The next chapter: August 2020 update

Another month has passed. I am experiencing covid time. Sometimes, it feels like March was only yesterday. At others, the second drag on. Though I’ve made my monthly goals more manageable, and revised my yearly goals every month, I’ve gotten more done than I thought I would.

Before we get to the month in writing, we have to make a brief stop in covid-ville.

Pandemic life

Black and Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous (and indeed, all marginalized or racialized people’s) lives matter. White privilege and white supremacy are real. We must interrogate our biases, listen, learn, and do better.

Tomorrow marks the return to school for students in Ontario. I’m not optimistic, and I can only wait to see how things turn out.

Working from home continues. I finally, after nearly six months, received my work laptop. The process was poorly organized and involved calls to the service desk. My system was still not working properly at the end of Friday and I ended up returning to the virtual desktop so I could get some work done.

I hope that all of my programs will have been downloaded by tomorrow morning and I can finish reconfiguring the laptop the way I want. Because I only have the one desk and no room to set up a second in my office, Phil will be making me a unit to raise my monitors above the level of the laptop, which has to remain on, open, and connected to our network so that updates can be pushed after working hours.

I have one of my monitors set up so that I can switch inputs between the laptop and my computer. It’s funny. When we were told we were going to be getting dual monitors at work, I and most of my colleagues questioned the necessity. Now, it’s difficult to conceive of working without them. We have so many programs, it really is easier to have them spread out over a larger visual area.

These are all first world problems of privilege. I just have to put on my big girl panties and git ‘er done. It’s interesting how little is takes to throw me off in these covid times. I can’t imagine how teachers are dealing with the possibility of turning on a dime and converting their lessons for online delivery in the event of an outbreak, which we’ve been told to expect.

The exciting events of July have not resulted in any news. That’s to be expected. Sometimes these assessment processes take months to sort through, and I believe the unit has been since slammed with other priorities.

Work itself is still frustrating and fraught. ‘Nuff said about that.

The month in writing

The never-ending novel is never-ending. I’m now over 116k words and not yet finished with the story. It’s going to be a hell of an edit. I did achieve 153% of my writing goal on Reality Bomb, however, writing 7,662 words of my 5k-word goal.

I wrote 173% of my 3,500-word blogging goal, writing 6,040 words in August.

I wrote 905 words for my latest Speculations column, which, though only 91% of my 1k-word goal, I count as a win, because I’m forever going over my 1k-word limit 🙂

Finally, I drafted 611 word on a new short story. I had wanted to write 1k words, but I ran out of spoons, or maybe hands, by the end of the month.

Overall, I wrote 15,218 words, or 145% of my 10,500-work goal.

Filling the well

There were just a few virtual events in August.

The first was When Words Collide, from the 14th to the 16th. They opted to provide the entire weekend of programming free this year because they had to cancel the in-person event. I only attended one session live, with Swati Chavda, on burnout. Unfortunately, the unsecured Zoom account WWC borrowed from the Alberta Romance Writers Association meant the intrusion of a Zoom bomber, which was not fun even though the session was great.

Phil and I were invited out to his sister’s backyard paradise for a bubbled day of social fun on the Saturday, so I wasn’t able to take in any further live sessions. I’m waiting for them to be edited and posted to WWC’s YouTube channel. The Aurora Awards were presented on Saturday evening. That’s the only session that’s been posted so far.

On the 16th, I watched Lavie Tidhar and Silvia Moreno-Garcia in conversation.

On the 18th, I started a free online course on short fiction from Steven L. Sears offered in conjunction with the Roswell Awards. This was the impetus for the new short story I started working on. The last of the classes is tomorrow.

On the 19th, I enjoyed Melissa Yuan-Innes’s workshop on How to Build Worlds without Boring your Readers to Death.

Finally, on the 24th, I attended a Penguin Random House Star Talk with Saleema Nawaz about her book Songs for the End of the World, which is now out.

I’m doing a lot more of these virtual events, I find. I’m enjoying them and they’re doing the job of inspiring me to keep on with the keeping on.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched the second season of Doom Patrol. It seemed to be one of the shows that was interrupted by covid. It ended at episode 9, and in a bit of an odd way. Sure enough, I found confirmation online that they were in the middle of filming episode 9 when production shut down. The cliff-hanger at the end of season one was apparently intentional. The cliff-hanger at the end of season two was not.

It was okay. We like most of the characters, though we both agree that Cliff is useless. The disappointment was that after the whole of season one was spend delving into the personal traumas of the various heroes and the big reveal that the Chief actually caused all of their “accidents” in one way or the other, or took advantage of their circumstances in a kind of hero syndrome on steroids, the whole of season two was more of the same. The heroes made progress, but several of them were still stuck in the mire of their various issues.

We’re hoping for actual progress in season three … please?

The Umbrella Academy season two was admittedly better than season one, but it, too, suffered from many of the same problems. Again, all the heroes struggle with trauma associated with their upbringing by Hargreaves—who is revealed to be an alien in this season—and most of them end up exactly where they started.

At the end of season one, the rest of the team take down Vanya, but fail to stop her from ending the world. Five’s solution is to take them back in time, but his time travel abilities malfunction conveniently, scattering the UA members over several years in the early 60’s. While they do eventually get together again, because, of course, there’s another apocalypse, they’re all as deeply messed up as they ever were.

They deal with Vanya’s overpowered and ill-defined abilities by giving her amnesia, but she’s still nearly the cause of the apocalypse—again. Five’s powers continue to malfunction, until they don’t. And even though he’s trapped in the body of his pre-teen self, he’s actually in his 50s and should know better, especially when the Handler screws him over—again. Allison feels so much guilt over abusing her abilities to manipulate her daughter in the future that she proudly refuses to use her powers. Until she doesn’t and goes on a power trip that includes a “shopping spree” and getting a racist diner owner to scald himself. Luther uses his super strength to win fixed fights for Jack Ruby. Diego is so obsessed with saving the soon-to-be-assassinated Kennedy that he winds up in an asylum. Klaus starts a cult with dead Ben’s help and tries to prevent the man he fell in love with during the Vietnam War from enlisting.

And that’s not mentioning the Swedish assassins, the Handler’s daughter, or Harlan, whom Vanya inadvertently endows with her powers.

At the end, apocalypses apparently dealt with, Five manages to get them back to 2019, except Hargreaves, having met his failed experiments in the 60s, decides to go with a whole different set of enhanced babies (except for Ben), who are now The Sparrow Academy.

I watched the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and enjoyed it, though I felt that they had lost their way as far back as the Inhumans storyline … which they resurrected in this final season. In fact, it’s like they picked bits and pieces from all of the previous seasons and brought them together, intending to tie everything up with a nice bow, only to fumble the bow like a three-year-old. No, honey, the rabbit goes into its hole. The show ended in a similar way to iZombie, with the team having a virtual reunion. It was satisfying and there are intimations that there might be some kind of tie in to the MCU/Disney+ (which has thus far ignored everything the networks or Netfix has put out), but we’ll have to wait and see.

Lost in Space wasn’t bad. I was left thinking that the Robot is kind of like the TARDIS, taking the Robinsons where they need to go, despite where they might tell him to go.

Finally, I watched the limited series Unorthodox. It was an interesting window into orthodox Hasidic culture, but it’s nothing like the true story it’s based upon. The writers were not unsympathetic to Esty’s husband, but they didn’t offer any resolution with regard to her aspirations in the music program she’d auditioned for. It was good, and I was riveted, but I was left wanting more.

In the reading department, I read seven books in August.

First, I finished Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself. It was good and definitely an epic fantasy, but something didn’t sit well with me for most of the book. I think it’s that there were only two women characters of note, one with a history of abuse who resorts to alcohol for self-medication and the other a feral warrior who was enslaved and abused in the past.

Ardee West seems to serve no purpose but to provide motivation to the male characters of the novel. To her brother Collem West, she is burden and a source of guilt. To Jezal, she is a potential love interest and borderline obsession. To Sand, she is a bittersweet reminder of what might have been.

Ferro Maljinn is a powerful woman, but she is the ultimate wild card, hating everyone without cause or reason, and bent on her personal quest for revenge even though she understands the bigger issues at stake.

Also, the book was very much the first act of the larger story that is the trilogy. It could never have stood on its own. I was, accordingly, ambivalent.

I read Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey. Though it is the second in series, it was a complete story on its own. At first, I thought that it was an alternate world historical fantasy, but part-way through, there was math and advanced science. So, science fantasy, then? I liked it, regardless, and the first novella is on my TBR list.

Then, I read Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water. I loved it. Though it was YA, it didn’t suffer from the agonized romantic subplot that most YA novels feature. Instead, it focused on the emotional journeys of its two young Black protagonists. Tavia is a siren living in hiding. Sirens are the most feared of the supernatural peoples because of their ability to rob their victims of their free will. Effie, who’s lived with Tavia’s family since her mother’s death, swims like she was born to the element and plays a mermaid at the annual Renaissance Fair.

Set in Portland, the story explores both girls’ trauma, not only as Black women in a mostly white city, but also as women who must unravel secrets—which their families actively keep from them—in order to become the people they were meant to be. Ultimately, it’s the girls’ friendship that gives them the strength to succeed. Morrow doesn’t shy away from the complexities of racism and intersectionality in various contexts.

Then, I read two Lawrence Hill books. The Illegal tells the story of a runner, Keita Ali, from the fictional country of Zantoroland, where dissidents are held for ransom, tortured, and killed by their corrupt government. Keita escapes to another fictional country, Freedom State, where he attempts to achieve his goal to become a competitive marathoner, when he discovers that his sister has been kidnapped and is being held in Zantoroland. If Keita can’t come up with the ransom, she’ll be killed, and so he runs, not just for his own life, but for that of his sister.

Based on a true story, The Book of Negroes is about Aminata Diallo, stolen from her home in Bayo (in Mali) by other Africans, and sold into the slave trade. She is bought by a cruel indigo plantation owner in South Carolina, her first child is taken from her, and she is subsequently sold to a Jewish man who, though he ensures she has work worthy of her skills and education, nonetheless abuses her after his own fashion. When Aminata discovers that he was responsible for selling her child, Aminata escapes while they’re in New York as the America Revolution begins.

Aminata works for the British during the war and once hostilities cease, becomes scribe, noting the names of the slaves freed through service to the British in the titular book. Pregnant with her second child, she is prevented from joining her husband on their way to Nova Scotia when her previous owners make claim upon her. Though eventually emancipated in truth, by the time Aminata makes it to Nova Scotia, she cannot find her husband and learns that circumstances in Canada are little better than they were in America.

Her second child is abducted during the chaos of a white attack on the Black settlement, and Aminata is once again on her own. Abolitionists come and recruit Nova Scotian Blacks, none of whom have been given the land promised them by the British, to create a free Black settlement in Sierra Leone. Aminata signs up because it has been her dream to return to Africa since she was first stolen from her home.

Again, the repatriated settlers of Sierra Leone are denied land and must endure the continuing slave trade that goes on around them. Aminata travels inland with guides and though she fails to find Bayo, she does find an African village where she stays for a while before eventually returning to Sierra Leone and accepting an offer to travel to England and help the abolitionists end the slave trade.

