Give me some music; music, moody food Of us that trade in blogs.

Good morning, good Thursday, and welcome to the latest posting of my blog.  I hope the year is going well for you all so far.

Those who follow my second blog, Iterations of Zero, will note that I recently posted the lyrics of a song, “Schrödinger’s Head.”  This is rather new and out of the blue, I know.  I certainly gave no explanation when I posted it, so I thought I’d tell the story behind it here.

Last week, a coworker and I were idly chatting between tasks (we sit next to each other at the office), when it occurred to me that “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Head” would be a great name for a sort of indie punk band.  I did a quick Google search and couldn’t find such a band, so between us we thought we should—at least in our imaginations—invent it.  Of course, the name of the band’s first album would be “What’s in the box?”*

After a bit of thought, though, it occurred to us that, at least if the band were to seek real commercial success, it might be better not to call itself “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Head.”  Ms. Paltrow is a curious character, and it’s hard to know how she would react to such a dubious homage.  We thought it might work okay if we switched it around and called the band “What’s in the box?”  We decided, further, that “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Head” was probably not even a safe name for the first album, and regretfully concluded that it would be better to go with “Tracy’s Head.”

At some point after that conversation, with my thoughts meandering like a restless wind inside a letter box, I decided that “Tracy’s Head” was just too banal and context-dependent.  The idea popped into my mind—possibly the result of quantum fluctuations—that the answer to the question “What’s in the Box?” might very well be Schrödinger’s cat, one of the world’s all-time most noteworthy box-dwellers.  And, since the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is all about superposition, it seemed fun to meld my metaphors and call the first album “Schrödinger’s Head.”  My colleague found this amusing enough, and he gave his approval.  It occurred to me then that if one is going to have such an album title, there ought to be a title song.  I’d had a good night’s sleep the night before (a rare occurrence) so I was full of pep.  Thus, when a lull occurred in the business of the day, I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and scribbled out the lyrics to such a song.

I’ll be honest:  for the last two of the final verse lines, I had to go online and look up more rhymes for “head.”  Not that they’re particularly difficult rhymes, as I’m sure you’ll note, but even so, I was drawing a blank by then.

My colleague looked at my rough draft and said that, of what he was able to read (my handwriting sucks) he thought it was fun.  So, I typed it up and loaded it onto Iterations of Zero.  I had some trouble dealing with WordPress’s new, supposedly better, editor; I found it cumbersome and non-intuitive, but that may just be because I’m not used to it.  In any case, the song is there, for your delectation.  I’ve even started writing a tune and chords for it, but that’s going to take longer than the words, and I don’t know that I will ever share it with anyone even privately, let alone publicly.  If I do, of course, I’ll let you know.

Okay, enough narcissistic babble about making up bands and writing songs on a whim.  I now turn to some narcissistic babble about my books and stories.

Penal Colony is almost ready to publish, but we still need to get a cover put together for it, which is behind schedule.  Nevertheless, it will probably be out before the end of January.

Speaking of the end of January, the final catastrophes of Unanimity are happening, the final confrontation is well underway, and I really should be done with the book by the end of the month.  Wow.  It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written, that’s for sure.  It’s longer than all but a handful of books that I’ve ever read.  Fear not!  I will cut it ruthlessly in rewrite and edit, of course, and the final product will be much shorter than the first draft, but still, there’s no way it’s not going to be a meaty book.  (For vegans such as the aforementioned Ms. Paltrow, fear not:  any such meat is lab-grown, clean meat, and no animals were harmed in the production of the novel…other than the author).

That’s about all there is for this week.  I hope you get at least a little tickle out of my song lyrics, if you bother going to check them out.  Be on the lookout for Penal Colony.  You can even just begin to scan the distant horizon for the eventual approach of Unanimity, but please don’t hold your breath.  It’s still going to be quite a while.

TTFN


*All this refers to events at the end of the movie “Seven,” for those of you who don’t recognize the references.  In case you haven’t seen it, I won’t explain further.  I don’t want to give any more spoilers than I already have.

…and he must needs blog that the devil drives.

Good morning and welcome to another Thursday.  There’s no longer anything very interesting or specific to say about the date.  It’s not the week before Christmas, or the week between Christmas and New Year’s, nor is it even the week immediately after.  It is, instead, yet another featureless span of time, trapped in the wasteland of days that marks the first part of every year.  The next truly celebrated holiday—in America, at least—is Valentine’s Day, and that’s a highly artificial, commercial holiday, mainly celebrated by people in romantic relationships (known to the rest of us by various uncomplimentary epithets).  After that comes St. Patrick’s Day, which is a little better, and then the Easter/Passover time, which has much to do with the arrival of Spring.  Once Spring is here, certainly for those who live up north, one hardly needs a holiday in order to feel like celebrating.

