blogging, book promotion, humor, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A cosy dinner for three

– by Jim Webster

+++I suppose that in one way, poets and painters have one specific thing in common. We sketch out the original work, then we work away at it until it is mostly finished. Finally comes the endless tweaking to get it just right. So if I mention that Julatine Sypent can be something of a perfectionist you can imagine that this latter part of the process takes some time.
+++This isn’t something that ordinarily matters. A twee cottage isn’t going to get bored if you sit painting it for a full week. On the other hand when he moved to portraits, some sitters grew restive. Still it wasn’t as if Julatine hid this aspect of his personality. Nobody who hired him to paint them could claim that it came as a surprise. Everybody in society knew that if you wanted your likeness painted by Julatine, you emptied your diary for a full week.
+++Yet outside the circle of well-heeled patrons of the arts Julatine’s foibles were not really known. Obviously this isn’t normally going to be a problem as those less well monetarily endowed aren’t the people who tend to commission him. Yet late one morning he was in the Silk Merchant’s Repose. This is one of the better taverns, the food is excellent and the company tends to be polite. Not only that, but the owner, Omartan, aspires to keep improving it.
+++Julatine was dining alone and sitting at the table across from him was Bolfinch and the two Millan sisters, Winny and Saleni. If I remember aright Bolfinch was courting Winny and Saleni had come along as a chaperone. Or perhaps it was the other way about? Or perhaps he was courting both with nobody quite sure who was chaperoning whom?
+++Still Julatine was immediately captivated by the scene and sketched it hastily on in a notepad. Then he summoned Omartan and offered to paint the scene for him, pointing out that such a vision of attractive young ladies, good food, and good fellowship would inevitably encourage people to come to his establishment. A price was agreed and then Julatine approached the three diners. With the prospect of a free lunch next day they agreed to return, and promised to wear the same outfits.
+++Next morning found Julatine with easel in place and all his impedimenta around him. The diners took their seats and began eating. Julatine blocked everything out and after a mere three hours pronounced himself well pleased with the result. He instructed everybody to be back in their places next day at the usual time.
It has to be admitted that Winny and Saleni abandoned Bolfinch and fled home. This was to ensure that they had time to wash and try their clothes so they would be at their best tomorrow when Julatine had promised he would start painting in the detail. Bolfinch went late to work, and moaned to his colleagues about the problems caused when an artist gets involved in your courtship.
+++Next day the trio were back in place. But unfortunately word had got round. Thus Silk Merchant’s Repose was crowded. Julatine was incensed, all those people standing in the way meant that the light was wrong. Indeed so crowded was it that when he reached out to put some more brown on his brush, he found himself painting with onion gravy he’d inadvertently acquired from the plate of a diner who had cleared himself a space by the simple expedient of pushing Julatine’s paints off the table. For Julatine this was the last straw.
+++Omartan, the owner, knew nothing of this. He was working upstairs in his office. Now even there he could keep his finger on the pulse of affairs below him. A raised voice, angry shouting, the crash of crockery, would all have him downstairs in an instant. But all was quiet. It was only after a while he realised it was too quiet. He stood up and opened the door of his office. Instead of the low hum of conversation and diners concentrated mainly on eating, interspersed with the occasional scraping of a chair or perhaps the slightly louder tones of somebody ordering their meal, there were no sounds at all.
+++Omartan made his way cautiously downstairs to discover his establishment empty save for Julatine and his three sitters. It appears that Julatine had noticed Chesit Quince amongst the spectators. So Julatine had paid him to empty the place and keep it empty. Given that Chesit can carry an anvil under one arm and has stopped runaway horse teams dead in their tracks, this he achieved with no difficulty at all.
+++Omartan could take no more. He demanded that Julatine let customers in so he could continue to run his business. Julatine at this point got on his high horse, accused Omartan of being a gore-bellied gut-gripping hedgemott with no artistic sensitivities. He told him to finish his own painting, grabbed his assorted equipment and stormed out.
+++That evening Ingenious Trool dropped in for a meal, heard the story, and offered to take the painting home and finish it. It was he who added the three diners in the background purely from his imagination. Thus one of them is Lancet and one of them is me. The third, a bearded gentleman apparently asking the clean shaven Lancet for a loan is Sinian Var, reputed to be the wealthiest usurer in Port Naain. Trool also painted the expression of the face of Bolfinch. (The latter admitted later that Trool had caught his emotions perfectly) He also added the cat, which folk felt was a stroke of genius. Omartan was overjoyed, paid Trool with a number of excellent free meals and everybody was happy.
+++Save of course for Julatine, who when he heard his painting had been finished, had his lawyers (the Beenchkin partnership) sue Trool for stealing his painting. Beenchkin sent Trool a bill for one hundred alars to compensate their client. Trool had never possessed a tenth of that sum, so merely offered them the picture back in compensation. The Beenchkin clerk replied frostily that the picture was barely worth a hundred vintenars, never mind a hundred alars. They wanted their money. Unfortunately for them, this letter came into the hands of Julatine who was mortified to see the low value placed on his work. Outraged, he hired a lawyer from the Zare family to sue the Beenchkins. Finding themselves sued by their own client the Beenchkins countersued.
+++At this point Julatine acted with real genius. He approached the court and pointed out that as he was suing lawyers he demanded a blind bench. This term needs some explaining. Because there is a fear amongst the laity that when lawyers are being sued by the laity, magistrates (also lawyers of a sort) might be intimidated into supporting their own kind rather than giving a fair hearing to the lay person who is paying for it all. Thus a ‘blind bench’ is empowered. Three magistrates sit, but they sit behind a screen so that nobody will ever know who gave judgement. Lawyers hate this. If you think magistrates can be capricious when the world is watching them, just imagine how they act when they have anonymity. Julatine was awarded his blind bench. Immediately Beenchkin and Zare both settled out of court, paying large sums to both Julatine and Trool on the understanding that nobody would ever talk about the incident ever again.
—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Should you wish to know more about Port Naain and Tallis Steelyard you might fancy reading Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Playing-other-stories-ebook/dp/B07PV1N7XZ/

