Joe Parrino, Writer

Musings on Life, Writing, and the Free Territory of Ascham

Consolidated Query Materials

In the event this proves helpful, I thought I would put together all the blog posts and pages I’ve been carefully assembling that touch on This Red Business.

Mission Statement: http://captainofchickens.com/mission-statement/

Query Letter, Bio, and Sample Pages: http://captainofchickens.com/this-red-business-query-letter-and-sample-pages/

Pitches: http://captainofchickens.com/pitches/

Synopsis: http://captainofchickens.com/this-red-business-synopsis/

Maps: http://captainofchickens.com/a-map-of-the-free-territory-of-ascham/

Writing Playlists: http://captainofchickens.com/musical-playlists/

Previously Published Works: http://captainofchickens.com/published-works/

Reference Materials: http://captainofchickens.com/incomplete-list-of-reference-materials/

Progress Update

Present: I realized that one of these is long overdue. Loads of things have happened since last I posted on this here blog, some of which are world-shatteringly strange and personal, others are something I should take the time to humblebrag about.

I’ve nearly finished another novel. Fimbulwinter, the focus of the most recent drift of blogs, is nearly a completed zero draft. The bones are solid. It needs work, but what doesn’t? I continue to hone my craft, remember the old me, and vomit words onto the page in a slurry of mead and myth. In a week or two, I will be done with writing my third novel. I will put it to rest and dream of better words, stories, and characters. As the season turns here in the Northwest, I feel my writing powers awakening with the arrival of storms and shitty weather. My summer torpor falls away as the mist begins to rise.

Past: This Red Business continues to percolate and lately I have heard Pumpkin and Whissen Foss stir, ready to scurry all over the page again. I continue to issue forth queries into the waiting maws of agents with the stubborn hope that This Red Business will enter meatspace.

Future: Ahead of me, yawns the yawning void of empty space. I can feel a space opera calling. Notes I crafted for 40k, long dormant planets and peoples, awaken from cryo-sleep. I can even hear the bzzzzt, the thrum, and see the glow of a lightsaber or two. We’ll see where this one goes, but for now I have created a playlist for it. Listen below if the mood strikes as I trod back into the word mines.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/playlist/4U3P7Zn9ll3qC2nDWlNTtn

The Scrappy-Doo Question

This Red Business started with a lot of strange, central questions, but one has stuck out to me as something that needs addressing, that needs to be set in stone where people can see it. It is the central question that led to Pumpkin the Badger, an actual, honest-to-the Ash-and-Birch, North American badger. What happens to Awakened animals? What happens to animals gifted, or cursed as Pumpkin occasionally sees it, with sentience through no fault of their own? How do they confront life with senses, emotions, and instincts that countermand higher processes of reasoning? Essentially, I began my manuscript by asking what happened to Scrappy-Doo after the series ended. On such questions, my hopes are borne. Pumpkin spent her 26-ish years on the as-yet-unnamed planet of my secondary world stumbling through these and more.

Some clarifications are in order: Pumpkin the Badger is not anthropomorphic, and no furry beyond the stripes the gods gifted her. My sole concession lay in giving her opposable thumbs so Pumpkin could work her six-shooter a little easier and I wouldn’t have to break my brain figuring out how badger paws could manipulate objects. She is short, unrefined, tattooed, gruff, kind, angry, scared, filled with grit and curse words, and as human on the inside as I could possibly make her. On the outside, she is all badger. This choice opened up possibilities when writing. It gave me all sorts of excuses to focus on sensory details, on split-second decisions, to mirror the ways that my ADHD both helps and hinders me. It gave me an excuse for Pumpkin to have that deep-seated sense of longing for her family, her sett, that my Italian-American upbringing left in me. Pumpkin has forged her family in the way that I am still forging mine. Through Pumpkin, I could engage all five senses. Her hearing is acute. Her sense of smell often drives her to distraction. Sometimes she can zero in visually on the most important, salient detail.

Pumpkin’s long years in the wilderness are like mine, a soul-searching that brought me back to where I started, to family and to community. I tried to go this alone before, to stubbornly ram my head through publishing until I became some sort of author and vanquished imposter’s syndrome. That got me nowhere, worse than nowhere. Pumpkin and I try to learn from our mistakes, to get better, to keep putting one foot or one paw in front of the other. So I’m trying to build my community now. Friends, family, acquaintances, idols. A constellation of support to sustain me in dark times. You, my dearest reader, are part of that constellation, shining just over there.

