However, I need to let you all know that my creepy short story “Blank” is now up online at Dark Recesses, and you can read it on their webzine here. This represents my second acceptance of the year! I still haven’t signed a contract for the first, so I can’t yet reveal the market that accepted the story, which I also can’t reveal at this time.
In other news, I have been continuing to work on my novel And the Devil Will Drag You Under, adding approximately 500 words per day to this particular revision. This was one of those “tear down and rebuild from the ground up” revisions. I’m hoping future revisions won’t be so drastic, but I’ll have to wait until November when my critique group gets done with it to find out.
I’ve also been working on a new short story, “Meep”. It represents a couple of themes that I’ve been obsessed with for quite awhile. Someday you’ll get to read that one, but first I have to finish it.
And I continue to submit two manuscripts per week to various markets. I admit it’s sort of a buckshot approach, which I think lots of writers employ. Lots of misses, but a few hits.
Goodness, we’ve got a veritable sickhouse of kitties right now. Our poor resident cat Ruby has an autoimmune disorder which is attacking her red blood cells. Fortunately, this can be controlled with regular cortisone doses. Right now she’s getting a pill a day, but hopefully she’ll be able to get injections every few days soon. She’s a shy little thing, so catching her to pill her can be difficult.
We have a couple of sickly foster kittens right now as well, but they’re hanging in there.
I’ll be at WesterCon in Tonopah, NV, in a couple of weeks. Will any of you be there as well?
I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since before it was cool.
No, seriously. Back in the 80s, I was a member of my high school’s unofficial D&D club — just me and a few friends rolling dice, checking the results against numbers on character sheets, trying to figure out what we were doing, all in the back room of the library. Given that this was a Catholic high school, it’s kind of surprising that we were allowed to do this. This was the mid-80s, as I mentioned, at the height of the Satanic Panic, when any sign of deviation from cultural norms was seen as part of a vast Satanic conspiracy to… something. D&D, as a thing that was done with nerds and which involved people telling each other stories that involved magic, was targeted in that moral panic, and plenty of kids around the country saw their dice and books go up in flames.1
I didn’t get seriously into D&D, though, until I hit college. There, I met a guy whom I shall refer to only as M—, who had been playing serious D&D for years. I decided I wanted to be Dungeon Master, and M— taught me how to create compelling stories and create immersive worlds. I enjoyed playing in his games, and he enjoyed playing in mine, even if we did have differences of opinions in how kobolds should be portrayed. We fantasized about being professional Dungeon Masters, but at the time, there was no such thing. You couldn’t make a living at such a hobby, unless you were named Dave Arneson or Gary Gygax or Steve Jackson.
During college, I spent a lot of time playing Dungeons and Dragons. M— and I would dedicate hours to plotting out the games we ran, and we would run campaigns for our friends that lasted months, some even years. Why, when I learned I could take a quarter off from school without a gap in financial aid, I did so, and spent a majority of that time playing D&D games and running them.
Man, I had a blast those days.
When the Second Edition of D&D came out, I was thrilled. I bought all the books (including the Dungeon Master Guide, aka, the DMG). I played more games. I ran more games. I had a core group of friends that I played with regularly. Even with M- left Davis, I stuck with that core group.
Over the years, friends came and went, my core group of players and DMs changed, but the games went on. I had girlfriends who were heavily into the game as well, and that certainly fed my passion, and girlfriends who weren’t very much into it.
That’s not to say I was averse to other role-playing games. For awhile, I ran a game of Vampire: The Masquerade and the interlinked games published by White Wolf Press (I honestly don’t know if they’re still around, and at the moment I’m too lazy to look them up). For three years, possibly more, I ran a Vampire Live Action Role Playing game (LARP), which consumed all my emotional, social, and creative energy.
When the 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons came out, I switched to that from second edition, then from 3rd to 3.5. But I never could get into 4th edition; to me, that edition minimized the role-playing aspect of the game, which was what had always thrilled me about it, and focused on the battle aspects. I’ve since heard that 4th edition really was good, but by then I had moved on to Pathfinder, a new RPG system that was, at first, essentially D&D version 3.75. Now, the 2nd edition of Pathfinder is out.
