Approaching Four Months

So it’s been close to four months since I touched down here in Sydney. It’s extremely weird – it feels like it just happened and it happened much longer back, both at the same time. Doubly so since Australia is actively going into winter now, in late June. Unlike back in Maine, the houses here are not built with a focus on insulation. When it drops near freezing at night, you actually feel it indoors. Some of the leaves are starting to turn here, and my brain is still attempting to process that it’s Autumn again less than a year after I experienced it in New England. It’s not quite the same, but there’s just enough of that certain feeling in the air that it makes me wistful and nostalgic. I am absolutely one of those garbage human beings who will be ordering ingredients to make his own pumpkin spice lattes at home, because they aren’t the norm here at all (and that’s fair, I’ve recently been introduced to the world of savory Australian pumpkin dishes and I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve tried so far). My wife and I have talked a little bit about taking yearly trips back to New England to catch up with my folks and experience either the Common Ground Fair (big open air market featuring local farmers, crafting guilds and native art by representatives from the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes) in September or Halloween later on in October. If that pans out and becomes a regular thing I could conceivably get two Autumns every year, which is as close to paradise as I can imagine.

I’m enjoying it, though. I’ve said it before but I really think being in the city has a massive positive impact on my creativity. It isn’t unusual at all to daydream up a new short story idea while walking to and from the local supermarket and passing through the Crows Nest neighborhood looking at weird little hole in the wall shops. I did a bit of that back in Maine with hiking but I found that I had to pay too much attention to where I was walking, here I can kind of set myself on autopilot and think.

Writing-wise, I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now and it feels good. I can actually describe myself as a writer for the first time in a few years without feeling pangs of impostor syndrome. Now, I’ve also gotten to the point where I’m going to begin looking for a day job and I’m done coasting along on savings, so we’ll see if my current writing habits survive contact with having a job schedule at the same time. I’m confident they will, having made that transition once before I’ve started shaping my habits to be more conducive toward something that will eat up 8-9 hours a day. It took a conscious effort but I’ve turned myself from a night writer to a day writer, and I can really frontload a few thousand words on a good morning. Admittedly 1/2-2/3 of them will survive the editorial process but that’s still a few pages. I’ve got a short story project ongoing right now that’s allowing me to flex my creative muscles a little bit and I’m taking the opportunity to work on the kind of stuff I don’t normally do. My wheelhouse is secondary world fantasy with a lot of New Weird elements and the novels I’ve been planning out take place in a WWI-esque setting with a sprinkling of Germanic, Russian, Bedouin, Arabian and a few other cultures on top of a long history filled with Mesopotamian-styled rotating pantheons, dimensional shifts and necromancy, so I’ve steered myself far away from any of those. I also tend to write in the third person close POV so I’m not doing much of that in any of the short stories. I just finished one in first person present tense and holy shit I have so much more respect for authors who can churn that out an appreciable pace. I had to keep going back and correcting my tenses, tweaking things and self-editing halfway through.

I’ve tried to keep most of the stories set on earth but I’m allowing myself a little bit of fun on this last one, creating a secondary world and using just enough worldbuilding to keep a 10-12k short story afloat. My inspiration for it is the Ottoman Empire taking in the Sephardic Jews when they were pushed out of Iberia, integrating them into the culture and pushing them to fill in societal gaps while the greater Empire begins emphasizing military growth and expansion. I’ve created some similar but not copypasted cultures and magic systems that fit in with the mysticism of the era and place, and I’m drawing a lot of storytelling cues from Fritz Leiber’s Fafrd & The Gray Mouser stories, a collection of stories and novellas that you should seek out if you don’t already have a passing familiarity with them. They completely skewered the storytelling of the popular Conan and his clones and provided some of the weirdest fantasy I’ve encountered outside of Miéville and Vandermeer. Anyway, I digress, the core element is the odd couple swashbuckling tale and I’ve tried to transplant that in, so I’ve created a pair of roguish agents and dropped them hip-deep in intrigue and exploration. A disgraced janissary seeking redemption finds himself saddled with a cantankerous scholar of divine science from a recently displaced culture and the two are sent into the heart of not-Persia to track down the horn of a unicorn-like being that hasn’t been spotted for hundreds of years, and find themselves caught in an ongoing struggle between desperate villagers and a local sorcerer. It’s all very two-fisted tales on the surface but I’m really enjoying the hell out of writing it and the associated research into daily life in Turkey and Persia circa mid 16th century. Also trying to take enough of the kabbalah and translate it into a similar magic system without straight up ripping off the sephirot and spheres like a badly translated JRPG.

01255001Outside of the writing and Australia stuff, I’ve mainly been attempting to tackle the Horrible Hydra of Backlogged Media, wherein I finish one show I’ve meant to catch up on and three others pop up in its place. Most recently I’ve caught up on the latest season of Peaky Blinders, probably my favorite running show and period drama, only to get hooked on the Australian supernatural thriller CleverMan and the anime shows Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. These are, respectively: a brilliant occult mystery show focused around indigenous Australian mythology and folklore with one man thrust into the role of shamanistic ambassador between the mortal realm and the creatures of the dreamtime, an action show that I can really only describe as Snowpiercer with samurai and flesh eating volcano monsters, and a slice of life historical drama about the Japanese storytelling art of rakugo, where one man plays an entire cast of characters with the aid of a paper fan and a scrap of cloth all without leaving his sitting position.

Bookwise, in addition to the Babylonian/Arabian/Squid reference books, I’m still working my way through the collection of doorstops that make up the Malazan saga and I’m very much enjoying it, the prose takes a tremendous leap forward after a certain point and I think that the real strength of the books is putting in a tremendous amount of worldbuilding and then only showing it to the reader through incredibly biased and unreliable sources, in the same vein as a Gene Wolfe novel. Once I finish those I’ve got the new Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police book, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? followed by Charles Stross’s The Nightmare Stacks and a few others. I’m also horrible and need to catch up on NK Jemisin’s latest trilogy, starting with The Fifth Season.

On top of all this I’ve started rewatching some shows that the wife has never seen before but that I think she’d really like. We’re a bit of an odd couple in that she absolutely hates horror and tension and I thrive on those in a show, so it’s been a lot of effort on her part to sit through stuff like Alien and The Thing. We just recently finished up True Detective, even if the last episode had her wanting to throw up from the raw tension of it all, and we’ve started in on Breaking Bad (we’re two episodes in and she says that the awkwardness of some scenes is causing her actual physical pain so I’m not sure we’ll watch that through to the conclusion), and I’m very excited to get her into Twin Peaks. She actually hasn’t seen a single Lynch show/film before and I’m looking forward to get her take on them, especially Twin Peaks, Dune and Mulholland Drive. Lynch has been hugely, hugely influential on me and a large part of my writing career has been trying to figure out how to nail a similarly unsettling feeling in text like he does in a visual medium. The mythology of Twin Peaks is one of my favorite things ever out of a television show and I think that I’ve adopted way too many of Cooper’s quirks into my own personality after watching it at a young age. I have the feeling it’s going to be similar to when I made her watch Big Trouble in Little China for the first time and she just looked over at me and said “so much is explained” as the credits rolled.

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