Of course, here in South Florida, at the same latitude as Upper Egypt*, Spring arrives a bit earlier.

Those of you who follow my blog will know that I’ve gone back and forth a bit on the topic of how many projects to work on at once.  Well, I’m thinking of going back (or forth) yet again.  As you may recall, I decided to write Penal Colony and to publish Solitaire because Unanimity was taking so long, and I needed to give myself some variety so that I could maintain my pseudo-sanity.  But all along I’ve dabbled in other matters, such as my experimentation with audio versions of my stories and trying to put out a weekly posting on “Iterations of Zero.”

I can’t help but think, though, that if I hadn’t allowed myself to be distracted, that Unanimity might well be done by now.  Of course, that would mean that it would probably be slightly different than it’s going to be in this universe, but it would be done, and that’s the point.

So…I may go back to the purist’s recommendation and stick to one story at a time (except during the cooling off period between the first draft of a novel and the rewriting/editing process, which is a very good time for a short story).  Of course, there’s little doubt that, someday down the road, when I feel bored or impatient, I’ll switch it up again.  I’ll keep you posted on how that all goes.  I’m sure you can hardly wait.

One reason I’m thinking about this is that I’m frustrated that editing Penal Colony is going so slowly…or feels like it is.  By my usual standards, it’s not that long of a short story; it’s only about twenty-five thousand words.  But of course, for the moment, most of my writing time is dominated by Unanimity, as I come ever closer to its end…it’s hard to walk away from it when my schedule calls for me to do some work on Penal Colony.

This would all be easier, of course, if I were able to write full time, but alas, I must needs make my living in other ways for the time being.  Perhaps in days or years to come this will change.  Hopefully at least some of my Everettian branches have a full-time-writing future…which would mean that I will have such a future, even if I also have other futures, in which no such thing happens.  Each of those futures will be just as contiguous with—just as identical with—the current person writing this blog as any of the others.  All of which speculation assumes that Everett’s “Many Worlds” interpretation is right, of course, which is my personal suspicion.

Isn’t quantum mechanics fun?

I hope all of you who live in climates north of me are staying safely warm to as great a degree as possible.  It feels cold down here when it goes into the low fifties overnight (as it did last night), but I know that’s just because we’re all soft and weak.**  On the other hand, I have mangoes and papayas and avocados and bananas and coconuts all growing in my yard, so there are compensations to such softness and weakness.  I know that you’re all enduring much greater privation.  You may console yourselves with the knowledge that, before long, my home may be (literally) underwater.  A little schadenfreude helps keep the blood warm in winter; indulge yourself.

And what the hell, a belated Happy New Year to you all.

TTFN


*The “Upper” part, by the way, apparently refers to the course of the Nile, so Upper Egypt is actually farther south than Lower Egypt.

**I grew up in Michigan, did my undergraduate degree in upstate New York, then lived in Chicago for two years before med school…so I’ve known what it’s like to be through real, relatively severe cold.  Of course, people from North Dakota, from Minnesota, and from Canada may laugh at my presumption.  I accept such laughter as a just rebuke, even as I stand outside in the sunshine without a jacket in mid-January, wondering why creatures such as we—with almost no fur, and with the highest concentration of sweat glands of any living organism—ever left the rift valley of Africa.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determinèd to prove a blogger…

Good morning and Happy New Year to all!

I was just idly wondering, is New Year’s Eve/Day the single most broadly celebrated holiday in the world?  I wouldn’t be surprised if it is…and I suppose I wouldn’t be much more surprised if it isn’t.  Still, considering the general adoption of the Gregorian calendar by, as far as I know, all the nations of the world, I would suspect that New Years is the most generally recognized possible day of celebration worldwide, across all cultures.

That said, I hope all of you who do celebrate it had a wonderful time doing so this week and didn’t suffer too many ill-effects in consequence.  This new year number sounds just a bit like the beginning of a count-down (20…19…), which could be the lead-in to good things and/or bad, but next year at least we should all have clear vision to face whatever comes.

