Writing Year 2014: Into the Blender

Around this time last year, I wrote a lengthy post about my writing activities in order to kick myself into higher gear. It worked. I didn’t meet every goal I set, but that doesn’t really bother me, for reasons detailed below. Writing a “year end” sort of post now, rather than at the end of the year, was a boost to my production last year, and we’ll see if it happens this go-round.

What’s new, pussycat?

This year’s writing theme, if you can say a year has a theme, has been “blending.” For many years I pursued creative writing largely apart from what I do as a librarian. One of my colleagues at VCU, Jenny Stout (review blog), started a discussion series within our division this year, “Research and Learning: Living Up to Our Name,” where people talk about aspects of their work, conceptual developments in the field, etc. She got the series off to a start with an hour of micro-talks, and I spoke about hunting for overlap in activities from different parts of your life, in order to increase efficiency, work strategically, etc. This has been productive for me, as I’ve found myself more dedicated to and interested in both scholarship and creative writing. I have no intention of blogging about my career as a librarian (God forbid; the internet is already littered with unread biblio-blogs), but selected contents & activities are another story.

Intersections

This week I submitted an article to a high-profile professional publication about work I did with a creative writing class at VCU. A submission is not an acceptance, but I’m a heck of a lot happier with that than with the idea lying in unquiet repose in my brain.

Next semester I am co-teaching with Tom De Haven a semester-long class about writing research-intensive fiction. This is aimed at students interested in developing both research skills and a proficiency at incorporating research into their fiction. Course description (ENGL 437).

Next March I’ll be delivering a paper at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA 36). This paper will blend a lifelong literary interest and my more recent interest in digital humanities methodologies. Its title is “Node, Edge, or Tentacle? Data and the Lovecraftian Literary Network,” and it’s about a computational analysis of Selected Letters.

I have various future scholarly activities in the works associated with the above agenda(e). Just what form they take depends to some extent on how things go this spring, and realistically they aren’t going to be started until summer, but it’s good to have plans.

Into the field

This year I’ve read many good books, and some excellent ones. I’ve heard a number of people talking about a new golden age for the Weird, even a Weird Renaissance, and it’s hard to argue. From a score of anthologies, including the VanderMeers’ monumental The Weird, to continued excellence from Weird Fiction Review, to Mike Kelly’s establishment of Year’s Best Weird Fiction, things are coming up Weird all over. The kind of horror I like to read, which has a strong overlap with Weird, but not entirely, seems to have surged as well.

One of the best things I’ve read this year (am still reading, actually) is John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture: the Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. Ross Lockhart, who has himself been having an impressive year, was talking about the book a couple months back, and so I picked it up. So glad I did. Merchants of Culture is an analysis of contemporary publishing in terms of Bourdieuian fields, among other things. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade trying to wrap my head around publishing and writing, and this book was part of what reshaped my thinking about authorship this year, from the role of scholarship in my creative life to the places where I aspire to publish.

I regularly attend the Annual Conference of the American Library Association, but this academic year I’m attending or have attended various other meetings. I was invited to attend/speak at Digital Humanities and the Dartmouth College Library, a one-day event in advance of The Digital Crucible, a conference focused on computation in the arts and humanities. Last month I attended the James River Writers Conference here in Richmond, where I moderated a panel entitled “Write What You Research.” Last weekend I attended the 40th World Fantasy Convention, where I met people across the range of activities in the fantastic arts (more on that another day). Next year I’m pleased to be guesting at RavenCon here in Richmond. The list of people I’ve met as a result of all of these activities is in the hundreds, so I’m not doing a roll call, but I will say that in the process I’ve made new friends, met heroes, and gotten a better understanding of the ecosystem of the writing world. I did (or am doing) all of this for a host of reasons, but Merchants of Culture led me to view my activities through a new and improved lens.

What have I accomplished in 2014?

Let’s go to the data…

statistics for fiction

Fiction Statistics, 2005-11/14/2014

Blog Statistics, 2005-11/14/2014

Blog Statistics, 2005-11/14/2014

Fiction & Blogging, 2005-11/14/2014

Fiction & Blogging, 2005-11/14/2014

I could talk about this in various ways, but I think the easiest thing to say is that I feel like I’m back on track. If I’d tracked things by month, and only shown the last two or three years, the difference would be even more stark.

Old goals

Write at least 100,000 words of completed or truly “in progress” fiction rough drafts by December 31, 2014.
Didn’t happen. The last day I added to my count, it was around 18,000. Since then I’ve written three stories, substantially revised several stories, and started and abandoned a novel.

