Report: Nothing to report

So: Immediately after my last post, in which I detailed the long list of projects that I believe I need to complete in order to have any viable shot at paying the bills by writing, I came down with a moderately severe case of flu. The muscle aches gave me sleepless nights, which I could have dealt with; but I also had a fever, and when I get a fever, my inner ears get inflamed, and when my inner ears get inflamed, I get spasms of dizziness whenever my head moves, and can actually hear the faint whoosh of the perilymph sloshing about in there. (It took me half a century to figure out that the illusion of sound I heard at such times was no illusion at all, but an actual sound inside my ears.)

Kipling observed in his autobiography:

I discovered that a man can work with a temperature of 104, even though next day he has to ask the office who wrote the article.

I am extraordinarily cool-blooded by nature, and if my temperature gets up to the canonical 98.6 (or 37 °C) I am already suffering from all the effects of full-blown fever. With a temperature of 104, I should in all likelihood be dead. But having to ‘ask the office who wrote the article’ is a significant handicap when (a) the ‘article’ is part of a tightly organized book, or worse, a series of several books, and (b) there is no ‘office’ to ask. I find that when I am feverish, the perpetual dizzy spells and whooshes are apt to cut off the whole writing process every few minutes, just long enough for my short-term memory to lose track of what I was doing; and if I do nevertheless get stuff written down, my long-term memory is never properly informed, and next day I have to ask what I was writing it for, and nobody can tell me. This is unsatisfactory.

More specific and serious unpleasantnesses have also occurred, but I shall spare you those. I am very unhappy with life and the world, and furious with my own utter lack of progress in recent days.

Miles to go before I sleep

Write quickly, and you will never write well; write well and you will soon write quickly.

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (1st century A.D.)

Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria contains a lot of tiresomely good advice for writers, and some that seems (to a gloomy fellow like myself) too pleasant to count as advice at all. He tells a little story about the perils of excessive rewriting, told to him by his friend Secundus:

I remember in this connexion a story that Julius Secundus… told me of the words once used to him by his uncle, Julius Florus, the leading orator of Gaul… a man eloquent as but few have ever been, and worthy of his nephew. He once noticed that Secundus, who was still a student, was looking depressed, and asked him the meaning of his frowns. The youth made no concealment of the reason: he had been working for three days, and had been unable, in spite of all his efforts, to devise an exordium for the theme which he had been given to write, with the result that he was not only vexed over his immediate difficulty, but had lost all hope of future success. Florus smiled and said, ‘Do you really want to speak better than you can?’

The purpose of editing and rewriting is to help us write as well as we can; nothing can make us write better than we can. Verbum sap.

Lately I have been trying to make myself mindful of this. I do not agree with the ‘Pulp Speed’ school, when they say that the sole and sufficient qualification for success is to put out a sufficiently large quantity of written product. It has to be well written, and it has to have something to say; every author whose work has endured has spent a great part of his working time coming up with good and original ideas for stories, and not so much on merely racking up wordage. Developing fluency with ideas is part of learning to write well; and nobody does it quickly except after long practice. ‘Pulp speed’ aims at nothing higher than recreating pulp fiction, which was sometimes good and occasionally brilliant (as with Edgar Rice Burroughs, or the best works of Robert E. Howard), but usually trite, derivative, formulaic, and dull. The best writers nearly always got out of the pulps the moment they found better-paying markets, and worried less about speed and more about quality thereafter. [Read more…]

Coming soon – Writer’s Block: An insider’s guide

That book I wrote the other day? Looks like I will indeed be releasing it, probably in late August or early September. Watch these non-blank pages for updates.

Herewith, a Cover Design:

[Read more…]

Writing a book in one day! (Sort of)

So on Wednesday, whilst brooding over my lack of productivity through the entire house-move kerfuffle, I came up with a perfectly silly idea for a novelty book, or as they are called in the trad publishing trade, ‘non-book’. I told my Gentle Editor, Wendy S. Delmater, the idea. She thought it was amusing enough to put in some effort and try it on a dog. We agreed to confer online Friday afternoon.

So today, beginning at about 12:30 p.m. Frozen North Standard Time, I started furiously typing any old gag that would fit the idea. The beginning and ending were easy. Filling out the middle took a little longer. About 4:00 I began formatting the text in InDesign, and at 7:03 precisely I sent the PDF to my beta reader, the talented and cover-designer-ly Sarah Dimento. She is not a dog, but she does have two cats, and no disapproval being met with from that quarter, I have decided to throw the thing out there and see what happens.

I call it Writer’s Block: An Insider’s Guide.

It begins with ‘This page intentionally left blank’, and goes on from there. If there is a way of not writing books that I have failed to mention in its voluminous pages, I will eat the hat that I haven’t got.

