Book Review: The Best American Short Stories 2019 Edited by Anthony Doerr and Heidi Pitlor

The short story is a particular type of art form. I love reading great short stories, but it’s notoriously difficult to find them. Even the stories in the various best of the year volumes don’t always match my tastes. I read a best of the year genre anthology a month or so ago, for instance, that disappointed me so much that I couldn’t finish it and I didn’t want to review it. I like to review things I enjoy; with very few exceptions I avoid writing negative reviews. So I simply set the aforementioned volume aside and lamented the time wasted. I don’t want to disparage the editor. The selections were one person’s opinion, after all, and they happened not to match mine.

Usually, though, an anthology like this one has some stories that I love, stories that I like, stories that are okay, and stories that make me wonder what the editor was thinking. This anthology of stories published in 2018 started out strong. After I was several stories in, I thought that maybe this time I’d like all of them. Alas, it was wishful thinking. There were a couple that made me wonder how they got published, let alone considered among the year’s best. I know there are better stories because I have read them in other best-of anthologies.

Okay, never mind. At least I managed to get through them; some years there have been stories I thought so mediocre that I couldn’t finish them. Most of these stories, though, fall into the good, very good, and excellent categories. I think that my favorite is “Hellion” by Julia Elliot. It’s told in the first person by a young teenage girl who smokes, rides around in a go-cart, carries a gun, and has a pet gator. It’s packed with unique voice and attitude and atmosphere.

Another top story is “Pity and Shame” by the recently deceased science fiction and fantasy master writer Ursula K. Le Guin. I think this is the first story I have read of hers that has not been speculative fiction. “Natural Disasters” by Alexis Schaitkin is a beautifully subtle story about a woman who travels from New York City to Oklahoma because her husband has been transferred. She takes a job writing descriptions of houses for sale for a realtor, and this helps her adjust to the area and its inhabitants.

And then there are the science fiction stories. These might not stand out so much in a science fiction anthology, but because they are in a so-called literary collection, they are anomalies. They’re good stories, but I wonder why they were not instead considered for the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy volume, which is put out by the same publisher. I suppose it’s because they managed to get published in literary rather than genre magazines. To me, it’s too bad that there should be that distinction. One of them, “The Era” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, concerns a future society in which telling truth, no matter how cruel and brutal, is the accepted norm, and drugs are routinely distributed to calm the populace. The story looks into what happens to those who do not conform well to these standards. The other, “The Third Tower” by Deborah Eisenberg, concerns a near future society with great socio-economic divergence in which a young woman from a slum finds herself in a clinic as a subject for psychological experimentation.

Yes, overall it’s a good collection, and I found it worthwhile to put up with the stories I thought less-than-worthy for those that took off and made something of themselves.

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Book Review: Bird Cloud: A Memoir by Annie Proulx

I have been living in rented apartments and houses for several years now, ever since I left Greece to return to the States. In Greece we had owned our own home; here, I struggle every month to pay the rent and bills. I can’t help but daydream about a home of my own, someplace I can furnish and decorate as I see fit, somewhere with a spacious porch or yard where I can step outside into the fresh air and draw sweet breaths and admire natural beauty. At this point in my life and fiscal situation it seems a long shot, to say the least; but I can at least dream, can’t I?

Perhaps this longing for a place of my own is why I enjoy reading about how other writers carve out spaces for themselves in various locations of their choice. Several months ago I read and reviewed Michael Pollan’s book A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams in which he plans and constructs a writing studio in the woods behind his house. And now here is Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx’s memoir about building a house in a wild remote part of Wyoming.

Most of this book, in which Proulx describes the construction of the house, the landscape around it, the nearby wildlife, and the extreme weather, I enjoyed a lot, but there were one or two sections that just didn’t flow like the rest. Let’s get these out of the way first. My main problem was with the first few chapters. Proulx teases readers with a brief description of Bird Cloud, which is her name for the property she bought in Wyoming, and then launches into about fifty or sixty pages of description of her family lineage. Much of it does not consist of anecdotes either, but rather of lists of ancestors: so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so, and so on. I almost stopped reading in the midst of the begats. I’m glad I didn’t, because I so much enjoyed most of the rest of the book, but I had the feeling that this beginning section, which has nothing to do with the rest of the book, was perhaps shoe-horned in because the publisher wanted a higher word count. I don’t know. The other section that I found kind of slow was an elaborate history of big game hunting in Wyoming.

