Nymph, in thy orisons be all my blogs remember’d

It’s interesting how these things happen.  As you’ll know, if you’ve been following this blog, I finished the first draft of Unanimity at the end of January, and I decided to take a break from it at least through this month (February) before going back to begin the rewriting/editing.  During the break, my intention was to write, and possibly to rewrite and edit, one or two short stories, the choice of the first of which I had made ahead of time.  This much has gone precisely according to plan:  the first draft of that first story is completed.

Then, I had to decide what story to write next.  As I’ve detailed elsewhere, the one I originally had in mind was of too similar a character to the one I’d just finished.  So, I went to my list of (electronically) jotted-down story ideas and found one that was different enough, and interesting enough, to work on, and I started writing.

Well…this story idea, and the protagonist who came along with it, has turned out to be surprisingly deep and engaging, though I have no idea if anyone else will share my assessment.  The character’s back-story and his life experiences resonate strongly with me, so I’m not only having quite a nice time writing about him, but the story has a lot more meat than I would have expected.  It may well turn out to be more a novella than a short story.

Yes, I know, many of my “short stories” stray well over the border and into the No Man’s Land between short story and novella.  This makes me particularly grateful for e-book publishing, since it’s hard to imagine any old-school magazines publishing such stories out of length considerations, though I suppose serialization might have been possible.  This new story, though, with a very tentative title of Safety Valve, is going to end up being even more involved than is usual for me.  It doesn’t merit a full-length novel, but it’s not going to be finished in twenty or so pages, either.  In fact, it’s already reached twenty pages, and there’s quite a lot more to tell.

Of course, by nature I tend to take more of a “Cheesecake Factory” approach to writing than a “Seasons 52” approach.  This isn’t good if one is trying to watch one’s weight, as I know only too well, but when it comes to stories…well, you can’t gain weight from reading a story (nor from writing one, thank goodness).  In fact, given that the brain consumes a tremendous portion of the body’s energy budget—about twenty percent—you may burn extra calories by reading a longer story, as long as you don’t snack while doing so.

I’m pleased, bordering on delighted, to have found this story so engaging, especially since I came up with the raw idea off-the-cuff, some time ago, and just added it to the “Quick Memo” file on my smartphone.  That practice has turned out to be quite a useful one.  Incidentally, I had behaved similarly with the germ for the other story I just finished.  The “Quick Memo” habit works beautifully, at least for me, and I don’t mind throwing it out there as possibly useful for others.  We might as well take advantage of the little technological marvels that we carry with us.  We can thus avoid the classic nightmare:  a good idea occurs to us while we’re on the job, or in bed, or in some other situation in which we can’t immediately turn to it in earnest, and by the time we find an appropriate location or time, the idea is lost…“and enterprises of great pitch and moment, with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.”

Who would have thought that the words of Shakespeare would apply so well to taking notes on one’s smartphone?  Well, anyone who’s read much Shakespeare might think such a thing.  His work is incredibly powerful and broadly pertinent, worthy of deepest admiration and even excusable envy.  “If I could grow apples like that, I would call myself a gardener.”*

Well, that’s enough self-indulgence for another Thursday.  I hope the weather’s reasonably good wherever you may be, and that your week has been tolerable, and perhaps even wonderful.

TTFN


*This is not a quote from Shakespeare, by the way.  Do you know its source?  Valuable brownie points will be awarded to anyone who does and who states it in the comments below!

But thy eternal summer shall not fade nor lose possession of that fair thou blogest

Greetings, good morning, hello, and redundant salutations!  I hereby wish a happy Valentine’s Day to those who have cause to celebrate it.  It’s Thursday morning and time for another of my weekly blog posts.  We’re almost two-thirds of the way through winter—a term that has only limited meaning here in south Florida—and the approach of springtime is becoming at least a plausible hypothesis.

