Six-String and the Submissions Horse

Am back on the submissions horse after a looong hiatus/ slash/ period of little-to-zero actual writing.

While I get some material down on the page, figure it’s good to keep submitting flash and fragments too, part practice and part motivator.

Carol tucks her ponytail into the back of her dungarees, fingers stained with varnish, nails short. She smokes while working but keeps her goggles on, saving her eyes from wrinkles while scoring lines into her forehead. People think she makes such fine guitars because their shape is womanly, some affinity with the form. Bullshit. Guitars are like the men she’s known: hollow, set in their fretting, stretched by the tension between saddle and head.

Last week, ParagraphPlanet was good enough to post the short short story above, an existing (blogged but unpublished) flash of mine that I reworked and edited down from 96 words to PP’s regulation 75. So there’s that.

Other submission targets are lined up, but the question as always is whether I’ll get any of the current pieces ovefinished to submittable standard.

One line at a time, that’s all you can do.


Lost Books

On Lost Books Alexandria

I’m not big on nostalgia, but “books I once owned” is a class of memories guaranteed to induce misty-eyed reverie, if not outright pangs of regret. My eyes slide along the shelf of English language novels, L-P, then skip back to M… Mantel. Hang on.

Where is Black Books? Did I lend it out and never get it back? Or DID I THROW IT INTO A RECYCLING BIN?! (Please, hear me out / have mercy.)

Call it careless, call it idiocy, but in my time I’ve suffered a couple of episodes of large scale Book Loss. “Suffered” as in “allowed to happen”.

The first tragic book abandonment was the result of a break-up. In the heat of moving out, it seemed there were more important things to deal with (well, you live and learn). As a result, I’m not entirely sure what I read in the 90’s and early 00’s. Most of the Most Important Books went with me, as well as ones likely to be referenced this lifetime, but the losses included a number of valued gifts (A Confederacy of Dunces) and excellent reads – including Richard Flanagan’s bonkers Gould’s Book of Fish, which I would give my right carp to revisit.

The second, more traumatic bookocalypse occurred during our move from Amsterdam to Stockholm. [*AVERT EYES NOW IF SENSITIVE TO SCENES OF SENSELESS BOOK WASTAGE*] Trying to keep the shipping manageable, I talked myself into doing away with the cubic yards of scrappy second-, third-, and ninth-hand Penguin Classics I’d accumulated. Once the boxes shipped, I took the Reluctant Discards to the recycling station pile… only to find that buried underneath the Ovids and Nietsches were a couple of stacks of Keepers.

Is this where Black Books met its end? Hard to say, since, understandably, I’ve since undergone extensive hypnotherapy to wipe all memory of the incident.

In addition to these two acts of bibliographical recklessness, there have been the other, slower library erosions. Nothing wrong with books given away, especially those titles that didn’t make their mark on me and would have been more appreciated in the hands of another reader.

Then there are those unreturned lendings. Honestly, I’m not irate about those. Not at all. Honest. In fact, the only reason I can list the authors, titles, name of the lendees, and venue in which the lending took place is because I have a photographic memory or something. Must be that. *PENCIL SNAPS*

To Replace or Not To Replace? The urge is strong to binge order new copies of those most missed. It’s lunacy to do that when there are new books to be read. Right? But I *have* been meaning to do more re-reading of favourite books. Though what if the edition I knew and loved is out of print, will a different edition feel like an imposter?? Could wait to pick them up second hand, though that could take decades…

Because these lost books are the only record of my development as a reader. The humour and horror of my teens, the drama of my student years, the hardboiled crime of my twenties.

On some level, I still believe these books are still hidden somewhere on our shelves, Phantom Tomes whose spines are almost visible in peripheral vision, whose covers pass before my eyes every time their titles come to mind.

Did you hear that creak of aging paperback spine? Maybe I’ll take another look. They’re here somewhere, I know it…

