In these confines with a monarch’s voice cry “Havoc!” and let slip the blogs of war

Hello and good morning, all.  It’s the “ides of April”* today, a date that is much more traditionally associated with dread—in America, at least—than is the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar.  It’s also time for my weekly blog post.

I’ve done my part to further general world health this week:  I recorded and posted some video of myself playing the guitar and singing, on Iterations of Zero.

No, wait!  That’s not what I did that was oriented toward public health (quite the contrary).  Rather, yesterday I received my second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.  I should be just about as immune as it’s possible to be at this point (or soon, anyway), since I had the infection itself in January, and now I’ve received full vaccination with the version that seems, based on what I’ve read, to have the highest protection rate.  This, as I say, was done for social reasons more than for personal protection; I honestly wouldn’t mind much if I’d gotten severely ill**, or even if the virus had killed me.  But that’s not a choice I think I have any right to make for other people (neither does anyone else, especially out of personal laziness, contrariness, selfishness, or unwarranted paranoia) so I don’t want to spread it thoughtlessly.  Getting as immune to it as I can seems the most reliable way to avoid that.

I did post some videos of myself singing and playing guitar on Tuesday, though.  You can watch them, if you want.  I’ve avoided posting videos or even pictures of myself in recent years, because I hate how I look now, in many ways, for many reasons.  I don’t even like to look in the mirror much.  However, I recently figured—at least this is the story I tell myself—that hiding from cameras is like eating when no one is around.  Just because someone doesn’t see you eat, and you don’t count the calories, doesn’t mean that you haven’t eaten, and it won’t protect you from the consequences.

Reality is not merely perception.  A catastrophe you don’t see coming can still hurt or kill you.

One source of my dissatisfaction with my appearance is that, rather than lose weight when depressed, as some people do, I tend to eat more, and thus to gain weight.  This is probably a self-soothing thing, since the process of eating food is one of the most reliable short-term neurological rewards a person can engineer, for good, sound biological reasons.  So, when everything else in the world feels and seems like shit, including and especially oneself, it can be hard to resist the urge to snack and overeat.

I suppose opiate and other addictions can similarly be a form of self-soothing, due to literal, direct, neurologic effects.  This often leads to emaciation, as all other drives fall by the wayside.  But since I associate opiate use with chronic, severe pain, I’m not as likely to seek them out, “heroin chic” notwithstanding.

You can thus tell from looking at me in my videos that I have been struggling with my Churchillian “black dog” for quite some time, with inconsistent (or consistent but negative) results.  I also, possibly for related reasons, botched my recent job at trimming my hair on Sunday, and I couldn’t see it until I saw myself on video; no one told me about it, but that’s not surprising.  Who would?

Anyway, I figure if I just start doing such videos and posting them, at least I’ll have to face my appearance and what bad shape I’ve allowed myself to get into.  Perhaps it’ll help provide some counter-pressure against the eating thing.  Also, frankly, people out there in cyberspace just seem to like videos of people, even if they’re just talking to the camera.

I was remarkably stressed by the fact that I was playing and singing on video for the first time ever, even if just on impulse, just to test it.  I hadn’t warmed up my voice at all—which I think is obvious—and my guitar playing was not at its best either.  I fumbled in many places where I normally play without a problem.

I didn’t even get the picking and fingering in the shot for most of the videos!  This is a minor shame, particularly with respect to Street Spirit and Blackbird, since I feel mildly proud of how far I’ve come with them.  However, the former song’s complexity of play compels me to cock my neck waaaaay down, desperately eyeballing the pick and to some extent my left hand, and that’s not a great posture for singing.  I can sing that song much better when I’m not hunched over like that***.  But I was extremely self-conscious during this “filming” process, and it was early morning, and my throat was still dry and yet gummy.  These are excuses, obviously, but they are also actual, legitimate reasons, so I don’t feel too bad about making them.

I’m probably going to commit the crime against humanity of sharing these videos on my YouTube channel, and even on Facebook, and Twitter, and on the recently rediscovered Instagram account that I made for unknown reasons in the past.  I might as well use it for something.  Goodness knows I’ve seen people post worse videos, and I’ve even enjoyed some of them.  If you have any strong objections, do share them with me.

On to lighter things, so to speak.  I’m making good progress on In the Shade, and the first draft should be done within the next week or so, even with minor distraction from making ill-advised videos.  As evidence, on Tuesday, even though I stopped early to do my “filming”, I still wrote about 1500 words on the story.  It helps in this that I do have the traditional early-awakening brand of insomnia associated with the “black dog”—actually I’ve always been an early riser and a short sleeper—but at least I can put it to work for me.

Even black dogs can be used as draft animals, it seems.

So, look forward to Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which I think will be a good collection of stories, and look forward—perhaps with fear and trembling—to the prospect of me doing more videos.  If you have any reaction to the ones I’ve posted, please let me know.  Also, I’d love to hear feedback regarding The Vagabond, if you have any to give.

TTFN

Video killed


*It’s been called to my attention by the alert and educated reader, StephenB (see comments) that the Ides of April is actually the 13th, something I did NOT know at all, but am delighted to learn.  Seriously, it made my day.  I’m leaving the term, now in scare quotes, in the post, since it’s a fun reference to “Tax Day” in the US, but I expect I shall not make this error again.  Thanks, StephenB, seriously.  I love learning new things like this!

**As I think I’ve mentioned before, I was not the sickest I’ve ever been when I had Covid, but I was sicker than I’ve been in a long time.  Thankfully, I wasn’t as feverish as I was during at least one episode of severe flu.  Maybe that’s because now I pretty much always have significant—probably long-term-toxic—levels of NSAIDs and Acetaminophen in my system, because of chronic pain due to “failed back surgery syndrome”.  My body probably has a hard time even generating a fever nowadays, so the fact that I did get a fever a few times during Covid might mean that I would have had quite high ones if conditions were otherwise.

***I did some good belting in Exit Music, even resulting in clipping/distortion at the song’s dramatic peak.  That’s kind of funny to me; I do get very into that song when I sing it.  How could I not?  Radiohead wrote it for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and Shakespeare makes everything more powerful.

How have I frighted thee, that thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down and steep my blogs in forgetfulness?

