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.

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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.

Reading Ovid – The Swinging Door

{Second in a Series}

My copy of The Love Books of Ovid is from 1937, the second printing of a 1932 edition. It has that delightful smell and feel of old books. I do not recall how I got it. Probably I inherited it. I mention this because it is filled with illustrations which manage to be quaint and lurid at the same time – full of naked bodies, yet somehow short of pornography. Or perhaps the standard for this was low in the Code Days.

In general Ovid avoids pornography image through his artfulness; the ironic distance he keeps between himself and his subject. This remains true even when, as he so grandly protests, he is full of passion. He serves up his pathos as pathetic, and invites you to laugh. He’s the high-class version of the Satyricon (which reads like an Adam Sandler comedy).

Now, you might wonder, where I get this interpretation. Assuming irony, especially in an ancient author, can be a presumptive proposition. And let me cop to the fact that I am making assumptions about the man’s intent. This is an intepretation, and can be wrong. But here is my argument:

Elegy II, largely a retread of the themes of Elegy I, announces the general victory of Cupid in sonorous tones, imagining his Triumph in the Colloseum:

Caresses shall by thy escort, and Illusion and Madness, a troop that ever follows in thy train. With these fighting on thy side, nor men nor gods shall stand against thee; but if their aid be lacking, naked shalt thou be.

Ovid, “Elegy II”

Even if you posit that the tone of this, with its inversion of the normal order, is intended without irony, Ovid plays the slave standing behind triumphant god saying “remember: thou art not all powerful”. It’s a betrayal of the triumph, of an entirely Roman kind: the conqueror must be limited for the good of all.

Elegy III, a long proclamation of his virtues as a lover to his mistress, seems to be played straight, and for all I know, probably has some sincerity to it. He promises that she and she alone will be beloved of him, and he will make her immortal in song. Which is all fine, and in Elegy IV he spends an evening at a dinner party begging his mistress to use a pre-coded signal to demonstrate her love. Inevitably, this doesn’t satisfy:

Ay, me! These behests can serve but for an hour or two. The imperious night is at hand that severs me from my mistress. Her husband will have her in keep and hold till the day cometh, and I, weeping sad tears, can but follow her to that cruel door.

Ovid, “Elegy IV”

Womp womp, as the kids say. Better luck next time, sport. And lo and behold, the next Elegy is Better Luck, a vivid description of an afternoon delight. Corinna comes half-naked to him, and “consents to be conquered”. Huzzah, callou callay, as the kids don’t say.

Yet Elegy VI is right back to that “cruel door”. Ovid’s mind begs the porter to open the door at night so he can see his mistress. He knows he can’t; he howls about it anyway. It’s like dealing with a toddler.

Is it thy slowness, is it sleep that is no friend to Love, that makes the heedless of my prayers and flings them to the winds? Yet, if my memory deceive me not, when once, on a time, I sought to evade thee, I found the astir in the middle of the night. Peradventure at this moment thine own belovèd is reposing at thy side. If this be so, how preferable is thy lot to mine. If it be so, pass on to me, ye cruel chains! The night speeds on; slide back the bolts.

Ovid, “Elegy VI”

And he goes on like that, every paragraph/stanza with the refrain “the night speeds on; slide back the bolts.” It’s a wild swing from the joy of the previous elegy, which was another wild swing from the one before. The excess has a comic effect on the reader; even if the passion is sincere, the distance between reader and object induces knowing smirks and head-shakes. We’ve been there, or something similar, and thus is it truthful, but we aren’t there now, and thus is it hilarious to observe him suffer so loudly. The door just keeps swinging, but never in the same direction twice, so no contentment or surety can be known.

{Chapter the First: The Lover is Not a Fighter}

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.

Balzac Was Funny

More Properly, he was Droll, i.e. curious or unusual in a way that provokes dry amusement. I think ol ‘Honore invented the style of feigned ironic detachment in order to draw a laugh.

In the years that followed, he delivered up countless towns in Asia and in Africa to sack, fell upon the miscreants without warning, ripped up Saracens, Greeks, Englishmen and sundry other nationals, heedless of whether they were allies or whence they came. Among his sterling merits was a lack of curiosity: he never questioned his victims until after he had slain them.

Honore de Balzac, ” The Venial Sin”

Dryer than a Baptist wake, that is. And possessed of that circuitous truth-telling, with slyness to make the medicine go down.

