2018: A Year in Writing

Writers of the Future Contest Honorable Mention

Received for my short story “Burying Uncle Albert”.

So here’s what I did in 2018 with regards to writing.

I finished the first draft of Padma, the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2016, and submitted it to my critique group. I won’t hear back from them about it until later this month, and I expect their comments will be pretty brutal. That’s okay. I can take it.

I didn’t write very many short stories. In fact, I really only wrote one, “Sauromancy”, and it’s still in rough draft mode.

I started (re-started?) to rewrite The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, a novel which began life as Fred Again, which I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2005. I revisit this one every couple of years because I think there’s a solid story there, if only I can get it dug out of the marble in which it resides.

I submitted thirty-eight short stories, and received rejections on thirty-seven of them. Ten of those rejections were personal, and a couple of those were of the “Not quite, but please send us more” variety, which is always pleasant.

I also submitted my short story “Burying Uncle Albert” to the Writers of the Future contest. It received honorable mention, which is actually quite better than I was expecting. If you want to read that story, let me know; I’ve squirreled it away in a tiny little corner of my website, hidden behind a password.

I only sort of participated in National Novel Writing Month in 2018, choosing to revise Padma instead of writing something new. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for sixteen years, and I have something like twelve completed rough drafts out of it. I think maybe five of them are worth pursuing. But as long as I committed to writing something new each November, I wasn’t going to finish any of them. So I feel like I’ve gotten everything out of NaNoWriMo that I’m going to get that’s of value to my creative career. I still like hanging out with other writers, though. That’s always fun.

Moving forward, I want to:

  • Finish revising The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster.
  • Finish up several short stories, including “The BEM”, “A Pine Romance”, “Sauromancy”, “Anamet”, and “Magnificent”.
  • Write a rough draft of my historical science fiction novel Shine.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Back I go now into the word mines.

RIP Azzie (April 1999 – December 2018)

Azzie

 

The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.
–Dr. Colin Murray Parks

It’s the end of an era. When Jennifer and I got married in 2001, we had seven cats: Allegra, Rebecca, Sebastian, Tangerine, Zucchini, Rosemary, and Azzie. Over the years since then, the cats passed on, finding their way to whatever awaits good and well-loved cats on the other side.

Azzie was the last of these, outliving all the others by several years (I would sometimes ask him if he ever thought about his old crew; and, of course, he would look at me inscrutably and not say a word).

Azzie was a dim little cat, who would get lost behind a clear shower curtain or not figure out that a jack-and-jill bathroom had two entrances. But he was a pretty cat (see picture above, or the pictures on Jennifer’s blog post about him), and we loved him. Though we did warn him that when his looks went, he was out on the streets.

A few months ago, he developed a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away. The vets gave him several shots of Convenia, and he had rounds of amoxicillan and Veraflux, none of which did any good for more than a couple of weeks. After they wore off, he would be right back to sniffling and snorfling and sneezing. And it just got worse and worse. He developed arthritis in his hind end, and we ended up shaving off his magnificent fur because he would constantly get mats that he wouldn’t let us comb out. His spiffy tail, which he used to hold to one side because of an ancient injury started dragging on the ground behind him. And yesterday we finally decided it was time to let him go. He lived for nearly twenty years, which is long-lived for a cat. I was hoping he would make it to April, but it was clear that he was suffering: he was barely eating, and we think the congestion was getting in the way of his sleep, and since a cat is approximately 70% sleep, this was a serious issue.

He was a goofy cat. I don’t know when or why I started blaming him for everything that happened (“BELCH!” “Excuse you!” “Azzie’s power is great!”), but I did. I thought it was funny. Jennifer probably found it less so. Azzie didn’t care either way about this power that rested on his shoulders.

The house will feel strangely empty without him around, either sniffling and sneezing his way around the kitchen as he had done for months, or whining loudly because it was supper time, as he used to do before he got sick. I’ll have to retire my “Azzie’s power is great!” jokes. We’ll have to stop singing the silly songs that we used to sing about him.

Goodbye little Azzie. We love you and we’ll miss you so much.

 This is a picture of Azzie in a Christmas wreath from 2003.

A Musical Holiday

I figured I’d make this a post about some of my favorite Christmas songs. So here you go.

Up first is “The Season’s Upon Us” by Dropkick Murphys, a lovely Irish punk band out of Boston:

I was planning on seeing them when they came to Sacramento with Flogging Molly a while back, but then it slipped my mind what with being laid off and all, and I forgot, and now I has a sad.

Next is “White Winter Hymnal”.

This is, of course, the Pentatonix version. The original is by a British band called Fleet Foxes. I kind of prefer this version (though I like the FF video better). When I first heard this song, I assumed right away it was British, since it’s full of strange, haunting imagery, which I know can be full of this sort of imagery. Particular post-War Britain. Man, the Great War did some horrific things to the British mindset. Turns out I was wrong, though. Fleet Foxes just made up the imagery themselves.

