The National Palace of Culture

Oof. Sorry this newsletter is so late. Christmas break was … but that’s a story for the next newsletter. This month, I want to take you back to mid-December, when I had a crisis of faith under the National Palace of Culture.

Susie Carder says you can’t tell a story until you’ve stopped living it. “Help, a book made me feel bad,” isn’t a story, and nor is “Nobody writes good books these days!” A story is when you say, “come, sit down beside me. You know what I did after I that book made me feel bad? You’re gonna like this.”

Hoarfrost on branches
Fog above and snow below
Black wood in between

So there I was, pacing back and forth in front of the bus stop, deep in the chilly concrete bowels of Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. I was half way back to my office and in the middle of my day, and I just tooth-gnashingly furious. I boiled with rage at this book I’d been trying to read. This book I had turned to for help! Which I’d bought for way too much money because I thought it would give me the next step in my development as a writer and a person. But then what did I come across in chapter 2? An ideology so repugnant that the mere act of reading it felt like being spat on. How dare this book disagree with me? To hell with it and everyone who ascribes to its mind-poison!

The subject of the book? How to work with people you disagree with.

Ho ho! So now, you’ve got my cry for help, my shout of rage, and even a some dramatic irony for you literary scholars out there. Now, here’s the story.

For the past several years, I’ve found myself becoming allergic to an increasing number of books. Part of this problem is my own training as a writer – I end up critiquing the author’s technique instead of losing myself in the story. There is another problem, though. It’s hard to put words to it, and if I succeed in doing so now, it’ll be for the first time.

So here goes: Most new books I read don’t say, “sit down beside me, you’re gonna like this,” they either say “how dare you,” or “to hell with my enemies.”

It’s a hard problem to talk about, because at this point in the conversation, most people ask as for an example. Things generally go down hill from there, because whatever example I pick, it distracts us from the real problem, which is the method of the delivery. “What?” the other person says, “who cares about the delivery? The message is what’s important, and message says that (good thing) is good. Only bad people would disagree that (good thing) is good. You’re not…a bad person, are you?”

Then we spend the rest of the conversation confirming that I do indeed think good things are good. But that’s not the problem. The problem is when someone goes around telling people that they aren’t good enough.

That’s what this book was telling me: “You’re not good enough.” I couldn’t read it any more, but that meant I couldn’t get whatever useful lessons it had to teach me. I couldn’t go back to my office and work. I could only gnaw away at the terrible conversation that the book had started in my head. Was I good enough? Maybe not. Maybe I should abandon my principles and throw in my lot with this author? Or maybe it’s this author who isn’t good enough! Maybe I should give up hope and stop reading any books at all!

I wrote some poetry, which I won’t subject you to, but that didn’t help much. I was still inside the story, and I couldn’t tell it. The only way I could teach my next class was to press my head against the bathroom wall and tell myself “You are enough. You are enough.”

Dead leaves on a twig
They will cling all winter, but
Buds will dislodge them

How many of you have felt the same way? Like you’re falling out of society? Like your only choice is to either mouth slogans along with everyone else, or go hide in a survivalist compound in the mountains? Because how could we ever talk to people who we disagree with??

It was somewhere around this time that I heard Carder’s advice about only telling stories once you’re out of them, but it still took an embarrassingly long time to make the connection. These books I don’t like, they were written by people like me. People who were in the middle of their stories. The authors of these books are struggling, crying out at the pain and injustice of their lives. Of course their literature comes off as either attack or alarm. I wasn’t the only one raging on the bus stop, halfway to work.

All I need is compassion. And the resolution to wait until my stories are done before I tell them.

Leaving the garden.
Last year’s plants in this winter.
Gray and brown and green.

In other news!

Interchange rested in December while I worked on the other projects. The Centuries Unlimited and The Sultan’s Enchanter both got new beginnings, which is something I can do now without tearing out my soul and squeezing it. I just put on some good music, meditate, and write…something that needs considerable work to fit in with the rest of the manuscript. But still.