In a beautiful ending, Aminata is reunited with her daughter May, writes her story for the abolitionists, and helps to end the slave trade, though not slavery itself. This is a novel that everyone should read. Full stop.

Then, I read Danielle Jensen’s The Stolen Songbird. Cécile is kidnapped and magically bonded to the troll prince in the hope of ending a curse that a human witch places on the trolls centuries ago. The bonding does not break the curse and Cécile must navigate troll politics and a rebellion in the attempt to win her freedom. But, of course, she falls in love with the troll prince.

Finally, I marked as read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon. I didn’t actually read it this month, but I was involved in the beta read last year and was invited to the live streaming of Mary Robinette’s recording of the audiobook this summer.

This is the third in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series and focuses on Nicole Wargin during Alma York’s journey to Mars (in The Fated Sky). Earth first is sabotaging Artemis Base and Wargin must uncover the plot while dealing with the effects of the sabotage, personal injury, and threats to her husband, the governor of Kansas, on Earth. It was gut-wrenching and wonderful. I won’t say anything more about it. Read.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The next chapter: July 2020 update

Another month has passed. July was eventful and not in the all the ways I expected.

And yes, this post is late. A week and a day late. You’ll understand.

Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until all Black and Indigenous lives matter. This is a fundamental truth.

The lives of all BIPOC, LGBTQ2A+, disabled, neuro-atypical, and all other racialized or marginalized people matter. We all need to listen, learn, and do better.

That is all.

Pandemic life

So. 24 new confirmed cases of covid-19 have occurred in Sudbury over the last couple of weeks, most of them in people under 30. While there hasn’t been any confirmed written report on the topic, the rumours are that a group of young people went down to a huge party in southern Ontario and brought the virus back with them. Police have also reported breaking up a couple of large parties within the city.

Some people are blaming covid exhaustion. Indeed, it’s taxing for people who haven’t been able to engage in any of their pre-covid social activities, but going from isolation to parties that exceed the safe gathering limits? Travelling to do so? Not smart.

The worrisome part of it all is that we now have community spread in our area and health officials haven’t been able to determine where some of the newly infected might have been exposed.

It’s a drop in the bucket with respect to covid cases nationwide, and we’re faring so much better than other areas of the country. Overall, Canada is doing better than some countries and worse than others. Considering that we had, in total, 68 cases and 2 deaths up until this new rash of infections, though, I think that we may be heading for a second wave. Those 24 new cases represent a 35% bump for our relatively small city. It’s not necessarily going to happen the same way everywhere, but even extrapolating a 15% increase elsewhere means a lot of new infections.

I’m still worried about what’s going to happen when kids return to school. The “plan” we have in Ontario is missing a lot of key details. I think now is not the time to experiment. “Let’s wait and see” is not an acceptable strategy.

Wear your masks, people. Stay safe. Keep your distance when you can. Gather in safe numbers and watch out for your friends and family.

My situation remains status quo with the one key excitement of being invited to write an exam for an internal position I applied for pre-covid. As the position is one that I am very interested in (in many ways, it’s my dream job), I confirmed my participation and awaited next steps.

It turned out the exam was to be written over the course of a week, well, six and a half days, most of which would be while I was working my substantive job. So, evenings and on the weekend, which in this case was the Civic Holiday long weekend.

Then, due to a technical issue, the exam materials, which I was to have received Monday morning, were not issued until that night, but they were sent to my work email (which, admittedly, I had requested because of the technical issue). This means I didn’t even see the email until the next morning when I logged in to my remote desktop. The due date was extended, but only considering the time of issue, not when I would have, in fact, received it. So, I lost any time I could have devoted to the exam on Monday and the due date was now the morning of the Civic Holiday.

It was a lot of work. By Friday, I’d only managed to devote about three or four hours a day to the exam. I determined that I would submit the exam on Sunday night, rather than work through the night to submit the exam in the morning. I know my limits. Going without sleep is not something I can do without consequence. I planned accordingly. I devoted eight hours to the exam on Saturday and 12 on Sunday and I still didn’t have the time to do all I’d wanted to do.

For better or worse, I submitted the exam at 11:57 pm on Sunday.

Because I was catching up on all the work I hadn’t done during the exam week, I didn’t get around to writing this update until today.

The month in writing

Once again, I failed to finish my rewrite of Reality Bomb. I’m closer, but I’m not done yet and the draft is over 108k words. Once I do bring the story to a conclusion, more or less, I’m going to be going over it again and cutting like mad. I have to tighten it up and make sure that the overall story has continuity. I want to reduce the draft to 90k if I can. I’ll settle for 100k, but I want a trim beast to present to my critique group.

I also critiqued a draft for one of my group members.

JulyProgress

I set another modest goal of 5,000 words and wrote 6,628 words, or 133% of my goal.

I blogged 5,448 words of my 3,750-word goal, or 145%.

I planned to write 8,750 words and actually wrote 12,076 words. That’s 138% of my goal.

Filling the well

On July 1st, I attended an online workshop with Roz Morris on backstory, offered through Jane Friedman. Love Roz 🙂

On the 11th, I attended the WXR virtual reunion and the taping of their annual “cruise” portions of the Writing Excuses podcast. The cruise is cancelled this year, and this was a great compensatory virtual get-together.

I also attended the virtual launch of Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon on July 14th. It was fun. The Lady Astronauts Club showed up in period-appropriate/IAC costume, MRK was dressed as her protagonist, Nicole Wargin, and they framed the experience as an orientation session for new lunar colonists at the IAC. There was a lecture on orbital mechanics, a lander simulation (which I managed on the fourth try), and several other entertaining activities. I’ve since received my copy of the novel and an IAC Artemis Base badge.

On July 20th, I attended a virtual lecture by Ibram X. Kendi on how to be an anti-racist broadcast by Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

Finally, on July 24th, I attended a session on Mythology and Speculative Literature that was sponsored by The Carl Brandon Society. Vida Cruz, Piper J. Drake, Kate Elliot, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Shveta Thakrar discussed the mythological inspiration for their work, problematic or clichéd uses of myth, and other mythic goodness.

A couple of friends from out of town were visiting family and came over for an evening, which we spent on the backyard patio, appropriately distanced. These visits are always too short.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched all of Penny Dreadful. Though we enjoyed the first two seasons, the third left us scratching our heads. Ethan was taken back to America and Sir Malcolm, recruited by Kaetenay, travelled from Africa to rescue him. Ethan temporarily goes dark side before the resolution to his troubles brings him abruptly back to the light. Then, Kaetenay has a vision that sends them back to London to help Vanessa …

… who has been languishing, abandoned by all her supposed friends and family. At Dr. Lyle’s suggestion, she enters into therapy with Dr. Seward, who looks identical to her witch mentor from the previous season’s flashbacks. She makes progress through hypnosis and ventures out into the world again with Dr. Sweet, who is, in fact, Dracula (dun, dun, dun!).

Frankenstein teams up with an old colleague, Dr. Jeckyll in a subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere.

The creature reunites with his family, only to discover that his wife wants him to take their dying son to Frankenstein for resurrection.

Brona recruits the fallen women of the city and trains them to become her army with Dorian’s help. Her goal: to liberate women everywhere from the power and cruelty of men. Sadly, Dorian bores of the game and delivers Brona into Frankenstein’s hands, where both creator and creation have inexplicable changes of heart. He refuses to use the serum he and Jeckyll developed to tame Brona, and Brona, once freed, knowing that Dorian delivered her into Frankenstein’s captivity, decides not to take her revenge on either of them. She returns to Dorian’s manor and, seeing her disciple dead on the floor at Dorian’s hands, simply leaves. Brona delivers an empowering speech that’s supposed to leave Dorian devastated, but it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, a new friend enters Vanessa’s life, Catriona Hartdegen. Cat knows a lot about vampires and Dracula in particular and together, they figure out that Dr. Sweet is Dracula. Vanessa goes to confront him, intending to defeat him, but—again, inexplicably—decides instead to surrender to him. Darkness and chaos descend upon London.

Ethan, Sir Malcolm, and Kaetenay, newly arrived, team up with Dr. Seward and Cat to save Vanessa. Dracula tells Vanessa that her former friends are coming, and she intimates that she will welcome the opportunity to slay them all. When the battle is joined, however, Vanessa is no where to be seen. Everyone fights valiantly, but it looks like the tide is turning in Dracula’s favour. Ethan breaks away and finds Vanessa isolated in a room where she merely begs him to kill her, which, after some weeping and moaning, he does.

And that was it. I know the series was cancelled while they were in the middle of filming this last season, but in an attempt to compress the story, the writers were unable to set up the appropriate character development that would make the last few episodes feel earned (where have we seen that before, eh, GoT?). Instead, we have uncharacteristic actions/decisions by nearly every character, lose ends, and a lot of lost opportunities. It would have been better if they had changed course and written and ending that made sense, even if it wasn’t the ending they had been writing toward for the whole series.

On TV, I watched the most recent season of The Good Witch. It’s candy and fluff, but sometimes you need a little candy and fluff.

I finally finished Orange is the New Black. They had to do some fancy tap dancing to get everything rolled up and they did leave some loose ends. I’m glad Piper decided to stick with Alex, but I think I would have been just as happy if she’d gone on to have her own life. It was the other stories, Taystee’s, Original Cindy’s, and Gloria’s stories in particular, that grabbed me. Blanca got a happy ending. Pennsatucky’s end was tragic. Maritza and Shani’s deportations were senseless. Aleida and Daya just continued the cycle of violence. Suzanne was left hanging, much as Red and Lorna were. I know it was supposed to be a commentary on the incarceration system, but aside from being largely depressing, I was left with a solid meh.

I watched The Crown’s latest season and it was interesting, but it wasn’t edge-of-your-seat viewing.

13 Reasons, season 3 definitely had me on the edge of my seat, but I kept asking myself why. Why even write a second season? The first season covered Asher’s book and did so well. They just delve deeper and deeper into trauma and its aftereffects to the point that in season four, it’s just painful to watch. That may have more to do with my trauma than anything else, but there you are.

I finished the 2018-19 season of Riverdale, which was already out there (juvenile prison fight rings, a criminal empire based on a D&D analogue, and an organ-harvesting cult) and am trying to catch up on the 2019-20 season.

And I finally finished the 2018-19 season of The Flash. Solid meh. But proceeding with the 2019-20 season, anyway.

Reading-wise, I only have four offerings.

I finished Jenn Lyons’ The Ruin of Kings. I liked it. I wish I could rate a book three and a half stars, but I gave it four. Lyons did play with structure in an admirable way. The book overall is presented as a report to the current empress (a very long report, might I say) and the annotations that appear throughout are not distracting, as you might think, and they do add to the content of the story. Once I learned who the empress was, I had trouble understanding how most of the annotations were necessary and that returned them to the category of authorial intrusion, however.

The first part of the book is told by two narrators, prisoner and jailer (kind of like Black Panther, Red Wolf) but the jailer is a shape-shifter named Talon who has the ability to absorb the memories of the people they imitate. Or come into contact with? Or consume? Really, the process isn’t well-explained. Talon and Khirin (the prisoner/protagonist) use a stone, handed back and forth. It’s a clever conceit that allows Lyons to present other POVs than Talon’s and Khirin’s, by virtue of Talon’s abilities.

