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!

 

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!

 

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

 

why today is a holiday

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they said, “that all men are created equal.” Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down.
—President Bartlet,
The West Wing

4July

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

    • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
    • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
    • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
    • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
    • He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
    • He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
    • He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
    • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
    • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
    • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
    • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
    • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
    • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
    • For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
    • For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
    • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
    • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
    • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
    • For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
    • For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
    • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
    • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
    • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
    • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
    • He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
    • He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
    He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Georgia:
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton
Massachusetts:
John Hancock
Maryland:
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Pennsylvania:
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Delaware:
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Massachusetts:
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Connecticut:
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton