Confession Time

I am a writer, so it should go without saying that I’m a reader. Show me a writer who didn’t start as a reader and I’ll show you someone painting by numbers and connecting the dots.

On the other hand, or foot, or whatever—there’s more than one kind of reader. Most true readers start as the voracious sort, and I certainly did. Once I learned that those black ink spots meant something, there was no stopping me. Storybooks, philosophy, cereal boxes, whatever. Put it in front of me and I’d read it. I wouldn’t always understand it, mind, but at the time this hardly mattered.

That’s fairly common among readers. Later, after that initial insane rush, we start to specialize…or drift, depending on your point of view. We start to recognize that certain forms “speak” to us more. It may be a phase, it may be lifelong. I started with books and later moved to an intense affair with comics when I had a bit more discretionary income and could, you know, acquire things that weren’t already in the family library. I came into that about the time Jack Kirby moved to DC and started the New Gods series. But all good and bad things come to an end, and if you’re lucky, new good things appear (and bad, whether  you’re lucky or not) and by college I was back to books. LOTR and The Earthsea (at the time) Trilogy. Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith and those echoes of the pulp era. HPL, REH.

And then…well, my true bent manifested. Turns out I am a butterfly. I go to whatever catches my attention. I am not focused. Some readers make it a point to, say, read the Romantics and ignore everything else until they’re done, then move on. I can’t do that. I go back, I go forward. I read collections and novels by current writers. I go back to things I’ve missed. Bear in mind, this is for pleasure. There’s also writerly research, which is another subject entirely. It can be and often is pleasurable, but that’s not the reason you go there. You need to know about something and try to find out what you don’t know. You go where you think that information is.

Just another way of saying I am haphazard in the extreme. For instance, I’ve managed to read ULYSSES, but not FINNEGAN’S WAKE. I’ve read Eddison’s THE WORM OUROBOROS but not Morris’ THE WELL AT WORLD’S END. You get the idea.

So the confession part. I, a fantasist, have never read George Macdonald. At all. This is something I feel a sharp need to address. So I’ve acquired copies of THE GOLDEN KEY and PHANTASTES.

Which, at the very minimum, will tell me what, if anything I’ve missed. Other than, you know, almost everything.

In the Palace of the Jade Lion

While we’re all waiting on larger matters, I decided to do a solo issue of a novelette of mine, In the Palace of the Jade Lion ,  which originally appeared in BCS some years ago.

This one isn’t part of any series or ever will be. The story was complete in itself. Even now as I reread it for the formatting and final edit, I realize it is a very hopeful, optimistic story. While that’s usually my attitude, any particular work is going to go the way it needs to go, and things don’t always work out. This one needed to go exactly as it did, and considering how everything else is going at the moment, it’s more than a little refreshing.

Regardless, it’s on pre-order as we speak, going live on June 15th. This is the online description:

It’s normal to fear a ghost. What’s not normal is marrying one.

Xu Jian is just a poor scholar. An official post in the north of the country is a great opportunity. It is also a great danger. The road north is infested with bandits, and worse, it winds through a land of spirits.

Ghosts crave a human’s life force like the thirsty are drawn to water. When he inadvertently trespasses on the tomb of the beautiful Lady Green Willow and her servants, he is doomed.

Or, perhaps not.

Lady Green Willow is a gentle spirit who does not want to harm Xu Jian, yet her nature as a ghost doesn’t leave any option.

Until he offers her one: marry him. Take his life force only in small doses which he can replenish, until the balance of her yin and yang energy is restored.

In short, make her human again.

A wild plan, but will it work?

Even if it does, how will they survive the attention of a greedy king who wants the only possession Lady Green Willow retains from her past life, the one and only thing she cannot give up without being utterly destroyed?

Perhaps a smart ghost and a smart human, together, might find a way. Maybe.”

The Changeling, Part 2

As promised/threatened last week, here’s the second part of The Changeling flash narrative. Not the second part of the story, necessarily, since part 1 stood on its own. But rather “what happened next.”

There’s always something next, regardless of the story, unless of course everybody dies, then it’s simply someone else’s story. Nothing complicated about it.

 

 

 

The Changeling, Part 2

When I finally got up the courage and the means to leave, I was an old woman.

My sister was waiting for me, sitting on a park bench, looking the way I thought I looked, until she handed me a mirror.

That is, my changeling sister. She’s the one they left in my place when the fae took me. I was angry, at first. She was still young, and what had she lost, compared to me? I yelled. I screamed at her. She just waited until I wore myself out.

“Feel better?” she asked.

“No.”

That was all either of us said for a while. I thought of leaving, but I was tired and had nowhere to go. “When did you find out?” I asked finally.

“Probably about the same time you did. Our lives are parallels in so many ways.”

“And how do you figure that? Look at me!”

“I’m just as old as you are,” she said. “And I can’t go back either.”

“What do you mean? Of course you can go back, and I am back.”

She sighed. “Are you? You don’t know how to live in the human world any more than I know how to live under the hill. You don’t know what it means to be human. And me? My family threw me away like old clothes! Now tell me what ferry crosses either of those rivers.”

“You were waiting for me. All this time you knew where I was!”

She nodded. “True, but I couldn’t reach you. I just hoped you’d find a way out.”