Not only that, but Khirin starts telling his story from the point of his enslavement. Talon complains and goes back further, to the point they believe in the true beginning of the story. So, we have a narrative frame within a narrative frame and dual timelines that intersect and the end of part one. That’s another structural oddity. Part two is maybe a fifth of the book.

There was nothing wrong with the story itself and the structural gymnastics were definitely novel, but it made me wonder if Lyons had presented the story chronologically, without the frames and the annotations, if I would have thought differently about the book.

Then, I read The Queen of Katwe. I was hesitant, because the author is a white man (Tim Crothers), but it’s a non-fiction book using a lot of interviews and correspondence and thus presents the book in the words of the people involved. The book was, by turns, depressing and uplifting, but there was no real resolution. It’s an incomplete biography that leaves the reader wondering if Phiona ever achieved her dream of becoming a grandmaster. Wikipedia indicates she holds the title of candidate women’s master, but that’s as far as she got.

Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe was interesting. Rather than starting in this world and entering one of dream, Johnson flips the concept. Vellitt has always lived in the dream world and must travel into our world to recover the favourite granddaughter of one of the gods, who, if he wakes to find his favourite missing, will destroy half the dreamlands. The one thing I wasn’t comfortable with was that the real-world dreamers who travel to the dream world are always men, powerful and ageless. When Vellitt finally reaches our world, she is instantly transformed, has an identity and all the knowledge she might ever need or have gained from living a life in this world, though. Maybe Johnson’s statement is more subtle. Maybe women are the only true dreamers, living lives simultaneously in the dream world and in this? It’s thought-provoking, to be sure.

Finally, I read Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. What kind of country would America have been if the civil war was interrupted by a plague of zombies? Ireland calls them shamblers and, in her novel they basically make time stand still. In some respects. The protagonist, Jane is biracial, though her skin is not light. She’s at a school for “attendants,” Black girls who are trained to fight shamblers and protect wealthy white women. It’s the best she can hope for in a world in which slavery and indenture still exist and people of colour (Black and American Indian) are seen as biologically inferior. Ireland examines the racism of the world she’s created through the lens of her “finishing school,” the viral shamblers (one plotline involves the development of a vaccine), and the white supremacists who attempt to create their own isolated empire in the midst of the chaos.

Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a letter that Jane has written to her mother and later, after she learns that her correspondence has been intercepted and she comes into possession of them, her mother’s letters to Jane. It’s a good book, but I kept wanting a little more and there were some events that seemed to resolve in the favour of plot convenience rather than where they seemed to be heading. I’ve already nabbed the next in the series, though.

And that was a month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: May 2020 update

Yes. This post is late. I just couldn’t finish it last night.

Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. All lives cannot matter until Black and Indigenous lives matter. I think I’m going to be repeating this for a while, if for no other reason than to remind myself that I have work to do.

I’ve been reading Black and Indigenous authors for a few years (N.K. Jemisin, Marlon James, Ralph Ellison, Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Lawrence Hill, Waubgeshig Rice, Eden Robinson, Richard Wagamese, Robin Wall Kimmerer). I’ve taken a few Writing the Other courses. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I’m just saying that I’ve already been making an effort to educate myself.

The last weeks have made it clear that I haven’t interrogated my white privilege nearly hard enough.

I have consumed more media created by Black people in the last couple of weeks than I have in the last couple of years.

I’ve been heartened that charges have been laid against the four police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd and by the ongoing protests all over the world. The call to defund police makes so much sense, I hope the will if found to make this work. I have hope that change is coming, but I also know that we can’t stop working toward a better future until our politicians are moved to act or are removed from office for failing to do so.

Pandemic life

Meanwhile, I’m still working from home, and am about to commence the last of four consecutive weeks of virtual training. Training exhausts me at the best of times, but now, I barely have the spoons left to do more than take a nap in the evenings. We’re not using Zoom, but the sap is the same.

While I’ve been working, Phil’s been woodworking. He made his mom a potato bin, he’s made stools and a bench (the bench was actually stolen and busted up, but I found the wreckage and Phil has now rebuilt it), he made his sister a beautiful table for her patio, a couple of lawn games, another board game (Ur) and a more permanent gate for our door. All of it from old pallet wood.

About that last, there is no door to the stairs for our basement and the basement is not a place we want Torvi to be. There’s too much for her to get into, too much for her to consume that she shouldn’t. Until we get motivated to clean up the basement, the gate will have to do.

While some services have opened up again, it has been a cautious process. As it should continue to be. Even though we haven’t had a new case identified in Sudbury in a few weeks now, the more people move around, the more likely it is that people will get infected and we’ll have another outbreak.

The earliest we could get Torvi in for a groom is July 27th. I’ll be able to visit my massage therapist again at the end of June. As of the end of this week, in Ontario but outside of Toronto and Hamilton, hair salons will soon be able to reopen (Mom will be happy—her hair is driving her CRAZY) and restaurants with outdoor patios.

From what I understand, I’ll be working from home until there is a vaccine, and possibly even after that. I don’t mind working from home except for the continuing time warp effect. When I’m not training and my time isn’t as rigidly scheduled, I often forget to take my breaks or lunch until my gut reminds me that I haven’t eaten anything in a number of hours.

For now, my employer is keeping 90% of their workforce working from home. Our IT department is still distributing laptops and VPN accounts. They haven’t quite supplied half our workforce yet. I’m not looking forward, honestly. I have a nice set up with my desktop and I will not be happy to lose it.

The month in writing

I had only two writing tasks on my plate this month: trying to finish the rewrite of Reality Bomb and blogging.

I blew both goals away, but … the story of RB is still not finished. I’m continuing to work on it, as I can, and I’ll have to adjust my writing goals for the remainder of the year accordingly. My goal for May was to get to 90k and that meant 4,057 words. I wrote 7,181 words, or 177%, and now, a week into June, I’ve broken 95k. There will be some serious cutting involved in getting this one ready for my critique group. At this rate, I expect it to go over 100k. By how much? Who knows?

I aimed for 3,500 words and due to longer tipsday curations including a brief covid-19 update, and now Black lives matter, I wrote 4,989 words, or 143% of my goal.

MayProgress

Overall, my writing goal was 7,557 words and I wrote 12,170 words, or 161%.

Not too damn shabby 🙂

Filling the well

I attended another webinar with Jane Friedman on conquering the dreaded synopsis. I like Jane’s webinars, and whether she’s presenting or hosting the presenter, the content is always very good.

Phil and I also went out to his sister’s for a physically distanced afternoon of testing out his mölkky game and just hanging out.

And, of course, I took lots of lovely pictures on my twice-daily walks with Torvi.

What I’m watching and reading

Because if the time of year, a shit-ton of shows had their season finales. To keep this post from getting huge-mongous, I’m going to offer a short summary for each. I know covid-19 had an effect on a number of productions, but I’m not sure which ones.

Grey’s Anatomy—I’m glad Richard’s in recovery, but Meredith’s being pulled into Deluca’s black hole again, and while Link and Amelia seem to be okay, Owen and Teddy are definitely not. Did not like how they got rid of Karev. Bwa-wa.

Nancy Drew (actually ended in April, but I forgot)—I enjoyed this first season, but it just kind of ended/not ended?

Outlander—another great season, though there were definite divergences from the novels (beyond what would be strictly necessary for the change in medium). Glad they ended Bonnet’s subplot early, and sweet, merciful Mary did the final episode put Claire through the wringer.

The Rookie—love Nathan Fillion as I do, and as much as I enjoyed the season overall, the cliff hanger pissed me off. They’ve done this before and have had to dial back in the first episodes of the second season. Nolan is the protagonist, after all. Are they really going to put him in jail? Will tune in but withholding judgement until I see how they resolve this one.

How to Get Away with Murder—the wrap up was precipitous. They basically killed off or ostracized anyone whose story was too inconvenient to resolve within the final episode (Bonnie, Frank, the governor, Michaela).

Bat Woman—I know Alice’s murder of Mouse was supposed to be a touching moment, but it just confirmed for me what a psychopath Alice is … and what a dead-end character Mouse was (I mean, seriously, why?). And the fact that I’m not talking about Kate’s arc should speak volumes on its own.

Supergirl—Brainy’s sacrifice rang hollow. Though I know it was supposed to be this big, angsty moment, it came off meh. And all so that Lex could have his mommy issues.

Charmed—I found the ending puzzling. They seemed to be building up to this big confrontation with Julian, but it never happened?

Westworld—I thought this season was the best yet, though I seem to be in the minority. *shrugs* I love what I love.

Dark Crystal—while I loved it, I think it was my nostalgic memories of the movie that influenced me more than anything else. The series was not without its problems and they all came down to the limits of puppetry in telling what was, ultimately, a battle-heavy story 😦

Killing Eve—mwah! Both Eve and Villanelle are evolving. And that last scene of them facing each other on the bridge? Love.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow—I was kind of pleased when Sarah became Oracle, but then they undid everything? The resolution was a cheat.

Finally, Phil and I watched the latest season of The Last Kingdom. We abandoned Vikings in favour of this more historically accurate (hey—I said more) series. Uhtred, of course, is completely fictional. The poor guy can’t win for losing, though. He’s lost Aethelflaed to honour and duty as she becomes queen of Mercia, his kids are scattered to the winds, and now, Bebbanburg is further out of his reach than ever. And now he’s charged with the protection of Aethelstan, who will be the first true king of a united England.

Turning to the month in reading, I started off with N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became. It starts with the novella that was The City Born Great and the diverges into a series of stories about the avatars of all the boroughs. They come together in a fabulous found family, each of them with their own skills and abilities, fighting a Cthulian invader. Some readers found the coming together part a little too slow, but, considering the avatar of each borough is literally bound to their borough, I think it took a realistic amount of time. Loved, but the ending, though it’s what the story demanded, caught me off guard.

Then, I read Starsight, the second novel in Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward series. This novel was very different than Skyward and sends Spensa off on an undercover mission. With the exception of M-Bot and Doomslug, she’s on her own. While the reader gets a little in the way of “meanwhile, back at the ranch” interludes, the characters readers bonded with in the first novel are largely absent. Spensa makes new friends and has new adventures, but even as all her hard work seems to come to naught, Spensa jumps into even more danger.

Next, I read Madeline Miller’s Circe. A lovely reinterpretation of the myth. I really enjoyed it.

I also read Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller-winning novel The Sentimentalists. Actually, I listened to it on Audible and I think the narrator had something to do with my enjoyment, or lack thereof, of the novel. Skibsrud writes in complex sentences with a lot of phrases and parenthetical statements. The narrator paused for every comma appropriately, but it came off sounding very disjointed. The story was good (it won a Giller) but it was difficult to get inside it as an audiobook. It might have been better if I’d read the physical book.

Finally, I read Kate Heartfield’s novella Alice Payne Arrives. Loved. It was nominated for an Aurora Award last year 🙂

And that, at long last, was the month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, stay safe and be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: April 2020 update

Here we are in the first week of May. It was an interesting and surprising month.

Pandemic life

In Canada, and Ontario, specifically, there are indications that the numbers of new cases and deaths are no longer increasing exponentially, but they are still increasing. This is likely due to the number of international travellers over March Break and returning Snow Birds as well as various waves of repatriation.

