Faking It

That’s sort of what this post is about, as in it’s not quite true, but there is some truth in it. Rather like posing the title as a riddle, “How is a DIY project the same as writing a story?” Answer: It isn’t. Except when it is.

No wonder I have trouble with titles. Regardless, and I will get to the point eventually, let’s start with home improvement. When we moved into this house there was a sunroom that had been only partially renovated. That is, it had sheetrock, but no window sills, door/window casing, trim, paint or flooring. There were several other priorities to deal with first, but finally it was the sunroom’s turn. Painting was no problem, as I’ve done a lot of it over the years. I was equally confident that I could redo the floor, since I’ve had experience at that as well. However, I’d never done the finish work on windows or doors. So I did a bit of research and then got to it. I had two of the windows completely finished and then First Reader took a look at my work. She then said (and I paraphrase slightly):

“Wow. It’s almost like you knew what you were doing.”

Bear in mind that First Reader is a perfectionist and doesn’t praise lightly. What I thought but didn’t say was “Of course. I’m a fiction writer. I know how to fake it.”

Which in this context is referring to the process of writing and writers in general. We do our research, which for some of us is the fun part. A history geek or a physics buff is going to get to read what they might read for pleasure anyway and then apply it to the project at hand. You use specific knowledge to lay down the society in broad strokes using the occasional telling detail that places the reader in that time or that place. Yet at some point you’re going to hit something that wasn’t covered in any of the texts. It could be something big or something small, but you’re on your own…only you’re not. If you truly have done your research, you draw on it to fill in the gaps. For instance, you may not know if the asobi class in Heian Japan were doing z, but you do know they were doing x and y, so z is a reasonable extrapolation, but you only know that because you did your homework. It may or may not be true, but in context it’s plausible, which for story verisimilitude is even more important. Otherwise your assumption is no more than what my old polymer chemistry professor referred to as a “WAG Factor.”  i.e. Wild Ass Guess. The problem with those is that there’s a good chance they’ll not only be wrong, but so very wrong that everything after them falls apart. You do not want that.

So a finished window that works is a lot like a finished story that works. You look like you knew what you were doing even if that’s not quite true. Ever. But if you do your homework, it’s true enough to get the job done.



Quick Reminder: Since I’m now on a weekly schedule with the Story Time page, on Wednesday the 27th of September, “Crack’d From Side to Side” will be replaced by something else. If you haven’t read it already, time is ticking.




Taking Inventory

I’m not sure if this is a blog post or an inventory report. Recently I’d been thinking of planning a new collection. Not that I’m ready just yet; my recent forced hiatus has put me a little behind where I’d like to be, production-wise. Yet when I started looking over my oeuvre, so to speak, I realized, for a great many of my stories, I didn’t necessarily remember if it had been collected or not. I usually did, but not always, and even then not always where. It occurred to me that this is the sort of thing I should know, that it was kind of and certainly at least potentially important. Even my own Bibliography was incomplete. Clearly I needed a better system than my faulty memory.

So, on a morning when I really should have been working on the trim in the mudroom, I was instead feeding story data into an Excel file. Every story collection I’ve done, whether print or ebook only, what stories are in each, and the publication year. All by way of making sure that, when I look at an individual story, if I need to I can quickly look up if, when, and where it’s already appeared. For instance, I’m already thinking of what story to put up for the next Storytime, but one I was considering as an original turned out to have appeared in one of the collections. It had completely slipped my mind. That’s the kind of thing that could lead to severe embarrassment, if not worse.

There are already some duplications, though they’re of the sort to be expected. Aside from their first magazine appearances, some of the Yamada Monogatari and Eli Motherbaugh stories had appeared in earlier general collections before being gathered into their respective character’s collections. I know to some of you out there this falls under the category of “High Class Worries,” but when you’ve published over a hundred stories, that’s a lot to keep track of even without considering reprints, and keeping track of everything is part of the job and I’d been neglecting it. This should get me back on track, but while I’m pulling this data together I may as well share some of it. Listed below are all my collections to date, together with the year, including major collections, special collections, and chapbooks.

The Ogre’s Wife: Fairytales for Grownups, Obscura Press, 2002

Worshipping Small Gods, Prime Books, 2007

On the Banks of the River of Heaven, Prime Books, 2010

Our Lady of 47 Ursae Majoris and Other Stories, Canemill Publishing, 2011

Ghost Trouble: The Casefiles of Eli Mothersbaugh, Canemill Publishing, 2011

The Devil Has His Due, Canemill Publishing, 2012

Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, Prime Books, 2013

Two for Christmas, Canemill Publishing, 2013

The God of Small Troubles and Other Stories, Canemill Publishing, 2014

The Collected Tymon the Black, Canemill Publishing, 2017


The four done under Prime Books  imprint I consider my “major” collections, as in larger and more complete. Those listed under Canemill Publishing are the ones I take upon doing myself, for whatever reason. For instance, “Deal with the Devil” stories are pretty old-fashioned and there aren’t many markets for them. However, they’re fun to do and every now and then I wrote one anyway. So I put them together in The Devil Has His Due just to give them a home. Because I could. Two for Christmas, likewise for Christmas stories, though those are the only two I’ve ever done.