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday edition of my weekly blog.

I woke up early today, and I couldn’t go back to sleep.  This is not so unusual—I’m rather insomniac by nature, or at least by long habit, and I often wake up well before I need to get up.  It’s one of those hallmarks or symptoms of certain things in which I’m rather typical, which can be either reassuring or discouraging (or uninteresting) depending on your point of view.  Anyway, as I said, I woke up early as I often do, but I felt atypically restless, and I knew that I was going to be writing my blog today anyway, so I just got up and took my shower and came to the office.  Whether that will lead to this post going out slightly earlier than usual remains to be seen.

I don’t recall if I had finished it by this time last week, but by the end of last week I had finished the basic editing of House Guest and I am pleased with the result.  Now, to round out the stories that I mean to put into Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I’m finishing a story I started about eight or nine years ago, called In the Shade, which I’ve mentioned, I think, more than once in the past.  I had written perhaps fifteen pages of it, something like 14,000 words or so, when I kind of lost the thread.

To give myself excuses, and to defend the story itself (which deserves better treatment), many things were troubling me at the time.  Not that my life is a whole lot more even-keeled now, but I guess I’ve gotten used to the difficulties, which is not to say that I’ve developed skills for addressing them.  I think I’ve just arrived at a policy of “biding the end”.  Basically, it’s all going to be taken off my hands by something eventually, so like the rat in the cage getting frequent shocks without any obvious pattern or way to avoid them, I’ve embraced the logic of learned helplessness.  The Vagabond would probably approve.

Anyway, I came back to In the Shade and began applying my current writing approach, which has been much more successful and productive than anything I’ve done before:  Just write something, anything, even if you don’t feel like it.  Don’t worry too much about what comes out.  You’ll fix it up in the rewrite/editing process, so don’t be one of those stereotypical writers who agonizes over each sentence as you produce it.  Just write, try to write at least a page every day, and the outcome will take care of itself (as long as you’re strict about editing).

I’m pleased to say that this has been as successful as always.  The first day of return to the story was pretty much all rereading (fixing a few grammatical and typographical things here and there along the way) and I perhaps wrote less than a half a page after that.  But then Tuesday and Wednesday I came back, reread what I’d written the day before, and then wrote more.  As always, when approaching the keyboard, I was reticent, with a sense of dreariness and inertia, but the rule is always just to write something, at least a page (or even less, if absolutely necessary) and move forward.  The first day this worked well, and by the second day I was into full swing; after feeling as lazy and resistant as usual when I sat down, I churned out over 2600 new words* on the story in a little over an hour.  I finally had to force myself to stop when it was past time to get ready for the normal workday.  It’s really cool how that happens.  If I could bottle and sell it, I’d be a billionaire.

As always, it’s good to be writing new fiction again, especially after quite a long stretch of doing mainly editing, rewriting, layout, and whatnot.  From Unanimity, then on to The Vagabond, with only a tiny bit of work on Outlaw’s Mind in between, I haven’t done much new fiction for a while.  Of course, I’m still just technically continuing an oldish story, but the writing is new.  I’m also very pleased to have thought of newer, better ways to continue and conclude that tale than the vaguer notions I had when I first started it, so that’s taking life’s lemons and making a silver lining for the horns of a dilemma while the iron is hot.  Or something like that.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to arrange the stories in my collection** when the time comes.  I think I’ll probably put House Guest right at the beginning, as it’s both brief and the oldest of my stories.  It’s also, I think, a good introductory tale, and I’m reasonably pleased with it.  I’ll probably put In the Shade at the end, since it’s the last story that’s going to be finished.  I’ll likely throw Solitaire in the middle, surrounded by comparatively lighter fare***, maybe Ifowonco and Penal Colony.  This is just brainstorming, though.  You’ll have to wait and see, as will I, what the real order will be.

I’m getting pretty good feedback from the people who are reading The Vagabond, some of whom are not usually big readers.  That’s certainly gratifying.  If I could be part of turning one person who doesn’t read much into a habitual reader, I could consider myself worth having existed.

My sister, also, is apparently enjoying the book, and she even had a tee-shirt made by customink.com, a picture of which I’ll include below.  I know she’s been reading the book because she quoted the Vagabond himself regarding the color, saying, “After all, gray is the color of despair.”  She added a smiley, winking emoji to the comment, because I don’t think the shirt, or its color, really felt despair-ish to her.  But gray is the Vagabond’s favorite color.

Hopefully, she doesn’t mind me sharing this.  If she does, I’ll happily edit it out.

Speaking of feedback, I hereby make a general request to anyone who has read any of my books or stories please to leave a review and/or rating on Amazon for them if you get the chance—and do so for other authors as well, please.  It makes a huge difference in encouraging future readers to buy the books, and it’s also immeasurably rewarding to get well-meaning feedback.  I think I speak for most if not all authors when I say this.

By all necessary and possible means, keep reading—and just as you would tip your servers at a restaurant, please review or rate your authors.  Above all else, take care of yourselves and those you love.

TTFN

Vagabond tee cropped ha ha


*Not really “new” words, I guess.  If they were new, no one would know what they meant, even if I knew.

**I want to abbreviate its title the way I call The Chasm and the Collision “CatC” for short, but unfortunately, DECoC seems mildly obscene.

***Pretty much everything is comparatively lighter than Solitaire.

O God, your only blog-maker. What should a man do but be merry?

Okay, well…hello and good morning and welcome to another Thursday edition of my weekly blog post.  I don’t have anything quite as momentous as last week to talk about today, but I’m making progress on good things, nevertheless.

For instance, I’m almost done editing my short story House Guest, which is even older than The Vagabond…I wrote it when I was in high school; I think I was sixteen at the time.  Editing this story is a much faster process than editing The Vagabond was, and it’s about eighty times faster than editing Unanimity was.  House Guest is a true short story, only about six thousand words long; even going through it repeatedly doesn’t take much time.  I haven’t needed to change much, except to update some of the medical trivia based on my far more advanced present knowledge.  There’s only a little bit of it; it’s not crucial to the story, but it does enhance it a bit.

