Entering the Home Stretch of 2019

Wow. That year went quickly and also dragged like a drunk sloth. And we still have three weeks to go.

Last week was fairly quiet for the acquisitions department here at the library of Winkelman Abbey. Most of my subscriptions have wound down and I am not out and about purchasing new books as frequently as I have in past years. I don’t consider that a particular problem as I have enough unread books here that, were I to quit all other obligations and devote my life to reading, I would still have difficulty making it through the pile before 2030. For every 36-page poetry collection I have a matching 800+ page genre novel, and more of each are published every day.

In the middle of the above stack is the latest issue of The Paris Review. On the left is Soft Science, a poetry collection by Franny Choi which I purchased on impulse when I visited Books & Mortar to pick up my special order of the book on the right, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher.

With the Fisher book in hand I now have a good stack of holiday reading, which I consider appropriate for some good holiday reading here at the end of 2019.

All of these books have arrived at the Abbey within the last year.

With NaNoWriMo over and Caffeinated Press winding down, as well as various other obligations on hiatus for the month, I have had a lot of time to read, which has been wonderful! I completed Dyrk Ashton‘s excellent Paternus: Wrath of Gods last weekend, and shortly after made it to the end of the magnificent Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Both books have sequels in the works, and they cannot arrive soon enough!

Currently I am about a third of the way through Jackie Wang‘s Carceral Capitalism. For this (and the other books in the holiday reading photo) I am going back to my roots as a student and treating the reading as a learning assignment. I am taking notes and cross-referencing, underlining long stretches of text with a blue ball-point pen. The experience has been enlightening, if such a word applies to a book as astonishing, infuriating and depressing as this one.

In my spare moments I have been organizing all of my completed, mostly-written, and partially-written poems and short stories, and sorting them into stacks based on whether or not I think they are ready to send out into the wild. Based on the advice Tobias Buckell offered in It’s All Just a Draft I have put together several lists of potential targets at which to fire off my work – fiction, nonfiction poetry, genre and themed deadlines and anthologies. Gotta be somebody, somewhere who wants to publish the work of a burned out, disaffected fifty-something dude.

With 2019, and therefore the decade, winding down, many think-pieces are surfacing on the internet, looking back on the events of 2009-2019 and how now compares to then. I have not decided if I will do something like that. If so it will certainly happen in the last day or so of the year. Wouldn’t want to miss a last-minute event.

 

Another Nano, Come and Gone

And just like that, NaNoWriMo 2019 is over. For me it was the most successful one yet. I hit 50,000 on November 20 and added around five thousand more in the last ten days. Final tally, somewhere north of 55,500 words. If I hadn’t abruptly run out of steam right after winning I could have hit 70,000 and still had more story to tell. Such are the vicissitudes of life.

This was a good week for the Library at Winkelman Abbey, mostly thanks to various Kickstarter campaigns.

At upper left is the latest Pulphouse magazine. Next to it is the fifth annual Long List Anthology of short stories which made it to the preliminary round of the Hugo Awards but did not win. Next to it is the latest issue of Poetry.

In the bottom row are the three books from the reward from a troubled Kickstarter campaign which, though it took a year longer than anticipated, finally came through with flying colors. Knaves, Scoundrels and Brigands all look to be excellent anthologies and I look forward to reading them as soon as they get to the top of the TBR pile.

To the far right of the pile are two books from Semiotext(e). On the top is Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang. On the bottom is Gore Capitalism by Sayak Valencia. I first heard of Wang’s book when I was researching the various manifestations and rhizomes of capitalism after browsing through The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism, the third volume of which I picked up in San Francisco this past summer. Given that this is the major purchasing month of the year I feel like these books, along with A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari, might have some interesting things to teach. These are the kinds of things I read when the holiday season has me in a certain mood.

Blame that on a decade of working retail in West Michigan.

My ConFusion 2020 Schedule

ConFusion 2020 will take place from Thursday, January 16 through Sunday, January 19, 2020. I am participating in two panels this year:

Title: Collaborating With Your Publisher On Book Promotion
Day/time: Friday January 17, 5:00 pm
Room: Maintou
Track: Pro
Panelists: Annalee Flower Horne (M), John Winkelman, Yanni Kuznia, Suzanne Church
Description: Most writers don’t know what book promotion is going to look like when they sign that first contract. What will the publisher do? What are they responsible for doing themselves? How do they best collaborate with their publisher on promotion to get the most out of their joint efforts? Is spending part of your advance on promo ever worth it? Do you need to worry about a publisher pulling back on promotion if they see you doing your own? And is it even possible for author promo to turn a book that’s not a lead title into a breakout success, or is that all just down to luck? Our panel of authors and publishing pros discuss the best ways for an author to drive sales of their trad pubbed book.