These returning travellers were all back in March, yes, but I think that because most of those travellers were not equipped to quarantine for two weeks, there was likely some scrambling to shop for supplies before self-isolating, and that unintentional transmission occurred. I’m not pointing fingers. None of us had any idea things would get so bad so quickly. People can contract covid-19 and not be symptomatic. There are reports of people in Italy and Spain being diagnosed almost a month after self-isolating. We live and we learn and we try to do better.

Because they’ve had to, the federal and provincial governments have made public their “plans” for reopening. I have to emphasize that these are plans, and plans that are dependent on widespread testing and infection tracing. Several plans do not contain hard milestones because they can’t. It’s a matter of waiting until the curve is truly planked—and confirmed—and then implementing a cautious reopening of some services and businesses and waiting to see how that affects the rates of infection and death before proceeding.

It’s true that some provinces haven’t been as affected as others and thus may be tempted to rush the reopening process, but the federal government’s message remains, “stay the course.”

And so, we are.

The month in writing

AprilProgress

I had adjusted my writing goals for Reality Bomb once again because I had almost reached my writing goals but ultimately fallen short of them in the past two months. I had lowered my overall goal to 85k words and am pleased to say that I’ve exceeded that goal this month.

Specifically, I wrote 11,378 words of my 10,264-word goal, or 111%. This put me over the 85k mark.

But … the story’s not finished yet. So, I’ve extended the project into May. Technically, I only have 4,057 words left to reach 90k, which was my original goal, but I suspect I’m going to have to overshoot that, possibly by quite a bit, to finish the story properly. Then I’m going to return to the middle section to see what needs to be cut (it is a bit of a sprawl) to bring the overall word count back down to 90k.

I once again blew away my blogging goal. I wrote 5,283 words. My goal was 3,750 words and that meant I achieved 141% of my blogging goal.

I also wrote my next Speculations column and, because it was the creation of an outline using tarot cards, it was another of my huge posts. I wrote 2,112 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 211%.

Overall, I aimed to write 15,014 words and ended up writing 18,773. That’s 125% of my goal and makes up for prior months’ shortfalls. Actually, with respect to writing goals, I achieved 111% in January, 91% in February, 99% in March, and 125% in April, for an average total of 107%. The only month I worked on revision, I achieved 96% of my goal, so that means between writing and revision, I’m running an average of 101% of my goals. I’m good with that 🙂

In addition to my writing, I finally got my poetry collection organized and submitted it to a press. We’ll see where that goes. I also entered several of my poems into a contest. The results should be out May 15, 2020. I’ll let you know if I get good news or bad news.

I heard back from the short story submission. It was rejected, but with a couple of comments. The mystery was solved too easily, which I accept and can work on. The other comment was something I’ve seen many times before, and that was that the story felt more like the basis of a longer work. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever effectively conquer short 🙂

I’ll definitely keep trying. In the meantime, my backlog of novel ideas continues to grow.

In non-writing-related happenings, my right eyelid became inflamed. It’s called blepharitis and was probably due to a blocked gland in the eyelid. I had the same thing two years ago. Same treatment. Warm compresses twice a day and antibiotic drops (as a preventative) every four hours for five to seven days.

And then, it appeared that my iPod classic (the kind they don’t make anymore) finally kicked the bucket. I’ve had it for a loooong time and thought that it was due. Basically, it froze (wouldn’t sync with iTunes, change menus, reset to factory settings, or anything) and none of the troubleshooting tips appeared to work. Phil and I were considering buying a new Touch, but lo and behold, I looked over at the shelf where I put the poor, gorked (or so I thought) thing, and it had miraculously reset.

I am now happily listening to my musics again 🙂

Filling the well

In April, I attended a Webinar through the Canadian Authors Association on the publishing process following the completion of a book (fiction or non-fiction). It was called, “The End” is just the beginning.

I also participated in a stress test of Zoom breakout rooms in anticipation of its use for a virtual conference. It was pretty cool. I was shunted in to two or three separate breakout rooms, hung out for a while and chatted, and then the experiment was over. We didn’t break Zoom, as far as I understood, but I think it was a valid trial of the system for the intended purpose.

This weekend (May 1-3) was to have been the Ad Astra convention, but it was, of course, cancelled.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched I Am Not Okay with This. The series was short and so were the episodes. One of the people involved in The End of the Fucking World was behind it and the series had the same aesthetic. It had a very retro vibe (the soundtrack dates it in the 80s) but the story felt contemporary.

Syd discovers she has telekinetic abilities even as she discovers her sexual identity. It’s a kind of supernatural weaponizing of a coming out story, kind of like how Ginger Snaps supernaturally weaponized female sexual maturity. The fact that Syd feels she needs to hide who she is and what she can do makes her doubly monstrous. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but continually ends up doing the worst possible thing in the moment. It was good, quirky, and horrific in a metaphorical and (fictionally) literal way.

There wasn’t anything new that we were interested in on the immediate horizon, so we turned to catching up on Supernatural. We’d watch up to the end of season 12 on Netflix and then they dropped the series. It moved to Amazon Prime, but we didn’t have the gap to indulge until recently. We watched season 13 and have started 14. I classify it as comfort watching. Supernatural doesn’t demand a lot of the viewer 🙂

We also watched Spiderman, Far from Home. Not as good as Into the Spiderverse, but we enjoyed it. Tom Holland is the best Spiderman yet.

In my personal viewing, I finished up the latest season of Frontier, Jason Momoa’s passion project about the genesis of the Northwest Company. They did some necessary hand waving at the travel times for story reasons (they couldn’t dedicate realistic screen time to the ocean journeys), but the story was interesting.

In terms of reading, I read the next two books in Sabaa Tahir’s series, A Torch in the Night and A Reaper at the Gates. The story is good. I liked how the three main characters each develop in their own ways. It’s the continuing relationship drama that frustrates me as a reader.

I also read Alex Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver. SPOILER WARNING I quite liked the displaced Tuatha de Danann, living in seclusion in America. Good plot, humorous secondary stories, and a damaged and compelling protagonist.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz was thought provoking. Newitz comes at the topic of slavery from multiple perspectives. The protagonist, Jack, is a slave to her past. Threezed, is a human slave. Paladin is a robot with a human (cadaver) brain that aids in facial recognition. Most bots are created indentured but can earn their autonomy through service. Med is a bot created free, educated, and with a stable career. Elias, the human antagonist and Paladin’s partner is a slave to his preconceived notions of free will, consent, and sexual identity.

Throw all of these characters into a mixing pot of big pharma, piracy, a drug that enslaves people by addicting them to their jobs, free labs that attempt to make life-saving pharmaceuticals available to everyone, and the security agency tasked to police it all and you have a SF thriller that never stops and never stops making you think.

Finally, Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward was surprising. I’ve read quite a few of Sanderson’s novels. I really liked the Mistborn series. I enjoyed the Legion novellas, Steelheart, and The Way of Kings. Warbreaker was good, too. But Skyward kept me reading in a way his other novels haven’t. I was really invested in Spensa’s journey. The theme was simple: what does it mean to be a coward or to be brave? Spensa’s father was a pilot—a great one—but in one of the greatest battles in her people’s history, he’s said to have run from the fight. Spensa grows up under the burden of that legacy, but still wishes to be a pilot despite it. Frustrated at almost every turn, Spensa has to come to terms with what her father did, her true legacy, and she has to decide who she really is.

It was fabulous.

And that was April in this writer’s life.

Until Tipsday, be well and keep safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world still needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: March 2020 update

And here we are with my first monthly writing update since covid-19 was declared a pandemic. What a difference a month makes.

A month of uncertainty and change

March came in like a lamb. It would leave that way, too, as if it knew that other events would play the lion. The first reports of a novel coronavirus had come out in November (hence the 19 in the virus name) from Wuhan and the first confirmed case in Canada was on January 15. We had no idea what was coming. At worst, I thought we’d be facing another SARS and Canada had weathered that. I’d worked through similar crises before. Or so I thought.

Then, on March 10, the first case was confirmed in Sudbury and a few days later, a second. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared covid-19 a pandemic. On March 12, the school boards declared that all schools would shut down for two weeks following March break to enforce quarantine on travellers returning after March break. Our university and colleges closed, as well.

The next week was March break and the first of my coworkers went home on special leave because she had school-aged children. More followed. I had scheduled leave the Thursday and Friday of that week. That weekend, Phil and I made the decision to stop visiting my mom, stop having her pet sit Torvi while Phil was out and about. While there have been no documented cases of covid-19 in pets, if Phil or I are asymptomatic carriers, we could transfer the virus on her fur and as Phil continues to venture out for necessaries, the potential danger is continual. The weekend and the decision were fraught with anxiety and disappointment. When I returned to work on Monday (March 23), half of the office had been sent home to telework. On Tuesday, the rest of us were told to go home. I came in on Wednesday to finish up a few things and collect my plants.

I’ve been working from home since March 26.

2020-03-27 18.01.12

States of emergency were declared at the national and provincial levels. Schools were closed indefinitely, and plans made to teach students virtually. Social distancing was renamed physical distancing. I don’t go out except to walk Torvi and when I do, I’m sure to stay at least two metres away from other pedestrians. Phil is our designated shopping and fetching guy, which works because he’s otherwise unemployed. He’s also performing this service for our moms.

Things haven’t changed much for me. I’m still working (a blessing) but am doing so from home. I don’t have any more time than I normally do, and so I’m not engaging in binge-watching, catching up on learning activities, or seeking distraction. I’m distracted enough by the surreality of the situation.

This is the new normal. And yet changes continue to be announced every day. The chaos has me in a state on continual, low-grade anxiety.

The month in writing

I’d planned to take weekends off and intended to compensate with extra words during the week. This went swimmingly for the first few weeks until covid-19 started to make its presence felt. Then, all bets were off.

When I came home from the office with the mandate to work from home on March 24, Phil ordered me a second monitor. My workstation at the office has two monitors and we have enough applications open that it really does make things easier. The second monitor arrived on Friday and we set it up after I finished work for the day. After that, I was toast, but I’d planned not to write Friday through Sunday every week in March, anyway, so I didn’t think I would fall too far behind. But I’d already missed Wednesday. The workday was chaotic and the more I tried to finish up and pack up and move home, the more stuff happened that prevented me from doing so.

So, I didn’t write Friday or Saturday and when I got back to it on Monday, my progress was not what I’d hoped.

MarchProgress

All this to say that I fell short on my drafting goals for the month again. Of my 13,702-word goal, I wrote 11,689 words, or 85%.

I blew my blogging goal away with my massive review of the split worlds series last month and wrote 5,396 words, or 144% of my 3,750-word goal.

I wrote my latest Speculations column in 1,285 words, or 129% of my 1,000-word goal. It should be coming out this week, so you can look forward to that.

I also revised a short story. There wasn’t as much revision as I’d thought. There was a lot more cutting than writing. I ended up writing 240 new words and cutting close to a thousand. I set myself a 250-word goal for the revision and accomplished 96% of it. I don’t count words cut.

I submitted the revised story to an SF magazine for their open reading period. Wish my words luck.

I received some awesome news that five of my speculative poems have been accepted for publication. I’ll be able to tell you more about that when they’re actually coming out. Stay tuned.

