A Voice from the Tomb

Given my output of late, it would not be strange to find some people think I am dead. I was laid somewhat low by our current plague last summer, indeed, and if the solipsists turn out to be right I might well have died then and all since has been mere residue.

That wouldn’t explain the previous couple of years, though.

What moved me to break this deadly silence is a suddenly-felt need to address the death of the artist. You know the concept, I’m sure– once art is released into the world, the artist’s opinion of it is only part of the art’s interpretation. This notion survived George Lucas’s efforts to snuff it out (Han did, indeed, shoot first) so I’m unlikely to affect it much… and yet, I will yowl from the depths of my shrouds and rattle my chains.

Social media has lately been full of argument between supporters and detractors of AI-generated art. Or “art” as some would prefer. I thought it might be worth reminding the world at large of a story I wrote a few years back which was a contemplation of how essentially human the idea of Art is.

Thus, I plopped a link to Harmonic Aliasing onto social media. I re-read it, too, since I’ve haven’t looked at it much since I wrote it in 2016. As I read, I realized that in chasing the point I had in view, I had also created something that could suggest a stance which I really don’t occupy.

It could, without any violent mental gymnastics, be viewed as a bit of a screed against transgender transitioning. When I wrote the story, there was rather less open opposition to transgender people living their lives as they see fit– big dumb cishet objects like me, even when sympathetic, might think that there wasn’t anything at all being said on the topic prior to 2018 at earliest, and it wasn’t until 2020 that a specific popular children’s fantasy writer started barking chauvinisms into the all-encompassing ear of Twitter. Like an elephant walking through a field of rabbits, I was entirely unaware of the harm I might be doing.

Now, though… well, I run into the clash of world-views between people trying to be themselves and people who really don’t want them to do that pretty regularly. I am, after all, a dweller in the outer reaches of the writing community (I am well aware how how bright a light I represent), my wife has been a theatre kid since she was a kid in truth, and we are thus in regular conversation with people of diverse gender expressions. We are not required to take a side in this conflict, but… well, as another ghost once pointed out, mankind should be our business.

Moan, wail, rattle! The artist, dead these seven years, lurches through the fabric of the locked door. He unwinds the bandage which keeps his jaw from flopping about, and out of the gaping yawn that results these words emerge in his mossy voice:

“Trans rights are human rights. Cursed be they who imply I have ever thought otherwise!”

The Haunting Season

Guess what, everyone? I’m not doing the same thing for October as I did last year!

2020 is proving to be the year I have trouble scraping words out of my head. It’s not the fell Writer’s Block, as there is production, but it’s halting. I made the same conscious decision about trying to knock thirty-one stories this year as I have made about NaNoWriMo every year. Better to not offer disappointment.

However… the words are trickling out, and apart from the story under construction at the moment, I do have the necessary juice to produce Twitter-length material. There just happens to be a daily prompt for the month of fun, and so far I haven’t missed on (quality may vary, no guarantees offered, caveat lector).

What I’m going to do is present these in a clump each Saturday. Tomorrow’s clump will be a little above weight, but it’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, and that’s the best time to be over-weight. 

…or something to that effect.

The final group will appear on The Great Day itself, which would normally be tactically unwise, but this year all sensible people are not going to be out partying, and probably not even dealing with swarms of kids on the doorstep.

Also, I have some good news which I’ve already unboxed on my other blog, but which I’m waiting for a couple of details to firm up before I shout about it here. I leave it to you whether you want to click that sidebar link or save it for a surprise.

There you are, then. Warnings of impending fate delivered. Back into the crypt with me…

Post Mortem (or, NaNoWriMoNoNoNoNo)

Having just produced a story every day for a month which is meant to be drawing-type people making a picture per day, I have some things to say about the exercise.

Gosh, I’m tired.

It was fun, to be certain, but it underlines why I’m absolutely not embarking on the author-centric NaNoWriMo which sets sail today. Even if I could maintain the energy, I cannot hope to find the time. This month saw me not attending to some important stuff in pursuit of staying ahead of the self-imposed daily demand, and…

OK, let’s talk boring numbers. NaNoWriMo’s goal is 50,000 words. Over the past month, I’ve managed just over 19,000 words, which even those who are not very good at math will notice is rather fewer. It’s possible that I could have managed more if my wife hadn’t also been directing a play for the local little theatre, because she needed rides and I spent the whole of last Saturday evening watching the production and someone needs to make dinner.

Even so, I really don’t think I have the energy for that. If someone else helpfully points out “Oh, it’s just first draft for NaNoWriMo,” I will respond that the whole of the last month is (as if no one had noticed) not particularly polished. I generally work to a three-or-more-draft plan:

      1. Get the thing on paper, long-hand;
      2. Get something sensible/coherent out of that, transcribing into the computer;
      3. After getting someone else to read it and point out that it’s not actually making sense, re-work the dopey bits.
      4. Repeat 3 if it seems needed.

There can be some repeats of steps 1 and 2, as well; I may get most of the way through the long-hand phase, realize that the point-of-view or the tense or some other foundational matter just isn’t working and start afresh, pen dancing across lined pages. I did ALMOST NONE of that over the past month, working on the keyboard directly like, someone living in the modern era (eugh!), and getting feedback perhaps by reading things aloud to my wife when she had five minutes she could give me.