It’s nice to be able to go back and see that I didn’t write much worse then than I do now.  I might have written better occasionally.  Certainly, I didn’t tend to write as long a story.  Or, well, maybe that might not actually be true, now that I think about it.  House Guest is just a short story, after all, and is simply no longer than it needs to be.  My hand-written Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel Ends of the Maelstrom from around the same time was well over five hundred hand-written, single-spaced pages long, on very narrow-ruled paper*, and was almost certainly longer than The VagabondMaybe I worry about story length too much.

Oh, by the way, happy April Fool’s Day!  I only realized the auspicious date—if that’s really the best term—when I saved this file just now.  Despite the usual form of celebration—again, if that’s the right term—associated with this day, I’m pulling no pranks and telling no lies in the writing of this post, unless my forced cheerfulness counts as a lie.  But if that’s a lie, it’s one that I, and I think most other people, tell frequently, probably many times a day.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I encounter a lot of upbeat, “power of positive thinking” type statements and quotes and tweets and posts and whatnot all around cyberspace, but they often give me the sense conveyed by Queen Gertrude when she says, “The lady doth protest too much methinks.”  It’s a rather desperate, almost panicky, quasi-hysterical positivity and cheerfulness…because, after all, no one will like you if you’re not cheerful, right?

And if you do admit to feeling poorly, especially emotionally, then you’ll often get responses full of platitudes and homilies and you-think-you’ve-got-it-bads, sometimes verging toward the tone of a slap in the face from Cher and a shout of, “Snap out of it!”

Of course, to be fair, you also tend to find sincere sympathy and concern.  Even the other stuff often plainly comes from a well-meaning place, so to speak.  I don’t want to impugn the motivations of those responding to things for which our culture gives us very few tools.  I think almost all such people really do mean well.

But our society is drenched in the myths of the rugged individualist and The Secret, and the power of positive thinking and “Think and Grow Rich”, and “quantum healing” nonsense.  If you find yourself tempted by the sugary, empty-calorie bait in those intellectual traps, remember, you only ever hear about the good outcomes, the lucky ones…the failures don’t publish their tales, and the marketing people certainly don’t promote them.  If ever there was an inbuilt and all-but-inescapable confirmation bias, it’s in attitudes about the power of positive thinking.

Not that being reasonably, cautiously optimistic and positive is a bad thing—it’s not, if you can do it, and if you are so constituted that it doesn’t require you to browbeat yourself when you feel down, as you will sometimes, no matter who you are.  Even the Donald gets down in the doldrums de vez en cuando, I’d stake my left kidney on it.  But there’s no evidence whatsoever that the state of the present or future universe is affected by human thoughts and attitudes other than by dint of prosaic methods:  hard work, discipline, planning, thought, careful evaluation and analysis, proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, and—almost always—many failures along the way.

I wish some people would positively think themselves able to defy gravity by the power of their minds and would hurl themselves from the nearest equivalent of the observation deck of the Empire State Building to prove it.  That would be putting their money where they mouths are.  When Deepak Chopra talks about the power of the mind to heal and to resist aging (and the like) through some kind of pseudo-quantum nonsense, make sure to compare photos of him now with photos taken twenty or thirty years ago (they are, unfortunately, readily available).  He’s aged conspicuously.  Also, remember that people like Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Dirac, Feynman, Bohr, Einstein, Wheeler, and the like—all of whom understood quantum mechanics far better than your favorite local or international or celebrity purveyor of quantum woo, to say the least—are currently and conspicuously dead.  At least in this branch of the Everettian** multiverse.

Wow.  That was a hell of a tangent, wasn’t it?  No April Fools, though.  I was speaking from the heart—which is to say, conveying my honest thoughts and feelings by means of a computer keyboard.  Nevertheless, the good things I shared at the beginning of this post are true and unsullied, and The Vagabond is out there to be read by any who enjoy horror novels.  I’m getting good feedback on it, as well as on Son of Man, which a coworker of mine recently finished.  She said she loved the twists and surprises, and really enjoyed the book, which can’t help but make even a curmudgeon like me feel happy.  Also, I recently reread The Chasm and the Collision, and the ending of my own book brought minor tears of joy to my eyes.  That’s pretty cheesy, I guess, but I’ll take my little bits of satisfaction where I can get them, and I’ll try not to be too embarrassed.

And though you might not think it, I would take great and honest satisfaction in knowing that all of those who read this, and their loved ones—and everyone else for that matter—were healthy, and comfortable, and as safe as they can be, and as happy as often and for as long as they can be without using inappropriate and/or detrimental substances***.  So, if you could do me a favor, please see if you can achieve those results.

TTFN

Some people even go


*I haven’t been able to find such narrow-ruled paper again since that time, though I’ve often looked for it.  Apparently, that super-tight ruling of notebook paper has fallen out of fashion.  It’s too bad, really, because I loved the convenience of having to use fewer pages, though it made editing a bit of a mess.  There were added sentences running into the tattered margins on almost every page, and even I had trouble reading what I had written.  Maybe there’s a good reason that paper fell out of fashion…but it did look beautiful when blank.  So many lines available to fill!

**Hugh Everett is also, lamentably, dead.  He died at age fifty-one, my current age, after having left physics at least partly because of the animosity he experienced against his “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, which may nevertheless be correct.

***I might think otherwise if such substances were reliable, or if they didn’t tend to end up causing a subsequent rapid, severe, and painfully ironic downturn in the happiness curve of life, but that’s just not the way things are.

These are blogged in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater.

Okay, well, hello and good morning.  It’s Thursday and so it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

It’s been a particularly auspicious week for me, as those of you who follow my blog regularly will know, for this last weekend I finally published The Vagabond, a book I first began when I was in college, more than thirty years ago.  It’s amazing for me to see it out there; I received my own copy yesterday afternoon, and I’m very happy with the way it turned out.  I’m always at least a bit nervous before I see the physical form of any book, and this one was more nerve-wracking than most, because it’s a book of such importance and provenance for me.  It’s only the second full novel I ever wrote—the first is truly lost in time, and I can’t imagine any way it could be found, since it was hand-written on notebook paper, and is gone with everything else I owned before 2013.  I wish I had protected it better, or done more with it, but I had no idea that my life could take the turn it did, and I can’t change the past in any case.