Okay, enough of that nonsense.  I have few new things to say with respect to writing this week, but I’ll give you such updates as there are.  First, of course, I am very close (relatively speaking) to the end of Unanimity.  Interestingly, just yesterday I re-started taking the train—both to save vehicular wear and tear and to force myself to get in some walking every day—and between the train and then some time in the office before work, I got significantly more writing done than I had on any other day in weeks.  Some of this may simply be because I’m approaching the end of the story, and the excitement is building, driving me to push out work more quickly.  Some of it may be from resting over the dual holidays (thankfully, I did rest, being neither very social nor much of a drinker).  But I think just not having to drive (except to the station in the morning) and thus not having to worry about traffic, to say nothing of getting a bit of exercise, really seems to do me some good.  Here’s to hoping I’m right.

Penal Colony also approaches its end.  Which is to say, the editing process is nearing completion; the story has been finished for some time.  I’m enjoying editing it, and I’ve certainly cut a lot of fat out*.  It’s at least a little bit light-hearted, despite its dire predictions about a possible sinister side of social media in the future (I know…can you imagine!?).  It’s certainly not as heavy as Solitaire, but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear.  Of course, all of this means we’re going to have to start working on the cover design any day now, which is its own special, and sometimes stressful, task.

In other news:  I don’t recall whether I’ve blogged about this already, but I recently read the book, Bird Box, responding to all the hype (and some interesting-sounding hints) about the Netflix movie (which I have not seen), and it was quite good.  I left a nice review, not too long, but hopefully useful, on Amazon, and I’d like to take this opportunity once again to cajole all of you readers—especially if you read independent authors—to rate and, if possible, to review the books you read on Amazon, or at least some significant fraction of them.  I know, I tend to harp on about this a bit, but it makes a tremendous difference.  It’s also very useful for an author to get feedback from general readers, who after all are the market for whom the books are written.

I don’t have a tremendous lot more to discuss this week, and I’ve almost reached my stop.  I wish you all, once again, the very best of new years, and I hope you enjoy yourselves and read plenty of books in 2019.  While it’s true that there are a great many other good sources of information and entertainment available, some of which are more seductive—and certainly more passive—than reading, written language remains the lifeblood of civilization, and the most direct and efficient means by which to convey information and stories between human minds.  As physicist Lisa Randall points out in her wonderful book Warped Passages, sometimes a few words (and perhaps a bit of math**) can be worth a thousand pictures.

TTFN


*I have a darkly humorous fantasy of some future person reading Penal Colony and thinking, “This is the story after you cut a lot of fat out?  What was it like before?

**which is, after all, just a special type of words

I’ll have my blogs ta’en out and buttered, and give them to a dog for a new-year’s gift

Hello, good morning, and welcome to the last Thursday of 2018.

I had three consecutive days off work this week, the longest such stretch in quite some time that didn’t involve sad family events.  To the surprise of no one, I did not get any writing done over those three days—no new work on Unanimity, and no editing on Penal Colony.

Because of this, there’s not much for me to say today.  I have, except on the three aforementioned days off, continued to make good progress.  In Unanimity, I’ve reached the final confrontation that will resolve the outcome of the book, but its development involves some flashbacks, for reasons of dramatic tension.  I think this will work well, but in the end, readers must judge for themselves.  In any case, there’s a great deal of work to do before the book will be ready for anyone but me to read and judge.  Such is the way of things.

I hope you all have a wonderful time on New Year’s Eve and a relatively painless recovery on New Year’s Day.  When next we meet here, it will be 2019.  I have a silly, semi-fun dread of the coming year, since in much of the Stephen King multiverse, the number 19 is one of terrible omen.  Of course, I don’t actually subscribe to any form of numerology, unless one counts my true and deep love (occasionally unrequited) of mathematics itself.  It’s just fun to imagine what might happen if that number really were a harbinger of evil.

The fact that I find such thoughts fun is probably why I tend to sneak “horror” into most of what I write, intentionally or not.

I first clearly recognized this about myself in high school, when I wrote my first full-length novel, Ends of the Maelstrom.  This was a sort of cross-over fantasy/sci-fi adventure novel involving multiple universes, in which beings of godlike power used magic and/or ultra-high technology to battle for the fate of our universe and ultimately all the other realms of the multiverse.  The story’s ultimate villain, the Talberod, had obliterated whole galaxies to demonstrate his power, but he nevertheless had a code of honor and a strong moral sense.  In contrast, the hero was more than willing to lie and cheat to win.  These are far from new twists, of course, but I felt pretty proud of them as a high school student.  Alas, that novel is lost to time and bitter circumstance, though one day I may seek to recreate it.

In any case, during the larger course of that story, I inserted little interludes detailing smaller-scale levels of the invasion, including a series in which a demonic being called Chrayd, for personal enjoyment, preys on numerous random humans from our world (before finally being killed by a lucky and courageous one of those same humans, whom Chrayd “salutes” even as he dies).  These latter sequences amounted to mini horror stories in the middle of my larger epic, though I only recognized them as such after the fact.  They were also the parts of the novel that were the most fun to write and—I suspect—were the most gripping to read.

