Greetings, dear readers! It has been four months since my last newsletter. Partly that’s because I wanted to have enough new developments to make it worth your while. Also, even after a year at this, I’m still trying to figure out how to build a platform and community around my writing. This is still an exploratory season for me, as I try a wide range of things across my many different interest areas. That is fun, rewarding, and challenging, but doesn’t exactly contribute to a consistent brand or stable author platform!
With that said, let’s dive in with the news!
Eating Glass Audiobook Now Available
My biggest news is that the audiobook version of Eating Glass: The Inner Journey Through Failure and Renewal is now available through Amazon and Audible. This took me a few months longer than planned, as I had to climb a steep learning curve.
I spent a couple weeks perfecting an audio recording environment in my work office, only to have the AC permanently kick on for the summer—which entails a loud pipe in the ceiling continuously gurgling and chattering. So much for that! I started over at home, at odd times when my family was not around. My performance skills improved as I went along. By the time I reached the last chapter, I no longer liked my earlier performances, so I ended up recording nearly the entire book twice.
In the end, I’m quite happy with the result. I think reading my own story gives it a sense of intimacy and power, and hope listeners will agree.
Marketing Eating Glass has proven to be a considerable challenge, so if anyone knows influencers who might be interested in the book, I invite you to spread the word or let me know about opportunities.
Derelict is Now Available
My new short story “Celestial Object 143205” is now available in a new anthology titled Derelict. When I saw the announcement that a forthcoming SF/F anthology would be dedicated entirely to derelict ships—one of my favorite tropes—I knew I wanted to contribute a story. The challenge is that so many stories about derelict ships feel exactly the same. I sat down with a notebook and pen to brainstorm. I asked myself, “What’s the most unique twist on derelict ships I can possibly provide?” I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll just drop this picture here!
I love this story; it’s probably the most technically perfect story I’ve written. Derelict is published by a small press, but I hope it gets noticed and read.
In addition to being a lot of fun, the story features the United States Space Force (USSF). As the new Service finds its feet, a debate has unfolded about the degree to which Science Fiction should shape its identity. SF has always inspired dreamers and played an outsized role in shaping our visions of space, but its relationship with the USSF has been awkward and sometimes cringeworthy. Its formation coincided with the launch of the Steve Carell comedy Space Force, its logo bears an uncanny resemblance to Star Trek, and its use of the name “Guardians” for members evokes crass talking raccoons and green-skinned aliens. Even more serious SF has set up a lot of false expectations about what the Space Force can do. At least with today’s technology, the Space Force will not be operating starcruisers. My friend and SAASS professor Dr. Wendy Whitman Cobb set off some fireworks when she argued in the Space Power Journal that USSF leaders should focus on “de-science fictionalizing.”
I mostly agree with these critiques, but I also believe in the power of SF to help us think through how to approach the future. I love serious, thoughtful SF that begins with the real world and its challenges and constraints and explores outward from there, so I took Dr. Whitman Cobb’s piece as a constructive challenge. Can we write serious SF to help USSF leaders think about the future? “Celestial Object 143205” features the Space Force’s first interplanetary spacecraft. This is not the Starship Enterprise; it is a frail tin can, behind schedule and over budget, aimed at keeping just a few astronauts alive for long months as they cross vast gulfs of space. What does strategic competition look like in that kind of harsh, unforgiving environment? Check it out.
I have a Mind Tools YouTube Series
A new class of students began at SAASS last month. SAASS does not have room in its curriculum to teach study skills or tools, so as an experiment, I created an optional YouTube series I call Tools for the Life of the Mind. It covers frameworks and tools for organizing knowledge, and includes some discussion of my own personal workflows. If that catches your interest, I encourage you to take a look.
Wasp Keepers translated into Polish
The first foreign translation of my work is underway! A couple months ago, Fantastyka, the oldest Polish speculative fiction magazine reached out about translating and publishing my story “The Wasp Keepers” from the War Stories anthology, about a U.S. military occupation of Syria enforced by micro-drones that offer perfect sensing and perfect kill capability. It was such a wonderful surprise to see this interest in a story I published 7 years ago, and amazing to see the final result—especially the custom artwork.
Other Writing News
I’m still writing away. I just submitted a new story to a contest about “breaking through nuclear apathy”, hosted by Inkstick Media, and am still looking for homes for several unpublished stories.