Place six pieces of fiction for publication.
Placed three, which was actually my “good enough” goal, so I’m fine with that. I’ve got four stories out right now, one of which is a “hold for consideration,” so that’s good.

Get back to blogging.
Check.

Read at least two books per month.
Some months it was only one, but some months it was four, so… check.

2015 goals, you say?

Some of this is going to sound familiar, but…

  • Write at least 100,000 words of completed or truly “in progress” fiction
  • Complete enough thematically similar short fiction for a strong collection
  • Place six pieces of fiction and one essay for publication
  • Find a home for my Seattle magical realism novel
  • Draft two new scholarly articles or opinion pieces
  • Keep blogging
  • Read at least two books per month

I have a few other things on the stove, as well, some on front burners and some on the back, some small and some large. Further bulletins as events warrant.

And last but not least, thanks are more than due to my friend, partner, wife, and sine qua non, Kyla Tew. Without her support and patience, it would be difficult to do this.

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Writing Year 2013: Statistics, Lies, Stagnation, and the Human Heart

Late this summer my wife did one of those things we can rely on good partners to do: she made a devastatingly perceptive comment that caused me to re-evaluate my life. She said “you don’t talk about writing anymore.” And, of course, she’s right: I used to natter on endlessly about it. Her words stayed with me, and a train of thought (slowly) followed as I increasingly ineptly tried to ignore some pretty obvious facts.

I haven’t been writing much lately.

I haven’t been writing daily for a couple years.

I haven’t set a meaningful writing goal for years.

I have fallen out of touch with most of the writing world.

I have done other things than writing. Some of them have been valuable, rewarding, or interesting, but they have not, at the end of the day, been writing. “Background material” and “research” don’t count if you don’t fucking write. I’ve gotten majorly distracted before, and I didn’t write much for the better part of seven years. This go-round was shorter, but let’s look at some data…

Fiction Statistics, 2005-2013

Fiction Statistics, 2005-2013

That’s not every piece of fiction I’ve written, because I wasn’t about to go through my piles of notebooks. Lots of starts and scraps there, but they wouldn’t show a different trend. The 2008 dip in numbers of new things started & finished occurred while I was deep in the throes of novel-writing, so perhaps not surprising. (I probably should have labeled “Started” as “Started & abandoned” for clarity.) The 2012 dip I attribute to complications arising from a death in the family and to a period of intense activity at my day job. Not coincidentally, 2012 is when I started taking art classes, reading about art technique, and drawing or painting… almost daily.

Blog Statistics, 2005-2013

Blog Statistics, 2005-2013

Blogging also declined substantially in 2012, at least in part due to my abandonment of the old blog, but the level of activity at my day job also had a part, I think. I cut back on blogging in order to give myself time for more “real” writing, and that didn’t have the intended effect. Not included are social media postings, which I don’t count, even if some creative thought may have gone into them. Whatever the reason, I wrote fewer words. Put it all together, and what do you get?

Fiction & Blogging, 2005-2013

Fiction & Blogging, 2005-2013

There is a trend. I’ve clearly been trying to reverse this, in terms of starting more pieces, but they haven’t been making it to “finished.” None of this is new information, and I’ve been uneasy about my writing for some time, but seeing it charted is bracing. The current fetish for stats and quantification in the humanities has real problems, from the practical to the political, and numerical data ought not always carry the day, but it drives home the truth of what I have been thinking and my wife has been more or less gently saying for some time: I haven’t been writing much lately. Writer’s block looks different to different people, and I don’t know if that’s quite an accurate term to describe where I’ve been, but it’s close enough.

This year I’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s possible for me to fail at writing, even by the lights of modest and circumscribed goals. That I could stop writing entirely, crushed under the daily grind and lack of “success.” As a child, I wanted to be J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, and so on, but it’s time to consider other yardsticks of productivity and success. I write relatively slowly. Being a librarian is a good gig, and it provides stimulation and stability that I need. I don’t have to move to Paris, write forty novels, or spawn an entire branch of fiction. One of my literary heroes died in poverty, suffered a curtailed lifespan, left behind a fairly modest body of work… and he has lit a thousand fires of the imagination.

Over the last couple years, I have allowed myself to become distracted. I have ignored my life’s great dream.


What did I accomplish in 2013?

You can see the numbers above, but, in short, I published “How Rare Are Light and Life” at The Lovecraft eZine, and I sold “Her Sweet Solace” for reprint in a forthcoming Steve Berman anthology, Handsome Devil: Tales of Sin and Seduction. I stayed in contact, though not as much as I would have liked, with my old writing confederates, each of whom I’m happy to see have had successes of late. Among others, Berry put out a new collection, Jeff has had some modest success, Jesse has new projects on tap, Kathleen’s first novel just came out, Molly’s got a sweet collection coming out, Orrin went freelance and is kicking out the jams, and Selena continues to steampunk prominently and with the best of them.

