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Our August Challenge: Trompe L’oeil.

From Perry Palin:

The canvas was Jean’s largest. It was his best. He had studied the park bench facing away toward the walking path, the gray surface of the path, and the low grassy slope beyond the path. He studied how the trees met the sky, their branches hanging with the weight of their leaves. He painted the bench and the path, and the grass and leaves in their end of summer hues and shapes, the maples dark green, the birches just turning yellow. He painted the sunlight of a summer afternoon. He painted two birds flying, one leading, one following, that soared when seen from changing angles. On the bench he painted two figures, a young man and a young woman, sitting inches apart. His arm rests on the back of the bench, wanting to wrap around the woman. His face is turned toward her. He is leaning toward her, his lips slightly parted. The woman is looking slightly downward and toward the park. Her blond hair is pinned up on her head. She is wearing a blue flowered dress.

An artist without income and without prospects, Jean had not dared to speak to Sophie of his love. The canvas below Sophie‘s window was his first declaration of his love for her. Jean pulled the canvas quietly into place on its wheeled frame, adjusted the left strut for the proper angle, and hid the wheels with their own grassy covers. Jean waited unseen for Sophie to come to her window.

Sophie rose from her table and began to clear her dishes. The sight of two figures on the park bench made her turn. People sat so seldom on the bench. She looked out and stopped in the middle of a breath. It was Jean, on the left, his clear profile, the handsome face, unmoving, in love with the woman on the bench. He was waiting for the woman to speak. The woman, blond and slender, in a blue dress like one of hers, was relaxed and receptive to Jean’s attention. Her shoulders asked him to pull her in. Sophie could not see the woman’s face, but she could see that Jean loved this woman who was more beautiful than Sophie believed herself to be. Sophie turned away from the window and sat at her table. Then she cried.

__________________________________________

Atthys Gage:

Tromp L’oeil

Darius Pomerantz. Dash to his friends. Official title:  the Dream Master.  A weak handshake and an avuncular smile. A thin man. Turn sidewise and he’d disappear. No, not really. Just relax awhile, Mr. Billings. This is the easy part.

He fusses, while you lie back on the cool, squeaky leather chair, fully reclined. You’ll fall asleep. It’s expected. With all the wires—temples, clavicles, pineal gland—you don’t think so, but peace becomes involuntary. Dash hums a soft tune. Schubert, maybe. The tune dances maddeningly on the precipice of memory, but won’t drop.

Any allergies?

No, no. It’s all there on the med form. Sleep is coming, with a shudder, with a gasp. Just over there, behind that shadow, a scrim fills with soft light. Memory, melody, member me. All your dreams and then some, like the blurb said. Dreams Incarnate. Incorporated.

Just let go.

Mr. Billings? Roger? Time to wake up.

His voice is a sweet, descending singsong. Your eyes blink open, and he’s smiling that same smile. Mr. Big. The Dream Master. Everything under control.

How long?

About four hours. Right on the tippy top of the bell curve. And…he gestures broadly at nothing…everything went swimmingly.

He holds up a disk, about silver dollar size. Transparent? No, but incredibly thin. When the light catches, it’s a solid thing. Otherwise, it winks in and out of existence, as if Darius Pomerantz is doing sleights and passes like a dinner theater magician.

He holds it still. This is you. Opaque. Non-reflective. A miracle of modern technology. All your dreams and then some.

He laughs. Hardly miraculous, of course but the ad men like to call it that. Really, all we’ve done is accessed your own dream world, your own fantasies, and restructured them into interactive algorithms, a Mendez Agenda we call it in the biz. You can read all the technical details if you want to.

I…while I…I don’t really remember…

Your dreams? Don’t worry. Dream recall for most people is spotty at best. But with this—again he flashes the disk—you will. And…you’ll be able to interract with them in a whole new way. The experience…well, seeing is better than telling, right? Do you want to try it out?

Lights dim. The chair reclines. All the wires are gone from your skin, but something new has been added. A small incision, already sutured. Beneath a delicate touch, a tiny nodule.