That book would have needed a lot of fixing up.  I wrote it in high school, and it was quite a mess, physically, and certainly it would have required extensive editing as well.  As I might have said before, I occasionally entertain the notion of someday recreating it—I certainly remember the story, and most of the names of the key characters.  But it would take a lot of work, and I’m just not sure I’m motivated to do it, or indeed that I’ll ever really have the opportunity to do so.

Speaking of things written in high school, though, I am happy also to tell you that my short story, House Guest, which contributed to me winning an NCTE award in 1986*, has now been retyped into the computer (saved and then backed up in two places!), and I’m beginning to edit it for eventual addition to my planned collection, Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities.  I may also add to that collection a short story I started writing in about 2012 but didn’t finish, called In the Shade.  Of course, that would mean that I’ll have to finish it now, but that’s not a big problem.  It was most of the way done already, and I know how it will end.  With those two stories, there will be at least two “previously unpublished” tales in the collection, which seems only fair to those who will buy it.

House Guest is, possibly to the relief of some readers, much shorter than many of my more recent “short stories” which are not quite long enough to be novellas but often tend to be about sixty pages long.  I wonder what’s led to me writing such longer stories than I used to write.  Some of it is no doubt just age-increased patience and practice, but I also sometimes wonder if the fact that I can write so fast on a computer leads me to run off at the keyboard and get carried away.  I may have said it before, but I can type (with a word processor) almost as fast as I can speak, and more coherently.  On the other hand, I wrote Mark Red, The Chasm and the Collision, and my “short story” Paradox City all by hand on notebook paper propped on a “photo album”, under less-than-ideal circumstances, and they aren’t especially short.

So perhaps it’s just me, or that I’ve grown to want more detail and conversation in my stories than others might even like.  I don’t know.  I have received at least one review of my short story Penal Colony that said that they thought the conversation between the two main characters dragged on too long.  It’s a reasonable criticism, and I appreciate it very much—though, to be fair, real conversations do tend to drag on.  And I tried to use the interaction to reveal the quite unusual background of one of the characters in a natural way.  But it’s possible that I got carried away with just pleasing myself.

Of course, if I can’t please myself, I don’t know that it matters if I please anyone else.  But that’s a philosophical question not worth addressing here.

Anyway, I have tentative plans to try an experiment.  Once I’ve finished the stories for the collection, and have then finished Outlaw’s Mind (which is already being written on the computer, and became too long to be any kind of short story but will probably end up as a novella or a short novel) I plan to write whatever I write next—assuming that I’m still around—by hand, on notebook paper, though I’ll use a clipboard this time instead of a photo album sold, for some reason, in the prison canteen**.  It’s not set in stone, but that’s my tentative plan.  At least paper on a clipboard isn’t subject to power outages.

As far as being still around, yesterday I took at least one step toward making that more likely:  I got my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.  It’s the Pfizer one, and I’ll go back for my second dose in three or so weeks.  Between the vaccine and having had the actual virus, I should be reasonably protected going forward, assuming the protection is shown to last for a decent time.  Since this deed protects me and, more to the point, those around me, it seemed like the thing to do.  No protection is perfect, of course, and no one is ever completely safe.  “No one here gets out alive,” after all.

That’s a sentiment that the title character of The Vagabond might celebrate, though he tends to think that ordinary death is too quick and easy, preferring to terrify and torment the poor mortals he encounters.  If you like stories about such beings, and about the attempts of accidental heroes to fight against them, then please do pick up (or download for Kindle), a copy; I think you’ll enjoy it.

And while you’re waiting for this or my next works to arrive and/or be available, do please take care of yourselves and each other—for instance, by getting vaccinated, if you’re able, an act which works toward both of these aims.  Stay healthy and safe as much as you can and do your best to be happy at least part of the time.

TTFN

Vagabond pose pic on highway 3 posterized


*So that story is thirty-five years old, but it has in a sense been “published” or at least evaluated before, unlike The Vagabond.

**I guess the idea was that prisoners might have family members sending them photos to remind them of home, which is nice, though it can also be tormenting.  I’d be mildly interested in what the thought processes were behind the choice to make that available.  I’m glad it was, though!

The Vagabond

Vagabond ppb cover

A young teacher named Martin Wallace picks up a strange hitchhiker in an overcoat and an old-fashioned hat on his way to his new job in the university town of Eddington.

A college student named Janice Lundgren starts to have vivid and terrifying nightmares featuring a figure in a hat and overcoat, his face always obscured.

A prostitute named Ami Forrester is horrifically murdered by a man in a gray overcoat and gray felt hat. The following night, her body disappears and the doctor who was to perform her autopsy is found dead. They are not the last to die unnaturally.

In the same week, Jake Schneider, another college student, is surprised by a visit from his cousin, Scott. Though Scott initially claims to have come for a self-reflective break from his own studies, it soon becomes clear that he knows or suspects something about the murders in Eddington.

When pressured by Jake, who himself has experienced uncanny visions and disturbing encounters, Scott reveals that he is not merely visiting to take a break from college. He is pursuing the man who brutally murdered his parents…a man who wore a gray overcoat and a gray, felt fedora.

But this killer is not merely a man. He has already survived Scott stabbing him through the heart. No one who sees him can ever remember his face. And what he does to his victims is worse than murder.

Jake, Scott, and Janice, with the help of Janice’s mother, a self-proclaimed psychic, learn that this entity has come to Eddington to perform a ritual that will lead to untold, eternal horror for the entire world. And Jake, it seems, is the only one who might be able to stop it.

But how can three college students and a Greenwich Village psychic possibly stand against an entity that has wandered the world for tens of thousands of years, that can warp the human mind, that can never be recognized for what it really is unless it allows itself to be seen…an entity whose power is growing as its goal comes closer…an entity that can consume the very souls of those who might stand in its way?

In delay there lies not plenty; Then, come blog me, sweet and twenty

Hello and good morning everyone.  It’s Thursday again, and of course, that means it’s time for my weekly blog post, which is obvious unless this is your first time reading it.  If it is your first time: Welcome!  It’s great to have you here.