Similarly, on those rare occasions when I’ve written Harry Potter fanfics, they’ve tended to turn out in rather…well, let’s just say that Harry has done some very dark, bad things.

We use the tools that we are given.

And that’s about it for now.  As usual, it’s more than I expected to write.  This is another gift or tool given to me.  I can’t really claim any credit for it, and it’s occasionally frustrating (for readers even more than for me, I suspect), but whataya gonna do?

Again, I wish you the best of all possible new years.  19 may be a number of ill-omen in the Stephen King universe, and it is certainly a prime number…but 2019 is not prime.  Let us then therefore give honor to the beloved goddess of irony by turning 2019 into a prime year in every other sense.

TTFN

Here was a consent, knowing aforehand of our merriment, to blog it like a Christmas comedy

Hello, good morning, good Thursday, and an early Happy Solstice to all.  To those who celebrate it, I wish you a very Happy and/or Merry Christmas next week.  And Happy Newtonmas—also December 25th—to those who celebrate the date (on the Julian calendar) of Isaac Newton’s birth.  If you don’t celebrate this, of course, it’s difficult to blame you.  Though he was probably the single greatest scientist who ever lived, Newton was, by all accounts, a real shit.  Also, on the Gregorian calendar, he was apparently born on what would have been January 4th, 1643.  Now, Johannes Kepler, whose laws of planetary motion helped Newton derive and apply the principle of universal gravitation, was apparently born on December 27th by the Gregorian calendar, so Keplermas might not be an unreasonable celebration.  He’s always seemed much nicer than Newton, and his commitment to intellectual honesty is legendary.  He’s reported to have said, “I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.”  It’ a bit sexist, perhaps, but he was born in 1571; it’s hard to expect otherwise.

There’s little that’s categorically new here in Robert Elessar Land, but I’ve certainly written a good deal on Unanimity over the past week, making steady progress toward the end of that novel.  The editing of Penal Colony also continues at a good pace, and though there have been a rare few new bits added to it here and there, the dominant theme has been removal.  I’m prone to run off at the keyboard when writing, and I often repeat myself.  What’s more, I frequently say the same thing more than once, and on more occasions than I would prefer to admit I tend toward greater wordiness than is, strictly speaking, necessary.  Thus, a crucial step in making my stories better is for me to be as ruthless as possible in eliminating the redundant.

Alas, it is not my greatest strength; why use only ten words if twenty will do, after all?  (Of course, there are complex and nuanced ideas that honestly require many words to convey, but usually it’s just a bad habit.)

This is one reason it’s useful—for me at least—to edit my work over and over and over again, with several added “overs” into the mix.  If I edit and reread my writing often enough that I lose almost all proprietary affection for it, I find that I’m much more able to say, “That’s crap, isn’t it?” and try to make it better.  I suppose it’s possible to go too far along that path, but I seriously doubt that I’ve ever done so; I love my own words too much.

<<sigh>>

Solitaire has been out for about a week now, and I haven’t received any negative feedback about it.  I can honestly say that those who’ve read it and responded, either recently or in the past, have all said that it’s good, but also that it’s pretty effed up…in the sense that it’s about pretty effed up things.  If you disagree—on either point—I would be delighted to hear from you.

Okay, well, if you hate it, I probably wouldn’t be “delighted” to hear from you, but I would consider it a valuable service, so please don’t be shy.  I can take it…I think.  I do try to live up to Kepler’s example.

Perhaps this is a good time to exhort you all to take a moment to review books that you’ve bought and read.  It’s tremendously useful to authors, especially independent authors.  It’s also terrifically helpful to others who are considering reading a book.  Reviews from The New York Times, Kirkus, or Publishers Weekly are all well and good, but many of us find it much more useful to know what other “ordinary” book consumers/lovers think.  This is one of the greatest services provided by online book-sellers, in my opinion:  the ability of readers in large numbers to rate and review books and other creative works.

If you buy a lot of books, it may be asking too much of you to review each one (though giving a star rating, if you bought the book from Amazon for instance, is the work of mere seconds).  But if you only give a written review to one tenth of the books you read, you’ve done a real and great service.  As Carl Sagan says in Episode 11 of the original Cosmos TV series, a person can only read—at most—a few thousand books in a normal lifetime, and there are literally millions and millions of books from which to choose.  “The trick,” as Sagan points out, “is to know which books to read.”

