Pandemic Blurbs

I’ve been working at home for nigh on to three months now, and I know I’m blessed to be able to do so. And so today while I take my afternoon break and listen to Queen’s Greatest Hits (which I love because it reminds me of college and also that I have to call my friend John this weekend), I’m going to spin up this blog post and let the world in on what I think of the pandemic and what I’m writing.

There’s a meme that conservatives have been sharing on Twitter which says something like, “Remember that experts built the Titanic, while an amateur built the Ark,” and relates this to the current COVID-19 pandemic which has been kicking the planet’s butt for three months now and probably won’t go away for quite some time. Why should we listen to epidemiologists and virologists and other so-called “experts” when, uh… we have gut feelings or something? This mistrust of expertise and higher thinking has been a part of American politics for centuries, odd for a country founded by a bunch of revolutionary philosophers. But it’s what we’ve got, and now we have a Presidency that’s devoted to the cause of rooting out expertise wherever it can be found.

This irritates me.

No, scratch that. It fills me with a sense of impotent rage that this sense of “my feelings are more qualified than your facts” is so prevalent in modern America. It really is a failure of the American experiment.

*Takes a deep breath*

I can’t really go into much more about that because I took my blood pressure earlier today and it already is too high. So I’m going to finish this blog post up with a list of my current writing projects. So here it is, with various projects listed in order of when I plan to get to them and finish them (though some will be concurrent with others):

  • Finish up rough draft of And the Devil Will Drag You Under. I plan to finish this up by the end of June, then I’ll let it sit for a little while before revising and submitting to my writers’ group.
  • Revise The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster. I gave this to my group a few months ago and got some really great feedback that I have yet to incorporate. I hope to start doing that this weekend, and finish this by the end of June as well. Maybe I’ll start shopping it around. Who knows?
  • Start outlining and writing my pirate trilogy. This consists of The X of Doom, The Lord of Nightmares, and The King of Oblivion. This probably won’t start happening until July. But in the meantime I’ve built a pirate-theme playlist on Amazon Music and have been listening to that a lot for inspiration. I’m also looking for good pirate movies to watch (Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies are fun, as is Swashbuckler, from 1976) and good pirate novels to read. On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers is a great one. I want to find more.

Those are all novels. I also have short stories to revise:

  • “The BIM”
  • “A Pine Romance”
  • “Sauromancy”
  • “Just Like This”

These are all stories that just need revising, though “The BIM” has been undergoing some intense structural revisions and so far has ballooned from 5,000 to 8,000 words, and probably more will be added as I work on it. I don’t have deadlines in mind for any of these. I’m taking the year off from short story submissions, mostly because I feel like I’ve run out of story/market match-ups. I need to get some new ones written and revised before I can start submitting again. I do have three outstanding submissions that I should probably query on since they’ve been at markets for over six months. So… we’ll see what happens.

That’s all I’ve got for now. My break’s just about over, as is the Queen album, so it’s time to say so long. Be well, and be safe. And be smart, for crying out loud. WEAR YOUR MASK!

This Here Is My Blog

Hi!

Those of you who have known me long enough know that back in the early 2000s I went to library school for a few semesters before freaking out about an assignment in “Collection Management” and dropping out. That’s been one of my biggest regrets — that, and the fact that I gave up on the chance to work with James Burke (of Connections fame) on his big new web project.

So, I’ve decided to go back. I’m back in the Master of Library and Information Sciences program at San José State University. It’s an entirely online program, so the various shelter-in-place orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t affecting it. A few changes have been made in the syllabus of the Information Professions class I’m taking, but that’s about it. The professor of that class is very kind and understanding, too, which is certainly a bonus.

My only concern about going back to library school is that I’m 52 years old, and maybe I’m a bit too old to consider a big career change. I’m a wee bit tired of programming and making websites, but I do like working with information and with people… but if I’m 54 or 55 when I get my degree, will it really be worth it? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Library school has always appealed to me, since I like pretending that I’m all scholarly and what-not, but I don’t like focusing on just one subject. I could never get a Master’s degree (or, God forbid, a PhD.) in one minuscule aspect of a single field. With an MLIS degree, I can still apply my brain to a whole bunch of different areas of knowledge. I just hope I don’t freak out again.


Meanwhile, work is work. I’m extremely privileged in that I work for an organization that allows for 100% telework, and my wife does as well. Many others in this pandemic situation are not as fortunate. We try to shop local when we can, tip drivers well, and thank “essential workers” profusely and contribute to the local food bank.


Speaking of books, try not to buy books from Amazon.com if you can avoid it, unless there is absolutely no other source or you need to read it on your Kindle (which, I know, many people do for accessibility reasons). Indibound does a fantastic job of hooking people up with local independent bookstores, searching their databases for books you plug in to their search engine and guiding you to a local shop which will ship the book to you. You may pay a bit more, but you’ll keep a local shop in business, and the people who work there. Do it.


