that was the year that was

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2019 was a crazy-ass motherfucking year.

There were many high points. For one thing, this was a calendar year in which three novels, two of which I’d been working on for quite some time, all came out: Mermaid Precinct, a horse-choking six years after Gryphon Precinct and two years after I did the Kickstarter for it; A Furnace Sealed, debuting a new urban fantasy series that I first started working on in 2011; and Alien: Isolation, a very nifty tie-in novel that I’m quite pleased with.

I also had six short stories out in six different anthologies. I started and ended the year with stories in anthologies edited or co-edited by Michael A. Ventrella and published by Fantastic Books, and taking place in the “Precinct” universe: “The Midwinter of Our Discontent” in Release the Virgins! and “Used to Be” in Across the Universe. Between them I had a Cassie Zukav story in Unearthed called “Rán for Your Life,” debuted the character of Connie de la Vega in two science fiction stories, “The Silent Dust” in Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals & Gizmos and “The Puzzle” in Footprints in the Stars, and wrote a pulp tale in Thrilling Adventure Yarns entitled “Alien Invasion of Earth!”

But the nonfiction went through the roof, mostly thanks to contributions to Tor.com. I wrote a lot about pop culture for that web site, starting with the weekly “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch,” which hit some of the most popular movies in this particular pantheon, covering Phases 2 and 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the DC Extended Universe in between, and lots of other films from the popular (Deadpool, Kingsman) to the obscure (the 1940s Dick Tracy short films, the two Prince Valiant movies) to the embarrassingly awful (R.I.P.D., Cowboys and Aliens). I also reviewed every episode of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery as they were released, ditto the second batch of Short Treks, and also wrote about the MCU (two pieces on Avengers: Endgame and one on Tom Holland’s Spider-Man), reviewed the first seasons of The Boys and The Umbrella Academy, did a post-mortem on Marvel’s Netflix series, and reviewed the DS9 documentary What We Left Behind. On top of that, I had an essay in the latest Outside In collection, this one on the “Darla” episode of Angel, and the Batman quote book I assembled was released by Insight Editions. Cha cha cha.

On top of that, while I haven’t always kept up as well as I might, the content on Patreon has continued to chug out, from weekly excerpts from my works in progress to TV and movie reviews to vignettes featuring my original characters to a metric buttload of cat pictures.

I also went to more cons than I’ve ever been to in a single calendar year, thanks to the good graces of Bard’s Tower adding to my already-busy convention schedule. With three new books out, this was a useful thing, and my royalties on A Furnace Sealed and the Precinct books are reflecting my hand-selling books at shows. I’m looking very much forward to doing more with the tower in 2020, in addition to all my other con gigs (I’ve got at least two GoH gigs to cons I’ve never been to before this coming year).

Financially, the year was a bit up and down. Wrenn got a gig that paid her well for a while, and that same source will provide a lot more income in 2020, but it wasn’t as much as we were hoping for in 2019. My serialized game tie-in fiction was supposed to have kicked into high gear this year, but we’re still stuck in first gear on it as we work the kinks out. With luck, 2020 will be the year it pays off (since it certainly wasn’t 2019, sigh).

In general, I seem to have mucked up my time-management skills something awful. Part of it is balancing karate teaching, conventions, and the nonfiction for Tor with the fiction writing, and I’m not always successful. Part of it is stress, over the shitty state of the country, over the shitty state of our economy, and over the financial stuff I mentioned above, exacerbated by the fact that I’ve spent the 2010s working twice as hard as I did in the 2000s but making half the money I did then. Part of it is I turned 50 this year, and everything seems to be slower than it used to be.

Speaking of that, it was a milestone year: I turned 50. It’s also the 25th anniversary of my fiction writing career (my first short story was published in 1994), the 15th anniversary of my being a karateka (I first walked into the dojo as an out-of-shape white belt in September 2004), and the 10th anniversary of me and Wrenn as a couple (we started dating in June 2009 after spending a lot of time together at Balticon that year).

Personally, things remain wonderful. There are people I don’t get to see as often as I’d like (one person in particular), and I need to fix that in 2020. My family is generally doing well — lots of physical issues that come with age, but they’re being managed decently. (Well, okay, there was the one person who fractured her hip, but she’s recovering from that quite well.)

