September Newsletter: Making Wine

I came downstairs to find a mess in the bathroom.

My younger daughter was standing in front of the sink, over an open drawer. The towels there had become a beauty salon for her dolly, which was reclining with its hair immersed in a cup full of conditioner. Pearly mucus glistened on the counter top, the sink, the side of the cabinet.

My daughter, whom I’ll call Mikhaela on the internet, looked at me. Her mouth and eyes opened wide.

“But I’m just washing my doll!”

I stepped into the bathroom and the pads of my foot squished greasily.

“What the is this?” I yelled. “You cannot do this, Miki. You wasted all that conditioner.”

“But mom said I could wash my doll!”

“Clean it up. You have to clean it all up now.” I grabbed the mop handle, which I also needed as physical support. The floor was iced with beauty product.

“I did not need this,” I raged as I lurched into the kitchen to grab a sponge. “Don’t run, Miki! Walk. I come downstairs and I find another mess I have to clean up. No, use this, not toilet paper. Clean it up!”

My daughter was crying at this point, and part of me was glad. I wanted her to feel as bad as I felt.

Because I had just made a mess of my own.

Fishes feeding on the tentacles of an overturned jellyfish.

Another flaps listlessly in the water.


I got a very nice second-hand computer for my birthday, with the Linux Mint Cinnamon operating system. I loved it. Linux was fast, it was infinitely customizable, and when it wasn’t intuitive, there were enormous repositories of wisdom on the forums. I already mostly used LibraOffice and Google Drive for my work, so the move went smoothly. As smoothly, one might say, as a bare foot on a conditioner-slathered bathroom tile.

At the very moment that conditioner was being slathered, I was trying to install Wine. Wine is a program that creates a pretend Windows environment to fool programs that haven’t been made for Linux. The particular program I needed was Overdrive, which lets me download audiobooks from the library in my parents’ town back in the US. A book I’d put on hold was ready to borrow: Relentless.

It did not work. Wine opened, but it failed to find Overdrive. It didn’t find anything. I went through the step-by-step instructions again, and again it didn’t work. What the hell was Gecko and why wasn’t I getting a prompt about it? Had I just installed Wine twice? Three times? How much junk was piling up as I beat my head against this problem?

After an hour of increasing frustration and disillusionment, I thrust my now possibly wrecked computer away. Was I going to have to reformat and start over? Or limp along with an operating system filled with all the useless junk I’d just installed? I’d wanted to spend this time making the machine work better, damn it. And now it was worse.

The Norway maple rears into the angled amber spray of sunset light.

I came downstairs to find my daughter staring at me from the gooey bathroom, and I yelled at her.I yelled because I was frustrated my computer wasn’t working. And my computer wasn’t working because (I found out later) I had typed “add-architecture 1386” rather than “add-architecture i386” into the command-line terminal.

It’s hard to admit that you’ve done something stupid, but without understanding what you did, you can’t fix it.

I apologized to Miki for yelling at her, and she said “meow.” By that point, she was a cat.


In other news…

I found out that the RSS feed I’ve been using to get these newsletters into your inboxes will soon stop working. Don’t worry, I’m still going to keep posting newsletters on my website and Facebook and so on, but I got to thinking about how I’d like all my stuff in one place. A place where fans can see it?

Deep breath…


I’ve been working on my patreon page for weeks and it’s finally ready. It has three tiers, and the $1 one will give you early access to these newsletters, as well exclusive access to whatever else I create over the course of the month. It will also help me to create more, and not only in a I-can-quit-my-day-job way.

It’s just exciting for me to think about my future patrons. I already have a whole queue of new short stories and essays ready to post, and I’m making more. I’m even drawing again! I downloaded Krita and figured out how to make my wacom tablet work with Linux.1 Might I go back to the world of digital color??

Anyway, if you can’t pay, don’t worry. My newsletters will show up in all the right places after a delay. Some of my other work will show up for free eventually, as well. Patrons will get early access to everything, exclusive access to some short stories and art, and access to a private forum. There’s some other stuff at the higher tiers, including invitations to talk to me over Zoom and a never-before-seen serialized novel, The World’s Other Side.

You can find it all here.

Thank you in advance.


In other, other news

The Centuries Unlimited is still out with publishers, and Wealthgiver is resting while I work on Fellow Tetrapod beta. This time, I’m just plowing through from beginning to end, setting the events in the right order. I’m also doing research on zoology and office politics, with the professional help of artist and illustrator Tim Morris. Bouncing between us, the ideas are getting very big indeed. Here’s his rough-draft illustration of the intelligent whippomorph from this story sketch.

