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…
Good morning! Allow me to welcome you to another Thursday, which I know you’ve been awaiting with bated breath. It’s the first Thursday of December 2018, and the new year rapidly approaches. Hanukkah has already begun, and some other biggish holiday is also coming up, based on the various decorations and songs one hears in the shops.
I’ve been working steadily, if sometimes not as quickly as I like. Solitaire should be ready to publish soon, probably before the end of the year. We’ve already begun working on the cover design, which I don’t expect to be a great surprise, but which nevertheless is so appropriate as to be all but inevitable.
I’m excited about publishing Solitaire, and I’m enthusiastic about people reading it, but I want to say again before that day arrives: this is not a happy story. It has its moments of sardonic humor, I suppose, but it is supremely dark…so dark that, when I originally wrote it, I couldn’t imagine where to send it to get it published. I couldn’t see how any magazine would want it.
Not that it’s not a good story; obviously, I think it is. But it’s not science fiction, and it’s not supernatural. Thus, venues dedicated to those genres were not readily available. And though there is a surprise revelation involved, it’s not really a mystery story, either. It’s the tale of an advertising executive having a breakdown, and contemplating the recent events of his life, and that of his family, while dealing out a hand of solitaire at the breakfast table.
But this is not the whole story of why I never tried to have it published; it’s actually a bit of excuse-making. The fact is, especially as a younger man, I was nervous about putting Solitaire out into the world. From then to now, the reactions of those who have read it have ranged from, “Man, that guy’s really bitter,” to “Doc, you’re fucked in the head.” These comments have always been made in good humor—the commenters clearly meaning what they said as a species of compliment—but these were people who know me, after all. They know I’m a good guy.
Strangers reading Solitaire might be rather put off. I suppose that’s okay. People who can’t handle dark things should avoid it; for certain others it may even be “triggering.” I would go so far as to say that someone in the throes of a significant mood disorder probably should not read it.
Still, I think it’s a good story, and I’m proud of it, despite its darkness…or perhaps because of it, who knows? If I don’t, I don’t see how anyone else could. I think that, although sometimes the best way to deal with darkness is to whistle past the graveyard and make jokes, at other times its just as well to dive right into the deep, dark end of the frigid pool and get it over with, or get used to it, or whatever you want to call the process. Maybe such fiction is a way of saying, “The world can be dark. Sometimes it can be very dark. We can take it. Bring it on.”
Whatever the meaning, I’m delighted to have rediscovered it, and to be able to present it to you in a venue all its own, hopefully for your enjoyment.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m also editing Penal Colony. It’s taking longer than Solitaire, partly because it’s a longer story, and partly because Solitaire gets priority. Penal Colony is more light-hearted, and it is definitely science fiction, though not of the ray-gun, starship variety—it takes place in the modern world, mostly in an all-night diner. Make of that what you will.
And, of course, Unanimity is moving along as well. We’re about to reach the final confrontation, something I’ve been approaching for many times longer than have the characters in the story (which takes place over only a few months). It’s been a long road, much longer than I expected, and it’s good to be able finally to catch a glimpse of the end, even if it is still off on the horizon. Or some other, better metaphor.
Have a happy holiday season, even you only tacitly celebrate the Winter Solstice. It may be cold and dark outside, at least in the northern hemisphere, but that’s okay. As I said above, we can take it.
Bring it on.
Hello, good morning, and happy Thursday. It’s the last Thursday of the month of November in 2018 (AD or CE). The biggest holiday month of the year approaches, filling children with joy and their elders with various species of dread, stress, and financial worries.
As revealed last week, on Thanksgiving, I unearthed a digital copy of my old short story, Solitaire. I have laboured on it since, editing it/rewriting it, and even sharing a copy of it with my employer (and a few coworkers). It’s short enough that he read it in one evening, and the next day—smiling—he told me that I was fucked in the head. This is just the sort of reaction I expected and for which I had hoped, and he clearly meant it well, so I was happy.
Because Solitaire is a truly short story (a relative rarity for me), the process of rewriting and editing it is going much more quickly, as a percentage of the work remaining to be done, than it usually would. I expect it to be ready for publication quite soon. It certainly won’t be available in time for the beginning of Hanukkah, but it should almost certainly be out before Christmas. Though, to be fair, it’s not a Christmas-ey story.