No matter what ups and downs my personal and professional life have, I always take heart in the fact that I have the greatest friends, the greatest family, and the greatest fans in the world. On a delightfully regular basis I’ll see a comment online or get an e-mail or meet someone at a convention whose life has been touched in some way by my work — usually it’s just getting some enjoyment from reading, but that’s the business I’m in, so it’s nice to get the affirmation. In fact, one of the first things I’ll be doing in the new year is appearing on a Star Trek podcast to talk about my 2009 novel A Singular Destiny.

There’s lots of nifty stuff on the docket in 2020. My collaboration with David Sherman, To Hell and Regroup, the third book in David’s “18th Race” trilogy, will be released in the spring, the game tie-ins should kick in to high gear (cross fingers), I plan to work on both the sequel to A Furnace Sealed and on Phoenix Precinct, I’ve got a new regular gig for Tor.com once the superhero movie rewatch catches up to real time in mid-January, and I’ll be reviewing Star Trek: Picard season one and Discovery season three when they’re released. I also have to write the two stories I crowdfunded, “The Gorvangin Rampages” and “Ragnarok and a Hard Place” (which, by the way, you can totally still support if you want). There’s going to be a big karate tournament this summer that I will be involved with as a judge, as a participant, and as a helper which should be really excellent when it happens. And I will continue to be teaching three days a week to kids, my two afterschool programs and the kids fighting class at the dojo.

Tonight we’re off to New Jersey to ring in the new year with some of our dearest friends. There will be gift exchanges, there will be food and fermented fluids, there will be celebrating, and there will be joy and happiness. As it should be.

Happy new year, everyone!

 

Monday music: “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand”

I first saw Paul Thorn when he opened for Mark Knopfler at the Beacon Theatre in 2001. I was supposed to see him again in 2013, but the concert was the same night as one day of my second black belt promotion, so Wrenn and Laura Anne went without me. *sadface*

This song is a delightful ditty that, apparently, was inspired by the fact that Christian tent revivals and roadside fireworks stands both use the same kind of tent, so he wrote about a preacher who decided to meld the two……..

eSpec eBook sAle!

Just in time for the new year, eSpec Books is having an eBook sale, where all their titles are available for only $.99!

You can get all six books in the “Precinct” series (Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, Mermaid Precinct, and Tales from Dragon Precinct), my short story collection Without a License, or any of the anthologies I’m in from eSpec (Footprints in the Stars, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future), or the first two books in David Sherman’s 18th Race trilogy (Issue in Doubt and In All Directions) in anticipation of the third book (To Hell and Regroup), which he and I are writing together — each for a buck!

There are also books by my dear friends Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Michelle Sonnier, Megan Mackie, Christopher L. Bennett, James Chambers, Bud Sparhawk, Robert Waters, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and the late C.J. Henderson, among many others.

You can get the eBooks from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or anywhere else eBooks are sold for this sale price. Check it out!

midweek music: merry happy!

The winter solstice has historically been a time for celebrating, as it’s when the sun renews itself: the days get longer, and the sun is metaphorically reborn. It’s why the calendar flips at this time of year, and why so many faiths celebrate the solstice in some form or other, in many cases, later religions adapting existing solstice celebrations for their own purpose. Yule, Christmas, Chanukkah, the new year, whatever — all celebrating the sun’s renewal. (EDITED TO ADD: as pointed out by Marina in the comments, Chanukkah isn’t really a solstice celebration, but rather a celebration of an event that happened to occur in winter, which has received outsized attention due to its proximity to the solstice in general and Christmas in particular.)

On this day, which Christians adopted as Christmas in order to more easily market their religion to peoples of other faiths who already celebrated this time of year, here are a few of my favorite songs that celebrate the holiday:

42 years of Christmas Eve

Every year, my parents host Christmas Eve, and have since 1977. Each year, we also take a picture of everyone present in front of the Christmas tree.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of their hosting it in 2017, I posted the tree picture from every decade, starting with 1977, and also including 1987, 1997, 2007, and 2017 and then I did it again last year with the pictures in 1978, 1988, 1998, 2008, and 2018. At this point, it’s now officially a blog tradition, so without further ado……………..

XMAS79

1979: I’m ten years old. I was in a phase where I almost always had a puppet on my hand. Usually it was Daniel Striped Tiger, but it was Christmas, so I went with Noel Bear. Next to the tree was the big loom that John used to weave stuff on. The tree was in the living room facing the dining room.