And it’s not entirely true that I left Interchange alone. Back in the fall I signed up for the Science Fiction Writers of America mentorship program, and they paired me with a mentor. One of the many good things about my and my mentor’s conversations is that he can tell me to do things that I would otherwise flake on. But since someone told me to, I have no choice but to do my homework: a writeup of each of the alien biomes of Junction. I’ll post them on my website once I’m done with them, but for now you can follow (or join!) the conversation here.

As a Christmas present, I put up a new short story set in the Fellow Tetrapod universe. It involves film studies and…film studies. Enjoy!

I sent another short story to a big scifi magazine. Fingers crossed on that one.

And January 27 is the launch date for Protector! It’s “a sci-fi adventure equal parts Conan the Barbarian, Mad Max, and The Expanse!” If you preorder a copy, it’s more likely we’ll be able to write the sequel 🙂

The sky develops
Behind the corners of blocks
From midwinter night

Oh! And the treasure trove of Thracian stuff I found on! The phonology alone! Oh my cruel, subterranean god! A major overhaul of my dictionary followed, and here’s the result so far:

Kipt igipûe ainē kēsa byźai dârsai ypo dēsâ.
Ebron, aiźē, byźâs kâ šhalmon, blēptē, bostâs kâ,
As tae uper sikinan kapâ te pe ûe binźan.

One time under heaven, there were some brave goats.
A kid, a nanny, and a billy goat, clever, observant, and tough.
Who want to climb up the hill to fatten themselves.

Tans ispilsa iâtrē strymē mâd kapō, śân târē dymē.
Ypo ûērâ tâ iserpsa źērē: źymlē tē udrēnē mērē!
Byźulâs źilins mirins ada. Bolûârē kela genta rhoda.

A fast stream between the hills blocked them, with an evil guard.
Under the bridge crawled a beast: the great water dragon!
A little goat eats tender herbs. A serpent gulps red meat.

Pešhēnon ârźa ēbron to. Šhâšhâpton ârźa an nugō.
Źymlē tē ilâ iglâûsa. “Kis ēs śy?” Nedton iglâtsa.
“Manon ēm ēźo: ēbron.” “Śan abadam samiston!”

First comes the kid. “Shhap shhap” it comes on its hooves.
The dragon heard this. “Who are you?” she roared.
“It is only I, a kid.” “Then I will eat you up at once!”

Dâ prâglâs as an ēbre te eg zi šhalmō tes ibutûe.
“Aiźē ârźa o udrēnin. Ân ûe isźas drâkûēnin,
Kiptas genton pi palon.” As idakûe iē gurmon.

But the answer of the kid was of the most clever.
“A nanny comes to the water dragon. If you wait for your dinner,
You will have very much meat.” This she greedily did.

Sâkton aiźē tē pešhara. Pipikton brâma iē an parâ.
Źymlē tē ilâ iglâûsa. “Kis ēs śy?” Nedton iglâtsa.
“Manon aiźē ēm ēźo.” “Isźem ûe ânâdon śo!”

Next the nanny begins to cross. “Pick pick” she sounds on a path.
The dragon heard this. “Who are you?” she roared.
“Only a nanny am I.” “I have been waiting hungrily for you!”

Thank you for the clouds
the birds that fly across them
And the winds that move.

And some stuff I liked this month:

Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood – uh…it has weird pre-war sex rituals?

Nudge by Richard H. Thaler – a more academic approach to The Power of Habit. Dumb DUMB dad-jokes.

The Thousandfold Thought by Scott R. Bakker – whoo! That’s half of the series. I think I need to give the transcendental nietzscheans a break for a while now, though. The writing is just so good, but as heavy as depleted uranium. I did enjoy the glossary at the end, which was about a quarter of the novel’s length.

Good Manager  – oh that rascal! He did manage to defeat the wicked chaebol director after all. This was easily the most entertaining drama about accountancy that I’ve seen.

Songo di Volare” by Christopher Tin – inspiration for Protector

Gravity” by Against the Current – good Interchange music!

In Hell I’ll be in Good Company” by the Dead South – very Thracian

And of course “Winter’s Dance – a Celebration of The Season” by Golden Bough and “Christmas with the Cambridge Singers.” Otherwise it wouldn’t be Christmas.

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