Opening the Grate

I’d like to welcome you to my Patreon page! I decided to finally go live with my writing endeavours online with some hope of getting some support.

As a reader, follower or patron, I’d first like to thank you by sharing one of my older stories. These are old fires, almost dust at this point, but the warmth warped a bit of the metal that we have to work with now.

I wrote this a while ago in college for my first short story fiction writing class. It was a good first, arguably literate foray into strange fiction. I later got it published at my college Literary Arts magazine Prism.

There’s not a lot of other comments or annotations to make on it yet, but I’d be happy to answer questions about what you think about it. I was generally inspired by Raymond Carver’s Cathedral and the history of science I was learning of at the time.

How we treat the downtrodden of the world is important to me.

Here is Grotto, circa 1999, published in 2002

I’m going to start with posting .epub and .pdf files of my works for now, which should work on most e-readers, computers, and reading options. However, if I get some feedback, I’d be happy to make other formats available (Kindle, etc.).

Check out my Patreon share folder on dropbox. This will be the place to check for all the free offerings I have.

Supporting patrons will get a separate link for supported posts and pieces. They’ll look much the same, and have other patron only offerings.

Thanks everyone! More writings coming soon!

 

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Steeped in Supernatural Chicago

SummerKnight_Paperback_12-120DeathMasks_Paperback_13-120BloodRites_Paperback_14-120I’ve been listening to a lot of Dresden Files audiobooks recently in hopes to catch up on the series (Summer Knight, Death Masks, and Blood Rites). These are not terribly short books, nor so dense that it is hard to listen to them while I do other work around the house, garden, or otherwise drive around. Part of me wishes I could read them as it would probably be faster, though the audio is well enacted and produced, and worth the joy of taking the time to listen.

I like what Jim Butcher does. They are perhaps not high literature, but they have complex characters, curious magical politics, and re-envisioned mythology in every book that rounds the bases quite well.

I originally saw the TV series back on Sci-fi Channel, which, perhaps surprisingly, got me interested in the series. I love modern fantasy retellings as much as the next nerd, and these have been popular for good reason. Well paced dramatic storylines, realistic modern magic in a context that at least makes sense. I’ve never been much interested in hard-boiled detective stories, but this one has a flair that pleases. And recurring sidekick that does Aikido (however inaccurately and competitively) is a perk.

As a tabletop roleplayer from time to time too, I further got on board when one of my favorite game companies (Evil Hat Games) decided to come out with their FATE version of the Dresden Files RPG. I haven’t had time to extensively play the game as I try to get further into the setting so I can more fully appreciate how to set-up further games in the Dresdenverse.

My one complaint is that, as each novel stands on its own but builds on the last, there’s the requisite re-hashing of his magical concept set-up. It helps for the most part, but can induce a kind of soporific reading (or listening). Easy enough to get through. I do also find I have to read or listen to something else between novels lest they blend too much together. Luckily, I have little worry about finding other books.

The series continues to deliver otherwise as I rounded out the first half-dozen. Butcher continues to hone his craft and weave a compelling web. The next half-half dozen, short-stories, graphic novels, and book 14 impend upon me—with delight.

Telling Long Stories

Just a little comment about this piece from Brainpickings, Neil Gaiman, and The Long Now Foundation.

The chemist in me was in glee when Neil was talking about research into an imminent atomic priesthood charged with creating a lasting mythology and ritual system to preserve the knowledge about how not to dig, drill or otherwise exhume atomic waste disposal sites millions of years into our future (wherein it may not be possible to actually read or understand any form of language we depict upon it currently).

And then that was related to how the first emperor of China‘s tomb has still yet to be fully excavated because the lakes of liquid mercury are indeed providing an adequate challenge to get past.

Which then makes me think of Numenera, a reasonably well executed RPG-cum-thought-experiment set a billion years in the future, replete with a scientific priesthood and science-as-magic storytelling.

Worth an hour of listening.