Okay, now that that’s done, allow me to say that the rest of the book is fascinating. Proulx describes finding this gorgeous location in Wyoming with the Platte River running through it and across the river a scenic cliff. The area is bursting with wildlife: deer, elk, cougars, rabbits, prairie dogs, coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles, and all sorts of other bird species.

The construction of the house takes two years. She hires an architect and a construction team, and they are dedicated and talented men, but there are all sorts of obstacles, not the least of which is the radical and often violent weather. Snow and high winds keep the area far below freezing for about six months out of the year, and without vigorous actions by snow plows, the road would be closed for months in the winter.

Proulx kind of lost me there in a practical sense. I would never be able to handle that kind of cold. If I were to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into building a home, I would do it where the weather is mild and tolerable. To each their own. In this memoir, though, the weather is part of the adventure, part of the challenge of constructing an elegant home in such a forbidding place.

Proulx’s land was used extensively by Native Americans for millennia, and she goes into the history of the Indian peoples of the area and the artifacts that she and her guests regularly find on her property. In the final chapter, she describes the birds that she observes along the river and on the cliff side. All of this makes for absorbing reading. All in all, I highly recommend it, but if I were to read it again, I would start at chapter three and skip the genealogy.

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Book Review: The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

I first came across the name of Bill Bryson in a volume of interviews called A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration by Michael Shapiro. While reading this book, I made a list of travel books that sounded interesting, and one of these was A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. This was before Robert Redford got hold of the book, cast Nick Nolte as his sidekick, and made it into a movie. The movie is okay, but the book is brilliant. Bryson gets the thought into his head that he wants to hike the Appalachian Trail from its beginning in Georgia all the way to its end in Maine. It its entirety, the trail is about 2,200 miles long. He eventually gives up on the idea of covering all of it and hikes portions of it amounting to around 800 miles or so. The book is well-researched and contains fascinating facts about the trail, but its strength comes from its humor, Bryson’s light, whimsical style, and the numerous anecdotes he recounts of adventures and mishaps along the way.

In The Body, Bryson takes readers on a tour of human anatomy. After going over the outside, that is, skin and hair, and introducing the microbes that co-inhabit our physiques, he starts at the top with the brain and head, and then works his way down through the mouth, throat, heart, blood, glands and skeleton. He writes about equilibrium, exercise, the immune system, lungs and breathing, the digestive system and food, sleep, sexual organs, conception and birth, the nerves and pain, diseases, medicine, and death. In a book of this length, it is obvious that he cannot be comprehensive about any of these topics, and that’s not his intention. He’s not trying to offer you a course in anatomy; his aim is to entertain you, and in this he succeeds superbly.

Instead of taking you on a hike along a forest trail, Bryson takes you on a trip around the human body, but he retains the light, humorous style of his travel books. Instead of anecdotes of his own incidents and adventures while exploring a new land, he shares fascinating true tales that he has culled from medical histories. It’s in the nature of an amusement park ride in which you explore the body while at the same time you listen to a voice-over narrator relating interesting information about the parts that you pass along the way. It’s fun and edifying at the same time. You don’t need to know much about physiology to enjoy the ride, and although Bryson does go into basic explanations of the organization and names of the various sections, you don’t have to pay attention to those bits if you don’t want to; they are soon over and he is on to the next tidbit of information, fascinating fact, or historical account.

Don’t be put off by what may at first seem like the dry scientific subject matter. This book is well-written and a lot of fun to read. You might even inadvertently learn something.

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A Second Look: America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad

AmericaRedux_WebCover

Update February 15th, 2020: For some reason I had a strong urge to repost this description of the memoir I wrote upon returning to the United States after spending thirty-five years overseas. Perhaps it’s due to the sense of displacement and culture shock that I still go through from time to time; perhaps, however, it’s also due to the political and social upheaval currently erupting across the U.S. landscape, a displacement and loss of identity that is causing everyone to question their core values and beliefs.

A memoir of my culture shock after living for many years overseas. Here’s the back cover copy:

In 1976 John Walters left the United States in search of adventure and literary inspiration. He lived for many years in India, Bangladesh, Italy, and Greece. He married and had five sons. Finally, faced with the economic catastrophe in Greece and the lack of opportunities for his sons, he returned to the land of his birth. Without home, without job, without resources, he confronted his own country as if for the first time.

This is a memoir of someone who, late in life, was forced to leave everything behind and start fresh in what for him had become a new land. It will appeal to those who are confronted with major life changes in these troubled economic times; to those who, though they may desire rest and retirement, must continue toiling to make ends meet; for those who desire insight into the vast, multifaceted culture of the United States from a fresh perspective, unencumbered by familiarity.

