Shore leave ends

Last night I finished The Secret Commonwealth (Vol 2 of Pullman’s follow-up series to His Dark Materials) and sent it back (virtually, and virtuously) to the NYPL. By now, another patient reader has begun this dark and compelling tale. I noted parallels to current events (I’ll reveal no more than that), and had a brief moment of “That too?!?” about three-quarters of the way through. But then I remembered that I’m doing something similar with my own WIP, and just let myself fall deeper into Lyra’s world.

This year’s NaNo theme is so much fun.

As for my WIP — writing is progressing well, but slowly, and I’ll be on forced hiatus (for a pleasant reason) for a couple of weeks. But I’ve mapped out all the remaining chapters, many of which are already drafted — so maybe this draft is 70% finished. What’s even more exciting, with the help of my daughter, I finally filled in the last plot-hole. It was a big one, so I’m greatly relieved to have that repair in place.

And now I can get back to Moby-Dick. But before I start the next chapter (#68, so I’m past the halfway point), I just want to say a few quick words about Ishmael as unreliable narrator. In my last post, I warned everyone to watch out, because he makes up things. His chapter on the crow’s-nest, for instance, sounds like academic research but is, in fact, mostly humbug. But Ishmael has a clever sense of humor about it all — a bit like winking at the reader, especially with his footnotes — and is easy to forgive.

As for those footnotes, read them. They’re important. Melville, as Ishmael, is building a complex picture of American ingenuity, a mix of barbarity and inventiveness. Whalers, over the centuries, have invented all kinds of gadgets to ease the task of strip-mining the ocean’s wealth — ambergris, spermaceti, oil, meat — but there’s no avoiding the brutality of the process. You can move it below deck, but it’s still a bloody, stinky, cruel, dangerous mess.

A long time ago, a friend returning from a year in Norway brought me a can of whale meat. I kept that can for years, an object lesson of a strange sort. By the time I got rid of it (about the mid 1980s, I think), it had evolved from an interesting piece of art into a terrible reminder of what living on this planet demands.

Dear readers: try to make good choices.

Posted in Adventure, Am reading, Am revising, Fantasy, NaNoWriMo, Seafaring, short stories | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Steampunk typewriter

I bet you’re wondering about the title for this post. Well, feast your eyes on this:

Poster by Georgia Lange, for NaNoWriMo 2019

Ooh, ooh! Let me give the prototype a test-run! Note that it can clock your typing speed, keep an eye on your verb tenses, and (I’m hoping) let you know when you’ve had a brilliant idea. Jean Lee, I’ll see if I can line one up for you as well.

Ok, putting that dream away for now.

NaNo progress: 16 days of writing, and I should pass the 50K mark sometime tomorrow. I’ll have “won”, but I won’t have finished, so I’ll keep writing until my plane takes off.

Meanwhile, as for Moby-Dick, I’ve hit a snag. Actually, a pleasant one, but I’m in a bind. I’ve been waiting nearly 3 months for a copy of Pullman’s Book of Dust, Vol 2,  and it came yesterday. If it were a copy I’d bought (whether virtual or analog), then I could easily set it aside and wait for a better, less busy moment.

But since it’s an ebook from the NYPL, I can’t, because it’ll disappear from my phone in 12 days, and if I put it back on hold, it’ll be another 3 months before I see it again. Oh, #FirstWorldProblems, why?

Sorry, Ishmael, Ahab, Moby-Dick, Queequeg, Stubb, Starbuck, et al. But don’t worry — it’s “see you later”, not “so long”. I’ll be back in a few days.

NaNo has posted an interview with graphic designer Georgia Lange here. Well worth a read. Turns out, a graphic artist’s process is similar to a writer’s.

Posted in Am reading, Am writing, NaNoWriMo | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Am writing, am reading, am really really busy

12 days into November, and I’m on track to finish NaNoWriMo well ahead of the deadline. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish when I have to.

The reason I have to: I start a 2½-week trip on 24 November, which will leave me with no spare time for writing, and probably little for reading.

Which is why, while cranking out the daily NaNo pages, I’m also barreling through Moby-Dick. I passed the 35% point a couple of days ago, and my interest and enjoyment haven’t flagged.

“Moby Dick”, Rockwell Kent, 1930, courtesy

But I have to admit that I’m flummoxed about what to add to the massive amount of Ahab-and-the-white-whale commentary that’s collected over the past 168 years.

2019 being the 200th anniversary of Melville’s birth, of course the blog-iverse is crammed with readers sharing their first/second/nth experience of reading Ishmael’s ultra-detailed tale. I have nothing to add, except a slight warning to all: don’t let Ishmael’s voice of expertise fool you. He makes up sources and disagrees with experts. You’ll see. This in no way diminishes Ishmael’s believability when it comes to narrating the events aboard the Pequod — he misses nothing, and never hesitates to tell us all.

To end, I send you to a Moby-Dick themed website well worth a lengthy visit:, where Patrick Shea, composer, musician and teacher based in Brooklyn, has posted commentary and a new song for each chapter of Moby-Dick. Starting in 2008, Shea composed the songs at the rate of about one a day (although it took him much longer to record them for his blog). His comments provide not just a reaction to the novel, but also a genesis-tale for each accompanying song. The songs themselves range through several musical genres, with lyrics printed for us to sing along. (Shea’s song cycle pre-dates the premier of Heggie & Scheer’s opera, Moby-Dick, by just 2 years.)

That’s it for today. I’ll be back in a week with an update.

Posted in Adventure, Am reading, Am writing, NaNoWriMo, Seafaring | Tagged | 8 Comments

Witch Week 2019 ends

It’s been a great Witch Week, and many thanks to all who participated. Our theme for next year is …

… No spoilers here! You can read all about it at Calmgrove.

Happy November to all!

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A penny for the guy

Engraving by Crispijn van de Passe, ca 1605. Guy Fawkes is 3rd from the right.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

To wind up Witch Week, we’re exploring a political fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones appropriate to this day of “gunpowder treason and plot“.

Head over to Calmgrove to read our discussion of Cart & Cwidder. If you’ve read it, please join in.

And remember, remember, the 5th of November!

A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot, Wikipedia

Posted in Fantasy, Villains, Witch Week | Tagged | 1 Comment

Evil too close to home

Police van entering Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison in April 1955, Glasgow Evening Times (

What’s that police van doing here, you ask?

Well, it’s a subtle reference to the title character in one of Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novels, whose villain Jean Lee (from Jean Lee’s World) discusses in detail in today’s Witch Week episode. Wheel yourself over to Calmgrove‘s blog and read what Jean has to say.

But beware: don’t let yourself get captured!

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If ’tis Sunday, ’tis hump day

Villains in Shakespeare! Of course there are. But ones fantastical? Oh yes.

16th century woodcut

For today’s Witch Week post, marking the half-way point through our celebration, Sari from The View from Sari’s World, gives us a dose of foul misdeeds. Do these evil-doers seem as happy in their work as the fiends in the woodcut above? You be the judge.

Take a ride through Sari’s post over at Calmgrove, and then let us know who your favorite Shakespearean villains are.

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