It’s a rather auspicious week for me, in ways that I have difficulty even processing.  A few days ago, I finished the final editing run-through of The Vagabond.  It was Monday, in fact, the Ides of March (and my brother’s birthday).  Since then, I’ve been working on layout and adjusting chapter divisions, working on the cover design, as well as adjusting the pages for the size of book that it’s going to be.  Taking care of these nitty-gritty details is surprisingly satisfying, and they also take a lot less time than the actual writing of the novel…which is good, because this novel has been in the works for a very long time.

As I think I’ve discussed here before, I first started writing this story while I was an undergrad, way back in the very late eighties or, just possibly, in early 1990.  But I think it was the eighties.  This is, of course, why the story takes place in that era, at a university and in a city that is remarkably like the place in which I did my undergraduate degree.  Indeed, a few of the major characters are quite strongly based on friends of mine from the time—though not all of them.  None of them are really based on me, any more than is every character I’ve ever written, since they come from my head and my fingers.  Though, admittedly, the main character is a Physics Major because, at the time, I was a Physics Major, and his struggle to deal with the fact of the supernatural intrusion into his reality is rather like what I think mine would be if I were to encounter such things.

The prologue of the book was the first part that I wrote, unsurprisingly.  Though there have been some minor changes, it’s largely as I first created it, and so it’s been waiting for publication for more than thirty years.  The last part of the novel wasn’t drafted until quite some time after that…certainly well into the nineties, and probably closer to their end or even the beginning of the 2000s.  I had a lot going on at the time and wasn’t as committed to writing as I am now.  And, to be uncommonly generous to myself, I’ll admit that post-baccalaureate courses, medical school, residency, and so on took a lot of my time and more of my energy.  Then, of course, came the start of medical practice, and the incomparably wonderful birth of my children, and then later, the much less wonderful development of my severe back problem and chronic pain, with subsequent career derailment and other consequent collisions of various sorts*.  Good fun.  The Vagabond himself would no doubt laugh at me heartily, but then, he’s a particularly nasty sort.

Still, though in the course of those years many things have failed, and I have failed at many things, it’s nevertheless amazing for me to know that, soon—before the end of the month, and perhaps even by the end of this week—The Vagabond will be available for purchase by the general public, pretty much the whole world over thanks to Amazon and Kindle.

It’s rather funny to realize that, though it felt like a somewhat long book when I was writing it—and not merely because I took so long to do so—it now feels comparatively short.  This is, of course, mainly because I’m finishing it just after having finished and published Unanimity Book 1 and Book 2, which in first draft was literally a half-a-million-words long.  Geez Louise.  That felt like it took a long time, and I worked on it almost uninterrupted from start to finish.  And, indeed, it did take a long time.

But though both are horror stories, The Vagabond is a different kind of horror story than Unanimity**.  It’s flagrantly supernatural, inspired by my love of the works of Stephen King, and Peter Straub, and Shirley Jackson, and H. P. Lovecraft, and others like them.  There’s even a “haunted house” in it.  Though local in scale, it’s apocalyptic in its implications and the danger involved.  This is further subtly connected to my novel*** The Chasm and the Collision, which itself has connections to my long-lost work Ends of the Maelstrom, facts of which underlie much of the multiverse of my creations, though not in overt ways.  Even if Ends of the Maelstrom existed out in the world, and you had read it, you might not recognize the connections, but they are there, in my head, and they provide some of the architecture of good and evil in many of my stories.  I don’t think this matters much to anyone’s enjoyment of any of the stories, but in my mind, at least, it’s nice to have that connection and continuity.

Anyway, I’m rambling on, talking about things that may only be interesting to me, and which may bore the bejeezus out of nearly anyone else who might be reading.  But I am, in my quiet and peculiar way, excited.  Like the Vagabond himself, I’ve been waiting a long time for this, and I wasn’t at all sure it would happen.  And unlike the Vagabond, the end of my quest and journey is one that other people can enjoy, if they are so inclined.

I hope you’re looking forward to it, at least a tiny fraction of how much I am looking forward to it.  In the meantime, please take care of each other and yourselves, and stay safe and healthy, and try to be happy as often and as long as you can.

TTFN

highway 2


*Figuratively, not literally.

**Which is quasi-sci-fi, by which I mean that the events in it are nominally “natural” but are in fact impossible according to the laws of nature as we know them.  Thus, it is really a supernatural horror story, but with the supernatural well-disguised…though I throw a nod to it by giving a cameo to a location and entity from my short story, Hole for a Heart.

***Which is not a horror novel, any more than the Harry Potter books are horror novels.  Which, of course, means that there are definite elements of horror in it—as in all good fantasy adventures, in my opinion.

There is a kind of character in thy blog, that to the observer doth thy history fully unfold.

Hello, again, and good morning, again, and welcome once again to another Thursday edition of my weekly blog post.

It’s the second Thursday of the month, and at one time it would have been the occasion for an edition of “My heroes have always been villains,” but that’s long since been abandoned due to lack of reader interest.  Oh, well, I probably would quickly have run out of interesting villains to discuss.  There are plenty of fictional baddies out there, of course, but there aren’t all that many that really merit exploration and discussion.  Villains are a necessary part of nearly any fictional adventure, and often of other kinds of tales as well, but they frequently have little depth.

One villain, however, retains acute pertinence and interest for me, and that is the title character of The Vagabond.  I’m within fifty pages of finishing the final edit of the book, and then will come the remaining layout and finishing of the cover design before publication.  That should all happen by the end of March, so that’s something to look forward to, for those of you who like horror stories with well-fleshed-out supernatural villains.  For the Vagabond is no merely supernatural force, something elemental and impersonal, though those can be wonderful antagonists in horror stories.

Essentially all of H. P. Lovecraft’s dark entities (for instance) are not characters so much as ideas, physical representations of forces of nature (and unnature).  If they have character, it is beyond human comprehension.  This can make them exceptionally frightening.  It’s bad enough to face an entity that hates you and wants to hurt you, but at least you matter to such villains.  Hate is just the opposite side of the coin of love, after all, and is a form of attachment and connection, though it’s one that’s well worth avoiding.  But Lovecraft’s beings don’t really care or think much about humans, much like Terry Pratchett’s creatures from the “dungeon dimensions”.  To them, humans are not much more than ants or cockroaches…and they are decidedly not entomologist types, so they have no affection for humans, even as subjects of study.

