“Semele’s Daughter” is published in Broken Time Blues: Fantastic Tales in the Roaring ’20s. My story will be available to read here for a limited time–until Hugo nominations close–by generous permission of the publisher. The Kindle Version is less than $3 on Amazon–a great deal for 12 stories by solid writers and cover & interior art by Galen Dara.
If you like this story, or any of the ones I list below, please pass the links on to others who might appreciate them!
Here are some other great Hugo-qualifying online fiction (these are all by fellow Inkpunks):
- The Memory Gatherer, by Morgan Dempsey, in Redstone Science Fiction.
- The Parting Glass, by Andrew Penn Romine, in Lightspeed Magazine.
- Blue Locks, in ScapeZine and Cold Iron and Green Vines
by John Nakamura Remy
Some say I’m the best witch hunter of the Second Prohibition. Maybe I am. I bagged and sent 18 bona fides to burn like Edison bulbs in Sing Sing. J. Edgar told my chief, in private, that me and my partner, Crossan were the best men in the Bureau. I’m at Communion 6:00 AM every goddamn morning. You could ring the church bells by me.
But I’m a fraud, and proof positive that God isn’t Love. God is Irony.
Exhibit A: I’m a woman. Not even Crossan knows.
Exhibit B: I’m a bull dyke.
Exhibit C: My wife is a witch.
Who knows why God gave me a womb instead of balls. I’m a man at heart, even if I was never man enough for Pop. Never mind that before the One God Party pushed through the First Prohibition, I could drink any rummy under the table, that I look pretty keen in a fedora and a slim suit, that I volunteered to fight with our Kraut allies–sniped the heads off of forty godless limeys when they prairie-dogged from their trenches, or that sorcery or no, I married an angelic baby doll that any god-fearing man would go smiling to hell for.
And that’s where I still have faith. Lily is love, Lily is my cross, my living rosary, my ecstatic Hail Mary, and someday she’ll be my salvation.
I get out of bed, let my feet chill painfully on the icy hardwood. It’s too early for Lil–she was out late again last night. She doesn’t know that I know, but she was at the Indigo Flame, down the stairwell to what most rubes think is the boiler room of Junior’s Delicatessen. I’m sure she was drinking, singing, dancing in an ensorcelled trance, but the morning light on her face makes her skin like fine china, and my heart tells me she can do no wrong. I soak her in while I knot my tie. Maybe it’s a bit crooked, but it’s worth a minute of staring into heaven.
Even though they’re consecrated by the Secretary of Religion, I still say a quick prayer over each bullet before I thumb them into my second best friend, my beloved M1911. I hear Lil’s breathing in the next room, and I try not to think about what she’d do if she knew that I was killing her ken, and not tracking down counterfeiters for the Secret Service like I tell her. Finally, I chant, “Thou shalt not suffer a sorcerer to live,” and I see these words light up like a pale blue fire along the blade of my bowie. I sheathe it in my shin holster, before anyone sees, and think what a fucked-up asshole I am. If she only knew.
Crossan picks me up 45 minutes later in front of St. Patrick’s. I light up and we drive. We don’t need to talk. The java’s still kicking in and we’re headed to the Upper East Side. Central Park’s summer green fights the gray of the city. I wonder for a sec, with all his college education, why Cross didn’t go on to Wall Street, or building these fancy buildings.
He stubs out his cigarette. “We’ve got a lead, Kingston. Simons extracted a confession this morning. Orgies, elemental sorcery, socialists, gin smuggling. The works, partner. She gave us the name of the big shot.”
He’s excited now, and it’s at times like this that I get why he ditched his Columbia diploma to work for the Bureau.
“He goes by Bach, and we figured out where he sleeps, before–”
“Before what, Cross?”
“Fella, you’re touchy this morning. You know the score. Some hearts can only take so much of The Bath. She deserved it, though. You know how many babies she killed?”
I’ve been to the Bath before. I can see the nameless witch in my mind’s eye, hands cuffed behind her, ivory flapper dress wet, fringe like limp noodles, nipples showing, mucous and makeup smeared across her pale face, bureau men all around, sorting out facts from sobs, heaves, gasps, and babbling. The woman’s face turns and I see Lily, but I shake it off, look out the window at the green oaks.
I pay a price for every confession, and for every man and woman I’ve sent up to burn. They do things modern now; quick electric frying in private, not the screaming human torches they had in the town square pre-Lincoln. But they’ve got to burn. It’s tradition, it’s god-ordained, and it’s what the preachers and priests still say. I was at Sing Sing when they strapped one sorceress to the chair and pulled the lever. Her hair caught fire, and when I caught the sulphur smell it was like a crack opening in the door to hell. And that’s all I remember, until Lil came home from the stenographer pool, found me carving, “There is none righteous, no not one,” into my left thigh using the tip of my bowie. She decked me good, knocking me back, then held me, whispering healing words into my ears until my eyes flooded. We made love, and she dragged me out of Gehenna and back into paradise again, with her touch, her tongue, her Jane Mast curves, and zest for life.
