So, sometimes I do the year end recaps and year-ahead look-forwards as separate posts, and sometimes I do an even SEPARATER (not a word) post about the pop culture stuff I enjoyed —
But this year, I’m running them all through the blender and am just gonna dump the resultant blog smoothie onto your screen. Because honestly, 2020 was a hot fucking fuckmess of a year, and time ran together like so much wet paint — it may still be a Monday in March? I dunno. So, why not Frankenstein a whole bunch of blog posts together? It’s only appropriate.
What The Fuck Did I Do This Year?
I want to be clear it is not a joke when I tell you that looking back on this year and trying to gauge its scope and its contents is like wrestling an oily pig in a carnival hall-of-mirrors. I can’t get a grip on it and I don’t know where I am. I honestly don’t know what happened this year and what I even accomplished? Eennnhhh?
To answer that, I had to look back over emails just to see like, the things I did. For a good portion of the year I didn’t really write anything new — I did two new drafts of The Book of Accidents, one big draft at the start of the year, and some tiny-but-plentiful tweaks midway through. And a copy-edit for that. Plus a pair of edits on Dust & Grim, and I helped curate the monster motivational Magic Skeleton book — though mostly there it was the publisher selecting what ones go in the book and then having the wonderful Natalie Metzger apply her fantastic art weirdness to it all. But all that time I didn’t really write anything new until this fall — and as such I’m 50k deep into the Wanderers sequel, Wayward. Part of that is because we didn’t have a surefire schedule for my next several books, right? Like, we knew TBOA was getting moved out of October 2020 to not get crushed by election coverage (whew), and then it was a question of whether the Wanderers sequel was next, or if it’d be another horror novel of mine, currently titled The Orchard. So, there were questions as to what I was even supposed to write next?
But obviously a large part of it too was —
This year was a lot. A lot a lot. A lot a lot a lot. Pandemic and election and social media monstrousness and shenanigans around every corner. It was simply hard to get creative traction this year. And that’s unusual for me. I’m usually someone who can write his way through any bullshit, but this year I found greater solace in editing, in fine-toothing narrative to get it right, and any new material I wrote went into those, for the most part. Which is fine, of course. Progress is progress. Work is work. But it was hampered, hobbled, hamstrung. I suspect it was for you, too. That’s all right. It was a hard, bad year. A hard, bad, strange year. We were all being asked to walk around on a broken leg, and I think it’s okay if that means you can’t run. Even if people want you to. Even if you expect yourself to. You do what you can do. Forward is forward, progress is progress, however small it may be.
Not to say this is some we’re all in this together hoorah clarion call — I am an intensely privileged person, not just because of the natural privileges afforded to me but because I make a current living based on staying home. I don’t go to a job. I hide here in my WRITING SHED, peering out the windows like a paranoid maniac while furtively typing a few sentences here and there. I’m a lucky person and I’m doing okay, better than a lot of folks — certainly not my goal to play misery olympics. But at the same time, I think it’s okay for all of us, me included, to recognize that the year was a screaming fuckshow either way, and that very few people were operating at 100%.
There was good news, of course: Wanderers was nominated for both the Stoker and the Locus, which was really nice. It continued to sell well. The Magic Skeleton deal came together. My son is well. My wife is well. We’re healthy and weathered the storm of uncertainty and isolation okay. Virtual learning was hard but manageable. We adapted. Life continued. Trump lost. A vaccine was found. Life continued and continues. There’s real reason to celebrate but right now I’m mostly just tired? Christmas was nice, but mostly I just want to get through to 2021. More on that in a few.
Things That Were Good That I Enjoyed Maybe?
Once again I’m left wondering… what even happened this year? What came out? The two media forms that dominated my story-consumption habits were television and video games — both, I think, easy to get in and get out of quickly. Movies take time despite being shorter than television, because they’re best viewed in a single two-hour-chunk. And with a kid home 24/7 instead of being in school, we didn’t always have the time or mental fortitude to plop down for that temporal chunk. Books were hard, too, because, first, I found my concentration levels in the pandemic were reduced to the level of “concussed squirrel” and second, again, my kid was home. It’s really hard to sit quietly with a book. But TV and games were easier to grapple in the time allowed. Their consumption: uncomplicated.
Some of this too is hard because I try to remember, say, what movies I saw this year, and then when I look back at what movies came out in 2020, it’s like, really? Birds of Prey was out this year? Was it? Really? That happened this fucking year? Jesus.
So, who knows if I’m even remembering all this correctly.
But here are the things I enjoyed this year in their various category.
Not an exhaustive list.
Some of these may be hallucinations, I don’t even know.
Palm Springs was the first piece of media that I think inadvertently understood the vibe of the encroaching pandemic. It felt true in a way other stories did not simply by its proximity to everything going on. It is the film of 2020 — not necessarily the best film (though it is pretty great), but just a movie that lived in the same hell-realm we were all inhabiting.
