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.
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.
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!
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.
…and it’s not that different from what went before. This first post-alteration-of-policy story is a shorty, as promised or threatened. Human Endurance is a horror story without a supernatural element, which is a little unusual for me, but it does stick to my preference for implication rather than flaunting.
I also want to mention that this is likely to hold for some time the record for “story held only in the mind,” as the basic images in it have been drifting around in my head for at least six years but I never before got around to as much as writing down a single note to fix it in the world before actually writing the thing. This is, I think, a poor practice, and I’m going to try to avoid it in the future.
The new Current Story is called A Stroll in Breda, and I have a lot of trouble deciding what genre it lies in. It is a very gentle excursion into weird fiction, lacking the brutality of finish that marks horror, and without the overt unreality of fantasy. As you’ll see in the tags, this had led me to stuff its octagonal peg in both a square and a round hole at the same time.
There is an something of authorial personal experience to this piece, but only trace elements. My father does indeed come from Breda (or an immediately adjacent village which has since been absorbed), and I have stood in several of the places mentioned. The Mastbos, for all its trim plantation nature, has the power to be a very eerie place in the right light. The beer is unreasonably good, and not just in the little bar across the street from the old tank.
The new Current Story, The Golden Oracle, is the sort of thing that a writing chap could get in a variety of troubles over. At the back of it are a couple of authors whose works I quite enjoy.
The first burden I’m giving myself, and the one I’m content to shoulder, is one of vocabulary. When I decided to pursue this story in the general way I did, I seemed to me that the style should match the setting, as far as I was able to make it. Since I don’t have a publisher to please, I didn’t need to suppress that urge. I don’t think “blatant attempt to pretend to 19th century writing style” is a trigger warning yet, but I suppose there are some who will appreciate a warning all the same.
There is another burden I look with distaste at and will attempt to leave where it lies. I am known by some to be a fan of the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, and if that’s news to you, I don’t deny it. The problem with this admission is that it brings with it a question of whether I also admire some of his less amiable qualities. The way I phrase that should give a clue, but let me be clear; Lovecraft’s racism saddens me deeply, and I do not share it. I bring this up because I’m setting a story in early 19th century England, and trying to write in the style of that time, and I’m presenting the reactions of people of that time and place to foreigners. I try to go no farther than I absolutely have to, but people do like to impute a writer’s attitudes by holding up characters as an example.
On a final note, I’ll admit to there being an element of hubris at work here as well. The initial inspiration for this story was a bit in the middle of Sheridan le Fanu’s The Room at the Dragon Volant which is marvelously weird on its face… but for one who spent a childhood in the 1970s getting very angry with Scooby Doo’s approach to the supernatural, it felt like a big fat cheat when the truth of it was unveiled. I wrote this story in part to get the taste of that out of my mouth.
I will still bow to le Fanu, generally. I know my place.
The new Current Story, which like the one it replaces is a flash, is offset in season. I had expected, when getting my batting order sorted out, that the December/January transition would find much of North America wriggling in the grip of tyrant Winter and we’d all like a vicarious excursion into summer.
Mild temperatures, however, seem to be the norm this year, although there have been some odd extremities of wind and snow in some locations. The Mermaid Parade remains the new story, though, because however wanting in chill it is, there’s still a bleakness to winter that I don’t mind being distracted from for a moment.
I’ll also mention that the genesis of the story was from merely reading the phrase “Mermaid Parade” in a state of profound ignorance as to how the actual item (which there is one of; if this is news to you as it was to me, here’s the straight goods on it) was conducted. After some giggling at the more whimsical mental images, this story is what fell out of my head. As with most stuff that drops from that chamber, it has little to do with the real world, and I hope anyone who has a deep and abiding fondness for the actual parade will forgive the excursion I took.
A quick little Christmas story for those who aren’t completely distracted by wrapping gifts and watching Alastair Sim go bonkers, and it is indeed based on a true story (exclamation point).
If you’re at all sensible, you’re on your guard now. If one is willing to carefully file facts to fit, every item of fiction can be found to have a real-world foundation… or rather, some real-world event can be pressed into service.
But, yes, this is based on a real-world event. I was recently in a room with a TV showing a broadcast image of a fireplace. That actually happened.
Merry Christmas to everyone to whom it is appropriate. I’ll also wish an appropriate mix of jollity and reflection for any who observe a different solstice-proximate holiday, of which there are many. Now, I’m off to wrap presents and get goofy on egg nog.
With the exception of one anomalous year, I have never travelled at Christmas; I have enjoyed the luxury of living in the same city as my immediate family nearly my whole life. This is not to say that I don’t want to travel, and indeed would travel a lot if means were at hand. Since they’re not, I have to do my travelling in my imagination most of the time.
For example, there’s a bit of a framing device in the new Current Story, The Healing Power of Crystals, which suggests a trip to England undertaken by me and my wife. Flummery, alas– she’s never been to Blighty, apart from a brief layover in Heathrow nearly twenty years ago (a frustration which still occasionally sets her quivering). When we do go, I say with unfounded optimism, I hope any of our stops offer anything near this sort of entertainment.
To those who find themselves wondering why this story isn’t particularly Christmas-flavoured, I offer this defence: M.R. James’s stuff wasn’t often seasonally thematic either.