October Newsletter: A Piece of My Mind

I rolled over angrily in bed.Enough of this! Enough of you, author-with-whom-I-disagree!I was going to give him a piece of my mind.I snatched for the cord of my light and pulled on it until it yielded the switch. Squinting, I rattled around the top of the bedside table, feeling for my notebook.American culture is a crazy old man shouting at the invisible people at the bus stop, I wrote.There, that was one piece of my mind, now safely on the page and out of my head.

Gold reflected on the eastern face

Of the panel block

This is a chronic problem for me. Partly, I think it’s because I’ve learned enough about writing to recognize the tricks of a lazy author. Another thing is that the Anglosphere has had a rough decade, and English-language literature has gone into an understandably dark place.But most of the problem is the state of my mind. Something came off of me when I was sick. I lost some sort of protective film between me and everything else. I can’t watch the news much. The same with most Hollywood movies, and even some music. They make me feel sick. Literally, my stomach knots. I’ve learned that if I feel bad, the problem must be serious, and I know that “serious” means “death.”

Grape leaves like yellow and red flags against a pale sky

Three years ago, I was in the car with Pavlina on our way back from an appointment with my oncologist. Pavlina was telling me about the man she’d sat next to while we waited to see the doctor. This man’s wife had cancer (perhaps the same sort as mine – I don’t remember) but she was in the US while he stayed in Bulgaria, looking for treatment options.Pavlina and I remembered that sort of shopping around for doctors, both for me and our daughter’s hip surgeries. Now here was this other family in a similar situation, so maybe could help this man and his wife. I should meet them and share my story.I couldn’t. I couldn’t even speak there in the car. I couldn’t breathe. A fist had closed around my throat. This woman and her husband were so like Pavlina and me. Except she was in the US, away from her family, wasting the little time was left, and it was just so sad. My hands had locked into cold claws in front of my face. A fist had closed inside my throat. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t help this woman. I couldn’t allow myself to feel this way.Even writing about it now, my guts twinge.Some good news: Pavlina did help that family, and I don’t break down like that any more. I have shared my story since then, and there have been a few people whom I’ve been able to help. Time has healed me, but also I’ve developed some techniques. The bedside notebook is one of them.

Clouds resting on a line of mountains.

I’m still missing that protective film. There is still that process that says, “you’re in danger!” and I still have to react. That’s the gremlin that woke up three weeks ago when I read a book I didn’t like.Back to the notebook: I can’t do this to myself. Yet another author has stopped talking and started screaming. Who’s left? Who is left who is willing to listen with generosity and compassion? You open yourself up to people late at night and they betray you.That’s how I pinned the gremlin to the paper. That’s the light I shined on it.If only you could feel safe to have these arguments.And that was it. The next page of my notebook has a reminder from the next day about watching a video that


sent me.

The leaves of the skunk trees rolling down the air,

Yellow against blue.

I wonder if it’s a bad thing that I’m missing that protective film. What if the film wasn’t between me and the world? What if was between me and my reactions? How many of us fail to notice when our guts roll and our eyes prick. What if we ignore the fist that closes inside us, and never remember to open it again? I’m glad I lost my insensitivity. I know the difference between my own panic and the nature of the world. Pouring my angry thoughts into a bedside journal, I can make sure that this poison doesn’t show up in my books. I can be the author who isn’t screaming.

The smell of rain and candlesmoke

In other news!


still continues to be out there. So does ”

Levski’s Boots

” in the Alternate History anthology. Both of them have a few reviews on Amazon, which I’ve been told is good. I’m worrying a little about what’s going to published in 2022 (some nibbles on

Centuries Unlimited

, but no bites), but there’s only one cure for that: write.

Fellow Tetrapod


continues apace. Sketches and world-building stuff should continue to turn up on my


(and later, on my other outlets). In the mean time, if you want to beta-read something, why not ask me to send you


?I now have one month of data from Patreon (and six patrons! Thank you!). It looks like the internet in general likes my artwork, but my patrons want more behind-the-scenes stuff. I’ll think about what that might look like, and figure out the best way to juggle art, writing, marketing stuff, my life, and

my other job

.I had a hiccup with my website which I think got fixed. You’re not still being told that thekingdomsofevil.com has an invalid security certificate, are you? Next, I need to shift to https, but first, I need to figure out how to back up the site.I appeared on a couple of things in October:

this video discussion

about fear and science fiction and

this podcast

about “what if we never domesticated horses”? There are some good comments in the second link, so check them out and why not participate in the speculation? What do you think would happen sans horses?And in the future!On Saturday November 20th, I’ll be doing a virtual workshop for Amber Royer’s Saturday Nite Write. It’s about speculative evolution and it’s called

How to Build a Better Monster.

Tell me if you want to attend.

The chestnut tree clutching an orange streetlight

And some stuff I liked

The Inimitable Jeeves

by P.G. Wodehouse – through cleverness and a wide network of informers, Jeeves manages to marry off one of his employer’s friends. For some reason, I was surprised by the episodic nature of these stories, but once I got over that, they were fun. Wodehouse was a master of the expected surprise, and shows how humor can test whether you’ve pulled it off. You only laugh if you both follow the twist and fail to see it coming. My only complaint is the overuse of “Jeeves is mad about a tasteless article of clothing” device.