By rating and reviewing books when you can, you help your fellow bibliophiles, and even sporadic readers, to make better decisions.  I can’t say that it’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of such a service.  I could, for instance, claim that the very fate of the universe hangs on your choice to review or not review, and if you don’t, all present and future life will be cast into an eternal Hell where they will suffer interminable agonies beyond anything we could possibly imagine.  That would be an exaggeration.  I think.

But to review books is important and useful for your fellow readers, and it’s a wonderful thing to do for an author.  Consider it, if you wish, a very cheap Christmas/Saturnalia/late Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Newtonmas/Keplermas/New Year’s gift.

Thanking you in advance,

TTFN

Journeys end in bloggers meeting

Hello, good morning, and welcome to another blog post!  It’s the second Thursday of December, and the year 2018 is now perilously close to its end.

As you can probably tell, I’m not doing an episode of “My heroes have always been villains,” today.  I don’t seem to get much response to such posts, which is rather heartbreaking, since I love them and the concept.  I guess I’ll just keep them to myself for now.  Maybe someday I’ll make a book of the ones I have, adding any others that I may write in the future.  There are so many interesting villains to discuss, if I can only find people who want to discuss them.

Those of you who’ve been paying attention will have noted that I published Solitaire for Kindle, as I threatened to do.  I posted about it here in my blog, yesterday, and I also added it to the “My books” page, so you can link to the story on Amazon from either source, or by clicking on the title anywhere it appears in this post.  All roads lead to Solitaire!  Okay, well, not all roads.  But there are many paths to that destination, nevertheless.

I’ll repeat, for what should be the last time, my “trigger warning” about SolitaireIt’s not a happy story, and those who suffer from depression—or at least who are in the throes of an episode or who have experiences of trauma related to depression—may not want to read it.  I have no clinical data (obviously) on what its effects might be, but as someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, I recognize that the story could, if I were in a vulnerable state, make me feel worse.  Perhaps I’m being overly cautious, but I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel even more depressed than they already do, and goodness knows that, when one is depressed, it’s all too easy to find data and experiences that seem to reinforce it.

That being said, I really like the story, as do those who have read it for me—though they too admit that it is, in its way, rather fucked up.  And, lamentably, it is not an unrealistic tale.

We can represent many occurrences in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror that may not be possible in the real world, but I suspect that every state of mind expressed in nearly every kind of fiction, if done well, is something that someone, somewhere, at some time, has experienced.  In fact, one of the many enjoyable things about fantastic literature is that we can put people in situations that could never really happen and see how they might react, finding almost always that—in fiction at least—they react in recognizably and understandably human ways.

I’m still editing Penal Colony, and it’s going well.  It will certainly take longer than did the editing for Solitaire, partly because it’s longer, and partly because Solitaire has been percolating in my head for many years; I was ready, quickly and eagerly, to make the few tweaks that I thought it required.  Penal Colony is much more lighthearted than Solitaire, but it’s still one of my stories, so it’s not entirely light.  I’m afraid I’ll never be able to write in the genres dominated by such luminaries as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.  Alas!  I do enjoy making people laugh, but my natural tendency, in writing at least, is instead to make people feel…well, perhaps a tad disturbed and insecure.  That’s not such a bad thing.  After all, most people who go to a carnival, or to one of the modern equivalents, aren’t as interested in watching the antics of clowns as they are in exploring the funhouse or, better yet, riding a roller-coaster.

I know those are the things I like to do.

And finally, I am steadily approaching the end of Unanimity.  I don’t think it will be done before the new year arrives, but if I’ve not completed the first draft by the time January has come and gone, I’ll be very surprised…and more than likely will have been the victim of some accident or illness, because honestly, there’s no way it should take that long.  I know, I know, I’ve been wrong before, but as the end approaches, the absolute margin of error shrinks, even if the relative error remains the same.  Once I’ve reached the book’s conclusion, as I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m going to follow Stephen King’s advice and let the manuscript lie for a month or so before beginning the editing process.  Don’t worry, I’ll have plenty to occupy me.  I’ve got another short story to write even if I’ve finished and published Penal Colony by then, and another novel to start right after that.  There shall be no rest for the wicked, on either end of the keyboard.

TTFN

Solitaire

solitaire cover

It’s the early nineteen-nineties, and Jerry, a successful advertising executive, is having a breakdown. He’s done too much shading of the truth, and he’s watched too much Headline News, and he can no longer make sense of the world. Now, sitting at the breakfast table, he contemplates the possible future for himself and his family while dealing out a hand of solitaire…