Everything is right when I’m with my goddess.
I don’t know why I do it, the cutting, but it works. It turns the numbness into something sharp. And I know that the Lord approves, that SOB, ’cause magic can’t hurt me, and I’m the only agent so “blessed.”
“Kingston, you awake? We’re here.”
The building is one of those swanky new Fifth Ave high-rises. We show our badges to the door and elevator men. We get fear and no lip; no attitude. The Great Arsons of Philadelphia and Boston and the Second Prohibition convinced the godly that America was at war against atheists, pagans, and satanists. Warrants, habeas corpus, public trials–they all made us look like schmucks when powerful sorcerers and avatars and demigods used the extra time to escape, usually leaving behind a trail of crispy corpses.
We stop at a penthouse door. It’s got vine-wrapped, Grecian columns on each side. Cross mutters, “Corinthian,” while I pluck at a leaf and shred it. We knock, then shout, and when no one answers, Cross steps aside, and with two expert kicks I bust the door open.
A pillar of flame hits me straight on the chest, flickering black and blue and purple, but doesn’t get past me. Another of God’s ironies, that He protects this lying dyke and witch-harborer from these infernos. The blaze is so bright that I can’t see my assailant, so I push towards him. It’s like forcing my way against water from a fire hose.
“Bach,” I shout, “by the authority vested in me by the 25th Amendment and the Bureau of Alcohol, Sorcery, and Firearms, I place you under arrest for the practice of Black Arts, trafficking in illegal alcohol, and for deadly assault on a government law enforcement agent.” I don’t even know the real words–my job’s to distract him.
I hear two shots and the magical blitz stops. I fall forward and bang my knees on the polished marble floor. While my I eyes adjust, I yell, “No way this bastard was gonna walk out of here in cuffs.”
Then I smell it. I expect blood, or shit, but instead it’s like one of those Tesla volt guns zapped an entire wine cellar. I’m still blinking away the afterimage, but I see electricity arcing between Cross and the body on the floor. I try to throw myself between them, but in the second it takes me to get there, the lighting’s gone. Bach is dead, dressed in a white tunic and literally bleeding Burgundy. I check out my partner and he’s got the heebie-jeebies. Little bits of static spit off of his fedora and shoulders.
“I’m all right,” he says. He’s staring at Bach’s body, like he’s never killed a pagan before. He slumps onto a purple velvet ottoman.
I look around and it’s like we’re on a Hollywood or Astoria set for a moving picture about Rome or Athens, all columns and marble and statues and fountains. I turn back to Cross and he’s staring at me now.
Somehow, he lit a cigarette. He inhales and closes his eyes. His gun’s still tight in his left hand, but I didn’t hear a match strike.
“Cross, this SOB, he wasn’t no run of the mill sorcerer, was he?”
Cross shakes his head slowly. Then, instead of exhaling smoke, he belches a short burst of indigo fire.
I jump, and he grins. He takes a drag and points his cigarette at fountain with a statue of Cupid and the little god starts pissing wine into a marble basin.
I feel the blood drain from my face. I have to think–something’s screwy and I’ve got to keep Cross talking.
“You’re not Charles Crossan anymore, are you?” I ask. I feel the lump of my M1911 in its holster, and my bowie strapped to my shin.
He thinks for a few long seconds. His eyes aren’t focused on me, but he still has a firm grip on his gun.
“Actually,” he finally answers, “I think I’m still very much Charlie Crossan.”
“Baloney. Cross hated magic.”
He chuckles. “I was a teetotaler, too.”
I try for my gun, but he’s onto me.
“Sorry, fella,” he says. “Hands way up.”
With his gun still on me, he pulls out my handgun and my shiv. He tosses them out of reach, and for the first time I’m scared.
He sits back down and motions me to do the same. I sink into an emerald divan. Every muscle is twitching for me to jump or run, do anything but sit.
“I’m still me,” he says. “I still love Maria and the kids, and vanilla milkshakes.”
“Then you’re possessed. Maybe it’s Satan.” I try to buy time and info. I hope I don’t piss him off.
“Not possessed.” He thinks. The mother fucker’s genuinely curious. “When I killed Bach, something old and powerful living inside of him jumped to me. And not Satan.”
“If you’re still Cross, let me take you in. We’ll get you fixed up.”
He ignores me. “I’m still Cross, but I’m something else, too. I feel every every society lush, every pool of bathtub gin, every angry alcoholic, every juice joint in the city. They pulse with my blood.”
“Oh my god, you’d make a perfect bloodhound.” The words come out before I can stop them. “My protection, your nose, we’d be a legendary team.”
He frowns. “I’m not stupid, Kingston. It’s the Bath and the Chair for me. I work for the other side now.”
“So, now what?”
“I know I can’t hurt you with this.” He shoots indigo fire from his right hand, and it wraps around me like a blanket. “And I can’t drive you mad. But I can shoot you with this.” And he points his gun at my heart. I’m ready.
“But for our friendship’s sake, I’m letting you live. This time.”
Suddenly he yells and grape vines grow like snakes and criss cross around me before I can scramble away. None of them can touch me, but I’m trapped like a rat. I try to break through the branches but they’re too thick.
He begins walking away, then stops and says,
“Kingston, your lovely Lily…she’s not just a stenographer, is she? She’s a worshipper. I know that now. Leave me alone, and she lives. Got it?”
I shout, then collapse, a heap of fake-man on the cold marble floor.
It’s afternoon and I’m grape-stained by the time by I rip and pull and slice my way through my vine prison. Son-of-a-bitch filled the whole penthouse with them. But he left me my M1911, thank the good Lord. And my bowie. Once I found that, I sliced my way out pretty damn fast.
At HQ, I tell the chief how Cross gunned down Bach and then got one of his infamous migraines. “Bastard left me all the paperwork.”
“It’s a shame,” the chief says. “The boys are getting ready to raid Bach’s den of sin tonight. The Indigo Flame. 12:05.”
I suddenly feel sick, and must’ve looked it because he says, “Kingston, you done some fine work today. Take some time off and enjoy it with your doll of a woman.” He winks.
I’ve got too many questions, and my head hurts, and my heart is racing, and I want to curse out my ironic God. Is Cross gonna show up in Bach’s place at The Indigo Flame? Will Lil be there tonight? God, he’ll think I’m a stoolie. And there’s a good chance that Lil will be right in arm’s reach. Or the feds might get to her first. What kind of choice is that? Burning in a purple flame or at Sing Sing, if she passes the Bath.
It’s her night off, is supposed to be my night on; she could be bouncing around anywhere in the Greenwich Village art and sorcery scene before she heads back to the Indigo. I check home, I swing by the artists’ studio where she models off and on, but I don’t know her scene so well and time is running out. I’m going looney–it could cost me everything, but I’ve got to save Lily. I’ll have to meet her at the speakeasy and get her out, fast. And I can’t go in looking like a fed–can’t have Cross recognizing me.
There’s one perfect disguise I can pull off. I step into Macy’s to buy an ivory dress that’s all fringe that I hope to God I fit in. The sales clerk tsk tsks me for picking up something she says her gran would wear, but it looks pretty short to me, on the legs and arms. And it’s one thing to show off skin, but my scripture scars wouldn’t go over real well in a pagan speakeasy. I shut the gabby Betty up by spending another $20 on a pair of mary janes, a shawl and strings of fake pearls.
I get home, and maybe I’m lucky–the dress fits. I’m not curvy like my luscious Lily–my body’s like a boy’s, straight and flat-chested and all limbs. It’s perfect for the night scene, but not for a rescue under the nose of a Greek god. I’d feel safer in my long coat and some heavy woolen trousers between my legs. I leave my bowie on the night stand and stuff my M1911 in one of Lil’s clutch purses.
I make one last, agonizing stop at Marshall Fields for make-up, and I’m all dolled-up for the night.
I don’t know how to walk or talk like a dame, but by the way the guys are catcalling me, the chassis is all right, and I think I’ve got me a disguise.
The cab coughs like an old jalopy and I have to tell the driver to “shut the fuck up and drive.” I get there about 30 minutes before the scheduled bust.
I enter the deli, ask for the ladies room, and ignore the patsies hunched over roast beef and ham sandwiches. There’s a dirty, narrow door that screams both “it’s nasty back here,” and, “hey, welcome to the gin joint.” I go through and descend down the stairs, tripping twice over the thumbscrews called Louis heels and catching myself in decidedly unladylike ways. I knock three times on a rusted, steel door. Into the grill I say, “Kerberos barks thrice.”
It opens and a wave of cool humidity rolls over me, and the first thing I catch are traces of alcohol–gin and whiskey and beer–then smoke–cigar, incense, something earthy, something else electric. But these are nothing compared to the overpowering aroma of ripe grapes.
It’s like I’ve walked into a glade, half in a mythical Greek forest, and half in modern NYC. This place is easily the size of a ballroom, and it has a bar and tables and dancers kicking up their heels like any hopping gin joint, but there are marble columns and arches covered with vines, and statues of lovers and mini-orgies that look so realistic you have to wonder if Medusa caught them in the act, and everywhere, everywhere, there are trellises with vines, and on the vines hang clusters of golf-ball sized grapes which look like they’ll break free and spill their contents on anyone underneath. And it looks like no one here would mind.
The full moon shines down through a high skylight, the main source of light, focusing on a crooner in an impossibly tight dress backed up by sax and oboe and bass players wearing…togas or tunics. She plays her voice more against the other instruments than with song, and there is a playful but earnest tension between the musical lines that wants to make my heart spin around. I must’ve stared for a while, because the bouncer says, with some force, “First time?”