But the Vagabond is a character.  In fact, he’s the second character we meet in the book.  I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers by saying that.  It’s pretty obvious within seconds of encountering him that he’s not quite…right, as it were.  For him (he identifies as male, as they say), humans do very much matter, but only because he really, really dislikes us.  It would be far better for us if he didn’t care at all.

I’ve had no success in hunting down the scanned version of my old, favorite drawing of the Vagabond (which I know I scanned at some point, and which I could swear I’ve seen sometime in the last eight years, but for the life of me I don’t know where).  I’m very disappointed.  I wanted to at least base my cover on that drawing, though I would probably embellish and alter it in some ways.  I can see the picture clearly in my mind’s eye—I’m the one who drew it, after all.  But that doesn’t mean I could reproduce it.  I’m out of practice with drawing, and practice really does make a difference.  Also, that drawing captured something that I don’t think I could mimic readily.  I’ve tried sketching some version of it from time to time, but I haven’t liked any of the results.

So, I’m pursuing other means of making the imagery I want.  I’ve done a sort of “sketch” if you will (though it’s not a drawing) of the impression he gives, and I’ll include it in this post, below.  It’s not the final form of the cover by any means—there are ways it doesn’t quite match his overall look, though it’s very close.  Still, it gives something of a taste of what I recall capturing in the drawing, and the impression I have of him in my mind.

Take a look.  See if he’s someone you would want to pick up if you saw him hitchhiking along the interstate.  I’m guessing you wouldn’t—not that you would have any choice, if he decided he wanted a ride from you.

Vagabond cover prohect 3

So anyway, that’s fairly exciting, for me, and I hope that some of you are at least interested or intrigued.  It’s been more than thirty years since I first started this novel, and to see it finally published is something for which I had given up hope.  Thanks be to my ex-wife for discovering and sending it to me (and for many other things besides)!  It was dedicated to her from the start*, and so it shall stay, departing from my usual practice of dedicating my stories to my children.  I hope, quite fervently, that she will read it (again) when it’s published.  I know she liked it, once upon a time.

And with that ironic phrase, I’ll begin drawing this post to a close.  I’m still having trouble getting into fiction reading—or even watching—and frankly, even nonfiction is getting harder to find engaging.  But my passion for writing stories (and blog posts) remains, and I hope those of you not currently suffering from my peculiar literary ailment will enjoy reading them.  And, of course, I hope that you are and will remain well and happy.

TTFN


*This may seem a strange form of honor, but trust me, it was never meant or taken negatively.  Horror fiction was one of the things that brought us together, though it was not the primary one.  I even wrote my short story Solitaire while keeping her company as she worked on a project overnight for a summer job.  She read it soon after, but it was a bit dark even for her.  If I remember correctly, she said something along the lines of, “It’s a great story…but where the hell did that come from?”  I couldn’t say.  I was in quite a good mood, since I was spending time with the woman with whom I was very much in love.  I did tend to play a lot of solitaire at the time (with real cards), so obviously that was a trigger, but as for the substance of the admittedly quite horrific story…who knows?

So we profess ourselves to be the slaves of chance, and flies of every wind that blogs

Hello.  Good morning.  It’s Thursday—the first one in March of 2021—and so, of course, it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

As is often the case, I have no specific plan about what to write today; it’s very much going to be stream-of-consciousness.  I expect this post will be relatively short, therefore, but I’ve often been wrong in this expectation previously.  We shall see.  Indeed, you can probably already see, since you’re reading the completed product, while I—the writer—will only see it as it takes form, at least in the initial draft.

First, and most important to me, work on The Vagabond continues steadily, and I’m well over halfway through the final edit.  One of the great tragic moments in the book has just occurred, and things are looking very dark indeed for our heroes.  Hopefully, they will find a way to overcome this setback, or one will be provided for them.  You shall have to wait and see, though in a reversal of the situation mentioned above regarding the length of this blog post, I happen already to know the outcome, while the reader can only bite his or her nails* and read on anxiously (when they finally have the published book, that is).

Little new has happened in my personal life otherwise, which is pretty much the way my personal life goes…such as it is.  As usual, I find many of the various deeds of humanity, both globally and locally—down, even, to the people in the office with whom I work—to be often terribly disheartening and discouraging.

Not that things are all bad; obviously that’s not the case.  But the second law of thermodynamics seems always to insist upon making its presence known, and thus it is always easier for things to fall apart than for new things to be built or even for existing things to be maintained.  This is the condition of the universe itself, though ironically it is also the very force that allows life to exist, and which drives all positive process we see.

Were entropy a general constant—as the laws of physics seem strongly to imply that it eventually will be—there would be no change whatsoever, at least no change of any significance.  Life could not exist in a state of pure and total thermal equilibrium, even though its existence is entirely dependent upon the universal mathematical and physical tendency for things to move toward that equilibrium.  This is the curious irony—which might seem paradoxical, though it is not—of the existence of complexity and life.

I think I got the following descriptive and analogous image from Sean Carroll, of a coffee cup with milk being added; it is only during the mixing process when eddies and whirls, clouds and vortices, unpredictable chaotic forms can appear.  It’s only while the drink is mixing that anything interesting, in that sense, occurs.  Once the coffee is well stirred, nothing more of interest will happen**.

Of course, in principle, it is possible for a stirred cup of coffee to unmix spontaneously and separate again into milk and coffee, thence to remix once more.  However, even on so small a scale as a cup of coffee, given the number of molecules involved and the vastly greater number of possible mixed compared to unmixed states, it’s going to take a very long time for that to happen.  Don’t hold your breath.

In fact, though I haven’t worked the specific numbers, I nevertheless feel quite confident that for the coffee cup spontaneously to unmix would take a time vastly greater than the present age of our universe.  The Earth—and any coffee cups resting upon it—will long since have been incinerated by the swelling, dying sun before any such unmixing could happen.  Taking the cup away into interstellar space would only freeze it, significantly slowing any possible unmixing process.  And, of course, coffee left out in the open tends to dry up as the water in it evaporates, and on a far shorter time scale.

Anyway, who’s going to mix and stir a cup of coffee only to leave it sit and wait for the process to reverse itself by random chance?  I don’t know about you, but if I have a nice cup of newly poured and stirred coffee, I tend to start drinking it pretty quickly.

