Recently I’ve had a lot of opportunity to contemplate my future, insofar as I have a lot of hobbies and interests and I’d like to figure out a method to get paid for some of them so I can pursue the rest in my free time. Since I don’t want to be paid for my fiction writing (out of principle and necessity) I must then find a way to be paid for my concern with foreign policy and human rights.
Broadly, I want to help other countries relieve themselves of U.S. imperialism. As a lot of recent articles have pointed out, the most effective way to do this is by focusing on our foreign policy rather than intervening in these other countries. For example, in Teju Cole’s piece earlier this year, he points to a number of policies that America pursues to further its own interests to the detriment of other countries. He insists on thinking constellationally, which means seeing the whole picture. Human rights abuses don’t occur in a vacuum–they often are a response to local dissent, which is in response to economic or political difficulties. In many situations, these difficulties are aided or abetted by the United States’ foreign policy. And that’s where we/I come in.
To me it seems there’s an opportunity here. Much popular reporting shirks this “constellation thinking” in favor of immediate facts (troop movements, riots, famine). In the better articles, such as those from BBC or Al Jazeera, you’ll get an expanded sense–something approximating constellation thinking. Primarily it’s a consequence of time. Journalists are turning out copy on many situations and issues and extensive research into the problem does not a story make. That’s a feature, and there’s only so much budget for features.
I’m therefore interested in doing some independent feature writing on my own and seeing if there’s a unique voice I can carve out. I’m specifically thinking about the M23 Congo rebels story right now–which has received ample coverage from expected quarters as well as a possible version of the story I would write. Reading this last article is informative, but the relationship between the United States and Rwanda and Uganda is elided. A couple sentences, here and there, elude to the facts but say nothing concrete: “Both Rwanda and Uganda are relatively ordered countries — in stark contrast to Congo — with well-entrenched authoritarian governments that receive significant military and financial aid from the United States and the West.”
Were I to write this article, I would reinforce the dual relationship between Western aid and mineral exploitation. The Foreign Policy article notes eastern Congo’s vast mineral wealth and points to Rwanda’s continuing illegal exploitation of that wealth, but the benefit such industry provides to Western countries is only implied. Is there space for me to uniquely analyze the situation, from a progressive left point of view? I don’t doubt that there are local reasons for the ongoing violence (continuing ethnic tensions, territorial arguments) but Western aid allows regimes in Rwanda and Uganda to act with a free hand. Compare that to sanctions on Syria, thereby financially squeezing the embattled Assad. We have made his ability to repress his people more difficult; we have made Paul Kagame’s ability to incur on Congo territory easier.
Time to get to work I suppose.
Laid into last week’s issue of the Economist. This reading diary turned into way too much of an exercise. In the future I’m going to simply list all the articles I read and only discuss the pertinent items. I can’t spend 2+ hours on each entry! Sheesh. Or maybe I’ll give more articles a one-sentence review.
- “Snow dragons” by Dominic Ziegler in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Interesting comparison of the trade advantages that a shrinking Arctic cap presents with the distinct environment concerns the shrinkage brings. Certain countries will benefit, like Russia and America–and certain countries are seeking to benefit, like China and South Korea. Best bits are about the diplomatic give-and-take between China and the other countries that are directly impacted by the Arctic Sea. This includes how they will “swallow their fury with Norway for the award in 2010 of the Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese dissident.” Nothing in here screams legendary story, but the behind-closed-doors maneuvering makes a fun read. And at the end, a reminder: The melting of the ice will endanger many places we’ve just discussed!
- “The conflict in Syria: Worse and worse, and no end in sight” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Catalogue of recent events in the Syrian civil war. Massacre at Darayya, ongoing seige of Aleppo, gunning down of government helicopters and planes. The real changes are in the scale of the conflict: Near 400 people were murdered in Darayya, and total estimated dead in the war ranges from 17,000 to 23,000. Horrific numbers; each time I read about massacres, I recall the Algerian Civil War. And of course, the ethnic difficulties between the pro-Assad Alawites and the majority Sunnis reminds one of the powderkeg Balkans. The “no end in sight” in the title is the worst part, and honestly I don’t even know what to say anymore about Syria. It looks like recent ethnic conflicts, its become a civil war, what can we do?
