Both Present and Coming Soon

Both Present and Coming Soon is one way to describe Beneath Ceaseless Skies Special Double Issue #250, in that part of the issue went live on April 26th, containing stories by K.J. Parker and Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. Part 2 will go live on May 3rd (Thursday) with the balance of the issue, which is “Silence in Blue Glass” by Margaret Ronald (you gotta love that title) and “An Account of the Madness of the Magistrate, Chengdhu Village,” which is the longest title I’ve ever used for any story, so unlikely anyone will remember it. Just remember this coming Thursday. The link is up there.

This is the third story in the adventures of Jing, Mei Li, and Pan Bao, which officially makes it a series, by my definition, though I’m at the point of wondering where it’s going to go, as in remain short stories or eventually morphing into novels, the way Yamada did. Plus I’m wondering just how long I really should spend in 5th C BC Warring States Period of what will eventually become China. There are other things I need to write and only so many usable hours in the day. Not to mention we’ve started yet another major DIY renovation project with its own demands.

I’ll sort it out, which is just another way of saying it isn’t sorted at all, yet.


Story Time: The Penultimate Riddle

Today’s Story Time is from the August, 2005 issue of Realms of Fantasy, “The Penultimate Riddle,” later included in Worshipping Small Gods, my second ever story collection.

“The Penultimate Riddle,” like several of my stories, is a love story at heart. Sort of. Or maybe it’s about someone drawn to a mystery, because aren’t we all? Or maybe something else entirely. Make up your own mind. I’m still working it out myself. Just because I wrote it doesn’t mean I understand it.

As always, today’s story will remain online until next Wednesday, May 2nd. Until then, contemplate the mysteries.

Story Time: Lord Goji’s Wedding

Today’s Story Time is “Lord Goji’s Wedding” and no, not that Goji. It’s a story  within a story, or an alleged zen parable within a story, or two stories being told at the same time, or something of the sort. It first appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #15, back in January of 2005.

As always, “Lord Goji’s Wedding” will remain online until next Wednesday, April 18th, when it will be replaced by another Story Time.

Cutting to the Chase, or Chasing Cuts

Yesterday I wrote a short fairy tale, because I had a deadline and I like fairy tales. Either is reason enough on their own, but together? Kind of compelling. The story is about a girl and a magic fife, or rather it concerns those two; what it’s really about is a separate matter. It’s kind of like most stories that way.

See what I did there? I rambled a bit. Went off on a rather wordy tangent. Drifted from the point somewhat. Repeated myself, and then got redundant. All perfectly acceptable things to do, I might add, in a rough draft of a story. Because, as I’ve pointed out before, the job of a rough draft is not to be good. The job of a rough draft is to be done. “Good” is what the rewrite is about, and aside from continuity, structure, and thousands of other fiddly bits, one of the most important skills when approaching “good” is knowing when you’ve repeated yourself, gotten wordy, gone off on tangents, etc., and cutting it out mercilessly.

Lest you think I’m lecturing you, I will hasten to point out that I’m simply reminding myself of something I need reminding about every so often. See, when I wrote the story yesterday it only went about 700 words. Too short, right? Nope. The problem was it was too long. The strict length requirement was 500 words, and I had 200 more words than I could use. And it wasn’t a “simple” matter of cutting out 200 words; we also have to take into account the fact that any story is likely to need more words in certain spots, such as where a reasoning must be clarified, or a connection needs to be made explicit. Suddenly that 200 words is starting to look more like 300, to make room for words that are needed, or over 42% of the entire draft.

Here’s the first paragraph as I originally wrote it:

“Once upon a time there was a girl named Callie who played the fife. It was an old fife, a bit battered yet still capable of sweet music in the right hands. It had belonged to her grandfather. He taught her to play, and when he felt his time approaching, passed the instrument down on the condition that she care for it until her time came, when she was to pass it along as he had done. Cassie loved her grandfather and she loved playing the fife, so she agreed to everything he said.”

A bit wordy but not terrible. But I had to get those words from somewhere, and Callie’s relationship—and agreement—with her grandfather is already both implied and made explicit at other points in the story, where they serve better. So….

“Once upon a time there was a girl named Callie who played an old fife she had from her grandfather. She played for local dances and gatherings, and the people swore they had never heard sweeter music.”

Ninety-four words down to thirty-seven. The kick is that the first paragraph actually got longer than what you see here, because I combined the original first three paragraphs into one no longer than the original first. Which had the double virtue of removing excess words and getting to the story’s main conflict a lot sooner(kind of important in a 500 word story). For anyone who preferred the first paragraph the way it was, I’ll just point out that a piece of fiction, just like a sonnet, has to fit the parameters. When something has to go, it’s the writer’s sole judgment call as to what works and what doesn’t, and right or wrong doesn’t enter into it.

Only the reader gets to decide that part.



Story Time: Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White

This week’s Story Time is from the April, 2005 Realms of Fantasy magazine (later collected in Worshipping Small Gods, 2007), and is a love story…of sorts. I’ve done a few like this with a similar theme and it’s not my first brush with the infamous White Ladies of myth. The first was The Beauty of Things Unseen, way back in 1999 in Quantum SF.

Regardless, the beautiful and terrible White Ladies usually haunted streams or wells and it was death to meet one. A somewhat counter example is from Irish gaelic, the Bean Fhionn, the White Lady of Lough Gur, who claimed mortal lives, but only every seven years. Others were not so restrained. In some cases they were thought to be ghosts, in others remnants of the Tuatha De Danann, or fairie folk. Or maybe they were just ancient goddesses, angry at being forgotten, because no one likes to be forgotten.

This one is just a tad different.

Regardless, “Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White” will be online until next Wednesday, March 28th, when it will vanish into the ether and be replaced by something else.