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.

The Unexpected, and a Confession

Apropos of last week, I finished the rough draft of the new Lord Yamada story yesterday. I am honestly surprised. I have to blame the Flash Fiction group, since I was looking at the trigger word for that week’s assignment and thought to myself…that’s a Yamada story.

No way.

Yes, way.

So first I wrote the flash, then went on to expand it to (to me) proper story length. It’s still short for a Yamada piece. Most of those were in the 5-7k range and many went to novelette, even excluding the actual novels. This one’s only about 3000 words. May get a little longer (or shorter) in the rewrite. We’ll see. If and when it’s published, I’ll be sure to let everyone who’s interested know. And even those who aren’t. Blogging is like that.

Now the confession, triggered by a twitter exchange I saw a few days ago. A writer I know was confessing to writing fan-fic when she was starting out. Several others chimed in to, sharing their confessions. Some were still writing it, long after they turned pro.

I found this all a bit fascinating, so herein is my confession: I have never written fan-fic.

For the one or two of you out there who don’t know what fan-fic is, it’s simply writing your own stories using someone else’s characters and set in their universe. Just for fun. Or because you think you could handle certain things better than they did.

But wait, Straw Man says. I know for a fact you’ve written stories featuring Beowulf, and Oedipus, Hera, and Eris, Goddess of Discord.  You didn’t invent them! Very true. And I will concede that, legendary or not, someone made them up at some point. Unless Eris or Hera takes offense at that categorization and I therefore humbly withdraw it. I don’t want either one mad at me. Regardless, in my mind there’s a very fine but definite distinction between writing a story based on legend and writing, say, a Harry Potter story. That distinction is the author.

That, to me, is the difference. Writing a story based on a legend and supplying my own slant on the story is being part of a conversation that we, as human beings, have been having with ourselves for a long time, and one that deserves to continue. Writing in a known author’s universe, otoh, is me playing in their sandbox, and I do not belong there. It’s not even about copyright, for the most part, since most fan-fic writers only publish in closed groups and aren’t trying to usurp the original author’s prerogative. Even in cases where the copyright has expired, I still can’t do it.

It’s not a moral position. I know other people don’t have this problem, and if you can do something interesting with a public domain work, go for it.

There have been times when I’ve wanted to, mind you. A few years ago someone was putting together a Fritz Leiber tribute anthology. At that point, Fafhrd and the Mouser were fair game, and  since Leiber was one of my favorite writers ever, I wanted in.

I couldn’t do it. I tried, but every word I put down on paper echoed in my head as the same word: wrong. And no matter what I told myself, or what I wrote, that word never changed.

I’ll always regret not having my work in that book. But I’ll never regret why.

 

Senior Moments

I couldn’t call it a “senior moment,” singular. It went on too long. Last week I had a lovely fan post from a long-time reader. She was a big follower of the Yamada books but here was referencing characters in a short story that was a particular favorite of hers (Yes, I’m looking at you, Yoko).

One problem—I had absolutely no memory of that story. Yes, I’ve written a lot of stories, but not so many that one (me) would think I could completely forget one, even to the point that I was starting to believe that perhaps she was mistaking me for the author of someone else’s story.

Awkward.

I miss grep. I even miss Win98, in that one regard. There was a “search inside” function built in that would allow me, as with grep, to search within every single story file in my catalogue to determine if, indeed, this one was one of mine or not. And yes, I know there’s a way to do that in Win10, but it’s a colossal pain in the butt. If this happens again, I’ll look for grepwin or something similar. But I digress.

There’s something about writing that most of you already know. Sure, everything you write comes out of you. An experience looking for meaning, an image, a train of thought you’d like to derail, whatever. At the same time, it’s a lot like channeling spirits. You’re not always sure where it comes from, even if, intellectually, you do know, and when it’s done, it’s a separate thing from you. You go on to something else, until the next time. If, in the case of a series, there is a next time.

Which is why I thought I was done with Lord Yamada, or rather he was done with me. After The Emperor in Shadow, the story arc was wrapped up and that was that. Only last night I wrote a new Lord Yamada story. Granted, it was a piece of flash, but I’m thinking of expanding it to a proper short story, at least. There’s enough “there” there. So you never know.

As for the story I couldn’t remember? Something finally clicked, and I pulled it up. “The Right God,” from RoF August 2004, reprinted in my second collection, Worshipping Small Gods.

Took me long enough.

Yep, It’s Still Winter

Snow is falling, the winds are howling. When they’re not moaning. Never content, that wind. We’ve got thirty mph winds with gusts well past fifty. The snow, by comparison, isn’t so much of a problem. I need to make a run for stove pellets but no one’s on the road who doesn’t have to be. Still deciding if I’m brave or stupid enough to try it.

Thursday night there the local group did a reading at the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts. Someone took a decent picture, and when or if I get permission to show it, I’ll put it up here. In the meantime, here’s the piece of flash fiction I read.  The trigger word was “Testament,” which always sounds like a heavy, ponderous word to me. So naturally I decided to have some fun with it:

 

The Testament of the Goat Troll

 

That’s what they call me, anyway. The goat troll. Try to eat one goat and you’re typed for life. But it was my bridge. You think I built it as a public service? I’m not one of those rich trolls who can afford to build a bridge and let any Tom, Dick, or Baby Gruff who comes along use it for nothing. You think I have that kind of cash? Building materials are expensive.