https://www.amazon.com/Tallis-Steelyard-Playing-other-stories-ebook/dp/B07PV1N7XZ/

As one reviewer commented, “Another great collection of short stories about Port Naain poet Tallis Steelyard. This is the second collection I’ve read, and I enjoyed it as much as the first one – if not more so. The individual stories are amusing, and a little quirky, and well suited for a quick read to disconnect from reality after a long day.
Heartily recommended.”

Advertisements
Standard
Literary critique, Stories, writing technique

Briefly Sentimental

crying-while-reading-compressed

A couple of years back, giving an author feedback on a story I had rejected for the Book a Break anthology, one of the reasons I gave was that ‘it veered into sentimentality at the end.’ I wasn’t alone in this appraisal: Sherry Morris, the competition judge, said, ‘it all goes sentimental syrupy at the end. Indigestible.’ The author, whilst accepting my other remarks, wrote back to say that she actually quite liked sentimental stories.

This got me thinking. Were we talking about the same thing? We couldn’t be, I decided, but since I didn’t pursue the exchange, I can’t be totally sure. What I did instead was a little research, and found this excellent article, which gives a thorough analysis of sentimentality, and how the meaning of the word has changed over the years. It’s a long one, so if you’re in a hurry, I’ll summarise it as: it’s a lot more complex than we think.

My own conclusion is that (as with everything else) it all depends how it’s done. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sentimentality. Decades ago I read Love Story, which was widely panned by critics as formulaic and manipulative, pulling just the right strings to get the hankies out. William Styron called it ‘a banal book which simply doesn’t qualify as literature.’ A snootiness which did nothing, I’m sure, to dent Erich Segal’s spirits – Love Story was in the New York Times bestseller list for 41 weeks. Though I know a mass readership doesn’t equate to quality, I always feel that anyone who sells that number has to be doing something right.

