“And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”

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Hello, good morning, and welcome to another Thursday.  Today’s holiday is rather less prestigious than last week’s:  it’s International Convenience Store Day!  (Actually, I just made that up, but if it isn’t International Convenience Store Day, since in much of the world the date would be written as 11/7 rather than 7/11, then at least it ought to be National Convenience Store Day in the US).

I’m afraid my previous post wasn’t well-read, or at least it wasn’t well-“liked”.  Possibly this is because it was a holiday last week and people didn’t read blogs as much as usual.  Possibly, though, it’s because I was so serious and grumpy about what I was writing.  I do think it’s an important subject, but I guess people didn’t find it gripping.  Maybe it was just so obvious to everyone that it didn’t bear repeating…though given what we see in the nation I somehow doubt that.  Maybe I’m just whining.

That last proposal seems to be the most promising hypothesis.

Of course, I’ve continued to edit Unanimity as well as my short story Free Range Meat.  The latter is close to releasable form, and I’ll probably publish it before the end of July.  Cover design has yet to begin, but I have the general idea in mind, and I don’t think it’ll take much work to accomplish.

I’m pleased to find that I’m continuing to enjoy reading and editing Unanimity.  That doesn’t mean that anyone else will enjoy reading it, but at least it will have one fan in the long run.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I was nervous about this.  As I wrote it, and as it continued to get longer, I occasionally thought to myself that this thing feels like it’s never going to end…and not in a good way.  Rereading it, however, has been pleasurable, and I’m getting quite a lot done.

I particularly enjoy the fact that my villain, who is also sort of the main character, continues to be and act like a likeable, nice guy, even as he does horrific things, and he’s not just pretending.  I don’t know why it tickles me so much, but it does.

In other news, I’m sad to report that I’m still having trouble finding and reading new works of fiction.  Well, “finding” new works of fiction isn’t hard, they’re everywhere, but finding ones that get my attention, and which I can sit down and read and enjoy, has been very difficult for some time, and it seems to be getting worse.  TV and movies, despite the shorter required attention span, have likewise failed to grab my interest.  It’s even hard for me to go back and pick up books that I’ve read and loved before, which is truly bizarre.  When I do like a story, I tend to read it and reread it and reread it, over and over and over again.

As a case in point, when Book 6 of the Harry Potter series came out, I was one of the midnight buyers, and once I bought it, I devoured it rapidly.  I liked it so much that, by the time Book 7 came out, I had read its predecessor a full seven times, not counting the times I listened to the audio book while commuting.  Yet now, though I have the book handily available in my cell phone on Kindle at any time, I feel no urge to read it or any of the other books in the series.  Some of that may be partly due to negative associations; I enjoyed reading and discussing those books with my now-ex-wife, we both having first been introduced to them by our niece.  But that can’t be the whole story—at least I don’t think it is.  After all, I started reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, in junior high, if memory serves, and I’ve read those (and the first Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever) literally dozens of times, well into adulthood.  (I’m not talking about two dozen, either.)  Yet lately, I can’t get interested in them (nor, in the case of Thomas Covenant, the more recent sequels).

Here’s a particularly troubling case:  I recently was able to force my way through a rereading of Ender’s Game…but I couldn’t even get past the first fifty pages of Speaker for the Dead, which I recall as one of the best books I’ve ever read!

I’m too nervous even to try reading Shakespeare.  And I’m a person who once, in my undergraduate days, deliberately took two Shakespeare courses at the same time (and loved them)!

Bottom line, I’m a serious nerd/geek who has been losing interest in the things about which I am nerdy/geeky.  Even such instant gratification story-types as comic books and manga are hard to focus on.  I don’t have so much as a smidgen of curiosity about Game of Thrones, and I’m sure that in the past I would have been a delighted aficionado of those books and that series.  I haven’t even been able to get through the first season of Stranger Things, and if there’s a series that is more perfectly my kind of story, I’m not aware of it.

Thankfully, I still retain at least some of my ability to be interested in and to read about science, though even that is nothing like it used to be.

Oh, well.  Like I said above, I guess I’m a bit of a whiner.  Hopefully my kvetching isn’t too boring, since this anhedonia does trouble me, and I feel a strong need to share my sense of dismay.  Also, maybe I’m not-so-secretly hoping that some reader will have a magical answer for me, and things will turn around.  If not…well, I don’t even know.

Anyway, enough morosity.  (I know, that’s not a standard word, but I prefer it to “moroseness”, which is a standard word).  The woes and laments of a lonely author, blogger, and aficionado of various forms of fantastic fiction and nonfiction are of little real moment.  It just makes life tiring, and it’s hard for me to summon the energy to move forward.  Thankfully, one of my most enduring traits—unsurprisingly, I guess—is stubbornness.  But all things have their limits.