Warning: This book will not tell you how to cure writer’s block. At best, it will give you some of the kind of company that misery loves, and maybe a few laughs. But perhaps that’s enough.

Back in the saddle

The Beloved Other is getting past the crisis at Wreck Tech: one of her courses finished today, and she’s pretty sure she passed the final exam. That makes easier going for the rest of the term, with no more classes on Wednesdays. Easter is on its way, the sky is getting lighter, and I have been taking stiff doses of vitamin D to rev my sluggish metabolism. And I have, thanks partly to the encouragement of my 3.6 Loyal Readers, begun slowly working again.

Where Angels Die has lain fallow so long (and against my original intentions) that I could not look at it without a pang of guilt. Part of the trouble was that I published the first episode without having done enough of the necessary background work. And then the second episode proved stubborn, and I made four or five false starts over the course of many months. But I think (and my Editorial Consultant, the fine and capable Wendy S. Delmater, agrees) that I have nailed it this time round.

So here, after long delay, is the opening chapter of Episode 2, ‘The Little Charter’.


Chapter 1


There was a commotion at the gate of Angel Keep, and Ham Yushon, known to all and sundry as Greyhand, was the first man out to see to it. It was his business to be first, as Baron Vail’s unofficial steward: first to arrive whenever there was news, first to bear the word back to his master. Things were so much harder to manage if the Baron heard six conflicting stories first and Greyhand had to set him straight. He was not a man who took confusion in his stride. [Read more…]

Catching up

I should perhaps let you know, my 3.6 Loyal Readers, that I have been bogged down in a new set of troubles, now that the old ones have partly lifted. Fortunately, the new ones do not bid to be as durable. They don’t make ’em like they used to – thank God. [Read more…]

Happy Belated New Year

Well, 2017 was more or less a write-off as far as my writing was concerned; hoping for a write-on this year, if there is such a thing.

Not that the whole year was wasted. I did much work patching up the relationship with the Beloved Other, and more work putting ghosts to rest in my own head. This partly explains why I was never able to produce for more than a few days at a time; that, and a general want of mental maintenance. The last couple of months, I have been taking apart, cleaning, repairing, and reassembling all the instruments of my own internal orchestra; new strings for the fiddles, new reeds for the woodwinds, new thingumbobs for the doohickeys in the whatchamacallum section. (Is exploding TNT a percussion or a wind instrument? Depends where the gas comes out.) At present the band is tuning up and doing finger exercises, and it sounds as ghastly as that always does.

This week, the Beloved Other began a highly accelerated program of studies at an institution which I shall choose to call Rectocranial Polytechnic, or Wreck Tech for short. It is the kind of institution that Canada, it appears, excels at producing, where the faculty are highly accomplished practitioners in their field, but have long forgotten what it is like to be a raw beginner, and what their students need to be taught, which doesn’t much matter because they don’t know how to teach anyway. Nevertheless, Wreck Tech has a shining reputation for turning out good technicians in many fields. I attribute this chiefly to the industry and initiative and cooperative ingenuity of the students, who seem to have an admirable knack for doing through the grapevine what their instructors should have done in class. At least that is my impression so far.

A minor but typical example of how things are done at Wreck Tech: When you start out as a student, you are assigned a Wreck Tech email account with a default password. This is all well and good. The password is emailed to your Wreck Tech email, which you cannot open without the password. You could not ask for a more classic instance of what I call ‘Can Opener in a Can’.

(‘Yes, I did want a can opener, but now I need another can opener to open the can that the can opener is in.’—‘I can sell you another one.’—‘Is that one in a can, too?’—‘Of course. Can openers always come in cans.’—‘May worms rot all your insides, and may the Great Bird of Corruption come to feast on them and eat your innards instead and leave the worms behind.’)

It took a good deal of effort to get round that one. There is, fortunately, a PDF in the bowels of the Wreck Tech web servers that explains how the default password is constructed for each student, and I was able to find it by a modest application of Google-fu. Needless to say, that information was not given out to the students, either in printed or electronic form. It was left hidden in the monstrous and unnavigable depths of the website.

Institutional buildings are infamous for their bad design and baffling layout, but they are nothing compared to institutional websites. There are physical limits to how convoluted and inaccessible a building can be: for instance, it is not actually possible to build an office block in the shape of a Klein bottle. But the arcane complexity of a computer system is limited only by the diabolical imagination of the designer; and so much better if the designer does not have to use it himself.

Anyway, the Beloved Other is beginning to get the hang of things at Wreck Tech, and I am beginning to have time for my own work again. I wish you all (3.6 Loyal Readers and sundry visitors) a happy and prosperous New Year, and I hope and intend to have some new writing for you soon.

