My new pop-up newsletter: Perils of the Overworld

Tile

Tile, Charles Volkmar, ca. 1910-1914

Ahoy:

The e-book editions of Sourdough—for Kindle, Kobo, etc.—are just $3.99 this month. You’ve probably heard people say of a digital product, “it costs less than a fancy cup of coffee,” but I know you’re not even buying fancy cups of coffee these days, so!

(No links—you can easily find them yourself.)

I don’t often give you ~the hard sell~ on my novels in this newsletter, because: I don’t have to! The Society of the Double Dagger has been incredibly generous in its support, direct and indirect: buying and reading, sure, but also telling friends about the novels, bringing them to their book clubs, giving them as gifts.

So, this is not ~the hard sell~, but I do want to say that I have heard from many readers that Sourdough has been, in this moment, the right book at the right time. It’s light and fun—you’re on your own for grim despondency—but/and I also believe it has some complex, surprising things to say about the world.

On the occasion of this Sourdough sale, I produced a long-overdue confession, possibly my most shocking ever. You can read it on the MCD Books website.

And, to accompany that piece, I assembled a Spotify playlist, which, to be very clear, IS NOT FOR HUMANS. This is a playlist for sourdough starters only. If you are a human reading this: DO NOT LISTEN TO THE PLAYLIST. If you are a sourdough starter: … you may listen.

Finally: Fat Gold, the micro-scale olive oil company I run with my partner Kathryn Tomajan, now offers individual tins of California extra virgin olive oil shipped anywhere in the U.S. (Previously, our only offering was an annual subscription which, though tasty and nourishing, is obviously a more substantial commitment.) Because apparently I have to make everything into a publishing project somehow, each tin comes with a little introductory zine that I write, design, and print myself.

I am out here selling all SORTS of things!


Consistent with the recent trend in Society of the Double Dagger communication, this newsletter is fairly long. I encourage you, as always, to read what you like, skip what you don’t. Festina lente.

In my last newsletter, I linked to a post/essay/project about a piece of music called The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski. If you haven’t heard this piece of music—if you don’t know its backstory—I really encourage you to read the post. It’s about a mysterious, melancholy melody, captured off the radio decades ago, its composer and performer unknown.

The melody’s story is, if you ask me, a little bit Penumbra.

To accompany that post, I published a piece of music titled “An integration loop.” I’m embedding it again here, so you can, if you like, listen while you read the rest of this email. It’s entirely ambient and makes a good soundtrack.

In my original post, I said I wanted to make something new: an offering to that original melody. I asked for contributions… and I received them! Pianos, guitars, synthesizers, and voices—lots and lots of voices. I’ve now stitched those contributions together into a new piece, which I’ve added to the original post. I’ll also include it at the end of this newsletter.


I wrote a piece of short fiction for the Atlantic, part of a package devoted to American conspiracy theorizing. The Atlantic is one of those publications where you can’t ever escape the thrill of inhabiting the same archive as, like, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Muir. Future historians will WANT to ignore the Sloan clinging to those luminaries—“who’s this guy?”—but they won’t be ABLE to!!

Even if you do not deign to read the piece, you MUST hop over for a moment and peek at the photo illustrations by Kensuke Koike. Perfection.


Tile panel

Tile panel, Charles Volkmar, ca. 1900-1914

I’m smack in the middle of a surprising, exciting writing project. I have two weeks to complete it, of which one has elapsed.

“Robin, are you halfway done? It sounds like… you should be halfway done.”

Oh I am more than halfway done!

Unfortunately, this project hasn’t been announced yet, and that announcement is not up to me. It won’t be toooo long until it’s published and at that point I will, of course, not shut up about it.

But! I can already feel its implications for my future, and I think it’s safe to talk about those.

Start with this: many of my most-admired publications have been the kind with a modular structure, an accelerated pace—a bit of TV’s DNA grafted into the capacious form of the book. I’m thinking, for example, of the wondrous publication, in 2014, of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy by FSG Originals: three books all released in the same calendar year. Each was substantial, but none was a doorstop; they had a leanness that I loved. (Oh, and they were published as paperback originals, which is obviously ideal.)

Then, of course, there are the Maigret mysteries of Georges Simenon, perfectly modular, each a slim novella. There are dozens. According to lore, Simenon could crank one out in a couple of weeks. Here, the Guardian recapitulates his process, very possibly apocryphal, but who cares:

In fact, Simenon could easily go faster than one murderer a month. At the peak of his productivity, it took him a week and a half to write a novel, at the rate of 80 pages a day. He would write these in the morning. Then he would vomit from the tension—and spend the afternoon relaxing.

This puts us in the zone of pulp fiction: the vision of a writer who needs to make rent, so she extrudes a story for Argosy or Adventure or Spicy Detective (SpicyDetective?) and never thinks about it again.

And while the utter disposability of a lot of pulp (culturally as well as physically) isn’t appealing, some of its other characteristics are VERY appealing. Speed! Unpretentiousness. Accessibility. And seriality, of course: the feeling of discovering the first installment in a series and, if you like it, zooming forward, absolutely devouring it, until you join the mass of readers who are caught up, waiting for the next release. (I think the mystery writer Louise Penny delivers this experience better than almost anyone working today, thanks in part to her clockwork book-a-year schedule. I have to confess that I am not engrossed by her Three Pines books the way many readers are, but I am deeply impressed by Penny’s discipline and her… I almost think the word might be generosity.)

Best of all, when your rapid-fire publication is done, you can, if you wish, collect the pieces up into something like FSG’s beautiful omnibus edition of the Area X trilogy. Maybe before you do that, you polish up the pieces, reappraise them; that step used to be so common. Part of fiction’s natural lifecycle, once.