I also finished a critique for one of my partners in the online group and found the time to wrangle all the information I needed to submit our taxes. Yay me 🙂

Interestingly, at 18,370 of my total writing goal of 18,452 words, I came in at 99%. Between writing and revision, I accomplished 98% of my goals. I’ll take it.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I was able to accomplish this month, all things considered.

Filling the well

You wouldn’t think that I’d have anything to report here. You’d be wrong 😉

I’ve recently joined a Facebook group run by Lauren Carter and she organized an online reading through Zoom. I got to read poetry along with other poets, memoirists, non-fiction writers, and other novelists from all over North America. It was lovely and supporting and just the thing I needed.

What I’ve been watching and reading

March’s viewing included Locke & Key. Phil and I enjoyed it and are glad that the series in being renewed. We classified it as horror lite because of the juvenile protagonists. Although there was a truly horrific backstory that cropped up again in later episodes, it wasn’t overwhelming. The twist wasn’t terribly twisty, though. We had it figured out before the reveal. We liked the effects of the various keys and are looking forward to what the show has in store for next season.

We also burned through Altered Carbon. Season two takes place several centuries after the first. Takeshi Kovacs and Poe have travelled all over the known universe in search of Quellchrist Falconer and Tak has worn many different sleeves. The show opens on a scene in a lounge and the singer is Tak’s latest sleeve. She’s killed and Tak’s stack is taken. A virtual meeting with his new “employer” sees Tak lured into a protection detail in return for information on Quell. The bad news? Tak is back on Harlan’s World, the hellhole he and Poe escaped at the end of season one.

When he’s resleeved in Anthony Mackie’s buff body, Tak wakes to the chaos of his new employer’s assassination, which he is promptly framed for. Poe has meanwhile degraded because he refuses to relinquish his “memories” of Lizzie from season one. He glitches dangerously and seems to have an AI version of Alzheimer’s, often forgetting what he was saying, what he was doing, and where he is. The only “cure” is to reboot, resetting him to his factory state. Poe, of course, resists this because he would not only forget Lizzie, but Tak and all the adventures they’ve shared.

I highly recommend this one.

We also watched Aquaman (finally). Eye-candy aside, it was okay. Pretty standard DCEU fare.

This month’s reading started off with Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God. This was an older novel, published in 2000, and centers on an alien who comes to Earth, and specifically to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in search of a paleontologist because God seems to be engineering the apocalypse. Sawyer plays with the idea that civilizations only evolve to the point where they either begin to colonize other planets, or they destroy themselves. Add to this the controversial idea of intelligent design. The aliens believe in God and that everything in the universe had been planned and balanced in such a way as to to create life in multiple forms and to direct its evolution.

Two alien species have joined forces to investigate the apparent destruction or disappearance of several other civilizations. Some have, in fact, destroyed themselves. Some have taken refuge in virtual existence to avoid destroying themselves. And one travels to a remote sector of the galaxy for mysterious reasons. An impending supernova (of Betelgeuse, no less) threatens Earth and the other two alien species and the aliens want to join forces with humans to solve the mystery. Thomas Jericho struggles with the aliens’ belief in God because he has lung cancer that’s going to kill him.

A secondary plot devised by two fundamentalist Christians who want to show us Godless Canadians how wrong we are complicates matters. The bombing of a nearby abortion clinic is only a prelude to their main attraction: destroying the ROM’s collection of Precambrian fossils. The ticking clock is threefold. Will the terrorists destroy the fossils, and everyone in the vicinity; will the cancer kill Jericho and doom the interstellar mission to potential failure; or will the supernova make it all pointless?

Sawyer has often said that his stories are, at heart, about optimism. Calculating God is no exception.

Next, I read Ed Willett’s Spirit Singer. The titular character, Amarynth, begins the novel as apprentice to her grandfather. A spirit singer’s job is to sing the souls of the dead into the afterlife, but there’s something wrong. A malevolent presence haunts the between world. It stalks and kills her grandfather, stranding the souls of the people of their village, and Amarynth doesn’t yet know enough to assume his duties. She must find help.

It was a decent YA fantasy, but nothing surprising.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi was another story. A heist plot set in 19th Century Paris in an alternate world in which Babel Fragments endow people with magic. There’s political intrigue and manipulation and a cast of characters that I loved. Not going to say much more because y’all should read this one for yourselves.

Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective is not what you might expect from the title. The tea master is a disenfranchised ship mind who’s lost her crew and is trying to make ends meet by brewing “teas,” which seem to be neurochemical enhancers. The detective is one of ship mind’s clients who solves mysteries for fun. The mystery she draws the ship mind into? That of a young woman who seems to have voluntarily exposed herself to the deep spaces.

My classical selection of the month was Moby Dick. This was basically Melville’s love letter to the American whaling industry. The story itself could have been told in a small fraction of the words, but the novel is also a palimpsest. Every event becomes a story within the story. And then there’s the chapters on the categorization of whales, the difference between whale oil and spermaceti. I didn’t hate the book, but it was entirely too long.

Finally, I read Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. I remember when it was being released that someone said it would be the next Game of Thrones. Not quite, but it was an enjoyable read. The characters were engaging, but I did get a little irritated by the duelling love triangles. The world building was excellent, and I have moved on to reading the second in the series.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: February 2020 update

March came in like a lamb. Still, I’m hoping for a mild month. There are always a couple of storms, but I have hope. Emerging from my cave.

The month in writing

February started off a little rough. As I mentioned last month, I was struggling with the midpoint of the novel I’m rewriting. Work didn’t resume until the ninth and, in a short month, that put me behind. Still, I managed to write 10,805 words if my 12, 180-word goal, or 89%. Accordingly, I’m rejigging my drafting goals again, but they’re still not unreasonable. I have to write 442 words per day through to the end of April to achieve my overall goal of 90k words on the draft.

The only other writing I did in the month was on this blog, and I managed 100% of my 3,500-word goal, writing 3,506 words 🙂

FebProgress

I also rallied myself to send out some poetry. I sent some speculative poetry to Polar Borealis, and some nature poetry to Canary. Will let you know how that goes. I had wanted to

Finally, I registered for Ad Astra, which has moved back to the beginning of May this year.

Filling the well

I didn’t go out anywhere, but I did take a couple of online courses through Jane Friedman and I took in another session on deep point of view from Lisa Hall-Wilson. I am a learning mutt, after all.

What I’m watching and reading

In the personal viewing department, I finished the most recent season of Dear White People. They delved into some serious topics, like the sexual assault of one of the secondary characters by one of the professors, sexual identity and exploration, the treatment of graduate students, and various characters struggled to express themselves through their various chosen media (film making, journalism). The season started out with the two characters apparently “selected” to enter into the secret society rejecting the dubious honour only to have it crop up again at the end of the season. This time Sam and Lionel are told to stay away from the secret society. It’s become corrupt.

Phil and I watched the next instalment, or part, of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in which the titular character takes the throne of hell. Meanwhile, a group of pagans led by Pan are planning to destroy all of humanity and return the world to a state of nature. There’s basically a war between the coven and the pagans, which I found to be a little contrived, but in the end, the Satanic coven rediscovers their true roots as wiccans, the pagans are driven away, and Faustus releases something that looks distinctly Cthulian. The timey-wimey shenanigans Sabrina perpetrates to accomplish this end are questionable and she essentially creates a classic paradox, meeting herself. Somehow, the two iterations of Sabrina survive, one choosing to reclaim hell and the other returning to Greendale to live her “normal” life with her friends and family.

Then, we watched the first season of the October Faction. It had a fairly derivative plot. Fred and Delores Allen are monster hunters in an organization called Presidio and have twin children from whom they hide their secret lives. When it turns out that the twins birth mother, a massively powerful sorceress, wants her children back, everything hits the fan. And of course, Presidio is revealed to have nefarious plans. I had a lot of questions. At one point, it’s revealed that Fred and D, as part of a Presidio task force headed by Fred’s father, basically murder nearly all of the sorcerers. Somehow, Alice, the twins’ mother, is not shot down, but ends up trapped at the bottom of a lake to be conveniently revived by her daughter. She reveals that after escaping the massacre, she trusted the wrong people and they betrayed her. Okay? Why not just kill her? Also, after killing everyone else, Fred and D decide to spare the twins and adopt them. Would Presidio (who gets all up in the business of all their operatives) not know this? It was okay.

Reading-wise, I rounded out my tarot reading with Corrine Kenner’s Tarot for Writers. Again, as I’m going to be writing about all of the tarot books in my next Speculations column for DIY MFA, I’m going to reserve commentary here.

I also read David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital (finally). I’m still aiming for traditional publication, but I’m passively learning about self-publishing in the event that doesn’t pan out. It was informative.

In fiction, I finished Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series by reading All Good Things. Last year, I overdid it by reading five of Newman’s novels in quick succession, the First of the Split Worlds series and all of her Plantefall series. I had to take a break because I lost my perspective. Newman’s novels are good, but they focus on deeply flawed and often powerless protagonists who struggle with various mental health issues. This can make them challenging reading.

**SPOILER WARNING** Skip to **END SPOILERS** if you haven’t read the books and don’t want to know. I don’t give away absolutely everything, but, well, you’ve been warned.

Split Worlds was a slow burn. Things definitely happen in the first two books, but they all happen to the protagonist rather than emerging from the protagonist’s decisions and actions. Cathy was born into a fae-touched family. The fae-touched live in the Nether, one of the split worlds, and are dependant upon the fae for longevity. The Nether is stuck in a pseudo-Victorian/Regency time period with its attendant misogyny. Cathy runs away to attend university in Mundanus (our world) but is recaptured and forced to accept an arranged marriage. She also suffers from social anxiety and is blessed/cursed with three wishes from Lord Poppy, the fae lord of her family.

The second main character, Sam, is a computer programmer suffering through a disintegrating marriage who stumbles into Exilium, the realm of the fae, and thus into the Nether, encountering both Cathy and Max. Between these two stories is a third, helmed by arbiter Max, who has had his soul dislocated so that he can more effectively police the fae and the fae-touched, in the service of the heptarchy of sorcerers. The Bath chapter, of which he was a part, has been obliterated and Max’s soul is somehow transferred into a stone gargoyle. Max can’t figure out why his sorcerer, Extrand isn’t interested in uncovering the perpetrators. The plot of the first book, Between Two Thorns, involves the rescue of Cathy’s uncle, in which both Sam and Max assist, who was kidnapped as a result of fae-touched intrigue.

In the second book, Any Other Name, Cathy is drugged by her own parents and married into a rival fae-touched family against her will. Then, because she’s a feminist and not at all interested in becoming a baby factory for her husband, he gives her a love potion so that they can, at least, consummate the marriage. Sam’s wife dies and he believes it’s murder. During his investigation, Lord Iron, a member of the elemental court (as opposed to the fae court) takes Sam under his wing. Max tries to solve the mystery of the Bath chapter despite the leaden feet of Extrand and ends up helping Cathy and/or Sam more than pursuing his own goal. We find out a lot about the workings of the Nether and Exilium in book two. It’s fabulous world building.

