Picking a Side

Well, look at that.  I’m holding to a resolution, at least for a second week, and developing a story for the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge again despite huge if unconscious opposition from the non-writing elements of my life.  This week’s challenge was a quite simple one: a story about good versus evil.

He who provides the challenge declares that its inspiration was no more than the fact of watching a horror film.  I will admit that I allowed a little of current events to colour the small not-quite-steampunk fantasy of Between Good and Evil, Some Grey; there are some things that you just can’t claim neutrality in without at least tacitly supporting one side.

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What? New Content?

Yes, indeed.  While I am still devoting the largest part of my creative energy and time to the novel, I’ve decided that I’m going to make a serious effort at posting some fresh fiction here more than once every… six(ish) months.  I am motivated in this by reading the work of other authors.

Particularly, by the blog of Chuck Wendig.  He does a regular flash fiction challenge over there, and while spending idle moments at the day job reading through back numbers, I was struck with this thought– a prompted flash fiction is something that I can probably do during these same idle moments, and a prompted flash fiction with a deadline means I might actually put words where people may enjoy them (hopefully) before the projected end of the second draft effort on the novel.  Which may, possibly, be done by early December.

So, today we have I Held Your Heart Once.  The title comes from the challenge, as do the first and last sentences.  I might have been at this sooner, but those three elements were the products of the previous three challenges.  You can, therefore, understand me to be blaming a famous and rather good author for keeping me from posting any new writing here for a month.

You can.  But I think I’d prefer if you didn’t.  I’ve been busy.

Reassurance, and a Digression

Still here.  Still writing, too, although given the pace of updates you’d hardly know it– as of last report, the first draft of the novel was 73% complete, so there’s a vague hope the second draft will be ready for critical comment before the end of the year.

I do not have as much time to devote to my art as I could wish.

That’s the reassurance dealt with.  Now, onto the digression:  I was reading something today which brought to mind King Cnut.  He’s less well known than his Anglo-Saxon propagandist’s version of himself, King Canute, which is a shame.  The “Free the Danelaw” telling of his story has him standing up to his ankles in water, yelling futilely at the incoming tide in a fit of shoe-wrecking hubris.  The other side of the story is a little more interesting.

There were, it seems, an awful lot of hangers-on, lickspittles, and blowers-of-smoke at the court of Cnut.  This makes sense, given the relative power of his kingdom; loads of victories, no neighbours that gave any serious worries, and ferocious armed forces on tap.  Cnut was troubled by this preponderance of yes-men, because when he said “Do we think it’s a good idea to raid Wantage again?” he wanted actual opinions and not a load of “Ooh, you can do anything because you’re so big and strong.”  Even when he told them that there were no wrong answers, there was a worrisome amount of scraping and cries of, “Of course, your Majesty, it is as you say, and your wisdom is infallible.”  He took to formulating a plan.

“I understand that I am the greatest king in the world,” he said to his assembled jarls.  A few, because there are always a few, rolled their eyes or considered the bottom of their mead-horns.  The rest, even those who might have heard of places like Constantinople, agreed loudly.

“So, anything I command will come to pass?”

A chorus of avid agreement followed.

“Let’s give that a try.  Court’s adjourned, and we’ll reconvene on the shore at the turn of the ebb.”  They being a seafaring lot, the members of the court has a good sense of the tides, so this wasn’t as obscure to them as it is to us modern watch-owners, and they all toddled out at the correct time.  There sat Cnut, on his throne, on the damp sand a few feet above the water line, wearing his best shoes.

“Since you’re all so certain of my powers of command, it will come as no surprise to you that I can order the tide to stay where it is, because I don’t want to wreck these really nice shoes I’m wearing.”

The eye-rollers, who had the sense to stand toward the back of the crowd, rolled once more.  The general murmur of agreement had somewhat less fervour than previously, but was still general.  After all, he is the great and awesome Cnut; I’m not going to be the one to say otherwise.

“Right.”  Cnut turned his head to yell over his shoulder.  “Oi!  Ocean!  Knock off that tide!  Stay right where you are!”