I’m going to close this blog post by plugging a few things of my own. First, Daikaijuzine is back and online. One of the things I had regretted doing was letting that site go and die. Well, it’s back. The releases have been irregular due to various reasons, but as we find our footing, we’ll get back to a regular reading and release schedule.

Second, I’ve put some more short stories online for your amusement:

  1. “Burying Uncle Albert” is one of my favorites, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
  2. “How the Old Ones Saved Christmas” is full of holiday magic, and who couldn’t use a little of that during the pandemic?
  3. Finally, “How Bubba Handy’s Rogue Shithouse Saved the World” was a blast to write a few years ago, and I still think it’s a fun read.

These are all up on my Writing page, which you can find by clicking the link in the top menu of my site.

Finally, I’m plugging for someone who isn’t me. The Bone Shard Daughter is the debut novel by Andrea Stewart, who is both a fantastic writer and a good friend. I was a member of a critique group with her for a number of years, and I know just how good a writer she is. You can read an excerpt on io9.


And that’s all I have for now. Hopefully I’ll be writing in my blog more often as this pandemic grinds on. I have Thoughts about the pandemic, but they border on the political, and thus are not appropriate for this particular blog entry.

Stay safe and healthy, my friends.

 

2019 and 2020: Years in Writing

Yesterday I started taking Prednisone for this damn upper respiratory infection which is exacerbating my asthma, and that, combined with the short story rejection I received yesterday (for a submission that I thought was a sure hit), can only mean one thing:

PITY PARTY!

Yes, I went onto Twitter and whined about my lack of writing success, about how I started seriously wanting to become an established writer back in 2001 and having failed at that since then. Eighteen years seems like it should have been plenty of time, but I still have only a handful of publications in my portfolio, none of them pro-level. I’m definitely not making money, but that’s not what I am really concerned about; what I really want is for people to read and enjoy my fiction, and that’s not happening (that’s my huge ego talking, I suppose).

Oh well.

A recap:

In 2019 I wrote a lot. I wrote a couple of short stories, some flash fiction pieces, and finished up two novels, both of which went over well with my crit group. I submitted a lot of stories to magazines, but got no bites. I feel like 2018, with an honorable mention for “Burying Uncle Albert” at the Writers of the Future contest, was a better year for me.

A plan:

For 2020, I plan to…

  • Focus on my strengths as a writer. I think I write good comedic contemporary fantasy, so I’m going to build on that;
  • Work on my weaknesses. Specifically, I need to work on…
    • Creating emotional attachments between my characters and the readers; and,
    • Endings.
  • Revise The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster based on feedback that I’ve received;
  • Work on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, the NaNoWriMo novel I worked on in 2017 before I abandoned it;
  • Self-publish Tales from Patwin County, a collection of short stories that take place in, uh, Patwin County (where The Winds of Patwin County is set); and
  • Write a comedic classical fantasy short story of about 9,000 to 10,000 words.

There’s probably more, but that is all I want to put down for now.

This coming year is going to be interesting, to say the least, because library school starts on January 23, and I’ll be continuing my full-time job, AND I’ll be working on Daikaijuzine. I’m not feeling optimistic about my chances of making any money on my writing in 2020, but, you know, stranger things have happened.

For now, Happy New Year! If you’re a writer, keep writing. If you’re a reader, continue reading.

And since today was my birthday, and tomorrow is New Year’s Day, I’ll post again REAL SOON.

Kindness as a Cosmic Virtue

This is not the “official” video of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”, but it’s my favorite.

My favorite line of this speech is at the end:

To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

I agree whole-heartedly with this quote, with the entire message of this speech. It’s why I find the state of the world right now so distressing: Far too many people find far too many ideologies that allow themselves to be cruel to each other. Anti-semitism is on the rise now. Racism is on the rise. Kindness and sympathy are cast aside, and that casting is seen as a virtue by folks on both sides of the political divide.

But in the end, what matters is how kind we are to each other. Neil DeGrasse Tyson said:

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

Every kindness and cruelty that we experience or visit onto others takes place on the same tiny little dust mote in the same Cosmos. I don’t think this is at all meaningless; on the contrary, being kind is a vast responsibility. A cosmic one.

When Peter Capaldi ended his tenure as the Doctor in the British TV series Doctor Who, before he regenerated into Jodie Whitaker, he gave a marvelous speech about the importance of being kind in the cosmos. I can’t remember it, and I can’t find it online anywhere (maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough). But some of the Twelfth Doctor’s words about kindness remain embedded in my brain: “Without hope, without witness, without reward. Be kind.” And also: “Love hard, run fast, be kind.”

And, of course, in the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”, Kirk tells us that somewhere in the galaxy in the 22nd century some poet suggests that “Let me help” is a more loving statement than “I love you.”

So in the middle of this vast Cosmos, be kind to the Earth and the people who inhabit it. It is, after all, all we have. And as Carl Sagan also said, “For such small creatures as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.”

Oh, that’s right, I have a blog!

I keep forgetting that I have one of these things out in the world. So, a quick miscellany.