I’m torn between the adventurism, wanting to establish a no-fly zone, safe havens around the borders for refugees–but those necessarily require men with guns, Turkish or Egyptian or UN or our own, to guard the civilians, which leads to an inevitable confrontation one day when a pro-Assad unit goes too far and kills say 10 non-Syrians. Then what? So if we avoid our adventurism, instead feed the rebels guns and support–maybe this conflict lasts years (see: Algerian Civil War) and we get 150,000 dead instead. I’d feel worse about my indecision except the entire fucking world is being indecisive so I’m at least not alone.
One interesting suggestion I heard listening to the BBC’s Global News podcast was: there needs to be neutral space for dictators like Assad, wherein they can peacefully leave before things explode out of control. A willful exile. Assad had no Western allies and only a few local allies (Iran, Hezbollah) so his options were limited to begin with, and there’s the ever-present threat of ICC war crimes trials etc. Not that he should be exempt: but there should be a peaceful exit route for dictators, and right now it barely exists. I guess that’s kind of a weak argument–Ben Ali took the easy way out, right? Reading the article now though, I see his military essentially forced him out. How sensible of them. If only the Syrian army were more loyal to their citizens.
And of course! There’s always the proxy war issue. Iran v the West. There’s so many angles to this. Maybe that’s why we’re all indecisive.
- “Egypt’s foreign policy: Independent–or not?” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
- “Yemen and the United States: Don’t drone on” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Short article about the growing blowback from America’s ongoing drone war. See: the other articles already on the topic. Really a full feature should be devoted to this, but what we have here are five token paragraphs. Certain Yemenis hate it, others near the capital are ambivalent because they want US support. Considering drones have zero moral credibility–and now they have little pragmatic credibility–we should probably rethink this policy. Sadly I doubt anything along those lines will happen.
- “Private equity in China: Hony ahoy” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Great in-depth article about one of China’s biggest private equity firms, Hony. This is news I don’t actively seek out but it’s interesting when I come across. Hony has done well in the last few years and positioned itself as the most successful private equity firm in China, but of course hurdles remain, including spreading outwards across the globe. And apparently its returns haven’t been astounding. You can begin to tie this into the “Summertime blues” article below, and wonder if the Chinese hard/soft landing will impact private equity’s ability to expand and stay profitable. Maybe their struggles with good returns is indicative of the drying Chinese economy?
- “Democracies and debt” by Philip Coggan in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Alternately insightful and aggravating, Coggan quickly paints the duality between democracy and money. Political leaders have apparently long feared that democracy would “lead them to ruin”, I imagine they mean the rich people’s ruin. But the more applicable point is that a democracy appears more stable, and thus is extended larger amounts of credit. For many countries, that credit is now drying up and they are instead stuck with large amounts of debt. A useful facet of the debt bubble from the last 30 years–the only question is, do we have the balls for another system? When times are good, debt is so cheap and easy and wonderful. But then you have the last five years and wonder if it’s worth it.
- “The global economy: Summertime blues” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Numbers round-up from revised Q2 analyses and summer reports. Everyone’s down, some less than others (U.S., Germany). Most interesting is the point to diminished Chinese imports; the author here speculates this hints more at the “hard landing” for China. Every one has been predicting China’s landing this year. Early on it seemed to be hard, then numbers eased up and it appeared more soft, but here we are talking a hard landing again. Be worried, etc.
- “Four more years?” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Leader]
Presents all the doubts of the Obama presidency with a Republican-tint. “Approval ratings are well under 50%”–are they really? I suppose 47.5% is under 50 but “well under” seems an overstatement. The rest of the article follows this pitch: trying to be even-handed while clearly favoring anything but Obama. That’s fine, Obama’s not great I’ll grant you, but they don’t provide any solutions. I suspect they don’t want to. “What would you do with another four years?” is how the article ends. It’s a 700-word question mark. Why did I read this?
