The Process of Editing

I’ve been saying for some time that I’ve been working on editing The Meditations of Caius Caligula. The initial draft appeared serially in Unnamed Journal (a distinction it shares with Void), except the final chapter, which has not been seen anywhere. Composing it rather pointed out some of the weaknesses of the draft. As conceived, my Caligula largely existed to subvert the myth around him. Less madman, more edgelord, was the main point of doing it. But that rather scuttles the climax. I needed Caligula to feel something. He’ll just be irritating if he’s not human.

So, I’ve had to expand him. To give life and memory to his utterances. And this has required adding more Novel elements, i.e. scenes and dialogue, to what was initially a monograph. I’m trying to insert this into his existing flow, rather than overtake it. It’s a challenge.

All of which means this thing is nowhwere near as ready for publication as I would like it to be. But that’s fine, because it’s given me opportunity to grow the text, to drawing off my readings of Ovid, and Lucretius and Suetonius, and have my Caligula adress the ideas inherent therein.

This is what they call Developmental Editing, as distinct from Line Editing, or Copy Editing. According to Bookbaby, Developmental Editing looks at the characterization, structure, pacing, plot: the nuts and bolts of your story. Line Editing looks at how well you use language to tell the story: flow, transition, and other elements of Style. Copy Editing is just making sure you don’t have egregious typoes.

In the past, I’ve done all of these things at once, which is a bit, shall we say, unstructured. So it’s looking like I’m really doing a rewrite right now, and then will do some more extensive editing. Such is the way of things. I’d rather do it right than rush it.

Time for the Yearly George R.R. Martin Abuse Post

Every now and again, because I do not learn, I google the phrase “winds of winter”, the title for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series (remember Game of Thrones?). I do this because, nine years ago, I did this for “A Dance With Dragons” and happened to catch a blurblet that Martin’s publisher was expecting the book in a short time, or that it was mostly finished, or that it had indeed been turned in, or something like that.

When I did this today, I caught recent news. More specifically, an article in the Daily Express entitled “Winds of Winter progress: George RR Martin shares cryptic Winter is Coming image and more”

Click on it, to bring yourself to a vision of the nadir of journalism.

George RR Martin’s latest blog update arrived this week headed by an image saying “Winter Is Coming”. It’s not clear if this is the 72-year-old’s way of teasing that he’s approaching the finishing line, but the rest of his post may provide some clues nonetheless.

UK Daily Express, “Winds of Winter Progress”

Every journalist who uses the word “may” should be beaten with a tire iron and left in the desert. Spoilers: this article provides no clues, nor does the blog post it’s using as a source. That’s right, a newspaper that’s been around since 1900, is now farming clickbait out of George RR Martin’s pseudo-livejournal. It’s over, guys. The Matrix won.

But don’t take my word for it, I’m just a regular blogger and writer. I haven’t made millions shoving Robert Howard tropes into high fantasy and then left my fans twisting in the wind. Look at it yourself: Not-a-Blogging

Way back when on LiveJournal, when I started this column or journal or whatever it is, I called it my “Not A Blog,” because I could see that regular blogging was a lot of work, and I didn’t think I had the time to devote to it.   I was late on a book even then, though I do not recall which one.  I figured I would just make posts from time to time, when I had an important announcement, when the mood struck me, whatever.

People this is news to: 0

Number of words: 85

I might be starting to understand the problem.

I am hugely behind right now, and the prospect of trying to catch up is feeling increasingly oppressive.

After nine years of waiting for you not to complete, but just to organize the third act of this series, following a year the entire world spent inside, this is not what anyone wants to hear. Yeah, it must be tyranny itself to have to find ways to balance time writing against time spent on that day job you don’t have or taking care of kids you don’t have. Maybe an hour less swimming in your pile of money like Scrooge McDuck? I don’t wanna mess with your flow or nuthin’.

My life has become one of extremes these past few months.   Some days I do not know whether to laugh or cry, to shoot off fireworks and dance in the streets or crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.   The good stuff that has been happening to me has been very very very good, the kind of thing that will make a year, or a career.  But the bad stuff that is happening has been very very very bad, and it is hard to cherish the good and feel the joy when the shadows are all around.

Gotcha, good is good, bad is bad.

Tell me more about how Tolkein’s universe is morally simplistic.