First, I want to point out the the first issue of the rebooted Daikaijuzine is out, featuring some fantastic fiction and poetry. Go over and check it out.

Second, I’m going back to library school! People who’ve known me since before, oh, 2004, know that I originally enrolled in San Jose State University’s MLIS program back in 2003. I let my enrollment lapse a couple of years later because, if I’m being honest, I was intimidated by one of the classes I was taking. Since then, I’ve regretted not completing the program (especially since I’d just volunteered to work on a website with JAMES FREAKING BURKE, he of the Connections TV series fame from a few years back). A few years back I checked in and discovered that since it’d been over seven years since I’d dropped out, all of my grades had been wiped out and I’d essentially have to start over. I shrugged then, but this time around I decided to give it another serious go. So, here I go. Since the last time I was in the program it’s gone entirely online, which should be interesting. Classes start in spring 2020.

Third, the writing progresses aplenty. I’ve begun outlining A Plague of Ghosts (working title), my Big Project which is both a World War One epic and a space opera. I’m not yet sure how I’m going to get both of these things working together but I will. I’m really looking forward to writing this one, even if I am intimidated by it. Draft one will be started in November, as my NaNoWriMo project. (Remember NaNoWriMo? Yeah, I sort of passed on it these past two years, but I’m raring to go again.) I’ve been reading plenty of WWI history, and plenty of space opera to get myself into the mood.

The other writing news is that… Well, nothing. I have yet to make a professional sale, which I’ve been aiming for for some years now. I have been sending out submissions, of course, but getting no bites. Ah well. These are all stories that I feel are in a complete stage. I have several others that I am still working on: “Sauromancy”, “Anamet”, and “Sparrow Court” are among them.

Oh, I’ve also gotten solid feedback on two novels that I have written, Padma and The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster. These I will polish up in my copious spare time and then move on to the next stage of novel-hood, whatever that may be.

Fourth, a health update: For the past couple of years I’ve noticed a strange twinge in the top of my left foot that happened every once in awhile. I finally went to a podiatrist who said she thought it was an impingement, possibly caused or exacerbated by my flat feet. She gave me some special insoles for my shoes, and when they didn’t help she gave me a boot to wear. I wore the boot for three weeks or so, and while it helped a bit, it didn’t stop the pain entirely. The podiatrist pronounced herself baffled and decided to order an MRI. So that’s coming up. For now I get to wear the boot “for the foreseeable future”. No walking or running or any sort of high-impact exercise. Which means I will be moving the recumbent stationary bicycle into the guest room so that I can use it without bugging Jennifer.

Oh, I also sprained my right ankle. That was about a month ago. It still hurts. The same podiatrist said it would hurt for 2-3 weeks, then feel “weird” for a couple of months after that. I guess it doesn’t hurt so much as it does “feel weird”. Color me annoyed. I’ve been limping on both sides for some time now.

Um, I think that’s it.

Hopefully it will be more than five or so months before I get around to updating again. October is almost here — it’s my favorite time of year — so I hope to have some spooky content up here soon.

Until then, be well my friends.

When I was Sad

There are a lot of ways to be depressed, and depression takes a number of different forms. For me, it can be profound exhaustion, lack of motivation, or just plain sadness.

My depression is very responsive to medication. When I take my brain meds regularly, I am usually in a pretty good place. But last week I ran out of one of the critical ones, I hadn’t gotten refills on time, and the pharmacy was out for a couple of days. As a result, my brain went into a spiral of sadness. Here are some examples of what went on:

  • We are currently fostering two orphan kittens, feeding them by bottle because they are too young for solid food. One night when Jennifer was at rehearsal or something, I was holding the kittens and feeding them. They were crying out loud for food, and I told one of them — Pumpernickel, I think — that I understood because, “You’re just looking for your mommy.” And then I started crying, and couldn’t stop for a good ten minutes because hey, orphan kittens. I’m better now and I know that with us, the kittens are in good and loving hands.
  • One afternoon I texted Jennifer to ask he to swap laundry for me. She works at home and I was in the office at the time. She didn’t reply for an hour or so. Normally not a big deal, because, of course, she was working. But my brain spiraled out of control thinking that she’d had a heart attack and had died or something, and then it took everything I had to tell myself that the thought was irrational and so on. I almost cried in the office anyway.
  • On the way home the next day, I started crying again. Not sure why, this time. Probably the kittens again. Anyway, I was sad and frustrated with myself for being sad, and ended up yelling at myself to just stop it and get over it. I did by the time I got home. But that was bad: angry, sad, and frustrated all at the same time is no way to go through life, so.

Fortunately, the pharmacy had stocked my meds that day, and by the weekend I was back to normal.

I know a number of people who have weaned themselves off their own brain meds for whatever reason. I’m all for it, as long as they do it in consultation with this doctor. Me, I think I need the meds to keep functioning on a good level. There was a time before the meds when I felt like the above all the time. I’m glad those times have passed.

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!
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