It’s been a productive week, all things considered, at least for me; I can’t speak for anyone else.  On Tuesday morning, I finished the first draft of my latest short story and found I had some time and energy left.  I pulled out the half-finished draft of In the Shade, thinking that I would write on it a bit, but then it occurred to me that it and the story I’d just completed were very much in the same sub-genre.  I didn’t want to work on them so close together, lest I bore my readers and—even worse—myself.  Yet another story I considered writing also was in a vaguely similar vein, though a bit more divergent.  Not to be discouraged, I activated my trusty memo app and read through my jotted-down story ideas.  There I found one that would make for a nice change of pace.  I immediately began writing it, and by yesterday had already produced six pages.

When writing first paragraph of this post, regarding the time of year and today’s holiday, it occurred to me to wonder just why we have a “romantic” celebration during what is, in much of the northern hemisphere, a bitter time of year.  Of course, it’s a recently-invented holiday, not one that’s been celebrated back into antiquity in one form or another, as so many of the major holidays have been.  Perhaps that’s enough of an explanation.  There’s a long, barren stretch of time between New Years and the next big holiday cycle at Easter/Passover, after all (I’m not going to count Saint Patrick’s Day).  And, of course, holidays have great commercial value, with seasonal cards and items always dominating the displays of even pharmacies, let alone malls and department stores.

Still, that doesn’t seem quite adequate to explain the day, and especially not the specific type of holiday that it is.  The middle of February seems to me an odd time to celebrate romance.  I suppose one might say that, in ancestral times, perhaps this was a month in which people tended even more so than usual to huddle together at night for warmth, with a consequent increase in expressions of (ahem) physical affection.  But if there is a historical surge in birth rates in roughly the month of November, such as one might expect if that scenario is right, then I haven’t heard of it.

Perhaps I simply don’t know enough about the history of Valentine’s Day even to hazard a guess.  Isn’t it officially called “Saint Valentine’s Day”?  Was Saint Valentine even a real, formally canonized person, or is he one of those fictional saints one encounters from time to time, like Saint Kitt and Saint Gandalf?

In the era of Google and Wikipedia, I could readily find the answers to these questions if I so chose, and the fact that I haven’t seems to show that I’m not troubled enough to seek them out.  Perhaps at some point I will be.  For now, though, since my resources of time, memory, and energy are finite, I must be choosy about where I spend them.

The fact that I’m halfway through February (as are all of you, at least at the time of this writing) means that I’m halfway through the minimum duration of my post-draft hiatus on Unanimity.  I’ve had little trouble resisting its call so far, mainly because I’ve been writing new stuff.  In fact, I may wait until after I’ve finished and edited and published both of my current short stories before getting back to Unanimity…but, then again, I doubt it.  For commercial/marketing reasons, I think at most I’ll complete the editing and publishing of one of those two stories, then allow a bit of a lag between it and the publication of the next, so there isn’t too big a gap between the release times of any two new works.  Whether or not this matters is difficult for me to tell, but at least it keeps me occupied.

Hmm…this week’s post feels slightly disjointed and unfocused, doesn’t it?  That’s okay, though; they can’t all be gems of clarity and unity.  Sometimes a blog post is just a chance to get out random thoughts and to share a few minor tidbits of news with people who might be interested.  I’m unable to be objective about whether or not a particular form of post is better or worse than others, and opinions and judgments will probably vary from person to person, anyway.  You’re welcome to share your thoughts with me.  In the meantime, stay warm and, if you’re one of those contemptibly lucky people who have good reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day, enjoy it.

TTFN

I would forget it fain, but oh, it presses to my memory, like damnèd guilty deeds to bloggers’ minds.

Hello, good Thursday, and welcome to yet another weekly edition of my blog, that electronic periodical which so many people find so necessary for their ongoing well-being.