It’s been years since I’ve run a role-playing game2. The pandemic has put a pause on that aspect of my creative life.
But now… Now I feel the old urge kicking in. A few months ago I started plotting out a new Pathfinder game, with (of course!) pirates. And since we’re still in a pandemic3 my six players and I are meeting virtually, through a Virtual Table Top (VTT) called Roll20. I’ve heard good things about this site, and while I’ve never GMed using it, I’ve played in a game that uses Fantasy Grounds, another VTT. So this will be an interesting experience, to say the least.
In all the years that I’ve run D&D campaigns, I’ve never once used a pre-created campaign setting; they’ve all been homebrew games with settings and mythologies and stories that I’ve created myself. I’m kind of proud of that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with running a pre-created campaign, it’s just not my style.
Anyway. That’s a brief history of me and gaming. I’ve had so many creative joys, made so many great friendships through D&D and other role-playing games that it’s hard to imagine life without them. There was a time when I considered those days and months and years wasted, times when I thought I could have been writing instead, but fortunately saner heads prevailed and convinced me that none of that time was wasted.
Just for kicks, I’m re-reading Carl Sagan’s wonderful book, The Demon-Haunted World. I’m loving it, as I always have every time I’ve read it, which has been every couple of years or so.
One thing that struck me this time around is how much time and space he spends debunking alien abduction stories by putting them into a larger cultural/mythological context. I side with him on the issue: while hundreds of thousands people have reported being abducted by aliens, there is no physical, undeniable proof that it has actually happened. No mysterious “implants” have been analyzed by MIT or other reputable university and found to be made of alien metal, memory is fallible, and so on. But the alien abduction/UFO culture were tied up with conspiracy theories in the 90s involving the government; such conspiracy theories have fallen to the wayside in favor of modern antisemitism, racism, and the bonkers “Q” conspiracy theory, which encompasses them all. If Carl Sagan were around today, he’d be sickened, I’m sure, by what passes for the modern conservative movement.
So this year, for Earth Day, I committed myself to spending a year learning everything I can about this amazing, beautiful, endangered planet that we live on. I haven’t really started that yet because I’m still taking my MLIS degree seriously and thus taking classes for that, and it’s eating my time. But I am reading Sagan’s book, so I’m counting that as a step in the right direction. I’ll keep you all updated on what I learn, and I plan on updating my blog, The Penguin Scientific, with various facts and things.
In other news, my depression and anxiety have been kicking my butt recently, and have convinced me that I’m never going to get anywhere with my writing. I’ve talked back to it but it refuses to listen. Stupid brain. My brain and I are supposed to be on the same side, I don’t know why it won’t cooperate.
But I continue to persist with the writing and submitting anyway. I’m on track to submit 100 manuscripts for the second year in a row. Stats so far:
Waiting on: 8
I haven’t quite worked out how those numbers work out, but I’m not worrying about that.
A couple of years ago, I posted about the myth that pirates always said “Arr”. Today, I address another myth: that of walking the plank.
Many pirate adventures show us pirates forcing their prisoners to walk a plank out off the boat and into dangerous waters, presumably to drown or be eaten by sea anemones. We are always meant to understand that the plank came from the ship itself, leftover lumber that had gone into the building of the boat.
This cannot be true, though, since pirate ships were built from LOGS, not planks. It’s true! Examine any pirate ship from the Wydah to the Queen Anne’s Revenge to the Beauty (the one in my upcoming Pathfinder game), and you will see that the ship looks more like a log cabin than any naval or merchant vessel. I don’t know the specifics of how they kept these boats together in the oceans or prevented leaks, but the most important question is, Would I lie to you about this sort of thing? The answer is no.
After losing so much work on my writing last month, I decided to take a break from And the Devil Will Drag You Under, then decided not to take a break after consulting with Facebook and Twitter. Friends in both places pointed out to me that, given my frequent bouts of guilt surrounding my writing, I would regret not finishing that novel. And, so, I’m back at it. I’ve rewritten about half of what went missing, and am well on my way to recovering all of what I’d lost. I don’t know if I’ll finish the novel by my self-imposed May 12 deadline, but if I don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.