For those who might be afraid that Solitaire’s discovery would distract and detract from my ongoing work, I say, “Fear not!” (in the words of the Christmas angel). I’ve still been hard at work editing and rewriting Penal Colony (a more drawn out process than it is for Solitaire, but just as fun), and above all I’ve been writing steadily on Unanimity. It’s getting very close to the end, now, which is quite exciting for me. I think I predicted once, back when I was young and innocent and so many things seemed possible, that I would complete the first draft of Unanimity before the end of the year. This, I think, was overly optimistic. However, we’re not going to be much into 2019 before I get there. Then, it will take much less time to whip it into final, publishable form than it was to write it in the first place.
After that, of course, my short story In the Shade awaits completion, and then the book Neko/Neneko, to which I’m very much looking forward, then perhaps a second edition of Mark Red, with an eye toward then writing the second and third volumes of that series. And, of course, I’m going to continue to write my short stories as little breaks and diversions, and as I’ve said before, I’ll be putting them together into a collection soon (the ones that haven’t been released in paperback yet).
But it doesn’t end there; don’t get your hopes up! No, I have other books and short stories and series of books coming down the pike, like the ominous approach of the hosts of Mordor, or Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Hill. I’ll tease you with a few tentative titles, which you’ll hopefully be encountering more often in days to come: Changeling in a Shadow World; The Dark Fairy and the Desperado; a possible recreation of my two lost novels from my younger days, Ends of the Maelstrom and, of course, Vagabond (which I may change to The Vagabond). I also have thoughts of a horror novel called Entropy, and other books as well.
I hope I’ll be able to get them all written before some global catastrophe takes all such considerations out of our hands.
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing, and looking forward to posting here, hopefully for your amusement. Happy Hanukkah next week for those who celebrate it, and a happy time in general for everyone else.
First of all, I’d like to wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to all those living in the United States. I hope you have a wonderful day, enjoy a feast with friends and family, perhaps watching some decent football games, and doing any and all other good stuff such as will make you feel thankful.
I wasn’t sure I was going to write anything today; I often skip these posts on holidays, as you may have noticed. However, such a fortuitous and unexpected thing happened to me today that I simply had to share it. Talk about being thankful!
I was fiddling around with an older email account, one that I’ve had for many years. It may even be my very first personal (as opposed to work-related) email, I’m not sure. Anyway, I used one of its functions to look through the list of all the files that had ever been attached to my emails. I was, specifically, searching for an old Harry Potter fanfic of mine that I liked quite a bit, but which I’d lost (I wrote part of another at the same time, and I still have that, so it’s doubly frustrating not being able to find the other). It’s a silly story, to be honest, one that I never even had the nerve to submit to a fanfiction site, but I really would like to be able to find it and read it again.
Well…I haven’t found it. I’m not giving up, but my Bayesian estimated prior probability of ever locating it is small indeed.
So, why am I thankful? I’ll tell you.
Some of you longer-term readers may recall me mentioning an old short story I once wrote, and that I had more than half a mind to try to rewrite. This short story was called Solitaire. Well, I did NOT find my lost Harry Potter fanfic (title: Disinhibition), but I DID find an older-style Microsoft Word copy of the short story Solitaire! It’s the complete story! As written, if memory serves, way back in the early nineteen nineties, or perhaps even the late eighties!
I wrote the story during the summer, when I was visiting the young woman who would later become my wife. I don’t think we were officially dating then, but if we were, we had just started…it was right after she graduated from university. In fact, it may have been that summer when we first got involved.
Anyway, she had a summer job with Squibb, if I remember correctly, and was working on a project that was going to keep her up all night. I’ve always been a night owl, and she worked better with my company (according to her), so I stayed up with her. I had a spiral-bound notebook with me, probably from my own college stuff, and I decided, while she worked, to write a story.
Solitaire was that story. I wrote the whole thing that night, almost in its finished form. It didn’t need much editing. When she read it, her response was along the lines of, “It’s really good…but what in the world was going through your mind to make you write something like this?” To that I had no clear answer then, and I have no clear answer now. It’s just the way my mind seems to work.
I never tried to get it published because, frankly, I couldn’t see what kind of publication would want to release such a dark story. Now, though, I have just the venue, and I’m going to put it out for Kindle (and will later include it in my eventual next collection of short stories). It will probably be ready to publish before Penal Colony…which is coming along well, thanks for asking.
I’m obviously even happier than I would have been if I had found the Harry Potter fanfic (though I am still frustrated about that). In fact, I think the only thing that might make me happier would be if I’d magically found a file containing my complete first horror novel, Vagabond. Alas, though that was saved as a computer file, I don’t think I ever emailed it to anyone. If it’s ever published, it will have to have been rewritten.
