editing, Literary critique, Stories, Writers Co-op

We read it with interest but…

– by Curtis Bausse

I recently had to write a rejection letter to an author and friend whose stories have previously appeared in two anthologies I’ve edited. This time, her submission didn’t make it. Not that it wasn’t charming, interesting and well-written. It just didn’t make the sort of impact we would have liked.

She wasn’t upset. At least, if she was, it didn’t show in the reply she sent. In my letter I had concluded: If it’s any consolation, my own story was rejected too. She answered that she hoped that the rejection I sent myself was as nice as the one I sent her.

That my story was rejected will come as a surprise to my fellow editors, who never knew (until reading this) that I submitted one, as I remove all author names before forwarding the stories to them. But once I’d smashed all the crockery, I wasn’t upset either. And now I’ve taken up the suggestion to write myself a rejection letter.

Dear Mr. Bausse,

Thank you for your submission to The Rabbit Hole Volume 2. We read your story with interest; however we feel unable to include it because frankly, the ending sucks.

Now admit it, Bausse, you knew that, didn’t you? So why didn’t you do something about it? Thought you could get away with it, eh? Well, The Rabbit Hole is not that sort of publication – shoddiness just won’t do.

We wish you the best of luck in placing your piece elsewhere.

Yours etc.

It’s quite true. I did know the ending was feeble. I’d tinkered with it a bit, made it longer, then longer still, then cut it down to a single sentence. But thanks to my co-editors, I now know that it doesn’t matter how long or short it is, it’s not the right ending. The thing is, though, I can’t think of another one. I regularly make suggestions for other people’s endings, but my own? Zilch.

So here it is. Because there’s one good thing about being an editor here – it may have been rejected but I get to foist it upon you anyway, in the hope that you’ll be able to give me a better ending. Any ideas? (Note the sly presupposition, by the way – that the ending may be crap but the rest of it isn’t. But if you think the beginning and middle are crap too, don’t hesitate to say so. I’ve got a new pile of crockery, dirt cheap.)

  You’re Not Late

“Take this day, wear it well, enjoy it, darling, you deserve it.”

Abel’s wife stirred just enough to brush her lips against his cheeks and murmur, “You too, darling, I love you.”

He tiptoed out of the room. It was five o’ clock in the morning.

Once in the car he updated the Carmate Companion, which now came in three different voices: Cindy, Lisa and Cliff. He selected Lisa and told her to find the quickest route to his destination. She asked if he wanted music or news. He chose Mozart.

The streets were empty at that time but he drove with care because every so often a squall of rain would whip the windscreen and wash the town away. Once he almost hit a dustbin that was rolling drunkenly at a crossroads. On the outskirts of town bits of garden had broken out to foray into the unknown. “Be careful,” said Lisa over the music. “Conditions are hazardous due to gale force winds.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Abel sarcastically. He’d have to talk to Giles Roffe about that. No one wants to be told what they know already.

He joined the motorway, heading north. He hadn’t slept well, and the road being straight and smooth, he felt his concentration slipping. “Got something livelier? I need to stay awake. Springsteen?”

“I’ll put you through to Cindy. That’s more her department.” Lisa sounded hurt – You don’t like Mozart? Fuck you! – which Abel thought was something else he’d have to bring up with Roffe. Warmth, solicitude, empathy – fine, bring ’em on! But who wants a Carmate getting uppity?

Not that it surprised him. Roffe had a serious attitude problem. Something to do with his childhood, no doubt – Abel wasn’t about to analyse it – but the man just couldn’t hack authority. A loner, too, which was a shame. With a little more effort, a touch of good grace, he could have been up there with the big boys, working on Carmate Complete. He certainly had the talent – all he lacked was the commitment, the motivation.

“You remember the faces, the places, the names” – thumping the wheel now, belting it out with Bruce – “You know it’s da da da da da the rain, Adam raised a –”

“Accident ahead!” Cindy was under orders to interrupt. “Caution!”

He stopped singing. The sound of the wipers took over. “Serious?” But Cindy didn’t answer.