I also started revising “Anamet”, a giant monster story, and I started pondering a new short story which does not yet have a title. Usually the title comes early on in the process of writing a story, but so far that hasn’t happened for this one.
As of today (April 4), I’ve submitted twenty-six stories in 2022, received twenty-two form rejections, and four personal rejections. Some of these rejections were for stories I’d submitted in 2021 that hadn’t gotten back to me before the new year, so I actually still have five pending submissions. In addition, I actually withdrew two submissions from markets that had held on to them for over three hundred days with no communication from them in spite of requests for updates.
I put it out there on Facebook and Twitter, running a wee little poll asking whether I should get back into working on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, the novel I’d lost two months’ worth of work on (see previous post), or work on something new entirely, coming back to Devil at some point in the future. I’d had a couple of ideas for other things to work on, so I would certainly be busy.
Overwhelmingly, people advised that I should keep up with And the Devil Will Drag You Under, even if it means going back and re-revising the whole thing all over again to get back at the two months’ worth of work that I’d lost. A couple of people pointed out that if I didn’t go back to it, I’d regret it, and that’s probably true. I’ve been working on this novel for a couple of years now. Heck, more than a couple; I’d written part of the first draft for NaNoWriMo in 2017 (the last year that I really participated in NaNoWriMo), but I gave up on that until just before the pandemic hit, and started in on it from scratch. If I don’t finish it, I will be angry with myself for having yet another unfinished project. So… I’m committed. I’ll finish this novel of devils and demons and hapless humans in love, send it to my critique group, and continue revising it, all while working on other projects on the side.
My yet-to-be-named pirate trilogy will just have to wait.
My biggest problem in life in that I tend to regret those things that I don’t finish, and I wind up not finishing a lot of things. So I’m going to finish this novel.
Writing has plenty of heartbreak, and plenty of hazards. You may be speed-reading a text for research, then slam into a bookmark and go flying across the room. You may find that you’ve written yourself into a corner with your characters planning to do one thing, and you planning on them doing something else. You may end up in love with your main character, Pygmalion-style, and not know what to do with yourself.
Or, if you’re like me, you might suddenly lose two months’ worth of work on your novel.
For years now, I’ve been using a type of version control software called Subversion (usually meant to track software source code) to save backups of all of my desktop files, from stories to novels to homework, on my main Linux desktop as well as on my Windows laptop and my Dropbox account (I used to store a repository on my hosting company’s server too, but for some reason I stopped). This setup has served me very well for most of that time.
Last night, I launched Scrivener and put in a few words on And the Devil Will Drag You Under for the first time in a couple of weeks (I’ve been busy with work and school), and then went to save my work. Then I used TortoiseSVN (a Windows version of the Subversion software) to add my new files and check them in to my “everything Richard has written” repository on my laptop. I got an error telling me that it couldn’t do the update because the files needed to be cleaned up or something. I ran the cleanup script, mindlessly checking all the options — which included deleting all “unversioned files”. And since I hadn’t actually committed any of my work to the repository for a couple of months (I know, that’s bad practice on my part), TortoiseSVN merrily deleted two months’ worth of work on that novel, representing approximately 10,000 words, two critical scenes, character sketches, and plot point outlines. I also lost some homework (fortunately I’d already turned it in), the latest version of my resume, and three short stories that I’d drafted earlier this year.
If I’d been saving my files properly, adding and committing them to the repository, or even just saving them on Dropbox regularly, this wouldn’t have happened, so really I have no one to blame but myself and my bad file management practices. I was able to recover some of the work because I upgraded my Dropbox account and now I have access to their “Rewind” feature, but I’m still out a lot of work.
The resume, homework, and short stories… Meh. They can all be found elsewhere or rewritten (honestly, the stories were begging for rewrites anyway), but the novel… Yeah, I’m bummed. I’m honestly not sure I have the energy right now to rewrite those critical scenes as well as the revisions to earlier chapters I’d done in order to make room for the scenes.
So, I’m going to take a break.
