Category Archives: Fiction

ANIMAL FARM

The first and only other time I’ve read Animal Farm by George Orwell, I was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school reading it as an English assignment. The title of the book struck me as odd, certainly getting my attention. I remember more the circumstances in which I read the book than the book itself, actually. I began it on a Saturday afternoon and finished it that evening while babysitting for a little girl who was a spoiled only child. She practiced a tyranny all her own. I vaguely remember discussing the book in English class, but beyond that, I do not remember specifics. After living through 2016 through early 2021 in the U.S., I decided it was time to re-read this classic satire of the Soviet Union’s version of tyranny.

George Orwell made no secret that he wrote this “fairy tale” as he called it to focus attention on how tyranny occurs. It didn’t have to be the tyranny of Communism, of course, but he had Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky in mind, their disagreements, and Stalin’s ultimate establishment of his power. He wanted to show how tyranny begins, how a tyrant thinks only of himself and not at all about the people he leads — but he lies to them constantly that he cares, how the tyrant creates a different reality for his followers, and that he will do anything to maintain his power. The tools he uses include manipulation, lies, brainwashing, and creating that reality of his own in which he can do no wrong, and he controls the lives and futures of those he reigns over. The Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. We watched it break up into many separate countries, try to establish a democratic representational government, and a free market economy. We’ve watched that effort fail as some people saw an opportunity to grab what they wanted for themselves such as companies, money, and power, and practically turn the country into a criminal state. The Russian mafia emerged as a force. Eventually Vladimir Putin won the Presidency, and he’s been working ever since to return Russia to an autocratic tyranny.

I doubt Orwell would have been surprised. He wrote in Animal Farm about the early days of the Rebellion of the animals against the humans, and how Snowball’s influence introduced the animals to the tools they would need to be able to sustain a life of freedom, primarily education. Snowball envisioned a farm where everyone contributed to the success of their society, and because they were all equal, their contributions were as respected as anyone else’s. In fact, their Animal Farm begins quite well, and all the animals are happy, well fed, and more than willing to work hard for the success of the farm. What could possibly go wrong? Napoleon, that’s what. Napoleon and Snowball had shared leadership, but Napoleon wasn’t content. The first thing he does is take away the puppies born to the dogs on the farm, and raises them himself. No one sees anything really wrong with that, except the dogs aren’t happy about losing their puppies to a pig. If all the other animals on the farm had stood behind the dogs and demanded that they be returned to their mothers, perhaps Napoleon could have been stopped. But Napoleon convinces them that he will teach their puppies much more than they ever could and be better puppies as a result. And so it began.

As I read Orwell’s description of how a tyranny is created, I kept thinking of America from 2016 to early 2021, and especially the role of the media and the internet. America, led by a president who reveled in the power of the office, the attention it garnered, and the control he wielded over the White House, started the country down the road to tyranny by creating his own reality and telling the country that anything that wasn’t his reality was “fake news.” He wasn’t a leader. He didn’t lead. He demanded personal loyalty and demanded his staff work only for him, not for the country. A president who cannot tolerate his own flawed humanity, his mistakes, being wrong, or even not being the most intelligent person in the room, must create a reality in which he is the hero, all powerful, a genius, and always right. We witnessed that in the American White House, as well as an outright attempt to overthrow the democratic process in Congress. He couldn’t have done it, of course, without the support and collusion of the Republican Party, no longer a political party of democracy in America.

I imagined years ago that tyranny in America would be possible given the right conditions and called it The Change in the Perceval series. I’ve not written that backstory, i.e. how The Change occurred and why. It has remained very much on my mind, especially the last six years. Recently, as I’ve worked on the fourth novel in the series, Perceval’s Game, I’ve realized that I need to include it in that novel. Evan Quinn is in America only two years after his defection. Of course he’d be thinking about his life in America and what he’d learned since his defection. His observations of life in America become confirmations for his decision to leave America. At the same time, he is also working to help those who want to overthrow the tyranny and re-establish democracy in America.

Snowball (via George Orwell) understood that education i.e. teaching reading, writing, literature, history, civics, critical thinking, and the democratic process to empower each animal on the farm to be a citizen and participant in their democracy would prevent them from succumbing again to the tyranny of human beings on the farm. Snowball didn’t heed the warning signs that Napoleon wanted control. America in the Perceval series didn’t heed the warning signs as well. Both ended up with tyranny. Will America in 2022 heed the warning signs?

Writing Updates

This year has continued to be a particularly challenging one for the United States, and with the pandemic still raging, for the world. I just read this week of two new variants of the SARS-CoV2, and one is even more contagious than the Delta variant. While I received my J&J vaccination last March, I am thinking about getting either a Pfizer booster or the Pfizer full vaccination in the next few weeks. As I wrote before, the coronavirus is here to stay and will mutate at will. It’s up to us to take measures to protect ourselves from it now and in the future.

