top out at around 80,000 unless the muse strikes me with a mighty big stick.

A new follower on Twitter asked why bother to keep word count as you really just write until the story is done. This is true, and also word count is a good way to track productivity, and while the story may go on for hundreds of thousands of words, a book is by necessity finite — though a series of books is not necessarily so. It was a good question and caught me flat-footed.

Then again the poster had never participated in National Novel Writing Month, and if NaNoWriMo instills one habit in a writer, it is the fanatical tracking of word count.

Gathering the Eggs Back Into the Basket

As of this weekend, for the first time in a very long time, all of my blog posts going back to 2001 are collected in one place. This has been a project of several weeks, as I had well over 800 old posts to bring into WordPress. Most came from a SQL dump from the previous iteration of my blog which I built in Drupal. Many of the posts therein were from a previous version which I built in TextPattern. Many of the posts therein were from a previous version I built by hand using XML and XSLT. Many of the posts therein were from a previous version I built by hand using static HTML.

Each time I imported or copied or retyped the previous blog’s content into the new blog there were various errors. Either encoding caused some characters to display as gibberish, or extraneous HTML tags caused spacing and flow issues, or embedded CSS caused random fonts and colors to appear. Thus I had to go over each post by hand to ensure that the content of that post was clean and would fit the new software.

The whole exercise has come with a sustained sense of nostalgia. With each post I remembered where I lived, where I was working at the time, what my social life was like, who I was dating (if anyone), and my general opinion of the world. I found I was much more aware of new and upcoming technologies. I reference Wikipedia back when it had only 150,000 articles. And Pandora, when it was still in a sort of beta mode, when the songs it played were cached on the user’s hard drive and could be saved (illegally-ish) for personal use.

Of course the world and the internet (as if those are different things anymore) are vastly different places than they were in 2003 and 2005. New technologies are by and large re-skinnings of current technologies with slightly updated user interactions and tens of millions of dollars spent on marketing. There are still edge cases but they don’t become mainstream until the energy has been sucked from the innovation and inspiration and the corpse of the original idea is turned into a marionette for the pleasure of venture capitalists.

Anyway.

I am still going through and re-linking a couple hundred old photos. Since many of those photos were hosted on old sites I no longer have access to them other than the occasional lucky strike when looking at old versions of eccesignum.com and eccesignum.org using the Internet Archive. I don’t expect I will fix every broken image until sometime around the holidays, unless I find myself unemployed in the next couple of months.

Another problem is that I had well over a hundred Flash experiments on this site. Even if I find all of the .swf files, Flash as a technology is dead dead dead, and my only recourse is to re-create these experiments, toys and games using HTML/JS/CSS. Again, all do-able, just not any time soon. At least for many of the more complex experiments I have the ActionScript files, which translate easily enough to Javascript, even if I will need to re-create by hand many of the things Flash did automatically or with proprietary libraries.

There were years when I wrote two hundred posts, and there were years when I wrote five posts. The productive years were almost all before the advent and ascendance of social media, and many of the posts I ported over were two or three words long, saying, basically, to click here to see something funny or cute or cool.

But I can see this blog coming full circle back to something like that, as social media is a tremendous shitshow even though it is indispensable for anyone whose livelihood depends of attention; for instance, any and all artists. Since I am trying to complete a book, and have written many poems, essays and short stories over the years, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the best ways to lure people to interact with my creative works.

I have a routine of a single blog post a week which discusses the literary part of my life – book collecting, reading, writing, that sort of thing. Adding to this to discuss the various interesting articles, videos, songs and so on which are part of my weekly media consumption would be trivial. It could be one post or many. And once it is here I can share the post on the various social media outlets, thus centralizing my output, regaining control over my digital life, and picking and choosing when and where I share things. I will own the things I write.

Having over a thousand posts going back twenty years is energizing, and though there are many bloggers who have blogs even older, and with tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of posts, the simple fact that I have a blog which is almost old enough to legally drink, feels good. It feels like an accomplishment, even if the number of regular readers can be counted on part of one hand.

As I complete the bits and pieces of this rebuilt I will probably post more about the process, highlighting old posts which I find particularly interesting or timely for their time. I will also scour the Internet Archive for any old content from the many versions of my website I built back in 1999 and 2000, to see if there is anything worth porting over. In the meantime, I will bask in the much-earned sense of accomplishment.

The Turning of the Seasons

Books accrued in the week of August 30, 2020

Oh, what a week that was. At work I have been taking Udemy classes with an eye toward getting certified as an AWS Developer Associate. I already know half of what I need to, but the other half is dense and complicated and the course is 30 hours long and though the teacher has a wonderful French accent I could feel my brain slowly turning to mush.