Whatever causes them – human error, mechanical flaw or something wrong with your luck that day – accident scenes have a logic of their own, and by the time he got to it, the compulsory components of this one were already there: flashing lights, yellow jackets and the dumb, useless tailback in which he was duly trapped.

After some minutes of drumming his fingers on the wheel he got out to assess the damage – not to the vehicles involved, but to his chances of making the appointment on time. He got as close as he could but didn’t linger: a lorry on its side, contents vomited over the tarmac, and half a dozen crumpled cars in the fast lane told him the chances weren’t good.

“Why,” he asked, “didn’t you tell me to get off at the last exit?”

“Why,” said Cindy coolly, “didn’t the police tell you to get off at the last exit?”

“What do you mean?”

“They didn’t have time, Mr. Abbott.”

The answer wasn’t just wrong, it was insolent. The whole point about Carmate was that it reacted quicker than the police. “No one’s asking you to close down a motorway. Just to get me to my destination on time.”

Cindy left a slight pause. “You’d already passed the exit when the accident occurred.”

Abel didn’t answer. He wondered when the Companions had acquired a capacity to lie.

“Have no fear, Mr. Abbott. You can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel jabbed a finger at the screen and switched back to Lisa and Mozart.

The thing you have to remember is that every new day is yours – take it for the gift that it is, cherish it, use it well. Every morning, that was the message Abel greeted his staff with, and now he summoned its power to use on himself. Even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, worried you might not reach your appointment, never forget that every day is a gift. When at last, over an hour later, he was able to squeeze through a gap in the debris on the hard shoulder, he reckoned he should still get there with a good half hour to spare. “I feel great,” he shouted, “you feel great, we all feel great – Carmate!” Then he kept the music low and concentrated on driving as fast as conditions would allow.

“Take the next exit off the motorway… Right at the roundabout, third exit… Straight on at the roundabout, second exit…” Lisa was reassuringly calm, informing him every so often of his expected time of arrival: 8:21, 8:18, 8:14. Once he’d built up a cushion of fifty minutes, he eased off the pace and relaxed.

“Right at the traffic lights four hundred yards ahead.”

“What?”

“Flooding is expected further on. Turn right here to avoid it.”

He slowed to a crawl, deliberately waiting for the lights to turn red. “What do you mean ‘expected’? Is there or isn’t there?”

“The river is rising rapidly, Mr. Abbott.”

What river? This was a major trunk road, for God’s sake. It couldn’t get flooded!

“The lights are green,” said Lisa at the same time as the car behind him sounded its horn.

Abel swore as he furiously swung to the right. “You’d better know what you’re doing, Goddamit! My promotion hangs on this appointment. If I’m late…”

“You can never be late with Carmate,” Lisa informed him, before adding coldly, “If you’d rather be with Cindy…”

“No!” He sat up straight, gripping the wheel tighter. “Just get it right, that’s all.”

“The detour will add another eighteen minutes. Turn left at the next junction, three hundred yards ahead. I advise you to slow down.”

He obeyed. No point risking an accident, after all. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if he got there a little late. He’d say there’d been a problem at home, a burst pipe, a burglary, whatever. He couldn’t say a Carmate Companion had kept him stuck on the motorway for an hour.

Out in the country, the absence of illumination was unnerving: suddenly there’s nothing but the beam from the car, gulping up the dotted white lines, a vague awareness of hedges on either side, trees gyrating wildly, and lashes of rain more vicious now, more determined. Then Lisa made him take a left and it wasn’t a road but a lane, and instead of white lines there were puddles and potholes and branches.

He stopped. “You’ve made a mistake.”

“In two and a half miles, turn right. Estimated time of arrival, 8:42.”

Grudgingly, warily, he put the car in gear. “Eight-forty, my arse,” he muttered. “Be bloody midday at this rate.”

“You don’t believe me.” Lisa’s voice was sad. “I’ve done all I can, Mr. Abbott. I’ll put you through to Cliff.”

“Wait!”

“Goodbye, Mr. Abbott.”