So, “you only have to do a first draft” doesn’t buy me a lot of extra output. I don’t even want to get into the problems of those 50,000 words having to connect to each other somehow, one unified story rather than thirty-one little isolated events without any cross-referencing. Yike.

I also wonder if it has been entirely wise to thrust my partially-formed creations into the world. I’ve certainly had a lot of extra traffic here, but people also slow down and gawk at traffic accidents.

I also wonder, of those who have newly started following this little exercise of mine (Hi, by the way; I am glad you’ve come) might not have been give a false sense of my usual pace of update. It may be a little while before I make a noise here again folks. Like I said, I’m tired.

I may do it again next year, all the same, possibly starting on Hallowe’en rather that at the beginning of the month, so most of what I do happens in the writing month rather than the drawing one. I did enjoy it, after all, and I managed to get my wife to call me a monster at least twice, which is wonderful.

Gomez and Morticia Addams, from original TV show
An artist’s impression of my marriage. We occasionally argue over who fits which role better, but not with any bitterness.

To tie the whole thing up, I’ll mention that I have made good on my promise to create a permanent digest of the stories in The Back Files– there’s even a handy calendar-based table of contents.

I’m off to have a rest. Winter is upon us, here in the Land of the Devouring Living Skies, and sensible creatures should be hibernating at the bottom of a pond.

Scrutinized by a Distant Intellect

Mars is not quite as close as it was in the summer… but that’s of no accord, as the scrutiny I’m thinking of is terrestrial.

I’m pretty sure of that, at least.

This tiny entry, silly Martian excursions aside, is just to point out an entry on the Diabolical Plots blog which made me giggle like schoolgirl– it’s their Best of Pseudopod list for last year, and there I am in company with some really, really good authors. In the vast sweep of human endeavour, I suppose it’s not a huge thing, but it made my heart grow three sizes.

In the happy metaphorical way, rather than a life-threatening literal manner. If I am short of breath, it is simply from delighted laughter.

True Mysterious Tales of Suspenseful Mystery!

The last couple of years, I’ve offered a Hallowe’en treat of true ghost stories.  This year I find I can’t do that, because despite keeping an eye open, I haven’t seen any more ghosts, ghostly activity, or even things that with a bit of a stretch might be interpreted as such.

I was on the edge of telling a story of the worst scare I ever got as a kid (and which I will likely present next year about this time, unless something obligingly rattles a chain at me in the interim) when slowly-collapsing memory a non-ghostly event which still counts as eerie. When I first told it, I would describe it with only some irony as Fortean, and I think that’s still a good broad label for it– some weird junk that happened, for which I have no ready explanation.

It is not hair-raising, alas, but it is unsettling. Might it happen again? What’s behind it? Who can say?

Of course, by now your main question is likely just what is it? Well, turn the page and examine the Hallowe’en mystery of The Fire Over Yonder… if you dare.

I’m sure you dare. Here’s Vincent Price to encourage you:

“Go on! Go on! It’ll be fun!”

A Moment of Social Commentary

As many people do, I was looking at Twitter today, and I saw several people gaping in wonder at this article (in the virtual way one gapes on Twitter):

Screen Shot: I'M A CONSERVATIVE, AND I WENT TO AN ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ RALLY But then Ocasio-Cortez spoke... and I saw something truly terrifying. I saw how easy it would be... to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage. I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education. I saw how easy it would be... to accept the idea that a "living wage" was a human right. Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government's job to make sure that those things were provided.
I decline to link to the original article, because it’s in a horrid far-right screed to which I don’t wish to have any connections, however tenuous. Google if you’re curious.

I join in the gaping. Leaving aside the fact that I do actually accept these premises she’s troubled by, I’m trying to picture the sort of person who looks at their own children and says, “You’re going to have to earn your healthcare and education,” because in their mind this is the underpinning axiom of their nation’s origin.

Which in turn suggests that their nation was founded on the premise that the only good is the war of all against all, that the proverbial crab-bucket of continual mutually-opposed striving is a good place to live (rather than a kind of living hell), and that at best any interactions between humans, regardless of relationship, are transactions in which all parties are clutching for maximum advantage with piratical avidity.

I am very glad to not be living in that nation, but I have a little vignette of life there to share with you.  It came to me almost the moment I read that squib above.

Follow me in imagination now, to the end of a day in early winter, or perhaps late fall– a day which might be called a holiday, by those whose jobs are so bafflingly open-handed as to allow days off, one on which the roasting of a turkey is part of the traditional observance. The house into which we observers seep is following that tradition. Let us extend our senses so far as to enjoy the aroma of the bird, basted to perfection, as it rests on the carving board beside the oven.

There, standing guard by the bird, is dear old Dad. He holds the carving knife in one hand, and the other sits lightly on the warm breast of the turkey, as if without his intervention it might bound up and fly away. His eyes never rest: they track from Mom’s final preparation of the gravy to the dining room door, through which the kids’ moans of hunger can be heard, and back.