The servo. Soon, you won’t even notice it.

You don’t sleep. Or maybe you do. Breath swells the wrinkled membrane, a quivering skinful, in, out. Press your face against the translucence and suddenly, you’re inside. Reality.

Mr. Billings? Roger?

Is it…over?

As soon becomes apparent, you can live a lifetime in one billiable hour. Or, it can vanish like a half-remembered thought. So you go again. As soon as possible. You pay a little more, they let you stay a little longer.  Damn! The first time I was plugged in, I was gone! I never wanted to come out. Food, water—hell, breathing! Nothing mattered but the dream. Once a day, twice a day. Can I stay overnight?

I’m sorry, sir. We close at six.

Well just plug me in and let it run. I don’t care.

But it didn’t work that way. They had the disk. They had control. The technology was theirs. For a while, they toyed with selling a home version, but where was the long term profit in that? Imagine all those plugged-in dream junkies, wasting away, dead to the world. At least until the power gets turned off. Then what? Better to control the source. Keep the revenue flowing.

This is the real world now, Roger. The whole round world.

There is the real and there is the true. Unfortunately, you can no longer tell the difference.

All your dreams. All your dreams. All your dreams.

And then?

__________________________________________

Carl E. Reed:

Road Runner screeched to a vibrating halt in front of the train tunnel’s mouth, then neatly stepped aside.

Hard on the bird’s heels and going about a hundred mph, Wile E. Coyote slammed into the side of the mountain.

“Beep-beep!” quoth Road Runner.

Wile E. Coyote slid down the rock face to the ground, furry body now thin as a pancake.

The gaping black hole of the tunnel’s mouth was an illusion: Tromp l’oeil.

But who painted it there?! No time to think or reflect; new hijinks were scheduled in five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . .

Beep-beep!”

Road Runner raced off.

__________________________________________

Mimi Speike:

“Home sweet home,” said Dee as the coach pulled up to the entrance of a low, sprawling structure.

“Impressive!” pronounced his traveling companion. “The cunning juxtaposition of diverse architectural styles, artistry itself.”

“You are kind. Most say ramshackle.”

A man rushed forth to collect baggage dropped from the roof rack of the carriage with a thud.

“More books, Dr. Dee?” asked Seth Sutcliffe, Dee’s butler, grounds-keeper, and general handyman. He was one half of a caretaker couple, Seth’s wife being cook and maid of all work.

“I can’t wait to see your library!” whispered Sly.

“In good time, dear boy, in good time. First, some refreshment. Seth,” he called over his shoulder, “does Beth have something tasty for us?”

The retainer and the coachman, a few steps behind, were lugging four heavy grips down the walk.

“As always, sir, as always.”

“We’ll settle ourselves in the Green Room. Put the books in the hall. I’ll unpack them presently.”

“What treasures have you snatched up this trip, sir?”

“Some real finds, I assure you.”

Sly tugged at Dee’s pants leg and hissed, “your library! I must poke my nose in, just a brief snoop. Please, don’t make me wait. Here I be, within steps of the largest private library in England, and you want me to eat? This is torture.”

“Seth! What’s Beth got for us?”

“A lovely plate of cold mutton, sir.”

The cat made a face. “I ate mutton for ten years, till it came out my ears. You got nothing else?”

“How about eggs? You eat eggs, don’t you?”

“In a pinch,” sighed Sly.

“Seth, ask Beth to rustle up a platter of her special Eggs Savannah.”*

“The library,” pleaded the cat.

Dee bent down. “Patience, son, patience. First, I’ll explain a few things. Your admiration of me is misguided. I am not the man you believe me to be.

“When I won the post of Royal Astrologer, I sold off inherited land and spent with abandon. I thought the celebrity would result in the world beating a path to my door. I went all out, on furnishings, expansions. The crowds never came. I have a trickle of trade. I claw just enough out of them to make do.

“Séances are my bread and butter. You will be an asset to me in the endeavor, listening in on hushed conversations, then passing me prompts, in the form of notes. My undeniable clairvoyance will finally lure the high and well-heeled to my doorstep.