“Hello, Mr. Abbott.”

“What the…? Giles?”

“My name’s Cliff, Mr. Abbott. Please keep driving. You don’t want to be late.”

“What are you playing at, Roffe? Get me back on the road right now!”

“How are you feeling, Mr. Abbott?”

Abel poked his thumb at the screen, trying to switch it off, but Giles Roffe’s voice kept coming. “Don’t get in a state, you feel great, you can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel brought the car to a halt and slammed his fist at the screen. “I’ll get you for this, Roffe! I swear you’re gonna pay for this, you hear?”

The face on the screen smiled. “Don’t get in a state. You’re not late. The minute, the hour, the date. Right on time, Mr. Abbott. Your appointment.”

Abel managed to open the door but not to get out. The oak tree smashed into the car.

 

 

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About Writers, editing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

CO-OP ADVICE

This was originally a Facebook post but, after being accosted with some new pitches for Kickstarter, Indie Go, and others, I decided to flesh it out. Think of these as bullet points to avoid tragedy. I know I’m not really the answer man but I do, occasionally, have useful information to impart. This is for my fellow creators.

First, I cannot emphasize this enough, make sure your writer is fluent in the language you are using. “I so too saw this” and “much to the good are I doing” aren’t actual phrases in English. “Gehrn habe ich es” doesn’t work in German. I could go on but I’d rather not. And, yes, those are actual quotes. If you can’t afford an editor at least get a grammar assistance program. Grammerly may hate the Oxford comma, and can be annoyingly pedantic, but it’s still better than some of the stuff that’s been foisted into my inbox. If your pitch, or jacket cover blurb, is filled with typos, and/or bizarre grammar, the odds are heavily against you getting anyone to take you seriously. Also, just FYI, spell check is not your friend. Eye sea ewe will not get flagged.

Second, I get it that everyone has an awesome epic adventure to tell. Even so, it won’t kill you to run your basic plotline through Google to see if anyone else has told your awesome epic adventure. Your character goes back in time and becomes Jesus? Cool. It’s been done, done well, and won awards. Yours better be unique or it will pale by comparison. Or, as one author who makes goo gobs of cash told me; “Every story has been told, except yours. So tell that one.”

Third, if you plan on using some old gods to liven up your story, please make sure you know more about them than their names. There are people who do nothing but study ancient theologies and they’ll rip you a new one if you screw it up. Of course you can put your own spin on them, they’re fictional, but make it clear you’re doing so. That said, if you’re going to use gods or prophets who are currently being worshipped, tread lightly. There are three billion people who practice Islam. Making Muhammad a gangster rapper isn’t going to win you any friends.

Yes, someone did that. No, it didn’t get published.

Fourth, if your pitch requires more genres than adjectives you’re in trouble. Your Y/A sci-fi urban melodrama set in a women’s prison on Ganymede run by faeires better be purposefully funny as hell or you’re doomed.

Fifth, if your response to a Nebula winning writer (not me, not yet anyway) who offers help is “Fuck off! What do you know about anything?” you’re destined to a life stuck in your parents basement screaming at pigeons. Just FYI, I was in the library with the afore-referenced writer, whose name and picture were on the posters announcing their arrival, when this happened. They did not respond to the pigeon person and we went out for drinks instead. I was fine with that.

Sixth, if your cover art is actually someone else’s cover art, you’re an idiot. And an asshole. Yes, I have seen this happen … twice. Something tells me I haven’t seen the last of it either. Just cutting out someone’s title doesn’t make it your art. There are plenty of services out there where you can pay a tiny fee for an image. Go, invest in one. Or hire a pro. They are more cost effective than you might imagine.

Last, but certainly not least, if someone offers you help they are not offering to do all the work for you. If that’s what you want, pull out a credit card (preferably yours so no one goes to jail) and pay them.

Okay, rant over, you may now return to your regularly scheduled internet.

