June Write Day: Oops

Holy crap it’s June. Apologies for my recent absence. A week of time off and the holiday weekend threw me off. I forgot to post a haiku on Sunday for the first time in like… three years. And then I forgot to schedule this post for this morning. So now I’m cramming.

June is off to a great start!

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 6,600 words.
  2. Read 3 books.
  3. Continue the exercise climb.

Write 6,600 words?

NOPE. I think I write about 2,000 words to start the month, and then did not write again. I was away from home for the week before Memorial Day without reliable internet access, so I knew I had limited writing time in May.

My adjusted goal for available writing time was supposed to account for this, but I need to tweak it to a lower weird count goal.

I’ll probably try for 400 words per available day, or some such.

Read three books?

Almost. I finished two books in May, and I’ve made good headway on three others. One of this might be a comic volume, but who’s keeping track?

Continue the exercise climb?

Another hiccup in May. My week away consisted of virtually no exercise. That was due to the renovation work I was helping a friend with on his Thousand Islands cabin. Turns out that tearing out drywall and old wood, carrying supplies, and installing new flooring is damn tiring. Thus, I didn’t really need the extra exercise.

I had a great week in cabin in the river with a few friends, though.

Goals for June

  1. Write 8,800 words. This is my adjusted goal, counting 400 words per day for twenty-two available writing days. June is (hopefully) a slow month for us.
  2. Read three books. As I said, I feel like I have enough of a head start to reach this.
  3. Continue the exercise climb. I’m back on track, I think, so I feel pretty good about this.
  4. Reorganize this site. You may have noticed some new headers on this site’s navigation. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m shifting my writing topics to themes rather than formats. I’m debating whether I want to re-tag my archive with these new themes, so there may be more changes to come.

Steve D

May Write Day: Restart

After two years of avoiding it, I tested positive for COVID this week. And I’m furious with the Supreme Court, liberal Democrats who continue to do as little as possible to improve the lives of Americans, and the Right for… actively bringing suffering to the lives of Americans for the last 20 years.

I also forgot to write this post last night and schedule it for this morning. So I’m going to keep this short.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 9,600 words. Oddly specific and yet not random. (See above)
  2. Read 3 books. My new podcast notifications have settled the last few days, so I’ll obviously need some other form of storytelling to distract me. If only I could look at words on paper and hear them said by the voice in my head… I’ll think of something.
  3. Continue the exercise climb. I think success here will look like me running/working out or yoga-ing 4-5 times per week for the month. Plus remembering to meditate.

Write 9,600 words?

No. I think it was somewhere around 4,000, but I’m not going to check. Too many distractions, and not enough focus time. I have a trip coming up in May that will keep me away from writing for a week, so my word count goal will be much smaller.

Read 3 books?

Also no, but I made some progress on a couple that I’ve been enjoying.

Continue the exercise climb?

Yes, until I got sick this week. I started a core-strengthening yoga program in April that I was really enjoying, and it helped me figure out a daily routine to build onto.

I’ve generally not been a preset routine type of exerciser — I always created my own routines and evolved them as needed, so this is new territory for me. But without a gym membership and with limited equipment at home, I think this is the type of thing that can keep my motivated day to day.

I would just like to stop coughing so I can get back to it.

Goals for May

  1. Write 6,600 words. I promise these numbers are not arbitrary. I’m just calculating 600 words per day that I anticipate being available to write. This still feels like a lot, honestly, so I need to get off to a good start to close out this week.
  2. Read 3 books. I will actually have some downtime to do this during my week off (I hope).
  3. Continue the exercise climb. I’m optimistic that I’ll be feeling much better tomorrow and able to get back to my yoga program. It’s not like I’m doing anything this weekend until I test negative.

Steve D

April Write Day: Fitting into a Routine

April has arrived and so has spring in Maryland (I hope). March was a surprisingly long month.

I spent a grand total of five days at the office last month, which is more than twice as many days as I had spent there in 2021. It was a chance to meet some colleagues in person for the first time, and it was nice being in that environment again.

Then everyone went home, and I returned to working from home.

Goals-wise, March was, on paper, less than great. But I feel like my mindset on these things has started to shift for the better. I feel like I know where I’m at in my writing endeavors, what I really need to focus on, and that what comes down the road should not distract me.

More on that next.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 10,000 words.
  2. Read 3 books.
  3. Continue the exercise climb.

