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Scattered* Thoughts.

*(Are my thoughts ever anything but scattered?)

 

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My newest Facebook friend,

Alex Leslie Combs, a friend of my niece, has published a small comic book: Tittybar Tales. His website is: tittybartales.com

The amusing story is of his (formerly her) work as a stripper (to fund a sex-change operation). It’s a handsome heavy glossy stock 6×6 book that he sells on his website and at events. He is active in the San Fran community, very visible, participating in many-many activities. He contributes to several comic-centric web sites, creates posters for comic cons, pursues all kinds of visibility. He is an energetic promotor, we should all take note. Now, I know that a piece of fiction hasn’t the same eye-popping appeal as a splashy comic, but, particularly for the works of sci-fi, there are many areas to exploit.

That is his cat up there. A bit R. Crumb, don’t you think? He shows other styles as well, some more Feiffer-ish. I don’t know if his style has evolved, or if he mixes it up.

Now I have a contact on the West Coast for my bumper stickers! (When they’re ready.) Hmmm. Should I make Sly bi-sexual? 

Just kidding! Kidd-dding! It’s bad enough Sly puts the moves on a saucy capuchin monkey at Queen Elizabeth’s court.

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A look at the news

adds to my vision of my own situation (sixteenth century Hameln). This is input far easier to acquire (in terms of time and energy, and on the pocketbook) than what Hemingway espoused: A writer’s job is to live life, and then to write about it.” (From memory/not verbatim.)

From Daily Mail   June 21. 2018

Swedish town is told to keep doors and windows closed
due to plague of GIANT RATS the size of cats.
  • The town of Sundsvall, Sweden, has been ‘invaded’ by rats
  • Kindergarten children kept indoors and locals told to shut doors and windows
  • The problem has been caused by the relocation of a local recycling centre
  • Rats ‘the size of cats’ caught in area, as council launch extermination campaign

Residents in a town in northern Sweden are being told to keep their doors and windows shut, due to an ‘invasion’ of rats the size of cats. The escalating rat problem in Sundsvall, caused by the relocation of a recycling centre, has even forced a local kindergarten to keep children indoors.

These aren’t the normal rats you see in the forest,’ says Benny Sagmo, head of wildlife preservation in Sundsvall, a town of some 52,000 residents. They’re as big as cats.’

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I get my ideas from everywhere. I just stole a line from an idiot pastor’s speech, reported on Facebook. Those Evangelicals are good for something after all.

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It  has just come to me that Sly was the original hippie. He’s trying to sell Peace and Love to some very jaded rats. Ringo Starr, eat your heart out.

 

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Phillip Roth, Thank You.

At my job – I work for a compositor, we set books for publishers all over the country – I see, and marvel at, first books by young authors. I always wonder, how did this one catch the eye of an agent? And, subsequently, snag a publishing deal?

The answer has to be – through connections forged in a writing program, winning references from people with friends in high places. This is beyond most of us. Maybe Kris has connections, she teaches writing, I believe. The rest of us, that train has left the station.

But references go only so far. A book still has to sell itself. I handled a mystery a year or two ago, set in Boston, interesting to me for the local detail, I lived in Boston for twenty years. That author had been a consultant on a TV crime show, and had gotten a book accepted on that basis. I can’t remember the name, but I don’t see that it’s made waves. And I haven’t seen a second book in what was plainly meant to be the kick-off to a series. All the right moves, the big publisher, the front-sales touts, presumably, an actual advertising budget, and the market, apparently, has not come to Mahomet. The author, a former Boston DA, for all her sexy insider detail and her familiarity with Beantown’s mean streets, has not created another Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Some good news: At least we haven’t spent big money on an MFA, only to see our work submerge in a sea of cute. (“The powerhouse mother/daughter team has done it again, bringing you the laughter of their lives.”) Bestseller shtick is not my thing, for all its charm. (Haven’t read Scottoline, but I have to assume there’s something appealing there.)

How does one become a Phillip Roth?

From Wikipedia: “Roth’s work is known for its intensely autobiographical character, for philosophically and formally blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, for its “sensual, ingenious style” and its provocative explorations of American identity.”

Hey!

* intensely autobiographical character * philosophically and formally blurring the distinction between reality and fiction * a sensual, ingenious style * a provocative exploration of American (in my case, catly) identity.

I’m there already!

 

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What I did on my vacation.

Wasted a lot of time (watched/read a lot of news). Messed around with my plants. I’ve got two pots of asparagus sprouted way too early. Can I keep them going until I can move them outside? I kinda jumped the gun with them. Let’s see, what else? Oh yeah, I built a website.