Well, sure, most of the wood was free from a nearby forest. But I did all the work myself, felled the trees, sawed the planks. Beams and posts are easy, but did you ever try making planks with just an axe and a hand saw? Try it sometime. First class job it was, and a testament to my craftsmanship. I used pegs for the joinery, and whittling pegs with an axe? That takes time. I earned that bridge.

You’ve all heard the story by now. I know it sounds harsh, but a troll’s got to eat and my bridge, my rules. Here came that first little billy goat. Time to pay the toll.

“I’m just skin and bones, Mr. Troll,” said he. “Wait for my brother. He’s much fatter than I am.”

Puh-lease. I know how the story goes too, but you really think I fell for that? No. It was simple logic. I saw the other goats coming and knew if I ate that first shrimp there’s no way the other two would have tried to cross. Take an appetizer and miss the main course? Not likely. I let him go on as the second goat was approaching.

“I’m just skin and bones, Mr. Troll,” said he. “Wait for my brother. He’s much fatter than I am.”

Now things get complicated. Sure, he was bigger than the first goat, but still a little scrawny. I suppose that’s why they wanted to cross the stream for the grass on the other side. I let him pass, figuring the third goat would be scrawny as well, but at least there would be more of him.

Well, that’s probably where I messed up, in retrospect. Yes, he was bigger. I have to say I was rather pleased with myself, at first. I was just debating whether to bother cooking him or go right to the gobbling part, when he spoke.

“I’m just skin and bones, Mr. Troll,” said he, but I didn’t let him finish.

“Yes, I know, but there’s no one else coming, so—“ This time he didn’t let me finish.

“So I’m hungry. Get out of my way.”

“Now see here—“

He just lowered his head and charged. I think I was too astonished to dodge. It was a long fall to the stream and the current was stronger than I remembered. I was halfway to the ocean before I managed to crawl out again.

So, no more bridges. Next time, it’s a toll road. See if they can butt their way through that.

-The End-

 

©2019 by Richard Parks. All Rights reserved.

 

 

Review: Ahab’s Return: The Last Voyage

Ahab’s Return: The Last Voyage by Jeffrey Ford. William Morrow, 2018, 259pp.

 

In the mid19th century, a man named George Harrow works as a fabulist for a penny dreadful called The Gorgon’s Mirror, making up absurd stories for a willingly gullible readership. It’s hard work making up the right kind of nonsense and he’s going through a bit of a dry spell, so it seems a stroke of luck that brings a one-legged sea captain to his office, claiming to be ‘the’ Ahab from Moby Dick. Which, of course, was actually written by Ishmael, a former writer/copy editor at the Mirror, and not that Melville fellow.

Ahab, it seems, did not drown attached to the great white whale after all, and is now returned, looking for his wife and son who believed him dead. Harrow, of course, sees the possibility of a series of stories based on Ahab’s experiences and his search for his family, and offers his help in exchange and we are off and running.

Ahab’s wife has long since passed away and his son, Gabriel, is one of many young men in the thrall of a Fagin-like criminal boss called Malbaster, who keeps the so-called Jolly Host in line with opium and appeals to bigotry and racism. There’s also a sad zombie(ish) assassin named Bartleby, and a manticore who eats people and recites poetry. Ahab and Harrow assemble their own team: Arabella, an apparent opium fiend who is much more than she seems. Mavis, a courier for the Mirror and genuine badass, and Madi, a former harpooner and fellow survivor of the Pequod. Many alarms and excursions as the group attempts to rescue Gabriel from Malbaster’s clutches and put a stop to Malbaster.

All of which is and is not what the book is about. Malbaster himself drops a hint at what’s really at stake:

“…Love generates great energy with which to form the world. But Fear and Ignorance aren’t bad themselves, producing their own grim yet powerful magic. The secret, Harrow, is e pluribus unum.”

I don’t think I’m giving away too much by stating that a great deal of the book revolves around Malbaster’s true nature, and true danger. Any reader well in is going to pick up on that, and plainly see the correlation to certain events taking place in this country now. If you’re not into subtext, you’re still left with a rousing magical adventure taking place in the New York of 1853, including references to and plot points depending on: changing street names, Seneca Village, and John Jacob Astor’s secret stash of opium.

Reading over the above, I have to say that it just doesn’t do the book justice. Ford is at the top of his game here, and there isn’t anyone better (or at all) doing what he does. Read the book yourself and you’ll understand what I mean.

 

Checking In

Snowfall

Which is about all I can fit in today. First I had a doctor’s appointment way too early for my schedule (not a morning person) and then we took a trip to check out new pellet stoves because our old one is just too much trouble. Trouble to clean, trouble to run. We’re looking at a better model, with the recent and likely future polar vortexes in mind. Another expense, but it saves heating oil and allows for more selective heating. They’re marvelous things when they’re working correctly, as our old one had ceased to do reliably.

No new excerpts today, though I’m thinking it’s something I will be doing from time to time as the new project matures. Also considering putting up complete chapters the way I did with Power’s Shadow a while back. Still haven’t decided on that, since I’m not sure it’s going to lend itself to that kind of exposure prior to the edit and rewrite. We’ll see.