Provocative idea found in an old Zero HP Lovecraft essay in The American Mind:
What does the divine care for “new paradigms,” for gay portrayals of “the human condition?” Art which has Man as its object is folly, and this is the reason for its permeating ugliness; Man without God is ugly, and the only truth that manifests in such art is the truth of how ugly Man can become. The art that we SHALL make will have God as its intended audience, and all other beholders will be merely incidental. This is how it must be, and how it always has been, with regard to great and poignant art.
I take “having God as its intended audience” to mean to above speak the truth, the cosmic truth (I also take it to mean offering it up to please the Creator, as to do otherwise is blasphemy and blasphemy does not speak Truth, however much it wishes to), to speak not just to Current Year but to the past, and to the future. It means not to narrow your field of art to that collection of men who happen to be alive around the time you are.
To frame one’s Art this way is to solidify the claim that Aesthetics is a branch of Philosophy. It is to agree with the self-glorifying poet who proclaims that Beauty is Truth and Truth, Beauty. This statement has always struck me as wrong, because one learns pretty early that things pleasing to the senses can be used to manipulate and deceive. This causes us to differentiate Sensory Beauty, with esoteric True Beauty, wherein the latter becomes meaningless except as a synonym for Truth.
This is where we must recognize both that Oscar Wilde had a point, and that the concept of the Sublime is useful. Just as a lie cannot deceive unless it contains a piece of the truth, beauty would not have the power to manipulate if there were not something unmistakably Real about it. We perceive this potency, we feel it intensely, we respond to it autonomically. In this way Beauty is more real than the circumlocutions of our abstract rhetoric.
But precisely because of this potency, the Beautiful can be Terrible. Helen of Troy destroyed a city by no action of her own. The destruction of Troy, an event symbolic of the Bronze Age Collapse, resonates like the Fall of Man through the ages that followed. It bore something true to them, something beautiful, something terrible. It was sublime.
Therefore, the only art worth making is an attempt at these, with an eye towards what follows.
Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood, is everyone’s favorite example of a Penny Dreadful: a horror novel that goes on for the length of a Bible because the author is paid by the word and doesn’t care if it all adds up when it’s put into one volume (you know, kinda like George Lucas). I mentioned this when I compared novels to TV Shows.
TV Shows, on the other hand, are episodic. An Episode is a self-contained story that takes place within a larger context. Each successive episode reveals more about the characters, because the pressure of writing demands it. Even a TV show that intends to repeat a situation ad infinitum – a “situation comedy”, for example – finds that in cannot. Each episode adds to the character.
In times past, this growth was largely incidental, a process of creating new scenarios for the characters each week. This had more in common with the old penny dreadfuls, in which new chapters were published each week, and writers paid by the word, increasing the incentive to drag out the story and add new characters. TV Shows are kept on the air until their audience starts to leave, then they are given a hurried ending that most people find unsatisfying. See everything I’ve written about How I Met Your Mother for further elucidation.
But despite knowing the novel in a meme kind of way, I’d never actually read it. Maybe part of the first chapter, found online. And frankly, I’d never thought I’d bother. That is, until I read this review of it by Nocturnal Revelries:
I haven’t posted much in the last month because I have been spending my time slogging through this immensely long book. At 1166 pages of very small print, this is undoubtedly the longest novel I have ever read. ‘Novel’ however, maybe isn’t quite the right word to describe this tome; it’s a series of different stories about the eponymous hero that were originally serialised in pamphlet form over the course of several years. Think of it like this: if Stoker’s Dracula can be turned into 2 hour movie, Varney would take a 5 season TV show to do it justice. Just as the book is long, this review is fairly hefty too, so pour yourself a cup of blood before you sit down to read it. If you haven’t read the book, you might want to skip over the sections in red. I say this not because those sections contain devastating spoilers (they don’t), but because they deal with issues that are so perplexing that they may scare you away from ever reading the book.
