A “Not a Year in Review” Post to Round Out 2021

A blog post at the beginning of the year, and a blog post at the end of the year. Nice symmetry, isn’t it?

As the year winds down and we head earnestly toward winter, I find myself thinking back on a year where creative work has proved difficult. Of any kind, really. Writing. Blogging. Even the editorial work on Anathema has proved a challenge to keep up with this year. And running a fundraiser for the mag (yay for being funded again!) may be many things, but a creatively fulfilling endeavour it is not.

Lots of people putting up beautiful posts about what they’ve accomplished this year, and all the works they’ve published, and thoughts on the year to come. Only a single publication from me in 2021:

“Skysong” in The Shortest Story.

And fuck but I was getting morose when I started writing this and just … angry … with a year that has proved extremely difficult on multiple fronts. A lot of good in it, yeah. But because of physical issues (I’ve lived with different instances and causes of chronic pain my entire life, and that’s ramped up in the last year – having thrown my back out four fucking times in 2020 – so if I’ve been slow to reply or keep up with things, that’s why) and working pretty much non-stop and chasing work to be able to pay rent and buy groceries I’ve managed fair little creative work outside of some tie-in and game writing gigs.

And while I quite like doing the latter, after years of trying to keep up a fuller publication schedule of my own intellectual property, it feels a bit like failing to have just that one thing out. Hell, there was a palpable sense of relief when it went live that I had at least that one this year.

Fiction publishing has the same manner of publish or perish mentality that academic writing does, albeit more quietly. The more we produce, the more visible we are. Publish X stories or you’re not trying hard enough. Publish at least a novel a year or you’re not being prolific enough. Write significantly more novels than that per year outside of (and sometimes in) trad pub or you’re not going to make enough money at it to survive.

Writing that quickly – and doing so well – is a very specific skill. I sometimes think we believe it the norm, but it’s not. It’s an acquirable skill, but one we have, I think, made the ideal.

And as I watch people I like and admire talk about their five, ten, fifteen publications in 2021 I find myself thinking about a tie-in novella of mine that was originally going to come out this year and that looks at this point to be travelling into 2022. Such is the nature of publishing, and whenever Bardmageddon comes out is … when it comes out.

One of the differences between tie-in writing and trad pub is being well and truly outside the process. Once the work is out of my hands … there’s little besides promotion and audience engagement I can do. But I think on that novella – the second in the Agents of Mystery … sequence? Series? (It currently consists of a short story, two novellas – one published, Bardmageddon in pipeline – and another novella in-progress, so I’m never quite sure how to refer to it.) Partly because my four fighty, disaster baby central characters are all aspects of … well … me.

We spend a lot of time in this industry divorcing ourselves from our writing, and talking about how work cannot and should not be identified with an author wholesale because we are not the work we make. And the characters we write are not always us – especially not when we are trying to depict something vile or heinous. Thus, what we write is not always what we, the author think. Not that that distinction remains intact once the work finds an audience.

Except I … kind of do process all my stuff on the page? I write mostly about loss and grief and trauma and being haunted (often literally) by the past, and what recovery looks like. When we find the latter at all. And that holds true for my tie-in writing as well. I just also write a lot more comedy when doing tie-in work. Because I like writing comedy and it’s fun and for some reason seems easier in that space.

And so the four, ridiculous queer dumbasses I created for these stories are all very much tied to me:

– Well-meaning fuck-up Jane, who gets knocked down, but gets back up again. And breaks a few things along the way. Sometimes herself.
– Self-abnegating, self-medicating Alejandra, living with chronic pain and the aftermath of life-changing injury. Will intentionally break shit along the way. Look, if you didn’t want it broken…
– Tiny oblivious Trans nexus of sublimated rage, Kid Necro. Tied to family and cultural legacies they’re not sure how to feel about yet fall back on anyway. Wait, did they just break that? Oh fuck, sorry.
– So very, *very* tired of this shit warrior mom ghost, Ilkath. Misses the simpler days of her (living) youth when you could just blow off steam by killing an eldritch god. Equally as likely to fix the broken shit or bury her greataxe in your face.