Not from writing. Heavens no. The last time I took a long break from writing I ended up a quivering mess on the floor, begging for a word processor or a Scrivener license. No, I’m just taking a break from Devil, and moving on to another project. I think I shall draft The X of Doom, the first novel in my vaguely-outlined pirate trilogy. I have characters, I know the name of the ship, I have plenty of notes and plenty of research material. I’m also planning on running a Pathfinder game which will act as a sort of prequel to the trilogy (though the Pathfinder game will likely feature more elves and whatnot than there actually were during the Golden Age of Piracy).
I’m happy I’m not on a deadline for And the Devil Will Drag You Under. That’s one of the joys of being a terminally unpublished writer: You can write whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s no contract stipulating that you must have the manuscript in by a certain date, and no language saying that you have to return your advance if you don’t finish the work at all. If I did have a publishing contract, I’d have to suck it up and get to work anyway. I’d ask the agent/editor/publisher for an extension to the deadline, and all that, and that could get messy.
I’m not happy that I’ve lost the work.
So off I go. I’ll read various books about piracy and the high seas, and go from there.
Boy, ain’t the world something these days? Between the pandemic and the war in Europe, the world’s pretty messed up right now. The Russia/Ukraine conflict has the potential to spread further, and despite wishful thinking among politicians (especially on the Republican side of the aisle), the pandemic really isn’t over. In both arenas, there’s a long way to go to achieve a peaceful and appropriate outcome.
In my own little world, I’m stressing about school and work and writing. While I’m learning about Information Literacy Instruction in school and producing videos and critiques of other students’ videos, in addition to reading and writing discussion posts, I’m also trying to complete 508-compliance training for work. 508-compliance, in case you don’t know, is making sure that all documents prepared for public consumption are fully accessible to people with visual, hearing, and learning disabilities, as well as to people with limited fine mobility. There is actually some overlap here, because the videos we make for school need to have captions and need to be accessible to people with visual impairments.
Writing-wise, I haven’t been able to get much done. I set a goal of 500 words per day on The Devil will Drag You Under, but over the past week, I’ve written less than 500 words total. This doesn’t bode well for completing that revision by May 12 as I’d hoped.
I have, however, been able to keep up on my target of submitting two manuscripts to various markets per week, which is a relief. Here are the stats for the year so far:
Rejections, form: 15
Rejections, personal: 2
Pending submissions: 8
Some of those rejections were for stories that I’d submitted last year. One of those rejections was for a story that I thought was a sure thing, but alas, was not meant to be. I have hopes that this will be the year I make my first professional sale, but I’m not optimistic about ever achieving that goal.
I’m also far behind on my reading. While for fun I’m reading The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan (as well as a couple of others), I also am reading two novels for my writers’ group, which is meeting this coming Thursday. I’m looking forward to the meeting — I always do, because my fellow writers are a jolly bunch — but going in without having read the works under consideration is not a good look.
On the other hand, though, my blood pressure is averaging lower than it has in years, and my resting heart rate is lowering as well. This is probably, in part, due to the fact that Jennifer and I are both participating in the Outbreak challenge, a silly virtual game where you walk a given number of steps per week to outrun a zombie horde. The game syncs with our FitBits, so we don’t even have to track our steps manually. This week, we’re aiming for 10,500 steps per day. That’s a lot, and trying to squeeze those steps in while working on everything else is a big challenge.
All in all, I’m doing pretty well, given everything. I hope you’re doing well too.
I like The Lord of the Rings. I really do. Granted, I haven’t actually read the trilogy since the early 2000s, and I only re-read The Hobbit back in 2017, but I do own the DVDs, which I recently ripped to our Plex media server so I can watch them whenever I want, and I listen to the soundtracks frequently. I own the books written by Tolkien and many other books besides, as well as books like The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, and Defending Middle Earth. Every now and then I pick up The Atlas of Middle Earth and browse through it delightedly.
So when I learned that Amazon will be airing a new series based on the history of Middle Earth, I was… sort of excited? I mean, it’s a great setting, great epic fantasy, and there’s so much about Middle Earth’s history — the Second Age, the coming of Man, and so on — to explore. And while J. R. R. Tolkien may not have written much of his lore for popular reading, his son Christopher certainly did. I watched the teaser trailer for Amazon’s series, and enjoyed the look of the show. I’ve included the teaser below for you to watch.