How to read a book written by Mark Z. Danielewski

[this is the book review I did for my local bookstore]

If you’re wondering what that book is on the shelf, the one with the cutout, colorful and comic ‘1’, getting some acclaim and attention, colored dog ears on the pages, weird fonts, layouts and electronic scribbles in the gutter of the spine, you have found The Familiar. Volume 1 to be exact. Of twenty-seven. And you thought John Scalzi had some books to write.

Yes. 27. That’s 880 pages promised for each volume. Doing that math means you’re in for quite a ride—23,760 pages to be exact. Don’t worry though, with Mark’s writing style, formatted uniquely for each character of the story, for each mood and scene, for each transcendental symbol, some, nay, many, of those pages may only contain an ellipsis. If MZD’s past success (or infamy) with his ergodic, jackdaw first novel House of Leaves; his sophmore release, National Book Award-nominee Only Revolutions; or his prose-poem-performed-stitched-story ofThe Fifty Year Sword is any testament, his current attempt at re-inventing the novel aims to bemuse, befuddle and delight.

Ostensibly centering around a girl on a rainy day on her way to get a pet dog her computer programmer father wants as her companion, her mother her own, the rainy day brings the girl instead to find a kitten. Other characters (an L.A. Gangster, an L.A. Cop, a Filipino acolyte, a South American fixer, a N.Y. cabbie, and a technocratic mystic…) complicate and promise, later, to interact, though for this volume, their stories are curious and add layers of mystery, mundanity and science fiction yet to be answered, though fully engrossing in their own rights.

To read this book, one could first follow MZD on forums, Twitter and Facebook like a good internet fan-boy, painstakingly cataloging andrecounting all such strange missives the hermetic Z has released in his writing frenzy. Then, every fortnight, parse and map each strange code, making a patchwork of places. And then star fields, broken and puzzle-like, containing embedded and cyphered text files previewing the first contents, and arguably relevant to the elusive and alien(-like? A.I.) VEM and the entirety of the series. Then, planning your reading chronologically (tagged for ease with the colored dog-ears), or character threaded (again, the colors… so many colors!), embrace the rabbit hole of bracketed, parsed, stream-of-consciousness oddity that this book-cum-artwork only begins to encompass.

Or, like a sane person, you could just start at the chilling preview material those tweets encoded, included for your edification before chapter one, and begin to count the raindrops for yourself. Again, whatever you bring to The Familiar becomes a part of what you get to understand about the Familiar.

MZD himself has said this is his homage to television series, each five volumes roughly equaling a “season”, to be released two to three volumes a year until completion—or failure if it does not live up to it’s namesake. As the current success and bestseller status seem to indicate, he’s got a good shot. A long shot as magnum opi go, but it is truly epic, replete with its own Grecian style chorus commenting throughout, and begins to deliver much. I can attest from a first reading that there is much here left unanswered, but also much to enjoy and tantalize, like pilot episodes: they hook you to read more, and I’m hooked. Danielewski makes works of text fusing to become art, and in the above ergodic sense, one that you must work for, knead even, to get the layers and meanings hidden within to come to the fore.

And, as he encourages from his letter about this first volume:

In one way, The Familiar comes down to a large family, as disparate in background as it is forever bound together. In another way, though, it is just about one remarkable girl, who is as much an act of fiction as she is the daughter I’ve never had, the daughter we together have never had, blindly befriending those who dare encounter her, but most of all befriending the remarkable creature called forth from a place beyond language, maybe even beyond life itself, the necessity we never knew we needed, and just starting to yowl.

Not for its own needs.

But for ours — for we who have forgotten we’re hungry.

Not a light read, but like life—potentially rewarding.

The Need for Flavor

On Being with Krista Tippett – interview with Dan Barber Driven By Flavor

I was listening to Krista Tippett‘s On Being radio show/podcast interview with Dan Barber last night driving home to have dinner with my mom. She made a zucchini lasagna without pasta. Amazing!

It was a great episode exploring the reasons behind flavor and sustainable agriculture. For many years we humans have selected seeds to grow differently for different reasons. Are those reasons ultimately good?