My big writing project the past few months has been a near-future, dystopian, literary SF novel set in Jordan. Thematically, it explores what happens when unfettered polarization, fear, and hatred are taken to their logical conclusion. It also explores the sense of homelessness and loneliness we can feel if we refuse to join the frenzy of escalating, reciprocal hatred. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays a prominent role, but more and more, I feel like the novel has become a parable for the polarization of American society.
I first conceived of the novel a decade ago while living in Jordan but felt overwhelmed by the novel’s many challenges. I still feel overwhelmed, but I’m finally trying to write it. I’m about 70,000 words in and am at the stage where every single word I write feels irredeemably awful. I’m trying to trust the process, and hoping the story comes together in revisions. I think it will; that’s the bewildering magic of the writing process.
I’ve also been writing extensive reflections that I’m hoping will become another “life” book like Eating Glass. They center on the tension many of us feel between our desire to escape the world and our need to engage with it. I have always felt an almost painful longing to escape modern life to some quiet cabin in the mountains, and I’m fascinated by the massive wave of #vanlife-style escapism currently underway in the United States. Yet I also recognize that what our country and our world need more than anything right now are committed, engaged individuals who plant themselves in communities and institutions to create and lead the change we all long for. What do we do with that tension? Can we structure our lives in a way that satisfies our thirst to retreat, while also keeping us constructively engaged? I don’t necessarily have answers but these writings are a sort of chronicle of my exploration.
I have neglected my blog the past few months, but here is a roundup of posts since my last newsletter (all from April or May):
The Challenge of Bad Days – I love climbing and writing about climbing, because it’s so instructive about life. This is my second piece (the first is here) about trying to “send” Misty, my hardest lead climb to date. I finally sent it on July 4th.
When You Lose Your “Why” – Our modern world continually urges us to find our “why” and live accordingly, but we all have to navigate seasons when a grand “why” seems elusive.
Messages in Bottles – Creating things is like sending lonely bottles off into a vast ocean. It often feels like nobody is listening, but then every once in a while a bottle comes back, and that makes it all worth it. The creator’s challenge is to trust the process and keep sending bottles.
Things I Love
I started this section in my last newsletter to help spread the word about other creators I love. I really ought to write these more frequently, because I’ve accumulated too many in the past four months to share!
Here are a few:
Circe by Madeline Miller – If you like Homer, Greek mythology, historical epics, or just beautifully written fiction, this book is amazing. The Audible narration is mesmerizing. I recently listened to it for the second time.
Sarah Blondin – I sometimes use Insight Timer for meditation. There I stumbled across Sarah Blondin, who quickly became one of my favorite teachers. “Exploring the wilderness of your discomfort” is one of my favorites and resonates with themes from Eating Glass.
Dr. Michael Freeman – Dr. Freeman specializes in the study of mental health among entrepreneurs. You’ll find him widely quoted in almost anything written on the subject, thanks to his study “Are Entrepreneurs Touched by Fire?” He read Eating Glass (and had nice things to say about it!) and pointed me towards some helpful resources. If that’s of interest to you, check out the “Resources” page on his website.
Always in Pursuit – Army NCO Mike Burke reached out to me after reading When You Lose Your “Why” and then reading Eating Glass. He recently started the Always in Pursuit podcast to help others live quality, purpose-fueled lives. Mike is one of several podcasters who has been encouraging vulnerability among men and bravely shared his own story. We hit it off right away, and I will be appearing on his podcast at the end of August.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – Okay, so Andy Weir doesn’t need any help from me. But wow… I loved this novel. He took the formula that worked in The Martian, enriched it, polished it, and expanded it to a scale of tremendous proportions. I also found Weir’s humor and optimism refreshing. At a time when so much about the future seems bleak, he tells a story that is heartwarming without being sappy, in which cooperation and ingenuity can make a difference for humanity. It feels like a throwback to an earlier era of science fiction, and maybe that’s a good thing.
The Santa Fe Institute’s New Book – Here is where my eclectic interests and inconsistent brand shine through! The Santa Fe Institute, the home of complexity studies, released an entire free book yesterday titled Agent-Based Modeling for Archaeology. Complexity and modeling are both passions of mine, so the release of this book and accompanying code repository is fantastic news. Anyone who wants to learn ABM should check it out.