We need to keep moving forward, in any way we can. To do otherwise is to give up. If I’m not moving forward on my story (I am, but slowly) I’m moving forward in other areas. Movement is essential for our mental health.

I’d meant to spend the week writing. I began fooling around on WordPress and never got to my next (new) chapter. I only have a title so far: The Crystal Visions. (John Dee thought he was able to talk to angels.)

My website is a big step for me. I have eight chapters of book three posted, and I’m pretty happy with them. I’ve got a format I like, for the most part. What I don’t like is how the type migrates. I’m trying to structure my headings so they don’t fall in danger zones and get separated from the body type they’re supposed to be allied with. It’s tricky. This is why I threw in the towel on Wix.

Wix is a nightmare for slippage. You have complete freedom, that’s the problem there. You can do fabulous things, lovely layouts that are a disaster when the page is resized. You have complete freedom to anthing you like, as long as you get out your ten tons of coal a day – who knows where that’s from?

I still have the illustration to create, and that’s scary. I’m working up to it, gathering reference material, cleaning off my drawing table that has been a junk catcher for months. Do I call that a step forward? I do. A tiny step forward. Yeah, I’m pathetic, and I know it.

I’m not going to announce the address of my site until I have three or four pieces of my own art up. At present I have images off Pinterest dummied in as placeholders and as an indication of what incidents I intend to focus on.

I allow myself to get excited about a big response when I finally get my PR effort underway. Reality hasn’t slapped me down yet. Just what the world needs, right? Another version of Puss in Boots?

I’m in a bittersweet mood. I’m proud of what I’ve done with the website. I think it looks damn good. I’m come a long way, but I have a long way to go.

I’ll feel better when I have a finished drawing of Dee in his loopy pharaoh costume, worn for his séances, pulled from a book on the Edwardian theater, ‘The Modern Stage of Today’, copyright 1910. Fabulous characterizations, fabulous costumes. James O’Neill is in there, and a somebody Arbuckle (the book’s downstairs) that I’ve always thought might be Fatty Arbuckle before he hit the silver screen. One of these days I’ll look it up.

Yeah, another silly post, but at least I’ve cranked something out and maybe given GD a break. He’s a trooper.

What about everybody else? What have you done lately that feels like a step forward?

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What can I say except – stay positive.

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Update: I have discovered that my template ‘cols’ is more flexible than I thought. There is, apparently, a way to isolate articles on a page. That would solve a lot of my problems. Thus, I could have more than one chapter per page. (They’re very short chapters.) There is also a plug-in for pull quotes. (Also on my wish list.)

 

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Medium – What Is It Good For?

I don’t know, I just don’t know. 

I thought Medium might be a place to post fiction. Fiction is one of their categories, after all. There are many ‘publications’ here that claim to host fiction. But most of them want what one member described as ‘snackable’ content. Poems, short stories, flash fiction, etc. Fiction is almost an afterthought on the site, tucked away. You have to go looking for it.

They have politics. Also current events/art/design, the whole range of topics you find on any general interest news/commentary site. But the big thing seems to be self-improvement.

There’s a lot of discussion about writing. Most of it, same-ol’-same-ol’ regurgitated. This type of post dominates the front page (you land on the front page by getting a lot of reads). The exposure encourages others to go the same route. Mind-numbing!

I’ve found very little useful in any of the following:

> Is This What It Takes To Become A Writer?

> Why You Are Losing Your Best ideas And How Not To

> Use These Three Tools To Overcome Your Scarcity Mindset

> 5 Quality Tips For Growing Your Medium Page

> What’s Stopping You From Writing?

> Writing Is Easy. Quality Writing Is Not.

‘Live Your Best Life’ is another big area. I’d better dig into this. Sly is eventually going to lecture the rats of Hameln on living their best lives. Any of the below could apply.

> You Make Or Break Your Life Between 5-7 AM

> If It Doesn’t Suck, It’s Not Worth Doing – YOUR SUCCESS MANTRA FOR 2018.

> Willpower Doesn’t Work. Here’s How to Actually Change Your Life.

> This Morning Routine will Save You 20+ Hours Per Week

> This Is How You Train Your Brain To Get What You Really Want

> UN-COMMIT Immediately to Everything You’re Not Definite About!!

> Tell Me What You Did Today, And I’ll Tell You Who You Are

I am amused by how many titles incorporate a number, as in snap-your-fingers-easy.

> This One Question Will Make Every Decision In Your Life Easier

> 3 Ways People Become Stuck, Undeveloped, and Unsuccessful

> The 2 Mental Shifts Highly Successful People Make

> 7 Ways To Make Immediate Success Your Only Option

> 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M.

