For it will come to pass that every bloggart shall be found an ass.

Good day, everyone.  It’s that morning for which you all pine each week:  Thursday morning, the morning on which I (usually) release my weekly blog post.  Rejoice!  You can breathe again.

Okay, well, anyway…I hope everyone in America had a good Memorial Day on Monday.  I always try to avoid saying “a happy Memorial Day,” since the point behind the holiday is to remember with gratitude the many military personnel who’ve fought and died in wars, etc., especially in World War II, and that’s not really a happy thought.

Of course, in a certain sense, we should be happy that these people did what they did—it’s good that the Axis powers didn’t win World War II, even despite the many missteps and mistakes the Allies and former Allies have made in the years since.  On the other hand, though, we can surely all agree that it’s lamentable that such destruction and loss of life was ever necessary.  If you stop and think about it, we should all hope for (and whenever possible, strive toward) a world in which neither heroism nor leadership are necessary, since leadership and heroism are generally required only when things are not going well.  At least, it would be nice to work toward a world in which conflict, leadership, and heroism exist in sports, in books, in movies, and in video games, but not in day to day life.

Is such a world possible?  In principle, I think it is.  In practice, who knows if it will ever happen?  I wouldn’t lay heavy money on it, more’s the pity.

On to lighter, or at least more personal, matters.  I’ve been fiddling around with sound editing/recording/mixing software, and it has continued to distract me a bit from my writing tasks, but not completely.  Though I haven’t written any new pages of Neko/Neneko for over a week, I have been editing away at Unanimity, and I’ve been pleased to find that there are some moving moments in it.  One would hope this was the case in a long novel, of course, but I’ve read a few books in which there are no such experiences.  It’s nice that, at least for the author, the book has some poignant, and goose-bumpy, and thrilling passages.  Hopefully, future readers will agree with my assessment.

I continue to entertain the plan of releasing the three short stories from Welcome to Paradox City as individual Kindle editions, and—in sort of a parallel opposite act—of releasing a collection of my more recent short stories, and possibly doing all of these before Unanimity comes out.  And, of course, before any of that, I’m going to be releasing Free Range Meat, my latest short story.  That should happen fairly soon, as the editing on it is going well, even though it’s only one day a week.

Amidst all these processes, one thing that I’ve fallen off on a bit—and which I was never terribly good about in the first place—is promotion.  Though I’ve never found it natural to advertise myself, I at least periodically used to boost some Facebook ads and the like, and I haven’t done any of that in quite a while.  It’s just contrary to my nature, at least as I am now, to shout out for attention, even when it’s perfectly reasonable, and even necessary, to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly be pompous and arrogant in my own right (no, really!), but I’m not very good at talking myself up.  I usually feel that it’s rude to try to push myself into other people’s awareness.  This is not good, of course, for someone who’s trying to get other people to notice and read his books (or listen to his songs, or whatever).  And I myself often lament how much it’s the case that the assholes of the world make far more noise than the benign and positive people.

Of course, one ongoing way in which I do promote myself is by writing this blog (and Iterations of Zero, though that’s more esoteric).  But doing more than that is rather awkward for me.

I often envy the attitude expressed by a moment in “The Simpsons” when Marge flashes back to a two-year-old Bart walking down the hall, banging on a kitchen pot with a spoon and singing, “I am so great!  I am so great!  Everybody loves me, I am so great!”  And, of course, I’m well aware that a key principle of advertising is repetition, even to the point of irritation.  After all, if people are thinking and talking about how much of a pain you are, they’re talking about you.  But it feels like it’s all in such poor taste.

Then again, I write fantasy/sci-fi/horror, and in the latter genre, many things happen which quite a few people would say are in poor taste, or they would be if they really occurred.  Certainly, the fate that befalls the very well-intentioned and positively behaved main character of Free Range Meat could hardly be called a Capra-esque outcome.  Maybe Kafka-esque, but definitely not Capra, and definitely not tasteful.

Tasty?  Maybe.

There, that’s a little teaser for you to whet your appetite.  I can do this promotion thing.  Sure, I can.

Well, I could ramble on and on for much longer than I have, but I’ll save that for another time.  Always leave them wanting more, they say.  I wish for each of you the best of all possible outcomes from your point of view, with only the proviso that it not interfere with the best of all possible outcomes for others from their points of view.

And isn’t that the big problem of crafting a society even of thoroughly well-meaning people?

TTFN

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

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

Solitaire

solitaire cover

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

Since brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will blog brief

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.

TTFN

‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood and blog such bitter business as the bitter day would quake to look on.

I started this morning with no idea what I was going to write.  There isn’t much new to report with respect to my stories.  Progress on Unanimity and on Penal Colony goes on at a steady pace.  I haven’t started any new projects, and I don’t mean to do so until at least Penal Colony and In the Shade are both finished.