“I have not funds to maintain this property. I exploit the shabbiness as part of my marketing effort. I excuse my threadbare rugs by bragging on my library. New carpet? Faugh! Every cent I lay my hands on goes for rare books.”

“Absolutely! I share the impulse, believe me. I must see them. Now! Please!”

“I am hanging on by my fingernails. I have my Spirit Room, I call it, in the east wing. I shoo my guests past the cracked door of my library, they get to snatch the merest peek. Seth stands the door, no one is let in. Just inside, I have tables piled high with volumes, along with cunning busts and vases. The fools ooh and aah over the staged magnificence and beg a closer look. Now, now, I chide them. You are here for a consultation, are you not? I will open my reading room another time.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” asked Sly.

“See for yourself,” sighed Dee. He led the way to his legendary librarium. Near the threshold were conventionally disposed shelves. The far wall, floor to ceiling, was fitted with shallow ledges, sufficient depth to display trinkets for added realism, behind which displayed a mural of books, thousands of books painstakingly depicted, highly decorative, but a cruel ruse to break a book-lover’s heart.

/////////////////////

Sly has discovered the truth. He’s crestfallen. He’s struggling to wrap his wits around the situation. If he could cry he’d be bawling his head off.

“What is this?” he shrieks. “You buy books right and left. It’s known all over Europe. The satchels we lately transported, full of books, so you announced to everyone from Grayson Manor to here.”

Dee snorts. “Wrack and Ruin, those malicious devils, are forever stalking me. I do what I may to keep the bastards at bay.” He unlocks one of the secured satchels sitting just outside the door and opens it wide. It is packed, not with books, but with rocks. “Part of my myth-making, I’m afraid. I am desperate to maintain a façade. I am the book-obsessed genius pronosticator oblivious to run-down surroundings; my priorities lie elsewhere.”

“When,” asked the cat, “when did you have time to paint this massive artwork? I observe astounding attention to detail, mottled spines, precise lettering. It was a Herculean task.”

“The mural,” replied Dee, “is, in fact, a bas relief, slabs of wood adhered to paneling. I tote brushes, pens, and paint with me on my frequent business trips. I travel extensively, as you know. When I encounter a book shop, I explore, take notes, and make sketches of my objects of desire, and create my facsimiles as a pleasant – and inexpensive – evening’s entertainment. And it keeps me out of the taprooms, a boon to my health.”

“You are,” squealed Sly, “as much an oddment as I am. We have a true rapport, I see it already. May it prove advantageous for the both of us.”

“Yes, you and I will get along well, I have no doubt of it. I only hope you get along with Hugin and Mugin.”

Who are Hugin and Mugin?”

“No, the question should rather be, will Hugin and Mugin get along with you?”

“Dr. Dee! Who are Hugin and Mugin?”

TO BE CONTINUED.

////////////////////

* The joke behind Eggs Savannah will be explained in the comments. This runs too long already.

__________________________________________

Curtis Basse:

A few minutes later, another woman came in and sat down. Janet nodded hello and went back to her notes. What was it now she’d just thought of? Something about –

‘Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?’

Janet studied her. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘Do you live in Cheltenham by any chance?’

‘Why, yes. You too?’ Janet still couldn’t place her. ‘What part?’

‘Lynworth.’ The woman smiled. ‘The school run, perhaps. Your daughter goes to Oakwood?’

Janet thought she knew all the parents, at least by sight. A vague unease began to trouble her. Who was this woman? Was it pure coincidence that they’d met here? Or something more sinister?

No, not coincidence. She’d never seen the woman before, so how could it be?

‘I’m sorry, I just… I’m usually quite good with faces but I… You’re saying you’ve seen me with my daughter at Oakwood?’

‘You and Amelia, yes. She’s in Year 4’

The woman sat with perfect poise, her presence filling the room, while Janet, muddled and upset, shrank into her chair. She made an attempt to reassert herself. ‘I’m sorry, what’s your name?’