And, also anyway, on time scales such as those involved in local reversal of entropy by spontaneous molecular motion, an astonishing number of events will have happened on the human scale.  Measured in terms of information exchange, it may be that the process of human time is literally speeding up, as computers and the internet and other means of global communication and computation fundamentally accelerate the rate of what’s happening in civilization, though the pace and duration of biological human life does not change nearly as much.

Measured in “flop time”***, as it were, the pace of events really has been, and is, accelerating.  The rate of that acceleration seems unlikely to continue indefinitely, but even if the growth curve levels off somewhat, more “things” can happen in a current decade—let alone a century—than happened throughout most of the first hundred millennia of human existence, at least from the human point of view, which is the only one we have right now.

So, though things do fall apart, and the center indeed cannot hold, it is not merely anarchy that is loosed upon the world.  As Darwin put it, during the process of entropic mixing, when all the interesting stuff happens, and driven by that mixing and that tendency toward increasing entropy, “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”  If only he knew how beautiful and how wonderful and how unpredictable those forms are and may someday be, I think he would have been even more awed than he was.

See, I’m not a complete downer.  At least not all the time.

Well, this post is not much shorter than usual, if at all, but I think I will call things to a close here.  I hope you are all as well as you can be, and are being careful of yourselves and each other, and staying as safe and as healthy as you can.

TTFN

Cloudy coffee


*Or someone else’s if they’re very close friends.

**I’m not counting the drinking part just now.  As far as I know, there’s no one waiting to drink the universe once it’s well mixed and cool enough not to burn the lips and tongue…though that’s an interesting notion.

***I recorded an audio blog about this concept but I haven’t yet posted it to Iterations of Zero.  My apologies.

I’ll read enough, when I do see the very blog indeed where all my sins are writ, and that’s myself.

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another edition of my weekly blog post.  It’s hard to know what to write that I haven’t already written—much of it repeatedly—in previous blog posts, though the details no doubt change from week to week.  But, then again, that’s always an issue with writing, as with storytelling in general, and so on.  Is it ever possible really to write (or otherwise create) anything new?

Well, the “Latin” alphabet alone (adding in the “Arabic” digits from zero to nine) iterated out in any reasonable length produces a trans-astronomical number of possibilities.  Even if we leave out punctuation and spaces and other “special characters”, the number of different things that can be written in just ten spaces is 36 to the tenth power, which is a little more than 3.6 times ten to the fifteenth power*.  To get some sense of the scale of that number, consider that the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy is on the order of ten to the eleventh power, so the number above is a good ten thousand times larger.  The number of cells in a typical human body is on the order of ten to the thirteenth power, still only a hundredth as large as the number I mentioned.

Mind you, the vast majority of those combinations of characters are going to comprise a real tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.  But, of course, ten spaces is next to nothing.  So far in this blog post I’ve already used more than 1500 spaces or characters.  Still not counting punctuation et al, taking thirty-six to the 1500th power gives us a truly staggering number:  2.8 times ten to the 2334th power.  To get a scintilla of the idea of the scale of that number, consider that the estimated combined number of protons, neutrons, electrons, and neutrinos in the “visible” universe is only on the order of ten to the 80th or so.  Of course, if you throw photons and gravitons and gluons and W and Z bosons, and whatever comprises “dark matter” and “dark energy” into the mix, that number will surely go up by quite a bit, but not by anything close to two thousand orders of magnitude.  Remember, ten to the 2334th is a one followed by 2334 zeroes (in base ten).  You’d have to multiply ten to the 80th by itself about twenty-nine times (i.e., take it to the 29th power) to reach 10 to the 2334th.

Of course, the vast majority of such combinations will produce nothing even close to coherent writing—or even to the quality of writing I’ve produced here so far (which as of this point has over 2300 characters).  But so what?  It’s a bit like considering all the possibilities of DNA.  Even though the vast majority of possible DNA sequences would not be transcribable into anything like a viable living organism if injected into a typical cell, the subset of potential viable organisms is still staggeringly larger than the number that have ever lived.

Thinking along similar lines, consider the Library of Babel, a notion introduced in a story by Jorge Luis Borges, (and instantiated, more or less, in a brilliant website).  It contains all possible books of, I think, 400-ish pages, using certain layout characteristics, and thus would contain, in principle, everything anyone has ever written or could write (of that size or smaller).  The possibilities are so large as to seem infinite.

“And yet, oh and yet, we all of us spend all our days saying to each other the same things time after weary time:  ‘I love you,’ ‘don’t go in there,’ ‘get out,’ ‘you have no right to say that,’ ‘stop it,’ ‘why should I?’ ‘that hurt,’ ‘help,’ ‘Marjorie is dead.’”**

It’s been said by some that all stories (of relevance to humans) have already been told.  I don’t think that’s quite true, for as we learn and explore and develop new understandings of the universe and new technologies, new stories will become possible that never would have been before.  Nevertheless, most types of stories that would be of interest to humans have probably already been written (or otherwise told) in various forms by numerous authors.  And yet we*** still enjoy both creating and partaking of them.  Indeed, the reading of a new story of a given type—of which one may have read dozens or hundreds of others—can still be one of the greatest pleasures in life (though I’m having a hard time with that lately, to my significant distress, as I’ve mentioned previously).  It’s a bit like all those possible humans, I guess.  They all are much more alike than unalike, as Maya Angelou said, but we can nevertheless tell each one from nearly all the others, usually at a glance, and certainly within a moment.

So it is with stories.  Even within the genre of heroic fantasy, it’s trivial to differentiate Harry Potter from The Lord of the Rings from The Belgariad from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  I love them each and all, and I wouldn’t willingly have any of them expunged from reality or memory.  It is, no doubt, likewise with horror, with science fiction, with thrillers, with mysteries, with romantic comedies, and every other genre of story.  Though all have similarities, they are nevertheless distinct, and the possibilities are so immense that they give a better impression of infinity than actual infinity does, though they are, probably, not literally infinite****.

With that in mind, I’ll keep working on The Vagabond, as I have this week, as usual.  I’m about halfway through the last edit; then comes layout and cover design and all that jazz, and then publication.  And thence, on to whatever comes next, such as Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which will include House Guest and many other stories.  The possibilities are not easily limited, and so this idiot, at least, will for now keep telling his tales.

