Principles and methods

As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

—Harrington Emerson, The Twelve Principles of Efficiency

Surrender?

I’m seriously thinking of packing it in.

I mean, I will probably continue to write for my own amusement, since I need to fill my time somehow; but I am coming to the conclusion that it would be folly to try to publish anything further. The public simply does not want the kind of stuff I write. I have seen the kind of stuff that does sell, and it doesn’t appeal to me at all; so it does not stand to reason that what appeals to me would sell.

I am more disheartened than I can say.

EDIT, 27 August: I have ‘received a communication’ to the effect that it is my business to carry on, though no favourable outcome is promised. Cf. the Scriptural injunction against ‘hiding one’s light under a bushel’. My light needs no bushel; I could probably hide it comfortably under a thimble; but that is no excuse for doing so.

I thank all of you who responded with encouraging words. There appear to be more than 3.6 of you, a fact that confuses and astonishes me; but I never did master the New Math.

A small update

I have been trying to teach myself to draw maps in the current version of Adobe Illustrator, since the old version that served me faithfully for years isn’t compatible with my current operating system. (At one time I would have drawn the line art by hand, scanned it, and added lettering and shading by computer; but since my stroke, I can’t trust my hand to produce anything clean enough to use.) In the process, I have learnt two things:

1. Adobe Illustrator is absurdly powerful, but this also makes it absurdly difficult to do the simplest things. It feels rather like trying to pick up a raw egg with a construction crane.

2. I can only work on this stuff for an hour or two at a time before my eyes go funky. Once that happens, the job becomes intensely uncomfortable and more or less futile. It feels rather like trying to pick up a raw egg with a construction crane whilst operating the controls with boxing gloves on.

Nevertheless, I have put in a bit of practice on a scratch map that bears no possible relation to any of my written work. I do not intend to show this map to anybody. But I am gradually getting familiar with the tools again, and finding where they are hidden in Adobe’s New & Improved™ Horrid User Interface.

By the way: Don’t tell me to use Photoshop instead. Line art should be vector art. Raster art is resolution-dependent, which means that it looks like soft-boiled feces when blown up to larger sizes. Vector art scales. This is an article of religion, which I will not be talked out of. (And don’t talk to me about the GIMP, which is like picking up a raw egg with a construction crane whilst operating the controls with tongs held between one’s toes. The chief trouble with open-source software is that good user-interface designers have a rational expectation of getting paid.)

The art of low expectations

First, a word of explanation after my long absence.

In the past six months, my health has broken down for various periods in various ways, which the McStudge (having requested copies of the relevant reports from my personal tormentor-imp) found most amusing in a small way. Normally he, or it, depending how you look at things, turns up his nose, or its disgusting proboscis-type appendage, at anything less than the damnation of millions and the destruction of nations; but the suffering of an individual, especially if pointless and unedifying, makes a pleasing appetizer or between-meals tidbit. But enough about the McStudge, or I shall be carried off to the suburbs of Gehenna on the resistless wave of a single run-on sentence.

During the spring, my trouble was simple depression for the most part; I could not frame to write anything, and though I started various blog posts with the best of intentions, the impulse always ran out in a general fog of despair and futility before I got anything half finished. Part of the trouble has been that my Beloved Bride lost her job through no fault of her own, her employers having shut down their Calgary office, and then, when she seemed certain to get a new job, that employer went out of business also. The reason for this deserves a short but angry digression.

According to the rules prevailing in Calgary, business properties as a whole are expected to pay a fixed share of the city’s budget every year. For many years the bulk of those taxes were paid by the tenants of expensive downtown offices – oil companies, banks, and the like. Then, thanks largely to the stupidity of higher levels of government, our oil industry collapsed, leaving millions of square feet of empty office space, and nobody to pay the taxes thereon. To compensate, the city raised the tax rate on all the surviving businesses. And when some of those went out of business, it raised the rate again – and again – and again. The average business-tax increase was 32 percent for 2019 alone, and many firms are paying triple what they paid just five years ago. All this culminated in a full-fledged tax revolt earlier this year, but not before thousands of small businesses had gone to the wall, my B. B.’s old and new employers both among them.

Wurst restaurant in Calgary, with sign: ‘PROPERTY TAXES – 2014, $74K – 2019, $208K’

An example of The System at work. (My Beloved Bride was not employed here.)

To the best of my knowledge, this method of setting taxes was last used in the late Roman Empire, and played a considerable share in causing the fall of Rome. Each town and district in a province was set a fixed tribute, to be collected from whoever had the ability to pay. In the declining days of the empire, it sometimes happened that one citizen had to pay the entire tribute due from his town! Some Romans escaped this ruinous system by fleeing right out of the empire. Millions more stayed put, but when the Goths and Vandals invaded, they did nothing to defend themselves; they would rather be ruled by barbarian kings than Roman tax-collectors. Calgary has not had a barbarian invasion – yet – but a lot of business owners have been fleeing from the city, and we now have the highest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada.