Just at that moment, the door opened and a secretary announced, ‘Mrs. Bowman? The arbitrator will see you now.’

Janet hurriedly put her pen and notebook into her bag and stood up.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the secretary ‘Mrs. Bowman’s appointment was first.’

Janet opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came.

‘It was nice to get a chance to speak. I do hope we meet again.’ And addressing Janet a cursory nod, the woman strode through the door.

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About Writers, blogging, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Here A.I. Comes, The Artificial Part, Anyway

Enjoying science fiction sometimes allows you to watch the future arrive. Artificial intelligence will soon happen. Robots have begun to replace human workers and they will assume roles as autonomous decision makers. Legal rights and protections between us and them will have to be worked out. We are about to decide who “us” is.

Yesterday, Mika Koverola posted on the Facebook group, SciFi Fandom,
“I’m conducting research into the connection between ‘science fiction hobbyism’ and people’s attitudes towards robots as a part of my PhD at Helsinki University. …. Please take my Science Fiction and Robots survey (https://tinyurl.com/SciFiRobots) and help science by spending approximately 45 minutes telling about your views on science fiction, robotics and ethical choices.”

A survey on how I feel about A.I. robots? Help science? How could I say no?
Mika’s questions explored my feelings towards A.I robots. How much do I trust companies that make them? Who do I think is responsible if they harm humans? Will it distress me if they make medical decisions contrary to the wishes of the patient? What are my reactions to people having sex with robots? The usual.

It struck me that if we give robots the right to tell us what to do, we surrender control to whoever controls the robots. Of course, the only way we would give rights to robots is if we assume A.I. is like us. When people talk about “true” A.I., the underlying assumption is that artificial intelligence confers personhood. Put another way, intelligence, even if artificial, is assumed to equal humanity.

Really? Is intelligence really our criteria for who we are? Or is it an awareness of something and we are that something?

What do you think we are?

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About Writers, Research, Uncategorized, writing technique

Challenging Moments

We all have those challenging moments when life changes in that moment. One might think writers relish writing about their own intense moments. It is, after all, when life shows us our limits and opportunities. Many great fictional characters are forged in the fire of  intense personal experience. But writing honestly is difficult when it’s personal.
So, let’s do something difficult. Use the comments section to describe a moment when your life did or could have drastically changed. I’ll start:

 +++When World War II ended, Mom married a soldier. Like most men who spent years killing people, he had PTSD. We called it a bad temper. The soldier taught me honesty, pride in independence, the value of hard work and he occasionally beat Mom unconscious. I vividly remember standing with my own head scarcely above the man’s knee, looking down at my mother lying on the floor. I feared him until I was a teen and pointed a shotgun at him. “If you ever hit my mother again, I will kill you. I’m sixteen. They will put me in a home for juvenile delinquents. But I will get out when I’m eighteen and you will be dead.” The shotgun was loaded, the safety was off and my finger felt the trigger. If he had risen from the kitchen table, I would have shot him.

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The Five Stages of (Review) Grief.

Charles_Reade.jpg

Our goal here is to discuss, not to review, but reviews are on my mind. I’m going to tell you where to read my novella. I don’t have to know if you read it. (No pressure of any kind.) Anyone who is curious, it’s up. I am going to take another look at the first few chapters, but the rest is pretty well set. The plot dissolves into speculation at the end; this is a teaser for Book One.

I had many reviews on Book Country that knocked me for a loop, for a good long while. From then to now, I have not changed my approach, except to get more extreme. Oh, and I added more activity. I saw the light in that area.

How do I, how do we all, deal with criticism? We go through a process very similar to the so-called Five Stages of Grief.

ONE. Stage one is denial: These remarks are wrong-wrong-wrong.

Denial helps us to survive the blow. We are in a state of shock. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. Denial and shock help us to cope. Denial is a way of letting in only as much as we can handle. But flat denial breaks down fast. Any reasonable person has to admit fairly quickly that there must be a spot of truth to any criticism.

TWO. Anger, or at least annoyance, is inevitable.

