December newsletter: the Pit and the Telescope

A couple nights ago, Pavlina came out of the shower with an idea about ideas. She had been having shower thoughts as one does, when she remembered something she regretted saying. Or maybe it was a fight she’d had with her family or a conflict at work, or money. Now I’m feeling bad that I wasn’t listening to her more carefully, because I don’t actually remember that detail.

But anyway, the point is that Pavlina felt a difference between these gnawing doubts and what came next, which was an insight:

Some thoughts are pits. Others are telescopes.

Some thoughts, when they come to you, funnel you ever downward. I think today is the first work day of 2021, and it’s much harder to follow that up with I’m going to write something great this year, than here we are in lockdown again. And once I’ve thought about the lockdown, it’s much harder to ask myself how can I make this situation work for me? than when will I finally be free again? Having asked that question, the answer comes automatically: never.

That’s the pit.

To the mind, bad is stronger than good. Bad thoughts exert a force on the stream of consciousness, narrowing and strengthening the pull until we are swept away. Pavlina and I, with our five years of major surgeries one after another, feel that current more strongly now, but I can see that it washes past everyone.

Thinking the other way is as hard as climbing up a waterfall. I will be free at some point. I am already free enough to do all the things I need to do. I will become freer, either by my own efforts or by events beyond my control. There’s nothing I can do to make it safe for my kids to go to school, or to get myself vaccinated sooner. All I can do is continue to grow as a writer, a teacher, and husband and father. How can I grow? I don’t know yet. There are many more possibilities than I can imagine.

That’s the telescope.

That’s the image that occurred to Pavlina in the shower. Some thoughts allow you to see connections that your previous vision could not contain. They create something that was not there before. They solve problems.

Finding those thoughts and using them takes extra care, skill, and effort. But what else are we going to do? We look up. We climb.

So, how will you grow this year?

I really do want to know. Please tell me in the comments or by replying to this email or by recording a video and sharing the link.

That’s going to be one of my experiments this year. I’m going to try to gather together or create materials for my English classes on the subject of communication and mental health. In order to do that, of course, I need to learn more about the care and feeding of my own spirit. And, yeah, let’s see if I can write two publishable books per year. Those are my goals.

But anyway. The future is only half of the story. How about the past?

The big news of course is Interchange! It’s off at the printers, with a cover and everything. You can pre-order it! If you’ve beta-read it, you can leave a review on goodreads. If you haven’t read it yet, tell me and I’ll see if I can get you an Advance Reader Copy.

Or, if you want to write something longer, Inklings Press is preparing to publish a new “Tales from Alternate Earths” anthology. I’m going to submit a story, and maybe you should too. I’m thinking good thoughts about Vasil Levski.

In other alternate history news, I need to wrap up Thracian because my next project will be a new draft of Wealthgiver. That is, after my current project…

The Centuries Unlimited is an interesting example of the pit and telescope. I started writing a book about the future, then got caught up in the ways I’m angry about the way other people think about the future. And, let’s be honest, my own fears about the future. I got so stuck in that pit I almost gave up on the story, but I found a way to swing it around and use it to look upward again. The result makes me feel pretty good.

Anyway, getting Interchange ready for publication interrupted my work on getting Centuries ready to shop to publishers. So that will be my project in January. Wish me luck with that 🙂

Oh, and wish me luck as well with short stories. I stopped writing them for a while, and I think that’s because I was trying to get them published, failing, and getting sad. So I’m going to just start posting them on my webpage. Look forward to reading the first this Friday 🙂

Alright. Books!

When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson – finally you can read it! I’ve been sitting with my hands over my mouth since my friend and colleague Neil gave me this manuscript to beta-read. The feedback I gave was pretty useless: “I love it! It’s perfect!”
Don’t let the book description fool you. This book is not techno-pessimistic. Sharpson presents a future where AI has made the Earth a pretty good place to live…except the oppressive, backward little dictatorship where they banned it.
The main character is a member of the first generation born in “The Caspian Republic.” He was there, working as a policeman, as the place turned ever more hell-hole-ward. Since then, his family and friends have all either been killed (like his wife) or have given up (like him). And then he gets a chance to make things better.
I don’t think When the Sparrow Falls has much in common with Phillip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, but yes, it’s quite John LeCarre. Lots of lonely, gray people on snowy streets. It might also remind of Charles Stross or Sam Hughes…that glitter of possibilities, running under the cold ground like electricity.

The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman – Whew! Uh, this one was good too. I enjoyed how Hillerman occasionally rises above the close third person (“Chee tried to be a good Navajo”). The knots he ties his characters up in are fun to watch – and the unravelling thereof. I kind of lost track of the mystery, but that’s okay.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – some very good advice in here! You have no right to fruits of your labor, only the practice of the labor itself. Do what scares you. I read it at around the same time as Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing collection, and they reflect off each-other well. There was something in there I didn’t like, but now I can’t remember what it was. It must not have been important.

The Great Ordeal by Scott R. Bakker – I can see why a lot of the people who liked the series up to this point stopped liking it. It doesn’t flatter them any more. But it’s clear what Bakker was doing in the first five books of his series: setting up this comparison of reason, emotion, and faith. One isn’t always better than the other two.
As to what actually happens in the book, we get to play with the Unmen quiet a lot.  There is an unexpected giant.

Becoming Fluent by Roger Kreuz and Richard M. Roberts – A good book about the cognitive science behind language-learning (and how to therefore do it better). I actually liked the personal anecdotes more than the science, though. It’s a good introduction for a would-be language-learner or -teacher.

Dream Park by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes – I really like the Dream Park books. There’s industrial espionage, interpersonal drama, a pretty good science-fantasy quest, and a basis in well-researched mythology (in this case, of New Guinea). Tons of fun!

Talk to you later!


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