Other questions lurk throughout the manuscript, decision points that allowed me to twist and turn the typical fantasy tropes, to create a world where Pumpkin could exist, a world centered on the huldufolk, the helpful people who often go invisible, but are always there. I built a world centered on gnomes and dwarves because I could. This is a world of muskets, badgers, bigfoots, fairies, dragons, emotional stakes, gods, family, and the tall, tall trees of the Pacific Northwest. At its heart are human stories, where the choices of individual characters affect the world around them. This Red Business is a place where I could answer what happened to Scrappy-Doo after the show ended.

The Survival of Hoary Gods

In honor of today’s Freydayhood, I thought I would peel the curtain back on my current projects yet further and declaim to you, O Wise and Learned Reader, some thoughts and snippets I have come across that currently drive my words. Things have been decidedly heavy and grim around here of late and so I thought I might address a lighter topic: the survival of hoary gods.

ROLL CREDITS

Of late, I have been grappling with questions of faith and fate, of the wyrd and the weird (I couldn’t resist). In my readings and delvings into the mythology of the Norse and their forebears, I have come across some rather marvelous statements that have rocked me. At least one Norse god survived the Christian Conversion Period. This comes from an impeccable source, one of our main sources on Norse mythology, in fact. Snorri shares the secret that Freyja survived, was still being worshipped in his day in the High Middle Ages (fraught though that term may be, I can’t recall the more proper academic terminology at the moment).

If one survived, perhaps others did also. Who else made it? Njord? Demeter? Local gods of river and wood, hearth and home? The Genii Locii? Which of my ancestral deities survived the turmoil of that changing world between pagan and proper believer? The cultural Catholic part of me is troubled by this hope, but the part of me that is fascinated by world religion, the part of me that wanted one day to see the Hajj, to walk in Jerusalem, to wander Nepal, and Mongolia, is now obsessed with this notion. There are so many holes in our knowledge of the past. Myths that were never written. Works destroyed in some great burning or another, or even threads of silvery fate, woven starlight wending through humanity’s long, stumbling journey through our world.

If our knowledge of the myths is so incomplete, what else have we taken for granted? Might Odinn be a little more tricky, a little more sinister than even our oldest tales say? Perhaps Fenrir may have spared one life instead of claiming it, honoring an oath and solemn vow.

I’ve been calling this new manuscript Fimbulwinter as a working title, just so I have something to grasp on to prove the words are being made real. I know it is ill-fitting, just a placeholder really. This afternoon, a more fitting title occurred to me. Subject to change and the whims of the universe, and hopefully, the whims of publishers and agents, but I am beginning to think of this book as Justice and the Wolf.

What do you think, O Ye Wise?

The Marathon and Alternate Universes

I first off would like to offer my profound gratitude to the support offered to me earlier in the week when things seemed bleak and the world small. I owe you a debt of gratitude that I will do my best to honor.

Without further ado, a Blogging Post.

I started running a marathon in April. I had never really planned on it. I’m not sure what my plans were. According to the original timeline I set for my second novel, I should be either wrapping things up or, more likely, struggling through writing the damn thing. When I started the book, I gave myself 1-2 years to finish it.

At the end of March, the universe decided otherwise. Instead, I suddenly had less than a month, with a hell of an incentive to get the book done. I sometimes think about what that other novel would have been, how different it might be. I don’t think it would have the same break-neck pacing that came out of my 10-day Writing Frenzy in April. I don’t think I would have the same courage I have now to query in my quest to get it into print. Maybe it would have turned out longer than the 80,000 words it scraped into. I doubt much of the worldbuilding would be the same. Instead of setting my book in the Pacific Northwest, in a bid to write what I know, it would probably still be Edinburgh’s windy, wet streets.

In a weird way, I am profoundly grateful for my layoff. It crystallized my will and gave me the strength to crack through my inattention and finish something I dreamed of doing. The layoff pushed me so far out of my comfort zone and into a marathon that I never prepared for or ever desired to run. I am a different person because of that layoff. I have spent these months since shedding off the protective layer of corporate chitin. I channel the experiences I had into my words and my characters. I know how to research and hit deadlines, but I feel awake again. My eyes stare out afresh to the possibility of magic in the world. I am reading and consuming more books in the past few months than I have in years.