If any of you read the stories about me on the internet, you will know my good news.   I have a new five-year deal with HBO, to create new GOT successor shows (and some non-related series, like ROADMARKS) for both HBO and HBO Max.  It’s an incredible deal, an amazing deal, very exciting, and I want to tell you all about it… although it seems the press has already done it.   There are stories in all the trades.   You can read about it there.    (These days I almost never get to break any news about myself, the Hollywood press is always ahead of me.   Some of their stories are even accurate).   I will blog about it, I expect, but not today.

Good for you on your continuing exploitation of a series that a) is still unfinished, b) led to a show whose ending retroactively tainted the entire enterprise. I can’t tell you how excited I am to discover that there will be GoT prequels for nerds to get even madder about. Zippity. Do. Dah.

Also, why not blog about it? The hell else are you doing?

On the other side of the coin… well, I am now fully vaccinated, hurrah hurray, that’s good.   However, I have now lost six friends since November.  (Only a couple to Covid.   Alas, I am old, and so are many of my friends.   Valar morghulis, I guess).   And a seventh friend, a very old and dear friend who has been a huge part of my life for a long time, is in the hospital, very sick, recovering from surgery… at least we hope he is recovering.

Sorry for your loss.

That’s all. I’m not a ghoul.

Honestly, it is hard to dance in the streets even for the deal of a lifetime when another loved one dies every two/ three weeks, and that has been going on for me since November, when my longtime editor Kay McCauley passed away.

True, true.

If only there were some large project you could channels your energies into.

There’s lots more going on as well.   Meow Wolf stuff.   Railroad stuff.   Beastly Books has reopened, but the JCC is still shuttered.   The Jets traded Sam Darnold away.   I am going to be leaving my cabin in a couple of months.    I am close to delivering  PAIRING UP, a brand new Wild Cards book.

I don’t know what Meow Wolf is. It sounds like a joke I don’t want to get.

I don’t know what Beastly Books is. I’m guessing it’s a store. I live on the other side of the country from you, so I don’t care.

I don’t know what the JCC is.

You are the only man on earth who cares about the Jets.

I wish I had a cabin. You know what I would do there? WRITE BOOKS.

And he has to close with the one bit of news guaranteed to Red-Wedding the hopes of anyone mildly intrigued by the direwolf sigil that appears on top of the post (which The Daily Express found so interesting). Every time George R.R. Martin blogs about Wild Cards, a Stark child dies at the hands of his enemies. So good to know that in between mourning his friends and signing his checks, Martin finds the time to edit the latest entry in a series 0.00000000000000011% of his audience cares about. I’ll bet if I had those kind of customer appreciation strategies, I’d be a bestselling author, too.

I will tell you about some of this, I guess.   But not today.

What a Cliffhanger, you guys! I’ll just have to subscribe to your notablog so I can get the hot insights about the next derivative HBO series I won’t watch or dithering analysis of the Jets lineup or what glorified Funko-Pops based on GoT characters are now available. It’s a good thing the only reason I ever read this meandering tripe isn’t because I’m waiting for you to announce that you’ve finally finished the book you’ve been working on since my tween daughter was a zygote. I might be mad.

Some of you might be thinking, you know, I think he actually is mad. You know what, you’re right. I’m mad that this guy can’t ever scribble on his blog without reminding us that he doesn’t want to have a blog and then demonstrate why he shouldn’t. I’m mad that this guy vomits this non-tent and the media acts like a new layer of the Rosetta Stone just got unearthed.

Basically, I’m mad ’cause I’m jealous. Which is a low, unworthy emotion, speaking more about me than anyone else, that I will forthwith remove from my soul.

You know what would help?

Fine patrons of artistic merit taking a chance on a little magazine that could.

Click here to buy this new issue on our Gumroad.

Click here to subscribe to our Patreon.

The Burning Palace

Editing existing projects is not the most exciting way to spend one’s time. Very often it feels repetitive, especially when you’ve already labored with a thing to finish it. I’m not saying I won’t edit the various projects I’m planning on getting out this year. I’m saying I’m pushing off a deadline in order to make new content.

