Story Time: The Right Sort of Flea

Today’s Story Time is a retelling of Beowulf, specifically an account of his final battle with the Great Wurm. The old king, long past his prime, taking up his weapons one last time because it is his duty and he’s the only one who can, except for one other with more courage than sense. For some reason this part of the legend always fascinated me more than the more famous part about Grendel and his mom. Maybe when I’m old enough I’ll figure out why, but this story was me trying to sort it out. I think I got somewhat close to the heart of it.

“The Right Sort of Flea” was my second appearance in Realms of Fantasy, back in April 1997. It’s never been collected, and now I’m wondering why. My bad.

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Fragmentary

I finished a new story about five minutes ago, a story I’d begun several months earlier and put aside, mostly because I had no clue what it was about or where it was going. This time I understood it a little better, I think. This happens a fair bit; the only unusual thing about the whole thing was that the story had only stewed for a few months. I’ve had fragments that eventually morphed into workable stories after several years. Many, decades later, are still waiting.

If there’s a working writer who doesn’t produce a significant percentage of fragments (pieces of scenes, opening pages, an image or two, even partial novels) I’ve never met them. Most of us are smart enough to hang onto and cherish those fragments. Not everything turns into a finished piece, from opening page to –the End-, in a linear fashion. In fact, a great many do not. Stories die on the page. Stories do not reveal themselves, or make you think they’re about one thing or other until you realize that you simply cannot get there from where you are. This tends to happen more to those of us who do not plot everything out before we start. I sometimes envy those who can, since the way I and others I know work is not efficient by any means. Most of the time we get the job done anyway, but at other times we just leave the wreckage of stories.

That is not to say that any of it is abandoned, at least not permanently. None of it is wasted material even when, by all appearances, you’ve crashed your vehicle into a rock all you’ve left is a hot mess. Maybe that scene or character fits into something else you’re working on. Maybe there’s a theme you can salvage. Or maybe, sometimes, the wreckage can be repaired completely, transformed into something you never knew it was meant to be, which is why you wrecked it in the first place, you goofball. We’re impatient creatures; it is our nature. Fortunately for us, story is very patient. If it was in there when we started, it will wait until we’re smart enough to find it.

However long that takes.

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.

There Are Five Lines

As I’ve mentioned before, not terribly long after I moved north I joined a local writer’s group. I’ve belonged to a few before, and while the experience hasn’t always been a complete success, usually the presence of other writers and the sharing of works supplies a boost of motivation to get my own work done, and that’s something we all need now and again. The difference this time is that this group specializes in flash fiction, which is new(ish) for me and under the aegis of the local library, with links to the wider community.

In short, the library and a local theater group leader are collaborating to turn some of the work from the flash fiction group into podcasts. There are grants involved and other official stuff, but mostly it will involve the members reading their own work, either as part of audio anthologies or even single author audio collections. A lot of this hasn’t been worked out yet, but it appears promising. In preparation we were asked to list some of our favorite lines from the flash pieces we’d done within group.

I mean, sure, I’m doing it, but I have to admit these sort of listings make me a little uncomfortable. First, in any unified (I hope) work, a single sentence out of context loses…well, context. Some of my favorite sentences make absolutely no sense if separated from the sentences around them, so I had to take that into account. Then again, I’m reminded of Damon Knight’s opinion of “killer” first lines, in that the problem with those is that you spend the rest of the time trying to justify the line rather than just telling the F%%%#G STORY. So my openings tend not to be so killer, just, I hope, grabbing enough to get you to the next line, and the next, and so on until the end. So I couldn’t just pull out opening lines…except sometimes. Hey, no one’s perfect.

Regardless, and with all the caveats listed or implied above, here are the five lines I’ve chosen:

Sentence 1:

“There’s a crow’s nest in the crow’s nest, sir.”

Sentence 2:

“I wasn’t sure what a secret was, but apparently it was some sort of dangerous animal that needed confining.”

Sentence 3:

“I’m going to tell you three stories, only two of which are true.”

Sentence 4:

“Everyone dances…sooner or later.”

Sentence 5:

“Right, of course it was—all I had to do was tell the Queen of bloody Elfland to sod off and everything would have been jolly.”

 

 

Present…With an Explanation

All right, I’ll cut right to it–I had planned to have a review of Peter S. Beagle’s In Calabria (Tachyon, February 2017) before now. That the book is over a year old is as good an example as any of how useless I am to anyone as a review blogger, which makes me no never mind since that was never my intention here in the first place. Once I reviewed for magazines with deadlines and everything and I never missed one, but then I was usually getting paid for it. Now I pay for my own books, I review what I want to when I want to, thanks very much, and that’s all there is to it.

Ahem. Slight digression there. Regardless, I’m not ready to review the book because I’m not through reading it. That’s taking a while, and not because it’s a doorstop. It is definitely not. It’s a slim volume beautifully produced by Tachyon Publications, lovely to look at, and at first glance the sort of thing any halfway decent reader could tear through in an afternoon. So could I, if it was a book by almost anyone other than Peter Beagle. So some of you might understand that I am going slowly, savoring, and am in no bloody hurry to finish.

Another reason is that I always–always–approach Beagle’s work with a bit of caution, if not trepidation. Peter Beagle is never a light read, and I never come to it lightly. I understand that I might have my heart ripped out; it’s a risk that comes with anything of emotional depth and utter truth. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to get to his The Innkeeper’s Song, but in my defense I did so, but long after any such review would have served either the author or the publisher’s interest nearly as much as something less reverent but more relevant and–most important–timely might have. I’ll have to give my regrets in advance here, too.

Will I have it next time? Doubtful. But I’ll likely be a chapter or two closer, for what little that may be worth to anyone other than myself.

Sorry (Not a Bit Sorry).