Title: Great Lakes and Inland Seas In Secondary Worlds
Day/time: Sunday January 19, 12:00 pm
Room: Isle Royale
Track: Literature
Panelists: Anthony W. Eichenlaub (M), Marissa Lingen, Phoebe Barton, John Winkelman
Description: It’s hard to really get a sense of the scale of the American Great Lakes if you’ve never stood on one of their shores. Those of us used to thinking of lakes as more akin to very large ponds are often surprised by the dunes, the waves, the wind, the distant horizon. Writers who know the lakes offer advice on how to incorporate great lakes and inland seas into our fantasy worlds–as a narrative setting, what separates lakes from oceans? What unique or surprising storytelling opportunities do lakes provide?

50K and Counting

At 9:00 pm on Wednesday, November 20, I passed 50,000 words in my NaNoWrimo 2019 project titled Neighbors: A Malediction. It. Felt. Wonderful. This is by far the earliest I have passed 50,000 words in the seven years I have participated in National Novel Writing Month. This is also my fifth win. I gave myself a much-needed break and slept in until 7:30 am yesterday, instead of the customary 5:15 which arrives oh, so early as the days get shorter and the nights darker.

Now that the bulk of the writing is out of the way I have time to read and catch up with my journaling, which has fallen by the wayside these past few weeks.

Three books arrived this past week, and none the week before. On the left is volume 1 of The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction, which I grabbed from the Write616 archives scattered around the floor of the Caffeinated Press office when I stopped by to pick up a few copies of issue 5.1 of The 3288 Review to ship to a customer. In the middle is Lesley Conner’s The Weight of Chains, which I received as a surprise lagniappe for backing a Kickstarter campaign for Apex Publications. On the right is the latest arrival from my subscription to Restless Book, Silence of the Chagos by Shenaz Patel, which looks like something I might need to bump up a few tiers in my TBR pile.

I have managed to set aside a little time for reading this month. I finished both J. Michael Straczynski‘s extraordinary memoir Becoming Superman and Tobias Buckell‘s extremely helpful book of writing advice It’s All Just a Draft. I am still working my way through Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and loving it more with every page. And for my night reading I just picked up Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton, which I picked up (and got signed by the author!) at ConFusion 2019 back in January. I’m only about two chapters in but it is every bit as much fun as was the first book in the series, Paternus: Rise of Gods.

For  the last week of the month I plan to add a few thousand more words to the NaNoWriMo novel to get to the end of the first draft. Of course “first draft” is perhaps overselling the novel at this point. It is really the “pre-first” or “box of scraps” draft. A thorough re-read and hefty rewrite will bring it up to first draft.

This is the first time I have completed a novel during NaNoWriMo. In the first year I came close, though on re-read there are many things about it which were problematic and will need to be changed. But perhaps at this time next year I will be able to announce that I am shopping a novel around, looking for a publisher.

Damn It’s Cold Around Here

Cold weather has settled here on West Michigan and I can feel it yea unto my very bones. I have to remind myself that I am 50 now, and the physical discomfort which in past years would have dissipated in a flood of angst and testosterone now lingers like the uncomfortable memories of actions performed under the influence of angst and testosterone. Thus there is symmetry in the universe.

Only one addition to the library this week – the latest issue of the excellent New Ohio Review. I bought a subscription when I submitted a few poems to them, around this time last year. Obviously they didn’t accept the poems or I would now be rolling in money, as poetry is one of the most lucrative form of writing.

In reading news I am almost halfway through Black Leopard, Red Wolf and still loving the hell out of it. Just a damn good book.

I just started reading Tobias Buckell‘s It’s All Just a Draft. This was another Kickstarter reward and already it has paid for itself. I opened it to a random page and there was Buckell’s system for systematically submitting stories to venues arranged in a spreadsheet according to a sophisticated (to me anyway) algorithm. Start at the top, and as rejections arrive, work your way down to the bottom. If you reach the bottom, archive or bin the story.

