On optimism

I am fairly certain that I have described each of the last four years as the worst year of my life. Looking back on it now, 2020 does certainly seem to have won the battle royal– losing my mom is going to do a pretty good job of catapulting the year over the rest of them, even before the global pandemic enters the chat– but if I want to be a bit more specific, April 2019 to April 2020 is probably right about where the break points are. Maybe July 2020, if I want to include losing my cat, who I’d had for 22 years.

All I really want out of 2021 is for it to be better than the last four years. I don’t need it to be great. I don’t even need good. I just need better. My 40s in general have been an utter horror show– recall that I turned 40 in 2016– and I’m more than ready to be done with that.

There have been some vague signs that maybe things are starting to turn. I am, despite the pandemic, happier as a teacher this year than I have been in a very long time. Financially, I’m in the best shape of my life, both personally and jointly with my wife. The vaccine isn’t in ready supply yet, and I haven’t gotten my shots yet, but it exists. My family isn’t experiencing any acute health crises right now; my father-in-law isn’t in great shape, but he’s holding up, and we’re not hugely concerned about anyone else at the moment. And I’ll be an uncle in a few months.

Now all I need is for a couple of elections in a state I’ve never set foot in to go my way today, and to make it through the next fifteen days without a nuclear war starting or some other sort of nightmare scenario being unleashed on the world. I (and I’m sure I’m not alone in this) have gotten very, very gun-shy about anything that feels like good news over the last four years, and I don’t trust anything resembling optimism any longer. I feel like if it seems like things are turning around a little bit that’s just so that when they all go to hell again it will hurt worse.

Hell, I just want to make it through tomorrow without riots. I would like it if the worst people in America manage to make it through the day without killing anyone.

…at this point, I took about a 20-minute break from writing this, because the despair started kicking in again. There are at least a handful of reasons for actual optimism about this upcoming year. There are reasons to set goals for this year, and not just assume that there’s no chance I will achieve any of them.

I haven’t released a new book in forever. Hell, I haven’t written more than a handful of pages of fiction since Click became available to my Patreon subscribers– and that was mostly a rewrite and re-edit, not an actual new book. I’d like to say I want to get another book out this year, but it’s entirely possible that I’m just done with that. I’d like to be more creative in general this year, to make things, and I’m already looking at the whole idea of creativity and just exhausted by it.

I need a reason to be hopeful that doesn’t wash away a day or an hour or a few minutes after I happen upon it.

I need this year to be better.

Blogwanking 2020

I’m not doing a saleswanking post this year– I had no new releases, and went to no cons, and didn’t really market my books at all or, really, do anything to make people remember I occasionally write fiction other than a handful of haiku and short stories on Patreon, so I’m not even looking up how many books I sold this year. I would be surprised if it ended up being more than a couple dozen.

But the blog?

You’re not going to see these words in this order very often, but: 2020 was a very good year, if only in this one minor respect. The blog, no doubt because everyone was home all the goddamned time, had the best year it’s had since the Great Virality of 2015-16. Check the stats:

68000 page views and 40K visitors are both up from last year, and in fact are both up from any year since 2016, which still benefited from the Syria post; it’s possible that without the big bump from that post this would have been the best year since 2014, which continues to make no mathematical sense. Comments are also up, although Likes are down a bit, which is frankly the least important to me of the various metrics I’m looking at.

Why? Well, to start, I wrote a lot:

Highest total posts since 2016, more than one a day, and there were only a handful of days this year where I didn’t post. More words than any year since 2015, and the second-highest words per post of all time. Ultimately the only gripe I can come up with looking at this is that I’d still like to see a lot more engagement and comments, but I keep hearing about how blogs are dead, so maybe that’s why I don’t get as many comments as I used to, and that 5.8 comments number in 2014 isn’t exactly a hotbed of competing opinions.

Total word count over seven and some change years: 1,181,069, not counting this post. That’s … a lot.

Let’s talk posts next. No secret, because this has been the case for years: a lot of site traffic is driven by my perennial posts, and none of the top 10 posts on the site were written this year. This is just an image, but here’s the overall top 10 posts and the number of hits they got:

None of this makes any sense to me, particularly the fact that the fucking Snowpiercer post is still my second-highest yearly views.

This year’s top 10 posts, in order from highest to lowest traffic, are:

Nothing completely inexplicable in there except maybe for that one Monthly Reads post; I’m not sure why that one post would have done so much better than all the rest of them, and the Christmas Abortion Story post was only written five days ago and is on the list already, which is either a sign that the top 10 posts of this year are really weak or that it’s maybe heading toward blowing up. We’ll see if it keeps showing up next week or not.

Geography? Let’s talk geography. This is this year:

And this is over the life of the blog:

And I gotta be honest, y’all: I look at that and I’m proud of it. My stupid little website isn’t making me any money and it isn’t making me famous, but people from damn near every country on Earth have visited it. I mean, what’s left? North Korea and Turkmenistan, both of which are dictatorships; Svalbard Island, where less than 3,000 people live, and several countries in Africa where I suspect reading Western blogs is not a high priority.

Basically, I feel like I have a chance to land a lucky hit from Svalbard at some point, and the rest of them are probably never happening.

I thought about finishing this post with some goals for next year, and … honestly, I’m dialing back on the entire concept of “goals” right now. My one social media goal is to have more followers on TikTok than on Twitter by the end of next year, and I bet that’ll be the case by the end of this school year. For the blog? I’m going to keep writing; this place has been part of my daily life for over seven years and that’s not changing any time soon. I’d like to see those higher numbers become a trend and not a blip, but I’m not going to break my neck over it.