Five minutes later, the royal shoes were extremely damp.  They carried Cnut up the strand, where he stopped and said, “I hope you dummies get it– I may be your king, and a damn good king when compared to the others, but I’m also human.  I have limits.  I’m sick of you lot playing suck-up, and the next time you don’t give an honest opinion when I ask for one, remember this.  You’re in the court to be helpful, not decorative.”

He may also have had a couple of the more obsequious members of the court judicially murdered, because they were a fairly rough’n’tumble bunch, and nothing drives home a lesson like an execution.  History is silent on this point.

The thing which brought this to mind is this article regarding someone who has gone… a different direction than Cnut.  You might almost feel sorry for its subject; consider, if that emotion kindles in your bosom, the amount of misery he’s caused for others over the years.  Any price he’s currently paying is but a taste of the interest on his karmic debt, never touching the substance.

Tossin’ and Turnin’

I was listening to a fellow speaking of human sleep arrangements lately, and on the way to his main point, he mentioned some people from the Solomon Islands objecting to what their London hosts thought was lavish treatment, a separate hotel room for each one of their party.  “What,” I’m told they asked, “if one of us has a nightmare?”

Dreams are funny things.  I can see how people can come around to the notion that they present a window on an actual separate reality, since there is sometimes such a wealth of detail in unfamiliar settings that it is very hard to credit the subconscious with such inventive powers.

…but then there are the dreams in which things are so deeply wrong that you really, really hope there’s nothing at all to that notion, because the partitions between the wings of the multiverse are just not thick enough if that stuff is on the far side.

Guess which sort I’m going to recount for you?  I have been battering away at the novel and a story for an anthology I’d quite like to get into, and so haven’t been able to run up stories for this enterprise in a while, but last night’s vision of global, possibly universal, destruction was so affecting, I thought I should at least try to squeeze some of it out of my head for presentation here.  So, if you ever wondered idly to yourself, “What sort of nonsense is running around inside the heads of writers,” I offer a small but vibrant sample.  Be careful to not get any on you, it is almost certain to stain your clothes.

A Poetical Interlude

I do not claim to be a poet.  The closest I approach the claim is to wish aloud that I had the attention to linguistic detail that real poetry calls for.  However, something fell out of me yesterday that looks vaguely like a poem, and it pleases me enough that I’m reproducing it here so I don’t lose it as it trundles along on Twitter’s endless conveyor belt.  It’s not deep, but it’s fun:

I call plural octopus
a crowd of octopodes
therefore
more than one rhinoceros
must be rhinocerotes.

A Traditional Holiday Story

Well… not really.

There is the British tradition of creepy stories at this time of year, as exemplified by most of M.R. James’s output, and I can more or less hang Occasional Lapses of Service on that hook.  I suspect James would probably chastise me slightly for stepping away from one of his very useful guidelines in the writing of ghost stories, one which I generally cling to pretty firmly– but it’s not really a ghost story either, so I will nod my head in admission of the departure without feeling that I’ve actually strayed from the path.

It is also not a traditional Christmas story in most other senses of the that phrase, even though there is a passing reference to carol singing.  It is, however, presented only days ahead of Christmas, and is meant as a gift to the world in general.

And now, as last year, it’s time to get seasonal liver damage through the fat and alcohol content of egg nog, and cuddle my son while we decide if that noise on the roof is a reindeer, a lead-footed squirrel (of which we’ve many in the neighbourhood), or something else entirely.  Wæs hæil, everyone!

Have a Little Consideration

I’m offering a story today, Remarkable Value, Unbeatable Location, for which I had to look backward in my own life to get some of the details.  I’m currently living the North American dream, revelling in my status as owner-occupier of a fully detached single dwelling.  Apart from not having anyone but myself to complain to when the drains get clogged, it’s pretty good stuff.  I have previously rented, as the last story indicated, and before that I lived in a variety of apartment situations (although the vertical four-plex in Korea was apparently called a ‘villa’, despite the Korean trouble with the letter V, to distinguish it from one of units in the vast thousand-person blocks).  It’s the apartment life that the current story is founded in.