There’s a project I’ve been conceiving for some time, a kind of sister book to The Devil Left Him, this time drawn from the Old Testament. Specifically, this tale from the 1st Book of Kings:

In the twenty-sixth year of Asa, King of Judah, Ela, son of Baasha, began his two-year reign over Israel in Tirzah. His servant, Zimri, commander of half his chariots, plotted against him. As he was in Tirzah, drinking to excess in the house of Arza, superintendent of the palace in Tirzah, Zimri entered; he struck and killed him in the twenty-seventh year of Asa, King of Judah, and reigned in his place. Once he was seated on the royal throne, he killed off the whole house of Baasha, not sparing a single male relative or friend of his. Zimri destroyed the House of Baasha, as the Lord has prophesied to Baasha through the prophet Jehu…

In the twenty-sevent year of Asa, King of Judah, Zimri reigned seven days in Tirzah. The army was besieging Gibbethon of the Phillistines when they heard that Zimri had formed a conspiracy and had killed the king. So that day in the camp all Israel proclaimed Omri, general of the army, king of Israel. Omri marched up from Gibbethon, accompanied by all Israel, and laid siege to Tirzah. When Zimri saw the city was captured, he entered the citadel of the royal palace and burned down the palace over him.

1 Kings 18:8-12, 15-18

I’ve written on this before, describing the Biblical Game of Thrones that went on in the Kingdom of the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel. There were something like nine separate dynasties coming to power in the northern realm, none of whom managed more than four generations in power. In the Southern Kingdom of Judah, on the other hand, remained in the hands of the House of David seventeen generations after realm of Solomon was divided.

The point is, I’ve had an idea of a Novel based on the story of Zimri, the seven-day king. It has a working title: The Fires of Tirzah. I did a rough outline some time ago. And I’m setting myself some free time this weekend to do some writing. So yesterday, I decided to jump in, and found the words flowed really easily. I did about 1,000 words yesterday. I’m mildly excited. It’s one of those situations where I thought it would be hard to set the right tone, but it isn’t. I’ve got some struggle to bring it into the world, but it’s completely doable.

And then I can be lazy about editing it.

Incoming, Or What I’m Planning on Publishing This Year

I’ve got a few projects completed, and I’ve finally sat down and givien myself a timetable for getting them out for the world to see. They’re in need of some edits, but that won’t take me as much time as I sometimes imagine. So here’s what we should see by the time 2021 closes:

  1. Death Riding. I announced that I’d finished this this month. This one will probably be easiest to bring to market, requiring some line edits, maybe an additional scene. I’m putting aside next month to work on it, so I’ll know more very quickly.
  2. The Meditations of Caius Caligulia. This one has been finished for a little while, but I’m nowhere near as satisfied with it as I want to be. It’s going to require some plumping, because I need the ending I’m building towards to be, well, built to. Still, by summer it should be a living thing. As this was a serial in Unnamed Journal, it’s going to be published in conjunction with that, on UJ’s Gumroad.
  3. Drunk Vampire Hunter. A UJ anthology of DVH- short fiction. There are four DVH stories at present, and the fifth will be available in the next issue of UJ, coming in April. So I’m thinking October, with all five stories, plus a bonus.
  4. The Sword. This novel has been sent out to readers, and feedback has been trickling in. Once the first two on the list are in the can, I’m going to sit down and fix some of the issues it has. Publication strategies are still kind of up in the air, but I might put it out into the world by year’s end, depending on where I am with it.

The future cannot be known, so all or none of these could come to fruition. But you cannot work without a plan. A plan incomplete, or adjuest as it goes, is better than no plan at all.

West of the Pecos

Yesterday I finished a project I had all but earlier abandoned. It’s a novella, relatively short, but set in the West. And in some ways it returns me to one of the first protagonists I ever created, in my wild ambitious youth. There will be blood, and cruelty, and hard eyes over hot sands, and the devils that drive men and the angels that hold them will battle in the soul of a gunslinger.

I may or may not use this artwork, but I’ve had it for a while, and I quite like it. My plan is to have it out sometime this year.

Unnamed Journal 25 – Rabbit Gets the Gun

We’ve got Swords, Sorcery, and Pirates in The Skeleton King, codes of cat combat in Catakure, A morning of yogurt and pan-dimensional alien invasions in Ale-Man Blues, and Ghost Raid, a mystical take on a Western standard.