All this takes a toll on one’s health, mental and physical, and my Beloved Bride has had a hard time of it. I have done what I could to help, or at any rate, what I knew how; but it left my mind in no condition to write anything. After months of this grief, we took a holiday to save our sanity. We spent most of a week in Penticton, B.C., among lakes and beaches and orchards and vineyards; also among Elvis impersonators, who were having a festival there at the time. We came back rested in body and refreshed in spirit, and I promptly caught pneumonia. My doctors prescribed antibiotics, which caused my gout to flare up. They then prescribed prednisone for the gout, which caused me to become narcoleptic – I generally passed out two or three hours after taking my morning dose. There was nothing they could do for the prednisone, except wean me off it slowly – it is dangerous to stop taking that drug suddenly. These things cost me the whole month of July and half of August. I stopped taking prednisone last Monday, and today was the first day I felt well enough to write.

So now you know where I have been, and why.

One of my many unfinished tasks is to draw some maps for the Magnificent Octopus, and the Orchard of Dis-Pear, and various other works in process. I have scribbles and scrawls and scraps, but nothing suitable for reproduction; and as Tolkien observed long ago, if your story contains any substantial amounts of travel, you have got to start with a map and then write the story to fit it – it won’t work the other way round.

I should like to post my revised and cleaned-up maps here, as I get them done; but I have a shyness about it. Just now, thanks to the gaming industry, the world is flooded with pretty-pretty fantasy maps, ‘painterly’ in quality, rich in saturated colours and quasi-pictorial renderings of terrain, and often very poor in the actual information that one wants to get out of a map – visually impressive, but not particularly legible. (George R. R. Martin set a deplorable fashion, by the way, when he published his maps of ‘Westeros’ without any scale, and then wrote about 5,000 pages of turgid text without ever mentioning how many miles it was from hither to yon, or how many days it took to get there. This is inexcusably lazy; but that is a rant for another time.)

Anyway, my own maps are not pretty or painterly, and I don’t generally work in colour, and I am rather afraid that my 3.6 Loyal Readers (if you are still there and still reading) will give them a resounding raspberry. So I am going to start off with a map by a Famous Name, the worst piece of work I could find. Then your expectations will be duly tempered, and I shall have nowhere to go but up.

In 1870, at the height of the Franco-Prussian War, every newspaper in the world was full of breathless reports about the Prussian invasion of France and the siege of Paris. The immortal Mark Twain contributed his own unique burlesque angle to the story, by hand-engraving a ‘Map of the Fortifications of Paris’ for the public to follow the proceedings by. The map was published in his own Buffalo Express (and other papers) with glowing ‘blurbs’ and reviews, written, of course, by Twain himself. Some of the blurbs:

I have seen a great many maps in my time, but none that this one reminds me of.
TROCHU.

It is but fair to say that in some respects it is a truly remarkable map.
W. T. SHERMAN.

I said to my son Frederick William, “If you could only make a map like that, I would be perfectly willing to see you die – even anxious.”
WILLIAM III.

And my personal favourite:

My wife was for years afflicted with freckles, and though everything was done for her relief that could be done, all was in vain. But, sir, since her first glance at your map, they have entirely left her. She has nothing but convulsions now.
J. SMITH.

And here it is, in all its hand-gouged glory, Mark Twain’s map:

I hope to do better than this. God have mercy on my soul if I do worse.

Impendix VI: The Morakh

After the sack of Eremis, the children of Morak were never again united in one cause. For it was the Destroyer who had brought them together by the thoughts that he put into their hearts; and they had failed him. As a weapon, they were too blunt and brittle for his purpose. They had destroyed the city, but not the nation; many of the Färinoth were slain, but many yet lived, though scattered over many lands, and they would not be taken at unawares again. From that time the Destroyer cast aside the creatures he had tempted into his service, and minded them no more. Not one of the promises by which he had seduced them was ever kept.

When they saw how they had been cheated, the Morakh loosed all the rage and violence that was bred into their nature. The empty city they smashed into rubble, defiling the ground and cursing all the land of Ereph. No child of Dân dwelt ever again by the waters of Drath Erem, and the River of Spirit ran untravelled to the sea. In later ages a few rash wanderers dared disturb the sleeping wrath of Eremis, and if ever they returned to the lands of the living, they brought back tales of ghosts and ghouls, fell spirits and foul lights, and their faces were marred by a horror that they could neither tell nor forget. Even birds and beasts kept far away from that unclean place.

Few of the Morakh were slain in the taking of the city, but many in the aftermath. It is told in the Gremni that a swift winter and a hard fell then upon the Southern lands; and many more of the host of Ghrenduz perished of cold and hunger, for they had assembled in haste and without thought of provision. Some have seen in this the Destroyer’s own hand, a final stroke of contempt for his broken weapon, sending deep snows and howling winds from the edge of the Void. It was long believed that all the kindred of Morak had perished in that winter; but it was not so. A few survivors there must have been, for they returned long after to trouble the world again.

