Civic Duty Again

I’ve got jury duty today and have to leave in a few minutes. Actually, it’s the second time I’ve been called since the move, but the first trial got cancelled so now we are here again. I actually don’t mind. It’s never going to be convenient, but so what? Someone’s future is on the line. That’s not something you take lightly.

Besides, I much prefer being “juror xx.” Could be worse.

Could be the defendant.

Regarding Tolkien, But Not Really

This is a new story set in the Black Dog Pub. It’s not in the collection for temporal reasons. Namely it wasn’t written when I released the book.

My name’s Casey. I’m the bartender here at the Black Dog pub…well, one of them. Neegan’s the other. I’m a banshee. Neegan…actually, I’m not sure what Neegan is. Tall, good-looking guy. Maybe I’ll ask him one of these days, but I digress.

The subject came up when I was talking to Tim the Clurachaun. You might notice him if you stumble into the Black Dog. Short guy, even for a fae. Wears a red vest. Like their drink, clurachauns, so he’s often here. Oh, and a word of advice—never make a bar bet with a clurachaun. Trust me on this.

Anyway, one evening Tim was on his usual stool muttering into his beer. Or maybe he was scrying, you never know. Finally he puts his chin on the bar and stares into the golden brew.

“’All that is gold does not glitter,’” he says, and I couldn’t help myself.

“’Not all those who wander are lost.’ You read Tolkien?”

“Not a bad storyteller, for a human,” Tim says, “though he had elves all wrong. They’re about as ethereal and wise as a kick in the arse.”

“What about the Seelie Court?”

Tim grunted. “I was referring to the Seelie Court. The Unseelie Court is worse, if more fun.”

Most fae are at least casually associated with one Court or the other. As a banshee I’m usually lumped in with the Unseelie bunch. Not sure why. Foretelling death is a useful service, and it’s not as if I actually kill anybody. Now, if you were talking about my Scottish cousins the baobhan-sith, you’d have a case. Those girls have a taste for blood. Good dancers, though.

Tim drained his beer, ordered another. “Speaking of Tolkien, I don’t envy humans at all…and I very much envy them.”

“At the same time?” I said, wiping a glass. “Not possible.”

Tim nodded, looking morose. “I know. Probably why it keeps happening.”

“How do you not envy them?”

“They have the lifespans of mayflies, by comparison. Most of them go through that short life in a fog, seldom with any sort of a clue what’s really happening around them.”

“And how do you very much envy them?”

He sighed. “They make stuff up.”

I frowned. “Really? That’s it?”

“Casey, darlin’, when we tell a story, it’s something that actually happened, if exaggerated. When they tell a story, they take a kernel of truth and blow it up into an entire myth! Nothing bends reality like a good myth, and they are myth machines!  Like Yeats and the Leannan Sidhe, or that Tolkien fellow. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of his high and mighty elves that don’t exist shows up here one day. The fact that you and I are having this conversation right now might be due to one of them making stuff up.”

“Scary thought.”

Tim does get into the foolishness when he’s into his cups. Still, next chance I get I will ask Neegan what the heck he is.

Just in case.

©2021 Richard Parks

Not Getting Back to Normal…Ever

After the CDC revised guidelines on COVID and the fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks inside public spaces, I…still wear the mask. And probably will for the foreseeable future. I’ve seen a couple of arguments for doing so. Which to no one’s shock in our current period of cultural upheaval have absolutely nada to do with whether it is safe to forego the mask, but they are somewhat revealing.

The first goes something like this: I still wear the mask because no one will have any idea who is vaccinated and who isn’t, and I don’t want to make people worry about being near me. Besides, I don’t want anyone to mistake me for one of those Q loons.

Oddly enough the second argument takes the opposite tack but comes to the same conclusion: Well, I wasn’t wearing one, because FREEDOM, but now I’ll start because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m one of those vaccinated and Gates-chipped sheeple.

Whatever works. I personally plan to keep wearing my mask for reasons more in line with the first than the second, but there’s a good bit more to it. In the 2019-2020 flu season approximately 38 Million (that’s million with an M) caught seasonal flu and about 57000 people died. In the 2020-2021 flu season? Just over 2000 confirmed cases total and maybe 200 deaths. Not to mention, congruent with the flu season, I normally come down with a really nasty sinus infection lasting weeks. Every. Damn. Year.

Except this one.

Cause and effect or mere correlation? Personally I don’t give a rats’ tuchus. Masks work. Some Asian countries already knew this, especially in dense population areas like Tokyo where “social distancing” is not so much frowned on as nearly impossible. Masks are common in public, COVID or no COVID. I think we need to take a lesson.