Spending time talking writing with friends new and old has helped in figuring out what constitutes writerly success and happiness. At my day job, I’m cheered to have friends like Tom De Haven and Gregory Kimbrell, each of whom are inspirations and good colleagues. Gregory’s a poet who also works at the library, and our proximity means we get to have irregeular tête-à-têtes about writerly things in passing, though we’re as prone to talk old Sci-Fi movies as writing.

In May I had the pleasure of finally meeting a writing friend of long standing, Paul Stolp. Paul and I met online while I was in library school (he’s also in the biz), and though we were both in the Seattle metro area, we never got together in person. I moved to Richmond, time passed, and my visits home tend to be packed already, from seeing family & friends to visiting old haunts. This go-round, I made time, and we spent several hours together at the Elysian Brewery. Paul’s read, critiqued, and supported my fiction since I “got serious” about writing. His interests overlap with mine, ranging from King to Carver to Plath, and he knows his horror in film and fiction. Our visit was that wonderful experience of meeting for the first time with someone who already knows your heart.

J. T. Glover & Paul Stolp

Finally meeting an old friend… for the first time.


What’s the plan for 2014?

  • Write at least 100,000 words of completed or truly “in progress” fiction rough drafts by December 31, 2014. That’s 400 words a day spread out over 250 days… or whatever configuration. It’s two NaNos (though I don’t NaNo). I can do it. When I’m done? I’m free to do whatever I want: watch Kurosawa films or Scooby-Doo, binge on aerosol cheese, become a rabid Wikipedia editor, whatever. If I can make 100,000, there should be enough momentum built up for me to keep going, but if not? No guilt, just bacon and bourbon.
  • Place six pieces of fiction for publication. That’s half of my total publications to date or forthcoming, but it also doesn’t seem like an unreasonable goal. I know how to write, I write reasonably well, and I know how to submit manuscripts. If I get even halfway there, I’ll be back to where I was in 2009, which I’d count a victory in and of itself.
  • Get back to blogging. My blogging faltered along with the rest of my writing. Getting the words flowing again, however it happens, is forward motion.
  • Read at least two books per month. I am a more productive writer when my head is in Story-land, and my reading has fallen off to something like a book a month, or less. Even if I’m re-reading old favorites, I need more prose floating through my brain.

Onward.

Art Year 2013

Instead of waiting until the last minute this go-round, I thought I’d write my end-of-the-year post early. In 2013 I traveled a fair bit, for work and otherwise, and I’ve encountered many artists along the way. Some were familiar, some weren’t, but all of them delighted, taught, surprised, or entranced me. I met them on the street, in stores, at work, online, in books, and in further places yet. They all affected my own work in one way or another, and it was a year of pleasurable production and influence.

I’ve already written about meeting Charles Vess, the echoes of which are still bouncing around in my head, and I’m glad to say that these other meetings have had similar resonances. I spent more time looking at work by artist newfangled and old, from Hans Memling to Francis Bacon. Bacon’s shadow falls over many of the other work I encountered over the last year, including that of the Italian painter Roberto Ferri, who has the skill of the devil and a lineage stretching back to Caravaggio by way of Bacon.

Odi et Amo, by Julia Carpenter

Odi et Amo, by Julia Carpenter

In May I was in Seattle, visiting family en route to Alaska, and I stopped to shop at Daniel Smith, my favorite art supply store. While shopping, I got the kind of knowledgeable, sensitive, useful advice that I always do. In this case, it was delivered by Julia Carpenter, a painter who really knows what she’s talking about, and was able to answer every single question I had, as well as providing useful guidance about applying materials from the store to my own work. Julia helped me find what I needed, as well as giving detailed advice about brushes, and useful advice about drawing materials, as well as introducing me to Arches oil paper. (In case you’re wondering: no, I’m not being paid for this endorsement. I just had a really, really good experience and wanted to share it.)

Julia’s focused heavily on portraiture in the past, but her work encompasses a range of subjects. She’s talked at length previously about her work, what drives her, and the things you want to know about any artist. Here’s one example of her work, Odi et Amo, and you can find more at her website. I mentioned Bacon earlier, and I think you can maybe see some of him in her work.

