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.
…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 biggest error is one that a non-paying observer of the work here won’t have detected; the decision to adjust my frequency of output combined with an exhausting effort to return my home to a livable state reduced the length of preview window for patrons. I apologized to them already via super-secret patron communication pathways, but I’ll admit culpability once more in the open.
The lesser error… in my eyes, anyway… is the use of a technical term as the title of the latest Current Story. Harmonic Aliasing is not quite the right term for what goes on in the story, and I have no doubt that those who ponder analog/digital transfers in a profound way will find that this grates upon them. I offer an apology on that front too, but you may also find an artist’s airy dismissal of pedantic nitpicking is crouching nearby, waiting to spring upon those who complain too loudly.
For those who like to know what a story is about before diving in, and that title doesn’t give much away, I’ll say this: there is a quantity of talk these days about this current age being the last stages of pre-singularity humanity, and I’m certainly not immune to the influence of chatter. The story is a glance in the direction of the transition from pre- to post-singularity, and because my thoughts tend to run in a particular direction, it would be fair to call it mildly alarmist.
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.
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.