> 13 Things That Will Happen When You “Level-Up” As A Person

> 21 Behaviors That Will Make You Brilliant At Creativity & Relationships

> 14 Strategies To Accelerate Your Personal Growth By 1,000%

> 50 Ways To Live On Your Own Terms

> 31 Things That Will Happen When You Finally Decide To Live Your Dreams

How and Why are (apparently) big attention-grabbers:

> Why Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life

> Why Even Ambitious People Rarely Become Successful

> How to Become the Best in the World at What You Do

> How to Increase the Volume of Your Brain and Make Optimal Decisions

> How to Create the “Moments” that Change Your Life

> How To Go From Successful To Very Successful (and why most people can’t do it)

> How to 1) Get Into Peak States, 2) Make Bold Decisions, 3) Invest In Yourself, 4) …

Here’s a How and a Why. Give this guy a cigar. 

> How to Consistently Act From Your Deepest “Why”

This begins to sound like the ‘We Can Help You Publish Your Book’ / ‘We Can Help You Market Your Invention’ spots I hear driving home from work at 1am.

I’m not ready to give up on Medium.

The best advice I’ve gotten so far is to publish a short excerpt from my book and link it to a web site. Like I didn’t know that already. Duh! 

They have a category called ‘series’. I thought that perfect for me, but was told that ‘series’ is for short pieces. I looked at two and each has only three or four pages, with a few paragraphs and a graphic. The term series is misleading. This is a special format that only takes a certain number of words per page. There may be a limit on number of pages as well. And the pages are the size of a largish cell phone.

If I publish under my own name I can do anything I want to. But the advice is, if you post within a publication you will get more exposure and more reads.

Maybe I’ll just lie, pull a chapter from Sly, call it a short story (like I’ve done with the anthology) and try to slip it past the gatekeepers at The Mad River. “Where Weird Waters Flow” is their subhead. I think I’d fit right in there.

This is like eating potato chips. I can’t stop. I just read a piece – The Brutal Solution To Writer’s Block: You do not have writer’s block. You are lazy.

Excuse me. When I have a problem to solve, I wait for an answer to strike me, an answer that makes real, emotional sense. If I push, it will be a bullshit answer. I’ll know it’s bullshit and my reader will know it’s bullshit. I work on another chapter until I have a eureka! moment.

 

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Bookends.

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My Pied Piper episode is coming in fits and starts, but it’s coming. Finally. It’s half, maybe more than half written, and when it’s done, book three of Sly will be about three quarters done. (I actually had the remainder all written but my thinking has changed radically in the last fifteen years.)

And so, with my novella essentially complete, book three near to it, I have a pair of bookends to a four volume series.

Who here considers himself to be a disciplined writer? Do you put in a set number of hours a day? Someone (someone famous) said his method of writing was: apply butt to chair and write. That may work for you, it doesn’t work for me. I’d be writing crap.

My style is – I think we all know it – style heavy. And I surf from one sentence or thought to the next. I’m not getting events down, to be cleaned up later. I do that sort of thing in fragments below the finished text. I drop down and plunder my notes as the spirit moves me. My file presently contains 95 pages, three quarters of which are my haphazard notes, and research material copied from around the web – in this book heavy on John Dee – waiting to be rummaged through. This mish-mash is as close as I come to an outline.

Bookends: I am going to publish my novella first, and immediately thereafter, to publish book three, the wrap-up. I will tack a synopsis of books one and two onto the novella.

I am moved to go this route partly by the announcement of the demise of Bookkus, all those high hopes! Heartbreaking! And partly by seeing the difficulty everyone is having gaining traction in the marketplace road race. I am ready to throw caution (and, probably, good sense) to the winds.

My attitude now is, to coin a phrase: Just Do It. The faults in my book are baked into it. No amount of polishing is going to change that; they are the essence of my storytelling. Every one of us has to stake a claim to a piece of literary real estate, and my flag is planted on ‘Whatever’.

A friend (not a writer) is reading my new material as I go, and says, and says, and says: you sure have a lot of story here. She means it in a positive way. She loves it. Others will say the same thing and it will be a criticism.

I do have a lot of story. One idea leads to the next. I expand and expand. A question occurs to me and I want to know the answer. If it turns out to be counterproductive to my goal I dump it, but frankly, this rarely happen. I almost always see value, for the next chapter, or fifteen chapters on, or way back in book one. Nothing goes to waste. My abundant hypotheses find themselves a home in some way, shape or form. Sooner or later. For better or worse. For richer or poorer/my bet is poorer. Till death do us part. I’m married to my monster. I’ll be adding to my silliness on the day I die.