“I’m meeting someone,” I say, and he relaxes, gives me a gap-toothed smile and a gallant gesture.
I sit down at an empty table near the door and begin scanning the room. I get a better look at the revelers. Some are drinking and chatting at tables, others are on the dance floor, and there’s a mix of dapper men and flapper women and some are wearing tunics that open revealingly. A modern Apollo, maybe the son of a young tycoon by the spats and collar and diamond cuffs, chases a smarty with laurels woven through her hair across the dance floor. She giggles, lets him catch her. In a dark corner half-lit, half-obscured by a flickering indigo flame, two men in tunics kiss passionately, and in a booth a society matron sits in the lap of a young man in a Kraut uniform, riding to the wild rhythm that penetrates and permeates the entire glade or speakeasy or whatever this place is.
But where is Lily?
“What can I get you, darling?”
The waitress catches me by surprise. “A whiskey, double, make it neat.” It’s been so long since I’ve had a drink, I fall back on habit.
She raises an eyebrow. Dammit. I ordered like a man. I’ve got to be more careful. She brings me my glass and I take a sip.
Then I see her. I see them.
Lily and Cross.
They’re both sitting at a table on the corner of the stage. She’s pouring him a glass of wine, and he’s prowling about the room with his eyes. He whispers something in her ear, then points at a table, just three over from mine, where elegant diners are engaged in quiet conversation. The candles on the table all burst into indigo and then everyone is up and getting hot on the dance floor. Cross smiles, then turns to another table. The candles go on, then man and woman, they’re on top of each other, kissing, necking, pouring wine, tearing each others’ clothes off, going down on each other, and fucking; fucking and grunting like wild animals in the eerie blue-purple glow. Cross laughs and laughs, and it’s obvious that he’s drunk, maybe on wine, maybe on power.
Soon he’ll look at my table. I grab my purse, I have to hide, but then Cross sees me. The gig is up.
He beckons. The wave is a slow gesture, almost bored, but his eyes seem dangerous to me.
I look back at the door and notice two extra goons who weren’t there before. No escape there. I casually undo the latch to my purse with one hand, and then I walk as lady-like as possible towards the front, until I’m standing next to his divan. I know most of them are otherwise occupied, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that everyone in that great room is looking at me.
I’m trying not to look at Lily, but out of the corner of my eye I catch the moment of recognition. Smart girl, she slips back into a poker face. Cross speaks first.
“You almost got away with it,” he says. “I looked at you three times, old partner, three times, wondering why that doll looked so familiar.”
“How’d you figure me out?”
“I saw how you looked at Lily. And you walk like a man.” He snorts.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he cries, and right away the music stops, all fucking stops, and now all eyes really are on me. I step towards him, but he shoots a jet of flame and makes it hover over his right hand, just inches away from Lil’s face. I back off.
“We have a guest of honor for tonight’s feasting and festivities,” he says, and his clear tenor fills every gap in the vineyard auditorium. I hear mass movement and whispering behind me so I turn to look at the crowd. They’re not whispering to each other, they’re not adjusting their clothing to cover their naked bits. They’re anticipating something. They look…hungry.
“Listen,” I whisper at Cross. “The Bureau’s busting this joint in a few minutes.”
“I warned you, Evan,” he says, eyes narrowing. “But I’m glad you told me. I thought you were going to be the feast, but maybe you’re just the appetizer.”
He turns to the crowd and shouts.
“Behold, a witch-hunter, an agent of our enemy, and one who has sent our brothers and sisters to burn!”
With both hands he shoots a mighty pillar of blue-purple-black flame that seems to reach from the moon to the floor, with me in the center. Everyone gasps, squints, and shields their faces, but of course, I’m untouched. There’s a scream, and I know that it’s Lily’s. He reaches into the fire, grabs my dress by the neckline, and tears down. My scriptural scars are lit with white fire that runs down my upper arms and thighs, my belly and breasts.
With this introduction, Cross doesn’t need magic to get his crowd going, but he waves his arm across the room, and indigo lights flare on every table. Patrons become panther-like, snarling, and screaming for blood. They leap forward.
But I still have my purse. In a moment I’ve got that perfect heft of my M1911 in my right hand, and shove it, hard, into Cross’s back.
“Stop them and let Lily go,” I say.
“Go ahead, Kingston, shoot.”
I hesitate, and he feels it.
“My god’s older than yours, Kingston. Shoot me, but don’t count on your protection to stop his spirit.”
His revelers are stopped at the foot of the stage, but he beckons them. “Feed!” he cries, and they leap up.
My body moves like it figured out the solution first. I grab Cross in a close headlock with my left arm, pressing my head to his. I bring the gun hand up, so it’s pointing at his temple. If I pull the trigger, the bullet should punch through both of our skulls. If the god-spirit always jumps to the murderer, what happens when the killer is dead? Maybe before I keel over, I’ll feel Dionysos turn me against my god.