I must confess, this morning I almost didn’t write this blog.  I boarded the train, took out my computer, and just started work on my new short story.  From this, you can conclude—if you’re as clever as my readers tend to be—that I am writing a new short story, and that I’m enthusiastic about it.  That conclusion would be correct.  It’s going to be a reasonably short short story, at least for me; after five and half “days” of writing, it’s nearly done, at just a little over twelve-thousand words.  It’s not a deep story; there’s no message to be conveyed, as far as I know…except perhaps to be careful, even if you have the best of intentions, because there are people—and <<things>>—in the world that will take advantage of your beneficence, to your cost.  But most of us learn that lesson early in life.

In any case, I only started this week’s blog entry after I realized—well into the day’s writing—that I was working on the “wrong” project.  Thus, I’ll keep this brief.  If that disappoints you, I apologize.  If you’re gleeful about it, well, why in the world do you read my blog in the first place?

I must say, it feels peculiar not to be working on Unanimity any more for the time being.  At some level, it’s a welcome break; as the old Chicago song says, even lovers need a holiday.  Yet, contrariwise, even the most harried of parents often start to miss their children when they’ve been away to summer camp for a few weeks.

Boy, this bag of mixed metaphors tastes delicious, doesn’t it?

The bottom line is that I’m going to need to exert some effort of will to keep from working on editing Unanimity during the month of February.  I beg you to help me if I falter!

Of course, as you’ve probably seen, Penal Colony is available for purchase for Kindle, and I finally added an entry here for it as well…though I haven’t yet put it in the “My Books” page, since I’m lazy when it comes to little things like that.  I do, of course, invite you to read the story.  If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t want to spend the ninety-nine cents, I offer two alternatives.  First, Penal Colony—like, I think, all my works—is available on Kindle Unlimited, which means you can read it for free if you use that service.  If that isn’t a tenable solution for you, then I offer you this:  if you’re really uncertain that you want to spend the money for my stories, long or short, I offer—at least to the first several people who ask—to buy the story for them (or one of my other stories, if you prefer).  I would need an email address to do this, since a Kindle story purchased for someone else requires an email to which to send a link.  Then, even if it’s your first ever Kindle purchase, you can download the app for free, and see whether or not you like my works.  This has the benefit for me of being both superficially generous and deeply narcissistic at the same time; it’s a win-win scenario.

With that, I think I’ll cut things short for this week, adding only that I may soon start hitting a wall of increasing difficulty with respect to Shakespearean quotes for my weekly blog titles.  It may seem hard to imagine this being an absolute difficulty—Shakespeare wrote an awful lot, after all.  Still, not every line is truly worth quoting, even with Shakespeare (gasp!).  Also, I have to find quotes into which I can work some version of the word “blog”, and that can be somewhat difficult.  But, well…life is hard.  Just know that, if you see me give a post a title such as “Blog Post for February 7th, 2019”, you’ll know that I came up dry that week.

TTFN

Penal Colony

 

Penal Colony cover

See on Amazon

 

While heading for his car after a night out celebrating the closing of a big deal at work, Paul Taylor meets a strange, despondent man, poorly dressed for the cold, who seems horribly depressed by some personal setback. Still slightly drunk on both alcohol and success, Paul invites the man for a cup of coffee and some food at a nearby all-night diner.

There, this peculiar man tells Paul of a conspiracy begun by the creators of various social and virtual media companies…and of technology that allowed these conspirators to control the minds of the people of the world for their own personal enrichment. He tells of the overthrow of that conspiracy by a group of which he had been part…a group which had then turned on and “exiled” him.

Though the man’s story is engaging, and the man himself is personally convincing, Paul is forced to admit that he has heard of no such conspiracy or overthrow.

The man finally explains to Paul why he hasn’t heard of it. It’s an answer that Paul cannot believe…

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blog…

Well, it feels like the end of an era, but I’m able finally to be able to say that I’ve completed the first draft of Unanimity.  I say, “the end of an era,” because it feels as if it’s the longest I’ve ever worked on anything in my life.  This is not literally true; my horror novel, Vagabond, which I wrote through college and med school, took longer, but that was because I wrote it so sporadically.  I foolishly worked on it only when “inspiration” struck, whatever that even means.  And the first full-length (hand-written) novel I ever wrote, Ends of the Maelstrom, probably took longer as well, for broadly similar reasons.