But today I learned that while Amazon owns the production rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they don’t actually own any of the rights to anything beyond that. They do not own the rights to The Silmarillion or The Histories of Middle Earth and so on. So their vision of the Second Age of Middle Earth, the time period where The Rings of Power takes place, is based purely on their own imagination and wee gleanings from the books the Tolkien did write. So, it’s all up to whoever writes the series, and I’m so skeptical of anything that comes out of massive media empires these days that I’m just not sure I’m going to enjoy this.
But what really bothers me, actually, has little to do with The Lord of the Rings and the One Ring and Middle Earth. It has to do with the fact that there is so much good material out there to work with to make sprawling epic fantasies. Yes, N. K. Jemisin is writing the screenplays for her genre-defying Broken Earth series, which is a good thing, but other fantasy and science fiction worlds exist that can be made into movies. There’s racial diversity in The Rings of Power, it looks like, which I’m happy to see (there was precious little in Peter Jackson’s films), but still… Let’s see some diversity in storytelling, in settings, in characters.
And yes, I’m well aware that there are some good non-Tolkien-inspired films and TV shows out there.
Maybe, though, I’m just Old. I don’t get that excited about superhero films (the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so vast that I’m tired just thinking about where to start, and DC’s Batman films are getting progressively darker and darker, and frankly I haven’t really enjoyed a superhero film since 1980’s Superman II). I don’t go on and on about how movies were “better back in the day” because many of them weren’t, and I know this objectively.
The world’s a big place, and the actuality of what we have in the way of storytelling is much vaster than anything Tolkien conceived of. Let’s see some more of it.
We subscribe to Hungry Root, which is a weekly mail delivery service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, and each week we get a fresh new cardboard box full of good, tasty, easy to prepare food. We also end up with a lot of cardboard boxes.
And, of course, we also get Chewy shipments for the cats on a fairly regular basis. Which means MORE cardboard boxes! Hooray! Usually this means that we just have a full recycle bin each garbage day, but today we decided that we needed to do something a bit different. Behold!
It’s a tank! A Sherman tank! With a cat named Sherman (purely coincidental).
It’s February 1st. It’s the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Tiger, and it’s the first day of Black History Month. And so far, aside from Rupert dying, it’s been a decent year so far.
A writing update follows.
I’ve written 3.5 short stories (.5 because “Meep” will be a two-parter) so far, and I’ve managed to write 500 words per day for 29 days on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, which means I’m on track to finish this draft before I have to turn it in to my writing group on March 10. Go me! I also had a wee anxiety attack about my writing career, but I won’t go into that here.
My next writing project, after Devil, is to revise one of my oldest projects, The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster (formerly Fred Again). I’ve set myself a goal of June 9 for that one.
But I also want to work on my pirate novel, which is demanding to be a trilogy. It’s tentatively called The X of Doom, for various reasons, and I have titles for the second and third books in the trilogy, as well as paragraph-long outlines for them. I’ve done a lot of research about the so-called Golden Age of Piracy. Wikipedia has been a good resource (all hail Wikipedia, as long as you don’t cite them as a source in your academic papers!), but I’ve also read some actual books. Here’s a pile of the ones I’ve gotten, that I’ve either read or will read:
(Click to embiggen.)
A word about a couple of them. The Republic of Pirates, by Colin Woodard, is a brief history of piracy, focusing primarily on the so-called “pirate republic” in Nassau in the 1700s. This topic is fascinating, so I am glad to have found this book.
Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, is a collection of modern pirate stories. That is to say, a story about pirates that have all been written recently, and not stories about modern pirates.
The bottom two books — The Pirate Ship 1660-1730 and The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing — are just schematics of various ships and boats the pirates and others used throughout history.
School has also started! I had to record an actual introductory video of myself for the class I’m taking, and that was pretty stressful. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of that happening in this class, which is about teaching information literacy in a library setting. Information literacy is something of a passion for me, so I’m looking forward to this class, despite my stage fright.
One last thing: If you know my writing at all through stories and novels I’ve written, how would you describe my writing style? What are the things I shine in? I’m curious, and would love to get some feedback. Feel free to send me an email or to comment on this post. Thanks!