Rather Light, Mildly Fantastic

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!

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A Brilliant Failure!

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.

Memories of Springtime

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.

A Proper Upbringing

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!

Hard Boiled. Lightly Shellacked.

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.

Some Would Say I’m Two Weeks Late

I am a fan of Star Wars.  It’s something I will freely admit, although the qualifiers necessitated by Episodes I, II, and III, (DumbDumber, and Not Enough and Too Late, respectively) are still called for.  I was a huge fan in childhood, I was a nostalgic but not avid fan until the idiot trilogy appeared, I was the kind of fan that harboured some enmity towards Lucas from 1999 until last year, and I’m a happy, nostalgic lightly-scarred fan in the wake of last Christmas’s return to form.

However– the whole “Star Wars Day” thing?  That didn’t present itself to me until the period of the Great Embitterment.  May 4th?  “Run along, sonny,” was my response, “Star Wars is a summer film, not a spring one.”  This year, the first May 4th since the cloud lifted, I find that I don’t snarl the way I did, but I still can’t embrace the idea.

However, it being mentioned constantly all that day did get some thoughts passing through my head, and those thoughts were sufficient foundation for the new flash fiction, The Suspension of Disbelief.

It may, I fear, be more of a flash than ever.  I realized, as I poked the final period of the story, that the foundation of the last paragraph stands on some slightly soft intellectual property ground.  I’m not entirely comfortable that “fair dealing” provides me with full protection in making such long references to Star Wars in a work of fiction (that’s “fair use” to you folks in the US).  Probably… but not definitely; it’s a grey area to me.  I therefore urge you to glance at it while you may; I well bend like the supple grass should a Disney lawyer as much as clear a Bar-accepted throat in my direction.

Friends Helping Friends

A fellow writer and long-time friend had embarked on the path of self-publishing, and since [a] he is a friend, [b] competition between writers is illusory, a mere artifact of the neo-liberal economic thought which has infected the world since the 1980s, and [c] readers should be plentifully supplied with fixes, because it’s an addiction that has no toxic level of intake (which is how I know [b] is true), I’m inclined to promote his writing in a place where my writing lives.

So, if you have a moment to make a purchase, an evening free to read a one-person anthology, and a tiny amount of money you’re willing to pass through the scaly claws of Amazon to a deserving person, you could do far worse with your time and treasure than to have a look at Observing Strangers and other stories.  Indeed, if you’re one of the select who have plumped for Kindle Unlimited, you have already paid for it!  You’re stealing from yourself if you don’t read it!

The fact that the stories are actually entertaining should also encourage you.

An Oddity of Coincidence

I profoundly dislike this sort of thing.  It’s the sort of thing that kindles paranoia.

But let me explain.  Recently, I took out a subscription for Crave TV, which is like Netflix but more limited.  It focusses on television series, which is good and bad.  On the good, I’ve finally caught the episode of Band of Brothers that I missed, and the adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is quite splendid.  On the bad… well, it is TV.  It distracts.

Sometimes one seeks a distraction, though.  For example, when I have a migraine, I spend a lot of time crouching over a toilet (and I will not expand on that).  Not all of this crouching is actively engaged, and during the standby intervals, I welcome distraction as long as I can control the volume.  Unable to face the prospect of a second episode of the animated Star Trek, a work we may look upon and despair, I decided to give The Flash a chance.  When it first appeared on broadcast TV, I didn’t pursue it, for a variety of reasons, high amongst which was a failure of the show’s marketing to make it look at all interesting.  I had been a huge fan of the character from ages eight to ten, but that didn’t translate into an a sufficiently urgent curiosity in the show.

I discovered, in my infirm state, that it was… OK.  When seen on a small tablet.  Between… bouts.  So, when migraine stops in for a visit, I watch The Flash.  And when the third episode began last weekend, I had my unpleasant turn.  I will offer a small spoiler alert, although how much of a spoiler revealing the opening five minutes of a show which first aired a year and a half ago can be is debatable.

The episode opens with the assassination of several members of an organized crime family.  That family’s name is Darbinyan.

Which is the name of my victim in “The Third Act.”

Did I hear that right?  Why, yes, I did, confirmed by three repetitions.

Son of a….

When I was choosing the name for the story, which happened almost immediately in the writing process, my thoughts ran thus:

Danish… nah… Chinese… no…  the menace is a Scot, so let’s leave the UK out of it… well, how about Armenian?

[opens Wikipedia under “Armenian Family Names”, scrolls until something strikes as euphonious]

And that’s it.  At that point in my life, I had never seen nor heard the name Darbinyan.  It might have been Pasternak, Kim, Stonecalf or Khethiwe had my synaptic pachinko ball dropped a little differently.  No big messages, no profound motives, and certainly no external influences.  That’s what really bugs me; someone passing by this site who reads that story will think I lifted the name from the show, because the show aired before I posted the story.  Apart from this little rant, there’s nothing to indicate that I was not at all swayed by television in that particular choice.

