It’s a Puzzle

Every week (except this one, since the Library is being renovated) the Flash Fiction group meets and we read our pieces out loud, based around a “trigger” (word, not warning) from the previous week. Last week’s word was “comely.” Our group leader pronounced it differently than I always had, even though it’s an “archaic” word not used often these days.

I’ll also note that most of the writers’ work at these parties fits on a single page. Mine almost never do. Why? I’m too big a fan of dialogue to let that happen. So here is last week’s flash to illustrate my point, an almost completely dialogue driven, totally imaginary conversation on the correct pronunciation of “comely.”

It’s a Puzzle

She: “Thirteen down, six letters, ‘having a pleasant appearance.’”

He: “Comely.”

She: “It fits, but I believe it is pronounced with a long o.”

He: “Why in the world would you rhyme it with ‘homely’ when it’s the antonym of homely?”

She (shrugging): “Easier to remember. Besides, I think I’m right.”

He: (Pausing to Google): “It’s neither right nor wrong. Merriam-Webster says both are correct.”

She: “Rubbish. They can’t both be correct. One is right so the other has to be wrong. Ergo, you’re wrong.”

He: “Let’s not get Latin involved in a simple pronunciation dispute. Actually, now that I look at the definition again, I am wrong.”

She (Smirking the tiniest bit): “Told you.”

He: “I was only wrong when I said both are correct. There’s actually a third way to pronounce it, but it looks Swedish.”

She: “I’ll leave the Latin out if you’ll leave the darn Swedes out. It’s not a Swedish word.”

He: “I said it looked Swedish. I look Irish but I’m actually Italian on both sides.”

She: “You’re actually annoying on both sides. And there has to be a correct way to pronounce that word.”

He: “Nope. Merriam-Webster says all three are acceptable. You want to argue with Merriam or Webster?”

She: “I’ll argue with anyone I know is wrong.”

He: “Should have stopped after ‘anyone.’”

She: “Smartass. Besides, it’s not acceptable to me, no matter what Merriam or Webster say. They’re both wrong, and according to you I should say it as if it rhymes with cum-ly? That borders on obscene.”

He: “I’m saying I pronounce it as if it rhymes with ‘bumb-ly.’ You can pronounce it however your perverted little heart desires.”

She: “Did I ever say I love it when you talk dirty? Well, I lied. It’s pronounced ‘combly,’ and that’s all there is to it. As in comb your hair, if comb was an adverb and not a noun or verb.”

He: “Did I ever say I love it when you do crosswords, because it’s a relaxing hobby?”

She: “Not once did you say that within my hearing, so I guess you didn’t lie. That is where you were going with that little bit of business, wasn’t it?”

He: “More like a bit without the business. In the sense of a comedy bit.”

She: “Then that bit didn’t do the business. In the sense of being funny.”

He: “You’re never going to finish that puzzle at this rate, you know.”

She: “It’s never about the destination, it’s always about the journey. A good discussion beats a bad puzzle any day.”

He: “I thought we were arguing.”

She: “You also thought that word rhymed with bumbly, so what do you know?”

He: “Can we just move on? What’s the next clue, because I obviously need one.”

She: “When you’re right, you’re right. Fifteen across, nine letters: Unyielding or inflexible.”

He: “Obstinate.”

She: “That doesn’t sound right.”

He: “I’m staying out of this. Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls’.”

 

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, Monday

Running late again because of a medical appointment in Cooperstown. It’s a bout an hour and a half away from here. The drive is pleasant enough, but I’ve managed to get the next appointment scheduled a little closer to home.

Oddly enough, though I’ve been here going on five years, this is the first time I’ve seen a frozen lake. Ponds, yes. Lakes, no. Lake Otsego is mostly iced over, but Summit Lake was completely iced over. First Reader suggested we go ice skating. Fortunately, she wasn’t serious. First, neither of us knows how. Second, no way the ice was safe. It was over forty degrees today. A bit warm for February, never mind ice skating.

I finished the rough draft of the new Yamada story yesterday. First Reader wondered if it was really the first chapter of a new novel. It isn’t. Needs some revision for unity, clearly, but it is a short story. Or will be by the time I fix a few structural issues. Sometimes a story almost writes itself and comes out fine with only minor adjustments. Here, I was trying to do something a little different, which requires more attention to detail. Like the old saying goes, “Writing is re-writing.” Anyway, need to get it done soon because I have two pieces of flash due, one for a local anthology and another for a group reading at the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts on the 20th.

Then back to the not-Yamada book.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting it Wrong

Anyone who has written for any length of time has a few of these. Stories with a notion and characters you like, with decent plot, decent or better execution (in your humble opinion), also with one teensy problem—no traction. In other words…

…They don’t sell.

It happens. Sometimes you don’t get anywhere because the market for that particular “type” of story didn’t exist at the time. Maybe the market existed when you wrote them but didn’t by the time you were ready to send them out. It happens. Markets are born and die all the time. Editorial tastes can be mercurial. And, as I’ve mentioned before, with patience and perseverance, you can wait it out. I think ten years is my current record on that.

Sometimes, though, the problem isn’t them. It’s you.

These days, of course, you can just forget patience and put the story out yourself by various means: ebook, Patreon reward, whatever. It’s nice to have options. I was thinking of that the other day when I revisited an old story I’d written in the same universe as All the Gates of Hell, one of my favorite books. I think I had some notion of turning the premise into a story series, but it didn’t happen, mostly because this piece failed on the launch pad. I still liked the idea and was considering doing a Kindle short read or something of the sort. So I revisited the story…

…and now I know why it didn’t sell.