So why did Sherry and I react negatively to what we perceived as sentimentality? The difference between Love Story and the story I rejected was that Segal took the time to put all the pieces in place, get us cheering for the two main characters, before demolishing our hopes with Jenny’s  death. In the face of a disapproving father, the love of a young couple ends in tragedy. Not a bad pitch, is it? Shakespeare’s log-lines haven’t survived but it’s widely thought he used it for Romeo and Juliet.

To get sentimentality right in a short story is hard. Crucial to its success is getting the reader’s emotions in the right place as early as possible. And I realise now that the keyword in my feedback to the author was not sentimentality but veered. In a story which up till then was mysterious, even scary, there was a sudden switch to two people trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. Edgar Allen Poe would have been appalled – it goes against the ‘unity of effect’ he insisted a short story must achieve: decide on what emotional response you want to elicit, stick to just one, and make sure that everything contributes to that end.

Poe’s strictures are seen these days as rigid. There are many successful short stories that don’t follow them. All the same, as a rule of thumb, the unity of effect isn’t a bad one. Where a novel can play with many different emotions, a short story is best dealing with just one. And there’s nothing at all wrong if that one is sentimental – just make sure you nail it right from the start.

Standard
About Writers, book promotion, humor, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

Live in the present. Write there too.

–  by Barry K. Rosen (aka Mellow Curmudgeon)

The ancient advice is still good. Live mostly in the present, with enough dwelling on the past to serve specific purposes like learning from mistakes. Also good is the much more recent advice to write fiction in the present tense, unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense.

Zen lore includes some stories with endings of the form

At that moment, __________ attained enlightenment.

Fill in the blank with the name of somebody who studied Zen for some time and finally saw the light when his teacher said or did something outrageously weird.

While my story Satori from a Consulting Gig does not presuppose any knowledge of Zen lore, it does have a surprise ending (partly inspired by those Zen stories) with my own way to fill in the blank. Using the past tense in my story’s last sentence helps make the allusion to Zen lore clear to those who might care about it.

Did I choose to write my story in the past tense because I planned to end it that way? Not consciously. I just set out to write a short story. I’ll write some fiction. I’ll use the customary past tense. Doesn’t everybody?

Not quite. I got over 16 million hits when I googled

present tense vs past tense fiction

much later, in preparation for writing this post. Before discussing some pros and cons that are out there (and some that may be new), there is a little more to be said about my story’s tense situation.

My story was written for an anthology whose editors asked the contributors to supply blurbs. I wrote a blurb in the same tense as the story, then noticed that other contributors wrote blurbs in the present tense for stories in the past tense. Why? I found the inconsistency troubling.

Another contributor (Sue Ranscht) kindly remarked that the present tense “creates a punchier tease” in blurbs than the past tense does. Indeed. Why not make the actual story (not just the blurb) be as vivid and engrossing as it can possibly be? Unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense, why not write in the present tense?

§1: Perilous Present
Written in the present tense, my newer story Entanglements begins with

Squatting over the airport, a thunderstorm supercell demolishes …

Yes, the word demolishes might be misread as (a typo for) demolished. Yes, the reader might be a little disoriented at first. Worse, the reader might suspect that gimmicky writing is camouflage for weak content. Such concerns loom large in a thoughtful page that recommends using the past tense by default and the present in some special cases. We can agree on the bedrock principle that one size does not fit all, even as we disagree amicably on where to draw some lines and how strongly to weight some concerns. That’s a respite from the train wreck of contemporary politics.

Dunno how 16 million hits in my Google search compares with how often the present tense has actually been used in good stuff. As good uses accumulate, the prudential reasons for defaulting to the past tense will gradually weaken. Of course, there will always be people who believe that the earth is flat, the moon landings were faked, and

Thou shalt write fiction in the past tense.

came down from Mount Sinai with Moses.

