About ogresan

Richard Parks' stories have have appeared in Asimov's SF, Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, and numerous anthologies, including several Year's Bests. His first story collection, THE OGRE'S WIFE, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. He is the author of the Yamada Monogatari series from Prime Books.

Roots

When I was a kid I developed an interest in family history, mostly because I didn’t know much of it. The reason is no one was recording it. Older relatives would talk about this or that Great Uncle, or who was my cousin three times removed (not removed enough, in many cases). Then they passed and whatever they knew was gone with them. So I started a family history.

Did not get very far.

Then came the internet, and new sources of information and tools to build family trees. So in my copious free time I got into that, with some surprising results. Mainly because what I found out didn’t always match family tradition or my own weak efforts. First of all, my original research convinced me the paternal line first arrived in the new world in the mid-1700’s. Nope. Turned out to be about a hundred years earlier. My paternal grandfather thought we were from Wales. Nope again. England, specifically Essex. Both sides of the family even, except for my father’s mother’s side. Scotland. And from my mother’s mother’s side, Germany.  Though in my paternal grandfather’s defense he did say we came west from North Carolina, which was true, though the family lived for several generations in Virginia first.

Fascinating? No, not even a little. Naturally it interests me to find I had knights, earls, lairds, a baron, a viscount and one king in the tree. But I wouldn’t expect anyone else to give a darn. So why am I telling you all this? Because of a picture I remember from my childhood. It’s of my grandmother as a child, taken sometime in the 1930’s at a farmhouse with her extended family. Dirt poor Mississippi farmers near the end of the Great Depression. Her ninth great-grandfather was a frickin’ baron.

Sure, I have an academic interest in where I came from. (and it was great fun to learn that my 15th great-grandfather was a laird who got kicked out of Scotland for robbing a church). Idle curiosity satisfied. But in the immortal words of Lucy Van Pelt (via Charles Schulz) “Now that I know that, what do I do?”  The answer, of course, is “nothing.”

Doesn’t change a darn thing. I’m grateful to all my ancestors for getting me here, if unintentionally, but that’s all they’re responsible for. Anything else, it’s on me.

 

 

 

Arguing With Word

As previously stated, I’m working on a novella. The rough draft is finished, but it’s very rough, and a thorough rewrite is proceeding. Said rewrite is going a little slower than I’d like, but for the most part there’s good reason. Aside from the usual typos and word choice snafus and missing words that either have to be ruthlessly exterminated or added back, depending, there’s also a great deal of mythological minutiae that has to be accurately rendered. Including reasonable extrapolation of what might happen when two very different mythological cosmos collide. Additional research was required. Also not inconsiderable fallout from the fact that the story started as one thing and grew into something very different. Can you say continuity error? I knew you could.

I was more or less prepared for all of that. One thing I was not prepared for was wasting twenty minutes of rewrite time arguing with Word over the correct usage of “who” and “whom.” As the rewrite sometimes required, I wrote a new sentence. Word insisted that the sentence was grammatically incorrect. Loath as I am to question a computer’s accuracy, I disagreed. Word insisted I change it. I pushed the little button that supposedly explains why Word wants me to edit my lovely prose on the fly. Word said I was using “whom” as the subject of a clause. I said I wasn’t, I was clearly using “whom” as the object of the prepositional phrase beginning with “with.”

All the while this was going on, I was reminded of how ridiculous the whole thing was by remembering an old George Carlin routine about having an argument with his breakfast cereal. In my defense, I note that at least Word has a rudimentary AI working, which elevates it, in this context, above the level of breakfast cereal, if only barely.

Still, pretty ridiculous.

To cut to the chase, I looked up the grammatical rules online. Remember, I’m from the generation where we still had to break down and diagram a sentence into its component parts, identifying those parts. Doesn’t mean I remember all the rules. But I have a decent ear for the language and was still sure I was right, and told Word to stop arguing with me. This afternoon I related the incident to First Reader, who agreed that I was correct but in addition was able to cite the rule, in the process explaining how Word got confused. “Whom” was part of a short prepositional phrase, which Word mistook for a clause, which demands a subject, which in turn would have called for the nominative, not the objective case. An easy enough mistake for either a human or an algorithm to make.

Regardless, I was right. I hereby claim victory in the Battle of Whom. Which, I reiterate, took twenty minutes of rewrite time when I already should have been in bed two hours before.

It’s amazing I get any work done at all.

A Day on the Lake

First Reader and I had been meaning to take one of the boat excursions on Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, NY, for some time now. Summer was pretty much impossible because, oddly enough, the place is overrun with baseball fans come to see the museum and looking for other things to do. Go figure. Now the kids are back in school, at least some of the grown-ups are back at work, and the place is not so crazy. Also, it’s fall now and the leaves, as you can see, are starting to change. And since the boat tours close for the season in a couple weeks, we decided not to wait.