This approach had never occurred to me, though it was obvious from the submissions we received at The 3288 Review that something like this was standard operating procedure for a number of submitters. The methodical approach is, in the long term, more successful than the haphazard. Once NaNoWriMo is over I will put together a list and a few packages of poems, and hit the internet.

I also just started reading J. Michael Straczynski‘s memoir Becoming Superman. I am only a chapter or so in, but already it is quite compelling and I can see it taking reading time away from the Marlon James book.

This past Friday I hit the halfway point in my NaNoWriMo project – 25,000 words in nine days. I didn’t add to the total at all yesterday and have only added about 200 so far today. I hope to hit 35,000 or more by end of day Friday because this upcoming weekend will be exceptionally busy and I want to keep my momentum going. I am sorry to report that the neighbor who is the central piece of this book keeps giving more material to work with. At this rate I could easily complete a trilogy.

A few hours ago I delivered the latest templates for the schedule page for ConFusion 2020. Two months and one week until the convention, and I am counting the hours. This will be my sixth time attending, I believe, and I regret all of the ones I did not attend after the first. I do sincerely enjoy volunteering for ConFusion. I have a set of skills they find useful, and it is so much more fulfilling (if not quite so profitable) than using those skills at work.

NaNoWriMo 2019

At last, it has arrived! NaNoWriMo 2019 started on Friday, November 1. At the time of this post I have written just under 12,000 of the target 50,000 words for the month. Almost 25% of the way there in four days. While I in no way expect to keep up this pace I would really like to actually complete this story/novella/novel within 30 days, instead of hitting midnight on November 30 and suddenly running out of steam partway through the project.

This year I am writing a literary fiction novel titled Neighbor: A Malediction. For the past seven years I have lived across the street from an obnoxious neighbor who has tried my patience, mucked up the neighborhood, and generally behaved like an obnoxious jackass in any number of ways and at every opportunity. This project has good parts and bad parts. On the good side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. On the bad side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. I am playing around with the order of events and the specifics of dialogue and interactions for the sake of narrative flow and dramatic hooks, but everything will be based closely or exactly on real life events. In the event I complete the book and try to get it published I will change names and what-not, of course, but people who know the neighborhood will certainly recognize the characters.

My user name at the NaNo website is JohnFromGR. If you are participating this year feel free to send me a buddy request.

This week we received a small yet interesting stack of books. The first two books in the above photo, They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears by Johannes Anyuru and Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono, came in from my subscription to Two Lines Press. I was planning to let my subscription lapse, but in the latest Two Lines Press newsletter they announced a collection of science fiction short stories from Chinese writers, so now I feel conflicted.

Next up is the latest issue of Peninsula Poets, published by the Poetry Society of Michigan.

The last book, Hebrew Punk, is one I grabbed from Apex Publications during their selling drive to raise funds for the next year of publishing.

In reading news, I finished (and liked!) Insides She Swallowed by Sasha Chacon. I am about one third of the way through Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and LOVING it! I wish I had the time free to just sit and plow through the entire book in one day. I think I could do it, though it would likely do bad things to my connection with the consensual reality.

The next few posts will likely be quite terse as I all myself to become fully engulfed in the NaNoWriMo mindset. Selah!

October is Winding Down

It was another quiet week here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, which is a good thing, what with NaNoWriMo starting in a few days, and the ten thousand tasks which come with closing down a publishing company and publishing our last literary journal. Things are just busy.

On the left is the most recent issue of Poetry. On the right is Alexandra Erin’s Kickstarter-backed collection First Dates, Last Calls. I have not yet had time to do more than the briefest skims of each, but they both promise to be very good reads.

Speaking of reads, I am a little over a hundred pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and still enjoying it immensely. It is a surprisingly easy read for all its length and the density of the prose. Given a few multi-hour blocks of reading time I could have it finished by Thanksgiving. Since I seriously doubt that will happen I have resigned myself to keeping at it until the end of the year.

I am almost done with Sasha Chacon’s Insides She Swallowed, and it is a really good collection. Seems that the people with the best words are the ones who actually have something to say. Who knew?

And that’s all I have for now. The next few weeks will likely be crazy busy so posts will be even more terse and infrequent.

Archives Are In the Attic

Yesterday whilst out shopping with my girlfriend I picked up some cardboard bank boxes, and filled them with books which, until that point, had been on my bookshelves.