Suddenly Cross groans, and his body slumps in my arm. I tighten my grip–is this a trick?–but then I see Lily, sweet Lily, gripping my bowie knife, and her alabaster hands are stained now with wine-blood and gore. I let Cross’ body go.
Lily turns to the crowd, the closest just one step away. “Stop, lovelies,” she shouts. They halt, blinking like the lights just came on.
She faces me, hands me my bowie, tilts her neck back, closes her eyes, spreads her hands out like a crooner. I think of how many times I’ve traced kisses up and down that perfect neck, that flawless skin. I shake my head no. She smiles.
“God, I wish I had your body,” she says.
“You already do, angel.”
In the silence that follows, a half-dozen Bureau agents burst through the door, shouting, guns drawn. She winks at me, and sends a pillar of indigo flame towards the front door, agents screaming as the revelers leap towards them, hungry for blood. Lily and I kiss over Cross’s body. I take her hand, gun ready.
I have my angel, my salvation to protect. And I’m sure my god of irony approves.
This news, and the lovely support I received via twitter and facebook was a nice counterbalance to the gentle melancholy I otherwise felt today. I miss CatGirl and GameBoy, and the whole day has been a struggle to write new material (read: procrastination).
Many, many thanks to everyone who offered encouragement and congratulations. I seriously don’t know what I’d do without you.
My first spec fic story is published in Rigor Amortis, the anthology of zombie romance, and it is now available on Amazon!
Over the past three years, I’ve transformed from a database administrator and web developer into a project manager. I wish I could say instead that I’ve changed into a glowing green mutant who can spurt radioactive mucous, but no, I drew straws and got “project manager.” Like many comic book mutants, this transformation has less to do with choice, and more to do with an unplanned, life-changing encounter with a mess. In my case, the mess was a swamp of incomplete IT projects.
I don’t think I’m an exemplary project manager, but I do think that if you venture into the swamp that was my division’s IT projects, you’ll find that sizeable swaths are drained and a handful of structurally sound and completed projects stand in the clearing.
I’ve noticed that my project management skills have started to spill over into other aspects of my life. Our family grocery list is saved as a Google Doc so we don’t have to rewrite it every week, and it’s separated into sections: produce, dairy, frozen, dry goods, etc., because I found that we are less likely to miss items, and we don’t waste as much time running back and forth across the store. We can split the shopping list into sections and distribute these to family members. As I write about this efficiency I’ve invoked (on a laptop that can barely find a home on my messy desk), I’m kind of freaked out. I’m not an inherently organized person.
One of my primary roles as a project manager is that of troubleshooter. If a project is stalled, I go in and find out what’s holding it up, and then strive to resolve the issue. So the next personal problem to receive my professional scrutiny will be my writing life. The problem: I have created a portfolio of writing projects and am not completing them. I plan to examine my creative life over the next couple of weeks. As a project manager, I may not be able to shoot glowing green goo at my enemies, but I can use my powers to get projects moving. And creative writing can’t be that different from software development, right?
Can our hero increase his word count into the hundreds per day? Will he submit another story for publication before he dies of old age? Will he finish the critiques he has promised his friends? STAY TUNED for the next, er, thrilling installment of Project Management for Creative People!!!
Seriously, though, I have planned a series of posts that apply project management principles and tools to creative projects. I will be the guinea pig, and hopefully you’ll witness some progress.
On that note, this was a day of hanging out with family and Elissa, not exercising, and writing a few hundred words towards a zombie erotica flash fiction piece (while drinking the coffee pictured above). I even accumulated enough exhaustion to nap today, and I never nap. This means I’ll be ready to take on the new week, right?
“To be great, we must attempt so much that we not only are in danger of forever failing, but that we do fail ..and in the failure create something greater than if we had set our sights lower.” Jeff Vandermeer, Booklife
I live in a state of constant failure. I take on more that I can realistically handle, and I aim much higher than I can probably ever achieve. I determine my self-worth in large part by my distance from the top–i.e., the distance I failed to cover, instead of the distance that I climbed from the bottom.
I find deep comfort in Jeff Vandermeer’s quote. I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way, but it’s like I needed someone to give me permission to fail. And not just fail in the process of achieving a goal, but to fail and fail again (or, as Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”)
One more quote, and a bit more muddling of metaphors: Thoreau said that our dreams should be in the clouds, but that we should set about building the foundations to support them. What do you do when your dreams are soaring with the cirrus clouds? What if they want to launch into space?
I refuse to aim lower.
Maybe it’s the Japanese in me. There is a place for the honorable loser. The great medieval epic, the Tale of the Heike, is named for the losers of the Gempei War. I want to fail and fail again. Because if I only fail when I set my sights high and stretch myself in the vain struggle to achieve them. I will fail. I will try again and fail better. And by so doing, I will fail gloriously.
My failures for today:
- I ignored several important projects at work, but moved three others forward.
