10 Years ON since Braddock and I AM IMMORTAL

This month marks ten years since I spent a week in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a small industrial burg just outside of Pittsburgh, with the members of the Broken Dayton Machine, a collective of Dayton-based artists. My job was to chronicle the installation of their show I AM IMMORTAL at UnSmoke Systems Artspace. We stayed in a hostel that, in ancient times, had been a convent. It was July and absolutely sweltering. Neither the hostel nor UnSmoke had AC, so during the day we drank PBR to stay hydrated. It was a hot, fun week spent with comrades making art.

The essay I wrote was called “Time is a Predator.”  It was supposed to be published by Broken Dayton in some kind of thing, but that thing fell by the wayside, as things sometimes do.  I’m still pleased with how it turned out.

Here’s the link to the piece if you’re interested in reading it.

“In the Land of Broken Things” is now Live

My short story “In the Land of Broken Things” is now live over on Slate. To entice you, here’s the first paragraph:

Derelict cars began to appear with greater frequency as Mallory crossed over the river and into downtown Dayton. Rusted-out artifacts shoved to one side of the road decades ago, after the Ejection had fried their electronics. Over time they seemed to be gradually fusing with the cracked, washed-out blacktop.

You can read the whole thing here. Hope you enjoy.

Soon to be in Print

Last night, I turned in the final edits for “In the Land of Broken Things”, my short story that will be published on May 29 by SLATE, as part of their Future Tense Fiction series. Here’s the fun description they came up with for it:

In a world where electricity is scarce, so are the technologies that can keep people alive.

This marks my first professional fiction sale after 58 rejections accumulated over 16 years (I keep a tracking spreadsheet). It’s been six months since I found out it was happening, but I am still kind of in disbelief that anyone wants to actually pay me for something I wrote, let alone a publication like SLATE. I always figured I would eventually get published, some day, but one never knows. So it’s really nice to cross this one off my bucket list.

I will of course be sure to share the link when “Broken Things” goes live.

Contentment Is

A Friday night spent with your best girl — ok, fiancée — having dinner from a local Mexican joint — La Taqueria Mixteca, newly on 937 Delivers! — that is very spicy to my delicate whiteboy tastebuds, but extremely delicious, pleasantly drunk on “margarita wine” — thank you, Trader’s Joe’s — watching BABYLON BERLIN, a weird but wonderful 1920’s period German noir.

Sometimes it’s the quiet, low-key moments that are my favorite.

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, by Alix E. Harrow

It’s not often that I feel compelled to review a book, but then it’s not often I read a book like THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY.

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, by Alix E. Harrow, came out in 2019, but I only stumbled upon it recently. It will most likely be my favorite book this year. It falls into one of my favorite genres of sf: portal fantasy. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, you’re almost definitely familiar with the type of story. In a portal fantasy an ordinary person is transported from one world to another via magic, perhaps through a secret door, a piece of furniture (like a wardrobe), or some other magical mechanism. Think the Narnia books, THE WIZARD OF OZ, PETER PAN …

As TEN THOUSAND DOORS opens, young January Scaller lives in a sprawling mansion with her guardian, a wealthy gentleman archaeologist.  January is sort of an orphan, and spends her days largely by herself, exploring the mansion’s collection of mysterious artifacts.  All that changes when January discovers a strange book that tells a story filled with secret doors, adventure, other worlds, long-lost lovers … and as she reads on, she begins to her connection to the story is very personal.  Adventure ensues.

I am a sucker for a book that features a book-in-a-book as a narrative device, and it’s expertly done here.  I won’t talk about that aspect any further, so as to not spoil it, but it’s a lot of fun.  Harrow’s writing is vivid and full of wit, and the story just completely reeled me in.  January goes on a Hero’s Journey, as one would expect from this type of book, but it’s done in a way that’s organic to the story.  She doesn’t just level up at the end of each chapter.  It’s earned, and certainly not easy.

Most of the main characters are BIPOC, and as the story is set in the early 20th century, Harrow doesn’t shy away from dealing with how, uh, challenging not being white in that era would be.  It never feels heavy-handed or clunky, though.  The characters’ non-whiteness doesn’t define who they are; it just makes them more richly drawn.

If I were to describe how reading TEN THOUSAND WORLDS made me feel, I would compare it to MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE and THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE. That’s not to say that the plot bears any resemblance to those books; they don’t, other than – and this is just now occurring to me – they too feature stories as a plot device. No, what I’m saying is that when I finished each of them, I sat back, happy, knowing I’d just read a hell of a book.

What if: COVID, But 20 Years Ago

I know everyone is tired of talking about the COVID life — god knows I am — but I thought this bit from Ian Leslie’s excellent newsletter, The Ruffian, offered a really interesting perspective. As bad as COVID has been, if it had struck twenty years ago, things would have been much, much worse.

Imagine if this virus had emerged two decades ago – perfectly plausible, and nothing in historical terms. Scientists would have not have had the wherewithal to crack the code of the virus or to share it globally and instantaneously. Office workers, in firms and in governments, would not have been able to meet over video, businesses would have not been able to reinvent themselves. Friends and family would have even less connection with the outside world than before. Food and other essential goods and indeed non-essential goods would have not have remained accessible to nearly so many people. Neighbours wouldn’t have been able to look after each other as easily. Governments, health services and businesses wouldn’t have been able to gather data or share information nearly so efficiently. A huge part of the reason we were able to adapt as we have is down to technologies that didn’t exist or were not in widespread use twenty or even ten years ago. It’s enough to make you believe in progress.