Well, of course the answer is you get what you select for. Select for more production, and you dilute the nutritive fruits of the plants you cultivate. Like in growing tomatoes: the breed of your tomatoes will dramatically impact their flavor and quality. Their breed comes from years and generations of selection, much from nature, some from humans. If productivity becomes stressed over quality of flavor and nutritive value, the same amount of possible nutrients the plant can provide gets spread over more tomatoes. Sure, you’ll have more tomatoes, and those tomatoes will have some nutritive value, but maybe you would like tomatoes better if they had more nutrients, they’d taste better, probably provide more nutrition, and you could probably be okay just having fewer.

I can’t help but see the correlations to our modern society, and I’ve long struggled with the drive to produce more drivel at the cost of any shred of quality. While you can be a productive human and make a lot of things happen, it is likely that if you over stress production, have any lack of focus, the quality and importance of those actions become more diluted and meaningless. With too much production, those projects that are attended to will be of less quality if production is forced over the nutritive and functional value of a few, important projects. The most difficult step is understanding how to find that balance, understand what is truly of importance, for in the grand scheme of things, a lot of things aren’t, and still others may be but are neglected. Hence, the relationship with understanding being and the role of sustainable agriculture and the joys of life with flavor.

Yes, there is always a balance to our act. I would argue that our modern culture is far out of balance considering the needs of global sustainability, energy consumption and completing the regenerative loop. The information age and smart phone economy may be a necessary development of the consciousness of the planet, but it is at the cost of China’s environment bleeding into global climate change and plunging us into an environmental and economic collapse. Economies and money-grubbing encourage a certain kind of uselessness, and just following one’s passions without regard to the implications in the rest of the world is equally dangerous.

The balance between the produced and imminent is always at key. If you’ve got it, I believe you get into the flow of love, be it romance or scrumptiousness. There’s nothing wrong with productivity, abundance either, but quality and balance in that experience, exposition and export is important.

Will we take the time to slow down and taste the carrots?

Towards New Lexicons

lexicon_usa_hb_bigI finished listening to Lexicon by Max Barry (@MaxBarry) recently.

It is a worthy book and you should read it (or listen); the others lauding it are fairly correct. It has succinct prose and an engaging story examining the meaning of words, what power they have, and what’s important in the grand scheme of free will and convincing other people to do one’s will.

Myself a student of words and symbols, a padawan of semiotics, it still irks me a little bit as writers get lost in the aggrandizement of words as magic and power. True, Barry and others are right to reference the word in its historical and magical underpinnings, and that does work to a fair extent. However, it is, I feel, too easy to fall prey to the fallacy that words contain the meaning, and by result, can have such blatant and overreaching power.

Barry conjures the greatest of power words in his story. True, words have a power. People might not be willing to give them power, may continue to give them subconscious reactions even, but as has always been, fundamentally, words have only as much power as society and people willingly give them. Words have a very recent origination, and, as in Lexicon, I find it a mistake to ignore that rather important point. Words and utterances postdate human consciousness, though inform it to such a degree as to surely propel it, and are now confoundingly intertwined.

The trap that this novel falls into then is that there might exist words and utterances that can affect people so deeply as to compel them completely to do whatever is bid. A fundamental linguistic machine code to consciousness, while wonderful in theory, holds less weight in my understanding (emphasis on the linguistic). As any competent psychonaut and student of mystical experience will tell you, experience of perception and consciousness, other worldly or not, is often un-verifiable and un-utterable, and therefore words can no longer penetrate to many (arguably any) corners of the void actually worth going to. This is what new lexicons are for as the inward and outer cosmos is mapped further. And yet, the void remains.

Why, and importantly how, would so-called power-words exist? The novel argues them, and work well as merely a fictional underpinning, but falls short of competently explaining them in the context of further holonic dependencies, networks, and the deeper points of neurology without inciting true mystical powers and the ineffable, inscrutable. It does touch on some important and relevant neurolinguistics, but the story there is far from done.

Joyce and Campbell talk of the aesthetic arrest that high-art, indeed words, could have, but that arrest is still dependent on one’s understanding of and execution of perception, awareness, and consciousness. I find it difficult to imagine the possibility of any word, even if it is exquisitely depicted as Barry has, to be compelling enough for almost everyone—and indeed, that is what we find in the story (though I would argue that even a small town would be less likely to suffer it so violently as Broken Hill).