The more you examine it, the more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate. There are many other emotions in conjunction with anger, notably pain. Anger is a motivator.

THREE. We move on to bargaining.

We try to appreciate another point of view. If we’re wise, we look for any ideas we can use.

FOUR. We may feel depression.

We wonder, perhaps, if there is any point in continuing a project with, apparently, so many flaws. Hence my long periods of inactivity on my novel.

FIVE. Acceptance.

Our perspective has been forever changed and we must readjust; we move, we grow, we evolve.

We here all have the tools of the trade in hand. Everyone’s first reaction is to defend his/her child. I am still struggling to see other points of view from years ago. (I have saved all my reviews, and I study them.) It’s not that I don’t believe the objections, it’s rather that I don’t see them myself, for this particular piece. Or maybe it’s that I conceive of my thing as an entirely different kind of story than you do. And that is my right, that is our right, to choose what kind of story we tell. Action, characterization, description, how much emphasis do we give to each? My style is a throwback to nineteenth century fiction, and I feel it is in keeping with the subject matter. I love flavorful description for its own sake, and I am more interested in what my characters think of events than the events themselves. I know this is not a formula for a popular success.

I set my heart on eventually gaining a cult following, like Amanda McKittrick-Ros. I will not have an immediate success, like she did. In the nineteen twenties, London high society gave McKittrick-Ros parties, in which one was asked to dress as one of her people and to speak in character. She was quite the rage, thanks to the captivating awfulness of her prose. My success will come years hence, after I’m six feet under, or blowing in the wind. My heart will not be broken by my thing falling into the bottomless pit that is Amazon, never to be heard of again.

The five stages of review grief should bring you to a place in which you are at peace with your choices, where criticism does not upend you, and where you are not defensive, but eager to hear opposing views, they may help you make your piece even better.

If you are of a mind to, read my novella at: myguysly.wordpress.com

The display will change. For one thing, I want a format with sidebars. I want to be able to have pull-quotes. And more graphics, of different configurations. And I will give each chapter its own page; for now it runs together.

If you feel you must, email me at mimispeike@att.net

I am not looking for a response. I mean that. For better or worse, for richer or poorer (probably poorer), I am happy with what I’ve got.

The graphic is of Charles Reade, who has a following one-hundred-fifty years on, despite being called (with good reason, make no mistake) a second-rate author. I am one of his ardent supporters.

 

 

 

 

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blogging, Flash Fiction, humor, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Master Beadle

(Just for fun Flash Fiction, 384 words)

+++“There be some what say Master Beadle here is naught in his right mind.” Old Geeze glared defiantly at the crowd gathered in the town Bar & Grill & Bar.
+++“Bat-shit crazy, you mean.” Fat Stockton, the town butcher, was not to be intimidated by man nor beagle. “That dog ate just enough of my cow to not kill it!”
+++“Poor thing.” Mavis Beth shook her head. “I seen her. Reminded me o’the time those Aliens camped outside a’town and traded in their dung for cow parts.”
+++Several in the crowd nodded. “I still got some of that,” said one. “It’s sealed it in a Mason Jar ’cause o’the smell.”
+++“Sold mine on eBay,” another said.
+++“Well, it weren’t Master Beadle here what ate on your cow, Fat. Ask him.”
+++“What do you mean?”
+++“I mean don’t take my word for it. Ask him for yerself!”
+++Fat snorted. “He talks?”
+++“Of course he talks. And he’s for sale, too. Twenty dollars.”
+++“That true?” Mavis asked.
+++“Yup,” said the dog. “It’s true. Unfortunately. Old Geeze here is tired of me always prattling on about things he doesn’t know and places he’s never going to see.”
+++There followed a hubbub of astonishment at the unbelievable that eventually faded into awe. Master Beadle looked every man and woman, one by one, in the eye before continuing.
+++“I ran with Alien traders for years. We traveled the galaxy, buying and selling all manner of goods. We carried crap to third-world worlds, ran guns to the Farside Raiders, even sold Mind Flowers to the ladies on Heavenly.” He paused, a dreamy look coming into his eyes as his head lifted a little. “Ahh, the bitches I have known, the adventures! The smells of alien markets! All that food… did you know,” he looked directly at the butcher, “That if well fed, I can occasionally glimpse the future?”
+++“No,” said Fat Stockton, slipping a twenty-dollar bill to Old Geeze with one hand and with the other taking the dog by its collar. “You’ll have to tell me all about that.” He led Master Beadle to the door, paused and turned. “Geeze? This dog is amazing! Why did you sell it for only $20?”
+++Old Geeze pocketed the money. “’Cause. That damned dog’s a liar! He never did any o’that shit.”