While I swallow my introvert’s trepidation and throttle my natural self-deprecation, I am now the champion of a book, of a set of characters, a found family trying to make sense of a chaotic world under desperate circumstances.

This Small World and This Red Business

This blog post might get a little depressing so I will start off upfront with a fun fact: Freyja survived the Christian conversion period. I can’t stop thinking about this factoid from one of our primary Norse mythology sources, Snorri Sturluson. I hope more of the pagan deities from humanity’s past survived as well.

Back to the depression, my world has grown very small over these past four months. As an intel analyst, as a historian and a researcher, one of my many interests has always been the topic of disease. I often felt like Cassandra constantly bringing up the topic to my corporate overlords who, it turns out, did not give a shit. When reports of Covid started circulating out of China, I warned my employer. As the disease grew closer and closer to home, I could see the path it would take under our utterly and maliciously incompetent administration in the U.S. Then, I was laid off. My world shrank. The economy tumbled. I am now reliant on the Trump Administration and unemployment as our income. We are staring down the barrel of losing our house. My dad, now the sole income earner in our family, desperately wants to retire, but even he has been reduced to half salary.

I know I shouldn’t complain, that I shouldn’t focus on negativity.

But holy fucking fuck. How can I not?

My world is crumbling. After being let go from a job I was starting to trust had stabilized, I fell back on the one skill I know I possess that no one else does. I am a published goddamned neurodiverse author, for all that seems to matter during this heartrending query process. I went from taking a year to write a book that I desperately wanted to publish, that was then canceled, to finishing a novel in 10 days.

I obsessively research agents, I look through their #mswl, their manuscript wishlists, their previous deals, every public statement they’ve put out. I have queried over 70 agents and received 64 rejections. As near as I can tell, those rejections have been form ones. I am rapidly running out of hope that this process will end in success. With the evidence I have, how can I believe differently?

I know my book is weird. I know it is fantasy, which doesn’t seem to be in vogue right now. My book is different. Michelle keeps reminding me how strange, but also how wonderful it is.

This was the only route I could see to safety, to financial movement again. The one skill I have that no one else does, at least not quite in the same way, and not about the same story, finally shackled and put to my purpose. The skills I have honed from my graduate degree in international relations, from five years as a corporate intelligence analyst, assessing and predicting, all point to further disaster on the horizon. Finally, I am putting those skills to my own purposes, thus far to no avail.

Pumpkin the Badger isn’t a typical protagonist. Her family isn’t a typical family. Ascham as a setting isn’t something I have personally seen before in fantasy, but what do I know? Yes, there are dragons, and dwarves, and gnomes, but there are also dinosaurs, and Bigfoot, ghosts and crossroads devils, muskets, and magic. I drew deep from all the stories I’ve ever loved, the places where my memories are brightest, the people who have stood beside me through thick and thin. This book is my attempt to come to terms with my ADHD diagnosis, with this pernicious condition that explains so much that has gone wrong with my life.

My world is rapidly shrinking, my hope with it. I know that others have and are enduring far worse, but that doesn’t minimize the pain and despair I feel.

We are rapidly approaching yet more economic cliffs. Fiction, particularly escapism, is the only route out of this I can see. All I want is for this novel to be published, to get my foot in the door, to allow me the breathing space to write more.

I’m running a marathon with limited support and so far there are no water stations in sight.

On top of this, my parent’s dog, my beloved sister, is dying. She stood with me and helped me process my OCD diagnosis as I suffered a mental breakdown in my junior year of college.

This has been one of the roughest periods in my life, something for which I was well unprepared. I am really struggling to find hope in the here and now, to follow the advice that says to put my head down, shut up, and write something else.

My world continues to shrink. I miss my expanded horizons of possibility.

As always, loyal and true reader, I thank you for your kind time and attention. I wish I had better news, but that seems pretty hard to come by these days.

Consecration

In the course of writing Fimbulwinter, I’ve been diving deep into academic works on Norse and Celtic mythology, history, and archaeology. I came across a way that the Norse would consecrate their enemies to Odin that has been stuck in my head ever since. It is, no doubt, a method known to my astute and educated readers who have an interest in the subject.