That stopped me. “You’re one of the fae. What do you mean, you couldn’t reach me?”

“I was raised human, remember? The way under the hill is secret, and hardly anyone comes out now. I would have seen them. How did you find it?”

“An old fae took pity….”

She shook her head. “We both know the fae don’t feel pity. If they told you, there was another reason.”

Time to face the truth. “He was the one I thought was my father. He was just tired of me.”

She looked thoughtful. “Why did they do it? I’ve always wondered.”

“Because, among the fae, having children is a rare privilege which brings great honor. I think they were afraid of losing it.”

“So instead they robbed us both,” she said.

“Both?! My life was a lie, and my true life ends before it even begins! You’ll go on—“

She nodded again. “Yes. And on and on. Not belonging anywhere, with anyone. Tell me again who got the worst of that deal.”

I didn’t have an answer for her, only a question. “What happens now?”

“If you want, we can belong together for a little while.”

“And then?”

She smiled a sad smile. “And then I’ll remember you.”

I’d just met my sister, but in that moment I knew I both loved and pitied her.

Which was as close to human as I was going to get.

-The End-

 

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

The Changeling, Part 1

I’m a bit under it right now (the gun, not the virus), so I’m posting another piece of flash fiction. When I posted this part to the flash group, several people demanded I tell them what happened next, so next week I’ll post part 2. I like to keep my readers happy. Even if it sometimes takes a while.

 

 

 

 

The Changeling

I’m a changeling. I always suspected.

The odd thing is I wasn’t supposed to live at all. Exchange a sickly fairy child for a healthy human baby, isn’t that the story? The changeling tragically dies, the human is raised under the hill and no one the wiser.

If all that’s true—and I have no way of knowing—my people have a lot to learn about empathy. I know, human concept, but I digress. Needless to say, I fooled them and got stronger instead. Something in formulae, maybe. I wouldn’t know about human milk.

It started when I was about seven and my grandfather died. I looked it up online and the folklore says a fairy laughs at funerals and cries at births. Well, I didn’t laugh. Even at seven I could read the room better than that. But I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time. Why? Because all through the service there was the old man himself, standing beside his coffin, grinning, enjoying the show. I liked the guy, he’d been in a lot of pain, and now he wasn’t. It didn’t take long to realize I was the only one who saw him. My mother, on the other hand, saw me.

After that she kept watching me when she thought I didn’t notice, all through High School. The people I knew in school were a little quicker on the uptake. Most boys were all over me—or at least wanted to be. Most girls hated my guts. My mother? For a long time she was merely suspicious, maybe in denial, but I knew by then. Mother loved to sew, and I didn’t. Took me a while, but I figured it out. It was an antique scissors in her sewing basket that belonged to her great-grandmother. It made me sick anytime I came near it.

Cold iron.

She tried to love me, despite that, despite the suspicions, despite her worries. I wonder what would have happened if things had turned out differently, but there’s no point. Mother was sewing masks on the kitchen table, part of a community project to ease the pandemic supply problem. On her way back to her sewing room she dropped those damn scissors.

”Get those for me, will you Dear? Got my hands full.”

I don’t know if she did it on purpose. Maybe, maybe not. I’ll never know. What I do know is I looked at her and said, “I can’t. You know I can’t.”

And that was it, over. We both knew.

I’d read the stories of what happens next, but I never thought it would. I flew out the window of my room. I don’t know how I did that. All I know is, at the moment, I couldn’t do anything else.

I was raised human, but I don’t belong there. It occurs to me that somewhere, under some fairy hill, I have an adopted sister who doesn’t belong either. Maybe I can find her.

Maybe we can not belong together.

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Getting My Tuckerization On

Do I have to explain Tuckerization? Probably not to this crowd, but I’ll do it anyway. It’s when you put a real person in as a character in one of your stories/books. Popularized by the late Wilson  “Bob” Tucker who made a habit of it. While there are all kinds of legal implications for doing such a thing of your own accord (like revealing a real embarrassment about a real person in terms so thin anyone could figure out who you meant), it’s usually just for fun and with everyone’s cooperation. Charities will even raise money on the chance to be immortalized by being killed horribly in, say, a Stephen King novel.

In all my time making up stories I’ve never felt the need to do one, because that’s not the way I work.  All my characters emerge from whole cloth. And by “whole cloth” I mean they’re amalgams of my own inner landscape plus bits drawn from  everyone I’ve ever met in this life.

That is, until now.

I’ve spoken about the local flash fiction group I belong to. Every week (almost) I have to come up with a piece of flash in addition to whatever else I may be working on. Lots of stand alones, but one or two have turned into new series. One of those is about a pub called “The Black Dog,” a place which is sometimes there and sometimes not, with a rather…different, shall we say, clientele, aside from the normal humans who through fate or good (or bad) luck stumble across it. They’ve been fun to write and I’ll likely turn them into a collection when I have enough. Regardless, our group leader likes them so much she asked to be made into a character in one of the stories. I was so astonished at the idea that someone wanted to be in a story of mine that I agreed.

So next week I’ll be keeping my promise, in a character who literally doesn’t exist in a pub that sometimes exists. Writing is always hard work, but it’s fun, too.

Sometimes I can use that reminder.