He it was who, when in rare form one day, avvered that four things in life are excellent and opportune: to void hot, to drink cold, to rise hard, and to swallow soft. Certain persons have vituperated against him for consorting with filthy sluts. This is utter nonsense: his sweethearts, one of whom was legitimatized, all came from great houses and all presided over sizy establishments.

Honore de Balzac, “The Merry Jests of King Louis the Eleventh”

The question becomes, what purpose has this besides drollery? Given the years of his life, (1799-1850), one must expect the rustle of the full and gaudy robes of 18th-century prejudice, a post-Revolutionary figure sending up the pre-Revolutionary establishment. One picks up Voltairean echoes here. But where Voltaire smirks, Balzac merely chuckles, giving hypocrites the grace of humor. Having seen in his youth the idealism of Revolution drowned in terror and war, he went above damning the Middle Ages for a lack of saintliness.

He has been called a “realist”, which I take to mean his characters act as humans do. But Realism always betrays a narrowness; one sees what one sees, and nothing more. The jump from “I observe men acting like this,” to “men are this,” passes the smell test but not a rigorous logical assessment; generalizations by nature do not account for individuation. I think his characters contain complexities, like Shakespeare’s, which reminds us of the dizzying and contrary impulses contained within our own souls. Perhaps that is less “realism” than “humanism”, minus the pseudo-ideological, actually-rhetorical weight of that term.

Anyhow, a charming fellow. Enjoy him with some cognac.

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.

Literature in the Age of Zero HP Lovecraft

The self-described “horrorist” Zero HP Lovecraft, aka The Only Man On Twitter Worth Reading, submits to a blog interview. He has much to say on many topics, including “wokenes” and the “school of resentment”, post-modernism, “desire machines” and his own work, and a hose of others. I invite you to read it in full, but I include some choice quotations.

As I have said elsewhere, in order for storytelling to succeed, it must contain a true theory of human nature. Wokeness is a false theory of human nature.

If you read Harold Bloom, I think he makes a kind of personal religion out of the canon. He views reading it and interacting with it as the path to salvation. Criticism for Bloom is soteriology, and that is also why he is a good critic: he likes and reveres the authors he is criticizing. He is correct when he identifies resentment as the driving force behind most other critics. They tend to be people who cannot create things themselves, so they just try to destroy what others have built.

What we need is a right-wing postmodernism, one which can acknowledge the absurdities and contradictions in our epistemology and learn to flow with them, rather than against them. Postmodernists, for all their excesses, stumbled into a vein of truth concerning narratives, knowledge, subjectivity, and technology, and they used that knowledge to construct a painful but effective abstract machine of ideology, which is currently so culturally ascendant that the right is curled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth saying “no no no, not postmodernism, no no no.”

The school of resentment is just a fancy name for women in academia. They hate Infinite Jest because loser men who haven’t figured out how women feel about their personal philosophy try to tell them about Infinite Jest in order to sleep with them, so IJ becomes a cheap litmus test for “is the man talking to me a loser?” Women hate it when losers talk to them, because it implies that a loser man thinks he’s good enough to get with them, which implies that they aren’t very hot.

I can see how someone might characterize my work as satirical. I sort of cleave to my friend @quaslacrimas definition of satire here, that in order for a work to be satire, someone has to not be in on the joke. A classic satire like A Modest Proposal is a satire precisely because it never slips the mask, and some people will take it seriously, and get angry, and a lot of the humor lies in the reaction of the people who aren’t in on the joke. That’s not what I’m doing. I’m quite sincere in what I write, though I do try to use humor to spotlight some of the absurdities that I see around me in modern, technological life. If there is anyone who is not in on the joke, it’s me.

Whether or not one agrees with his takes, they are more interesting than most of what passes for commentary, on Twitter or elsewhere. He’s a fully online writer, who mostly appears at Substack and his own WordPress site. Writing is for him not a means of making a living but an expression of his life. He’s like Delicious Tacos that way: guys who write weird tales under a pseudonym so they can keep their day job. It’s a purely artistic expression, or at most a side hustle.

Confronting the reality of writing in this century is a serious one. The Old Publishing model is dead or dying, but the New Publishing model has new problems. The Freedom to Publish has become universalized, and therefore you must yourself do market analysis and learn SEO coding. Writing is not enough anymore.

On the plus side, that means there’s an opening for originality. And by originality I mean telling the truth of the moment in a way that immediately connects to whoever happens across it. The Truth does not vary but the Moment does.