In July, I left my day job at the Minnesota Board of Barber Examiners and began a new job at the Minneapolis Community & Technical College. I’ve cut my commute down to 20 minutes each way but that means less time for reading on the commute. I only recently emerged from the initial job training and returned to a hybrid of work in the office and teleworking, then hunkering down at home and staying away from people (as my pulmonologist insisted that I do). Over the summer I also had to replace my laptop, printer, and modem. At least my health has remained fairly stable this year and my writing has gone well.

THE PERCEVAL SERIES

I continue to write on weekends, working on the fourth novel in the series, Perceval’s Game. I’m over halfway through but finding it somewhat difficult to get back into my writing mind on Saturdays. I continue to write notes for the last novel in the series, and any thoughts I have about the previous three novels. One character in the fourth novel is named after a friend who chose to have a character named after him in a fundraiser I ran a couple years ago. I recently updated him on the character’s development.

I had planned to launch at least two marketing campaigns, one in the first quarter and one in the third quarter, this year for Perceval’s Secret but did not. Posting the Aanora story did bring more sales for the novel, however, although sales remain disappointing.

The second novel in the series, Perceval’s Shadow, remains on the shelf for the moment, fermenting. I will eventually find a professional editor that I hope will stay with me for the entire series, but to work on the second novel first. I’m still thinking about gathering some beta readers and have talked with a couple people about doing it. Depending on what I learn from the editor and/or the beta readers will determine how I proceed with that novel. I don’t think it’s ready yet for publication, but just how much more work it needs is the big question. And Perceval in Love continues to ferment.

AANORA

This sci fi novella remains at the Fan Fiction website until next August. I did a bit of a push for it before it was scheduled to be taken down this past August. Then I decided to do some editing and cleaning up, and that actually bought me another year on the site. Yay! If you haven’t yet read it, you can find it here. I had a blast writing it!

ESSAYS

For most of this year, my essay writing (as well as blog writing) waited in the wings for attention. I finally worked on an essay I began last year and I think it’s about ready to send to the editor. I have been working sporadically on a collection of essays about classical music and how it’s affected my life. The working title is Music and Me. I’ve been writing down ideas as they come to me but haven’t yet begun writing the essays. I’ve decided that I’m committed to this project, so one way or another, I will finish it. Writing essays makes a nice break from fiction.

READING

Reading as much as possible and as widely as possible is an essential part of a writer’s life. I read science fiction, espionage thrillers, mysteries, and the occasional nonfiction. Since the America in the Perceval novels is an autocratic dictatorship, I was most interested to read Masha Gessen’s Surviving Autocracy, an examination of Trumpism, the damage it’s done to America, and what needs to be done to repair the country and society. Other standouts this year: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre, Still Life by Louise Penny, and Forever Young: a Memoir by Hayley Mills.

ANATOMY OF PERCEVAL

I’ve been terrible this year about writing at this blog. A part of me feels guilty about that, but I need to focus on the fiction in my limited writing time. I think a lot about this blog, and write down ideas for posts. So who knows? I may be able to squeeze in more posts as time goes on…..

Another Year for Aanora!

This afternoon, I edited Aanora: A Kelvin Timeline Story at FanFiction.net. I’d been meaning to clean it up a bit and add the URL for this blog in my bio at the end. When I did the edits and saved them, I discovered that the novella will remain on FanFiction.net for another 365 days. YES!!

If you haven’t yet read it, you can find it here. Read, enjoy, and leave a review!

Thank you!

Time to Think, Time to Dream

Last weekend, I took advantage of having President’s Day on Monday off from work and tagged on two vacation days to the three-day weekend for a five-day vacation. This was the first time in a very long time that I’d actually taken vacation days to take a vacation rather than take care of a health concern. I scheduled no big house projects or chores. Instead, I scheduled writing, reading, rest, and relaxation. Any chores were done as breaks from writing, since I did have some weekly chores that needed to be done.

The first day, I spent the morning relaxing, catching up with email and other online tasks. I read for a couple hours midday. Then I settled in for an uninterrupted session of writing on chapter 8 of Perceval’s Game. While writing that first afternoon, I discovered something. The chapter I was working on had a problem and I could neither identify it nor solve it. Has anyone else been in this situation? Something was wrong. I felt like I really couldn’t progress with the actual writing until I solved the problem. This was actually good timing for me to realize there was a problem. I had the time to think about it.

One thing no writing teacher told me about writing, as if it was something I would just know: writers need uninterrupted, relaxed time to think. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. It seemed too much to take a 2-day shower, so I sat on my sofa and stared out the window, listening to music playing softly in the background. Music, specifically classical music, helps to unlock my mind’s house and invite my imagination to come out and play. It begins by getting lost in the silent spaces between the music’s notes as I stare out the window, my eyes unfocused. Almost immediately, I began to get clues to what the problem was with the chapter. As my mind played with each clue, scenes began to emerge into my mind, playful scenarios both wild and serious. I just let those scenarios play out and lead into new ones. By the end of the afternoon, with the sun setting outside and the light fading, I knew what the specific problem was with the chapter.