Chapters from my Autobiography

by Mark Twain –Twain remembers being younger than he’ll ever be again. I sought Twain out because Terry Pratchett mentioned him as an influence, and wow! Yeah! I haven’t enjoyed a turn-of-the-century writer so much since Tolstoy. With maximum wit and style, Twain recounts stories from his life. These he weaves through excerpts from the childhood diary of his daughter Susy, who died at age 24. The autobiography becomes an act of mourning, of trying to make sense of two lives by looking at one through the eyes of another. Twain’s style is stream-of-consciousness (he was often dictating) but his mastery of the art of storytelling makes sure we never miss the thread or fail to laugh or cry. Here’s another author who has made his peace with the human condition. There are worse things to be than a joke.(I should also mention the narrator of the audiobook I listened to: Bronson Pinchot. Normally I don’t think about narrators much, but Pinchot’s Twain is so perfect, I can still hear it in my head.)

My Family and Other Animals

by Gerald Durrell – a boy immerses himself in practical natural history while his family create problems, then heroically solve them. I read this book one summer in middle school while visiting my grandparents in Montana, and this summer I read it to my 9-year-old daughter while we spent the summer in northern Greece. The two of us spread ourselves out in this gorgeous book and relaxed while the drama of the lives of various families washed over us. I seek to emulate Durrell’s ability to find humor in chaos, and my daughter collected jellyfish and stray kittens.

Madness from the Inconstant Moon

by Larry Niven – A collection of Niven’s best-known short works. My favorite was the one about the Warlock and the Barbarian, but it illustrates what frustrates me about Niven. He hasn’t come to terms with death. In “Madness from the Inconstant Moon,” for example, the set-up is excellent, but then what? I wish the characters did a better job of extracting meaning from their experiences. I do come back to Niven, though, for what I love about science fiction. He says “what if?” and then answers the question.

The Bafut Beagles

by Gerald Durrell –More adventures in natural history, including the human kind. Durrell recounts his trip to what is now northern Cameroon to collect animals for British zoos. He describes the people and the animals around him with equal humor, compassion, scientific interest, and space on the page, all of it illustrated beautifully by Ralph Thompson.

The Gentle Giants of Ganymede

by James P. Hogan – Hogan seems to be the source all of the vague “I read once about…” speculative evolution ideas I’ve heard. This one is about toxic animals…but no spoilers. Ahem! I still think it’s a pretty silly idea, but Hogan works hard to make it plausible. There isn’t much of what you could call a plot, and while I liked the story of solving a scientific puzzle I think Inherit the Stars was better.

Dory Fantasmagory: Head in the Clouds

by Abby Hanlon – the origins of Mrs. Gobble Grakker! I read these books (to my daughters) out of order, so I enjoyed this one as a prequel. I take it as an object lesson in the inadvisability of using fiction as means of social engineering. And I love the part about “of course we all know that my sister’s doll was kidnapped by an evil witch…but what did I actually do with it? Or right, I left it outside.” That’s true.

The Book of All Skies

by Greg Egan – The science fiction conceit is interesting, but the worldbuilding is thin, the characters thinner, and the story, is Communist propaganda. I do think Communism is a bad idea, but that’s not why The Book of All Skies upset me so much. It was the rage I felt coming off the story, the contempt Egan seems to feel for anyone who disagrees with him. In his other books, he digs into potential problems with his world-building, but here, he dismisses them with blithe sarcasm. In his rush to convince the reader of his property-less utopia, his writing becomes so sloppy that it comes off as insulting. His characters turn into sketches, the problems they solve a to-do list. Plot holes open, and the book ends abruptly with a hollow shout of “we will resist you!” bravado. The Book of All Skies is a shoddy piece of work, and does not reflect well on Egan’s beliefs. If he was serious about them, he would have argued them with more honesty.

Online Marketing for Busy Authors

by Fauzia Burke – a good collection of advice. I remember stopping on my way back from the pharmacy, pausing the audiobook, and jotting down the note: “who is my audience?” Later I went to the Pew Research website and found out I should try re-posting stuff on LinkedIn. That’s the sort of advice you get from Fauzia Burke. Nothing ground-breaking, but a list of the best practices of professional book marketers. I’m approaching the list as experiments I need to conduct. I do wonder how much marketing I should do as an author and how much I should leave to the professionals. Perhaps I’ll do the marketing I need to do in order to make enough money to hire a marketer 😉 Check back with me to see how these experiments work out.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Tertiary Phase

: A funny ramble. Part of the reason I like the Hitchhiker’s Guide books is how non-linear they are. It’s clear Adams was willing to go where his muse took him, although perhaps he wasn’t always happy about it. The radio play I actually like less than the audiobook (some of the jokes work better as internal rather than external dialogue) but oh my God, I love “Journey of the Sorcerer by the Eagles.” I’ve been listening to it on repeat for weeks.


by Susanna Clarke – a weighty, ponderous, beauty. In the past five years or so, I’ve retreated from new fiction, but Piranesi gives me hope I might be able to to come back. It is the best new novel I’ve read since The Martian. In an odd way, the two books are similar survival stories in an interestingly alien environment, which focus tightly on the main character’s conversation with himself. Where the Martian digs into science and engineering, however, Piranesi (literally) explores spirituality and personal transformation, the struggle make one’s life mean something. Any part of the story I describe would spoil it, so I’ll just say that although the setting looks dreamlike, it has strict rules, which the story respects. It’s good fantasy. I get the sense that Clarke spent a good long time polishing the book because she loved it. I do too.

Whew! That was a long ride. Thank’s for coming with me. Happy Halloween!

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