§2: Perilous Past
Readers (and writers!) may not be native speakers of English. As with many other aspects of language, English is exuberantly irregular in how it forms the past tense. People learn the past tense of a verb later (and less thoroughly?) than they learn the present tense. Can U hear the rumble of an approaching storm?

When offline (or distrustful of Google Translate), Pierre consults his French/English dictionary. How can he say prendre in English? No problem. Just say take. But Pierre is writing in the customary past tense. Neglecting to look up take in the other half of the dictionary, he says taked where he should say took.

Consider 3 common ways that verbs ending in -it can form their past tenses: hit/hit, pit/pitted, and sit/sat. Quick now: knit/knit or knit/knitted? Shit/shit or shit/shat?

There are a few verbs with 2 ways to form the past: an irregular usual way and a regular way for a special usage:

Starting a road trip, the team flew out to Chicago.
Swinging at the first pitch, the batter flied out to left field.
The picture was hung in a prominent place.
Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy on 1776-09-22.
This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.

§3: Perilous Past Perfect
Pierre is back. The draft of his story has a short paragraph about some taking that happened at an earlier time. Not fond of flashbacks, he has a good reason to put this paragraph as late as it is, not earlier in the narrative.

Sadder but wiser after being corrected by a ten-year old whose first language is English, Pierre refrains from writing had took for the past perfect for the verb take. He looks up the actual past participle and writes had taken.

Pierre’s pluperfect paragraph is grammatical but clunky. What to do? Rewrite the main narrative in the present tense and the clunky paragraph in the past. That will be a chore, but such a clear and distinct idea deserves the effort. Descartes would approve.

§4: John and Jane Get Tense
John has been writing screenplays that often use flashbacks. Now he wants to write a novel and still likes flashbacks. He realizes that readers would be confused if nothing but a paragraph break separates what the characters do and experience “now” (from their viewpoint) from the start or end of a flashback. There is a lot of sensible advice out there about things like narrative transitions to and from flashbacks, but John wants to stay closer to his cinematic roots. He uses the present tense for the main content and the past tense for the flashbacks. If he also switches to a noticeably different font for the flashbacks, that might be enough in most places (after narrative transitions for the first few flashbacks).

Jane has been writing historical fiction and using the past tense to make it look like history. Now she wants to write fiction with a first-person narrator and package it as a rather one-sided conversation with an implicit listener. She plans to keep the past tense for the main content and add some present-tense remarks, often in response to what the listener has presumably just said. The present-tense remarks will be frequent and incongruous. The narrator will tell a self-serving version of a sequence of events in the past tense while accidentally revealing the darker and/or funnier truth in the present tense.

I warned Jane that readers (especially impatient thick-headed guys like me) may just take the narrator to be ditzy and bail out early. But Jane is game to try. If she does make it work, I know a good place to submit her story.

§5: Recurring Rabbit
Rabbit
The Rabbit Hole is a series of anthologies of weird stories, with a troika of editors. Volume 1 came out in 2018, Volume 2 is scheduled to come out on 2019-10-01, and the editors hope to continue annually. Maybe Jane can contribute to Volume 3.

My story Satori from a Consulting Gig in Volume 1 is just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought the book for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

While every extended narrative in Volume 1 uses the customary past tense, Volume 2 will have at least one story told in the present tense. No, the editors’ fondness for weird stories does not extend to a fondness for weird writing. As originally submitted for Volume 2, my story Entanglements did have some weird writing at the end that seemed unavoidable to me. Editor Curtis Bausse suggested a strategy for avoiding the unwanted weirdness, and the strategy worked. There was no fuss at all about my use of the present tense. That is as it should be.

Standard
About Writers, blogging, book promotion, inspiration, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

True Gamer Anthology – Stories by Gamers for Gamers

An untapped market of $152,000,000,000 (that’s billions of dollars) a year with over two billion active participants? Maybe. I suspect most writers are unaware of it.