[This isn’t as heartbreaking as the loss of the first novel I ever completed, back in high school, Ends of the Maelstrom. Unfortunately, that was 570-some-odd single-spaced, handwritten pages, with much overflow squeezed between lines and into the margins, and I never got the nerve up to begin rewriting it. My procrastination cost me dearly there, as that book is now lost with all my other worldly possessions from prior to 2011 (see this week’s post in Iterations of Zero for an explanation of why).]
Hopefully I’ll let that be a lesson to me. Knowing me, though…well, we’ll have to see, I suppose.
But still…wow! Solitaire, in near-original form, discovered at long last. Thank goodness for the near-eternal memory of the Internet. Soon, all of you will have the opportunity, for less than a buck, to read the story that caused the woman I was going to marry to wonder just what the hell was going on in my head. (She did marry me, so obviously she wasn’t all that worried, though many years later she effectively reversed the decision.) And, of course, shortly after that, you’ll get to read Penal Colony and In the Shade if you’re so inclined. And not too much after that, Unanimity will be forthcoming.
You have so much to which to look forward. I envy you.
Okay, I’ll begin with some exciting news: Yesterday I finished the first draft of my short story, Penal Colony. I plan to rewrite/edit PC before finishing In the Shade; I think it’ll be more fun that way, though I reserve the right to change my mind. Completing Penal Colony first will also lead to a bit more separation between the stories’ publication dates, and I find that more aesthetically pleasing than the alternative.
Yesterday I also completed what was, for me, a traumatic moment in Unanimity. I say traumatic because some truly terrible things happened to characters who have been in the story nearly since the beginning, and whom I like a lot. In association with that tragedy, another larger-level horrific event happens, which will in turn galvanize the climax of the novel. In other words, since things are always darkest before the dawn—at least in conventional narrative—that increasing darkness points toward the story’s resolution.
Which is just a pompous way of saying that I’m getting within sight of the end of the novel, and I’m excited about it. Of course, after that, the real work begins.
I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned this before, but I know a gifted local young artist, and I’ve preliminarily engaged her to do the cover designs for my next book, Neko/Neneko. This will be a much more lighthearted tale than Unanimity, and it will also be much shorter. I’m excited about this artist’s work; I can barely wait to see it, so I’ve already given her the rough idea of the plot, and some thoughts of what I’d like the cover to be, but I also encouraged her to brainstorm ideas of her own. I’ll be deeply happy if I’m able to get her some public exposure that boosts her career. She’s not a big computer/internet person, and she doesn’t promote herself. She’s “officially” an amateur, in that she doesn’t get paid for her work but merely does it for her own pleasure and fulfillment. At least, she was an “amateur” until I commissioned her to do work, and I’ve already paid her a bit, which is another happy thing for me.
More tangentially: I’m seriously considering doing a second edition of Mark Red, and probably Welcome to Paradox City as well. I’m just not quite satisfied with their current forms, and I want to make them better. I mean to publish each of the stories in WtPC as “Kindle Singles” anyway, and I’d revise/reedit them before release, so I might as well go whole hog. (I’ll also add my author’s notes to the books in their second additions).
In other news, I’ve almost come to the decision just to stop producing “My heroes have always been villains.” I get few responses to these entries, relative to my other posts, even though I enjoy them very much, which becomes a bit disheartening over time. Maybe I’m just not finding my target audience. The love of villains—as characters and essential plot drivers, not in real life—may be more niche than I thought it was. I would have expected that most lovers of good fantastic literature would consider a great villain essential to any adventure, and well worthy of discussion. Maybe they do, but I just write about them in a boring way. Or maybe I need to promote those posts in the right venues.
This leads to a personal conundrum (one that my beloved villains would not share): It’s very hard for me to develop the functional narcissism necessary to promote my posts (and other writings) as aggressively as would probably be optimal. For instance, I think may of my Iterations of Zero essays would get a lot of interaction and feedback if I posted them on certain Facebook pages that deal with the various subjects they address, but I feel awkward about posting them, fearing that I’ll come across as an egotistical asshole. The peculiar thing is, I’d feel far less awkward about thus promoting someone else’s writing.
It’s a strange mind I inhabit, and I’m not sure the best way to use it optimally, despite having been its nominal pilot for almost half a century.
Well, one good principle is not to give up, so I’m certainly not going to stop writing, probably not until I die. But I may end “My heroes have always been villains,” not as a matter of giving up, but simply to allocate my resources better—time being the most strictly limited resource. If any of you want to argue me out of that decision…well, I’m always open to persuasion, as a matter of principle.