Buy it on our Gumroad to get in .epub or an aesthetic .pdf!

This is an experimental issue of sorts. Skeleton King is a Tygg and Drea story, but I tried some other moves with it, kept the action pretty streamlined. Catakure: Combat is also the return of a series. But with Ale-Man Blues I definitely played around with meta-structure. A bit brain-twisty, according to our art director. Ghost Raid injects fantasy elements into the Western genre, but keeps it pretty grounded by putting the natives at the center. It’s a good start to our new volume.

The Three Tiers of Aesthetics

A long essay, but worth your time, which dovetails nicely with other things I’ve written on the subject. Our Cranky Professor lays out three “approaches” to aesthetics/beauty:

  • The Psychological Approach – In which one experiences beauty as an individuated response to the appearance of a thing. A Flower is Beautiful.
  • The Rational Approach – An understanding that beauty runs parallel to order. A well-ordered thing is a beautiful thing, whether or not you enjoy looking at it. The Human Brain is Beautiful.
  • The Mystical/Spiritual Approach – The idea that Beauty is rooted in the supernatural, as a reflection of a cosmic truth. The Buddah is Beautiful.

These can intersect (there are those prepared to argue that the Psychological Approach is simply the recognition of what is found in the Rational Approach), but what I like is that it covers the multiple meanings found in the word “beautiful”. Recall when I wrote this:

On top of that, the idea of objective aesthetics sounds to many people like “objective enjoyment” and enjoyment is an emotional response to something. You enjoy something. You cannot make yourself enjoy something that you do not, in fact, enjoy. The Star Wars prequels and David Lynch’s Dune are my personal evidence to that.

Originality is Not Art

This issue is handled by Approach Theory. Something can be “rationally beautiful”, while not eliciting a psychological response. A thing can be beautifully constructed, and still boring. This helps me understand what Camille Paglia was blathering about when she praised the end of Revenge of the Sith as a work of profound art.

The Mustafar duel, which took months of rehearsal, with fencing and saber drills conducted by sword master Nick Gillard, was executed by Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor at lightning speed. It is virtuosic dance theater, a taut pas de deux between battling brothers, convulsed by attraction and repulsion. Their thrusts, parries, and slashes are like passages of aggessive speech. It is one of the most passionate scenes ever filmed between two men, with McGregor close to weeping. The personal drama is staged against a physical one: wrangling and wrestling, Anakin and Obi-Wan fall against the control panels of a vast mineral-collection plant, which now starts to malfunction and fall to pieces. As the two men run and leap for their lives, girders, catwalks, and towers melt and collapse into the lava, demonstrating the fragility of civilization confronted with natures brute primal power.

Camille Paglia, GLITTERING IMAGES, pgs. 188-189

Stipulate that George Lucas had all this in mind when he made the scene. Stipulate that Revenge of the Sith is the closest thing to the pony in the pile of turds that is the Prequel Trilogy. It’s still a boring movie to watch, and this scene is only slightly less boring. For one thing, it goes on way too long. For another, the emotions Paglia find in the scene are turned on an off like switches, a problem that abounds throughout theses movies. Suddenly Obi-Wan is in tears, yes, and McGregor does his level best to make it real. But there’s been nothing building to this moment. We haven’t seen Obi-Wans’ face grow in passion. They’ve been staring at each other and fighting for what seems like an hour. I don’t suddenly feel attached to McGregor’s performance. It leaves me cold like everything else in this trilogy does. I understand what Paglia’s saying. I can see truth in her assessment. It doesn’t change my individuated experience of the film one bit, and I’ve watched this scene since I’ve read this book. The prequels are still dull robot-kabuki decanted in a lab.

Thus, adopting an awareness of Approach can go a long way towards settling our various disagreements about aesthetics. It recognizes the subjective and the objective. Read the Whole Thing.

Finally, Some Good News: A Brutal Destruction of the Modern Age by Delicious Tacos

It’s the ending, really. I did not see that ending coming. I should have: it’s on theme. This wasn’t going to be an upbeat ending. That’s not what DT does. Still, though. It was a bit like a mallet to the face. I cannot recommend this book to anyone who has a sunny, cheerful worldview. You will not like it. Also anyone who enjoys daytime television or has a long career of corporate success. You will feel seen.