I love to encounter agreement! But he needn’t have worried; the sections in red and the issues thereunto pertaining not only didn’t dissuade me, these narrative errors actually made me want to read the book more. And not just in an ironic, so-bad-it’s-good way. I think that those kind of confusions actually fit best what horror is trying to accomplish, albiet accidentally.
If Lovecraft taught us nothing else, he taught us that being helpless before the unknown, the unknowable, is the source of fear. Thus, the best stories are where the monster isn’t fully explained, fully delineated. This is why Friday the 13th and other slasher series get more tired as they go on; the monster becomes more known, more discovered, with each iteration. Eventually it devolves into a cartoon.
Hence, there’s actually some promise to VtV‘s losing of scenes and characters: sometimes things are unexplained, just fade away. I know this is unintended, but it can still work. It’s giving me ideas. Looking into the first chapter, the one I half-read long ago, and the author (whoever he is, there’s a mystery as to whom the authorship fully belongs to) knows exactly what he’s doing with regard to setting a scene in which horror can occur, and he’s just describing a storm breaking in the night.
It was as if some giant had blown upon some toy town, and scattered many of the buildings before the hot blast of his terrific breath; for as suddenly as that blast of wind had come did it cease, and all was as still and calm as before.
Sleepers awakened, and thought that what they had heard must be the confused chimera of a dream. They trembled and turned to sleep again.
Varney The Vampire, Chapter 1
A bit corkscrew, a bit melodramatic, but it gets the mood right. On we bloodily stagger.
Long before I was disappointed in George R.R. Martin, I was disappointed in Robert Jordan. The Wheel of Time series could have been great, or at least satisfying, but the author became megalomaniacal in prioritizing world-building over plot. I commented so a few years ago when I discovered this was going to be a thing:
Robert Jordan was the American Tolkein before George R.R. Martin was so dubbed, and the Wheel of Time series starts with a bang. It’s a fully realized world with a sprawling backstory, and the idea that magic has two components: one male, one female, but the male half has been poisoned and unusable for millenia, is a neat hook to hang an apocalyptic battle on. The first book was great.
The second book was good.
The third book was… I don’t remember. Let’s say goodish?
The fourth book I remember better than the third book. It was kind of interesting.
This is a balance argument, not a deontological condemnation of world-building. You need world-building, but not at the expense of story. You need character arcs, but not at the expense of the plot moving at speed sufficient to keep readers engaged. If your audience starts saying to itself “is this ever going to go anywhere”, you done goofed.
I mention this because of a Tweet I spotted:
I said to the person who brought it into my timeline that I blamed Robert Jordan for it. Which, on reflection, is a little unfair, because what kept me reading Wheel of Time as long as I did was that prologue to the first book. It took place literally thousands of years before the main events of the story, but it set the stage of the world so wonderfully that you couldn’t help but be drawn in. All in all, it’s probably the best individual chapter in the series.
Which is a problem of its own, obviously, but as a world-building device, prologues can be good. Not necessary: Tolkein never used them (anyone who wants to chime in that The Hobbit is a prologue to Lord of the Rings: You’re a Nerd). But if they’re done right, they can provide action and a sense of stakes that will sustain the reader through the first-act stuff of your main plot. Of course, you need to give this prologue a real and tangible connection to the main plot. Wheel of Time does that, as the series protagonist is the reincarnation of the character we meet in the prologue. Raymond Feist’s SerpentWar Saga, on the other hand, doesn’t. That was another great prologue that has nothing to do with the main plot of the story until the third book, and then barely moves the needle on the story (it’s a shame, because those were great titles: Shadow of a Dark Queen, Shards of a Broken Crown. No one has ever disappointed me as much as Feist). But a good prologue is a benefit to the story.
Jordan’s problem with prologues was he kept doing it every book, throwing in stuff dubiously connected to the story. You’re not hooking readers at this point, you’re adding unnecessary scenes. You’ve got your plot going now, work it. I said I gave up on Wheel of Time in the seventh book (Path of Daggers? something like that), but really I gave up during the 100-page prologue (was it really that long? it felt that way), after my then-girlfriend told me that the entire plot of the book could be summed up in “Faile gets kidnapped.” As with everything else, Jordan overused prologues.