Many thanks to all!

I am heartily glad to see my 3.6 Loyal Readers still here (and with their fractional numbers apparently augmented), and thank you all for your kind comments, and for welcoming me back to active blogging. Your warm reception gives me the courage I need to keep working.

There is, alas, yet another unexpected delay on the Superversive collection. Part II of that book is a survey of seminal works in epic fantasy (portions freely adapted from my 1977 series of posts some years back), with a view to identifying the cause of the growing gap (in my judgement) between what epic fantasy can be and what it too often is. It appears obvious now, in not-quite-hindsight, that my recent piece, ‘Gormenghast and the Great Tradition’, has got to be included in that section; but it will want editing for the purpose, because some of the same ground is covered in Part I.

It also seems to me that I need to explain why it is epic fantasy particularly that I choose as my particular topic for that book, given that virtually any kind of literature (except, perhaps, outright pornography) can be done in a superversive way. The short answer is that epic fantasy offers a big canvas, bold colours, and a great variety of ways in which the moral choices of the characters can directly affect the world around them. These qualities make a story more entertaining, and they also lend themselves naturally to the business of ‘superversion’. It is, of course, convenient that for me, they also make for enjoyable reading and fluent writing; my own ideas for stories nearly always present themselves in that form. I could as easily make my points about some other kind of fiction, but I could not, perhaps, make them so clearly. Even this short answer, as you can see, begins to ramify itself and raise more questions; and so I am having to write a long introductory chapter to explain myself and ‘situate’ the reader.

A couple of small items of late news: A gentleman by the name of Bob Gassel inquires about my series on M*A*S*H, and wants to know if I am going to finish it off and give him some closure. I am happy to say that I have always intended that, and sheepish to admit that it has fallen by the wayside among many cares. Over the holidays, I hope to make time to binge-watch selected episodes from the last seasons of that series, and write a piece on what I find there. Also, I have received an offer which may possibly see one of my books translated into Spanish! My late mother would not have cared to read the book in question, but I think she would be gratified to hear of it.


You will note, immediately below, the pathetic plaint of my Vile Human at the illness of his domestic vermin. What he does not mention is that after acquiring this pestiferous pile of protoplasm, he and his mate brought home another. They were supposed to arrive together, but the second beast was having his reproductive proclivities surgically curtailed and was not ready to travel until the following week. Then Vile Human, the silly sap, repeated the four-hour drive (round trip) to Hanna and dutifully collected the fresh vermin.

The new infestation was named Kaos (so spelt) by the folk at the shelter. Here are both vermin together:

At first Kaos spent most of his time hiding in back closets or under furniture, for he had a blind fear of his new environment which I found most gratifying. Alas, this was soon corrected, and once he was coaxed out of hiding, he and the first vermin, Sonny, quickly attained the sickening condition that the humans call friendship. They are now inseparable boon companions, and it is revolting to see.

If it were not for the first vermin’s sickness and its owner’s distress, I would find the cloying domestic harmony of the place insufferable. As it is, once the beast recovers from surgery, I may have to decamp and take temporary lodgings in a war zone. True, in a war zone I may see courage and heroism, but I shall also see death, dismemberment, and the suffering of innocents: a refreshment that I much desire. This place is beginning to get positively un-Hellish.

H. Smiggy McStudge


P.S. The Vile Human’s mate has bestowed affectionate nicknames on the two vermin. She calls the first one Heffalump and the second one Woozle. It is enough to make one spew.

Sad news

My recently adopted cat, Sonny, had a mild viral infection in his eye when we brought him home from the SPCA. Eye a bit watery, a bit of clear discharge accumulating at the corner, a bit of redness: nothing to worry about, we thought.

Only it didn’t clear up. On (telephoned) veterinary advice, we administered antibiotic eye drops, in case there was a secondary bacterial infection. These did not help at all; and over the course of about three days, Sonny’s condition grew dramatically worse. By the time we could get him to the vet in person, his eyeball was ulcerated and the aqueous humour was beginning to leak out. (It seems a secondary bacterial infection had set in and proceeded with unholy speed.) An operation that might save his eye was possible, but would cost about $3,000, and the odds were against its working.

The only treatment within our means – and that just barely – was to pay $1,000 to have the infected eye removed. (If the $3,000 operation was tried and failed, we would have to pay for this anyway.) Sonny goes in for surgery tomorrow. I am desolate with grief, though I know I shouldn’t be; in all probability he will have a long and happy life with one eye. But there will always be that empty part of his face to remind me. I don’t know what else I could have done, but I feel that I have failed him.