At the start of a battle, as the lines of shields squared up and faced each other across a field or a pass, or jockeyed for prime position, one single warrior would grasp a spear sacred to the Ecstatic One, the god of trickery, intoxication, magic, inspiration, battle, and overall chief of the Norse pantheon. Shouting, “Odin owns you all!” the warrior would cast the spear over the enemy formation, thus dedicating all those enemies about to die to Old One-Eye. I can’t help but wonder what would’ve gone through Saxon, French, Arab, or Irish minds as this spear sailed overhead, and the battle-shout in a foreign tongue drove fear deep into their hearts. Was there a pennant or flag fluttering from the spear? Blood or strips of fur? Would this ritual have seemed familiar or totally alien?

This has been one of the great benefits of writing about subjects I want to know more about. Through this, I’ve learned how much more complicated the Norse myths are, their antiquity, and how little we truly know.

Through this, Odin has emerged as one of the most complex and nuanced gods I think I’ve read about in my comparative mythological research. There are so many facets to his being, good and bad, but he is always himself. Conniving, cunning, and full of a desperate need for remembrance, I cannot help but admire this figure once beloved by my ancestors. He gives the gift of inspiration to poets and kings, but also binds and takes, bestowing battle-madness. I find it utterly fascinating that Odin did not begin his godhood as chief of the Norse pantheon. Rather he seems to have supplanted Tyr in the far-distant past. Odin seems not to be a stern and judging figure, watching from on high, or dallying with mortals solely to anger his wife. He comes across to me as a character with agency, with a story arc, with a drive and needs and desires of his own. He plans and plots, sacrifices, and teaches, befuddles, and beguiles.

As I slog my way through the query trenches, as the artillery of form rejections thunders all around me, a spear flies overhead, wrapped in strips of bear and wolf fur. Words chanted in an ancient tongue cut through the thunderous roar across the battlefield. Inspiration and madness walk hand in hand in their wake.

Two ravens take wing.

Companion Pictures

I rarely post many pictures to social media yet I take loads. Usually, they stay for me, to garner a smile at a needed moment, or to light up Michelle’s face at the latest capers of our companions.

In honor of Pumpkin the Badger, a lost companion slowly rediscovering herself and her family, I thought I’d switch up my blog content with a bunch of pictures of dogs and cats in case anyone needs some cheering up.

Pitches

It occurred to me, in the spirit of continuing professionalism, growth, and actual self-promotion on my own gods-damned website, that I should post some more things on books I’ve finished or am working on.

The pitch for This Red Business has seen the most iterating and is hopefully the most polished:

GIDEON THE NINTH meets OVER THE GARDEN WALL in Sasquatch country. On the night before she is hanged, Pumpkin the Badger, an animal cursed with sentience, receives a letter from her old cult leader, revealing his ties to evil dragons and threatening the territory she loves. Pumpkin jumps into action, breaks free from prison by selling her soul to a sinister fairy, and returns home to reunite her family of retired adventurers. Through grit, research, and violence, the Chickenshit family punches through the cult ranks in a desperate bid to stop a Second Dragon War.

This new one is more feral and wild, perhaps fitting for this book in an apocalyptic, bleak, but beautiful era. I’ve been a bit more on edge lately, a little hungry for change, so I’m trying something different with this one. I am going to attempt a Young Adult Historical Fantasy novel tentatively titled Fimbulwinter. I don’t have any comparative titles yet, as I’m relearning the genre, beyond movies and TV shows. Here’s that pitch:

THE SECRET OF KELLS meets AVATAR: THE LEGEND OF KORRA in 10th-century Viking Age Ireland in the style of Gene Wolfe’s LATRO IN THE MIST. A shield-maiden searching for her mother, a half-starved, haunted berserker, and the goddess of storms reborn as a bard, journey across the island after a volcanic eruption triggers Ragnarok. Freed by the apocalypse, an ancient force of imbalance stirs. As the gods fail, and the old powers slip from memory, three mortals must resurrect the devoured sun or lose their world.

A Map of the Free Territory of Ascham

Michelle reminded me that this map I sketched out for my plotting purposes when writing the book would probably sit pretty well on the ole blogosphere.

Behold in all its rough, ridiculous glory, the Free Territory of Ascham.

https://www.worldanvil.com/w/allyoa-captainofchickens/map/87a9127c-9fdb-40f8-8bbe-ae9fadd40801

I thought it might also be amusing to add in my initial sketch. Also on display: my atrocious handwriting.

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