Next, “A Christmas Canon” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra because why not:

A couple of years ago my parents gave Jennifer and me tickets to see this group in person at the Golden One arena in Sacramento. They put on a hell of a show, with flames and fireworks and fiddlers in the scaffolding. The recordings I’ve heard just don’t do the show justice. If you ever get a chance to see them live, DO NOT MISS IT.

Next: “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues. Why? Because who doesn’t love the Pogues? Well, lots of people, I suppose. But this song, despite some of its questionable lyrics, is still one of my favorites. You might want to skip this one.

Among some of my friends, this is the quintessential holiday song. I hang out with these friends when I’m feeling too cheerful and need to be brought down a bit.

Finally, a parody song called “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fishmen”, by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. I don’t know if this is an official video or not, but I think it’s pretty silly:

Fun fact: I’m a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, although I find his sexism and blatant racism and classism problematic at best. I know he felt he should have been born in England a hundred years before he actually was born. I sometimes feel the same way, though I know I’d miss some elements of the modern day, such as medicines that keep my lungs breathing and my brain working properly.

I still don’t quite “get” the secular Christmas holiday, and sometimes it grates on my nerves, but some of the music is pretty spiffy.

Bonus video: Here’s the Fleet Foxes video for “White Winter Hymnal”:

The video, I think, is very sad. I’m especially touched by the guy who’s holding the bunny, hiding its eyes from the inevitable march of time, and who then despairs that the bunny has disappeared from his lap.

That’s all I got for tonight.

Happy Holidailies to you.

Next!

As I mentioned before, I was recently laid off from my job of fifteen years. I wasn’t all that upset, though sometimes I miss my co-workers. These things happened, and, to be honest, I’d sort of seen it coming from a few yards away. I enjoyed the work there and I’m glad I was part of the organization. I’m still in touch with a few of my ex-coworkers, too, which makes me happy. I don’t quite have a full-time job yet, but I’m confident. For now, I’ve been working as a contract worker for a minuscule little company who is shrouded in secrecy, not because it’s a skunk-ops government operation or part of a grand conspiracy, but because it’s a startup in its infancy. The pay is good, the hours are good, and the work is especially enjoyable. In particular, it’s getting things working on a Linux server, and making  different pieces of software talking to each other. And it’s in a field that always needs better technology, so I’m happy to be a part of it. What happens next? There’s definitely more to be seen. In other news, the holidays are upon us. I have to admit that there are times when I don’t quite “get” Christmas. It’s the season of caring, of sharing, of… something else that rhymes with “caring”, and so on, but I don’t get why this should be different than any other time of year. I mean, I do get it from a spiritual perspective (and here’s the Episcopalian in me coming out): it’s the season celebrating the birth of Jesus, the day when God became manifest on Earth. But the tinsel, the lights, the reindeer, the “ho ho ho”? All of it baffles me. It’s not that I don’t participate. We put up a Christmas tree in our house, put lights on the outside, and put funny hats on the cats, where’s the spiritual significance in all that? The secular holiday of Christmas is for kids, I think. To the rest of it, I say Bah! Humbug.
Oh! And, happy Holidailies!

Haven’t done one of these for awhile

It’s a writing update! Yay!

I must admit that one of the first thoughts I had when I was laid off was not, “How are we going to make ends meet?” but, “Oooh, lots of time to write now!”

But the reality is that hunting for work has taken up more time than I intended or expected, whether it’s wandering around the job hunting websites, updating resumes on these sites, responding to emails, sending out emails, making and receiving phone calls, and, of course, going to interviews. Although I schedule time in the afternoons to get some writing done, it just usually doesn’t happen.

The words are still getting out, though.

It’s November, which, of course, means it’s National Novel Writing Month. I decided to be a “rebel” this years; in other words, instead of writing an original 50,000 word novel this month, I’m instead revising Padma, the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2016. I’m finding it’s difficult to do so, though. While I’m comfortable with the mythological and cosmological elements I’ve included, there’s a lot of medical information — specifically, hospital procedures and what it’s like to be a medical student — that I don’t know anything about. So I need to do more research than I had originally done. Fortunately I have some resources — and people I know who either work or have worked in hospitals — who can give me some tips and pointers.

I am stalled on a couple of short stories I’d hoped to get written. “Sauromancy” needs to be revised. And I need to finish “Mossroot”. I’m particularly annoyed by “Mossroot” since I’d hoped to finish that one before November so I could submit it to the Unlocking the Magic anthology. Alas, I did not. I think it’s a good idea, though, so I’m going to keep working on it.

Oh! And The Solitude of the Tentacles Space Monster continues apace. Though I’m getting fewer words in on that than I’d like, it’s still happening. I hope to have a draft done by January.