On the other hand, today is the last Thursday before Halloween, which is my favorite holiday.  Last October, as a celebration of the season, I wrote the first draft of Hole for a Heart, a quite Halloween-ey tale.  The story actually takes place in late spring, but its atmosphere is decidedly redolent of Halloween, and I pay lip-service to that fact during the story.

I’m not entirely sure why Halloween has always appealed to me so much.  Part of it probably has to do with its arrival shortly after my birthday, but that annual milestone hasn’t pleased me for quite some time, and I still like Halloween just as much.  Similarly, when I was younger, there’s little doubt that the acquisition of candy had no small influence on my holiday joy, but I’m not that big a candy person anymore, yet I’m still very much a Halloween person.*

Part of the attraction is that this is the most quintessentially autumnal of the holidays, and autumn has always been my favorite season, entirely unrelated to candy, to birthdays, and to any other more parochial concerns.  I simply love the feel of this time of year, especially as it is up north.  The changing of the colors of the leaves in southeastern Michigan, where I grew up, remains one of the most magical spectacles of nature.  Also, I was one of those supposedly rare kids who really liked going back to school after summer vacation (I think there are more of us than we’ve been led to believe).

Autumn has also almost always been the time of year when I restart the Tolkien cycle, beginning sometimes with The Silmarillion but often with The Hobbit, and always proceeding to The Lord of the Rings.  The fact that Frodo begins his adventure in the autumn surely contributes to my associational joy with the time of year.  That happy connection has only been bolstered by the fact that the Harry Potter books begin on Halloween (albeit on a tragic note).

Deeper than this, though, is that I’ve always felt an affinity for dark stories (in case you couldn’t tell) and Halloween is the holiday of the shadowy tale; I don’t think I’m anything like alone in this.  It’s not a coincidence that Stephen King is one of the most enduringly successful authors the world has yet seen.  Halloween is a time when huge numbers of people, at least in America, indulge their inner King, and embrace stories of the dark, the supernatural, the otherworldly.  For some people, it seems to be the only time when they use their imaginations at all.

Oddly enough, I’ve never really found Halloween scary, not even when I was a young child (no, not even the movie).  It’s just too much fun, frankly, and that’s true even of most scary movies and stories.  Weirdly, although I love most of Stephen King’s work, only two of his novels have ever frightened me (The Shining, and, more prominently, Pet Sematary).  It’s odd, but horror stories in general seem to affect me much the way Halloween does:  I feel them deeply, when they’re good, and I enjoy them; they resonate powerfully with me; but I don’t usually find them frightening.

The exceptions to this rule are interesting, and probably instructive.  Only a rare few books have literally made me feel afraid for any noticeable period of time, including the two listed above, as well as Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, and—the long-reigning champion—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has perhaps the best opening and closing paragraphs of any spooky story ever.  A few Lovecraft short stories, and more Stephen King short stories—as well as some Orson Scott Card stories, surprisingly enough—succeed in this area, as do intermittent others (most notably, the bone-chilling story Nadelman’s God by T.E.D. Klein).

In movies, the phenomenon is rarer still, with crowning glory going to the original Alien (Event Horizon was pretty darn spooky, too; also—though lamentably stupid as a science fiction story—as a horror movie, Signs really and majorly creeped me out…possibly because I first watched it in a hotel room, alone, at night, far from home).

Obviously, I like writing stories that might make other people frightened, but I don’t approach the writing with the idea of doing anything calculated to build a scary atmosphere, to make people feel uncomfortable, to surprise them, to worry them, etc.  At least, I don’t do it consciously.  It’s the darkness, rather than the scariness, that seems pivotal to me, both in my writing and my reading.  The same holds for my enjoyment of other literary forms, from plays, to movies, to video games, to TV shows.

And, of course, autumn is that time when darkness is gaining ground, with Halloween its most prominent celebration.  After Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthday, which is roughly at the equinox, the days in the northern hemisphere grow ever shorter, and darkness is ascendant.  In the shadows, where there is less blinding, glaring, external input entering the mind, the imagination can be brought more readily into play.  The mind’s eye sees most clearly in the dark.

Well, it seems I did have a fair amount to write today, after all.  I could probably go on and on about this topic, but that might be truly horrifying, and not in a fun way; the “Chinese water torture” isn’t very dramatic as torments go, but it does sound maddening.  I’ll spare you such erosion and hold off further discussions of darkness and stories for later times.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy your Halloween (those of you who observe it).  If you get a chance, dress up for it.  Have some candy.  Laugh at and about scary things.

