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.

 

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.

 

 

No Context For You

You probably shouldn’t need any. This is from the current WIP. You won’t know the players, but the situation I think is clear enough:

 

We made our way through the tangle. Modern steel was one thing; it was blended with carbon and whatnot to be both strengthened and tamed. This was different. Cold cast iron was something else again. It was pure and old and had its own sort of power. No fae enjoyed being in its presence. It wasn’t actually dangerous, but it did tend to dispel glamor and weaken fae magic, two things our kind rely on. But wrought iron? Hand forged iron? That was worst of all. Smiths were the world’s first human magicians, even if most of them never knew it. What they put in the iron when they worked it, our kind recognized immediately even when the smiths did not. Old magic, it was, perhaps even as old as our own.

And the door to the coal mine was sealed with it.

“We’re going in there?” Aednat asked incredulously.

“If we can get it open,” I said.

“Normally, doors and walls are no problem for me. That thing? That’s a problem.” Mera crossed her arms. “Any ideas?”

None came immediately to mind. As for the door itself, ‘that thing,’ as Mera described it, was fairly accurate. It was basically a flat cage, with iron straps two inches wide and probably a good quarter-inch thick. There were massive hinges fastened to the rock and a bolt as thick as a man’s thumb, with a very old padlock binding the bolt to a thick iron ring on the side opposite the hinges, in the usual fashion of a door.

I took a closer look at the lock. It was rusty, of course, and likely hadn’t been open since the colliery had closed down, probably sometime early in the previous century. Fortunately it was of mild steel, not iron and forge slag. Cast iron was recalcitrant. You could break it if you were strong enough, but it would not bend. Steel, by contrast, could be reasoned with, and one couldn’t be a proper trickster without learning a thing or two about locks over the centuries. The Japanese once believed that anything which survived long enough could develop a soul and mind, of sorts. I knew it for a fact. The lock, while made of inanimate steel, was in a sense alive, and as such tended to have opinions.

This one was bored. I could tell.

“They left you all this time with nothing to do but hold onto a door. Hardly seems fair.”

Aednat spoke up behind me. “Nudd, who are you talking to?”

I gave the pair of them a quick glance. “The lock, of course. Please don’t interrupt.”

I could imagine Aednat and Mera giving each other the side eye at the tableau of me talking to a lock. No matter. Just as I wasn’t privy to the inner secrets of either the banshee or nightmare, this was pooka business, pooka understanding, and they could jolly well shut it until I was finished.

 

 

Review: In Calabria, by Peter S. Beagle

Tachyon Publications, LLC., 2017.

Let it be said up front that Calabria is a region of southern Italy, in the “toe of the boot.” There on a hillside farm lives Claudio Bianchi, alone except for his old dog Garibaldi, his old goat Cherubino, and three cats: Sophia, Mezzanotte, and Third Cat, which is more position than name, since Bianchi had never learned her real name, “as one must do with cats.” Other than twice-weekly visits from young Romano the postman, It’s a hard and lonely existence, which suits Bianchi just fine. The farm gives him enough of a living to live, plus time to read and sometimes write poetry, which he mostly keeps to himself. All that changes when the unicorn visits his scraggly vineyard for reasons that Bianchi cannot fathom:

“He would indeed  have taken it for an illusion, if Cherubino, anarchist and atheist like all goats, had not remained kneeling for some time afterward, before getting to his feet, shaking himself and glancing briefly at Bianchi before  wandering off. Bianchi knew the truth then, and sat down.”

He writes a poem about the unicorn, but the visitation proves to be more than a one-time miracle. The unicorn returns, and is apparently searching for something. The truth finally dawns on Bianchi: the unicorn is pregnant, and what she’s searching for is a place to have her foal…fawn? Bianchi isn’t sure. But when she makes her nest in a hollow near his apple orchard, the farmer begins keeping vigil, and it is there that Giovanna, the postman’s sister covering his route that day, finds Bianchi, and finds the unicorn. Soon she’s in on the conspiracy of silence, and essentially in the unicorn’s service as much as Bianchi, though he might not have put it that way, already is. The unicorn eventually has a difficult birth, and Bianchi is there to assist, and all is well, for a while.

Some secrets are impossible to keep, and the unicorn and her newborn are among them. It’s not long before reporters, animal rights activists, and unicorn hunters are snooping around and sneaking through and trampling  Bianchi’s farm, but the real danger arrives with the monster, a monster in human form, as the worst ones tend to be.

So that’s the plot. Trivial things, plots, or would be if one didn’t need a way to lay out what does and must happen in the course of the story. The bones, if not the flesh. Seldom if ever what the story is about. At its heart, In Calabria is a love story, and I don’t simply mean the contentious but real affection Bianchi and Giovanna come to feel for each other. There’s also healing. In time we learn why Bianchi is alone in the first place, and the tragedy that put him there. In Calabria is also a story of awe and wonder, and all that contained in a novella-sized package. It contains multitudes. Yes, I know. The monster must be defeated, the dangers averted, or else the story is about something else entirely. So let’s leave that part for the reader, where it rightly belongs.

If you already know Peter Beagle’s work, and you haven’t read this book, I don’t know what to tell you, other than stop wasting time and get to it. I’m already mad at myself for waiting so long to do the same. If  you don’t know Beagle’s work, then correct this error as soon as possible. Start with The Last Unicorn, or A Fine and Private Place, or The Folk of the Air, or The Innkeeper’s Song or...well, I really doubt it matters. No writer is for every reader, but if Peter Beagle isn’t for you, then I can only offer my sincere condolences. But it’s well worth your time to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Winter

I don’t care what the calendar says. Winter is here. It’s been snowing for the last few days, and I’ve had to shovel the driveway and sidewalk, so that’s winter in my book. Fall was short, and the leaves are already gone, mostly buried under snow.

I’m still adapting to the idea of seasons. As I’ve said before, in the Deep South we really didn’t have them anymore, and that wasn’t always the case. I can remember having falls and springs and winters. Summers never went away, but over the years they kept stealing days from the rest of the seasons until there just wasn’t much left. If you meet a climate change denier over the age of fifty from the deep south, then you’re looking at someone in denial of their own experience.This is something I’ve never understood, almost as weird as someone arguing that water isn’t wet.

Which, by the way, it definitely is.

On a completely unrelated subject, snippet du jour:

“I wish,” Mera said, and sat down without being asked. “Who is the annoying pooka and what did you two do?”

“He’s Nudd, and who says we did anything? Honestly, sweetie, pull yourself together. I can’t talk to you like this,” Aednat said.

“Oh, right. Give me a sec….” Mera the nightmare appeared to be trying to concentrate, which was an expression that would have been comic if it hadn’t been on the face of such a horror. As it was, it magnified the effect. I felt a chill and Aednat actually shuddered. The feeling passed quickly and then we were looking at Mera in what I can only assume was her true form.

It wasn’t quite what I expected.

In the chair was a woman with curly red hair and freckles. Her face was a little flushed, probably due to the drink, but she didn’t look anything like a horse. She appeared about the same age as Aednat, though I knew, as humans reckoned years, both were far older.

“What did you mean, ‘what did we do?’”

“You must have done something. I know why you’re here, and I know where you’re going,” Mera said.

“Oh,” Aednat said, and that was all.

“It’s worse than that,” Mera said. “I was ordered to meet you, though I expected to find you on the train when it leaves. Well, no sense putting it off.”

I frowned. “Put what off?”

“Letting you know I was ordered to come with you.”

Aednat frowned. “You too?”

Mera nodded, looking unhappy. “Why do you think I was drinking?”