Double Poked

I am presently down, but not out, with a migraine that I’ve had most of the day, and that vicodin seems incapable of killing. It’s also made me super nauseated, though that’s largely abated. Right now I’m sprawled on the couch upstairs, in the dark, staring at my almost fully dimmed phone, which is about the limit of what my brain is able to handle. It sucks, but I take some solace in the fact that I rarely get these types of headaches anymore.

Anyhoo. Really just chiming in to say that, as of yesterday, it’s been two weeks since I got the second poke, and that means I am officially fully vaccinated. I know at this point that many people have similarly leveled-up, but I am so incredibly excited to begin the new new normal of post-COVID life, that I just couldn’t help but be a vaxhole about it.

Fun fact: Did you know that historically the correct technical word for feeling queasy wasn’t nauseous, but nauseated? Up until the middle of the 19th century, nauseous meant “to cause nausea” and nauseated meant “to feel nausea.” For example:

The nauseous smell of the rancid garbage made me feel nauseated, and thus I barfed.

Then, in the late 1800s/early 1900s, usage of nauseous to mean “experiencing nausea” became increasingly common (which caused somewhat of a fierce debate within etymological circles as some wordsmiths felt this conflation rendered the meaning of nauseous ambiguous). Now such usage has been largely accepted, except for some pedants, because, well, pedants gonna pedant. Merriam-Webster has an interesting page talking all of this in more detail, if that’s your thing.

Okay, staring at my screen to write this is making me nauseated again, so time to sign off.

Molly

I’ve tried to write this a couple of times now, but couldn’t get the words out right. So here goes.

This past weekend we said goodbye to Molly.

Molly — AKA Miss Molly, Mo, One Bow Mo, Mo Money Mo Problems — was many things: adorable, demanding, curious, occasionally aggravating, and, above all, darling. She was the sweetest, most loving and loveable pup a person could hope for. We miss her dearly, but take some comfort in knowing she’s no longer in pain.

Love you forever, Mo.

The Continuing Misadventures of Molly

Last night we drove down to the MedVet in Cincinnati to visit Molly, who has been a patient there since last Wednesday.  She is being treated for partial paralysis and severe pain in her back legs.  Because nothing about Molly could ever be characterized as “easy,” it took multiple tests and days to figure out what was wrong with her.  The diagnosis ended up being intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), which Molly has a history of, and which is common in dachshunds because of their long spines and short legs. 

They took us back to the ICU to see Molly.  I was honestly expecting the worst. Jess opened the door to her crate and Molly practically threw herself into Jess’s arms, she was so happy to see her.  This was a big and extremely welcome change from when we visited her Thursday and Sunday.  Then, she was lethargic and down, and just not herself.  Not the case this time.

I took over holding Molly, and after a few minutes she dozed off in my arms, and soon was snoring.  Eventually the staff came by to take Molly away for surgery, and Jess and I went outside to wait in the car.

While Molly was in surgery, we grabbed dinner from the KFC across the street.  Around 9pm, the surgeon called to tell us the procedure was a success and Molly was waking up and recovering well.  And just like that, for the first time in a week, I felt like I could breathe again.

Molly will come home with us tomorrow or Friday, once she’s a bit stronger.

Anyone who has known me for a while knows that I am not historically a “dog person.”  I may still not be a dog person, but I am most definitely this adorable, aggravating little lady’s person (and her brothers’ person, too [even Kirby]).

Boob Tube Habits

A thing I’ve noticed recently is how my relationship with TV has changed over the last year. I used to reliably be a two to three episodes of TV a day person. These are the 40-50 minute long episodes that most drama shows typically are, so call it roughly 1.5-2 hours of TV watching a night. Occasionally I’d watch four episodes on a Saturday or Sunday if I were really into a particular show. Never what one might think of as a binger.

Now I go days without turning on the TV. Sometimes weeks. And I don’t really miss it.

This isn’t meant to be some kind of humblebrag. I’m not turning into one of those people who sniffs in distaste as those who watch “the boob tube.” I still think watching a couple of episodes of TV a day is perfectly fine. I just don’t do it anymore.

On the flip side of this, when I do watch TV, I will now sometimes partake in the binge watching. Case in point: yesterday, when I watched seven episodes of the new season of COBRA KAI, and then five episodes of BRIDGERTON. According to Netflix, that means I watched 536 minutes of my stories, or almost nine hours. And you know what? It felt delightfully decadent.

There are a few factors, I think, influencing this behavioral change. One is that Jess has been working longer hours the last couple of months. Since she is my usual TV watching partner in crime, this means we generally watch less TV together. Another major factor is that the pandemic, lockdown, etc. did a number on my attention span, and one of the casualties of this has been my ability to watch TV on my own. My brain just won’t relax and consume the way it used to. I don’t know how many times this last year I’ve turned on an episode of something and just… lose interest, and shut it off. Part of this, I suspect, is due to depression, a third shiny and new factor I am learning to deal with. The fourth factor is more intentional on my part: I am trying to be more diligent about writing on a regular basis. It’s hard to do that if my routine after work is workout, eat dinner, and watch TV.

Less TV consumption on a daily basis has resulted in two outcomes that I am pretty happy about: more writing, as noted above, and more time spent reading. I read nearly twice as many books in 2020 as I did in 2019. It’s probably the most I’ve read since I was a much younger lad. Although, to be fair, a practically non-existent social calendar has also helped. For whatever reason, my inability to focus on TV has not transferred to reading, a fact I am profoundly grateful for.

It’ll be interesting to see if/how my TV watching evolve in 2021. I’m curious: how have your habits been altered by the events of 2020?