Which brings us to the slightly eerie element in this real-life story.  The IMDB page for that episode reveals that it first aired on 21 October 2014, a year less a week before I posted the story.  But I started writing the story on 20 October 2014.  Isn’t that something?

I am not so foolish as to shout, “See? They copied me!” because I know that the script is written a long time before the show airs.  No doubt months before I produced the first mark on paper for “The Third Act,” one of the screenwriters for the episode did much the same sort of thing as me to select a name.

Which, given what happens in my story and that show, suggests that to a certain stripe of creative person living in North America there is something about “Darbinyan” that suggests victimhood.  I certainly hope this is not the case in the real world.

You Are Broken

I’m sure you’re aware of it by now, too.  There’s a lot of advertising money being spent to explain that fact to you, coincidentally attached to suggestions regarding repair.  Women are, I discover from these informative commercials, even more broken than men, despite the evident stupidity and incompetence of fathers who blunder into kitchens.

Since human breakage is a nice place to go for horror, the new flash story Exciting New Designer Jeans follows this notion into the exotic lands of reductio as absurdum.  It started life as just a product name, popping into my head from wherever these intrusions spawn, and the story is an attempt to exorcise it.

It’s a Day for Fools, Right?

My son was watching a video in which one of the characters calls out, “Step aside and let a real moron take care of this!”  That video is a whimsical mash-up of Team Fortress and some other game, and not a documentary of my efforts to launch a writing career, but the sentiment sort of fits.

Yes, I’ve been committing the classic error of the fool, and thinking about what I’m at.  Shall I share?

First, the submitting of stories proceeds apace, and most of the places I’ve sent them off to are gratifyingly swift in the turn-around.  Among the responses I’ve received, I want to single out Gallery of Curiosities for special mention; I did not get acceptance (sigh), but it was as civil and pleasant a rejection as one could possibly hope for.  Even if they’re not presenting something I’m writing… yet… I urge you to give them a listen.

While submitting stories, and of course writing more of them, as readers of what had once been an interesting (of a certain value of that word) blog about fountain pens have been kept informed about, I have also been idly reading what other writers are up to.  This is not just following the quite necessary “writers must read” advice, but looking at the blogs of some various writers and seeing what they have to say about how their lives are going.

This leads to the foolishness, in a round-about way.  Filtering into the head are two lines of complementary notions about making anything like a living at this.  On the side of short stories, which is what I’ve been devoting myself to since I got what I will call serious about the art, we find diverse rates of pay, the most likely being between 1¢ and 6¢ per word.  There’s higher, but also lower.  There’s also very discouraging things like one site, who I will not mention, who on the heels of offering the high end of that scale include an editorial comment along the lines of, “you get to keep the rights, but expect to make no money ever again out of a story we’ve printed,” which in its way is almost worse than being offered $5 and a free copy of the e-publication.

On the side of longer works, we have things like this fellow’s yearly revelation of his income as a writer.  Have a look, and see if it doesn’t make you ponder.  Yes, certainly, an established writer, a known name with many years of craft at his command, and even a fool knows better than to look at that and say, “Hey, I’mma get a BOOK DEAL and make loads of money!”

But here’s where this fool’s thoughts go; however you cut it, if you hope to one day make money that the household economy will actually detect, then you should be looking towards a novel.  I hope one day to do just that with my writing; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have propose ways for people to send money down the sidebar of this very forum.

At this point, the fool’s thinking becomes somewhat disjointed.  Submissions of short stories are still useful, both in terms of “That’s this week’s groceries paid for!” when one gets accepted, and in terms of setting off any sort of small chime in the head of an editor to whom one would like to send the manuscript of a novel– I am assured that one of the better ways of getting one’s work into print is to have done so previously.  Thus, pressing on with short stories is not foolish, really, even though it eats the time that could be used in writing a novel.

So, how does a real moron handle this?  I’ve decided that I’m going to carry on banging away on the short stories until November.  When the next NaNoWriMo kicks off, I will indeed begin in earnest on one of the novel ideas I’ve got rattling around in my hope chest.  At the end of this coming November, I will shout triumphantly to the waiting world, “This thing is not quite twenty-five per cent finished!”  I may be a fool, but I can do math, and knowing how fast I emit fiction, there is no way I can finish a novel in a month.  Perhaps in the future, when I’ve got several novels pouring unexpectedly high rates of royalties upon me and don’t need The Regular Job, that could happen, but right now I can manage about 4,000 words a week, not a day.

Thus, come November, I’m contemplating a six-month hiatus in short stories while I slowly create a whole novel.  The practical effect here will be, I think, none at all; the new way of running this railway means I don’t lose much forward momentum pounding out little bits of original content, and unless all those words start to induce drag or act like rocks in a backpack working on a novel rather than a short story should not affect them.

The readers of my other enterprise are apt to become VERY bored with me.  It can’t be helped.  I’m pouring my fund of interesting into other vessels.  Hopefully, by this time next year, I’ll have a novel in hand and enough of a presence in the world of writing that it will attract a sympathetic editor.

April fool’s day is when fools get their wishes granted, isn’t it?