The plot of this book involves Cathy trying to track down there whereabouts of her old tutor, who taught her about feminist history and the world outside the Nether. This leads her to an organization called the Agency, who provides all staff for the fae-touched families and has a monopoly on all the household needs (interior decorating, primarily). Cathy also discovers her husband’s secret. He has a half-sister, born of his mother’s adulterous affair, that he must keep hidden. While Cathy’s meddling marks her for an assassination, from which Sam and his growing affinity with iron save her, society schemes set her husband William on course to unseat the current duke of Londinium by duel to the death.

The third book picks up the pace a bit. In All is Fair, Cathy, having recovered from the assassination attempt, is now duchess of Londinium and, believing that she may now have the power to change the Nether for the better, decides to stay and fight the good fight. In the previous two books, her personal goal was escape, but that proved impossible in her circumstances. Having bungled/wasted the first two of her wishes, Cathy aces the third, wishing that she attain her full potential without harming her family or the ones she loves. The first thing she aims to do is to take down the Agency.

Sam begins to train under Lord Iron by learning the craft of blacksmithing. As he does so, his affinity to iron develops and Lord Iron teaches him about the elemental court, who have forgotten their role in the split worlds, that of protecting humanity from the fae. Digging deeper, Sam discovers that his wife was working to take down the company she worked for because of its environmental abuses. At the end of the book, Lord Iron commits suicide in front of Sam. For Max’s story, his investigation finally seems to be getting some traction. Extrand calls for a moot, or meeting of the heptarchy, to decide what to do, moving forward. Max also discovers that the London/Londinium branch of the arbiters is corrupt. At the end of the book, Extrand, being his unstable self, declines to attend the moot he called and the five sorcerers who do attend end up getting killed.

The plot of book three is now firmly tied into the lives and goals of the main characters.

In book four, A Little Knowledge, Cathy, empowered by her success in taking down the Agency, attempts to influence the Londinium court into accepting that women are equal to men. This makes problems for William, who is now under orders from his family’s patron and fae lord to get his unruly wife under control and produce an heir. Cathy gathers allies, mostly women who have been charmed/cursed into subservience and she starts to undermine the patriarchy. Unfortunately, she’s still under the influence of the love potion William gave her and she inadvertently gives William everything he needs to impede her every step forward.

Sam is named as Lord Iron’s heir and takes his place in the elemental court, but they have no interest in halting their environmental devastation or in resuming their responsibility of protecting humans. While Sam radically changes all of his own businesses, he tries everything he can to get the elemental court to change. Then a strange woman seeks his help.

Extrand decides that the only other living sorcerer must be responsible for the deaths of the rest of the heptarchy and starts a sorcerous war against his rival. Meanwhile, Max works to uncover the true culprit, the only female sorcerer and sister to one of the murdered sorcerers. When she unleashes a curse that kills Extrand the other sorcerer, Rupert, manages to escape, and Max decides to work for him as the last sorcerer of Albion.

Finally, in book five, All Good Things, Cathy, having learned of William’s magical manipulation of her, leaves him, taking refuge with Sam. She meets the strange woman, Beatrice, who tells her that she is a sorcerer and that she has killed all the rest because it was the sorcerers who split the worlds in the first place. She has a plan to restore the worlds to what they once were, all one, with the fae and the elemental court to balance one another. Cathy is appalled. All the evil in her life has been caused by the fae. The fae cannot be released from Exilium. Beatrice offers to teach Cathy sorcery in return for her help. Reluctantly, Cathy agrees.

Sam, meanwhile, has not made any progress with the elemental court. They have resorted to sending assassins after him. Beatrice has also explained her plan to Sam, who has the same reservations as Cathy, but he can’t single-handedly change the elemental court. Perhaps her plan is the only one that will work. Max soon learns that Rupert is no better than Extrand. All the sorcerers are mad in their own ways. Rupert asks him to kill Beatrice using a curse that will also kill Max. Max tracks Beatrice to Sam’s and Cathy talks him down from carrying out his mission.

Meanwhile, in desperation to save his family, William goes to Exilium and makes a deal with the king of the fae to take his place. That’s when the fun begins.

**END SPOILERS**

The Split Worlds is definitely a series that has to be read in order and in its entirety to be appreciated. I enjoyed it and recommend it. Newman tells a great story. It just takes a little time for all the threads to seat fully into the warp and weft 🙂

Just going to hit my other reads briefly.

S.A. Chakraborty’s The Kingdom of Copper was a great second in series, even if it kept Nahri and her afshin separated for most of the novel.

Loved N.K. Jemesin’s “The City Born Great.”

Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf was fabulous in one respect. He goes deep into Tracker’s POV and stays there. A master class in technique. The story was good, but the framing device didn’t work for me.

Finally, Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse was wonderful. Meaningful, poignant, and, well, just wonderful.

And that was a month in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: December 2019 update and year-end wrap-up

Here we are at the beginning of a new year and a new decade. The possibilities seem endless. I hope you’ve all set reasonable goals and are diving into your work with passion and compassion.

The month in writing

Dec2019Progress

In December, my focus was on continuing to rewrite Reality Bomb. I set my goal at 500 words per day or 15,500 words for the month. I wrote 12,131 words, or 78% of my goal.

The only other thing on my writing plate was this blog. I wrote 4,789 words of my 4,250-word goal, or 113%.

And that’s it.

2019 in review

I started off the year ambitiously, as I always do (more on that in a bit). In addition to finishing drafting book five of my epic fantasy series, Tamisashki, roughly revising RB for presentation to my critique group, blogging, and my bi-monthly Speculations column for DIY MFA, I’d decided to write, revise, and submit one short story per month, revise a poetry collection and two collections of my previously published short fiction.

Add to that my involvement in the critique group, which meant—surprise—critiquing some of my partners’ work, attending Ad Astra, Can-Con, and Wordstock Sudbury, and I had a fuller-than-usual plate. Yes, I was finally over my burnout, but I suspected, even as I set these ambitious goals, that I wasn’t up to accomplishing all of them.

Yeah. While I did revise my poetry collection (and wrote a new poem—yay, me), I only managed to write and revise one short story and start on one more before I realized that the one-story-per-month goal was untenable. I never got to either of the short story collections aside from putting them on my 2019 Writing and Revision Tracker.

I did write one side project, a guest post about writers’ grief for WarpWorld, but that was the only unplanned writing I did.

So, I adjusted my goals. Several times. But what I have on this summary page is what I ended up with.

2019Progress

On the writing side of things, I did rather well. Of my collective 114,150-word goal, I wrote 138,875 words, or 122%.

I revised (or rewrote) 123, 155 words of my 157,110-word goal, or only 78%.

Interestingly, the average of my writing and revision percentages is 100%.

Still, between writing and revising, I produced 262,030 words in 2019. That’s over a quarter of a million words. I’m damned pleased with that.

Filling the well

I relaxed in December. I’m fairly certain that I, like many people in northern Ontario, suffer from some degree of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Self-care is important for me at this time of year. Accordingly, I spent a quiet holiday with family.

Consider me a bear. Winter is my time to hibernate 🙂

What I’m watching and reading

With regard to series, Phil and I watched the new Watchmen series and His Dark Materials in December.

We liked Watchmen because it was consistent with the feeling of the graphic novels and, to some extent, the movie. It was a slow burn to start with, which we don’t mind, particularly in this case, as everything came together in a truly surprising twist. The denouement was satisfying, and the cliffhanger was something that, while I’d be happy to see what happens next, if a second season isn’t in the cards, I would be satisfied with the possibilities it presents without needing a definitive answer.

His Dark Materials was well done, better than the movie, in any case. As in many adaptations, changes were made that would better serve the medium, and I appreciated many of the decisions made for this iteration of Phil Pullman’s novels. I liked the actors and the incorporation of Will’s plotline into this season. A solid season and I hope BBC’s collaboration with HBO will continue.

We started watching Witcher, but it was more of a gap-filler and Phil gave up after the third episode. We didn’t even get through the first episode of the second season of Lost in Space before Phil walked away. I’ll probably pick up both when I’ve made some room on my personal Netflix viewing.

Reading-wise, I grabbed Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea right after Call Down the Hawk. I enjoyed it right up to the ending, which was confusing and unsatisfying for that reason.

Then, I picked up Diana Gabaldon’s collection of novellas, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall. It was a bit of a cheat because I’d read all but two in their individual novella forms. I’m a big Gabaldon fan, though, and I like the way she writes into the gaps in her larger series of books.

Next, I read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance. It was okay but suffered from many of the same problems as the first book in the series. The characters are all moving between love and hate for themselves and one another so quickly that I got whiplash. I understand that this is YA and the characters are all teenagers, but there were several points at which I felt that the drama was just too much.

Six of Crows was much stronger than Shadow and Bone. Maybe Leigh Bardugo is better at ensemble casts, or heist plots? The characters were stronger and had more agency. They felt more grounded and complex. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed it.

To finish off the year, I returned to a couple of classics. Charles Dickens’ The Chimes, and A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Dickens has a fondness for ghosts and time travel lessons. Winnie was just charming.

I’d set myself a reading goal for the year of 50 books and ended up reading 71 (!) or 142% of my goal.

What’s up in 2020

I think I’ve finally learned my lesson, writing-wise. I’ve focused in on what I need to do and let my ambitions amuse themselves.

Given my reduced—but still good—production, I’m giving myself until the end of April to finish the rewrite of RB. The core story remains the same, but the content is different enough that it is like writing a new novel. Accordingly, while I counted the work I did in November and December as revision, I’m counting everything in 2020 as writing.

Then, I’m going to begin work on revision/rewriting Marushka. I’d put it up for critique in early 2019 but didn’t feel as strongly about getting back to it as I did about RB. I have to make some decisions about this novel which could entail a significant rewrite … or not. I’ll make those decisions when I review the novel and the critique feedback.

Throughout the year, I’m going to be steadily working on the Ascension series. I should finish my initial reread by the end of January. Then, I’m going to work on the series bible and revision notes on all five novels. By November, I should be ready to tackle revision/rewrites on book one.

I’ll blog, as usual and keep up with my Speculations column. If I can fit it in, I’ll work on some short fiction. I haven’t made any hard and fast goals with respect to the short fiction, though. If it has to go by the wayside, so be it.

The one last thing I’m going to do is shop the poetry collection around, as well as some of my unpublished poems, to see if I can’t do something with them.

2020Goals

I’ll likely attend Ad Astra, Can-Con, and Wordstock again.

So, my plans are much more modest this year. I’m hoping I won’t have to sacrifice much more than the short fiction.

I’ve set my reading goal for 60 books this year, but I’m not sure I’ll achieve it. I put off reading several monster books that I’ll probably tackle in 2020.

By the way, if you like the Writing and Revision Tracker in the screen shots, Jamie Raintree created it. Please do yourself a favour and visit her website to find out more.

That’s it for this update. I generally do them on the first weekend of every month.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: October and November 2019 mega update

It’s been a while. Two months, to be precise. Let’s just get right to it 🙂

October in writing

Once more, I was busy with non-productive writing-related tasks. I was prepping for NaNoWriMo and my rewrite of Reality Bomb. Though I think I worked through most of the problematic bits of the story and had a good idea of the reworked outline, with plot points, etc., the writing took me in slightly different directions, as it does. More on that, below.

I continued my reread of Ascension and got half-way through Playing with Fire, book four of the series.

OctoberProgress

Writing-wise, I blogged 4,529 words of my 4,500-word goal, or 101%.