How does the song go? Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends. This story and me, we are old friends.

On one end of my park bench sits my novella. On the other end, book three, the wrap-up of my essentially endless adventure. Can’t recall the exact title right now, isn’t that terrible? I’m losing my grip. (Maybe I lost it long ago.)

I’m in the middle. Here I am on the bench, on the Group W Bench (W for Wacky/love Arlo, will love him forever) . . . back to S&G:

. . . old men (in this case an old woman) waiting for the sun . . . The sounds of the city sifting through trees settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends.

Me and this old friend of mine, we’re going down together.

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Watch This Space.

DARKER

I’ve been on vacation this past week. But I’ve not really been on vacation. I’ve been busy working on something. (And driving myself crazy.)

My moods swing from hopeful, to discouraged, to downright depressed. I’m finally attempting a finished illustration for Sly, rather than my usual screw-around preliminaries. What I have so far may do double duty as cover art and as a future paper doll. My big problem: I’d always envisioned something cleaner, more designed for the cover. My illustration is the visual equivalent of my writing – elaborate, packed with detail. No matter how I try to push/drag my style in another direction, it always weasels its way back to . . . well, you’ll see.

In my to-come image Sly, having finally been baptized, thus eligible, has been awarded Haute-Navarre’s highest honor. He has been admitted to an exclusive society, the Order of the Golden Ram, and he wears the order’s avatar on a chain around his neck. He holds one glove in his left hand, a convention of portraiture, a symbol of authority. It’s is not actually a glove, it is a fingerless gauntlet. In Italy (so I read) fingerless gloves were the hot new accessory. (Sly was always in the forefront of fashion.)

Sly determined to head north, King Jakome has had this formal portrait painted as a consolation. He’s lived with the animal for ten years and will miss him sorely. And I get to reinsert some of the nonsense I removed years ago depicting the cat’s interactions with a self-important portraitist and his (the cat’s) musings on his philosophy of art. This entire novella, without the baptism debacle, without the staged Virgin Mary visitation, with the Minister of the Treasury playing only a cameo role, once occupied three or four chapters, then we plunged immediately into the pirate episode. It’s all Book Country’s fault, scolding me for too much world-building, not enough action.

I am much taken with the cover of The Natural Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish: Reason and Fancy During the Scientific Revolution. It features a detailed period engraving. I am halfway inclined to mimic that serious-stuff-here look – an extenuation of my faux-historic slant – and to sub-title my story: Half-Baked Reason And Full-Tilt Fancy At The Dawn Of The Scientific Revolution.

I am going to take the drawing into work Monday night and scan it on our 11×17 bed scanner, darker and lighter grey-scale, at various sizes, to see how it reduces/reads. At present I view it as no more than a foundational drawing, to be digitally enhanced. Tuesday morning I will replace the current graphic with the scanned (but not yet doctored) image. I plan to experiment with digital color washes, etc.

This stage has always been my stumbling block, and the reason I quit an illustration major in art school. I have never felt that my natural drawing style was a viable illustration style. I felt it was too tentative. I’m working on that. I’m trying to punch it up. The pain I’ve suffered this week, the insecurity, the self-doubt, harken back to my anxiety-ridden schooldays. But I’ve got to develop a methodology that works for me. It’s now or never.

I’m still not happy with a cascade of sash slung across Sly’s trunk, copied from a seventeenth-century bronze bust of a bug-eyed, big-mustachioed Swedish nobleman. I don’t make stuff up if I can help it. But my cats are not going to pose for me draped in an appropriately-sized shawl. When you transfer an article of clothing from a human to a cat, the anatomy very different, the arms, for instance, erupting from a different area of the body altogether, you have to invent a bit.

Keep calm, girl. You’ll get it eventually.

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The Heart of the Matter.

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A piece on Scribophile asks an important question:

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Yesterday, I went to my first ever writer’s conference. It gave me my first exposure to meeting an agent face-to-face in a “speed date” of 10 minutes. I delivered my pitch. She cut me down to a stump with one question:

“Okay, so I get that you have _____, and you have _____, but, like, what’s your one thing that’s going to make me want to read this book?”

I stared at her stupefied for a moment. I wasn’t able to give the agent an answer that made her go, “Oh, wow. Yes! Please send me that book. I have to find out about that.”