Anyone who has lived in an apartment setting will have a story or two about inconsiderate neighbours– it may be over-egging to call it a common horror, but if you think of is as an induced inability to relax in your own home… well, that’s pretty horrible.  The Romans were onto something, calling apartment buildings insulae— like shipwreck survivors washed onto the shores of an island, the people living in a block find themselves sharing accommodation with a bunch of strangers.  Even if there aren’t cannibals and tigers, things can get a bit tense because none of them have quite the same idea of correct conduct.

The Path is Long, The Hill is Steep

A while ago I made a rash declaration, and today I actually made good on it, on a day behind the projected schedule.  The first eight pages of what I’m currently calling Impossible Bodies are done, the effort to write a novel has left the dock, and while there’s a slim risk it may sink it isn’t going to stop.

I’ll reiterate what that previous entry said about this enterprise’s relation to NaNoWriMo–  I’m starting now, but I have no illusions about finishing at month’s end.  This will be, at best, a six month voyage, and I anticipate having to pick up more lime juice before the first draft is over.  Today’s initial efforts yielded eight longhand pages, with roughly 18% having lines drawn through it a moment after it landed on the paper.  If I have seventy days like this, I’ll be close to the modern novel length (unlike NaNoWriMo’s traditional goal which would be about 200 printed pages).

None of this, I hope, is going to have much effect on events here.  Tiny objects will appear now and again to amuse.  I may even howl entertainingly about obstacles encountered in the novel or other attempts to be a fully-functional author.  But I thought that I should probably let everyone here know that I was actually making good on that earlier threat.  The world needs more detective novels with non-traditional supernatural stuff in them, right?

Of course it does.

All True Ghost Horror!

Hyperbole sure is easy!

For Hallowe’en, I thought I would offer a small recounting of a ghostly encounter of my very own.  Like a proper real-life ghost story, it does not have a very firm narrative line, and it also doesn’t have much that a dedicated sceptic can’t dismiss out of hand.

There also isn’t, at least on the part of the teller, horror.  My hair remained unwhitened.  My flesh barely crept at all.  But there is a lingering sense of having something happen which, dismissive sceptics be damned, satisfies Occam’s razor most readily by saying, “It was a ghost.”  Which, for someone who enjoys writing this sort of story, is kind of neat.

(Nearly) First Published Work!

I’m very very very proud to announce that I have a story appearing on Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures.  I’m so proud, in fact, that I’ve de-linked the same story from this site for the moment, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to go over there.

I’m proud of this because it’s my first story to be published.  More or less.  During a recent spate of auto-Googling– because, occasionally, one does like to see how much attention the internet is paying– I found a couple of references to an article which was printed in Dragon, the monthly organ of, at the time, TSR Gaming (long since taken up by Wizards of the Coast).  This was not a huge surprise, since it was a high-circulation magazine, even before the dawn of the Nerd Age we currently live in.

More surprising was to find my name popping up on the Internet Science Fiction Database.  I entirely remember the story– the surprise is that anyone else took any notice of it.  It appeared in the ‘zine emitted irregularly and briefly by Regina Speculative Fiction Society, and when I use the contraction, I am speaking of the old version; a physical object, composed of pieces of paper passed through a photocopier and hand-collated (as photocopiers of the day had trouble with that sort of thing) before being stapled together and handed to subscribers.  It was not quite first-generation, as the editors had access to computer printing and so didn’t have to tape together bits of type-written material.  But there was tape involved in the paste-up.

It is a non-professional credit, to be sure, since The Spintrian barely managed to mail out any copies with the available budget.  While this more recent presentation of my work is not by the technical definition applied by the Horror Writers Association or the SWFA appearing in a professional market either, it is actually bringing in some payment.  Semi-pro, we might say.  A step on the path to greater things.

Apart from shouting “Hey, everyone!  LOOKIT WHAT I DONE!” I’m making this post to underline something we all occasionally forget– what we did in the past can be very hard to bury.  Alas, the original file of the story is locked up in Applewriter II formated 5.25-inch floppy discs which I may or may not still have in the house, so I can’t offer a glimpse at that old work of mine.  This is probably a good thing.  I seem to remember using some phonetic dialogue, and we all know how embarrassing that sort of thing can be.