Games today require an immersive story line. Howard Hughes is featured in Fallout New Vegas. Apparently, Howard survived the nuclear war as a human-robot hybrid living deep underground in a vat of biomedical brew. He controls the city, not for money, but because he wants power over others so he can create a post-apocalyptic world in his own image.

The average video game writer salary is $82,935.
https://www.quora.com/How-much-do-video-game-scriptwriters-make-in-a-big-company
(Forget Fan-fiction, except for fun. Logically enough, it is difficult to make money based on something someone else has created and copyrighted.)

Voice actor dialogue is first-rate. Linda Carter – yep, Wonder Woman – wrote and sang the songs for her own in-game character. Magnolia, the sultry lounge singer in Fallout 4 sings good jazz, too. Google her sometime:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S39BnYdGD6Q

We are beginning to plan an anthology of true gamer stories. You are invited to join us. Imagine, real stories that happened in fantasy. We think some of those two billion gamers will want to read it. Only the game gods know what we will find. Love stories, of course. And death. I once played with a drug enforcement agent who came online one day and just wanted to be with “friends.” She was quite upset. She had had to shoot someone in real life. In-game is where she went for consolation. Expect extremes. I remember a lady from the earliest days of online gaming who logged into the game from the maternity ward. She wanted everyone to meet her new baby. That was -truly 😃 – memorable role play as we sat at our keyboards around the world, grinning and being happy for the mother. Expect delight.

To produce an anthology of true gamer stories we will need agents to explore the game forums and find true stories, writers who are also gamers to write their own stories, ghostwriters for players who are not writers, editors of course, and a publisher to format the story and put it on Amazon in time for next Christmas season. You may be any one or more of these and how this effort is organized is up to the people doing the work. Those who are still here this time next year will be the agents, writers, editors and publisher of what can be a ground breaking effort.

Join us. Go to the Facebook Group, “True Game Stories.”
Or email me, GD<at>Deckard<dot>com.

Standard
About Writers, blogging, book promotion, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The PC Censor

Does political correctness censor your writing? I ask because I woke this morning with the realization that my WiP is purely politically incorrect. Badly so in parts. I thought about dropping the project until, fully awake, I remembered that everything I’ve written is fact, not opinion. It is not fiction based on my experiences as a medic during the Vietnam War, it is a telling of those experiences.

Every writer worth more than their sales knows that truth, however one defines it, is beholden to fact but not to the expectations of public opinion. I have to wonder though, to what extent my writing is influenced by wanting people to like it, to not offend others by a truth that I define.

The nature of the beast is the problem. War is not easily described to people with preconceived notions about how good people should behave towards other good people. Young men and women see the world differently from the way they learned to see it when they are serving in a war hospital eleven thousand miles from home. Perception overwhelms upbringing. The daily smells of blood and iodine disinfectant around open gunshot wounds in dying men cannot be processed the same way as feelings hurt by an offensive remark.

Words, as used here and now, are not meant to convey the reality of there and then. The words of war (hmm, I’ll have to make that a chapter title) are determined by the exhaustion of compassion, the need to wall off the horror, and to cling to a useful sanity in an insane world. Acceptance of reality is required to save lives. The death rate of wounded soldiers in Vietnam was 1.9% because the men and women involved coped with reality.

How they coped is my story. This WiP sat in my mind for years while I searched for words that don’t exist. When I began, I found myself writing from the point of view of the people involved, and with no regard to how that might affect today’s reader wrapped in a comfort blanket of moral smugness. Having thought it through, (thanks for reading this) I’m determined to continue. The soldiers understood that death requires forgiveness. I am not going to apologize for their stories.

+++“I was taking a guy to x-ray in a wheelchair. Shot-up, just off a medivac. We go by the gift shop and he says, ‘Stop! See that nurse? I want to eyeball-fuck her.’ I stopped.” He shrugged.
+++“Who was she?” Captain Kelly asked with humor in her eyes.
+++“Jenkins, from O.B.”
+++“Oh. That didn’t take him long then.” She turned serious. “I understand. You see death, you want life.” Sucking in a breath, she pushed her chair from the table and stood. “Back to it.” He took in the redhead walking away. Kelly was on the dialysis team and regularly watched young men die because their kidneys had been left on the battlefield. When she was on call at night, Captain Kelly was notified by waking the doctor on call that night.
+++– from Code Blue and Little Deaths

Standard
Uncategorized

Children, aging and the joy of videogames

Note: I saw this post on a videogame forum last week.