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blogging, book promotion, Uncategorized

Blogging Your Book

To blog your book without being too boringly obvious or repetitive, consider blogging about the subject matter of your book. People who share an interest in what your book is about could become your readers.

For example:
If you write mysteries, blog the latest crime-fighting psychology or tech or techniques. Romance writers can blog on sex, relationships or famous real-life romances. Blog fantasies if you write them, or blog the science behind your fiction if you write Sci-Fi.

So, if you are a writer who blogs, the question could be…
What can you blog about that shares your interests with prospective readers?

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On websites and social media.

I believe we need to have a strong on-line presence in the form of, not a general blog, but a site dedicated to a product. But here are comments from some who disagree with me:

This question was posed on Scribophile:  

At what point does engaging in yet another platform actually sell any books?

Scribophile > “Depends what you use the platform for. DeviantArt has a lot of webcomic artists on there, and they gain a huge number of fans by posting serious artwork and drawings and funny mini-comics and the like for a few years first. They build up interest to the work before the work ever gets posted, so there’s already an audience waiting to suck up the actual story.”

(This is what I had in mind for my Wix site. But my conception got way too complicated, it got away from me. I am going to use a template-based WordPress site as my intro site, and continue to work on the Wix one.)

Scribophile > “I don’t think that your social media presence is really going to result in selling more books. I think it improves your chances for getting represented or published. I use Instagram to promote my art and writing. I participate in month-long writing and drawing challenges.

“Engaging on Facebook and Twitter drives some blog traffic for me. I have a books page on my blog, so people who have come to look at my article/interview or whatever link they clicked on can then see what I write. But it’s more a case of raising my profile out of obscurity than selling loads of books.

“Imagine selling your book is like having a storefront. You can wait for people to walk by, walk in and buy something. It happens. But what if you also participated in community events, fairs, and neighborhood parties? That’s what social media is. A means to get even a little bit more attention in an overcrowded marketplace.

“The key is to find the outlet where your readers/buyers are most likely to be hanging out and then give them a good reason to go to your store.”

Scribophile > Someone here somewhere agrees with me. He/she is strongly opposed to a marketing site being primarily a personal blog, but I can’t find that comment at the moment.

Yes, you can talk about a range of topics, but let them relate to your story. (Anyone who reads my footnotes in Sly will see that I am able to relate almost anything to my story.)

______________________________________________

So, there are two schools of thought here.

One > Display your general style and sensibility, seduce readers into trying your book.

Two > Subtlety be damned, the focus should be on the book, not your rambling thoughts.

There’s a third approach. One guy wants you to be his writing coach: “Based on my experience as a long time reader, never. It’s like some myth. I go to author’s blogs for writing tips, not to buy their books.”

Here’s my opinion:

> Engage on a variety of social sites, if you have the energy, to (try to) get attention.

> Have a website that features your product(s). Chat also, but don’t have that be the focus of your message. Soft sell by the grace of prose pulled from your novel(s). Be spontaneous in introductions/ sidebars/wrap-up comments.

> Here’s the advantage to this: Updates are easy. Change a paragraph, add a graphic. No pressure to freshen your page top to bottom. Your book is your book is your book.

The bad thing about that is, if a reader looks at your presentation and dismisses it, he will not return to find a second book, or a third. So be entertaining as hell in your supplemental material. Be surprising, be insightful, be outrageous. Give a browser reason to think you might eventually have something for him.

 

 

 

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