Scare Me is a weird piece of not-quite-horror-movie perfection. A story about stories, but also a story about storytellers. Hilarious and weird and dark. Minimalist and spare. Shudder, by the way, is a great streaming service if you like spooky scary spoopy stuff.
Wolfwalkers is one of the most wonderful animated films of all time. I haven’t seen Soul yet, and will soon, but this is it for me. It’s deeply, unabashedly good, and unashamedly itself.
Class Action Park isn’t my childhood exactly, but it’s next door.
Enola Holmes — what a delight. I kind of thought it would be worse fare than it was? Honestly, Netflix can do really well with TV, but their film offerings have not always been aces-and-eights. But this felt real, and fun, and just fired on all cylinders for us here in the Wendighaus.
Bill & Ted Face The Music — what a happy movie. And a happy-making movie. It wasn’t just nostalgia fueling it, though that never hurts — it was crafted with love and care and fun, and you can feel it in every frame.
Were there other movies out this year? Certainly. Do I remember what they were? No. Did I see some of them? Probably. Anyway, onward we go.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is a short, impactful, elk-fueled novel of terror and sadness. The guy writes in a way that is just easy-breezy — literary, if you care to call it that, but conversational. It’s high-minded storytelling told in a low voice, and please believe me when I assure you this is not derogatory — it’s the best way a story can be.
Survivor Song, Paul Tremblay. Supercharged rabies pandemic, thanks to Paul Tremblay? With requisite Tremblay heart-punching and kidney-stabbing. He will always hurt you. And you will always like it. Paul Tremblay is a monster.
Goldilocks, Laura Lam. I read this just before the pandemic and hahaaahahaha it landed differently as soon as the pandemic hit. Character-driven into-space thriller with roots on Earth and in our present. It’s very good, and if you liked Wanderers, I think you’ll like this, too.
Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff VanderMeer. It’s not out yet, but mark it — it’s a Fincherian puzzle to be solved, this book, and it’s as much about you as it is about the protagonists. All books change you a little but some books change you more than that, and this is one of those.
Wow, No Thank You, Samantha Irby. I needed funny this year, and this brought the funny. Samantha Irby is one of the funniest goddamn people on Planet Earth and if there is any reason to save this planet it is because she is on it. This is a collection of essays and I cried laughing.
Blacktop Wasteland, SA Cosby. Propulsive-at-times, sad-and-reminiscent in others, this is a gut-punch of a book, that puts a fine point on race and racial tensions in this hard-as-hell crime novel. I like books that don’t fuck around and this is a book that doesn’t fuck around. I’d even argue the noblest pursuit of a novelist is to write a book that refuses to fuck around, so read this to get that.
I’ll note here an interesting contrast — I watch movies for escape, but read novels that don’t necessarily aim for escape. I don’t know why that is. Maybe because books contextualize experience differently, and provide catharsis in a more impactful, nuanced way. Also I’ll note that I think horror is the genre to watch over the next two to four years. And I don’t just say that as a person with a horror novel out in 2021. But, uhh, also because of that.
Ted Lasso, holy shit, Jesus Christ, Ted Lasso. Listen, I’m sure I’m being overwrought by saying it’s one of the greatest seasons of television ever, but it sure felt that way when I watched it. It’s sublime. Funny, just a little fucked-up, appropriately profane, and ultimately deeply sweet and optimistic. It was the show I needed in 2020. I honestly can’t stop actively loving it day to day. I think about it often. I adore it always. *slaps the BELIEVE sign above the door*
Cobra Kai doesn’t always know what it is, whether it’s a saccharine nostalgia-bomb or a cynical subversion of all that — sometimes it’s glib and goofy and sometimes it’s like BOOM HAVE SOME REAL CONSEQUENCES. Sometimes it’s making fun of itself, and then it’ll switch gears and be sincere as fuck. I dunno. But it works and I love it.
Also JFC, was Schitt’s Creek this year? Goddamn. Loved that one, too. It’s clear to me that I am enjoying a particular kind of show, a show that somehow balances sweet and salty very well — that takes itself seriously, but not too seriously. What I would consider the Parks and Rec model. The Good Place too and wait WTF that ended this year too? That was 2020?! What the fuck.
The Boys isn’t that. It’s zero sweetness, all salt. But it works. It reimagines superheroes as deeply fascist, fucked-up narcissistic hell-beasts masquerading as humans and it feels very apropos to 2020.
I think Perry Mason rambled a bit, and it’s pretty fucking dark, but it worked for me.
What We Do In The Shadows is one of the funniest, weirdest shows. The Jackie Daytona episode may be one of the greatest episodes of television of all time.