My really spiffy news is that my short story “Burying Uncle Albert” received Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest. Yay! I’m aware of the controversies surrounding that particular contest, but I still think this is cool. This honor is for the Fourth Quarter contest, so it won’t actually show up on the website until January, I think, but still. Neat-o.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I probably won’t post again until after Thanksgiving, so I hope you have a splendid holiday!

About that fire

First of all, I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift’s album 1989 pretty much constantly over the past day. Not sure why. I like many of the songs on the album, and I make no apologies for my musical tastes. Judge me if you will, I won’t care.

Second, I’m sure you’re aware that California is basically on fire right now. It has nothing to do with forest management; it has to do with several years of drought, unfortunate wind patterns, and an increasingly warming planet. Yes, climate change is a big factor here. When northern California is under assault from the worst fire in history, and southern California is also in flames, it’s hard not to think that climate change might be a factor.

Paradise, California, is pretty much gone at this point. I don’t have much to do with Paradise, having only driven through it once, and having once had a college roommate who came from there. Other towns have been wiped off the map because of these fires. Chico is in danger, and I do have family there.

Donations are welcome. From what I hear, material donations are overflowing right now and what disaster relief groups and survivors really need is money, so please bear that in mind.

The smoke from the Camp Fire is spreading through northern California as well. The Bay Area is smoked out. In my neighborhood, according to SpareTheAir.com and purpleair.com, the air quality index went up to the 400s yesterday, which means the air is hazardous. Today is slightly better. The air is no longer hazardous, just “very unhealthy”. What does that mean for people with asthma, like me? It means stay indoors as much as possible. And wear a mask if you absolutely MUST go outside. Which you should not really do.

So yeah. I’m wheezing a lot, coughing a lot, and drinking lots of water, taking Mucinex, and so on, all to discourage my lungs from taking the opportunity to inflict me with bronchitis or worse.

It’s bad out there, folks.

If you’ve been affected by the fires in any way, my heart is with you. My asthma may be flaring up, but that’s nothing compared to losing your home, your family, your pets, everything. I can’t imagine what that would be like.

 

A Wee Little Post

I love this quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

I think this is a good guidepost for living life, so I am going to work it into my own daily living.

An Update, and some more philosophical musings

First of all, I’m sad to report that I’ve been laid off from my job of fifteen years. It was a good job, and I know the decision was hard for management to make, I got a good severance package from the University, and all in all it was… Well, it was painful, but I would say it was amicable. The department and I met up a couple of weeks after the event for a farewell get-together, and I feel like I got some good closure to that chapter in my life. I’m still sad, though.

What’s next? I’m not sure. Definitely looking for a new job (and if you check out my resume, you’ll get a good idea of my skill set). Waiting to see what happens next.


It’s Halloween time, of course, which is my favorite time of year. I like scary stories, Jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, all that silly stuff. And it means there’s a lot more scary stuff to consume. Specifically, lots of scary content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Last night, in particular, I watched a few episodes of an original Netflix show called Haunted. Basically, it has people sitting with friends and family and recounting horrifying events from their pasts. For example, the first episode, entitled “The Woman in White”, was about a man’s life-long experience with the ghost of a woman from an apartment he and his family had lived in when he was a child. His telling is interspersed with reenactments of the events. The makeup on the ghost was well-done, and the way she simply appeared in the kid’s closet were really spooky. Well done as far as that goes.

It was the episode on alien abduction that really struck me, though. I’ve been fascinated by the concept of alien abductions for many years; not because I believe in aliens that abduct people in the night and perform ghastly experiments on them, but because the story of the abduction is so similar to fairy abduction stories of yore, including missing time, bright lights, similar-looking creatures, and even the occasional sexual encounter.

So I began to wonder, back in the late 90s, about these similarities, and I wrote a story called “LTM” (for Long-Term Memory) in which I tried to create a “third mythology” that would explain the two experience archetypes and unite them into a single story. It was a bad story, full of passive voice and vague characters with no agency, and I don’t intend to share it with you (and it definitely hasn’t aged well; the men in black and UFO stories are straight out of the time it was written in and all hearken back to The X-Files).

Then I began to wonder about ghosts, demons, and other paranormal entities, and about the human brain’s ability to misinterpret what’s happening around it and tell a story to itself about what it experiences when it doesn’t quite understand what it’s experiencing. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but this is a personal blog so I don’t have to. But maybe there’s something going on or something that the brain sees that it doesn’t understand so it pulls into its cultural background and assigns a story to that input. If one person sees, say, a strange face lurking above them in the dark, they may say “Ghost!” because that’s what they’re used to thinking about when it comes to such things, while another may say “Demon!”. Furthermore, even among the people who say “Ghost!” there might be those who believe the ghost they see has malevolent intention, and some will believe it’s benign.