I also wrote 496 words of short fiction of my 2,000-word goal, or 25%.

And that was it for October.

November in writing

I won’t belabor things too much. If you’ve been watching my NaNo updates, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I landed. I wrote 30,502 words of the revised RB, or 61% of my goal. At this rate, it will likely be the end of January before I’m finished with the rewrite.

The last week of November, during which I was training at work, was appropriately fatiguing, but I cracked 30k, which was a realistic goal I was happy to achieve.

I also wrote my latest Speculations column for DIY MFA. It should be coming out Tuesday. That came in at 1052 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 105%.

I had expected my weekly NaNo updates to be brief and predicted about 250 words each, or 1,000 words overall. I blogged 1,293 words, or 129% of goal.

NovemberProgress

Filling the well

In October, I went to Can-Con in Ottawa, which I first attended three years ago. This year’s attraction was that the Aurora Awards (the Canadian Hugos) were presented there. Well, they were off-site at Christchurch Cathedral, which was a lovely venue. I met up with a few friends from professional organizations and had a genuinely lovely time.

In November, Sudbury’s own Wordstock Literary festival took place and I attended what sessions I could given that I was also beginning NaNoWriMo and my 50th birthday party (!) took place that weekend. Still, I connected with writer friends and bought books (when do I not?).

What I’m watching and reading

On the viewing front, Phil and I finished watching the final season of Preacher. It was mostly satisfying. I read the graphic novels so long ago that I wasn’t able to remember well enough to know if the series was a faithful-ish adaptation. I have the feeling that it wasn’t. There were some significant logic issues that can probably be attributed to the graphic (like how they got the car overseas). Handwavium aside, it was enjoyable.

I finished watching the final season of The Santa Clarita Diet. Meh. I liked the characters and the actors, but the story was lacking.

Phil and I started watching the (third?) season of Ash vs. the Evil Dead and haven’t finished it. As with other shows of its ilk, it was playing the same tropes over and over.

Instead, we took in a delightful animated kids’ show, Three Below, which was created by Guillermo del Toro. We enjoyed the tale of a family of aliens stranded on Earth. There were tie-ins to The Troll Hunters.

We also watched the first season of Happy! It was all kinds of twisted and we just enjoyed the scenery-chewing antics of the cast 🙂

I finished off the last season of The Mortal Instruments. It was okay. I was mostly seeing it through for the sake of completeness.

Finally, Phil and I watched Raising Dion. We enjoyed it, and burned through it, more or less, but there were some problematic storytelling issues we took exception to. The first was that, in an attempt at attaining some realism, the writers gave time to the characters’ daily lives and struggles, even though they had little to nothing to do with the main plot.

**WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.**

Yes, Nicole deserves a life and interests of her own, but did it need so much screen time? Nicole gave up her dancing career when she was pregnant with Dion. Pertinent, but it’s a fact that can be stated and we can move on with the story. That she gets a job at the same dance theatre is good (‘cause she needs a job to support Dion) but then the job becomes the source of meaningless conflict, in which the owner continually makes Nicole choose between her job and her son’s wellbeing to the point of unreasonableness. And then there’s the potential relationship with hot dancer guy when it’s made abundantly clear that Nicole isn’t over her husband’s death yet. I was waiting for this whole subplot to tie in somehow, but I was disappointed.

Nicole’s sister is a no-nonsense doctor and seems only to be present to remind Nicole of what a failure she is, how delusional she is, and what a poor mother she is. Later in the series, when Nicole’s sister has to take Dion to the hospital because he’s spiking a fever and Nicole’s boss won’t let her leave work, Nicole is finally able to prove to her sister that she’s not crazy and Dion does have powers. But then the sister has to risk her career and medical licence to erase all evidence of Dion from the hospital’s systems. She does help Nicole get Dion away from Pat (see below) but then she drops out of the plot, her usefulness exhausted.

Even Dion’s friends and the bullying he experiences as the new kid in school are, at best, peripherally tied to the plot. But peripheral is better than pointless.

**HERE IT IS. THE BIG SPOILER. READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.**

And then, there’s Pat. Oh, Pat. I love Jason Ritter as an actor, but damn did the writers give him some shit to portray.

The series begins with Pat being the friend and coworker of Nicole’s dead husband, Mark, and godfather to Dion. They play games together, Dion tells Pat things he can’t tell his mom, and Pat is helpful, though it’s clear he’s crushing on Nicole.

Dion begins to exhibit powers and then he and Nicole witness strange ghosts that appear in a sudden storm, one of them, Dion’s dad. Then a man made of lightning, whom Dion names the crooked man, shows up and sucks all the ghosts back to him before disappearing.

Pat begins to help Nicole and Dion, being Dion’s “superhero mentor” and helping them to investigate Biona, where Pat still works, when Nicole discovers that Mark didn’t trust his employer.

During Dion’s health crisis, Pat even points out the way to save Dion, having learned what Mark discovered about his own changed physiology in the wake of the meteor shower that resulted in his developing powers.

Then, in a reveal so clumsy they had to include a retcon flashback, Pat goes from awkward family friend and geeky investigator to full-on incel and … the crooked man. There was so much WTF, I didn’t know what to do with it.

In the end, Pat/the crooked man is defeated by Nicole and Dion in a tag team effort, and there is a touching, if temporary family reunion, but the crooked man escapes and inhabits another young boy with powers much like Dion. This makes no sense as the crooked man “consumes” those with powers and Pat wanted Dion to heal him (of the crooked man, I assume), which would have killed Dion. There’s no precedent for this outcome in the series. Also, it presents the recurrent villain trope, in which Dion will again have to face the crooked man at the end of next season. Not promising.

I read a lot of books in the last couple of months. I’ll touch on them briefly, here.

I decided to check out Zen and the Art of Writing because it had long been on my TBR list and someone in my critique group mentioned that it was her go-to, feel-good, writing craft book. I liked it and Bradbury’s approach to writing but didn’t feel like I could adopt much of it for my own process.

Having just finished The Handmaid’s Tale in the wake of the series’ third season, I nabbed The Testaments. Atwood made a wise decision in placing the events of The Testaments fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, giving the series room to breathe and become its own thing in between. The narration alternates between Aunt Lydia, at the end of a storied career, Agnes, June’s oldest daughter, raised in Gilead by a Commander and his wife, and Daisy, raised in Toronto, who eventually learns that she is “Baby Nicole,” June’s younger daughter. I won’t give anything away, but I liked The Testaments better than The Handmaid’s Tale. The three narrators, though still unreliable in their own ways, are not as unreliable as Offred/June was in the first book. Their stories, though still traumatic, are revealing in ways that June’s could not be.

Then, I read one of my favourite books of the last two months, Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. It’s admittedly weird, as only a space opera set in a system with nine planets (ahem), each controlled by a necromantic house in service to the Emperor God necromancer can be. It’s a little off-putting that the main action is basically sword and sorcery—I found myself asking, why set this in space at all?—I’m sure there will be a payoff in the upcoming sequel Harrow the Ninth. It’s a wicked and charming character study, exposed through mystery and puzzle-solving, and the writing is just—forgive me—to die for.

Next, I turned to Cassandra Khaw’s novella, Hammers on Bone, which puts a Cthulian twist on the hard-boiled detective narrative. Interesting and brutal and satisfying.

Eden Robinson’s follow up to Son of a Trickster, Trickster Drift, continues Jared’s story. He travels to Vancouver to attend college, away from his mother’s protection, moves in with his mother’s estranged sister and her haunted apartment, is stalked by his mother’s vicious ex, David, who abused Jared when he was a child, and stalwartly attempts to have a normal life. Things, of course, do not go as planned.

A Brightness Long Ago is Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest alt-historical fantasy and like all his work, is lyrical and touching and nuanced. This is one novel I want you all to read for yourselves, so I’ll just say that I loved it.

The City in the Middle of the Night is Charlie Jane Anders’ second novel. For the most part, I loved it as much as All the Birds in the Sky, but the ending seemed rushed and the novel was ultimately unsatisfying for that reason. On a tidally locked planet, where humans can only survive in the thin band of twilight between the inferno of the light side and the frozen tomb of the dark, the reader follows Sophie, kind, gentle, naïve Sophie, as she learns that no matter where we go or what we do, humans are the absolute worst. At every turn they fail her and each other. It’s no wonder she turns toward the native species of the planet toward the end of the novel.

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. Like Anders’ novel, Bolander’s novella shows us how humans are doomed to make all the wrong choices. Elephants and women are the victims in this case. Why is it that we need a holocaust, or a nuclear bomb to remind us that “never again” is more than just words?

Finally got around to reading Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. While I enjoyed the book, I found, as others have, that Alina, the protagonist, doesn’t have a lot of agency in the novel. From the moment she evidences her grisha powers, Alina is taken, trained, manipulated, enslaved, and though she ultimately manages to win her freedom and the day, it felt that luck had as much a hand in it as Alina.

Next was P Djélì Clark’s Black God’s Drums. This novella is set in an alternate history in which both steam punk elements and African culture. It was entertaining and I loved the protagonist 🙂

Then, I read the third novel in A.M. Dellamonica’s Hidden Sea Tales, The Nature of a Pirate. These novels are basically police procedurals in a post-post-post-apocalyptic future. Sophie Hansa is transported into a world which is more ocean than land. Aside from living on islands, there is an armada/floating nation of ships. There is magic, but it works largely by inscription, which needs specific and often rare materials, and must be worked on a person, whose full name is required for the spell. One person can only be inscribed so much before they reach their individual capacity and then they start to suffer and may even die horribly. The world building is impeccable, the characters are endearing, and the mysteries are engaging.

My other non-fiction read of the month was Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s the tale of an indigenous woman finding her way back to her culture. It’s a beautiful, lyrical book, and because Kimmerer is a botanist, she weaves science in with her teachings. It’s an ecological tour de force.

I read Alyssa Wong’s short story, “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers.” Two sisters destroy the world again and again in an attempt to save one another.

I burned through Maggie Stiefvater’s Call Down the Hawk. I read several awesome books in the last couple of months (Muir’s, Kay’s, Kimmerer’s), but this has to be my absolute favourite. It delves into the lives of the Lynch brothers in the wake of The Raven Cycle. There are other dreamers in the world, and they’re being systematically hunted and killed by an organization that believes one of them will destroy the world. They’re closing in on Ronan, Declan is dating the living dream of another, and Matthew has just realized that he’s just like his mother, Aurora Lynch, and that his existence depends on Ronan. It’s twisted and juicy and everything I wanted. The ending was a little precipitous, but I know this is the beginning of a trilogy, so I’m willing to forgive Stiefvater for that. The cliffhanger, though—!

Finally, I read Chuck Wendig’s short story collection, Irregular Creatures. Some of the stories were endearing. Some of them were downright disturbing. A lot of douchecannoes got what they deserved.

And—whew!—that was the last two months in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: July 2019 update

So … here we are in the dog days of August. The spring may have been a late one but, as it did last year, the temperature rose quickly. We had to use out portable air conditioner a couple of nights in June and a couple more in July. I find myself wondering if the weather will continue hot. It’s interesting (to me) to observe the effects of climate change locally.