For now, as Forrest Gump would put it, that’s all I have to say about that. I wish you all well. Next Thursday is Thanksgiving here in America, so I may or may not produce a blog post. In case I don’t, I hope those of you who celebrate have a truly happy day. I hope you get together with your families and have a wonderful, gargantuan feast.
If possible, send a little thought for food my way when you do.
I first read the Harry Potter books as an adult—I began them when book four was still only available in hardback—so my reaction to them and their characters might be expected to differ from how I responded to those tales that had first begun to grip me when I was younger, such as The Lord of the Rings. Yet, like so many millions of others, I was enthralled by Rowling’s work. When the new volumes were published, I was one of the midnight-pickup pre-buyers, waiting in the bookstores in the wee hours for my copies the day they came out.
Unlike many of my earlier reactions to such sagas of good versus evil, I was not—at first—particularly interested in the bad guy, Lord Voldemort. Based on the first three books, which only showed us Voldemort in fragmented or highly reduced form, he seemed a petty villain to me. Racist and otherwise bigoted, he—if his followers were any indication—was simply a spoiled bully, a reflexive defender of ancient and unearned privilege raging against a more modern, rationalist, and egalitarian way of life, embodied most fully in Dumbledore. I did enjoy the plays on words Rowling made with his name, but he himself didn’t seem very interesting. He didn’t elicit a feeling of overwhelming threat and natural force like Sauron does, and I thought it a bit cheeky for anyone to call him “The Dark Lord,” a title I scarcely felt he merited. He didn’t have the tragic sense of twisted, broken, could-have-been greatness embodied in the likes of Darth Vader and Doctor Doom. And he certainly didn’t have the cool, detached intellect, that sense of an almost alien intelligence, that Hannibal Lecter possesses. Continue reading
Good morning, all! It’s the first day of November, and the day after Halloween (funny how often it seems to work out like that). I hope those of you who celebrated had an enjoyable time yesterday making light of the dark things by pretending to be them, and laughing, and having some candy and other treats. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I dressed up for work (as a dark cowboy…sort of an amalgam of the Man in Black and the Gunslinger from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower), but I really didn’t do anything else to celebrate. I got home too late—and was too darn tired—to participate in giving out candy to trick-or-treaters, so I basically just laid around in the evening, trying and failing to get a good night’s sleep.
My writing goes well, though more slowly than I would prefer. Unanimity approaches one of its most terrible moments, after which events will come truly to a head, and the conclusion will be rendered. It won’t be a happy ending, I’m afraid, but the “bad guy” will be defeated, and the surviving good people will do their best to get on with their lives. This is often the best for which we can hope, whether in real life or in stories. Very few characters—real or imaginary—have the option of sailing into the West, into the Undying Lands, to find healing.
I’ve thrown a little reference, or whatever one might call it, to my story Hole for a Heart into Unanimity, since some of the characters in the novel happen to pass by the site where that short story took place. It seems that these tales take place in the same world, or at least very similar ones, and the presence of the malefactor from the short story is felt by, and may even have a slight influence on, those characters in Unanimity who come near it.
Penal Colony is now very nearly finished. Once it is, I’ll complete In the Shade before going back to rewrite and edit either short story. And of course, most importantly, Unanimity will continue to its conclusion. All this is, of course, assuming nothing bad happens to me in the meantime. We do live, in some senses, in a horror story—potentially, at least—and though for the most part we exist in the times of respite, the shadow still always takes on new forms and grows again. The trouble with real life is that the horrors are often less easily spotted and recognized for what they are than in books, plays, movies, and the like. They are often within us more than they are outside, and we become our own Great Old Ones, our own Crawling Chaos.
Maybe that’s part of why we enjoy dressing up on Halloween so much.
While we’re on the subject of darkness and horror, next week is the second Thursday of the new month, and I’m overdue to write a new episode of “My heroes have always been villains.” I look forward to it, really, and I think I know which villain I’m going to choose, though I may change my mind. In any case, those of you who are interested—if such people exist—can also look forward to it. This is, again, all and always assuming that some dark force or entity hasn’t swallowed me up whole between now and then. We can only wait and see.
With that, short though it’s been, the time is gone, and the song is over…though in my case, today, I didn’t honestly think I had more to say. I offer you all my condolences in facing the inevitable and abrupt onslaught of Christmas carols, decorations, shopping, and the like which will begin to rear their heads by today, if they haven’t so reared already. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice…these things are fine and fun, but the concept creep, and the time creep, of the promotional lead-in has gotten slightly out of hand. I hope you find joy in it, no matter how overpowering or overdone it gets.