- I skipped strength training, but biked 15 miles.
- I gorged on free pizza and sandwiches, and broke down and got an ice cream sundae, but this was after I went to CatGirl’s school art show (and had some great convos with her artistic classmates and with community arts supporters).
- I lost my flash fic due to a file-syncing snafu, then after being depressed about it for a few minutes, I began rewriting it.
There are 13 weeks in June, July, and August, and I will spend six of those at Clarion West. Because the influence of the workshop will extend far beyond my time in Seattle, I wanted to start a Clarion West Journal of sorts.
I’ve tried to maintain Mind on Fire as an issues-oriented blog with a personal slant, but I hope you and xJane will forgive me if I essentially post three months worth of short diary entries. I fully expect this workshop experience to transform me both as a a writer and as a person. I’d like to document the process, FOR SCIENCE.
I started my day reading excerpts from Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer. I now have my mantra for this summer: “If you want to write, you’ll find the time, whether you have a day job or not. Time is not the issue: the will to write is the issue. [emphasis is the author's]”
The will to write is the issue.
On this, the first day of my Clarion West Summer, the Internet has drained me of The Will to Write. I researched; I chatted with people who care an awful lot about writing; I took notes and outlined and read about writing. But I wrote next to nothing.
I need to reboot. I’m going to bed now, but tomorrow, I plan to wake up instilled with the will to write.
And the determination to not go online until I’ve produced something worthwhile.
A couple of months ago, I decided I was going to start taking my writing life seriously. I was up against some major obstacles, so I hatched a Plan.
So far, the Plan has been a success. I’ll share it with you, if you’d like.
1: Attend World Fantasy Con
Note: There is no “Fan” in “World Fantasy Con.” Nope. Nada. Zip it. T’ain’t there. I are serious writer. This is serious con. Seriously. This is all pro, or semi-pro, on-the-verge-of-pro, or wannabe pro. I made plans to attend because I wanted to create an almost ritual break from my past non-writerly-life. And so, at the end of October, I set out, with not much more than two fancy jackets, my trusty laptop, and a suitcase full of books on writing, and ventured alone into the wilds of Silicon Valley. There, I was initiated into my writerly life, mainly by the ritual imbibing of libations until 3am with People Who Took Writing Seriously, mainly because They Were Writers Too. I also mingled with some of the gods of my world and a couple of these divine people even poured the libations.
WFC is going to require another post to digest properly. Suffice it to say that the event and the people were super motivating.
2: Participate Fully in National Novel Writing Month
From WFC, I traveled straight to San Francisco and checked into a cheap hotel in Japan Town, where, even though I spent much of my childhood in the Bay Area, I proceeded to ignore friends and family and the City around me for two days and to throw myself into producing the rough draft for a 50,000 word novel.
This is the part I’d like to analyze the most. I had hoped that if I pursued NaNoWriMo wholeheartedly, it would result in the following, and most were unexpectedly successful:
a) Confidence in my ability to write a lot, under deadline.
I didn’t think I could do it. I had a plan to work up to the 1700ish words per day required by doing @250 words per day during the first week in October and then building up to 1250 or 1500 words per day in subsequent weeks, bumping my daily amount by 250 each week. I think this plan produced a grand total of less than 2000 words in the entire month of October (for sample obstacle, see “imbibing of libations until 3am,” above).
During November, I churned out three, four, or five thousand words in a day like it was nothing. I kind of wish that my glutes were capable of typing, because on one day alone I pulled over 8000 words from in between them. Put them all together (the words, not the glutes) and I wrote an entire novel, something I didn’t think I would get around to attempting for years.
So now I’m the motherfucking Samuel L. Jackson of writing, ready to pump 50,000 words of modifier-enhanced schlock and horribly mismatched metaphor up your motherfucking ass.
Note that during NaNoWriMo, I did not gain one drop of confidence in my ability to write *well* towards a deadline.
b) Daily writing habit.
Mixed results here. I only had seventeen writing days in November, and on one of those days I produced exactly 42 words (in a back-handed tribute to that great author, Douglas Adams), and on two others I couldn’t break a thousand. Still, I did prove to myself that I could produce actual stories while traveling and working full-time and staying on top of physical therapy and hanging out with family. And maintaining a fairly solid twitter presence…
This is an important realization, because I needed to know that I could write and work and live simultaneously, and this is huge for someone who pokes himself in the eye when he tries to eat spaghetti and fart at the same time.
In other words, I’ve made peace with keeping the day job, but also with the fact that I’m probably only going to be competent at work, and not excel there. Working a lot of overtime and devoting evenings and weekends to training (how I’ve gotten promotions in the past) would take away from writing.
Also, admitting this sort of thing publicly probably doesn’t often result in a turbo boost up the IT career ladder.
c) Overcoming my inner critic.