But you might want to avoid going out by yourself too long after night falls.  Even the darkest of entities like to give themselves treats from time to time, and a solitary human is a juicy morsel indeed.

TTFN


*This isn’t quite the same—nor is it as bad—as being one of the Autumn People, à la Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it’s not entirely orthogonal, either.

This blog post speaks an infinite deal of nothing

Hello and good day.  It’s another Thursday, and time for my weekly blog post.

I honestly have no idea what I’m going to write about today, so as I do with many things—for instance, when I draw pictures—I’m just going to start and see what happens.  This is, perhaps, in some distant way akin to “automatic writing,” except that I see what I write as I write it.  If I didn’t, it’s hard to know just how many typos there would be, but I’m certain that there would be many.  In fact, it would be unreasonable for me to expect anything but gibberish.  One might as well seat the proverbial thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters as engage in that particular experiment.

I guess what I’m doing is actually more akin to the classic, Freudian psychotherapeutic “free association,” in which the patient (that would be me…or should it be, “that would be I”?) just starts speaking and spits out any thought that wanders into his or her mind.  Freud would then interpret these utterances as all having something to do with sex, at least if you believe the common impression of him.

Mind you, that’s not as crazy as it might sound once you think about it.  After all, people do think about sex a lot.  How could it be otherwise?  Each one of us comes from an unbroken line of ancestors who achieved at least one successful sexual coupling.  By “successful”, I mean “leading to offspring which, in turn, achieved sexual maturity and then, themselves, achieved at least one successful sexual coupling…”  You get the idea.  Repeat indefinitely, down through the eons, eventually producing you and me.  None of us comes from ancestors who were virgins or celibates.  Apart from breathing, drinking, and eating, surely the most prominent part of our beings is the sex drive…for good, sound, inescapable biological reasons.

Of course, the difficulty of navigating the phase space of our conflicting drives, emotions, social mores, and legal concerns does lead to problems at times, not the least of which is society’s terrible legacy of discrimination, sexual abuse, misogyny, and so on, and the understandable backlash against them, which can occasionally go too far in the other direction.

I don’t want to get too deeply into that right now.  Suffice it to say that sex is important—it’s essential—but dealing with it in a modern, moral society can be extremely complicated.  That’s just the way the world is, I’m afraid.  If you want to live in a universe with simple dynamics which are susceptible to simple-minded solutions, you’ve picked the wrong universe.  I suggest you move along and try another.

Writing about sex, though, in fiction, can be tricky.  I, at least, am not very good—or at least not very comfortable—with it.  However, there are times when at least the fact of sex is essential to some story that I’m writing, and I at least have to work in the subject matter.  It’s rarely that important what the mechanics of a particular coupling are, so I tend to bring matters up to the point and then cut to the aftermath,* as in both Son of Man and Paradox City.  If you’re reading my works for the dirty parts, you may be slightly disappointed so far.

But don’t lose heart.  I can now tease you with the fact that, in my current novel (Unanimity) there are some more explicit, not-skipped-over sex scenes.  This is not for prurient or commercial reasons (though I’m happy to titillate you to engage your interest), but because they really are necessary parts of the story.  At least, they are necessary in my estimation, and since I’m the author, I’m the one with authority to make such decisions.

Speaking of Unanimity, it’s going well, and I’m excited about it.**  As I’ve been saying for some time, it’s getting closer to the end, but that really goes without saying.  Every word written is closer to the end, which doesn’t necessarily mean the end is near.  Indeed, there is still much more that must happen before the story is finished, and though “journeys end in lovers meeting,” I fear that many of the people in my world will not be meeting lovers at the close of their journey.  Many will not reach the end of the story at all, though they will reach the end of their own stories.  Those who survive will be sadder, but hopefully wiser.

On other matters, the audio for the second chapter of The Chasm and the Collision is nearly complete and should be released by early next week.  I’m having fun making these recordings, and hopefully those of you who listen will have fun listening.  Also, as promised, next week I shall release the second installment in “My heroes have always been villains.”  I haven’t yet decided which villain to explore, though there are oodles of them bouncing about with whom I could entertain myself.  If any of you have requests, by all means—or at least by any available means—let me know.  I can’t promise that I’ll go with your suggestion, but I do promise to take it into consideration.

With that, we’ll call it good for the week.  Despite the fact that I had no idea what to write about, I’ve spewed out about a thousand words in the space of less than forty-five minutes.  Of course, you may think the fact that I had nothing to write about is all too obvious, and that it would have been better had I abstained.  You have every right to think that way.

And I have every right gleefully to ignore you.

TTFN!


*“Afterglow” is probably the term most people would tend to use, but since events in my stories rarely stay glowy and idyllic for long, I think “aftermath” is probably a better word.

**Not because of the sex thing.