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.

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.

(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.

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!

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.

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.