Must Reads: The Power

CRP&T ThePower
Has anyone in your life been ranting at you about how you need to read Naomi Alderman’s The Power? No? Allow me.
Reviews have called this book an instant classic, and really that much is head-smackingly obvious. This is an absolute tour de force, a page turner dripping in wisdom, a novel that’s as entertaining as it is unsettling. More than anything, it’s breath-takingly timely.
Alderman gives us a reality where women discover a long-dormant power – the ability to discharge violent electrical shocks – that suddenly gives them the physical upper hand against men. We see the long enshrined power structures of the world shift, crack, and finally shatter.
The central conceit is profound, pithy in its simplicity and mountain-sized in its implications. And Alderman, a part-time writer of videogames, weds this premise to a plot that’s taut and thrilling, stuffed to the “skein” with juicy ironies: the trophy wife who overthrows her dictator husband; the himbo weather boy replacing the distinguished male news anchor. When the brother of crime boss Roxy Monke takes on some of her duties, the observation is laced with familiar condescensions (emphases mine):
Darrell’s set it up; he’s been doing operations here for months, keeping his head down like a good boy, making contacts, keeping the factory running smoothly even during the war. Sometimes a bloke is better at that than a woman – less threatening; they’re better at diplomacy. Still, to finish the deal it has to be Roxy herself.
Such moments spring up continually, and the brilliance of it is that here they are amusing, eye-opening – yet the reader never forgets that each and every one is mined from the innumerable slights and oppressions of real world patriarchy. The reversal illustrating all the more acutely, and hilariously even, the dreadful state of the actual status quo.
All the righteous anger and rawness that might be due to this subject are transformed here by a goddamn alchemical art into sheer entertainment, a genre book for all readers that’s as literary as it is commercial. It’s been remarked often that this is an Atwoodian book, and that’s both spot-on and unsurprising, given that Margaret Atwood mentored Alderman while she was writing it.
Alderman’s writing is always entertaining, frequently funny, wise, or both, supple enough to encompass the beauty of fleeting human connections and gut-wrenching atrocities, within pages of each other.
When did he get so jumpy? And he knows when. It wasn’t this last thing that made it happen. This fear has been building up in him. The terror put its roots down into his chest years ago and every month and every hour has driven the tendrils a little deeper into the flesh.
The audacity of the premise is nothing to do with feminist wish-fulfillment, and everything to do with humanity. Earlier on, scores are settled – it’s impossible not to cheer the trafficked women turning on their jailers – but Alderman is clear on the corrupting influence of power. No spoilers.
This is engrossing, gripping, stunning. There’s so much more to say, but I’m done…
This is the magic by daylight; tricks and cruelty. The magic is in the belief in magic. All this is, is people with an insane idea. The only horror in it is imagining oneself into their minds. And that their insanity might have some consequences on the body.

No, NoWriMo :(

"No novel for you!"

“No novel for you!”

No. No, I didn’t finish NaNoWriMo. I terrible failure.

Didn’t even hit the 20k mark. “Life”, is the best excuse I can come up with. “Responsibiliblah”. Nothing insurmountable.

I’ve hit the 50k for two prior NaNo’s, and have told myself each time that the main thing was getting in the practice of writing every day. Except! It never formed a longer habit. November would leave me frazzled, I’d tap out till after Christmas. And I never went back for a proper review of the work that I had done.

The mania of it, the desperate grasping hurtle towards an ever greater word count, left an unbearable impression of awfulness. The ideas died, suffocated under a weight of low grade logorrhea.

So I didn’t finish this year, but I didn’t kill the idea either. I *do* still need to do work, a lot more work, in fact it repeatedly ocurred to me during November how much more work than I thought I had to do I actually had to do, and that realisation would dawn on me on each of the days that I did do write, and NOW you get a flavour of how I write during NNWM.

I checked the NaNo site again today, the first time since Nov 30 lapsed without fanfare, and – lo and behold – I do get a jpeg anyway. A participant’s medal. It hadn’t occurred to me that they would do that, but of course they would do that.

What’s that though? Follow the link and – of course they would do that – NNWM has Goal Trackers, advice, and forums for the What Now? months.

Perversely, I’m touched by this. I don’t know if I thought NNWM, the site, and all its contributors turned into assorted squashes come Dec 1, but that might as well have been the case.

That little discovery was a tiny unexpected jolt of encouragement to continue.


No Gender Neutral God


In the steady stream of bullshit news about Sweden, you might have seen the one about the Swedish church banning the use of “he” to refer to God.

IT NOT TRUE. I know; shocker. It seems there have been theologically interesting amendments – in places, not throughout – in order to agree with original Hebrew texts on the one hand, and the nature of the Trinity on the other.

It’s also not a news story here in Sweden, but it’s been widely circulated by spittle-flecked English-speaking Scandi-bashers. Farage (tell me why that doesn’t rhyme with English ‘garage’, again?), O’Reilly, et cetera ad nauseum.

No, it’s not been on the radar here. Not to say that Sweden doesn’t have its traditionalists. The gender neutral pronoun “hen” has become reasonably well established (created 1960’s, popularised this century, dictionarised 2015), but it still attracts flack.

Most of the ire seems to stem from fear of hen’s magical gender-warping properties as also evinced in this – of all places – Slate article from 2012. No, even the most right-on Swedes are not trying to “banish gender”. In my experience of Swedish TV news, I’ve more often heard hen deployed when gender is unknown – say, discussing what a hypothetical future minister might do.

