June: The Meta and the Personal

In the life of this blog since I began it eight years ago, I have managed to keep a steady pace of posts going up even through loved ones with cancer, through terrible breakups, through moves, and even through some non-trivial illness. There were a lot of “personal updates” during those times. There were a lot of guest bloggers. There were a lot of missed posts and a lot of jazz hands, but I’ve never looked back on a month to do a postmortem and thought, “What the fuck just happened?”

**Looks back at May**

What the fuck just happened?

I mean, I know I don’t “just suck,” and my work ethic usually worries people (including doctors who want to see me not die in my fifties of heart disease from stress), so how the hell did I manage to fuck up May so badly.

I have NEVER had a month where I only got six posts up––most of them about the polls I run. (I think twice that number might still be less than previous “worst month.”)

But here we are.

So…..as this blog stands as a real-time example of how to establish, have, and maintain a career as a working writer, I’m going to perform this autopsy for all to see.

Take note, would-be writers. Even those of us paying the bills with our writing have to sit down once in a while and give OURSELVES performance reviews with a lot of ticky boxes marked “Opportunity for Improvement.” And then we have to synergize* with ourselves to come up with a thought shower for our holistic plan to onboard more posts and get out of the weeds because we’re as far up the flag pole as dynamic symbiotic engagement can run.

(*Don’t call it “touching base with yourself” unless you want to confuse people with dirty minds….which is like, ALL my friends.)

Problems (as I currently see them)
  1. That week off to work on my manuscript is a quarter of the month. That’s a huge chunk.
  2. For various reasons (bite-sized thoughts, fractured attention span due to trauma response, a more political focus, reacting to news), I have put a lot of my writing time and energy into my Public Facebook Profile. That writing is usually a little less polished. A little quippier. A little more shoot-from-the-hip. A little more, “Do you feel lucky, Punk?” Because any ONE Facebook post is less time consuming than writing a whole post, I tend to discount their impact on my writing schedule when I’m dealing with them piecemeal, but if they were to form a contiguous writing session, it would be hours a day.
  3. There was dental work. Which was preceded by non-trivial dental pain and a day of navigating dental insurance bureaucracy only to discover my current plan is worth about as much as the paper it’s printed on. And then of course the day after with the good drugs and the whimpering. This successfully chewed through four days from start to finish. Pun absolutely intended. 
  4. I had a very intense emotional month even aside from current events. SOME emotion can be used and brought to the page, but overwhelming amounts are like trying to drink from a fire hose. There were incredible ups and devastating downs. And I got my heart crushed just a bit––which is interesting because I wasn’t exactly sure that was still a thing that could happen. So maybe I’m not quite so broken after all. 
  5. Global Pandemics. Amirite?
  6. I don’t want to center myself or my feelings, but civil uprisings are intense. I’m pretty much always on the side of the folks who end up taking police brutality on the chin (seeing as most of the time they’re chummy with the white supremacists bringing AR-15s to capital buildings), and sometimes I’m even out at the protests myself. Like I said above, when there are OVERWHELMING amounts of emotions, they can’t be “channeled” as easily into some sort of “jokes-about-writing” form or even fiction. It becomes almost impossible for me to stop reading and/or to write about anything else. 
  7. A certain number of posts are just going to get missed in the current climate. I’m dealing with situational stressors that are adding up to the most difficult time I’ve ever endured long-term. I’m pretty good at getting ONE thing done in day and maybe two, but I kind of fall apart after that. So if anything becomes more urgent than writing (like, say, shopping for food), it’s a bad day. 
Solutions (each respective to the same numbered problem)
  1. I’m going to put the manuscript time on hiatus for now. Until such time as I can successfully fill in the OTHER three weeks with a block of posts, that’s just going to contribute to the bad image of a given month. When I “turn it back on,” (which might be when Covid-19 is mostly in our collective rearview or it may be July if I rock June like a hurricane–HERE I AM), I will dial it back to the THREE days and slowly increase the days off I take from there. 
  2. I have repeatedly tried to point people at my Facebook, and I fully admit that is some guilty jumping up and down and saying, “Look, I’m totally doing something!” but I think I’m going to start a new “Regular Bit” here where I round up a handful of the most well-received posts every couple of weeks and put them in a little compilation. That’ll give me a couple of days worth of posts each month to help with the fact that a multi-paragraph thing that takes me an hour to write IS writing, and IS work. It is it is it is!  *stamps foot*
  3. I don’t plan on losing any more teeth for a while, so other than going back to be given the spacer that I’ll have until they start the implant, I’ll probably not lose any more time to dental issues. And no other teeth are even loose so a one year old punching me in the face won’t force the issue! (Take those small, but surprisingly impactful victories where you can get them.)
  4. I don’t know if I can do anything about people* professing feelings and then retracting them, but at least it gave me a few new things to write about!  And now that the firehose of fee-fees is off, I can process the past couple of weeks and move on. And maybe June will even be better.
    (*Yes. More than ONE! What a fortnight!)
  5. I can’t change the global pandemic, but I am starting to settle in a little better to a “new normal” pace. I hate to have any solution be little more than “pedal faster” when I’m usually working 60 hour weeks, but I think this problem is going to get better if I just keep suiting up and showing up and doing my best to write every day. It’s not like I’m going to get Covid or lose a tooth every month……right?  Right?  RIGHT?????
  6. This is out of my control. It’s not going to go away until white supremacy is dismantled and the institutions and culture of our society reflect that BLACK LIVES MATTER! And even if this uprising is suppressed, there will be others. I can’t control the events, I won’t sequester myself from the news, and systematic inequality won’t be better after one more march or fifty. So I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that this is the predictable consequence of a racist system, and that there WILL be a few days of being stuck to the breaking news and shitposting all day each and every time it happens, so I should cut myself some slack for not writing An Official Article™. 
  7. And lastly, I have to just take some deep breaths and accept that a few days are going to get past me right now. 2020 is just a fucking HORRIBLE time and everyone is having some real “productivity” problems. (I mean, at least the Murder Hornets were a nothing burger.) Maybe I won’t be QUITE so “gentle with myself” that in the end I’m looking at a month of only six posts, but a missed post here or there are just going to have to be okay for a while.
  8. EXTRA. This solves no specific problem above, but should help in general. I will likely reproduce this post each month for the duration. I’m not doing appeals posts while the global economy is collapsing (though you can always become a patron if you want as I have bills to pay too), so instead I will do a bit of a meta/personal check in. I often do personal updates when something is going on, but I’ve done them less as a regular thing since I started making Newsletters part of my Patreon rewards. 
If I fiddle with ALL those knobs, the aggregate result should be a June I don’t actually feel a little bit ashamed about. 

CspDxjGMCos - June: The Meta and the Personal

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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