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Book Review: The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 4 Edited by Neil Clarke

This is the third Best of the Year volume in the science fiction and fantasy field that I have read this year, and… I wouldn’t say that I am becoming jaded, but I am learning that not all that is published in the field, even what is supposedly the best, appeals to me. This book had a fair amount of hits, but an equal or greater amount of misses, at least in my opinion. As usual, some stories were great, some were good, some were so-so, and a few I couldn’t finish. I skipped over the stories I had already read in other anthologies to focus on the ones that were new to me, and these, as I said, I found a mixed batch.

This anthology is by far the heftiest of the Best of the Year books in terms of sheer size. It’s almost six hundred pages of small print. It seems that Clarke is attempting to fill the gap brought about by the recent demise of Gardner Dozois, which is a good thing. I didn’t always agree with Dozois’s choices either, but I still appreciated that he took the time to do the sifting through the multitudes of stories that are published every year. I read a lot that is not science fiction, or even fiction, so I appreciate having a menu of stories that has been recommended by those more familiar with recent offerings in the field than I am. I also appreciate that Clarke has taken up the task of writing a yearly summary of important happenings in science fiction publishing, something that Dozois used to present in a comprehensive manner.

As for the stories, I want to mention a few that I found outstanding. “Traces of Us” by Vanessa Fogg tells of romance that begins on Old Earth but then is immortalized when two starships carrying the memories of the lovers in their computers meet. “Requiem” by Vandana Singh takes place at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. A woman goes to a research station to collect the personal effects of her recently deceased aunt, and while she’s there she learns of the research her aunt has been conducting on communicating with oceanic creatures, especially whales. It’s a grim story for much of its length, but it ends with a thrilling punch. “Lions and Gazelles” by Hannu Rajaniemi concerns a thrilling race by biologically enhanced CEOs of tech companies. It’s thrilling and innovative and lots of fun.

However, I have saved the best for last, as did Clarke. My personal favorite in this anthology is a hard science fiction tale called “Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gilman. It’s the final story in the book. It is one of the best new stories I have read in recent years. A team of colonists on an inhospitable planet set out from the safety of their enclave and race against time to recover supplies that have been sent from the home planet. On their journey, they discover that the colony planet is much more bizarre and dangerous than they had supposed. This story has it all: a clear story line, well-drawn characters with a well-defined goal, a threatening alien world, and mounting tension leading to a perilous conclusion. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I have lately become somewhat jaded with the quality of what I have been reading, but this story knocked the complacency clean out of me. It is thrilling, exciting, and filled me full of sense of wonder. I can see why Clarke saved it for the end. It left me with a satisfying sense of fulfillment and helped remind me why I was drawn to the field of speculative fiction in the first place.

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Book Review: American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley

This is a fascinating book about America’s efforts to conquer space during the Cold War. However, it is not a comprehensive history of the space program. Instead, it focuses on John F. Kennedy’s fixation on space exploration and eventually on his goal to land Americans on the moon.

To get there, it goes deep into Kennedy’s past and even beyond to provide background. It begins with the early rocketry efforts of Goddard in the United States and other scientists in Germany and Russia. It traces Kennedy’s youth, school days, and military service aboard PT 109 during World War II. It also backtracks to the youth of another person crucial to the U.S. space effort, the German scientist Wernher von Braun, whose genius with rockets caused him to become involved with Hitler’s Third Reich in the development and production of the destructive V2 rockets. The use of slave labor, considered expendable by the Nazis, implicated von Braun in war crimes for which he should have been arrested, tried, and imprisoned, but because his expertise was so important to America’s own development of missiles and rockets, he and his team of scientists were slipped out of Germany, exonerated of all charges, and put to work in top secret programs.

After the war, Eisenhower was a conservative concerning the national budget and reluctant to spend much on efforts to reach space. In the meantime, Kennedy moved upwards from Congressman to Senator to presidential candidate. Early on he seized the vision of the space program and America’s need to be first in various space achievements as a crucial factor in the Cold War. He fought for scientific superiority as part of the nation’s efforts to combat communism and promote democracy.

Soon after Kennedy defeated Nixon and won the White House, he challenged the nation to place American men on the moon before the end of the decade of the 1960s. No matter what emergencies erupted domestically or internationally, he never wavered from this vision. The missile and rocket research being carried on in various branches of the military became consolidated in NASA, which spawned the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs.