Infectious Konfectious Konnection, by Philip Saxby

Infectious Konfectious Konnection, by Philip Saxby

In June & July I found myself in Chicago, where the American Library Association’s annual conference was this year, and I got an eyeful of art while there. I went to the MCA, where I saw the Daniel Clowes exhibit, and to the LUMA. The biggie was the Art Institute of Chicago, where I spent an afternoon and O.D.-d on the great art of all the ages. I left humbled and amazed. While in Chicago I also took a quick spin through the Gold Coast Art Fair. I was intrigued by David Abed‘s work, particularly the way he renders skin so finely, so luminously, and yet with a texture that makes you want to reach out and touch. Philip Saxby‘s paintings, by contrast, didn’t seduce me: they grabbed me while I was walking past! He’s a glutton for color, and I could stare all day long at his work, which brings a muscular, grotesque style to portraiture and the sub/urban environment.

self portrait by thomas van auken

Self-portrait, by Thomas Van Auken

Earlier in the year I got to see Tommy Van Auken‘s latest show at Eric Schindler, and it was packed to the gills with people and new work. He returned to favorite themes, from portraiture to dark or abandoned landscapes. He also stretched into new areas, both figuratively and literally, with his circus work. My favorite part of the show was his array of small portraits in the first room. The size of the portraits, combined with the placement, gave me a strong sense of that which I’ve gotten before from his work: that you can see all of Richmond there if you wait long enough.

Here are a few of his newer works, and if you’d like to see more, keep your eyes peeled. He’s planning on holding an open studio at some point in the next few months, and he’ll have a show in 2014 that you’re going to want to hit if you’re in Richmond or can make it. He specializes in seeing the things that no one else does, and if you get a chance to look at his work in person, you’ll know what I mean.

night scene by thomas van auken

Richmond at night, as seen by Thomas Van Auken

2013 & the Wake of Change

My year’s end thoughts tend to be heavy on things read or watched in the course of the year, new work done, or goals for the coming year. 2012 was a sea change for me on many fronts, and I count just getting through it a victory, even when the swells and waves were good things. What happened?

My mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with cancer. There were multiple concurrent serious family illnesses. There were trips to see my wife’s family and deal with my mother-in-law’s death. All of those took time and energy, and those of you who have been through it know how sad and draining the death of a parent is.

Yard Devastation

Yard Devastation

We bought a house and moved into it in November. It’s a wonderful little mid-century Cape Cod with nooks and crannies, room to garden, and is spacious on various counts. We’ve been doing all sorts of work on it, as well as being not yet fully unpacked, but here’s a picture of part of the remnants of the work my wife, father-in-law and I did toward the end of last week. RIP. I hated doing it, but the row of a dozen or so pine trees lining the street had been badly topped and were growing (and always going to be growing) into the telephone and power lines. I never expected to spend any substantial amount of time in life using a chainsaw, and yet.

Life was busy at the library as well, with some major changes in our systems, some personnel changes, and several kinds of new work. My “business” as a liaison to humanities departments grew in interesting ways, and 2013 promises to be busy in that regard as well. I also traveled to Anaheim for the annual American Library Association conference, which was illuminating and exciting, especially the digital humanities preconference I attended.

Fungi Cover

Fungi Cover

My writing life was mixed in 2012. Productivity-wise, I started and floundered on many stories, a novella, and a novel.  By year’s end, I’d completed a bare handful of flash and short stories, though I’m working on something that I hope will turn into a new novel. Publication-wise, I did OK, with one story at NewMyths.com and another in the hardcover edition of the anthology Fungi. I’m still on the hunt for representation for my novel focused on conflicts of memory, ecology, and inheritance in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s hoping 2013 will hold enough peace and stability for me to refocus my efforts on new writing.

Figure Study

Figure Study

One of the unmitigated pleasures of last year was the painting and drawing. I took two drawing classes at VisArts, taught by local artist Tommy Van Auken, and I began irregularly attending a life drawing group. I’ve done some painting during the last year, though my focus has mostly been on improving my drawing skills. I’ve done a mound of work and enjoyed it, with the end results ranging across the spectrum from “useful only for learning” to surprisingly good, at least to judge by viewers’ reactions. I have enjoyed the arts in past–drawing, painting, sculpting, singing, playing instruments–but something about this year’s work was transformative, and I was grateful to have brushes to hand, especially when the words did not come. Here’s the last painting I completed in 2012, which combined a variety of things I learned over the course of the year, as well as helping me figure out what I want to do in the coming year.

What do I have in mind for 2013? Adventure, good work, success, and happiness. I have a plethora of more specific goals, but that’s enough for the Nutshell Edition. Here’s wishing you all the best for 2013.