On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts

Did I mention this already? Yes, well probably. Okay, I did. But that was before, as in it hadn’t happened yet. Now it has. Beneath Ceaseless Skies #235, Ninth Anniversary Double Issue is now live, leading off with the latest in the adventures of Pan Bao, Jing, and the snake-devil trying to be human, Mei Li. In this episode we meet a princess who has been lost for several hundred years and turns to our heroes for help. Pan Bao is either practical or greedy depending on your point of view, and ghosts—how else could she be lost for hundreds of years?—don’t carry a lot of money. Yet even ghost princesses are used to getting their way and this one, it turns out, is very persistent.

The process for writing these stories so far reminds me of the Yamada stories at least in one respect–I had to write several of them before I had a good enough grasp of the characters and the setting to attempt a novel. I think it’s going to be the same here. It’s a steep learning curve, but I think and hope the results will be worth it.

 

Standard Reminder: Since I’m now on a weekly schedule with the Story Time page, on Wednesday the 4th of October, “Another Kind of Glamour” will be replaced by something else. Read it while it’s there.

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New Story Time: “Another Kind of Glamour”

As I’m writing this with Feline Assistance®, typing can be kind of tricky, so bear with me. It’s Wednesday, so as promised–or threatened–there’s a new Story Time: “Another Kind of Glamour.” This one originally appeared in the online magazine  Aeon #6, which is not the current online magazine of the same name (Publishing is often confusing, and sometimes you just have to go with it and move on).

Ahem. Where was I? Or right, Story Time. As I said about the previous entry, “Crack’d From Side to Side,” stories in one aspect are a sort of conversation with all the stories that came before it. “Another Kind of Glamour” is in direct and obvious conversation with Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” While it remains one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays, there was something about the dynamic of the relationship between Oberon and Titania that I always found a little, shall we say, out of balance. Or maybe there was really more at stake there than we realized.  The process of thinking about such things tends to lead to new stories, as it did here.

Lawrence Kasdan once said “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” Absolutely true. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, and “Another Kind of Glamour” was a fun story to write. I hope it’s as much fun to read.

Speaking of free stories, I’m reliably informed that Beneath Ceaseless Skies #235 will go live tomorrow  (Thursday, September 28) and includes “On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts,” the next adventure of Pan Bao, Jing, and the Snake-devil Mei Li. There’s an early review up at Rocket Stack Rank.

 

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.

 

 

New Story Time: “Crack’d From Side to Side”

It’s Wednesday, and as promised, an original, never before published piece for Story Time. Some views of art and craft of any sort (painting, poetry, storytelling, custom furniture, you name it) maintain that it is a type of conversation with every piece of art that has come before it. Sometimes it’s more of an argument than a conversation, but the point stands. In some ways it is exactly that, but usually a little less obvious than today’s Story Time. As will be apparent to anyone who reads it, “Crack’d From Side to Side” was both inspired by and a reaction to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem, “The Lady of Shalott.” Whether it’s a conversation or an argument I’ll leave for the reader to decide.

 

 

Note and Disclaimer: The Story Time link will always point to the current story, whatever it happens to be. As soon as a new one goes up, the previous one goes away. There is no archive, I’m afraid, so get them while they’re here.

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.