Hence, prologues are probably out of fashion right now. Abuse of devices brings distaste; distaste brings disuse. And so the wheels spins.
Summer is an odd time. I should be filling the blog with posts, but somehow, other projects take precedence. To be fair, I’ve definitely fallen from my 10-post-a-month threshold I was hitting in the fall and winter. That means something, but I’m not sure what.
The point is, I’m behind on posting stuff. It happens. So lets get on with it.
This has been up for a little bit. It’s one of our more rambling episodes, per the effects of the Rule of 30 in Podcasting. Punk as a style and an aesthetic has become vast over the last 40 years, but it doesn’t ever really escape the superposition in started in. So there’s lots to talk about, and all of it relates.
But that’s the secondary bit of news. This is the big bit of news:
Available for $2.99 on ebook, $3.99 in Paperpack. The ebook looks really good, as I used Scrivener to create it, and previewed it before uploading it to Amazon. This closes the chapter on a project I’ve been playing around with for years. Now I can move on, to polishing up Death Riding and The Sword, before moving on to other works in embryo.
Finally, this is also available on Amazon:
Been on Gumroad for a while, but I’ve got the ebook up on Amazon and am finalizing the paperback edition as well. All in all, it’s been a pretty big month.
When I was composing the initial draft of The Meditations of Caius Caligula, I followed a pattern from the obvious namesake The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: in its Chapters. MoMA has Books rather than chapters, and the chapters are numbered for the sake of quotation. There are about 12 Books, and each of them is more or less a reflection of where Marcus was at the time he wrote it: It was composed over a number of years. There’s not much of an effort to organize the material thematically: he bounces around pondering various exercises in Stoic thought.
33. On Pain: What we cannot bear removes us from life, what lasts can be borne. The understanding, too, preserves its own tranquility by abstraction, and the governing self does not grow worse, but it is for the parts which are injured by the pain, if they can, to declare it.
34. On Fame: See what their minds are like, what they avoid, what pursue. And besides, that as the sands are constantly carried over one another, hiding what went before, so in our life what was before is very swiftly hidden by what is carried after.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book VII
Contrariwise, I wrote MoCC in about 7 themed chapters, each of which feature Caligula expounding on a particular topic: Gods, Men, Women, War, etc. As much as the whole idea of the book owes itself to MoMA and I, Claudius, I didn’t want MoCC to mirror either work structurally. In the first place, Caligula was many things, but a Stoic was not one of them. In the second place, there are altogether too many I, Claudius ripoffs already. Putting an autobiography within a set of philsophical meditations seemed like a way for the book to live as it’s own thing.
The other purpose of the book is to engage in a bit of historical revisionism; differentiating the man from the legend, twitting Suetonius and Cassius Dio as Senatorial Propagandists. In this way, Caligula becomes rather like Richard III: a man who undoubtedly had blood on his hands, but was the product of a family and a time that would have made it hard to avoid villainy.
The difficulty in editing has been to avoid inflating the Chapters too much: I wrote them as rants, with a minimum of biographical detail. This was entertaining, but didn’t give me the emotional heft for the ending that I wanted. So I’ve been adding more detail. This has made the book more like I, Claudius, which I hadn’t originally wanted. This has made the going slow, as I worry I’m betraying the original vision.
The solution, which I experimented with yesterday, has been to break apart the large chapters, each of which were about 2,000 words in the initial draft. In this way, I can make each beat its own section. So the First Chapter, “On Gods,” is now several smaller Chapters, “On Germanicus”, “On Soldiers,” “On Lucretius”, etc. Some of these will be quite short, some longer, which fits with other Roman works such as Ovid’s Love Books and the Satyricon. I can freely expand where needed, allowing Caligula to tell his story and rant at the same time. It felt as if what the book needed finally fell into place. I’m looking very forward to the final result.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.