Two things prompted this decision. First, as I no longer live alone, space in our living quarters is at somewhat of a premium and, well, I have a lot of books. Second, the two books which arrived last week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey are HUGE.

On the left is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Labyrinth of the Spirits, the last of the four volumes of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. It is 880 pages long, several inches thick, and quite heavy. On the right is the latest delivery from And Other Stories, Endland by Tim Etchells. It is also quite hefty. At almost 400 pages it is probably the longest book I have received from this publisher.

So books require space. So do relationships. Therefore one corner of my attic is now the archive, and the first 60 books from my collection to be stored are now in boxes. Since I have significantly slowed my rate of acquisition (again, relationship) I don’t expect to need to shuffle books around more than once every six months or so.

I don’t have a firm criteria for which get archived, other than that I don’t anticipate wanting to read them, or needing them for reference, or otherwise finding them all that interesting at the moment. That could change in years to come, so I am trying to come up with a tracking system of some kind so I can, if need be in the years to come, find specific archived books with a minimum of hassle.

In reading news, I finished re-reading Jim Harrison’s True North, and it was every bit as good as I remember from the first read ten years ago. I am in the middle of Insides She Swallowed, a poetry collection by Sasha Pimentel Chacon which I picked up at Arkipelago Books in San Francisco in June 2018. I haven’t read enough to form a solid opinion, but the poetry therein is beautiful.

As the year winds down my already limited reading time becomes even more scarce and suddenly fifteen uninterrupted minutes is a precious commodity. NaNoWriMo starts in eleven days and the volunteer work for ConFusion 2020 is slowly ramping up. All of this is fun and wonderful but O, the time disappears so quickly.

Gearing Up and Winding Down

My life has been crazy busy for the last several months, and though things are beginning to wind down, the psychological and emotional hangover is just beginning. I’m tired. Really, really tired. I spend my (still limited) free time reading books. So some things haven’t changed.

This past week most of the acquisitions came from subscriptions of various kinds – the latest issue of Pulphouse, two books from Deep Vellum and one from Restless Books. I did go out of my way to pick up J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming Superman, as it has been on my list for a few months, and is now at the top of my to-read stack.

In reading news I am a little over 100 pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I seriously love this book! It is amazing, and I wonder what the hell reviewers were talking about when they compared it to Game of Thrones, because other than belonging to approximately the same broad genre, they are absolutely nothing alike. It’s like saying that fans of Lonesome Dove will really like Blood Meridian.

I am also re-reading True North by Jim Harrison. I recently loaned my copy of Dalva to a friend and realized that I had not read any of Harrison’s fiction in at least a couple of years. His work still holds up, and I wish I had a fraction of the talent he brings to the page.

Two weeks until NaNoWriMo!

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Probably Do Again

So what we have here is a big pile of poetry books and one issue of Poetry. The magazine came from a subscription. The books came from the bookshelves of Write616 (formerly the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters).

Why, you may ask, do I have a big ol’ stack of poetry books from the shelves of Write616? Well, therein lies a tale.

For the past couple of years, the GLCL/Write616 has shared space with Caffeinated Press, the publishing company of which I have been a part owner/director/executive/dogsbody since 2014. This past weekend the Powers That Be of Caffeinated Press met and decided that, as we are all of us older, exhausted and burned out, we will be closing down the shop at the end of 2019. Parallel to this decision, the Powers That Be of Write616 made a similar decision.

Thus closes a chapter of my life which has been front and center to my day-to-day existence for just over five years. I started as an editor in September of 2014, just after the publication of the first volume of the Caffeinated Press house anthology Brewed Awakenings. I joined the board in early 2015, and shortly thereafter we launched our journal of arts and letters, The 3288 Review (named after the miles of coastline in Michigan, as measured in 2000).

We still have a few projects in the works which are mostly completed. The last issue of The 3288 Review will come out at the end of this month. The remaining few books which are in process will be complete by the end of the year. All of the paperwork, finances, etc., will wind down by December 31.

And I will, for the first time in five years, have free time in my life on a regular basis. Of course, knowing me, I will immediately fill it with something else. Already I have ideas for a new lit journal, one which would focus more on art, interviews, and specifically the Grand Rapids literature scene.

But before I do anything like that I will start writing again. And submitting my work for publication. I have dozens of poems in various states of completion, as well as more than a score of short stories and essays. And they need homes. Also, National Novel Writing Month begins an about three weeks, so it’s time to start planning something to write.

So it goes.