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About Writers, inspiration, Magic and Science, mythology, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

Non-Epic Fantasy

 – by Peter Thomson

I have been reading fantasy for over fifty years (and writing it for two), and I still do not know what  defines the genre. After all, there’s the magical realism (it has magic!) pioneered by Miguel Asturias (Nobel Prize winner) and made a best seller by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (also Nobel Prize winner), epic fantasy, Gothic fantasy (Mervyn Peake), urban fantasy, fantasy whodunnits (Glen Cook’s Garret PI series) … I could go on, and on. My own effort currently ranks something like #115,751 in the fantasy category at Amazon, so it’s obviously enormously popular to write as well as read.

Browsing through the on-line slush piles (did I mention I’m a fast reader?), the great bulk of fantasy  seems to fall towards the ‘epic’ end of the spectrum. The fate of the world, or at the very least a substantial kingdom, hinges on our hero’s or heroine’s efforts. The advice to writers is that the creation of dramatic tension is essential and most writers seem to have decided that nothing beats tense like the possibility of an an unending reign of darkness.

But do readers really read the Lord of the Rings to find out if Sauron is defeated? If the derivative art (pictures and music as well as imitations) Tolkien has spawned are an indication, probably not. They read to walk the streets of Minas Tirith, talk with ents, linger in Lothlorien as elvish harps play through the night. Or, as it might be, fight tyrannosaurs and dark magics. In  a word, escape.

One way to give the reader this escape – to show them a world they would like to visit, is to lower the stakes. This has several advantages. It allows for a slower pace if desired, gives more scope to explore the scenery and for whimsy, grace-notes and interesting diversions. After all, a world with dragons surely has a lot of other interesting things. The mission is still there, still central, but not so dominant. It more easily allows sequels that are not just re-hashes (hello Belgariad follow-ons) and generates side-stories and spin-offs. If you save the world in book 1, what’s left to do?

Examples might be Jack Vance’s stories of the Dying Earth and Lawrence Watt-Evans’  Ethshar series. Vance evokes a world of melancholy, caprice, the accumulation at the end of time of all sorts of oddities. The stakes are there, but are not of enormous consequence. Will Cugel the Clever obtain his revenge? Will Liane the Wayfarer evade Chun the Unavoidable? (Spoiler: no in both cases). In Ethshar, will Valder find a way to rid himself of a misenchanted sword? Will Emmis have a better future as native guide to the Vondish ambassador?

This works best if the background is evoked rather than described, and if it fits together. Avoiding a data dump is standard good advice. Fitting together – having a reasonably coherent picture that the reader can build up in her mind over the course of the plot from a series of passing remarks – is harder. Maybe this is why so many writers go for the epic – it’s easier to charge straight over the holes and inconsistencies. If the world is to be truly interesting, the characters shouldn’t think like modern westerners nor like medieval stereotypes. They should reflect the world they live in. Magic (or active gods or dragons or whatever) surely alters a lot of things.

In my case I could draw on a few decades of role-playing with inventive, over-argumentative people and a lifetime of reading history. Historians tend to assume that people had a good (to them) reason for whatever they did and the job is to explain that. Believe me, it helps to have a lot of case studies of the reasonable (to them) but totally weird (to us) to draw on.

In Tales of the Wild magic is a universal force, used for cooking and lighting and keeping the bank secure, drawn on by humans, animals, plants and the land itself. People go about their business, take a gap year, connive, plot, seek to evade taxes. Some themes I want to explore fit naturally: the land rejects – forcefully – exploitation; equality between men and women is easy to envisage and portray, the bad guys can be more nuanced and their motivations more comprehensible. Above all, I can take the time to entertain. Non-epic fantasy is an under-rated sub-genre and writing it a good way to stand out from the crowd of worlds that need saving on a daily basis.

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book promotion, humor, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Just keep knocking

 – by Jim Webster

Have you noticed how there are people who never get the attention they deserve? Obviously it can work both ways. I know one or two people who really ought to come to the attention of the hangman, or perhaps that of a philanthropic assassin wishing to square his account with society. But there are also perfectly decent people who get overlooked or even ignored, often from the paltriest of reasons.

