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

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