Write 10,000 words?

No, and this shortcoming has led me to a slightly new way of thinking about my monthly writing goals.

I wrote 7,122 words in March. The obvious problem, as always, is that I had three gaps in my writing progress that exacerbated how far behind I fell until I effectively gave up for the month. This happens basically every month when I fall behind early, or when something in normal life takes me away from writing for a few days.

To this point, my writing goals have been rather un-scientific. But that’s changing. One thing I’ve learned over the past few months is that if I really sit and focus, I can easily write 600 words (or more) in 30 minutes or less.

I realize how unimpressive that looks when many writers do 2,000 words per hour, but this is the first time I’ve really time-boxed my writing sessions with a clear goal to achieve.

I also now know that weekend writing is increasingly difficult and unreliable, because we just tend to have things to do. My twice-weekly posts on this site do not count towards my writing goal, but they definitely take up precious writing time, so I also need to account for that.

So here’s my new calculus:

  • Total days in a month
  • minus number of Saturdays and Sundays
  • minus Tuesday blog writing
  • minus days for any other or prior non-writing commitments
  • x 600 words

For April, that gives me 9,600 words as a writing goal, which is right on target with my usual un-scientific goals. It also saves me the self-loathing of not finding the time to write on weekends or days when I have other things to do.

After two years of trying to shoehorn writing into my daily life and largely underachieving, it finally dawned on me that I need to ensure my writing routine actually fits around my daily life, too. So that’s what I’m doing.

Read three books?

I did not finish a single book in March. I have been reading, but my Audible listening has hit a dry spell, and I’m still taking my time with Towers of Midnight. I’m also really enjoying it at the moment and, strangely, have no desire to plow through it.

I definitely listened to a lot more podcasts than usual in March, primarily because that’s how I followed the early weeks of the Ukraine conflict.

I’m on the hunt for something different. Probably some non-dystopian sci fi or fantasy. The world is dystopian enough for me, at the moment. I’ll gladly take your recommendations though!

Continue the exercise climb?

I feel like I’m on the right path. I’ve finally decided on a pseudo-routine to guide me throughout the week. Basically, I want to alternate between longer (20-40-minute) yoga sessions and resistance training/running. My cardio is completely shot, so I’d like to start running 2-3 times per week, paired with push-ups and pull-ups for a more complete workout. If I feel physically tired or mentally drained, then I’ll do yoga.

I did not maintain a meditation routine, so I likely need a daily calendar reminder to… not forget.

The climb continues.

Goals for April

  1. Write 9,600 words. Oddly specific and yet not random. (See above)
  2. Read 3 books. My new podcast notifications have settled the last few days, so I’ll obviously need some other form of storytelling to distract me. If only I could look at words on paper and hear them said by the voice in my head… I’ll think of something.
  3. Continue the exercise climb. I think success here will look like me running/working out or yoga-ing 4-5 times per week for the month. Plus remembering to meditate.

Steve D

February Write Day: The Climb

January was a long month. I don’t know that is was particularly fast or slow, but I definitely don’t remember the first half. We spent those couple weeks mostly traveling and recovering from the holidays. The last two weeks have been much quieter, in a good way.

February is promising more on the quieter front, which I’m okay with, too.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 9,000 words.
  2. Read 3 books.
  3. Start working out again.

Write 9,000 words?

No, but I got my days mixed up! For some reason I thought Monday, January 31 was actually February 1, so I took the day off from writing. How embarrassing.

I wrote 8,616 words in January, so if I had sat down Monday evening, I could have easily beaten my goal. Ugh. Oh well. I did manage to finish the month on a surge after not writing much for the first week or so, so that’s good news for my February writing goal.

Check out my progress on my NaNoWriMo goal tracker. You can see I only had two writing sessions in the first half of the month, but I still managed to nearly catch up with several sessions of 500+ words. I felt like I hit a rhythm, too, so it became easier to write larger chunks at a time. Maintaining that rhythm is the key.

Read three books?

I read two books in January, but one of them was a fairly dense historical audiobook about the Ancient Celts, so I’m okay with it.

I had started reading Towers of Midnight, book 13 of The Wheel of Time, but fell off for some reason. I am definitely still reading the book, but for whatever reason, I found it easier to do audiobooks in January.

Start working out again?