Seriously, though, if one of you ends up heading to the far north or North Korea at some point, make sure to hit the blog up.

Bloggery!

I’m tired, and today was kind of a long day, and I feel like it’s unwindy-time now and not blog-writey time. So I’m going to take a second to thank whoever ordered the entire Benevolence Archives series from Amazon earlier this week, because man did that juice my mood when I saw it, and take the night off.

A brief bit of blogwankery

Sometime this weekend– possibly today, although it would require someone or a few someones to go a’wandering through the archives for a while, or looking at cosplay pictures— the site will surpass last year’s traffic. Which would be nice! That big spike in 2015 and a good chunk of 2016’s bar is all from a single post that went nuts, but in general I’ve considered 60K a nice round number to shoot for each year, and while I didn’t get there last year I should get a decent way past that this year unless the site collapses for some reason. I’m already up on visitors from last year, but I still need about 400 more hits to catch it in traffic, and there’s a bit of a way to go for Likes and Comments.

This site doesn’t make me any money, mind you, other than second-hand by occasionally driving readers to my books; I tried to go through WordPress’ monetization application and was denied because it turns out I say too many swears, and I’m not going to stop swearing for a few extra bucks a month. But it’s definitely nice to see traffic up. That’s probably an artifact of me posting more– last year was, uh, a bit of a bust in that regard, what with every aspect of my life imploding at once, and as of right now I haven’t missed a day since April 5th.

I was about to go into more metrics, but we’re close enough to the end of the year that I’ll put that off until my end-of-2020 blogwanking post. For now, I thought I’d acknowledge the milestone and leave it at that. Now go troll through my archives and get me over the hump today. 🙂

#REVIEW: Each of Us a Desert, by Mark Oshiro

Mark Oshiro’s name has been coming up a lot around here recently– they read The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 1 on YouTube, which was immensely fun for me to watch, and I reviewed their debut novel Anger is a Gift back in September. Reading Anger is a Gift got me to order their second novel, Each of Us a Desert, which I finished last night.

I loved Anger. Loved it. And I’m kind of fascinated by my reaction to Desert, because while I didn’t enjoy reading it to the degree that I did Anger, I think it’s objectively a better book, and it’s definitely more interesting to me as an author than Anger was, because, especially for someone who hasn’t written any fantasy novels before, Oshiro does a magnificent job of slapping the genre around, and from a craft standpoint this book is a marvel.

Each of Us a Desert is second-world fantasy set in what is basically an analogue of Mexico, and let’s get this part out of the way early: there is a lot of Spanish in this book. It’s mostly single nouns and verbs, so if you don’t speak any Spanish you can pick up a lot from context, and there aren’t a whole lot of entire sentences and phrases, but it’s going to be a much harder read for someone with no Spanish than it was for me. (I can get by, if necessary. I had a student who barely spoke any English in my class last year and most of the time I spoke to her in Spanish, with Google Translate next to me as an aid when needed.)

There is a whole conversation to be had about how using multiple real languages in fantasy literature works, by the way. I’m not going to have it in this post, but I spent a lot of time while I was reading thinking about the technical side of things; when you decide as an author to render a word in Spanish rather than in English, and how much of the editing process was dedicated to, more or less, calibrating the amount of Spanish in the book, or what it means to the characters to use Spanish instead of English. Note that, again, this is second-world fantasy, and the words “Spanish,” “English,” and “Mexico” appear nowhere in the book. There is no indication that any of the characters know they’re flipping from one language to another, which is part of what makes it interesting.

But anyway.

The main character of the book is Xochitl, a young woman who lives in a tiny village in the middle of the desert. Xochitl is a cuentista, which is basically a priestess of the sun god Solís. As a cuentista, her job is to take in the stories of the people around her and then release them back to Solís. If you’re familiar with the concept of the sin eater, this isn’t far off; there is definitely an element of absolution to Xochitl taking a story, of the emotional aspects of the tale at least, and when she releases them back to her god she no longer remembers them afterwards. Until she takes a story from a friend and realizes that her home is in danger, and that she has to choose between doing something about what she knows or doing what she is supposed to do with the story, which is the conflict that sets the book’s story going.

The entire book– the entire book– is structured as one long prayer to Solís. Which is fascinating, and the true importance of which doesn’t really become clear until the last few pages. The book’s ending is perfect, and moved the book into five-star territory for me. (Also, I normally don’t mention the acknowledgements section of books unless they mention me, which has happened once or twice, but please consider the acknowledgements required reading. Trust me.)

Also worth pointing out: the book is absolutely a fantasy, as I’ve already pointed out, and features magic and monsters and such, as you might expect, but it owes less to Tolkien than it does to Lewis Carroll. There’s a lot of wandering through the desert in this book, and the hallucinatory aspects of some of the encounters that the characters have throughout the book are fascinating– you’re often not quite sure if something is really happening or is brought on by dehydration and heat exhaustion, and I’m pretty sure the answer is “both” at least a couple of times.

This is a book you should read, but it’s especially a book you should read if you’re an author, and it’s really especially a book you should read if you work in speculative fiction. My final reaction to it is more of respect than love, I admit; I want to read Anger again because of how great a story it tells, but I want to study this book and pick apart its techniques. Either way, thumbs way up.