TTFN

 

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

They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time blogs many parts

Well, you wouldn’t think it would catch me by surprise—it’s something that happens every month, after all, in an entirely predictable fashion—but I didn’t realize until this morning that today was the second Thursday of October and is thus the “official” day for me to write an episode of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Obviously, since I wasn’t thinking about it, I haven’t given a second’s thought to what villain I should discuss today.  Rather than pick a random baddie from my memory’s hat and produce an off-the-cuff essay on him or her, I’ll push that project back until next week or next month.  I apologize if anyone out there was looking forward to a new episode today.  Then again, if there are such people, I haven’t heard from them; I’d be quite gratified if you’d make yourself or yourselves known.  I can exculpate myself a bit for my oversight by admitting that I’ve been rather worn down, tired, and slightly ill, this week (see my IoZ entry here for a brief discussion of the nature and effects of my troubles with insomnia), so I’m behind my mental curve.

Even as I wrote that last sentence, I realized that I’ve often made comment in these, my public venues, about being under the weather.  Now, I don’t think that I’m too whiny and hypochondriacal, as a general rule, but I certainly don’t seem to operate at my physical optimum much of the time.  It’s a problem that I need to keep in mind, going forward.

I will say this, in tangential reference to the above issue:  I’m glad that I decided to put my audio productions on indefinite hiatus.  It’s a melancholy gladness, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because I really do like those audio productions, and if you’re interested you’re welcome to partake of the ones I’ve made, either here, or on my YouTube channel.  But making them requires a lot of mental energy and physical time.  Since putting the audios on pause, I’ve gotten more writing done on Unanimity, and I’ve worked steadily on my two other short stories during the the hours I would have spent recording and editing the audio, leading to an increased total output of about five pages a day versus only three on average (or roughly 2500 words versus 1500) before.  This is a serious improvement.

It would be nice to be able to do all this full-time, instead of in the interstices between actions of daily necessity required to put food on the table, so to speak.  Then I could write just as much and still make my audio files, which would be a lot of fun.  I hope someday to reach that state, but I obviously haven’t done it yet.

Unanimity goes well, though, and is honestly approaching its climax and resolution (I swear!  No, really!).  I still expect—if I work on it as steadily as I ought—its first draft to be finished before the end of the year, and probably well before that long novel is ready to be published, I’ll release one or both of the short stories I’m working on, Penal Colony and In the Shade.

It’s amazing how something can take so many hours, so much effort, and yet yield a product that can be consumed within the course of, say, a few days for a novel, or at most an hour or two for a short story.  It would be nice if I could give the readers of my work as much lasting entertainment as I get durable engagement from producing them, but I guess that’s the nature of all creative arts.  Even a small, independent film is created through untold hours of effort by astonishing numbers of people, to be then enjoyed within the space of two hours.  A great painting or sculpture can take perhaps less total work, but is then enjoyed in mere tiny, minutes-long chunks by even the most passionate enthusiasts of the arts.

I wonder how many people would have to read my books to make the “man-hours” of reading surpass the man-hours of production; it’s a hurdle I’d love to cross with all my stories.  I don’t know if anyone’s done the math on such a question—I assume that the numbers would be different for different people and different works—but if they have, I’d love to know about it.  I’m sure that Stephen King, for instance, passed that milestone decades ago.  He probably passed it with Carrie, and I doubt that he’s ever caught up in the time since, despite the staggering pace at which he writes.  To match such an outcome is a high bar for anyone to set, but as I’ve long said, only those who attempt the impossible can achieve the unbelievable.

And now, I think that will just about do it for today.  I’ll say, tentatively at least, that I’m going to put off the next episode of “My heroes have always been villains” until November, unless I receive any complaints or protests from those who don’t want to wait.

I’ll close with an exhortation—probably preaching to the converted, but there it is—that you all be cautious of falling prey too much, too often, to the easy distractions of videos and memes and other short-attention forms of entertainment.  Keep reading.  Read “real” books, read e-books (they’re just two forms of the same thing), read fiction and nonfiction, read articles and blogs, read poems, read plays, but do keep reading.  Written language is the lifeblood of civilization, and stories are the default mode of human thought (or so it seems).  To read, and to write, are affirmations of and contributions to the health and longevity of the human project and are well worth anyone’s time.

So I am convinced.  I may, perhaps, be biased.

TTFN

They have been at a great feast of languages, and blog’d the scraps

Hello and good day!

It’s Thursday again, and time again for you to endure the ordeal of slogging through my blogging.  I could say that it’s also time for me to slog through the process of writing another blog post, but I rarely think of writing as an ordeal (though sometimes the process of forcing myself to get started can be a minor challenge).

One crucial aspect of writing, of course—if you want to be a good writer, anyway—is that you need to read a lot.  Most of the writers whose work I admire are or have been avid readers.  This makes sense.  One could probably say something analogous about musicians, or about other types of artists:  it’s difficult to know what’s possible, to have a deep grasp of the intricacies of one’s subject, if one doesn’t expose oneself to what other artists have done.  Of course, each person’s bandwidth is limited, as is each person’s interest and exposure, but that’s part of what makes art interesting, and fundamentally stochastic.  Mozart, unfortunately, could never be influenced by the music of the band Yes, but the converse is true, through the accident of historical placement.  I sometimes wonder what Mozart might have done with modern musical instruments and precedents at his disposal, just as I wonder what Shakespeare or Dickens might have written after extensive exposure to the modern world.  We can, unfortunately, only imagine the wonders to be found in “Electric Guitar Concerto No. 4,” or “The Tragedy of Richard Nixon,” or “A Tale of Two Social Media.” Continue reading