- “Life in an Icy Inferno” by Olivia Judson in National Geographic, July 2012. [Feature]
An antidote to world news: natural history! This article is mostly interesting as description of all the extra work that goes into traveling to Mt. Erebus, a volcano in Antarctica. It’s a lot of work. The photographs are good, an incredible shot down into the caldera of the volcano with molten rock laying bare to the world.
- “As North Dakota goes…” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
I tend to favor international articles and analysis but keeping up with the home news is probably a good thing. This article details the current election landscape in North Dakota–the state had long been locally Democratic, but that changed in the Tea Party 2010 elections and quite possibly will continue in these elections. One quote I found particularly telling: “[T]hanks to high prices for the wheat and soyabeans the state’s farmers grow, and to the oil boom in the western half of the state, he says, North Dakotans no longer turn so instinctively to the government for help. They are becoming more self-reliant and, as a result, more Republican.”
Thanks for all the help, government, but I’m rich now so you can take your taxes and shove them up your ass.
- “The trials of Ernesto Zedillo” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
I’m only three issues into my whole Economist kick but this is a great example of my favorite aspect of the magazine: in-depth articles about current events with relevant historical details fleshed out. Ernesto Zedillo was president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, a reign I’m entirely unfamiliar with. The article describes the bloody Zapatista uprising in the early 90s, and explores a potential trial of Zedillo for his role in a 1994 massacre.
- “High gloom” by Anton La Guardia in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Will Draghi save the day? Stay tuned! I wish I had the most recent issue, I bet there’s analysis of Draghi’s announced bond-buying plan. There’s a complicated song and dance around all of this talk of bond-buying because so many countries have so flagrantly disregarded their debt obligations. Draghi wants assisted countries to commit to reforms (austerity) and the debt bought will only be short-term and yadda yadda.
Everyone’s to blame for this mess. Banks got nuts with cheap credit, governments loved building shit on cheap bonds, average citizens were happy to buy a house and a car and etc. We saw easy ways to become rich and seized them. It’s a bit chicken-and-the-egg to blame one side for being greedy and the other side for fulfilling that greed (especially because the other side were acting out of greed, too). My feelings on debt as a process are mixed: it quite possibly has positive uses, although it seems a terrible system to run an economy on. More on this when I finally get to the debt book, after the Africa book.
- “Erdogan’s counterproductive ambition” in The Economist, 1 September 2012. [Article]
Portrait of the current Turkish Prime Minister’s political difficulties and ambitions; he has long been successful in the country (they rattle off a whole host of reasons–improved GDP, better roads, rights for women) but of late has hit roadblocks. He blames Syria and the Kurds–which recalls an article from two weeks ago (“Turkey’s Kurds: Violent times”) which gave a fuller picture of the Kurdish reality as of now. Assad has surrendered portions of northern Syria, and thus local Kurds have assumed control, thereby buttressing Kurds in eastern Turkey. Their rebellion has become increasingly violent. This diversion may prove to be one of the lasting legacies of the Syrian revolution, an unintended consequence. There are near 30 million Kurds who live between Iran/Iraq/Turkey/Syria and they quite possibly see an opening to seize political sovereignty.
- “South Africa’s mines: In the pits” in The Economist, 25 August 2012. [Article]
- “The Arab Spring is dead–and Syria is writing its obituary” by Richard Engel on NBCnews.com.
Great follow-on to the Syria article above; this concisely explain the religious sectarianism that is rapidly coming to the foreground in the Syrian civil war. Essentially, you have the Alawite Assad government getting help from Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, with the Sunni-majority rebels getting help from al Qaeda. File this in the “arguments against interventionism”. Sunnis and Shiites have been warring for centuries over the legacy of Islam (see: Protestants and Catholics? Is this a fair comparison?) and the article traces current fighting in Syria to our meddling in Iraq (which benefited Shiites).