I suspect Barry knows most of this meta-linguistic problem well enough himself. He’s a writer and must employ words to get his story across. He continues to point at the power-words with other words, as one mystically describes the depths of the void with what few map points we have. And, in that, he executes, with the brevity of a single novel for what he tries to accomplish: a meaningful and thrilling story, believable characters, clandestine illuminated organizations, and food for thought that rival some of the greats of Stephenson, et. al.

Living by the Light of Starry Swirl

dark eden

I recently finished listening to the audiobook Dark Eden by Chris Beckett. To be honest, I was attracted by the paperback cover of the book at my local bookstore—holographic shimmer on black background with fireflies—yes please! I found it excellent listening while I gardened and shoveled gravel.

(possible spoilers, though nothing terrible)

Chris Beckett conjures a dark and distant world heated by geothermal trees, lit by only the Milky Way (now called Starry Swirl for lack of lexical continuity from Earth), small lantern flowers and the occasional angler-fish-wooly-herd-animal (with six legs, mind you). There, a colony of humans stranded after their forebears escaped/fled/absconded from the Earth is finding their expanding family is having to repeat a number of human civilization milestones as it grows beyond the small valley, limited food and resources, and lack of creative thinking.

Where six-legged “Leopards” with shimmering coats of cascading light wail like dying children disappearing in the night right before they pounce, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. All the creatures on Dark Eden seem like something out of a dark Starship troopers novel: lots of legs, strange mouth-parts, clearly unearthly, and yet have been named with such basic terms like Bat or Buck or Slinker, giving a cosy feel to the narrative.

My only complaint of the novel, especially as a scientist, is how a world ecology could evolve to be sustainable for human life without a star to power it. While Beckett explains some of its plausibility, and I’m willing to give a fair bit of slack for the sake of an interesting world and social allegory, pulling off a coherent ecology requires the right character and verbiage that the characters literally do not have.

Where Beckett soars, as is no surprise for his background as a social worker in England, is his role as social analyst, and he does a rather magnificent job of blending both simple language (akin to the low educated future tribe of Cloud Atlas) and sociological commentary on the role of conservatism and iconoclasm in the microcosm of his 500 person inbred colony. As the colony loses touch with the written word and can’t seem to remember how to invent new language (or anything else for that matter), their social structure handed down through five generations begins to fail as they have no method of creative renewal, constantly waiting for the return of their Earthen relief and salvation.

The multi-thematic story touches on both Christian mythology and Human societal urges without being overt, inauthentic, or dogmatic. The colony begins to understand the betrayal of tradition, even murder, and the twisted and imperfect mythology handed down from Earth (Hitler killed Jesus, you know). Chapters from different character points of view help shed the story and confound the conflicting perspectives wonderfully. All this blends seamlessly in adventure as exiled youth drive to discover novel and sustainable lands while yearning to stay connected with people who no longer respect them and their new ideas.

The novel was regarded with an Arthur C. Clarke award and made some other lists of best novels when it was first published in 2012. The paperback hit stateside this last April and is worth a read or listen.

A Hero’s Companion

 

JCCompanion

I finally finished reading, in toto, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion (google books; amazon). I found it in my Father’s Library when I visited for Christmas and have been hanging out with it casually since then—half a year to finish ain’t so bad (I have been reading other things).

It’s organized in small 3-5 page chapters, each of them edited from talks or books of Campbell’s aggregating the essence of his life, understanding of mythology from around the world, interpretations of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and the world’s story he can grok. And grok well he does. While it does encompass most of his mythological structural underpinnings, it reads more like spiritual literature, so its byline of Reflections on the Art of Living is apt. I found them profound, touching, and intimately teaching. Each segment is so dense, touching on the basics of life in the world, it was a better book to hang out with than read directly; its implications for life as an artist, writer, dancer or otherwise strike deep and keep resonating for me. I can tell it will be a book to keep nearby, something to keep the flow of creative juices bubbling forth. It blends both poetry, pull quotes that function as poetry, and citations of his own and others into a basic and aesthetically pleasing read. I’ve read snippets of his seminal The Power of Myth, of course, but that one reads more as non-fiction, albeit as a cohesive interview experience; this Companion works in a more complementary way to one’s own life.