L.-r.: Nat (maternal uncle), Laurie (Nat’s girlfriend), John (third parent), my mother, Helga (fourth parent), me, my father, Roxanne (Fred’s wife), and Fred (maternal uncle).

Not pictured: Livia (paternal aunt), who took the picture.

 

XMAS89

1989: I’m twenty years old, a student at Fordham University in my senior year (I would graduate the following May). I was dating Marina, whom I would marry three years later. The spot where the tree used to be was now occupied by a computer desk, which we all used, so the tree was now on the other side of the living room by the back door to the patio. Nat is two relationships further on at this point, having married Ginny, and both he and Fred have procreated.

Top row, l.-r.: Ginny (Nat’s wife), Helga, my father holding Vicky (Nat & Ginny’s younger daughter), John, Marina, and Fred holding Blair (Fred & Roxanne’s middle son).

Middle row, l.-r.: Livia, my mother, me, and Roxanne holding Dillon (Fred & Roxanne’s youngest son)

Bottom row, l.-r.: Alissa (Nat & Ginny’s older daughter), Jared (Fred & Roxanne’s oldest son), and Nat

 

XMAS99

1999: I’m thirty years old. I’d been freelance for a year and a half at this point. Marina and I were married in 1992, but this was her last Christmas with us, as we split up in September 2000. Hilariously, ten years later, it’s all the same people as the ’89 pic, just older. Different house, though, as my parents had moved into the house they’re still in, with the tree by the front window in the living room, where it has always been.

Top row, l.-r.: Marina, my father, Helga, Roxanne, Fred, Nat, John, and me

Bottom row: Alissa, Blair, Ginny, my mother, Jared, Dillon, and Vicky

Not pictured: Livia (taking the picture)

 

XMAS09

2009: I’m forty years old. I’ve started and ended an entire relationship in the decade since the last picture (with Terri), and started another earlier that year. This was Wrenn’s first Christmas with my family. (Her surviving the evening is a big reason why I kept her….) This is the same year I won a Lifetime Achievement Award, got roasted, and achieved my first-degree black belt. Pretty good year, overall. Also in the interim, Fred and Nat have both split up with their wives. Nat has remarried.

This, by the way, is one of my favorites of the Christmas Eve pictures……

Top row, l.-r.: me, Helga, Wrenn, Fred, my mother, my father, Blair, Angela (Jared’s girlfriend), Nat, Donna (Nat’s wife)

Bottom row, l.-r.: Livia, John, and Jared

 

IMAG3127

2019: I’m fifty years old. Fred, Blair, Alissa, Vicky, and Dillon have all moved far away. Jared and Nat are still local, but do their own thing on Christmas Eve (also neither is with the person they were with in the ’09 pic). Wrenn and I now live down the street from my parents’.

L.-r.: Helga, Livia, John, my father, my mother, Wrenn, and me

My father is holding a pillow that Wrenn made from a T-shirt that Dale had actually gotten for my parents before he died and which we lost track of amidst his stuff until recently. It was a nice reminder of him for everyone.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

 

stuff what I’ve posted to Patreon this month

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On Sunday, Wrenn and I are going to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. If you want to know my thoughts on it, you should support my Patreon, where I post movie reviews for folks that pledge $1/month. For higher amounts, you get other stuff. As a for-instance, here’s what folks who support me have gotten in the month of December alone:

  • $1/month and up: reviews of Gangs of New York and Knives Out
  • $2/month and up: five pictures of our cats
  • $5/month and up: reviews of V-Wars season one and Hell on Wheels season one
  • $7/month and up: four excerpts from my work in progress
  • $10/month and up: a vignette starring Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet

And that’s just December! There’s usually one work-in-progress excerpt a week, two or three cat pictures a week, plus the original content of movie reviews, TV reviews, and vignettes, the full list of which can be found on this blog post.

So now’s a great time to support me and find out what I think about the new Star Wars movie, among other things……………….

 

joyous Yule!

shortestday

“The Shortest Day”
by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us — Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

Art by Charles Vess

 

Friday fanfare: “Further On Up the Road”

Two of the greatest guitarists in rock and roll history are Eric Clapton (duh) and Robbie Robertson of The Band. During The Last Waltz, Clapton joined The Band for “Further On Up the Road,” which was already going to be awesome and filled with great guitar riffs from both these guys, but the best part is during the intro when Clapton’s guitar strap snaps loose. Without missing a beat, Robertson picks it up and solos for a few measures before Clapton takes back over. Just some amazing stuff.