- Pages 127-134 of Africa by John Reader. [Book]
Finally squeezed a chapter of this in over the weekend. Great stuff per usual. The chapter in particular covered the relationship between early man and the land. Because of our dependence on water, early man had to be within 12 hours of freshwater, thereby restricting his daily food-gathering routines and sleeping patterns. A couple things changed that allowed us to spread beyond these restrictions. There’s evidence of widespread fire usage at least 100,000 years ago, which increased our ability to function at night. And about 38,000 years ago there was a peak warming period, in which much of Africa became more humid than normal, increasing sources of freshwater. Populations swelled and humans moved into many different areas of the continent. And then an ice age began and much of that population diminished. Dry academic terms don’t do that justice; it sounds terrifying. Imagine those early humans 18,000 years ago dying off from lack of food due to aridity.
Three issues of Cosmic Vinegar have been published. All told, that’s pretty awesome and I’m proud of it, although I never really doubted my ability to produce. Writing two novels in two years demonstrated to myself that I can produce. The tough part of the magazine is in the grind, however, so ask me again in six months.
Today, I’m more interested in thinking about immediate scaling issues and reception.
Hard numbers follow. These are not pagehits to the site, but instead the number of times an issue has been downloaded or viewed. I imagine each download or view is a single person checking out the magazine.
- October 2011: 23 downloads and/or views
- November 2011: 11 downloads and/or views
- December 2011: 12 downloads and/or views
October is a tad inflated of course as it’s been around the longest, and December is a tad deflated because it’s only been around for a week. In that sense, the fact that December has already matched November is encouraging. Hopefully a few more views will come in before January–I’d really love to try and get that number back up to 20 at least.
In general, it seemed like I had more success when targeting less-well-known publications, such as the Canadian Science Fiction Review. I had purposefully ramped up my focus with the first three issues: starting small then moving up to the big boys like Clarkesworld. Now I think I’ll reel it back, stick with the little guys for a couple of issues. It makes sense, of course; authors in smaller markets are probably more excited about being reviewed than guys who have cracked the big markets. That is, until this thing really takes off! Right, guys? Right?
So that’s the state of the magazine at present. Realistically, 85% of my views are probably friends and family, but I suspect that’s how it always starts.
I need to breathe. I need to keep my expectations appropriate. Issue one of Cosmic Vinegar is going live tomorrow, at approximately high noon.
I want to change the world: But this first issue will not do that. I want a lot of readers: But this first issue will not find them.
Reality now. I expect maybe a few family members, a handful of friends, and a few writers (who I review in the issue) will download it. Call it 15 downloads. If I can get to 20, that’s solid. Anything more is a real, big time win.
The plan now. For the next month, I will comb sci-fi message boards and post where appropriate. I will not advertise the magazine. I might advertise issue 2, most certainly issue 3. A presence must be built, not assumed.
This first issue is a foundation. Opening arguments. Do not expect much; expect 15 views.
Maybe even one or two less.
crawl til dawn / on my hands and knees
goddamn these vampires / for what they’ve done to me.
-The Mountain Goats “Damn These Vampires”
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, so the whole “write more” thing makes sense. Reading more is another natural extension of this. So now I read nonfiction books at home and fiction during lunch and on the weekends. As these two aspects of my life have developed, I realized I couldn’t just write literary fiction about people with issues. While all well and good to include the eternal troubles of humanity, there are more timely problems that I feel need addressing. Societal, political, economic problems.
This has driven me to search for legitimacy. People like Robert Reich and Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky generally agree to my worldview, even Jeffrey Sachs at times, but–it still feels–I feel adrift in some ideological sea, where the problem is apparent but everyday life is too comfortable. What can my writing do? “The correct way of posing the question.” That’s what I can do. But is that enough? (more…)
There’s an interesting lecture that Philip K. Dick once gave, where he muses on the overarching questions his writing inevitably probes. These questions are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” The lecture itself devolves into a very loquacious defense of his idea that we live in the time of the Bible.