Kind of, but I don’t really feel like I have a routine yet. I have a plan in my head for more consistent exercise, but it includes cleaning out the garage and buying some boxing equipment. Really, I just need a free weekend. And to buy the equipment, of course.

I’m still into yoga, but I haven’t been doing it as much, or only in shorter sessions to stretch out. And simple resistance workouts are easy enough to fit into my days. Boxing was always a great workout for me, and I definitely need to find something aerobic again, so I’m on the lookout for a double-end bag.

Goals for February

  1. Write 11,000 words. I ended up with a solid writing pace towards the end of January. I just need to start February stronger and try to write more consistently.
  2. Read three books. I am reading The Last Kingdom… again… sort of. Turns out I unwittingly listened to the abridged version on Audible, which is less than half the length of the unabridged version. I’m not going to get into it, but I’m not happy that I spent money on a watered-down version of a story. I enjoyed the abridged version, but now I’m listening to the unabridged version. I’m not currently tracking this reading on Goodreads, but maybe I should. I don’t know. I do really like this book, though, so there’s that.
  3. Continue the slow climb to a decent exercise routine. That’s what this feels like now. I’ve been out of a decent routine for so long that I’m really starting over at this point. This month, I want to create a space where I can workout in my garage, and continue doing yoga and resistance exercises more consistently.

Steve D

Book Review: THE ANCIENT CELTS builds a framework for Ancient European history

The Ancient Celts audiobook occupied my listening time during a couple of recent weekend road trips, and it turned out to be enjoyable and informative.

The Ancient Celts is an excellent historical framework through which to view and discuss the identity and meaning of the term Celtic and the ancient peoples to whom it can be applied. This is the type of history where author Barry Cunliffe strays into several other topics in order to build his primary case.

Ancient Greece, Rome, the Scythians, and Phoenicians all make appearances as Cunliffe traces a millennium of migrations and conflicts across Europe involving various Celtic groups. Cunliffe focuses on the material archaeological record for his study, but he does not hesitate to pull in writings of the Classical era, and previously established linguistic evidence to build his case.

Cunliffe’s ultimate case is that the Celts can be identified as a distinct cultural and linguistic group from the Middle Danube region from the end of the Bronze Age, who had a stark impact on the Classical civilizations of Europe and spread as far south as Egypt, as far East as modern Turkey, and as far west as the Atlantic coast of Europe, and whose cultural remnants can still be seen today.

Interestingly, Cunliffe bookends his study with discussions on the revival of Celtic identity over the last few centuries, and what this might mean in relation to the Ancient Celts he tries to understand. He posits the subjective question of who the Celts were and who they are today, and answers with a surprisingly simple, yet effective statement: anyone who considers themselves Celtic, whether that is through spoken language, material culture, or more ephemeral forms of identity.

Steve D

Book Review: THE GATHERING STORM sets WoT series back on track

The Gathering Storm may be the best novel of The Wheel of Time series to this point (book 12 of 14). This is the first book Brandon Sanderson co-authored after Robert Jordan’s passing, and it is simply incredible.

While Sanderson’s own writing style is markedly different from that of Jordan’s, the climactic narratives of two of the most important characters in the series are what stand out about this volume. The Gathering Storm soars as it brings the arcs of two of its primary characters to stunning crescendos.

Sanderson’s writing style is more befitting a modern fantasy audience, which is likely why he is one of the most popular fantasy authors of the last decade, if not longer. Compared to Jordan’s verbose prose that strains the limits of sentence structure and pays homage to the classical high fantasy authors that preceded him, Sanderson’s writing is concise and emotive. I don’t necessarily prefer Sanderson’s writing style to Jordan, but his punchier phrasing lends a sense of urgency to the story.

The Gathering Storm is ultimately the first part of a three-part conclusion to this epic series. Sanderson wrote it this way intentionally, taking Jordan’s outline for his finale, A Memory of Light, and splitting it into three volumes to capture all of the threads that Jordan wanted to weave into the final tapestry.

This is seen most starkly in the stories of Rand and Egwene. I will not go into detail, but I will say that The Gathering Storm really focuses on these two, separated geographically by hundreds of leagues or more, and narratively by nine or ten books, but linked as they each approach the Last Battle. It can easily be argued that they are the two most important characters in the series, and Sanderson and Jordan emphasize their place by weaving their first steps in the final act of the series together, independently, but in duality.

