Brief Commercial Announcement

Right now I need to be working on my last piece of flash fiction for the year (and about a dozen other things), but I’m leaving a quick note just so no one can say I didn’t tell anybody: I’m doing a countdown deal on the ebook  of Ghost Trouble: The Casefiles of Eli Mothersbaugh. The price will be  $.99 for another two days, then up to $1.99 before it returns to its regular price. Anyone interested in a paranormal detective with as many human troubles as the ghostly sort, here’s a cheap way to try it.

I now return you to your regular non-self-promotional  silence until next time.

We Don’t Want That, With “Story Time”

Today’s topic is fashion in fiction. And I don’t mean what the authors and editors are wearing this year. I mean trends in topics, settings, and whatever. We don’t always think of fiction in those terms, but there’s always a “hot new thing.” Sometimes it really is new. Most of the time it’s a new approach to an old subject, but trendy for a time..

For example, when I was first getting ink on my fingers (in those days, literally), Sword and Sorcery was huge. As in that was most of what was being published as fantasy. I have since seen Cyberpunk, Mannerpunk,  Elfpunk and (briefly) Crackerpunk. (To be fair, that last was simply because a few of us Southern authors were coming online around the same time and rather tongue-in-cheek co-opted the term). For a while “punk” stuck on the end was all that was needed to make a movement rather than a blip. Then came the New Weird, which was a lot like the old Weird, only newer.

And then…well, you get the idea. They come and go with amazing regularity.

Most of the above was just marketing, though each had its own core of what was really happening in fiction at the time. There’s always something else.

And then there’s the subcategory: The Cliché.

These are the stories that no one wants because, well, they’ve become cliché: The Deal With the Devil. The Magic Shop. The Adam & Eve. Not that such stories can’t be well done, they’re just harder to do and not much point.

Or maybe there is. Because, in the case of the first two, I think they’re fun. And there are some stories I write simply because I can, and I enjoy writing them now and again with the full understanding that they are nearly impossible to market. Witness the DWTD collection above. In honor of that tradition, I present a brand new Story Time. This is from the Flash Fiction group I belong to, and the word we had to write a story around was “comeuppance.” A difficult word in the sense that it only means one thing and shades of meaning don’t apply. Unless of course you turn it into a pun in a magic shop story.

I therefore present, squeezed into a 500 word limit,  “The ComeUp Pence.”

There was a more obviously political way I could have taken it, but after last week I resisted. You can thank me later.

How Writing is Like a Snowblower

Snowfall

I mentioned the snowblower last time. Well, the snow we were warned about hit yesterday and today and will likely continue through at least some of the night. About a foot and half by my estimate; I have no idea what the official measure is. It was, to state the obvious, a lot.

Time for the snowblower. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. I had an electric model snowblower for the first couple of years in NY. I was, frankly, kidding myself. It was not up to the task most of the time. On a day like to today, the poor thing would have squeaked and hid in the garage. Rather the way I felt too, but things to do, schedules to keep. I had already read the manual and knew the basic operation. Also, many Southern summers wrestling (almost literally at times) with a classic Big Wheel Yazoo Mower taught me the basics of working with a small gasoline engine. I wasn’t too worried.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know how to operate a snowblower. I didn’t grow up with these things. In other words, a snowblower, despite some similarities, is not a Yazoo Big Wheel Mower.

I was in full on learner mode. And this wasn’t anything like a minor training snow, maybe five-six inches or so. This was well over a foot with drifts twice that high. Then there’s the snowplows on their regular rounds which leave a berm of ice and snow across the start of your driveway, and add another foot to the drift height plus the complication of ice in its most immovable form. In short, this was a challenge.

Blank canvas of snow considered as a blank page. You start. Things are going okay, only now where you were throwing the snow is where you need to clear next. You’d fix it in the rewrite except you’re clear on what the change needs to be so you do it now, and correct your mistake on the fly. At this distance from the curb you need to throw the snow this way, at another, that way. Are you throwing it high enough so it doesn’t just avalanche back down? Are you throwing it too high and hitting the side of the house? Adjust, find the sweet spot.

Put the words in. Take the words out, rearrange. Try to get the snow where you want it. Adjust on the fly, don’t let yourself get blogged down. Piece too high too long too deep? Take it in slices until you get what you want. Be flexible, but persistent.

In the end you have a clear driveway. Or a story. Depends on what you’re doing, but it’s all, every bit of it, process.

Yeah, one might say, but the next time you’ll know what to do. You’ll have the snowblower thing worked out.

Next time the snow will be different. So will the words and the story.

Process is how and what we learn. Not rules. Not procedures. Process.

Beginning at the Beginning

There’s a point in any project when imagining and considering and mulling has to end. Some people plot everything out. I don’t because I can’t. The only way I know what the story is, is if I write it. Nothing else. Yet even for the people who know what all happens ahead of time, there’s the point where you put the plotting aside and just dive in. After all, “plotted” isn’t “written.”

In short, time to stare down the blank page.

We’ve all been there. Again and again and again. If it gets any easier, I don’t know about it. Yes, I’ve started a new project. No, I can’t talk about it yet, because there’s almost nothing to talk about. Granted, there will likely come a time when I won’t shut up about it, but that time is not yet. I’m past the first blank page, but only just. There are a lot more blank pages to come.

Writers hate being asked where they get their ideas. I know, because almost every writer I know has fussed about it at one time or another. It’s even possible that, in a  weak moment, I have fussed about it. Pure peer pressure. The truth is no one has ever asked me where I get my ideas. I have, however, been asked more difficult questions.

For instance, at our last writer’s group, a newcomer asked me “How do you write?”

I think I just stared at him for a moment or two, like I didn’t understand the question. Oddly enough, I didn’t understand the question. Still don’t. The guy had come into the group with a beautiful piece of work, so I turned the question around: “How do you write?” He didn’t have an answer either, so that exchange probably accomplished nothing.

I probably write like anyone else does. You put down an opening sentence. You think it’s stupid, erase it and do another one. Finally  you get one that doesn’t strike you as inane. Then you write the second. Is it inane? Does it have anything to do with the first? Rinse and repeat. Eventually  you have a story. Or a poem, essay, novel, or…well, something. I have no idea how it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Oh, but when it does…

There’s nothing in the world quite like it.

Response to Little Fire & Fog has been very gratifying. Makes me want to do more with those characters. Not yet, though. Because of the new thing.

More Yamada

I just found out maybe five minutes ago that the second Yamada story (as in the new ones post events in The Emperor in Shadow) sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. There’s still the slight matter of line edits and a minor revision or two. I don’t mind. I like doing revisions. Gives me a chance to make something good even better. I’m weird that way. The working title is “A Minor Exorcism” (spoiler: It ain’t minor).

The first of the new ones, “Uzumaki of the Lake,” is scheduled for issue #300, which should be out in late March 2020.

I like where I live, but being a southerner in NY state has taken some adjustments. For instance, I think I’ve probably had to shift a couple of metric tonnes of snow since I’ve been here. It’s rather like the wag’s definition of a weed: “A flower daring to place itself somewhere you don’t want it.” Snow does that too, for all that it’s pretty. And the season is rapidly approaching. I’m thinking I need backup.

I broke down and bought a snow blower.

As in gas-powered, electric start, self-propelled, metal chute, the works. I tried a battery-powered model first. It was useful, but ultimately unequal to the task. Rather like me. Together with the beast being delivered on Friday, maybe that will change.