I don’t know, I skimmed that part.
But the opening third of the lecture is fascinating. I have, for many years, been a fan of PKD. He’s one of the best sci-fi writers I can think of; he doesn’t write sci-fi because spaceships are fun, he writes sci-fi to allow himself the necessary room to explore his two questions. He wants to understand the world better, like most artists; he was channeling his uncertainty about reality. Instead of channeling emotional pain through the magic of piano music, he channeled cosmic wonder into sci-fi unreality yarns.
Naturally, I thought about myself while reading this. I thought about what my questions were; what am I probing through my art? Certainly, he had more to look back on and draw parallels when he made explicit his dominant themes. Maybe doing it at this stage is premature. But I don’t think it hurts.
My writing largely has to do with rebellion; power dynamics. But those aren’t the questions I’m asking. Whereas PKD asked “What is reality?” I am asking “What is society?” The reason for this being, reality beyond human understanding is largely irrelevant to human life. I’m less concerned with reality as we don’t know it, and more concerned with reality as we create it; that is, society.
Do I have a second question? Sure. I’ve been trying to think about how to phrase it. Like Dick’s, the second question is intertwined with the first. I’m not sure I can put it exactly into words right now.
It has to do with sovereignty; with control over others, conceded by those others. The ruler is granted sovereign control over a community by election (ideally, I suppose)–but to what point does his mandate override the will of the people? As we saw in Tunisia, the will of the people outlasted the mandate of the autocrat. But in other states, for example Iran a couple of years ago and Egypt now (so Mubarak hopes), the autocrat comes out on top–by exerting the power of the state over the electorate (so-called electorate in both of those states, for reasons of election fraud).
Where does authority’s mandate end, and society’s right to revolt begin?
(Update from March 13) As Gaddafi is making clear in Libya with each passing hour, the right to revolt is only part of the issue; that draws international recognition. The other half of the issue is the ability to carry it through.
A follow-up to my post at the beginning of 2010 which laid out some basic ideas of what I wanted to accomplish in 2010. Let’s look back for a moment.
In 2010, I wanted to…
- Edit EE by end of February; query agents upon finishing. This mostly happened, although it was by the end of March. I did query some agents but quickly became disillusioned with the quality of the manuscript, even after editing. I think making this a saleable book would require much, much more work, which I’m not prepared to enter yet. Maybe in 2012….
- Write sequel to EE, beginning in April. I quickly abandoned this plan, as I ceded to the advice Never write a sequel to an unpublished book. Thus, work on HR began instead, which I have written approximately half of to date.
- Write five more substantial short stories (~20 pages) and five shorter pieces (~10 pages); continue to send catalog to markets. I entered the post-EE period by writing a number of flashes, a few which graduated to substantial short stories. I didn’t do five, but I think four happened. Numerous flashes were written, although I don’t think many ~10 pagers were written, if at all.
- Read a book every two weeks. I realize this is a lowly amount to some of you, yet it will represent a vast improvement from a couple of years ago. This breakneck pace–26 books–was not attained, although that can at least be partially attributed to my four-month siege on Ulysses.
So, overall, not very successful. I made progress on all fronts but not enough. I did start a job this year, which certainly played into how much I accomplished, but I won’t get anywhere chucking up excuses. No excuses, play like a champion. I’ll do better in 2011. I’m going to make a similar list; a little loftier, and with one new item….
- Finish HR (novel #2) by the end of March. Perhaps edit in the fall, although project #3 will hamper that.
- Similarly, I need to finish reading Ulysses by the end of March, so I’m good to go on project #3.
- Begin and continue project #3, the serial. First issue by end of May. This will constitute the vast majority of my writing in 2011.
- Read a book every two weeks! For real this time. Once out of the Ulysses woods, that is. Project #3 will require avid reading of indie sci-fi books, but those are shorter than your average paperback (~200 pages), so I don’t expect much trouble. I also want to keep up with my nonfiction reading, which is primarily current events at this point.