Take Morn Willit. A young man, handsome enough, intelligent, courteous and kind. Not only that but he had prospects. There again, there were unfortunate disadvantages as well. Firstly he was painfully shy. So shy that his two sisters feared he’d never pluck up the courage to speak to an eligible young lady, never mind ask her out to dine with him. Secondly he walked with a pronounced limp, from the time when a Partannese mace had smashed his leg.

Morn signed on as a squire with Lord Cartin’s company and in due season rose to become a man-at-arms. It has to be admitted that his shyness wasn’t a problem. Wearing a helmet with a full-face visor it didn’t matter whether he blushed or not, and anyway it wasn’t as if he was ever formally introduced to any to the Partannese brigands he was hired to fight. Unfortunately during his second season in Partann a backhanded blow with a mace smashed his calf. The surgeon started the operation by cutting away the heavy riding boot, shook his head sadly and did his best to mend what some other fool had marred.

Say what you want about Lord Cartin but he looks after his people. With his weak leg, Morn might be able to ride but he would never be able to fight as a man-at-arms. But Lord Cartin found him another job. He was to assist the Grand Provost in Port Naain.

Every time a ship sails or a company marches, sundry provosts and similar scour the bars and bordellos of Port Naain looking for men who have overstayed their leave. The role of the Grand Provost was to ensure that is an up-to-date list of these establishments which were known to be frequented by people of this class. Thus the busy ship’s captain didn’t have to scour the entire city, he merely handed his boatswain a list of suitable establishments and told him to get on with it. To be fair these establishments tend to cluster in certain areas. Bordellos and other establishments outside those areas probably try to serve a more distinguished clientele.

Morn’s job was to deal with problems that inevitably arose, when a boatswain who didn’t know Port Naain tackled the wrong bordello, or fighting arose because crewmen had decided that they no longer fancied a seafaring career.

This now brings us to Lucila. A rather pretty young woman, intelligent and determined to make her way in the world. Her grandmother died leaving Lucila a reasonable legacy. She pondered and then purchased a large house just off the Ropewalk. She had spent wisely, she got a lot of house for her money. Indeed she still had enough money left to renovate it a little. Then she rented out individual rooms to respectable young women who were working in the shops and businesses round and about. She was very insistent on them being respectable because she didn’t want the house to get a bad reputation with people treating it as a bordello.

This is rather ironic as whilst it had stood empty for some time, previously it had been a bordello. Thus it was on the Grand Provost’s list of bordellos in the Ropewalk area. Now this needn’t have been a problem. Except that Lucila and her tenants had been ensconced in their new home for no more than a few months when trouble struck. There was a tremendous hammering on the door at about midnight. By the time Lucila had managed to get a dressing gown thrown over her nightdress and got to the top of the stairs the hammering had stopped. This was because whoever was hammering had lost patience and had smashed the door in. Standing in her hallway on the shattered remains of her front door was an ensign and three crossbowmen. They were searching for defaulters from a condottiere company that was to march south next morning.
To be honest, at this point I must confess I feel a degree of sympathy for the ensign. He is expecting a bordello. He looks round and peering over the banisters at the top of the stairs is a growing number of young women in their night attire. In his defence I insist he was never less than polite. Not only that but after very few minutes he realised that whilst these ladies were in night attire, it was not ‘that’ sort of night attire. Finally he accepted their assurance that this was not the bordello he was looking for and he retired to continue his quest. Being the gentleman that he was, he left a crossbowman on the door to ensure that they didn’t have any other unwanted visitors.

Obviously this is the sort of problem Morn was paid to deal with. He rode up to the house next morning and inspected the damage. His sense of duty ensured that he was brisk and business-like and managed to cope with the terrors of dealing with Lucila and her tenants. He listened to their story, apologised profusely and then he and Lucila went to purchase a suitable door. Obviously as a gentleman he couldn’t ride whilst she walked at his horse’s head. And because he was lame, Lucila wasn’t going to let him walk whilst she rode. And equally it would have been fatuous to both walk with the horse coming along as a chaperone. So Morn climbed up onto the horse and Lucila sat behind him with her arms around his waist to help her stay on. A door was purchased, and the carpenter promised to fit it that very morning. So Morn and Lucila rode back to await his arrival. Lucila felt pleased to offer Morn coffee, and he drank it and chatted happily. His shyness seemed to have abated somewhat, but perhaps it’s impossible to be shy with somebody who has spent half the morning with her arms around your waist? The door fitted to everybody’s satisfaction, Morn left, taking the crossbowman with him. For the record, Lucila stood in her doorway and waved him off.

