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.
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.
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!
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!
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.