2010 provided a good basis, a good rhythm of what I need to do in order to get where I want to be (a well-informed sci-fi writer on sociopolitical issues). I’m excited for 2011, especially project #3. But I have to stay focused, one day at a time, and get novel #2 down on paper first. I promised myself back in 2009 that I wouldn’t leave novels unfinished and I’m not breaking that promise this early.
Repeat: If only for the experience, writing a second full novel is good for you. If only for the experience….
One of the primary things I’ve wrestled with when considering my third project–exploring DIY publishing–is the overpowering sense in the writing industry that self/e/indie publishing is The Wrong Way to Do It, especially if you want to be respected and courted by legit agents and so on. So I’ve resisted my punk sensibilities and worked to do it that way.
Of course, that’s not the only way; self/e/indie publishing doesn’t preclude you from ever achieving literary acceptance. It mostly just precludes the material you publish through independent channels from ever achieving literary acceptance.
That idea is liberating in its own way, forsaking literary acceptance–if only for a little while.
A lot of online advice about independent publishing is focused around the question: is it right for you? Because if you want that work-in-progress to be the next Da Vinci Code, independent publishing is probably not the correct avenue. However, if you just want to make like 50-500 copies available, well then perhaps it’s something worth exploring.
I thought about it. I want mainstream success; of course, everyone does. The idea of living comfortably off merely making shit up every day sounds like a fantasy. I think ostensibly it is a fantasy; but enough people achieve it to make it a fantasy that the other 99% strive for. Kind of like sports; yeah they’re fun but wouldn’t it be awesome to get paid millions to play a kid’s game? And I thought about it more. What else do I want?
I want to affect readers, sure, but an emotional response isn’t priority number one for me. I want to take them on a journey, but that’s almost assumed with my chosen genre (science fiction). What do I really want? What do I write for?
I write to rebel. I write to educate. I want to write stories that explore and expose politics, economics, sociology. And so the plan for my third project comes into ever-clearer focus. It will allow me to develop my writing style and skill, but it will also allow me to explore current political developments and juxtapose them against technological developments. I’ll be exploring myself (writing), my world (politics), and my genre (technology). I’m so excited to begin.
But I still need to finish that darn second novel which is only half done. 46,000 words. Come on, Sam. Get to work.
Not a lot to say right now, trying to hammer out chapter 8 before Thanksgiving.
It’s gonna need a good rewrite unfortunately; it’s told in a different voice than the rest of the novel, and I haven’t quite set it apart yet, tone-wise. It needs a different energy, different style. But if I can get the whole thing down on paper, I can spend free time on break restructuring it and playing around with the style.
Updates on Project Three.
So, the original idea was to put critical reviews of indie sci-fi on the blog, and provide ebook/DIY paper versions of a serialized story. In a moment of realization, I figured: why not combine the two? Make the whole thing a monthly zine of sorts for indie sci-fi. It can have a short news section, a couple critical reviews, and then ~20 pages of original fiction written by yours truly. Like a lit version of Cahiers du Cinema or Touch and Go.
Those are going to be my influences for this project, so I ordered about 8 to 9 different punk zines yesterday. They should be showing up next week. I’m really excited to pour through them and see what different DIY publishing people are doing. One of them has a bunch of interviews with editors of punk zines, that should be especially informative.
I’ll also probably have to check out some current sci-fi lit journals, to see what everyone is talking about, but their aesthetic is not what I’m shooting for.
Every day I get a little more excited about this. It’s going to look so xeroxed and cheap but hopefully the quality of the content will be exciting. And I’m certainly open to changing the format, making it more professional looking etc., if any interest in garnered.
I’m thinking about conducting a guerrilla advertising approach; mailing it to indie sci-fi writers and publishers, university lit departments. Not sure about that, but it’s… an idea.
Anyhow, back to the novel.