The month in writing

July was a quiet month. I continue my review of the Ascension series at a snail’s pace. I’m only up to reviewing the first part of book two at the moment. I blame work, but really, I think I just need a break. I’ve just had five days off and I haven’t looked at it … I may try to turn that around.

JulyProgress

I continue to revise January’s short story. It’s closer, but not quite “there” yet. There’s more work to be done. February’s story waits in the wings. I set myself the goal of writing 2,500 words of short fiction in July and wrote 2,599 words or 104% of my goal.

I blogged 4,695 words of my 2,800-word goal, or 169%. This was largely because I finally got around to writing a book review. I have a backlog of them pending so expect more in the coming weeks. I may have to reconsider my blogging goals accordingly.

Finally, I wrote my latest Speculations column in 1,283 words, or 128% of my 1,000-word goal.

It was a decent month, writing wise, but quiet, as I said.

Filling the well

July 15th marked my 25th wedding anniversary with Phil. I mentioned on social media that it doesn’t seem like that much time has passed and yet I find it difficult to remember life without Phil. That’s not true, I have a lot of pre-Phil memories, but they’ve taken on a surreal quality, like they’re artefacts from someone else’s life.

On the 6th, my sister-in-law threw us a nice, quiet party. Just the Moms and some family friends. It was a lovely day.

The other writerly event I attended was Ad Astra, which was from July 12-14. I went down July 13 and came back July 14, so it was a bit of a whirlwind, but I still attended some great panels and met up with some writerly friends.

What I’m watching and reading

Phil and I watched the last season of Jessica Jones. It was disappointing, but I think that came of trying to turn a non-powered person, Sallinger, into an effective villain who managed to stymie the police, Jessica, Trish, Malcolm and J’s new boyfriend, AKA, headache boy 🙂 Jeri’s sub-plot was all over the place which, in turn, messed up Malcolm’s. Jessica’s reconciliation with Trish was never genuine and it was unsurprising when—SPOILERS!—the newly-minted Hellcat was arrested.

At the end, Jessica’s about to leave New York, dispirited by Trish’s downfall, her adopted mother’s death (following on the heels of her birth mother’s death at Trish’s hands), and her failure to bring Sallinger to justice. She’s broken up with her boyfriend, referred him to Costa as a CI, and handed the key to Alias Investigations to Malcolm.

As she’s purchasing her train ticket to a randomly chosen destination, Killian’s voice tells her how right she is to give up. Jessica’s surrounded by the violet light that is her first nemesis’s signature and she turns away from the ticket counter, smiling, while the camera pans wide and fades to black. Odd choice for a series ending.

We also watched the final season of i, Zombie, which was more satisfying, but a little contrived. I thought that—AGAIN SPOILERS!—Liv and Major’s decision to remain zombie, raising their zombie family and providing a home for all the zombies who couldn’t, or didn’t want to, be cured … odd. Not because they wouldn’t have done it. They would so have sacrificed their human lives to help others, but the reasons for their choosing this life arise so late in the game that it belies their previous and oft-expressed desires to the contrary.

No movies this month.

Reading-wise, I loved Lauren B. Davis’s The Grimoire of Kensington Market. It was a retelling of The Snow Queen but had a feminist flavour and living/mystical stores, which is a trope I’m fond of. I won’t say much more because this is another novel you should really pick up for yourself.

I also read Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster and, again, loved it. I find I’m really enjoying indigenous stories these days. I recommend it highly.

I read La Brigantessa, written by writerly friend Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli. This novel was historical fiction set in post-Unification Italy. It focuses on the journey of Gabriella and the event that force her to flee her village to eventually seek sanctuary with the brigands of the Aspromonte mountains.

Then, I read Jim Butchers The Aeronaut’s Windlass, which I enjoyed. I’m looking forward to the next instalment of the Cinder Spires series. While I loved Rowl, I thought it strange that he was the powerful figure in the cat world. Like the great cats, feral populations are generally matriarchies.

I liked the ensemble cast with their unique characteristics and abilities. Bridget’s ability to talk to cats, Benedict’s warrior-born, feline qualities, and the Etherealists’ insanity. This last was fascinating. Every Etherealist is twisted by the etheric forces they work with, but each, in order to control their madness, channels it into one aspect or obsession. Master Ferus needs collections of very specific things, his apprentice Folly can’t speak directly to anyone but her etheric crystals, and Sycorax is obsessed with etiquette and politeness. I’m curious to see more.

Next, I dove into Emma Newman’s Any Other Name, the second in her Split Worlds Series. The first novel left off on an uncomfortable note, with Cathy in an arranged, and forced, marriage. Her mother actually drugs her into acquiescence. The theme continues with Cathy’s new husband alternately trying to convince her to “make a go” of it, and using charms to coerce her into bed so they can a) consummate their marriage before either of their fae lords takes exception and b) conceive the child that is Cathy’s primary obligation in the arrangement.

The fae lords are manipulative in their own ways as are the family patroons. Charmed rings that enforce fidelity, charms that guarantee a boy at conception, and demands that Cathy become duchess of London and to keep up the appearances due her new station.

Meanwhile, Max continues to look into the mystery of the bath chapter’s destruction and Sam grows increasingly concerned about his wife’s promotion and new flat.

I read Story Arcana, by Caroline Donahue, ostensibly about using the major arcana of the tarot as a structure guide for both the novel and the writer’s life. I became aware of Donahue and her book through an interview with Joanna Penn on the Creative Penn podcast. While I found the book useful, it was poorly edited and largely a promotional tool for Donahue’s online course of the same name, site, and podcast. The podcast looks good and I’ll probably tune in. I was just a little disappointed in the presentation.

Finally, I read Joe Mahoney’s A Time and a Place. I enjoyed the story, loved the T’Klee, the novel’s cat-like aliens, and appreciated the parallels to T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. The execution wasn’t quite up to the premise, though.

Look forward to reviews of most of these books over the coming months.

And that was this month in this writer’s life.

Until tipsday, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: June 2019 update

Happy July, everyone! The summer weather has finally arrived in my area of the world. I hope you’re enjoying the season, whatever it is where you live.

And now, it’s time for my next chapter update for June 2019.

The month in writing

My “big” project continues to be my reread, restructuring, and preparation for revision of my Ascension series. As with many of my plans or goals, what I hoped to accomplish at the beginning of the year is changing.

To be specific, I had hoped that by the end of June, I’d have read through all five novels and be ready to start revising book one. Here, in July, I’m still reading through book one … As a result, I’ve decided that I’m just going to focus on laying the groundwork for future revisions. I’m going to continue reading through the series through to the end of September. For now.

While I’ve reviewed the various documents that will make up my series bible, I haven’t yet done the work of pulling everything together. This is part of the work I have to do to get ready for revising. I’m not sure if I’ll have this done before I have to shift gears into NaNo prep.

One of the challenges that I’ve been facing is that, since April, as I’ve noted in past updates, the day job has kicked into high gear. I finish most days exhausted and unable to nab even a little time during breaks of lunch to devote to my WIP. In the early months of this year, there was some downtime that I was able to capitalize on.

Also, I’ve been critiquing, which takes up time in the evening that I might otherwise use to work on my series. Accordingly, I’ve adjusted my goal, but what I’ll accomplish by the end of September is a bit up in the air. Sometimes we have to do what we can and live within the uncertainty.

Still it’s important work and I’m doing it, regardless of the pace 🙂

I blogged 4,073 words of my 2,600-word goal, or 157%.

Toward the end of the month, I got back to my short fiction. While I didn’t reach my 1,000-word goal, I wrote 693 words, or 69%. While this is, strictly speaking, revision of my January short story, most or the work is new. I’ve added scenes and switched things up. In the end, I think the story will be closer to 5,000 words than the 2,500 I’d planned on. It’ll be a better story, but I have a feeling that this draft won’t be the end of my work on the piece.

Revision-wise, I got Reality Bomb ready for critique and it is now posted. I had hoped to get the draft up to 80,000 words, but I’m still 1,175 words short of that. Still, 99% is good. It’s not a huge gap and it gives me room to work with. I’m nervous because there’s a lot of material in the novel that I’m not sure works. We’ll see what my critique group thinks.

JuneProgress

And that’s all the writing and revision I accomplished this past month.

Filling the well

On June 20th, A couple of poet friends, Kim Fahner and Tom Leduc, held a reading at One Sky they called On the Cusp of the Solstice. After their sets, the evening became an open mic and we got to hear five other local poets share their work. It was a great evening and a lovely, artistic venue.

What I’m watching and reading

I watched the final season of A series of Unfortunate Events. It was okay. I know it adhered fairly closely to the books (which I haven’t read) and I understand the choice not to give the Beaudelaires a happy ending, but it felt unsatisfactory because most of that denouement happened off-screen and the story was given to Lemony and Beatrice the second. In a way, the story was always Lemony’s, but he never did anything to propel the narrative, so it felt like a cheat.

I also finished the most recent season of Homeland released to Netflix. I think they’re a season behind what’s on the network, but I prefer to watch some shows when I want to rather than when the network wants me to. It was dark, as every season of Homeland has been to date. The twist at the end was interesting and promises a climactic next season. We’ll see.

I finally reached the end of season one of Man in the High Castle. I know I’m behind in this one, but I watch multiple series at the same time on both Netflix and Amazon Prime (like, between six and ten at any given time) and I only watch them on the weekends or days off and that means slow progress. I enjoy where the series is going and the characters. It’s interesting to see what they’re doing with another of Dick’s shorter works.

Phil and I devoured Good Omens. We loved it. I know a good deal has been made of focusing the story on Azirophale and Crowley because they are secondary characters. Like Lemony Snicket, above, they don’t really do anything to progress the plot or save the world. They just mess up and luck into every win. Still, I loved seeing David Tennant on screen again and Crowley’s friendship with Azirophale is a beautiful thing.

We also enjoyed Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. I LOLed quite a bit. The movie didn’t take itself seriously and mocked its own tropes. I see why a lot of people consider it one of the best Marvel property movies (even though it was a Sony movie), better even than Endgame. I think comparing the two isn’t something that can be done. They’re both their own beasts.

Valerian remains in limbo, and Phil and I, on the strength of our liking of the original, checked out Reboot: The Guardian Code. One episode and I was, no. So no.

Reading-wise, I finished American Gods, which I liked much more than the Amazon Prime series. Events and gods have been juggled in the series so much that it’s almost unrecognizable. I recommend the book, though I did enjoy the series on its own merits.

For my literary selection, I read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I know it was probably the author’s intention, but I was alternately depressed and enraged throughout the novel. I still have unsettled feelings about it, and I think it will take some time to come to an understanding.

I read Sarah Negovetich’s Rite of Rejection, her YA dystopian. The story has similarities to books like The Handmaid’s Tale, in that society has doubled down on traditional gender roles and anyone considered divergent is identified through their activities (arrested) or by “the machine” which identifies those with undesirable traits. In both cases, undesirables are sent to camps so that they will never be able to spread dissent or reproduce. It’s another stark book, but I’ll probably read the rest of the series.

Finally, I listened to both volumes of The Outlandish Companion on Audible. It was a great refresh of the series, the Lord John books, and the interstitial shorts along with a lot of fascinating insights into Gabaldon’s process, research, and tasty tidbits about the series. It was a nice palate cleanser 🙂

And that was this month in the writerly life.

Until the next time I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The Next Chapter