There were many challenges along the way. For instance, the Russians were first to launch a satellite into orbit, and they were also the first to send a man into space and bring him back safely. Although the nation was swept up in the space craze and adulated the astronauts who rode in the early space capsules, Kennedy sometimes found it difficult to persuade Congress to continue funding such expensive programs.

These are just a few highlights of this absorbing history; there are many more details equally fascinating. Since the primary focus of the book is on Kennedy, the final chapter takes place in 1963 and describes his assassination and the immediate aftermath. An epilogue, however, goes on to describe how President Lyndon Johnson kept the Apollo program alive in Kennedy’s honor, and how the first men finally made it to the moon in the summer of 1969.

Brinkley is an excellent writer, and this is a great book. I was sixteen years old when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and I recall what an important moment it was nationally and internationally for all humankind. It’s amazing that the technology to reach the moon safely was available decades ago and we haven’t done much about it since. It seems, though, that the private sector is stepping in to help us on our next journeys to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

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Book Review: The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth by Michio Kaku

I won’t pretend to understand even a small amount of the physics behind the principles and theories presented in this book, but to my relief it’s not necessary to be good at physics to derive great enjoyment and edification from reading it. Kaku has a comprehensive grasp of his material; that much is clear. But his intent is to explain it in terms that almost anyone can understand.

He begins at the beginning of the twentieth century and launches into a short history of the modern space program, including looks at the Russian rocket scientist Tsiolkovsky, the American rocketry pioneer Goddard, Von Braun and the V-2 rockets, the cold war space programs of the United States and the USSR, Sputnik, the Apollo program and the moon landings, the space shuttle era, the International Space Station, and other milestones. Next, he discusses plans for further exploration and colonization of the solar system, including the moon, Mars, and some of the moons circling the gas giants. He writes of mining materials from moons, planets, asteroids, and comets.

He’s just getting warmed up, though. He then launches into an explanation of how robots could assist humankind in the mining, colonization, and exploration of the solar system and other nearby and distant star systems. He describes what it would take in terms of materials, expense, and time to construct a starship for galactic exploration. He discusses the concepts of multigenerational starships, various possible propulsion systems for starships, and the planets that have been discovered that might possibly be suitable for human habitation.

And that’s not all. He goes into immortality as an aid to space exploration and how immortality might be achieved. He explains how the human body might be adapted to enable it to survive on worlds starkly different than our own. He talks of the search for extraterrestrial life and the possibility of advanced civilizations in other parts of the galaxy. He even goes beyond that to discuss various theories about the eventual demise of our universe and how incredibly advanced civilizations could escape the death of our universe by accessing other universes.

To take these last steps, Kaku gives simple explanations of Einstein’s theory of relativity, quantum theory, and string theory. I have to admit that he lost me a few places in these last sections, but I think I got the gist of it.

The value of this book is in its overview of current theories of physics in language designed to be understood by non-specialists. It’s a great tool for writers like me who venture into the realm of science fiction for literary purposes without having a background in science. Kaku has a gift for making incredibly complex thoughts easy to understand. I don’t need to grasp the mathematics that lie behind the ideas that he puts forth; it’s enough for me to be familiar with the basic concepts so that I don’t commit egregious errors in my stories. This book provides me with that cushion. It’s a general overview that is at the same time amazingly meticulous in touching on all the important major topics having to do with humankind’s current and future space exploration. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: The Armageddon Rag by George R.R. Martin

Although set in the 1980s, this book is actually about the 1960s. I lived the sixties in the early seventies, but I recognized all the cultural buttons Martin pushes, the references obscure and famous, and the sense of loss of something profound that may have been nothing but an illusion in the first place. Martin wrote The Armageddon Rag back in the pre-Game of Thrones days, when he was writing wonderful, succinct, cutting-edge science fiction and fantasy stories. Two of my favorites from that era are the award-winning novelettes “Sandkings” and “Portraits of His Children.”

The Armageddon Rag is told from the viewpoint of Sandy Blair, a journalist of the rock scene turned novelist. He gets an assignment from the editor of a magazine he used to work for to investigate the murder of a promoter of a disbanded rock group called the Nazgul. The Nazgul were at the height of their fame until an unknown assassin shot the lead singer in the head during an outdoor concert in New Mexico. After checking out the murder site, Blair gets inklings of something sinister going on. He embarks on a journey across the United States to interview the remaining three members of the Nazgul. On the way, he visits his old cronies from the sixties, all of whom have adapted in various ways to the compromising of the ideals that they once held.