One does not write a book like this, in which nuclear devestation snaps civilization in two, and celebrates the freedom of it, without having some very real things to say about the post-human tsunami currently riding over us. In the end, Los Angeles suffers nuclear attack not because terrorists want to hurt us (such is always the case), but because our world is too compromised, too absorbed in nonsense, to defend itself. We have branded ourselves to death. Those that pushed us to this precipice: who have rendered every thought, creation, or need into “branded content”, cannot be allowed to have a place in the restoration, such as it is. Civilization must be less civilized if it is to have the animus to survive.

This novel goes forward in a Bukowskian mode, dry and unromantic, finding poetry in the cruelty of life. It is also told in a somewhat non-linear fashion, although things settle down for the third act. Much of its beginning reads very like the slice-of-life tales/lamentations that inhabit The Savage Spear of the Unicorn (which is also worth reading, as its humor is blacker than the bottom of a sewer):

He was eligible for a 401(k). He read up. You can retire comfortably at 65 if you start saving at 23, said Forbes.com. Even with a relatively low yield of 6%. Every 401(k) he’d had earned 1%, lost 2.5% in fees. As for saving at 23: median household pre-tax income is $51,989 per year. Who saves on 40 grand net with a kid. It costs twice that for a school where gas huffing sasquatches don’t commit Rwandan machete genocide. Nobody has money. Nobody gets returns. We’ll all work till we’re dead. Eating shit, having to smile about it.

If I was married– if my wife could work part time. Cover rent. That’d be something. But there aren’t wives now.

Delicious Tacos “Finally Some Good News, Chapter 2

And at first I thought it was going to continue in that vein, more of the “corporate wage slave experiences tfw no gf* in Los Angeles”. A literary Office Space, updated for the new century. But then the bombs drop, and everything stupid and false is wiped away. It’s not a lamentation, it’s a consummation, devoutly to be wished, on the order of Tom Waits’ “Make it Rain.” Society can only get so absurd before it becomes dysgenic, whereupon the Gods of the Copybook Headings get mightily insistent.

The great question I have when reading Taco’s work is why he picked so glaringly obvious a Pseudonym. On the one hand, the ridiculousness of it is a joke itself, an obvious late-night idea thrown off the wall of the mind that somehow stuck. A more believable, more standard nom de plume wouldn’t frame the oevre in the same way. On the other hand, shoving your nose in the realitythat a significant writer, whose work sells well on Amazon, has to hide his identity in order to keep the wolf from the door speaks loud volumes about the world we live in, and who benefits from it.

That ending though. It’s almost too rough to be funny.

*The Feels When no GirlFriend

Ovid, Virgil, and Lucretius Walk Into a Palace…

Back when I first conceived The Meditations of Caius Caligulia, I had a list of books I wanted to read to give me inspiration and background. Writers have to be readers, and I had the broad strokes of what I wanted to do, without the details. Details are key.

So I needed to read, at the very least, Suetonius’ chapter on Caligulia, and I, Claudius by Robert Graves (I was familiar with the BBC miniseries). I wanted to have a go at Camus’ play of Caligulia, because I’d been reading some Camus anyway, and because the “ennui-into-tyranny” line intrigued me.

These were the books that gave me the narrative structure of the project: Who Caligulia was, and why he acted that way. The novella is now finished, or at least, drafted. What does it need now?

I greatly enjoy the voice of the character: how he dances between flights of theophanic fancy and rigorous political meditations. However, I need a certain level of climax for the ending, and to do that, I will have to deep dive into some of the literature current in Little Boots’ time. These are:

  • Ovid’s Love Books. Ovid was a poet of the creeping epicureanism of Rome’s upper class. A kind of window on the Satyricon (which I also might read).
  • Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. A Hellenized Roman, a philospher of the capital-E Epicurean school. He’s already mentioned in the existing first Chapter, when Caligulia refers to him as “that atomist”
  • The aforementioned Aeneid

I pick all of these because they were current to the time, i.e., the late 1st century BC-early 1st century AD. Caligulia might have actually read them. And they speak to the culture of that time: the dawn of Rome’s Imperial Age and the concomitant cultural syncretism. I need to feed a blend of them into my not-quite-mad emperor, so that he can rise to his fullest. I do not know when I’ll have finished this process, but I’ve already had fun doing it.