So, hearing all that, you’ll understand why I’ve long thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to produce something with that shape?—an ongoing series of relatively small pieces published at a steady clip, gathered up later into a substantial omnibus.

But I don’t write that fast; or, sometimes I do, but apparently not when it’s fiction. My novels have been slow, halting constructions. I mean, it’s all relative: some people require a decade-plus to produce a book. But when the models are VanderMeer, Penny, and Simenon, you can see how a grand total of two novels and two novellas might feel a bit skimpy. I need to write faster.

Which brings us back to this surprise project. It has required me to crank out a thicker sheaf of fiction in a shorter amount of time than I, personally, have ever achieved or even really attempted. It has been a lot of work, and it’s been fun and exciting—a little bit electric. And it has made me realize (or remember?) that I can write at this pace if the conditions are right; if I establish them appropriately.

I could be wrong about all of this, of course—it’s happened many times that a misty vision fell absolutely flat—but I really do believe I could be happiest, medium- to long-term, writing in a mode we might call “Simenon Lite.” (Okay maybe it’s “Simenon Lite Lite Lite.”) And, following the publication of this surprise project, you can expect to see experimentation in that direction.

Of course, I’m eager to tell you about the project itself; I wish I didn’t have to be so cryptic in the meantime.


Fan edits of films are a thing! I’d love to watch this version of Dune, which is by all accounts a huge improvement on the original.

Working on that piece for the Atlantic, which involves professional wrestling, I watched this all-time classic mid-80s match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. It’s so so very dorky.

100% original fantasy map, do not steal.

Li Bai, translated by Arthur Cooper:

Before my bed
there is bright moonlight
So that it seems
Like frost on the ground:
Lifting my head
I watch the bright moon,
Lowering my head
I dream that I'm home.

Here’s the jacket for the Persian edition of Sourdough, translated by Nooshin Bohloolzade, published in Iran by Nafir Publications:

Iranian edition of Sourdough

I am permitted neither to sign a contract with an Iranian business nor receive payment from one; no publication in Iran of any U.S. book can be official. Instead, what happens is that an Iranian publisher says, “…can we just translate this?” and you say “uh, sure!” because, what’s the alternative? You can either (1) earn zero dollars and (2) not have a Persian edition, or (1) earn zero dollars and (2) have a Persian edition. Pretty clear choice!

I’m very eager for the day when we can make books like these official, but, in the meantime, I’m happy and proud to have editions of both of my novels available to readers in Iran.


Look at THIS: a project on the iconic Lost Generation writers in Paris (you know: Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, etc.) that reveals which books they borrowed (!) from the Shakespeare & Co. lending library. Here are James Joyce’s selections. It’s more than a little bit ghostly.

For the subscribers who are into both printing presses and GPUs: how printing presses are like GPUs.

Do you know about Dell Publishing’s “mapbacks” from the 1940s and 1950s? These were paperback editions of pulpy novels with maps, helpful and/or tantalizing, printed on the back cover. They were so fab:

Mapback

SO fab:

Mapback

SO! FAB!

Mapback


I’ve developed, on Instagram, the steady habit of documentating my nearly-every-morning walk with a few images and video clips posted to my ephemeral story. I live in an interesting, jumbled-up neighborhood; overgrown yards and mystery vans jostle with biotech offices and cool little factories. I invite you to follow along if a morning walk sounds nice to you.


The artist Elisabeth Nicula has a rich relationship with the birds who gather around her back porch in San Francisco. Her essay about the beginning of that relationship is wonderful:

Crows are observant and cautious, whereas another neighbor, the scrub-jay, is bold as hell. Since crow trust requires a long warming-up period, a scrub-jay took over the peanut operation almost immediately. That is how I became friends with a free wild bird.

If you ask me, the real “digital books” aren’t the e-books of the Kindle and Kobo stores. Rather, they are lean, purpose-built web pages like these:

Both are so good that I feel an almost tactile urge to like, wrap them up in a cover and put them on a shelf. They belong on a shelf, not (only) in a list of bookmarks or search results.

I wrote this to Craig after seeing his terrific Ise-ji page:

Maybe there could be some very simple markup, cousin to those og: tags that Facebook demands, indicating basic metadata like title, author, date of publication, as well as, PERHAPS:

  • cover images intended/optimized to be used not just as "summary images" on social feeds but truly as covers, complete with titles; and INCLUDING, perhaps, spine views for Those Who Skew Skeumorphic??
  • some affordance -- I haven't thought this through -- that's like, "here is where to download the offline archive" or "here is how best to view this offline." A nod to the library -- to posterity.

This is on my mind because I've had the experience this week of pulling several (physical) books off my shelf, long-possessed but never read, and finally USING them, so grateful I kept them all these years, and then reflecting on how that's still difficult to do digitally.

(I’m still thinking about this. Spine views!?)

I cannot believe people are just making videos like this in their bedrooms. What an AESTHETIC!

Of this truly epic DJ set by Peggy Gou, Lily Nguyen writes:

i keep thinking about this set. imagine playing a show at the top of your city, bookended by tracks you produced, in a dress you designed. the excellence—unparalleled


Tile

Tile, Charles Volkmar, ca. 1900-1910

Finally, as promised, here is the second part of “An integration loop,” this one buoyed by the contributions of many other people. (They are credited in this post.) I am no great music producer—an understatement—but, maybe you don’t need to be, when the material is this lovely.

I haven’t written anything in this newsletter about anxiety and uncertainty, suffering and loss, and that’s because I feel like, you know… you are getting that from every other screen full of text you encounter… everywhere… and also because this, right here, is what I want to say about it:

That’s your report!

Two weeks to complete a surprise project, of which one has elapsed. A thick sheaf of fiction, more still to write. Back to it. Electric.

From Oakland,

Robin


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