The Ides of March

Snow’s melting, and the Ides of March was just a few days ago. Richard Armour once claimed that was tax season in ancient Rome, but I haven’t been able to verify that yet. I do know that it’s tax season now, assuming one doesn’t want to wait until the last minute, and I certainly didn’t.

So yesterday was tax day for me, and I spent the entire afternoon, easily 4+ hours, putting it together. Since both my wife and I are self-employed, that’s a lot of receipts and a couple of Schedule Cs in addition to the normal forms. Of course, as soon as I emerge her comment is “That didn’t take long.” Felt long to me, until she reminded me, without computer assistance, it used to take a couple of days, an entire weekend,  and that was even before it got as complicated as it is. Yes, I’m old enough to remember doing taxes on paper.  Thank heaven for software and electronic filing.

A good reason to remind oneself: it could always be worse. Even if, in the country’s current situation, it’s hard to imagine how.

The Yamada story has been through First Reader and rewrite, and is currently under submission. Which is pretty much the situation with any story you’re not putting out yourself: hurry up and wait.

I should be thinking about another Yamada collection. I don’t have quite enough uncollected Yamada to do it right now, but it wouldn’t take more than a few more. I’ll find out later if I have those in me. Those currently uncollected are the later ones: “Three Little Foxes,” “The Sorrow of Rain,” “The Tiger’s Turn,” and the new one, working title “Dai-Uzumaki.”

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.

 

Senior Moments

I couldn’t call it a “senior moment,” singular. It went on too long. Last week I had a lovely fan post from a long-time reader. She was a big follower of the Yamada books but here was referencing characters in a short story that was a particular favorite of hers (Yes, I’m looking at you, Yoko).

One problem—I had absolutely no memory of that story. Yes, I’ve written a lot of stories, but not so many that one (me) would think I could completely forget one, even to the point that I was starting to believe that perhaps she was mistaking me for the author of someone else’s story.

Awkward.

I miss grep. I even miss Win98, in that one regard. There was a “search inside” function built in that would allow me, as with grep, to search within every single story file in my catalogue to determine if, indeed, this one was one of mine or not. And yes, I know there’s a way to do that in Win10, but it’s a colossal pain in the butt. If this happens again, I’ll look for grepwin or something similar. But I digress.

There’s something about writing that most of you already know. Sure, everything you write comes out of you. An experience looking for meaning, an image, a train of thought you’d like to derail, whatever. At the same time, it’s a lot like channeling spirits. You’re not always sure where it comes from, even if, intellectually, you do know, and when it’s done, it’s a separate thing from you. You go on to something else, until the next time. If, in the case of a series, there is a next time.

Which is why I thought I was done with Lord Yamada, or rather he was done with me. After The Emperor in Shadow, the story arc was wrapped up and that was that. Only last night I wrote a new Lord Yamada story. Granted, it was a piece of flash, but I’m thinking of expanding it to a proper short story, at least. There’s enough “there” there. So you never know.

As for the story I couldn’t remember? Something finally clicked, and I pulled it up. “The Right God,” from RoF August 2004, reprinted in my second collection, Worshipping Small Gods.

Took me long enough.

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.