She asked a simple, direct question that cut to the quick: this is a woman with not enough time for anyone, and yet she’s contemplating — maybe — adding a person to her client list, if she thinks the burden is worth it. She already puts in intensive hours working for her existing clients and poring over hundreds of other submissions. What makes me the needle in the haystack? Why am I so goddamn special?

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This is the question I have for the hoards of books touted on Facebook. There are a thousand paranormal romances out there. There are a thousand of everything. And I already have stacks – hell, mountains – of books waiting to be read. Why should I devote my time to yours?

The answer, as far as my own thing is concerned, would be: for super-imaginative fun delivered with merry wise-ass style.

Were I to encapsulate the many joys of the renowned series of naval adventures by Patrick O’Brian (that currently enthrall me), I would say, A beguiling interplay of complex characterization, adventure with a touch of mystery, and a mind-blowing knowledge of the sea. I am mesmerized!

What about you? What would be your Heart-of-the-Matter response?

 

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A Poem by Margaret Cavendish, who I adore.

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I discovered her by chance at work, in one of the thousands of books I’ve worked on there. That job is a goldmine for me.

You may or may not know that I draw heavily upon Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, called the first female scientist, as a role model for Sly’s scientific writing. She liked to publish her theories on natural philosophy in the form of poems and fantasy fiction. My cat does the same.

I have just stumbled on this light-hearted poem in one of those massive surveys of literature. Wow! Perfect for me. It will make it a preface to my novel, or a dedication, something up front, to set the tone of the story from the get-go.

I’m a fool for this woman, I love her to death. Yeah, I’m digging myself deeper into unreadability, I know it. All right, maybe I’ll keep this my private joke.

But, maybe not.

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Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673)

An Apology for Writing So Much upon This Book*

 

Condemn me not, I make so much ado

About this book; it is my child, you know.

Just like a bird, when her young are in the nest,

Goes in, and out, and hops, and takes no rest:

But when their young are fledg’d, their heads out-peep,

Lord! What a chirping does the old one keep!

So I, for fear my strengthless child should fall

Against a door, or stool, aloud I call;

Bid have a care of such a dangerous place:

Thus write I much, to hinder all disgrace.

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* This poem appeared at the beginning of all three editions of Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies, published during her lifetime in 1652, 1664, and 1668.

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I strongly recommend you read history. The fabulous things you find! (That you can twist to your heart’s content.)

I have another – naughty! – idea, lifted from another great book: The History of Perfume. My husband is horrified, forbids me to use it. I, naturally, think it’s hilarious.

OK, he doesn’t forbid me, he knows that’s useless. I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. This is too sweet not to explore. He felt the same way about the priest and the Virgin-Mary-role-playing whore. I believe he’s on board with that now. Or, he sees he’s fighting a losing battle and has given up.

 

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Wise words from John Le Carré

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John Le Carré says: ‘You can’t actually make a character without putting something of yourself into each one. Smiley will always be that bit older and wiser than me.’

And: ‘I suppose what Smiley and I have in common is that we find it difficult to remember happiness. It’s not something that comes naturally to me, I have to work on it.’

What an interesting observation! I can use that thought somewhere in my own story. This will trigger something good.

I put a whole lot of myself into my characters, especially my neurotic tendencies. And, my dysfunctional family history. I have to laugh when I read about writers making up charts for their characters, likes and dislikes, hair color, all that. I know my guys as well as I know myself.

OK, the down side of this is, an editor told me, ‘Your characters all sound like each other, and they all sound like you.’ I’ve tried to correct that, but, here’s the thing: Almost all my characters are operators, con artists to one degree or another. They’re all up to something. And the ruffians all present a false front. Therefore, aside from the kids, I have some leeway with the kids, they are all well-spoken. I suppose they could lapse into their natural usage in private, but that would be even more confusing. I’m trying to make my voices more distinct. I refuse to resort to accents. Accents, if not well and sparingly done, are hokey as hell.

As for eye color, etc., I give little physical description in my story. I am more interested in who my fools are than in what they look like. I’m trying to add in more physical also. Perhaps describing my bake shop cutie as a moist little muffin isn’t quite enough.

Now, I get that some stories are plot-driven. Spy stories certainly fall into this category. But from Le Carré’s comment, I would guess that he has endowed his hero with more than usual (for a thriller) humanity, and I would also guess (haven’t read him) that this has played a large part in his magnificent success.

I believe in writing a character alive, then turning him loose. My people don’t dance to my tune, I dance to theirs. That gets tricky. It’s not an approach I recommend. But it’s the way I think. Non-linear, to an extreme.

At any rate, to find it difficult to remember happiness. There would be many-many reasons for that. I could build a whole book around that idea.

Maybe I already have.

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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.

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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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