At least no-one really objects to hen on grammatical grounds, it avoids the prescriptivist nonsense that English singular pronoun “they” attracts. As I noted re: the snopp/snippa phenomenon, these linguistic adaptations have been absorbed by modern Swedish without great friction. Which is perhaps more an indication of the small, contained nature of the linguistic group than any testament to the open-minded fairness of the Swedes, though that’s surely a factor too.

Anyway, the Lord God is still a He, here, though the Trinity is sometimes God instead of He, and the Holy Ghost, yes is Hen, but was the Ghost ever a He anyway? Excuse me, I’m exhausted. That stream of negative propaganda about Sweden is likely to turn into a flood in the coming year, with an election on the horizon.

Currently Reading: Power and Totalitarianism

People! Anyone out there ever clear their to-read pile? Anyone with the Jedi-level focus and self-control it would take to actually READ all the to-be-reads? And doing that before buying more also-to-be-reads?

Not me. Since last year’s reckoning I’ve managed to read 16 of the 31 To-Reads. In that time I’ve *only* added an extra three dozen or so titles to the pile. Pretty restrained. Though not counting 40 or so e-books picked up in Humble Bundles.

And the ‘Now Reading’ stack stands just two books high, fewer than usual. Both of them are new acquisitions, but you know what? That’s FINE.

First, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, which kinda demands to be read in the current global political climate, before either (a) everything somehow rights itself phew close shave! or (b) it’s too fucking late. I’m still in the early third of the first third, dealing with the development of anti-semitism, but by god it’s hard to go a page without underlining a huge chunk as being tremendously relevant to 2017:

Totalitarian politics – far from being simply anti-semitic or racist or imperialist or communist – use and abuse their own ideological and political elements until the basis of factual reality, from which the ideologies originally derived their strength and their propaganda value – the reality of class struggle, for instance, or the interest conflicts between Jews and their neighbours – have all but disappeared.

– Preface to Part One, page xviii


On a lighter note, but no less timely, Naomi Aldeman’s The Power is a spectacular and surging speculative fiction. What if women were suddenly the ones who had the upper hand, physically? If girls could threaten the lives of boys and men as easily as boys and men threaten the lives of women now, every day, all around the world.

Only 75 pages in, it’s already gripping, imaginative, funny and wise. And what a conceit! Suddenly the world discovers that girls and young women have started to access the ‘skein’, a hitherto undiscovered organ that enables them to discharge electrical shocks. The phenomen is sketched convincingly enough when it needs to be scientific, but it draws real force from its symbolism and allusion.

As a male reader, this brings the same queasy recognition that #metoo does: I knew it was this bad, and yet – shamefully – I didn’t realise how all pervasive it was, just how bad ‘this bad’ really was. Even at the start of the novel, the shifting balances of power are shocking, in their relevance to the world as it is – yet this is made entertaining in Alderman’s observational brilliance and the sheer deliciousness of the irony.

I’ve no idea where this story is going, but I’ve been sold on it since the first chapter. Absolutely fantastic stuff.

The older To-Reads will understand. Their time will come.


No it's not going to stop, so just... give up

Twelve days in. A disappointing nine-and-a-half thousand words done. Half of the word count I need to stay on track. Not giving up yet but tempted.

I started drafting this post in the week. At the time it was ten days in, 7.5k words. Shelved the post, even, the spirit of capitulation running strong in my veins.

However, despite thinking I wouldn’t get any writing done at weekends – too much family business, too many chores – I managed to eke out that extra couple thou, bleary-eyed on the sofa while the rest of the family was a-bed.

Part of the point of NNWM is the public commitment. That the announcement of the attempt enables your motivated past self to guilt trip your lazy-ass present self into doing the work.

So here I am renewing my vows, way behind target but not dead yet.

And under no illusion either. In previous years I’ve cleared my schedule and booked time off work to make it happen. This year, that ain’t happening.

But this year I’ve reframed my expectations and finessed my goals. The point of November isn’t hitting 50k by any means necessary, it’s just getting some words down. In fact, if I don’t hit 50k, so much the better.

That way I’ll avoid the quick fix low accomplishment buzz of finishing draft zero. Pointing to the NaNo Winner’s certificate as some dubious measure of achievement rather than returning to the hard fucking yards of interminable edits and rewrites.

I’m not doing NaNo down. On the contrary, I’m taking it seriously for once.

Any NaNoWriMoFolks reading this, how do you stay motivated? How do you find the time, when your everyday commitments don’t even give you the time for eight hours’ sleep, let alone the indulgence of a month-long novel-blast?