Several of the dragging plot lines of the middle part of this series are also tied off, often in ways that are surprising or shocking, but that serve the story and the characters. I’ve questioned all along how such a sprawling series could be ended cleanly, and with two books to go I can already see the blueprint. Sanderson utilizes all of the characters Jordan created, the minute storylines he laid out, to push the main groups of characters in the same direction: towards the Last Battle.

The reader feels the impending doom of this legendary confrontation laced throughout the book, throughout each character’s interactions with the others. Everyone, including the reader, knows what’s coming, and we collectively dread the moment and quiver in anticipation. The Gathering Storm is triumphant, even as it tells of only the opening salvos of the final conflicts to come.

I’ve already started reading Towers of Midnight.

Steve D

January Write Day: Keep Plugging Away

Man, another month, another year. December was a solid month. Our holidays were festive with plenty of time spent with family. We also got to experience our first real Christmas through our oldest son, who is three and at the perfect age to get excited for Santa and presents and Christmas lights and all that.

It was a decent month on the goals front as well.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Write 8,000 words for New Earth.
  2. Read through Uprooted.
  3. Read 3 books.

So how did I do?

Write 8,000 words?

Not quite. I tried to cram a bunch of writing into the final week of the month and came up short at just over 7,000 words. Still a decent output, overall. The first half of December had me stressing a bit about getting everything ready for our holiday celebrations, which knowingly kept me away from writing. I thought I could make up for it in the final week, but no such luck.

I still did all right, though.

New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2 is progressing nicely at around 15,000 words, and I’ve hit a stretch where I already have a lot of content from my first draft I can pull from. That should help me stay on track and catch up a bit this month. I just want to get off to a stronger start and not fall behind again.

I did start to find a writing schedule again, slotting in time right after putting my oldest to bed, and then knuckling down on the weekends for bigger word count gains.

Read through Uprooted?

I seriously forgot about this goal. December was a busy month! I definitely want to complete this read-through, so perhaps I’ll have to pay to print it out — all 70-some pages of it – so I can focus on it when I’m away from my computer.

Read 3 books?

I’m going to say yes…? But let me check my Goodreads first.

Success! I finished three books in December, including book 12 of The Wheel of Time series, The Gathering Storm. Look out for that review next week. Spoiler alert: I loved it.

I also achieved my Goodreads 2021 goal of reading 24 books. That may sound paltry based on a lot of the book blogs I read, but that’s a lot for me, damn it! I’m aiming for 26 in 2022.

Goals for January

I feel like I rushed through this post, but this might be a good indication of where my head is at currently. I have a lot I want to achieve in the next few months, primarily finishing a solid draft of New Earth, and I just want to get down to it.

  1. Write 9,000 words. This feels achievable to me based on my writing progress the last two weeks, and it may be the start of escalating writing goals to start the year off. We’ll see how it goes.
  2. Read 3 books. Currently waiting for my copy of Towers of Midnight to arrive 😀
  3. Start working out again. My exercise routine really fell through the last couple months, so I want to get back on track. This is an open-ended goal for now until I can establish a decent routine again.

Happy New Year!

Steve D

Book Review: THE LAST KINGDOM and engrossing characters and story

After years of watching the show and hearing from my father-in-law that I would love Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories series — now more famously known as The Last Kingdom series — I finally listened to the first story, The Last Kingdom, on Audible.

This was my first introduction to Cornwell’s writing, having watched all of the TV adaptation of “The Last Kingdom” previously. Even though I came into this book with inflated expectations, I was definitely not disappointed.

The Last Kingdom follows young Uhtred, the son of an English noble, from the time he is kidnapped by a Danish earl, Ragnar, until he becomes a man. This first installment is effectively a coming-of-age story, where Uhtred learns how to live like a Dane and how to be a true warrior. He learns early on that he has a strong lust for battle and killing, and he chooses the warrior’s path for himself, becoming caught between his Saxon heritage and his Danish upbringing.

Cornwell’s story is exciting, and his plot is punctuated by thrilling action sequences and scenes of dialogue that do most of the heavy lifting in revealing the characters. Many of the names would be familiar to those who had watched the titular Netflix show, but the story is far more in depth.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing more of Uhtred’s early years, which are largely glossed over in the show. The reader gets to see more of the relationship between Uhtred and Ragnar, which truly becomes a father-son bond as the young Uhtred grows. This story lays a strong foundation for Uhtred to constantly be pulled between the two halves of his heart — the half that wants to help Ragnar the Younger in avenging the death of their father, and the half that wants to reclaim his birthright as lord of Bebbanburg.