The transition between August and September brings a fine haul of reading material to the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the top left is The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, the final book in the Masquerade Trilogy. The first two were very good and more than a little disturbing, so I have high hopes for this one.

Top middle is Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, which I have been aware of for some time but have not had the bandwidth to dive into.

Top right is the new issue of The Paris Review, the subscription to which I keep as much for the interviews as for the writing itself.

Bottom left is Great Demon Kings, John Giorno’s memoir which came out a few weeks ago. Giorno finished the book a week before he died, in October 2019.

Bottom middle is Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, which I have been meaning to pick up for a long time. I am adding it to my TBR pile, near the top, once I finish the current two nonfiction books in which I am currently immersed.

Bottom right is the latest issue of the superb Boston Review, which becomes more and more relevant with every issue.

In reading news, I just finished Jesmyn Ward’s beautiful and heartbreaking novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. This one will, I think, stick with me for a long time.

I am in the middle of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and every page makes me angrier than the previous. Sadism is, in fact, the American national pastime. I am also still progressing through the anthology Captivating Technology, which is a good companion to The New Jim Crow in that it shows the many ways modern technology extends the carceral state into everyday life beyond the walls of prisons and courtrooms.

In writing, I am 16,000 words into my novel, and hope to hit 40,000 by the end of September, which will put me in a good place to hit 80,000 and hopefully the end of the first draft by the end of October, at which point I will surely be ready to write something completely different for National Novel Writing Month in November.

I haven’t written 16,000 words of any single work of anything outside of NaNoWriMo. It feels good to finally be in a place where writing is part of my daily routine, after many years of having my creative energy devoted to other peoples’ work.

As it turns out, writing takes a lot of mental and emotional energy.

The Long Tail of August

No new books arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week, so here is a photo of Poe, sunning herself on the porch in the early morning of August 12.

Now that I am on a normal work schedule for the first time since late March, I have fully re-immersed myself in my morning routine, which looks something like this:

  • get out of bed when Poe wants food and attention, but in any event no earlier than 5:00 and no later than 5:30
  • feed the ricochet kitten
  • meditate, chi kung exercises, stretch, calisthenics, tai chi practice,etc
  • play with Poe
  • write until approximately 8:15
  • eat breakfast
  • if my partner is still in bed, go up and cuddle until around 8:45
  • log in for work at 9:00

If I stay focused, this gives me a solid 90 – 120 minutes of writing time, five days a week. I can’t say I necessarily spend all of my dedicated writing time actually writing, though I do try to stay focused. The current state of the world makes for a very fragmented and short attention span.

I finished this week with approximately 8,300 words written in my book. I had hoped to hit 10,000 total yesterday, but let myself get caught up in the shitshow of the world as represented in social media. It was like the opposite of writing – not only did I not write, the experience prevented me from writing after I had put my phone down. What I really wanted to do was walk around the block or neighborhood or city for a few weeks, but it was just too hot.

A comment on a post on Instagram turned me on to a series of videos which Brandon Sanderson has posted to YouTube – his 2020 Creative Writing lectures at Brigham Young University. These lectures are a gold mine! Sanderson is a brilliant writer with many years of experience, and his advice and lessons are spot-on. The advice has been a big help, and one lecture in particular, where Sanderson brought in guest speaker Mary Robinette Kowal to talk about short stories, has some of the best advice for writers I have found anywhere. Now I want to go back through all of my short story rough drafts and re-write them all with reference to these videos. It would certainly be worth the time.

Now the weather has turned and last night was the first comfortably night for sleeping in many days. So even though I only got about four hours of sleep (though given the realities of this year I should be celebrating the fact that I got four hours of sleep), I woke up refreshed and energized for excellent outdoor classes in tai chi and kung fu.

In reading, I finished one more of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms book, The Ghost King, and can now put all of that behind me for the next few months and focus on nonfiction, poetry, and genre fiction books which feature characters not named Drizzt. I am still working my way through Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and as night-time reading I recently started Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is lush and beautiful and heartbreaking and disturbing and I am only two chapters in so far. For interstitial reading I pulled from the shelf San Francisco Beat: Talking to the Poets, a collection of interviews with beat poets edited by David Meltzer. As I said to my partner, the interviews make me want to go back to San Francisco, but to go back to San Francisco circa 1968, if such a thing were ever possible. I suspect that if I do return to San Francisco, it will be closer to 2022 than 1968.

If we still live in a world where such travel is possible.