There’s no denying, however, that Unanimity is the biggest thing I’ve ever written.  At 530,549 words, its first draft is longer than the published version of either It or The Stand.  I don’t know how many days of writing it’s entailed.  I took at least one fairly long hiatus during the middle of the process, to complete various other authorial tasks, but even given that…well, in length, at least, it’s definitely my magnum opus.  So far.

I had no idea when I began it that it was going to be so long.  I don’t often really think in such terms, which is probably good, since I tend to run off at the keyboard.  I love words, I love written language, I love writing stories…and I’m self-indulgent when it comes to those loves.  I hope you’ll be patient with me, but I’ll understand if you’re not.

So, Tuesday I finished the rather melancholy final scene of my novel, and then Wednesday, as you may have noticed, I published Penal Colony, my latest short story (It’s available for purchase in Kindle format, for less than a buck, American).  Having both things happen more or less contemporaneously makes them feel more momentous than they probably are.

Now I must try very hard to take a break from Unanimity, and not to do any rewriting or editing on it for the month of February.  Fortunately, I have two short story ideas eagerly waiting to be written, and I really should finish up In the Shade as well, so I’ll try to get most, or all, of those works done this coming month.  They’re all horror stories—no big surprise—but at least one of them is a slightly jokey, cynical horror story, in which very honorable, morally upright, and laudable impulses and deeds are used against a well-meaning, if slightly self-righteous, person by dark forces.

Such—all too often, and regrettably—is life.

Hopefully, though, we won’t let that stop us.  Dark things and dark people are generally a lot noisier than good things and good people, so sometimes it feels as though they dominate the universe.  Yet the fact that civilization has survived at all, and continued to advance, seems to be mathematical proof that good and creativity are stronger than evil and destruction.  After all, it’s simpler by far to destroy than to create, and yet creation—in the human world—vastly predominates over destruction.  QED.

Sorry about that little digression into philosophy, but I thought it might be warranted.  It would be all too easy, I know, based on the types of things I write, for someone to imagine that I’m a pessimist about human nature, or the universe in general.  I’m not.  Though the second law of thermodynamics is as inescapable as any other mathematical principle, it’s also the source of life, and of our experience of time.  Life—certainly as we know it—can’t exist except where entropy is going from lower to higher.  I’m very much on board with the ideas David Deutsch describes in his wonderful book The Beginning of Infinity There is no guarantee that humanity and our descendants will go on to achieve a cosmic-level civilization, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason it’s not possible.  Whether or not it happens is entirely dependent upon our actions (and a lack of local astronomical catastrophes, of course).

And that’s about enough of all that for now.  I’ll leave you to the rest of your day.  It’s bitterly cold up north, I know, and it’s even relatively chilly down here in south Florida, so wrap up warm, all those who are affected.  Curl up by the fire in a blanket.  Drink a mug of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, and read a good book, if you get the chance.  Listen to that cold, bitter wind howling outside, with a chill that seems more than capable of freezing the very flesh from your bones.  It sounds almost alive, doesn’t it?

It sounds almost…hungry.

TTFN

This blog of darkness I acknowledge mine.

For those of you who follow this blog regularly, you’ll probably be relieved to read that this will almost certainly be the last time I’m going to write, “work on Unanimity is proceeding well.”  As predicted, I should be finished with the first draft of that novel by this time next week, barring illness and/or accident.  It’s been a long haul, and though the editing and rewriting that follows will surely be a laborious task, at least this stage will be finished.  It is, by far, the longest book that I’ve ever written.