And each story about the Agents of Mystery (before they were a group, formatively, and during) has been specific to one of them. “Kill Me Baby, One More Time” was Jane’s story. Idol Pursuits was Alejandra’s. And Bardmageddon … well … Bardmageddon is very much Kid’s book.

Which is probably why it opens with a band frontman going up in flames like a Roman Candle on a concert stage. Look it … makes more sense in context. Anyway, that’s not the point.

The point is that it’s a book about my love of Metal music, and how we drift away from our past and ourselves, and how the longer we don’t address what’s going on under the surface the sicker it makes us until the darkness festering there starts coming out all on its own. All set in a nice, quiet, totally-not-Occult-haven College that every Autumn just before the semester gets going is host to a Metal music festival called … Bardmageddon. And this year’s murders at said music festival. And shenanigans. Because if there’s one thing this team does well, it’s shenanigans. Solving mysteries? Ehh … 50-50? But unintentionally destructive dumbassery? There they’ve got you covered.

And even though the book isn’t out, and I don’t know when it will be, I like talking about it, so we’re gonna talk about one thing more: the chapter titles. Because it’s a book about music, so all the chapter titles are somewhat specific song titles, and I’m going to link videos for those songs below.

These chapter titles could technically (?) qualify as spoilers for the book’s trajectory, so if you want to go in all unknowing, maybe stop here and come back once the book is out.

The Videos/Chapter Titles

Let the Bodies Hit the Floor
(“Bodies”, Drowning Pool – strong epilepsy warning for this one)

The Gathering of the Accursed Artifacts
(Ibid, Hoth)

Summon the Warrior
(Ibid, Tengger Cavalry)

Layers of Time
(Ibid, Lacuna Coil)

In the Labyrinth
(Ibid, Bridear – this one has gone locked behind a paywall on YouTube or Spotify access, so no link for this one. Apologies.)

Who Is Gonna Be The One
(Ibid, Jinjer)

Sweet, Sweet Lies
(Ibid, Infected Rain)

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
(Ibid, Blue Oyster Cult)

The Deep & The Dark
(Ibid, Visions of Atlantis)

Daughters of Darkness
(Ibid, Halestorm)

Machi Bhasad (Expect a Riot)
(Ibid, Bloodywood)

The Day is My Enemy
(Ibid, Prodigy – yes, there is an official video for this, but it would require another epileptic seizure warning, and this video is just better)

Into the Infernal Domains
(Ibid, Dracena)

From the Grave
(Ibid, Eleine)

When Worlds Collide
(Ibid, Powerman 5000 – just going to put an epilepsy seizure warning here as well…)

The Reckoning
(Ibid, Within Temptation)

Some of these section titles were chosen more for the title than the song, others because I love the song. Still others just meshed perfectly on both fronts.

And there was one additional song title that was going to feature, but the Epilogue (rightly) got cut, so here, have the deleted track as well:

Sleep Now in the Fire
(Ibid, Rage Against the Machine)

Because we don’t talk about the good Metal music without Rage Against the Machine, thank you very much.

And that’s where my head is as we look to the end of 2021. Looking toward the future that is whenever this novella gets published. Well, also working on the final issue of Anathema for the year, which will be coming out sometime before year’s end. It’s a beautiful one. But that is a post for another time.

In the meantime, will there be more blogging from me down the line? I mean at some point, sure. But fuck knows when.

And hey, if you want to see how the Agents of Mystery weirdness began and continued, you can pick up a copy of “Kill Me Baby, One More Time” in Nisaba Journal, Issue 4.

And you can buy a copy of Idol Pursuits from here.

In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to that track list again. And hopefully get back to writing the third novella in that sequence at some point. Always do love playing around in that world. It helps when the writing’s has some more personal overtones. Even when everything else about can verge into the ridiculous.

May you find your way into, or back into depending on where you stand, creative work of your own in 2022.

Peace.

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