Blair’s journey eventually takes him to an anonymous sponsor who is going to great lengths to bring about a reunion and resurrection of the Nazgul. His tactics include not only murder, but also the summoning of dark nightmarish spirits.

But I don’t want to give away too much, because this novel is not only a nostalgic look back at the sixties, but also a tense, violent who-done-it. I don’t know whether Martin based the characters of Blair’s friends on people he personally knew back in the sixties, but the book reads like that might be a possibility. I couldn’t help thinking as I read this that Martin had a lot of fun writing it, that it brought up nostalgia for a unique era that flashed briefly and was forever extinguished except in the memories of those who lived through it. As I read it, I kept thinking, “Respect, George. I understand where this is coming from.” I’ve done it myself in novels such as The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen and Sunflower. It’s almost like resurrecting the soul of an era instead of a person. Doing it is the closest a writer can come to time traveling into the past.

This novel was well-reviewed when it first came out, and it was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. However, it bombed commercially. Martin became so discouraged by the book’s evident failure that he stopped writing fiction for years and focused on screenplays and teleplays. The book is still in print, though, and continues to impress readers, myself included. To be honest, I thought in a few parts here and there the pace slowed, but overall it’s a great dark fantasy, rock murder mystery, and nostalgic look back at the sixties.

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Book Review: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

Years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and found it fascinating. It’s a study on how people achieve extraordinary success, and the main conclusion, as I remember, is that the key is not superlative intelligence or talent, but rather special circumstances that allow successful people to have exceptional amounts of practice in the fields in which they ultimately excel.

After Outliers I have read a few others of Gladwell’s books, but none of them satisfied in the same profound way. Still, Gladwell’s work is always entertaining, if not extraordinary, and so I picked up a copy of his new book. I found Talking to Strangers interesting, well written, and frustrating. It’s in the nature of an all-smoke-and-no-fire situation. I kept expecting Gladwell to come to some sort of profound conclusion that the book was leading up to, but it never did. The various sections are intrinsically fascinating and somewhat related, leading readers to believe that, like a police procedural, it is putting together puzzle pieces that all lead up to a climactic denouement. However, the denouement never comes.

The book opens by relating the case of Sandra Bland, an African American woman who was stopped for a very minor driving infraction by a police officer in a town in East Texas in 2015. As the police officer suspiciously questioned the woman he had pulled over, the situation quickly escalated until he physically dragged Bland out of her car, handcuffed her, and arrested her. Three days later, she committed suicide in her jail cell. Gladwell says that Talking to Strangers is an attempt to uncover why the Sandra Bland incident occurred and ended in such a tragic way.

To answer this question, Gladwell examines various theories of interacting with strangers. First he looks at the case of a comprehensive Cuban spy ring that infiltrated the CIA, and the case of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who visited Hitler on several occasions before World War II erupted and pronounced him an honest man. He questions why highly trained spies and diplomats were unable to uncover the truth about these deceivers.

Gladwell moves on to the tendency of people to default to truth when confronted with possible lies or misdeeds. In other words, when you question someone, your first tendency is to believe them, and when you witness a possible misdeed, your first tendency is to somehow rationalize it and give the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt. For examples here, Gladwell uses a Cuban spy known as the Queen of Cuba who infiltrated into the highest levels of the Defense Intelligence Administration, a swindler named Bernard Madoff who illegally robbed New York financial markets of billions while maintaining an innocuous profile, and a football coach at Penn State University named Jerry Sandusky who was convicted of being a sex offender after a career of supposedly helping and nurturing young men.

He then looks at transparency, that is, the ability of people to read the characters of others through face-to-face interactions. Transparency, claims Gladwell, is a deeply flawed method of obtaining the truth about strangers. To prove this, he explains why the facial expressions that the stars of the popular TV show Friends don’t translate well into real life, why Amanda Knox was convicted of a murder in Italy even though she was innocent, and how difficult it is to verify sexual assault when accused perpetrators and victims are black-out drunk.

From the discussion of transparency, Gladwell goes on to even more difficult situations. For instance, is the torture of a high-level Al Qaeda terrorist justified, considering that extreme physical mistreatment impairs judgment and memory? In the end, tortured individuals may say almost anything and even believe it, and then later forget that they have even said it. A discussion about a phenomenon known as coupling touches on how potential suicides fixate on a particular method of self-execution, and how in large cities high levels of crime seem to be fixed to certain small areas.