In a similar vein, you may also be pleased to learn that I won’t be speaking much more about Penal Colony*, for that story is all but ready to be published.  It may well be available by this time next week.  In many ways it’s a much lighter-hearted tale than Unanimity, to say nothing of being shorter, but it deals with a few of the same themes and ideas—namely the possibility of insidious threats to personal autonomy, and the possibly illusory nature of such a thing in the first place.

Don’t worry, though, if you don’t like to deal with serious ideas or themes when you read a story.  I’m no highbrow literatus at heart, however much I love Shakespeare.  One of the problems I often had with literature courses in college was that I never had the knack—or perhaps the interest—for trying to dissect works of fiction for deep meanings and hidden messages.  I just read stories to enjoy them.  With Shakespeare, at least, I’m darn near sure he wrote to entertain people.  This explains why I tended to get better grades in Calculus, Chemistry, Biology, and Physics than in English courses.  You didn’t have to try to figure out how to say something the professor thought was insightful, or that agreed with his or her personal take on a given work.  In math and science, if you know the material, you pretty much can get the right answer.

So, you don’t need to worry about my stories being unnecessarily complicated or deep.  I do, of course, tend automatically to put into them whatever I’m pondering at any given time, as I suspect any author does, and in real life I’ve been told that I tend to invite chaos.  But chaos can make for good stories.  It’s an odd fact of human nature, but things we like to read, or to watch, or the games we like to play, are rarely what most of us would ever want to experience if we could avoid them.  This has been said, and far better, by many others before me.

I plan on taking most of the month of February off from any editing or rewriting Unanimity, following Stephen King’s advice in his book On Writing.  We’ll see if I can meet that ideal; I make no guarantees.  If I’m able, though, it means that next month will be one in which I can dedicate myself entirely to new stories.  I have one or two works of short fiction that I hope to finish in that time.  Then will begin the proverbial wading-through-blood of making Unanimity fit to be read by other people.

It’s gonna be a while before that’s done.

In other news:  I’m always trying to think of ways to make my parallel blog—Iterations of Zero—work for me and with my schedule, and I may try something new with it.  I’m a fan of a few podcasts, and I am also an enthusiastic consumer of Audible books, especially nonfictions ones.  My own commute-based listening has convinced me that, however much I want to participate in, promote, and preserve the art and craft of written language, it may be useful to do more audio work, sharing thoughts and ideas that I’d planned eventually to turn into written blog posts.  As you know, I’ve done audio (and associated “video”) of three of my short stories and nine chapters of CatC, and I’ve developed a modicum of skill at using the medium, so I may start posting some more audio stuff on IoZ…perhaps starting by reading aloud some posts I’ve written previously.  Further bulletins on this as events develop.

Finally, a forewarning:  I’m planning, hopefully sooner rather than later, to rewrite the “About Me” section of this blog.  I wrote that piece many years ago now, and when I read it now, it just feels like I’m trying too hard.  I also left out a fair few of the more unpleasant but pivotal things that have happened to me.  I suppose this is understandable, even excusable, but I must remember my above-noted insight that unpleasant stories are often interesting to read.  Mainly, though, I just want to be honest about myself, as much as I’m able, and anyone who’s read my fiction can probably tell that a jolly, happy-go-lucky Dr. Pangloss I am not.

Also, if one is open even about the most embarrassing aspects of one’s life, then one need not fear that those events can be used against one, even inadvertently.  I’m in some ways fortunate that many of my most damaging personal tales are already matters of public record; my personal darkness is rather well-illuminated.  If it contains the sorts of things that would drive you away from me if they were to be revealed later, then by all means, stay away now.

I am what I am, I’m my own special destruction.

But destruction and creation aren’t mutually exclusive, they’re just ways of looking at the processes of change.  And at this stage of the universe, embroiled as we are in the long transition from order to entropy, change is something with which you’re just gonna have to deal.  It doesn’t ask your permission, it doesn’t need your approval, and it will certainly never seek your forgiveness.

TTFN


Here’s a peek at the planned cover picture:

penal colony cover 2

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.