So maybe there is some sort of external event going on that we can’t interpret, so we assign cultural archetypes to it. Perhaps there something that causes us to see flashing lights, feel like we’re floating, and like we’re seeing bizarre creatures doing awful things to us. In pre-movie times, when we had no cultural story about aliens, we would interpret such events as fairy abductions. In our modern era, where we don’t think about fairies as existing but we have aliens built into our cultural milieu at all levels, we think of alien abductions. Personally, I’m inclined to think that such events are purely phenomenological in nature: entirely within the mind. I’m open to the possibility that something external is going on, but I haven’t seen any evidence that there is.

Anyway. This is the sort of thing that my brain thinks of at this time of year (well, at any time of year, but Halloween season brings it out more fully.

What goes on in your mind during Halloween season?

A Thought for the Ontologically Inclined

The other day I was watching Mighty Mouse (one of our foster kittens) playing with a little felt ball in the kitten room. She’d pick up the toy in her mouth, run around with it for a bit, drop it, bap at it, run after it, pick it up again, then run around like mad with it in her mouth again. It was incredibly silly, and very cute.

So I got to thinking about the toy itself and what it represented in Mouse’s brain. Cats are primarily predators (except possibly for Nutmeg, our 16-pound “potato cat”), so many of their play behaviors would be hunting behaviors in the wild. So what, to Mouse, did that little felt toy represent? A bug? A bird? A mouse? Some other small mammal? I mean, she clearly knew it wasn’t food, since she wasn’t eating it, but something about that toy was definitely triggering her latent hunting behavior.

From there, my brain, as it is wont to do, spun on to the same question but about human brains. What high-level behaviors of ours are actually representative of something else? I don’t mean simple symbology, such as looking at the Washington Memorial and thinking of — Well, you know. I mean those higher-level “noble” pursuits that we make so much of. Let’s say science, for example. We as a civilization1 pursue science pretty doggedly (cattedly?), and we’ve made great strides in our understanding of the cosmos and how it works.

So, my question to you is: are there yet higher-level orders of consciousness that could look down on us, view those ideals which we strive for, and wonder what they represent for us? We humans watch the cat play with a felt ball, and figure that the felt ball represents a bug; what would the aliens of Trafalmadore think we’re pursuing when we think we’re pursuing science?

Watching cats frequently makes me ponder the nature of human intelligence and the limits of our consciousness.

I know, this question is an easy one, one that should go up on Facebook or Twitter. I just want to save it here on my own blog.

More adventures in spam

About a week ago, I received an email in my spam folder that had the subject line “rscrawford: XXXXXXXXXXXX” where that long line of Xs was the deprecated password of a website I rarely visit and which I knew had been compromised at one point. The email was wordy and poorly written, but the gist of it was something along the lines of, “I know what you did and I recorded it and I’ll send it out to every person in your contacts list unless you pay me $7,000 in BitCoin currency,” along with a link were I could send that currency.

This amused me, since, really, I have nothing to hide. I thought about writing back with a message to that effect — “Go on, do your worst!” — but I know it’s never a good idea to engage with these kinds of people. I mean, I know President Trump is doing his best to end unfair and unjust discrimination against the idiotic criminal class, but, still.

Meanwhile, I’ve had bronchitis for something like two weeks now. The breathing is better now, though the cough remains. The Prednisone remains fun stuff to take. When I get sick for this long, I tend to get emotional. Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Lisa runs away and Homer holds her saxophone? Yeah, that one did me in.

And yesterday while working I had Young Frankenstein playing in the background. And when it came to the scene where the creature, having just performed “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, panicked at the sight of a flame and was dragged away by the police… Yeah, I started crying at that as well.

A co-worker of mine tells me that their reaction to Prednisone is exactly the opposite of mine: for them, the drug causes euphoria, energy, and hyperactivity. This is unfair. I’m going to file a complaint somewhere.

We’re still fostering kittens. After Delilah and Fern were adopted, the fostering agency sent us eight (8) to foster. That was about a month ago, I guess, and now we’re down to one. Mouse is a feisty orange and white kitten, lots of love and lots of energy and personality. I was sure she’d be adopted her first week at placement, but that didn’t happen.

The writing is continuing. I’ve finished the Evil Barf Draft of my fantasy story involving fossil hunters in America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century. I am going to be pushing it to get The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster and Padma done by their due dates, but that’s okay. Last minute panic is a great motivator.

I’m also drafting a contemporary (well, set in the 1930s) fantasy involving jazz music and baseball, and I’m in the early stages of putting together a “noblebright” (as opposed to “grimdark”) fantasy story for an anthology that I’d love to be published in. All that, on top of my goal of keeping six active submissions going all at the same time, is keeping me mighty busy. Good for me.

What’s on your plate or your mind?

 

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