– by Andreslamantis

Let me tell you a little story:

I found a couple of kids (no more than 12 years old) near my camp the other day. Even when the Hobo is my favourite character, my main is an old retired Brotherhood commando, kinda like paladin Brandis in Fallout 4. White hair, glasses, scars. Rarely one of my characters reaches a high level (this one is 77) because I start new characters all the time. I get the fun from that, and roleplaying it. This one is, certainly, a survivor.

It was late at night (in game, not the real world) and I was resting (sleeping, because my character is old and needs to sleep) and they were outside, checking the wares on my vending machines. Suddenly, one of them entered the house and asked on the mic if I could give them something for 40-50 caps. Even their characters looked super young. They were carrying a machete and a short hunting rifle, one of therm was wearing the vault suit and a ranger hat, the other was wearing pastor’s vestments. And it hit me:

It looked like Halloween.

I got up and dropped a bag of missiles, half-empty cores and mini nukes to make space, some protective undies nobody was buying plus ten US supply requisitions, and they gave me loving emotes for 5 minutes. I went back to sleep.

“Thanks, mister, we’ll remember this. Call us if you need us.”

I imagine them talking about it at school the next day.

I am 36 and I remember being 10 and rocking my Genesis. In fact, I remember being 5 and rocking my Commodore 64. I remember being 3/4 and my dad holding me up so I could play “Crossbow” at the arcades (my earliest videogame memory). I cannot help thinking that one day I will be old (I hope) and remember being 36, and playing this game, bugs and all.

<><><>  <><><>

It strikes me that there must be many true stories  in cyberspace. (Not talking fan fiction here.) A Google search turned up only scary stories about bad things happening to people on the Internet. But over two billion people play videogames.
https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/newzoo-2017-report-insights-into-the-108-9-billion-global-games-market/

Who’s writing their stories? Two billion real people are interacting with strangers in make-believe worlds! Are we missing a market, a huge, incredible, untapped market?  In what genre would you even put this -or, would it make more sense to create a new genre to appeal to videogamers? What do you think?

Standard
blogging, humor, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Do You Know Who I Am?

(A brief rant by Bill McCormick)

I got asked that today. By someone who was very angry with me for not having the correct response. FYI, that six word question inevitably leads to an answer that is as unenlightened as you might imagine. For the record, I’m fifty-seven years old, have had the honor and privilege of working with, and getting to know, many famous people.  Only once have I heard that question asked with a legitimate response expected. That was when a security guard stopped James Brown from entering a venue where the marquis said, in massive letters, TONIGHT ONLY: JAMES BROWN.

So that seemed warranted.

After that I’ve never seen anyone be impressed with the answer they got when they said “Nope, I have no idea who you are.”

I’ll give you some perspective.

Michael Jackson sold thirty million copies of THRILLER. That is slightly more than the population of Shanghai, which has twenty-four million people. Or, looked at another way, ninety-five percent of the planet earth, a/k/a slightly more than seven billion people, did not buy Thriller. A substantial portion of those people never heard of him at all. Many went blissfully to their graves never once hearing him go WOOT! Never once seeing him moonwalk.

They never saw Blanket Jackson, never knew of any scandals, never saw him as a music god, never knew a damn thing about him. And they lived their lives just fine, thank you very much.

I can only begin to aspire to that level of social ignorance.

Not that I can complain too much. There are billions of people who don’t know me either. But enough do that my landlord allows me to live indoors. It’s a start.

If someone doesn’t know you, or what you do, take it as an opportunity to teach them. To welcome them into your world. It’s a far more productive response.

Standard