Gladwell eventually comes back to the arrest and suicide of Sandra Bland. He doesn’t really resolve the issue. Nor does he resolve the dilemma of the difficulty in relating to strangers. The point of the book seems to be that there are no simplistic answers to the difficulties that face us when we interact with strangers. We have to approach each situation without preconceptions and with an open mind.

In conclusion, even though Gladwell appears to be reaching for a conclusion throughout the book and yet never arrives at one, I can still recommend Talking to Strangers. The individual essays don’t quite mesh, but taken separately they are fascinating.

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Writing, Travel, and Literature: 2019 in Review

In many respects the way I conducted my professional life in 2018 and 2019 was similar. I usually worked seven days a week. First I would write articles, blog posts, and other quick-paying copy for eight or more hours a day, and then late in the evenings, roughly between nine and eleven, I would focus on my personal creative work: novels, short stories, memoirs, and so on. When the weekends came round, I adjusted my schedule slightly so I could do my personal work in prime time, so to speak: first thing in the afternoon on Saturdays and first thing in the morning on Sundays. I broke my work schedule for the road trips I went on and conventions I attended during the year. While these events were going on, for the most part I did not keep up with my regular minimum daily word count, being content to take notes for later. A notable exception was the Nebula conference. During the conference I found myself waking early because there were no late parties. Because panels and other scheduled events didn’t begin until late morning, I would spend the early morning hours working on my new novel.

Throughout 2019 my personally-imposed minimum daily word count remained at 500 words. This was for my personal creative work and did not include the ghostwritten articles and blog posts I wrote strictly to pay the bills. I usually managed to keep up with or surpass this minimum at least five or six days a week. There was the occasional lapse when I was too exhausted or had just finished a project and had not yet got going on a new one. Sometimes too I would use my writing time to proofread finished works before submission or publication.

While keeping up with this schedule of personal creative work, I managed to write 144,608 words of new material in 2019. That’s a slight improvement on the 141,903 words I wrote in 2018. My best month was July, in the middle of summer between road trips, when I managed to write 21,127 words; at the time, I was deep into the writing of my new novel The Senescent Nomad. I had been fine-tuning the structure and gathering new material during my first road trip, and the writing of it was intensely satisfying and lots of fun. Besides my personal creative work, I also wrote well over 300,000 words, accepted and paid for, of articles and blogs on which my name does not appear.

I published two books in 2019. One was a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories, Apocalypse Bluff and Other Stories. The other was my mainstream literary novel The Senescent Nomad. I spent many hours in 2019 proofreading and preparing these books for publication. I also completely proofread and edited another of my past books, Reviews and Reflections on Books, Literature, and Writing, having realized that the layout and punctuation reflected European rather than American standards. This took me many more hours.

I attended two conventions in 2019. The first was Norwescon, a science fiction convention held each spring around Easter in the Pacific Northwest. As usual, I went with my youngest son, and we stayed at the hotel where the convention was being held for its duration. I attend Norwescon not so much for professional reasons, but rather to get away from the usual grind, relax, meet friends, and attend the evening parties. Later I attended the Nebula conference of the Science Fiction Writers of America in Los Angeles. I’m an active member of SFWA, and I attended this one as a professional in the field and as a panelist. This convention, being attended solely by writers, editors, and publishers, is much more subdued and formal than Norwescon. Its value is in the professional-level information imparted in the panels and in the opportunity to interact with colleagues in the publishing field.

I mentioned that I made two road trips. On the first, my two youngest sons and I drove down the West Coast, enjoyed the scenery, and visited various famous literary landmarks. We also had a chance to visit another of my sons who is attending Stanford. I wrote a blog post about this trip called “The Literary Pilgrimage.” The second road trip occurred in August. My son had been attending summer classes at Stanford, and shortly before classes ended, he called me to ask if I could accompany him on a road trip to drive a friend’s car up to Seattle. So I flew into San Francisco, where he met me, and we spent a few days driving up the small winding roads that hug the coast and enjoying the incomparably magnificent scenery.

Another significant event that happened in 2019 was the death of my father. He was a creative person too. He wrote extensively, especially in his later retired years, although not many of his pieces were published. To commemorate his influence on my life, I wrote the blog post “Eulogy for My Father.”

What’s ahead for the new year? I’ll most likely publish a new short story collection sometime in the spring. I’ve sold several more stories to anthologies and magazines that should finally appear in 2020. My novel The Senescent Nomad was so much fun to write that I have begun working on a sequel. My youngest son and I already have our memberships for the upcoming Norwescon. As for the rest, who knows? That’s part of the thrill of the future: you never know what you are going to get.

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