For this week’s Storytime I plan to have an original. Now with my story list up to date, I can be reasonably certain that it really is one.






Bucket Lists

I’d heard of bucket lists most of my life but I never had one myself. That is, I thought of things I wanted to accomplish, but it was never of the formal “I have to do this before I die” bucket list. I’ve managed to accomplish most of my initial goals, but the blessing and curse of goals is that there’s always another one. Get one out of the way and you discover the goal posts have moved. Plus the one or two that have not been reached, as you consider them, realize that, yes, you still want that. I have a few like that, but all I can say on the subject is “I’m working on it” and try to make sure that’s true.

And then there are the things that ambush you. Things you want to do or achieve that you didn’t even realize were a “thing” at all. For instance, when I knew that I was leaving Mississippi—though not yet sure to where—there was suddenly a list of things I needed to do beforehand. I’d already been to Miss Eudora Welty’s stomping grounds in the Belhaven district of Jackson, and even shopped at the grocery store she frequented. I needed to visit Square Books in Oxford, MS, a place I’d meant to go for years but never managed to get there. Done. I needed to visit Rowan Oak, home of William Faulkner, also in Oxford, so that was a two-fer, What else? Well, there was the Choctaw Indian Fair at the Choctaw Reservation. I’d never been, so we packed up and went. Only to be blindsided by a bit of nostalgia as we went to an event held in the Choctaw High Gym and I remembered I’d been there before. I had run on that very track around the field where the stickball games were played, back in my HS days. Maybe that was why I needed to go. Something else to say goodbye to.

Regardless, we moved to central NY state and began the process of learning about our new home. We visited Cooperstown, but more for the Farmer’s Museum than the Baseball Hall of Fame. We went up to Old Forge and Lake George in the Adirondacks. We visited Woodstock almost by accident, since Carol wanted to go to a store in a nearby town and afterward we got a little lost. Cool place, and we’ll probably go back. Then we heard of a special event being held on Yasgur’s farm. Did a double take. THE Yasgur’s Farm? The very same. The place where the Woodstock Music & Art Fair was held way back in 1969. Something I hadn’t realized before then was that Woodstock wasn’t held in Woodstock, since the original site fell through. It was then moved to a farm in Bethel, NY, in the Catskills. Yasgur’s Farm, as in the song. So we went to a place I hadn’t realized I needed to go.

I still don’t have a bucket list, because I think the idea is silly and limiting. There’s always something new to do, an experience you didn’t know you needed. When the time comes, the thing reveals itself. Go for it. Not an admonishment, by the way. Just a reminder. To myself, if no one else.

P.S. The new “Story Time” should go up on Wednesday. I’m trying that as the schedule for now. What’s it going to be? Not telling.

Stay Safe

We often say that because we don’t know what else to say, at times like these. As if the people affected weren’t already doing the best they can under the circumstances. “Is there anything I can do?” is probably more appropriate, even though quite often there isn’t, in the short term. At least it lets people know you care and are thinking about them. And maybe, if not now then perhaps soon, there will be something you can do.

I have both friends and family in Texas and Hurricane  Harvey is turning into a Katrina-class event, especially in the Houston area. I remember Katrina. We were over a hundred miles inland and still got hammered, New Orleans was mostly under water, and the I-55 corridor was packed with people fleeing north. A lot of them never got to go home. If Harvey is even half as bad, it’s more than bad enough.

Stay safe.

Waiting For the Eclipse

In fact, I’m taking a break from painting the living room this morning in preparation, also getting my blog on. I did the pinhole camera thing during the last partial solar eclipse, and probably will do the same this time, weather permitting. We’re nowhere near totality, but we were supposed to have clear skies here in central NY. Now clouds are moving in. At worst we’ll just enjoy the light changing.

Speaking of enjoying things (Notice what I did there? It’s called a segue. Ask for it by name), my contributor’s copy of Tales of the Sunrise Lands: Anthology of Fantasy Japan arrived today. It’s a nicely put together book and I’m glad to be in it with “The Cat of Five Virtues,” a sort of made-up fairytale, except the title creature (and all the others) come from real traditions. I like doing fairytales; too bad there aren’t many outlets for them these days. A fault of the times, I think. Regardless, the ebook edition is still on track for September. I’ll post when I have a confirmed date.

By my count I’ve had stories in over forty anthologies, counting reprints and “Bests of the Year,” and a lot more magazines, print and online, easily in the hundreds. I’m here to tell you that it never gets old. I remember reading, years ago, where L. Sprague de Camp (google him if you’re too young to remember) said, paraphrase, “A little bit of stardust accompanies each publication.” This from a guy who’d been doing it for over forty years at that point, but I believe it. If I make it that long, I’ll report in.