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

I will encounter darkness as a bride, and blog it in mine arms.

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.

TTFN

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running blogs…

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.

TTFN

Fortune brings in some blogs that are not steered.

Hello, everyone!

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.

TTFN