Mom, finished, pours the gravy into its silver boat. She glances at Dad, but he notices and tenses, ready for whatever she might try. She simply sets the gravy on the tray with the potatoes and stuffing, and carries it all into the dining room.  There, she stands against the wall, tray held up where the kids cannot reach, visible from the kitchen.  Dad, after contemplating the situation for a moment, nods.  He picks up the carving board and carries it in.  He does not notice when Mom surreptitiously sucks a mouthful out of the gravy.

The kids sit first, across from each other at the foot of the table.  Junior is on the left, because he is able so shove Sis away from the chair; he is older and slightly larger. Sis sits beside Mom on the right. She is very young, and sometimes the looks she bestows upon Mom, a desperate pleading in her great hollow eyes at each and every meal, are such that Mom almost gives in to the strange urge to give her child unearned food. Almost.

Mom has a strong faith. She is involved, and she is certain of her nation’s founding and history.

Dad sits last.  There is no setting in his place, and the turkey goes down right in front of him, out of easy reach of the others, well within the arc he can sweep with the carving knife– the scars on Mom’s and Junior’s arms attest to that.

There are two plates in front of Mom, the bottom one pink, the upper one blue, because in this family we are mindful of there being exactly two genders. Dad looks at the blue plate and says through clenched teeth, “May I have some potatoes, please?”

The bowls are perilously close to Junior, but the swollen knuckle he will have for the rest of his life reminds him how fast and hard Mom’s serving spoon can move.  He merely sits, watching, as she takes a single scoop of potatoes from the bowl– her bowl, brought into the marriage and her domain– and puts it on Dad’s plate.  He asks for stuffing and gravy as well, and as he does so, he moves the knife suggestively on the bird’s breast, away from the wing, toward the keel. At last, Mom pushes his plate over, keeping her hand on her side lest he think she is trying to get unearned meat.

Satisfied with the transaction, and mindful that she has contributed labour to the feast, Dad cuts a thick slice of breast. He reaches across, the meat impaled on the end of the knife, to drop it on Mom’s plate. A tear tracks its way down Sis’s pale cheek.

Now the kids have a chance, through recitation of chores completed, to prove they have earned some of the turkey.  Dad is generally unimpressed; the things these kids do are so simple, requiring neither skill nor strength.  In the end, he flips a wing toward Junior.  Sis gets a postcard of skin; not only does she do so much less than her older brother, but she has terrible diction. This is common among children under five, but Dad sees no reason to make exceptions to The Rules on that basis.

Mom also gives the kids some of the food in her keeping.  Dad sneers at how she coddles them– almost a whole scoop of potatoes split between them, and a brimming tablespoon of gravy a piece.

They say their prayers, because saying prayers is an important element of life in their nation. The words are all familiar, but the sentences convey no meaning to any member of the family.

Right hand still clutching the knife, Dad thrusts the fingers of his left hand into the uncut breast of the turkey which he bought using his money, tearing away a fat handful of the juicy fowl.  He never takes his eyes off the others as he crams the meat into his mouth. They never take their eyes off him as they begin to eat, except to dart a wary glance at the others.

Eventually, Dad is sated.  Let’s follow him as he pushes away from the table, taking the largely denuded carcase away with him. He has a padlocked fridge in his study, where he can save the leftovers.  He smiles at the sounds of covert struggle behind him.  The kids don’t fear the fork Mom holds as much as they do his knife, and they’ll make out just fine from the scraps on the floor.  Mom, of course, will claim whatever gobbets still lie on the table-top, as is her due.

All in all, it’s a feast that honours what they all understand is the founding precept of their nation:





It’s in the Trees!

That’s a line from Night of the Demon, the excellent 1957 film adaptation of M.R. James’s “Casting the Runes” and I seriously recommend giving an evening over to watching it.

But that has nothing to do with this post.  I ran into something on Twitter that gave me a spasm of creativity, and I thought I might as well preserve it here, for my own future amusement at least. First of all, here’s the triggering image:

Twitter screen capture: Unusual 65ft-tall beech tree found in the Balkan mountains (photo: Deyan Kossev) over a photo of a tree which has somehow come to look like human with arms upraised.

And here’s what fell out of my head:

Twitter screen capture: The mad old woman had gold, as they had said. It jingled in his pouch as be ran from her cabin. When he got back to town, he would buy all the lads at the tavern a drink. He would embellish the story, of course. Something about a vast guardian demon...

Twitter screen capture: Suddenly, she was in front of him. Too surprised to shove her aside, he threw his arms up to hold his balance as he skidded to a stop. They stayed up. He felt the blood going cold and thin inside him, felt the inverse of pain as roots drove down out of his feet.

Twitter screen capture: She looked into his remaining eye, sinking into its socket of wood. "The theft," she said, "I might have forgiven; there is always more gold. But to do that to a harmless old cat... for that, you may stand there and lament your fate until the woodsmen come for you."

Twitter screen capture: For long ages, he felt insects and birds at work on his flesh. As he grew to join their canopy, he learned the language of the trees; they insulted him daily. Once, a person stopped in front of him and took a picture. He could not call out the them, his mouth long grown over.