He enjoys raw fish and mechanical puzzles.


And what I liked in September

Shufu no Michi – a set of delightful little cartoons about an ex-yakuza mafioso who’s married a good woman and settled down as a house husband. There are some good housekeeping tips, too. My favorite part was the one Like that the Immortal Dragon got for his yogurt parfait on Instagram. It was from his wife.

Journey of the Sorcerer – also known as the Hitchhiker’s Guide Theme. This is excellent writing music. We need more scifi written to Eagles songs.

Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami – This was a suggestion from Paul Venet, and I read it on the beach. It’s a collection of transcribed conversations between the author and concert conductor Seiji Ozawa. Both talk about their love of music and their approach to creative work, as well as the experience of living abroad. I’m not a musician, and I didn’t get much even when I read along to the music (on Spotify). I did connected with some of the more abstract discussion of the “hungry heart” of the artist reaching toward mastery and the “stripping away layers” during performance. It’s good to consider what makes art good.

Slan by A.E. van Vogt – I don’t finish books if I don’t like them, and I don’t write reviews for books I haven’t finished. Therefor, this will probably be my most negative review. Slan‘s original problem is interesting enough (GM super-genius telepath children are in the care of baseline humans, who want them dead), but the solutions aren’t. The children always win because they’re super-genius telepaths. I did finish Slan because it never quite disappointed me enough to put it down.

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie – a good sequel to How to Win Friends and Influence People. This one digs deeper, and focuses on you, the person living your life. It talks about the knots we get ourselves into, and how to loosen them. Carnegie relies heavily on anecdotes, both from his own life, the lives of his students, and from famous people. I appreciate that. For theory and practice, I recommend Chatter and How to Get Things Done.

Chatter by Ethan Kross – a neuroscientist’s approach to the problems caused by the voice in your head – I needed the advice this book has to give, as I spend much of my day chewing on my anger and swallowing it again. The tools Kross describes really did help. His theory makes sense, and his stories illustrate it well. I especially appreciate Kross’s own story, and how he was willing to tell it.

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hamilton – a little girl uses her imagination to solve the problems caused by her imagination. This is the first chapter book I’ve found that works for my younger daughter (who has lots of imaginary friends and likes bathroom words). A great “thank you” to my niece, who introduced me to this series.

The Bromeliad by Terry Pratchett – tiny people try to make their way in a big world. I re-read the first book in the series, then went on to finish the other three. I have to say I liked the first one best. In Truckers, the world-building, themes, and plot came together in a way they didn’t manage to in either Diggers and Wings. The places were it shines are about what people are like. The way they belief what they would prefer to be true. The need to coordinate, and how hard that is to do.

Rumpole and the Angel of Death by John Mortimer – a crotchety old barrister pleads for the defense, which is all he knows how to do. I listened to Rumpole way back in middle school, then forgot about him entirely until just this month. I’m going to have to go back to the others, but these more recent stories were especially fun. I get to see what Rumpole thinks of the EU, animal rights activists, and euthanasia enthusiasts. Of course, what he thinks is “you can’t prove they did anything wrong.”

Getting Things Done by David Allen – a terrifying whirlwind that organizes your office. Or if you prefer, “the Konmari method for calendar nerds.” The basic idea is that you are besieged by thoughts when you fail to “capture” them in a system that you trust to deal with them. The voice in your head saying “buy bananas” won’t shut up until you write “buy bananas” on your shopping list. But exactly what should that list look like? How you should use it? How does it connect with other organizational systems you have running? This book is very dense. I listened to Getting Things Done as an audiobook and the mood it put me in ranged from “frenetic” to “frantic.” I’m going to have to order the physical book and read through it slowly because there’s so much here. I’m looking forward to it.

Human Diversity by Charles Murray – how people differ, and why that’s okay. We dig deep into statistics here, as well as neurology, genetics, and economics. I appreciated the technical detail even though much of it went over my head (especially the statistics). It was all very useful to me as a science fiction author and builder of intelligent species and their societies. As with other books about contentious topics, I recommend reading the end first. It’s there that Murray speaks honestly about his own background, and his hopes and fears. I understand why it’s easy for him to be cynical about attempts to change people.

And that’s it! Enjoy a beautiful October, everyone, and I hope I get a chance to talk to you soon. On Patreon perhaps? Let’s see how that experiment goes.


1 Expert tip: you have to plug its USP into your laptop. Then it will work.

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