TTFN

Alike unlike


*If, as the fictional (often mad) scientists always say, my calculations are correct.

**This long quote is taken from ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’, I think it was the very first episode, but I’m not sure.  You can go and watch it here.

***Humans, for want of a better term.

****During the writing and editing of Unanimity I might have disagreed with this last point.  And, by the way, I took the notion—that the immense-but-finite can give a better impression of infinity than the truly infinite does—from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Nor blog nor poison, malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing can touch him further.

Hello and good morning to everyone reading—and since this is written language, I’m only addressing anyone who happens to be reading it, wherever and whenever that might be.  It’s Thursday again here, as always seems to happen at this time of the week, so it’s time for another of my weekly blog posts.

There’s not much new going on with me.  Of course, I’m continuing to work on The Vagabond, and am well into the final run-through/edit of the book, which means that shortly I’ll be laying it out and preparing it for publication.  That’s exciting, at least for me, but I hope it might be to some other people out there.  It’s a more-or-less classical style horror story, a tale of what Stephen King might call “outside evil” threatening first the residents of a small university city, but ultimately threatening everything in the human world (and—it being “outside evil”—things beyond the human world).  In the process, it does some horrifying and, I hope, terrifying things.

As I think I’ve said before, it’s a bit shorter than some of my other novels, except possibly Son of Man*, and the story moves along quickly.  I suspect that’s partly because I wrote it over the course of a long period of time—ironically—and thus tended to get on with things in the story when I took it up.  Despite that, it hangs together very nicely in style and character development and all that high-falutin’ stuff, which is nice.  I’m reasonably proud of it, as far as that goes.  And I think that other people, people who enjoy horror and who enjoy dark adventure/fantasy in a so-called real-world setting will also enjoy it.

As for everything else, well, there’s not much to say.  “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps on in this petty pace from day to day,” as the man wrote.  I’m still having a great deal of trouble even finding the urge to read new fiction—or old fiction, for that matter—or to watch movies or TV shows, or anything of the sort.  I bought the new Stephen King novella collection If it Bleeds, but I couldn’t even get well into the first story before losing my ability to sustain interest.  I’m doing a bit better with science-related non-fiction, especially physics and math-oriented material, but I burn through the books too quickly, and I’m running out of ones that entice me.  I haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to re-read books of that type that I’ve read before (which is what I usually do), nor even to listen to the audiobooks during my commute.  Even my go-to YouTube channels like Numberphile and Sixty Symbols are coming up dry for me.  I haven’t even watched the most recent two or three videos of PBS Space Time!  It’s very troubling to me (intellectually, anyway…emotionally it’s just the background hiss of the universe) how even the things that usually command my interest without fail, without even trying, have become “weary, stale, and flat.”

Speaking of YouTube**, it’s a common theme amongst YouTubers and bloggers and other, similar creative people to ask their viewers/readers to “like” and to “subscribe” to their channels and, if they like what they’re doing, to consider supporting them through such things as Patreon or that “cup of coffee” thing, and whatnot.  I very much like these new ways of supporting creative work, which bypass the need for interceding corporations and marketing departments***.  I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of participating in some such service.  But I think I’d prefer just to say that, if you like my blog(s) and want to support it/them…buy some of my books!  Even if you don’t tend to read novels or short stories, or if you don’t tend to read sci-fi/fantasy/horror and whatnot, it would still be a way to support me at more than one level.

My books are all available on Amazon in paperback and e-book form, and the latest is available through Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million, too.  It gives me a little boost when someone buys one—monetarily but also emotionally, which I think everyone can I agree I could use.  More importantly for me, if you have the book, there’s the possibility that you might read it sometime when you’re feeling desperate and have no other means of escape.  And if you do, I think you’ll probably enjoy it, at least if you like those types of stories.  I’ve been told that I tell a story very well****.

Of course, you can also support me by listening to my songs, on YouTube or Spotify (they’re also up on Pandora and iTunes and a bunch of other sites for which I don’t have links, but if you go there and search for “Robert Elessar” they should pop up).  I’m not as confident that these are very enjoyable, though I like them.  But even the very long song is only six and a half minutes long, and I make a few cents every time someone plays them.  If you can Like and Share them when you listen (oh, the irony!), that’s always a bonus.  I also have some other stuff on my own personal YouTube channel, but that’s not monetized.  Still, it’s got some of my stories read aloud by the author (me).  It also has my “bad covers” of some songs I like, and one song of my own that I haven’t released as an official “single”.

But, of course, just reading and liking, and if you feel like it “like”-ing this blog is also good.  I hate trying to persuade people to read my stuff or to listen to my music or otherwise tooting my own horn.  I just don’t like myself well enough to be able to recommend me in good conscience*****.  This is where those marketing people really come in handy.  I always just feel, “Well, I know that I like it, but I’m the one who made it, so you can’t judge by me.  I can’t in all honesty tell other people that it’s great or terrific, even if I feel like it is and am proud of it, because they might think its crap.”  For reasons that are far from clear to me, I feel terribly nervous about becoming a sort of poor man’s Kanye West.  Which highlights, I suppose, the one advantage (if that really is an appropriate term, which it’s not) that bipolar disorder has over unipolar depression and dysthmymia.  Rightly or wrongly, at least occasionally people afflicted with it feel really good about themselves.  Even Stephen Fry admitted that’s a comparative benefit.

Anyway, I’ve said far more than I had to say today, so I’ll bring it to an end, here.  I honestly hope that you’re all well, and that you try to be good, and that you do your best to stay safe and healthy.

TTFN

Picture5


*Which had its origin as a book idea not too many years after I had first started what I then simply called Vagabond.

**I was, you can check.

***Don’t get me wrong, I have terrific respect for marketing departments.  Before the past few years, almost all music, books, plays, TV shows, and so on only came to people’s attention—including yours and mine—thanks to the often wonderfully creative work of marketing professionals. But I suspect that industry/profession is continuing to do quite well, so I don’t feel too bad about working around them.

****But then again, I do talk to myself too much.

*****Now there’s a serious understatement.