A little perspective always helps, and I was too close to this story for too long. It had to sit out of sight and mind long enough for the scales to finally fall from my eyes. Now I could give it a good hard look.

I wasn’t totally wrong. The premise is good, the characters likewise. Most of the problems are structural. The beginning is too slow. There’s way too much backstory in the time allotted, and an infodump just doesn’t cut it. If anything, at 7600 words the piece is too short. It should have been longer, with suitable pacing to make all the bits well-blended and cohesive. No way I was putting it out anywhere in the shape it’s in. Perhaps it can be fixed, but it will require a complete rewrite and expansion and I have too much else on my plate right now with new work. So it’ll have to wait.

I hope it’s more patient than I am.

Muse and Writer Dialogues #15 In Which I am Desultory

Scene: Writer at his desk, staring at the screen. In other words, Monday.

Writer: Crap

Muse (reluctantly putting in an appearance): You again?

Writer: You’re my muse, so who else? And before you ask, yes, I’m having trouble.

Muse: I wasn’t going to ask. Laddie, you are trouble.

Writer: So you’re Scottish now?

Muse: Just an expression, a whim, you know—creative license. You should try it sometime.

Writer: Very funny. I need some inspiration.

Muse: You need a lot more than that. Besides, inspiration is overrated. Yes, you’ve managed the “butt in chair, blank screen” part of the work ethic, but so far you’ve left out the “putting one word after another” part.

Writer: This, I know. But what words?

Muse: If I knew that, I’d be the writer. Your problem is you’re desultory.

Writer: Maybe right now…

Muse: Luke warm? Half-hearted? You’re failing to understand the nuances of the word and all the synonyms in the world don’t do it justice. The full meaning is more along the lines of “without a purpose, a plan, or enthusiasm.”

Writer: Ouch…but accurate.

Muse: The truth often hurts. Why do you think so many people—not to mention politicians—try to hide it?

Writer: It’s not always the truth.

Muse: No, but it always is at the start. You begin weak and finish strong. You generate a purpose, a plan, and then enthusiasm, but not until the first several words are written. Most writers I know start off strong, inspired, and enthusiastic then get worn down. They’re desultory toward the end, not the beginning. You’re opposite. It’s a little weird, to tell the truth again.

Writer: Just how many other writers do you know?

Muse: Neither here nor there. And a lady never inspires and tells.

Writer: So you’re saying?

Muse (sighs): Put some words down, idiot. Doesn’t matter what they are, since you’ll change them once you figure out what you’re doing. The magic won’t happen until then. Inspiration, for what it’s worth, is a lot more important during the process than at the start.

Writer: I wouldn’t mind a little inspiration at the start.

Muse (sighs again, a little disgusted): Listen, twerp. You almost always know what you want to do from the beginning, in a general way, but not how. You hesitate because of uncertainty and fear that this time you won’t be able to pull it off, doesn’t matter how bloody many times you’ve been in the same place feeling the same thing. Once you get going, a fuller and more focused purpose, plan, and enthusiasm all fall into line. I would have thought at the very least you’d have picked up a clue about that by now.

Writer: You said it yourself—I’m a little slow out of the blocks.

Muse: Slow? By the starting gun you haven’t even gotten your shoelaces tied. Words. Now.

Writer: Okay. “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Muse: Don’t make me hurt you.

Writer: You said it didn’t matter what they were.

Muse: Well, I lied. Call it creative license.

 

Context is for Wimps

Today’s blog post is a snippet from the current WIP. It will be perfectly clear and yet totally meaningless. When I’m far enough along I’ll think about doing weekly  full chapters at least part of the way through, but I’m not there yet.

 

Bonetapper scowled. “How will we get through the mountains?”

In truth, Marta had been giving that question some thought. There were two main routes commonly used. The Snake Pass was currently blocked, and even if it wasn’t that would take them further east to Conmyre, a long way from Shalas. Not to mention the pilgrim road crossed Wylandian territory for some miles. While travelers were protected by treaty, it wasn’t a physical threat Marta was worried about. Three Rivers Pass led to Borasur-Morushe, much closer to Shalas, and that was the path Sela and Prince Dolan had taken. As much as she would have liked to see them again, after the events in the Blackpits they had all agreed this was unwise, at least for a while. It might be possible to traverse Borasur-Morushe unnoticed, but more likely not. Plus she would have to cross Duke Okandis’ territory to reach Shalas, and he was a man with a grudge. Having met the man she had his measure, but—as with her friends Sela and Dolan—he was a complication. And Marta had her fill of complications for the time being.

Not that she would have hesitated to take either of those routes, even the blocked pass, if she could feel the pull of the Sixth Law in either direction. That was her next goal and priority, but at the moment she felt nothing.

Bonetapper, noting her silence, spoke again. “May I make a suggestion?”

“If you wish.”

“What about that magician fellow in the Blackpits? He’s used to moving freely about and might know the best way to get back to Shalas.”

“Tymon? We’ll see him again. I’m not sure if that’s for good or ill, but it will happen. But not yet. Besides, while he does travel freely, we cannot use his methods. No, there’s only one way.”

Marta reached into her pouch and took out the map she’d copied from an old scroll in Kuldun. “We’re going to take the Penitent’s Road. That way we can reach Shalas without having to cross Borasur-Morushe at all.”

Bonetapper cocked his head, which was as close as the raven could manage to a frown. “I thought the Penitent’s Road was a myth.”

“It is. Doesn’t mean it’s not real.”