[Read more…]

Impendix V(a): The Carvings of Remembrance

The notes that follow are condensed from the published lectures of B. R. Smallbold, of King’s University, Wardhall, who has greater knowledge of the history of the Fair Tongue than any mortal hitherto. The editors gratefully acknowledge his assistance.

Breghwir of Eremis, as it has been told, was the first to devise symbols for the sounds of speech. These were used at first for short inscriptions, usually magical in nature, to bind the words of a spell permanently to the thing enchanted: an advance upon the technique of the Díoni, whose enchantments had to be laid on at the same time and by the same hand that made the enchanted object. Thus Tan-an-Nydh, the knife of Telkon, was his work solely, and no servant or apprentice had any share in it. The wall of Eremis was too large to be built by a single child of Dân, so Telmon was compelled to find a new method. The letters of Breghwir were invented for this very purpose.

[Read more…]

Impendix V: The fall of Eremis

Vairos was the father of his kindred for many long years, and in his time the Färinoth grew to a great multitude; and their first abode, on the hill by the mouth of Aena, could no longer contain them. Therefore they looked to build a new home for all the people; and in this matter Telmon, the brother of Vairos, was first in zeal and in skill.

It has been told that Färon’s sons took to wife those maidens of the Díoni that came across the Sundering Sea, seeking to wed the sons of Dân. Vairos took after his mother Vaimë in looks, if not in mood, and plighted his troth to Lyessë the golden; great joy attended their union, and their house was a place of song and laughter. He was his brother’s elder, but it was not for this that his people chose him as their new lord, but rather because of his glad cheer and his open hand.

Telmon favoured his father, being darker than his brother, shorter of stature but broader of build; his wife was Pirmala, the black handmaiden of Telkon, who taught him all the lore of stone and metal that she learnt in her master’s house. The name Telmon indeed was given him by Pirmala herself on their wedding-day: for it means ‘disciple of Telkon’ in the earliest speech of the Fair Folk. He attended more to the earth beneath his people’s feet than to the people themselves, and was engrossed in his handiwork; and so he did not find favour when his father’s days ended, but yielded the lordship to his brother.

Telmon was slow to master his craft, for stone and metal are hard and unyielding, and strong hands and skilful alone can work them. He had not the power of Telkon to shape the matter of the earth, nor so hot a fire as Ión Tela for his forge; and his tools were few and simple, being of his own devising. Still he was the first of the children of Dân to essay great work in masonry or smithcraft, and a few of his works were preserved with great honour until the downfall of Färinor itself.

But to Vairos was given a new gift, unknown to his fathers: the art of enchantment and glamoury, in which all the house of the White Queen excelled. From light alone were their best works wrought, beautiful yet insubstantial, vivid to the eye but impalpable to the hand. Work scarcely less cunning they did in sound and scent, and in the appearance of movement. All these arts Vairos acquired speedily, for his mind was keen and fresh, and the craft of the mind is not hampered by want of subtle tools.
[Read more…]

Candlemas

As my fellow Catholics will know, today is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus, and also the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since that is a terrible name for a holiday, we fake our way out of having to use it. This we accomplish by bringing candles to Mass so that they may be blessed, and thereafter serve as symbols of Jesus Christ, Light of the World.

In some parts of Christendom, it is true, additional customs have accreted onto the original Candle-Mass. For instance: It is truly an inspiring sight in a large church, such as the cathedral in which my Beloved Bride and I were married, to see the whole congregation armed with hundreds of blessed candles. We light them, of course, one after another, until the whole interior of the sanctuary is ablaze with glory.

And then, if the groundhog sees his shadow—

Long belated

In September, I found out that a man can’t write a book in the midst of preparing for his own wedding. (At least not this man.)

In October, I found out that a man can’t write a book in the immediate aftermath of his own wedding.

In November, I had a medical emergency, a possible TIA (or else the mother of all migraines, the doctors still aren’t sure), which left me tired, groggy, and with a calendar full of appointments with labs and specialists. Also, we took on a roommate to save money, which meant we had to clean the flat from top to bottom and back again.

We shall see how December goes; but my Beloved Bride (formerly the Beloved Other) has given me the green light to give my work top priority.

Apropos of which, allow me to introduce Sonya to you all:

Sonya is the one without the beard. Thank God.

Scatterbrained

I have been driving Impendices three abreast, and working in a desultory way at other things (and wasting a good deal of time on Plants Vs. Zombies), and have yet to finish any of the promised work for September. CreateSpace is shutting down and being replaced by the Kindle print-on-demand service, and that requires my attention; and other matters are becoming urgent.

For one, I am getting married. The Beloved Other and I (after a rocky period in which it was not certain we would work out together) are definitely tying the knot on the sixth of October. Preparations for this have been taking a great deal of my spare attention (and nearly all of hers), and therefore I cry you mercy for my slowness at other tasks. Pray for us, or else wish us well, according to your customs and those of your fathers.