There were a lot of good adult-friendly kids-TV, too. The new season of Hilda. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts may be one of the best cartoons of all time, right up there with Avatar: the Last Airbender — it is, in its way, the Ted Lasso of cartoons, featuring a wildly optimistic character who chooses to befriend all their enemies, always choosing compassion over the other thing. Summer Camp Island is soothing as hell. Craig of the Creek and Apple & Onion are wildly good.
There were some shows that missed for me, too — chief among them is Mandalorian.
BEWARE: SPOILERS AND STAR WARS FAN WANK TO ENSUE
I know, I know, heresy, I get it. I loved S1, but S2 has really pushed aside the titular character in favor of, well, everyone else. Mando was relegated to a series of fetch quests. His agency was largely removed and logic was cast aside as we were instead treated to the motivations of others, like Ahsoka, or Boba Fett. Both of whom I like, and who I enjoyed seeing! But each time it felt like Mando was simply caught in the swift-moving rivers of other people’s stories. And it’s a strange choice given that his actions in S1 were literally to blow up his life to save The Child (aka Baby Gogurt) — and yet S2 is him mostly trying to get rid of the kid. For noble reasons, admittedly, but in a way that feels like he’s just acquiescing to it instead of owning his role. He starts to reclaim agency by the end of the season (and the second to last episode may have been one of the best of the whole series), but then the finale had… well, You Know Who show up. Again, I like Luke. I like him being a bad-ass. But I didn’t like that he’s a just a HAND OF GOD who shows up and saves them, then takes Baby Gargamel away with nary a protest from Surrogate Mando Dad, and nobody else bats an eye, either. They just fought through hell only to have Mando give away the kid to a dark-clad stranger who just murdered a bunch of Terminators. And the other storylines — Gideon, the Darksaber supremacy — don’t even get an epilogue or a nod to what’s to come. There’s no closure, there’s just the end of the show, and then there’s a Boba Fett show but a delayed Mandolorian season and — ennh, I dunno. I’m falling off the Star Wars bandwagon these days, for some personal reasons and also because I think it needs another hibernation period. It’s also a franchise mired in prequelization — the constant looping back to fill in blanks rather than leap forward. Marvel nearly always moves forward, but Star Wars nearly always looks backward. Mando escaped that trap by being uniquely about its own set of characters, but by doing that thing where it reminds us that STAR WARS IS BASICALLY ONE ZIP CODE (my wife called it “the town in Gilmore Girls, but in space,” which I amended to, “Starwars Hollow,” give us both awards now, pls), it once again feels somehow regressive, a galaxy stuck in the past that cares very much about one family’s bloodline and destiny.
But, bonus: Cobb Vanth!
This is getting long, so I’ll just say these are the games that geeked me out this year: Hades, Ghost of Tsushima, Miles Morales, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Spiritfarer. I really wanted to love Valhalla but it’s a buggy brutal mess where you’re mostly just a dickhead Viking who shows up and does some pillaging — so far the “bad guys” are barely that. It invests me in the narrative, and the storytelling is good, but it feels like more of a chore than the lush (if too long) Odyssey. I also wanted to love Squadrons, but couldn’t really get into it. It felt fine! But only that. I think it was the too-short single-player that left me feeling unsatisfied? But hey, Rae Sloane and the Starhawk!
Also a weird shout-out to No Man’s Sky, a game that continues to deepen itself and improve wildly — doubly so now on the PS5, where it looks fucking amazing and its abysmal load-times are now a mere fraction of what they were.
What The Hell Happens Now?
I have no idea.
I mean, at least given THE FUTURE OF THE COUNTRY AND THE WORLD, I’ve no idea. I hope Trump is done, his goose cooked, his brownies baked, his fate signed and sealed and delivered. His legal options are long exhausted, so all he has left is chaos — but he may make more chaos yet, because I think what waits at the end of it is jail. He’s a cornered monster, and not to be trusted.
I hope the pandemic will fade this year — we have vaccines, but we also have new mutations of COVID on the rise, and hope but not confirmation that the vaccines will work against them.
For me personally, I had a whole year in 2020 with zero book releases (well, excepting the Wanderers paperback!), so this year I’ve got three — first up is You Can Do Anything, Magic Skeleton, with Natalie Metzger, out in April (pre-order here), and then comes The Book of Accidents in July (read an excerpt here, pre-order here), and soon I’ll reveal the cover and some sketches for Dust & Grim, which lands in October. Hope you enjoy ’em all. And if you don’t, that’s okay, too.
I’ll keep writing Wayward in the meantime.
Hope you can find some peace and creative comfort in the new year.
I’ll be back then to talk about that a little more — what we can do going forward, as writers, as the calendar burns the previous tire-fire of a year and we step out of the smoke and haze into a (hopefully) renewed 2021.
For now, I’ll see you on the other side.
Be well, frandos. Give to a local foodbank, if you can.