By the time the captain had finished relating the long list of previous lake boats that had either burned or sunk or both, I was maybe having second thoughts about that “not waiting” thing, but as we were well under way it was too late by that point. Still, the current boat is all metal so I was less concerned about the burning part, figuring we stood at least a 50-50 chance.

This is Kingfisher tower. Built by a guy named Clarke around 1876, it’s a sixty-foot folly (in the technical architectural sense) in order to make the lake more “aesthetically pleasing.” Locals wanted it torn down, but overall I’m glad they didn’t.

While I do think it’s a cute building, it’s hard to imagine this as anything other than gilding the lily. Lake Otsego is gorgeous all by itself, and it was probably more so in 1876, before alewives (the fish) were introduced by accident and upset the natural balance. The lovely blue cast to the water, which you can probably make out in the picture, is due to a slight over-abundance of blue-green algae. Alewives ate the plankton which normally fed on the algae, which led…well, you get the idea. The lake water was a lot clearer before that happened. Still gorgeous, but yeah. Alewives are threatened species in some lakes, but in Lake Otsego? Not so much.

Lake Otsego is a glacial lake, nestled into a wooded valley. It is just over 7 miles long and is 167 feet deep at its deepest point. The outlet from Lake Otsego forms the North Branch of the headwaters of  the Susquehanna River, which eventually ends up in Chesapeake Bay. Never let it be said this blog is without educational content.

In non-lake news, I’ve started the rewrite of the unrelated (to Yamada or really anything else) novella. I have a working title, but it’s likely not going to stand, so I’m not giving it here. When I know what the actual title is, I’ll post it.

 

 

 

Not Quite as Slow

All right. The new Yamada story is completed, beta- read, revised, and sent out into the world. Working title is “A Minor Exorcism” and it runs just under 5000 words.  I’ll post when I know where or if it’s going to be published before it winds up in the new collection.

Which I now think will happen, if not anytime immediate. I’ve been going over the list of uncollected Yamada stories, and they shake out like this:

 

 

 

  1. The Tiger’s Turn
  2. Three Little Foxes
  3. The Sorrow of Rain
  4. Uzumaki of the Lake
  5. A Minor Exorcism

Clearly, not quite enough for a proper collection. I’ve got at least one more in mind, after that we’ll see. The first collection, Demon Hunter, contained ten, and I’d like to match that. If the delay is too long, I’ll do a short collection of six. I’ll also likely divide the stories into two sections, those occurring before the events in The Emperor in Shadow , and those following. Yamada’s life has changed, and the stories reflect that.

I’ll also likely have more than one mock-up of the eventual cover. Maybe I’ll post those here when I have them and ask for feedback. Some of you out there have been reading Yamada from the beginning, so you should have at least some input. Fair?

Time to get back to work.

Slow Going

I’ve gotten slow.

Normally it shouldn’t take more than two weeks for a novelette. Here I am at a solid week and I still haven’t finished a short story. It’s not because I don’t know how the story goes, I do. It’s not because I’m not working on it, I am. Not really sure about the because, actually, but I’ve got my suspicions.

To begin at the beginning, I’m a member of a flash fiction writer’s group. I’ve been in writer’s groups before. Back in Mississippi we had a very successful writer’s group that produced several published stories and even one Nebula nomination (not me, alas). I hesitated about joining the local group simply because it was flash fiction, which I’ve never been a fan of, but I was curious about the local scene, so I finally put my misgivings aside and very glad I did. It’s a talented bunch and flash has its own challenges. When I think of flash, I think of anything under about 1500 words. Nuh-uh. Here we have 500. Max. Some groups go even shorter.

Start with a challenge word. We write whatever we want, but it has to include the challenge word for the week. Three of those week’s words resulted in new Yamada stories. In 500 words. Still wrapping my head around that one myself. Naturally enough, for each of those I had to leave a lot out and imply a lot more…which meant I naturally wanted to expand them. The first one sold to BCS last spring. Working on the second one now and have plans for the third, but here’s the thing–I am writing very slowly. Yes, now we’re back to the subject of this digression. Which there wouldn’t be room for in flash, but there you go.

I think flash has me in the habit of drafting more carefully. Fine in a rewrite, but it tends to hamper things on a first draft. First draft should be more like careening down a hillside on a bike with no brakes. Even so, I usually end up with a 6-7 hundred word draft that has to be cut to 500. So when I do the same thing on a story that would normally run in the 3000+ word range, that doesn’t work as well. It slows you down.

Now that I’m aware of the problem, I can make a conscious effort to fix it. But of course first I had to become conscious that there was a problem. Which I should have realized when it took me six months to write a novella when I’ve finished full novels in three. Or an entire week to only get two thousand words of what I think will be a 3500 word story, once I’ve put in all the stuff I had to leave out the first time.

Wisdom is uncertain. Learning is optional, but better than not.