I think we all have inner critics, but I swear I have the Genghis Caligula Cheney Voldemort Bin Laden Walmart Khan of critics living in my head. Also, I made this critic stronger by foolishly suggesting that you all could read my words if that was the sort of thing you were into, and then realizing that some of you were serious
masochists when you said you wanted to read this shit.
And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure I could’ve done it without you, since at key times a few of you drowned out the screaming voice of the tyrant living in my brain. Bless your pain-loving little hearts.
There are other benefits of NaNoWriMo that I can’t seem to pull out of my Benedictine-addled brain, but one is that it sets the stage for the next steps:
3: Writing, revising and editing short stories.
4: Submitting stories for publication.
5: Applying to the Clarion workshops.
The cool thing is that although I thought I’d be burned out, I actually have a million–well, maybe a half-dozen–new story ideas running around in my head, pressing at the back of my occipital lobes, just trying to get out.
I’ll keep you posted–stay tuned!
Apparently some aspect of the LDS temple ceremony will be portrayed on HBO’s Big Love (tonight?). Here’s a picture that was forwarded to me, apparently from TV Guide:
Mormons are decrying this as sacrilegious and disrespectful, of course, but as one of thousands who was hoodwinked into going through the ceremony and socially coerced into accepting its secret oaths and tenets, I think that just about any public airing will help to diminish the power of the ritual. While I would hesitate to characterize Mormonism as a cult, the temple is where it gets the closest to acting like one. So this airing is a Good Thing. And it may be the first episode of Big Love I actually watch.
Like most internet-based phenomena, the answer is probably “yes”. But read the article and decide for yourself (and then read the scared-boys comments and see if that changes your mind…).
I had to log into WordPress a few days ago so I could comment. This impresses upon me exactly how long I’ve been radio-silent. A week before finals, we had a Let Us Tell You How Unprepared You Are for Finals Assembly in which we were told to apologize now to our friends and family since we wouldn’t see them for a month. Pshaw!, I thought, I’ve had big-ass tests before! But never quite this big nor quite this ass, I eventually learned. I haven’t done dishes in three weeks; I purposely took showers the evening before each test (since I had no time the morning of); I have run out of teacups (quite a feat, let me assure you). I had two major break downs: one before the first (and easiest) final and one before the last (and hardest) final. I feel good enough about how they went to mention that I’m in law school on our xmas cards, although I did go through a stage where I was so sure I would fail that I didn’t want to even tell anyone, lest I have to explain the following year what happened. What I feel best about, however, is that they’re over.
I have my life back and everything is beautiful. I went to brunch with my best friend, who remarked that we’d not seen each other since Hallowe’en; and the only time we talked was when she called because she had a cold and wanted my chicken soup recipe. While driving to what was essentially my first xmas shopping of the season a few days ago, I looked up at the hideous hills that surround my
fair city and thought how beautiful they looked! Truly, everything is better, now.
I’m sorry that I’ve been gone for so long, especially because it was apparently predictable by everyone but me. I’d feel marginally guilty about missing Music Monday (usually on Tuesday) or Fucking Friday (usually on Monday), and was only able to check in about once a week.
In an effort to be back in my (online) life, I’m trying to catch up on challenges past (they haunt me) at A Certain Slant of Light. I quit doing challenges long before I had the excuse of finals because I just didn’t feel that creative. But I do love photography (it’s in my blood and I cannot deny that) and I’m feeling the need for a creative outlet after three weeks of indulging my acreative side.
I also now have the time to muse on John’s desires for the direction of this blog. As much has he assures me that this is as much my blog as his, I still think of it as his space (one which I happily share). I know I’m in a better place, religiously, than I was when I first discovered MoF, but I don’t think I’m quite where he is yet. That said, this has been a place of profound healing for me; an amazing place where I’m accepted regardless of (rather than because of or in spite of) my religious proclivities, and that’s something I’m unaccustomed to.
Law school is not Apple. Apple was fun, filled with interesting people, and nearly completely devoid of intellectual exercise. Law school has its occasional spark of an interesting person and is fun for the intellectual effort that is necessary. I blogged a lot about Apple because I felt that the stories I had were worth sharing. I don’t feel that way about law school—which may be an indication that it’s not for me. At Apple, the word “blog” was said daily and I shared mine with a few coworkers (who I hope still lurk). I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to explain Twitter to professors and students alike and while most people know what a blog is, very few have one. Since law school doesn’t give me time to do a whole lot other than study, I don’t feel that I have as much fodder for blogging as usual. But I look forward to the outlet that it gives me—to the ability to put my thoughts in a (mildly) coherent order and get insight on them from close friends.
Thank you all for welcoming me here and for giving your insight.
This was cross-posted from my account at GoodReads, where I gave it two stars (of five). I would like to note that I did not read the whole book—I got through the fifth chapter before it was due at the library (and I couldn’t renew it because someone else had a hold on it). I do intend to read the rest of it, although I don’t have a pressing desire to do so since, from the tone of the first few chapters, it does not seem like a whole lot of additional information might be presented in what remains.