Here are a few excerpts from the end pieces, which were parts of the beginning too:

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.

The obvious lesson…is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think—and their name is legion—that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think—as do many—”Let me first correct society, then get around to myself” are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God’s peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is. (cit. Myths to Live By)

We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.

 

The world is a match for us. We are a match for the world.

 

The first function of mythology is to sanctify the place you are in.

 

Follow your bliss.

 

If you want the whole thing, the gods will give it to you. But you must be ready for it.

 

A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation:

“As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm.

Jump.

It is not as wide as you think.”

Thanks Joseph. Your amazing technicolor language continues to instruct us.

Familiar Places

Going on about a year and a half now, House of Leaves author extraordinaire Mark Z. Danielewski has been working on his new series of books known as The Familiar.

In that time he’s been posting odd pictures (in that they’re mostly black; though more recently star fields) on his facebook and twitter accounts about every fortnight. Each of the pictures has a numerical code associated with it, which, if cleverly parsed, could be useful information. They most likely fit location coordinates, though other options of star charts would seem fitting and possible.

It could be an elaborate viral marketing campaign. It could be an enigmatic puzzle adventure. Knowing MZD mostly from his books, I have little doubt there is some method in his madness, but further assumptions are hard to build upon.

So, of course, I’ve been keeping track.

Most of the data, maps, and notes I’ve taken is on my older blogger. Other discussions over at reddit/codes, another blog, and the home MZD forums also exist. The maps of Danielewski’s Boxes and Danielewski’s Stars are the most updated; the Familiar Places map combines them, though is not auto-updated.

One of the more interesting posts prompted: 15Sep13: “Two rules and one challenge…” #TheFamiliar

We’re starting to make some progress, but please let me know if you would like to collaborate further.

World Book Night

So, I volunteered for World Book Night this year. I had tried to sign up in previous years and was ignored for whatever reason. This time I figured out that my local independent bookstore extraordinaire, Grass Roots, usually has a few boxes left over from their general shipment and got in their cue a bit easier. Giving away books should be fun.

However, the box of promo books I got to hand out ended up being a bit less than ideal match. I figured I’m a geeky dude, I can sell Fantasy. So I picked up a box of The Ranger’s Apprentice, which I hadn’t heard about until the WBN promo, nor had I read. Turns out it’s a young adult fantasy novel. No worries, right?

The Ranger's Apprentice Book 1

The Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1

I check with the kids at my Aikido dojo, my major connection to the youngsters, and they’re all like: “Sorry, don’t need book 1, I’m on book 8 already.” So, at least the kids like it, that’s good. Now, where do I find the kids that haven’t read it? I tried the local middle schools, but they are, correctly I feel, not interested in geeky dudes strolling around their campus handing out free books–so I just hand them off to the office to filter them down to the reading clubs.

I hit up the comic book shop and give out a few to some kids browsing Magic cards. And the store owner.

And some more go to random lovely folk at Fred Meyers who look like they needed a book.

No amazing stories with my personal attempt at spreading literary fervor and fantasy, but still, a job well enjoyed.

i09 on writing science fiction

i09 had some good posts recently about writing science fiction.

A sublink from that post had some great methods from Max Barry (writer of Lexicon) about how to actually complete the writing process. I recommend using all 15 to some degree, but, of course, the writing seems to be paramount (ass-to-chair as Matt Love has said to me).

When you’re pondering those ideas, make sure to avoid these:

Beginner’s Mind

I will try with more concerted effort to make this my authorspace blog. Having started or neglected half a dozen other blogs, I make no guarantees about those other blogs. This should at least work for my purposes for my writing life though, so come back here and I’ll cross link other blogs and spaces as necessary.

I’ve been liking WordPress more and more with its ease and customizability (compared to say other places like Blogger, which is still pretty decent); though am a little disappointed with font customization as yet. Still learning. Always.