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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The last story I presented here was inspired by The Cast of Wonders TriWonders Flash Fiction, and in the post accompanying it I mentioned that it hadn’t been submitted there because it was much too long rather than not being good enough.
I offer a similar item today. I didn’t send Why He Fight along to Cast of Wonders not because it fails to pass muster as a story, but because when I finished it and had my little chuckle of authorial satisfaction at it, the imp on my left shoulder began to suggest that it was perhaps not quite striking the tone sought by the contest. If you look at the announcement, you won’t see a thing about that, but listening to the promos on Pseudopod and Escape Pod, there was a clear suggestion of… spendour, I guess. Or, at least, that’s what the imp said. It said it persuasively enough that I hesitated to submit, until the deadline passed.
Which means I had a perfectly functional little fantasy story without a home. That’s no good! So, here it is, put up in a permanent residence where it can enjoy the rest of its days.
I’m also going to commit publicly to producing a second story before the end of the month. Just before the end of the month, on the year’s great day itself. In keeping with most of the stories here, it will be appropriate to the season. Unlike the others, it will be a true and accurate autobiographical item. Sound like fun? Stay tuned!
I’m posting a story here which started life as an attempt to make something for The Cast of Wonders TriWonders Flash Fiction contest. I’m not submitting it there, although I am pleased with it and (I think) it’s worth letting others read– this is not by any means a shrug and a “well, I guess it’s OK as free content.”
No, the only problem with it is that it’s about 240% too long to qualify for the “Flash” element of that contest, as defined by the people framing the rules. Five hundred words is very short, and while I’ve done a couple of things I also take some pride in which squeak in under that mark, I couldn’t get this story written as I wanted it without letting it ramble. Relatively. It’s not, in fact, long even if it is above what I call “flash” here.
True Path to Glory is also unusual as it is an excursion into fantasy with hardly a shiver in it. Apart from the necromancy. That bit is a little creepy.
The new story, A Reaction to Pollen, is one of the sort which makes authors fall down frothing when asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” For no reason whatever, I had a brief mental image of the way pollen can huff out of a pine tree, and by the end of the next minute, the story was essentially fully formed, just wanting some keyboard time to get out of my head.
I didn’t even have to put aside the bigger story I’m currently hacking from the marble of imagination. A very productive fiction day, yesterday.
One thing that bugs me about the story is that it’s specific to a gender, which it need not be– the person in it could be male or female and the flow of the story would not be affected. Another couple of generations and we may have an English singular pronoun which can be used for humans that doesn’t set gender, given how the matter is currently being examined by society, but for the moment, I had to choose between he or she because it is the wrong sort of creepy. Feel free when reading, if you’re inclined, to think of a different gender whenever a pronoun crops up; I positively encourage it.
Another flash story to prove I still care about this enterprise while I’m typing my fingers the very bone working on possibly-saleable works. Today’s presentation, Valuable Role, stems from a writing prompt mentioned by a friend on a pretty good little story he posted only a couple of days ago. It is about the sort of support a person of exceptional capacities should expect from those around them, and it is lightly horrifying.
The thought process was almost exactly this, in fact: “Pretty good. But not the one I’d write.” Well, isn’t that just like a writer? I’m sure others will check into both our stories, have exactly the same thought, and will produce completely different results. Which is also just like a writer. To continue on the theme, I rather ignored the word limit of the exercise my friend was writing to, because I am very in love with my own voice (and want my readers to feel they have has a satisfying serving, too).
The barrage of submission and rejection continues, by the way. I’m sure I’ll get something over the walls eventually!
The new story, Inner Voice, is another example of me giving into a long-standing stupid notion. At least ten years ago, while I was out walking in the glories of a prairie summer, I got a picture of a composite movie PI in my head, a blending of Humphrey Bogart, Darren McGavin, Robert Montgomery… and a few others, at any rate, involved in a very short scene.
“But what,” said I of a decade past, “can I make of this? Where might it go? I can’t keep that sort of thing up for any length!”
And there it lay at the bottom of my mental pond, until the cement around its feet loosened. I doesn’t have to go anywhere, in this brave world of flash-fiction. It could, I finally realized, go only so far, live out its life as a simple vignette, and bring some joy to others.