I have fixed the links in the post to link to Amazon (in case you haven’t a GoodReads account), but other than that, this is exactly how it looks at GoodReads:
Berlinski’s book is, from its title, a rebuttal to Richard Dawkins’ the God Delusion. It is, however, more often a rebuttal of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation specifically and broadly to all atheist works. Having read neither, I will take as a given that both Dawkins and Harris say what Berlinski says they say. However, given how inconsistent his own internal arguments are, I wonder.
Berlinski starts by assuaging the fear of his atheist readers. He is not a theist! He proclaims, he is rather, “a secular Jew”. From that description one might assume that he is of Jewish heritage and descent but does not believe in a (specifically Jewish) deity. However, this quickly is disproved as, through his arguments, Berlinski states that a deity must necessarily exist.
Contrary to most debates in internet fora, Berlinski’s arguments start with ad Hitlerum arguments, broken up briefly by ad hominem attacks. Beginning with calling Harris (and his ilk, by association) a terrorist, he continues by calling them anti-Semites.
The first chapter asserts that science is a god, like any other, whose adherents refuse to admit to the existence of other deities. As evidence for this, he sites the fact that Dawkins/Harris are scientists. If this is the case, it is surely news to Harris, a philosopher.
Continuing this argument into the second chapter, Berlinski asserts that science was the cause of the Holocaust. Once again, this must surely be news to many Germans and Historians alike. Citing the fact that the world is still a horrible place (and listing the number of deaths caused by wars in the 20th century), Berlinski concludes that a deity must exist. (The argument goes something like this: since atheism is wrong, &c.) One wonders just what kind of “secular Jew” it is who argues for but does not worship a deity—perhaps there is no hell for him to go to for his lack of faith. We heretics have no such luxury.
In the third chapter, he delves into physics, a subject about which I understand admittedly little, but about which he seems to understand even less. Somewhere in there is a flying horse, but I was left unsure whether its existence was proven or disproven by neutrinos with fingers.
He continues in such baffling manner, creating “atheistic” arguments for him to refute with both theology and physics. By the end, the reader is left wondering if Berlinski believes in anything at all, a failing he notes in atheistic arguments. It seems to me that Berlinski is, in fact, an atheist. He is simply not a militant atheist, an epithet he despises and wishes so much to distance himself from that he talks himself into a theistic/atheistic corner, wanting to have it both ways, and calling all atheists who speak up fundamentalists with no grasp of logic, history, or physics.
All in all, Berlinski comes across as someone I’d love to have to dinner and who really does have some wonderful arguments against the evils of fundamentalism—be it religious or atheistic. However, his disgust of atheistic fundamentalism manifests in bizarre and, yes, entertaining ways. The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions is a great book to hone an atheist’s analytical skills.
That would be “Bitchy Literary Criticism”. John & I were having a conversation about good books and the concept of “strong female characters”, as a reason I might want to explore the Sabriel series. My response was that I had been recommended Miyazaki’s manga/movies for the same reason, that the author writes “strong female characters”, and that I had not found this to be the case. After a brief scuffle when I confused Miyazaki for Murasaki, we began to discuss what this phrase might mean.
In the midst of the conversation, and for sometime after, I felt like the typical feminist stereotype: bitter, argumentative, and seeing specters of the patriarchy where there were none. Hence “Bit Lit Crit”. But I honestly do see them: I see a major difference between books intended for boys and books intended for girls (the same is true of movies). Books that are intended for children of ostensibly neutral gender often are the same as books intended for boys. Being a reading male is the “norm”, leaving girls who like books left with “girl books” or imagining themselves as the main (male) character of “boy books”.
The general format for a “girl book” involves the main character breaking away from the role her parents try impose upon her and “finding herself” in the arms of the first man she encounters. Sometimes it’s not the first man, it’s the one who saves her from the first man. Safely now the property of someone besides her parents, she lives happily, if not fulfillingly, ever after.
The general format for a “boy book” involves the main character breaking away from the role his parents try to impose upon him and finding himself by discovering what he really wants from life and achieving it. There is often a show down, and content with his individuality, he lives happily ever after.
Books with female main characters often feature a love story very prominently, as if a female character is never complete without a companion. Books with male main characters often feature a fight, as if a male character cannot prove his strength without besting someone else.
There are, obviously, exceptions to these rules, but I have found that these are the major themes underlying determining who the audience is for a particular children’s or young adult book. And again, the “boy book” is often the “universal book”—a book that is enjoyed by members of both genders.
I love reading, I always have, and when I was growing up I (and my closest older sister) read mostly “universal/boy” books. Occasionally I would accidentally pick up a “girl book” and realize that I had no interest in it. Years later, I’m still reading “universal/boy” books, but do occasionally come across one that breaks the mold. Those shine brightly in the starry canopy of books I’ve read. But they’re too brief and too few.