Besides, this way I don’t have to shave as often. It’s a win-win.

Roll Over Carl Sagan

Voyager 1 launched in 1977. Its stated mission was to do flybys of Jupiter and Saturn. It did so with aplomb, discovering, among many other things, active volcanoes on the moon Io, and just how intricate Saturn’s rings are. But that wasn’t the end of its mission. Its trajectory after its last flyby was toward an even more ambitious destination.

Out.

 As in, leave the solar system completely. Which it accomplished in 2012 by passing out of the area known as the heliosphere, the area of local space more affected by our sun than whatever forces might lie outside it.

Not its primary mission, but possibly more significant in the long view. Our very first robotic foray into interstellar space. Aside from instruments, it carries the “Golden Record,” with greetings in fifty-five languages on the assumption that any aliens smart enough to find It are also smart enough to figure out how to play it. It would be to their advantage, because the record also includes music by Beethoven and Chuck Berry. Which inspired the long-running joke: What will be our first communication from an alien species? “Send more Chuck Berry.”

I have my doubts, with all due respect to Chuck Berry, and this is also due to one more new discovery from Voyager 1: the Hum.

No one was expecting new science from the probe once its primary mission was over, as both Voyager probes were designed and expected to be operational for only five years. If that had been the case, Voyager 1 would still have been the first man-made object to leave the solar system, but it would be a dead hunk of metal when it did so. After forty-four years Voyager 1 and its sister craft Voyager 2 are both still very much alive, and Voyager 1 was the first to hear the universe singing.

Well, okay, it’s more of a hum, which why they call it that. For those of us who grew up fussing at science-fiction in movies and television which almost always depict spacecraft rumbling very loudly through space when there’s no air to carry any sound, it was a bit humbling. Yes, there is no air to speak of in space, so we can’t hear sound there the way we were designed to hear it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. It appears the spaces between the star scontain traces of ionized gas—plasma—vibrating in a narrow band. It’s far too faint for us to hear, but with the right instruments to detect, amplify and interpret the wave forms, it becomes sound.

So it turns out the universe is humming to itself.

So much for the emptiness of space and the silence of the stars, both are illusions based on a misapprehension—ours. We just had to learn how to listen.

A Distinction With a Difference

Today’s post will be bit of writing neep (if that term “neep” still has any meaning). Yes, sorry. Our local writing group has been meeting online since the pandemic began and I was directly asked a question about the mechanics of writing a novel vs a short story. Allways a dangerous idea, since I tend to mull over such questions and come up different answers depending on what I had for breakfast that morning. Here’s more or less what I said.

I’ll take a shot at this, bearing in mind I can only speak from my own experience. Any other novelists in the group would likely have a different take. I wrote short stories for years before I first attempted a novel, and that first novel took me five years to write because I didn’t know HOW to write a novel. After five years, I knew how to write a novel. That is, I knew how to write that particular novel. The next one? Another steep learning curve. And the next….

All that said, the most significant difference between short stories and novels is not length, because a novel is not a long short story any more than a short story is a tiny novel. It can be summed up in one word: pacing. For that reason, a novel composed of self-contained flash fiction chapters with complete story arcs is likely to read very “choppy” and call too much attention to themselves at the expense of the larger story, unless substantially revised with the greater story in mind. The main job of a chapter is not to tell its own story but to serve the greater narrative and smoothly advance the storyline. And the writer has to make that happen even if, as is often the case, they themselves do not yet know the whole story. Yes, there are some writers who can sit down and plot out the whole book before they even write Chapter 1. I’m not one of them, and I know from contacts with other writer friends that I’m not alone here.

Sorta sounds impossible when you look at it that way, but it really isn’t, and the process is a lot simpler than it sounds. It isn’t necessary to know the whole story when you start, but what you will need to find sooner rather than later is a direction. That is, by the time you’re a few chapters in, you need to at least know what the greater narrative is and where it’s going, even if you don’t yet know how the heck you’re going to get there. Figuring that part out is the daily work. A chapter usually isn’t a complete story in itself, though it can be, provided that’s what the greater narrative requires.

You’ll likely end up with some chapters that are fine by themselves but don’t serve any purpose in the narrative. Other chapters which you might have written without understanding how they fit in, were exactly what was needed. All that will come under the heading of editing/revising. Neil Gaiman once described it, and I’ll paraphrase, “Making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” The reader doesn’t need to see that bits that don’t work, nor should they.

Otherwise, perfectly doable. Just like eating an elephant: One bite at a time.