On Sunday afternoon, I talked with a friend on the phone before returning to thinking about the chapter. Somehow, talking with her emptied my mind of the day’s clutter that clouded my vision. When I put on the music and sat down on the sofa, my mind was open and ready to pick up where I’d left off the day before. I was in the chapter with Evan Quinn and the young man driving him to Chicago, and suddenly I knew what needed to happen to resolve the problem. The scenes gushed out of my imagination with a sense of joy and abandon. But I sat quietly on the sofa, staring out the window, focused on what was happening in my mind.

On Monday, I returned to my desk and computer to write. With the problem identified and solved, the action and dialogue flowed out of me. And so, I wrote 1000 words on Monday and another 1000 on Tuesday, progressing the chapter closer to the end. I felt full of accomplishment. I felt supremely satisfied that I had taken the five-day vacation at crucial time in my work on the novel.

I can’t remember now where I heard or read this, but someone connected to the movie industry once said that the reason there are no movies about writers working is because it would be boring for the viewer to watch a writer write. Anyone who’d been watching me last weekend would have believed that I was doing nothing but sitting on my sofa staring out the window. Obviously, I was lazy. Obviously, I wasn’t doing anything. And it’s certainly not exciting for someone else to watch me when I’m writing at my computer. But…I accomplished a great deal last weekend in writer terms.

I miss having the time to think and daydream about my characters and their lives, their problems, their dreams. Before I went back to work fulltime in an office job, my writing day began with 15-30 minutes of stair exercise listening to classical music on my portable CD player and reading through my notes. I got quite adept at reading and walking up and down stairs at the same time. Then I went to my desk. turned on the computer, and began working for the next six – eight hours. I did that every day, six days a week. I followed a similar routine in 2020 when I was on COVID leave for four months and was able to finish the first draft of Perceval in Love. While working a fulltime job to pay the bills is necessary, it affects my creative life by draining my energy during the work week, consuming my time, and burrowing into my mind with issues and concerns that I wish I could leave at the office. So, I guard my writing time on weekends.

Perceval’s Game progresses but much more slowly than when I have a full six days a week to write. I take whatever time I can get to think and daydream about the characters and their lives because that work time is just as important as the actual writing words on paper (or the screen).

For other benefits of daydreaming, read here.

End of Year Updates

The year 2020 will be remembered as a particularly difficult one for the United States, and with the pandemic still raging, for the world. Right now it feels like the year has lasted 12 years rather than 12 months. My emotions have ranged from normal, everyday stuff to sheer terror in March when the coronavirus appeared in my state and city. There’s been a lot of frustration as well. And now there’s hope with two vaccines approved for emergency use and vaccinations already underway. I know that we still have several months if not another year of being diligent about precautions and careful, until we know just how long the vaccine will protect us. But for now, my life remains a hybrid of work in the office and teleworking, then hunkering down at home and staying away from people (as my pulmonologist insisted that I do).

My writing this year has gone well, although I haven’t written as many posts at this blog as I had hoped to write. My focus has been on the Perceval series. Being on paid COVID leave from mid-March to mid-July provided me with the opportunity for uninterrupted time to write and I took advantage of it. I finished the first draft of the third novel, Perceval in Love, in June, then spent time closing out my work on that novel and preparing for work on the next novel in the series, Perceval’s Game. It was wonderful to have the time to think, to work through world-building tasks such as what America would be like in 2050, and to daydream scenes. I had not planned on finishing the third novel this year, so that has been a particularly pleasurable accomplishment. And I began the fourth novel. When I returned to my office work, I reverted back to writing on the weekends. To date, I have finished six chapters and begun the seventh.

I also worked on marketing Perceval’s Secret and garnered more reviews at Amazon as a result. Sales still remain disappointing, but at least it is selling. In 2021 I will probably launch at least two marketing campaigns, one in the first quarter and one in the third quarter.

It may also be time to secure the services of a professional editor for the second novel in the series, Perceval’s Shadow. It has been fermenting all year. I’ve also been thinking about gathering some beta readers as well. Depending on what I learn from the editor and/or the beta readers will determine how I proceed with that novel. I don’t think it’s ready yet for publication, but just how much more work it needs is the question.

Of course, I “published” the Aanora novella at the Fan Fiction website. I have heard nothing but positive responses to it which makes me happy. I enjoyed writing it, and I hope readers enjoy reading it. If you haven’t yet read it, you can find it here.

My essay writing took a back seat to my fiction work this year, as well as my blog writing. I began a couple essays that I can finish in 2021. I didn’t even read as many books as I normally read during a year, although part of the reason was choosing long books instead of short ones. I’m still reading Thayer’s Life of Beethoven and learning a great deal about the man and his life, and I continue to be astonished by the power of his music.