This story also sets up what is sure to be a fiery relationship/rivalry between Uhtred and King Alfred of Wessex, as Alfred ensnares Uhtred deeper and deeper in the politics of Wessex (and his liege-ship), and Uhtred tries to angle for a chance to see his homeland in Northumbria reclaimed. The dialogue scenes between Uhtred and King Alfred crackle with tension.

If I had one gripe against this story, it’s that I don’t know if I would enjoy it as much if I didn’t already know the characters. Being able to see the actors’ faces in my mind as I listened brought this story to life in a way that many others cannot be.

Can’t wait to start the next one.

Steve D

Book Review: INTERIOR CHINATOWN and commentary on Othering in America

Charles Yu exposes a ton of insight into what it’s like to be a “Generic Asian Man” in America. In Interior Chinatown he tells the story of an actor, Willis Wu, trying to work his way up the ladder, advancing from Generic Asian Man #3, to #2, through several intermediary roles, until at last he gets the chance to play the dream role: Kung Fu Guy.

That is all Willis thinks he is capable of becoming, a trope of cinema and a caricature of himself.

Through this experience, and with some much needed help from his family, Willis comes to realize that Kung Fu Guy is still just another version of Generic Asian Man, just like Old Asian Man or Asian Seductress.

In a strange but emotionally stirring scene in which Willis is “on trial” for boxing himself in racially and socially, he (and the reader) learn some tragic tidbits about how the US has treated immigrants from East Asia, and especially China throughout its history.

This is yet another side of history that we don’t often find in American textbooks; policies like the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which took steps to effectively ban all immigration to the US from China. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first of its kind to ban immigration based on race or country of origin. There were also a series of Supreme Court rulings in the 1920s which sought to exclude Asians from naturalization in the US. (Read more here).

Ultimately, Willis realizes that he is playing into a system which exacerbates his own place as Asian Man; a role which continues to flummox American society at large, even after 200 years of immigration (particularly from China).

I found the structure of this story odd at first. It read like a TV script, with characters delivering lines to each other in such a way that it was difficult to tell at times when Willis was actually acting in a scene for one of his roles, versus when he was “playing” a role as Asian Man in his everyday life. This storytelling mechanism is intentional, of course, and does lend to the author’s crucial commentary, in the form of the protagonist’s monologues.

Overall enjoyed this, but more than anything, Yu makes me want to read more about the Chinese American experience, and the US’s abominable history, distant and not so distant, in this (and many other) regards.

Steve D

Book Review: KNIFE OF DREAMS sets up an epic final act for THE WHEEL OF TIME

I recently finished reading Knife of Dreams, The Wheel of Time #11. You may remember that in my previous entries about some of the books in this series, I have lamented the plodding pace of the narrative, especially for particular point-of-view characters.

After a few books’ worth of dragging plotlines, Knife of Dreams finally brings some real momentum to this series, and ties off a few narrative threads in the process.

For the most part, the reader spends several chapters with a particular character at a time, watching their narrative unfold in more depth. Unlike in previous books, however, there is actually forward progress with the main characters, and Jordan even returns to each character towards the end of the book to see where they’ve landed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was glad to find it spent the most time with only three of the primary characters: Mat, Perrin, and Elayne. There are check-in sections with Rand, Egwene, and others, mostly serving as compelling placeholders for things to come in the next book(s).

The three or four smaller plot lines that are all tied off in this momentous installment is clearly guiding the reader and each of the characters towards one thing: the Last Battle. With only three books left in the series — I say that as if each book wasn’t more than 600 pages — Knife of Dreams is definitely setting up the end game for the series.

I’m not ready to forgive the narrative slog that was books 7 through 10 (especially 10). I can see that groundwork that Jordan was laying for the mini-climaxes in previous books. I’m just not convinced that it needed to take as long as it did to get to this point.

Anyway, I feel like I’m over the hump of the middle part of this series, and I’m ready to jump into the final three books, which were completed by Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s death. The Gathering Storm (book 12) will be my first introduction to Sanderson’s writing, so I’m excited to see how he adapts Jordan’s story and narrative style. Then I can start reading Sanderson’s own work!

Steve D