That, I suppose, would have been that. Save for the fact that three weeks later, Lucila was once more awakened by her front door crashing onto the hall floor. There were the usual somewhat tense discussions and next morning Morn arrived. Over coffee, matters were resolved, a new door was purchased and fitted. Before he left, Morn promised that he would see what he could do to stop these assaults on her property. Alas Lucila lost four more doors before the visitations finally ceased. Mind you, Morn and Lucila had been married for over a year before Morn admitted to her that he could have corrected the Grand Provost’s list after the first occasion. It was just that he couldn’t think of any other way he might get to meet her.

Tallis Steelyard
Should you wish to learn more of the world of Tallis Steelyard, you could do worse than read, “Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold, and other stories.”
https://www.amazon.com/Tallis-Steelyard-shower-other-stories-ebook/dp/B01MRQFSGF/

As a reviewer commented, “This is a great collection of quirky little tales which are a spin-off from a series featuring Benor Dorffingil. Tallis is his friend, landlord, drinking companion and a jobbing poet. There are some lovely phrases used in here, as you would expect from a wordsmith like Tallis, who presents us with his pragmatic take on life. It’s an example of what happens when a minor character takes the reins and gallops off on his own. A great little book.”

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Stayin’ Busy

– by Mimi Speike

I’ve been busy this week. I’ve written two pieces on Medium.com. I’ve just about decided to create a personal publication there that will display my non-Sly work and also present opinion pieces, most (but not all) writing-related. I wrote a guest-piece for The Story Reading Ape. It’s up as of Sunday. I’m doing a final read-though on my entry for Booksie’s First Chapter contest (deadline June 15). You’ll find the notice on Facebook.

I’ve gone through my files, found very old art, scanned it, and am going to take it into Illustrator to add to/manipulate. I see one image as the anchor for a cover illustration.

I’ll do one more edit on Sly, then I will let go of book one. I have finished reading Dear Dark Head, a history of Ireland, Palmerston, a bio of Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of England in the mid-nineteenth century, and I’m well along on The French, Portrait of A People  (the nit-pick information in here, fabulous, and, a riot.) I am so enjoying this. The relationship of the French to food, I can certainly use some of that. My Archbishop has a French chef who he adores.

I’m doing my usual highlighting of great usage, starring the really super bits. A few items will be hilarious inserted into my baptism scene. (Already a screwball delight, if I do say so myself.) My cat is loving it. He never knew a baptism would be so much fun. (Nor did I.) I have haunted certain sites, like Catholic Answers, for a few years now. So much so that I’ve gotten pop-up messages: We notice that you visit us often. Would you care to donate? I’ll blow their minds, credit them in my footnotes.

This week: back to the art. The art is what’s holding me up.The apps have changed so much since my stone-age versions, the simplest tasks, I can’t get them done, not easily. I have to get my ass down to Barnes and Nobel and buy the books.

My firm belief is, we can’t wait for the world to come to us. We have to push, and push, and push for attention. But I’m not shoving my book in people’s faces, I’m writing humorous pieces with bouncy headlines that I hope many will want to investigate.

Where will it get me? I’ll keep you posted.

____________________________________________________

Well, my post was displayed on the front page of Story Reading Ape for all of nine hours. There are so many members there, apparently writing their hearts out, that I am already pushed off the front page (into previous posts) by nine other pieces posted today. Lots of participation there, you can get lost in the shuffle.

 

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book promotion, Flash Fiction, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Jim Webster, Guest Author

“Gentlemen behaving badly”
 – by Jim Webster

The blame for this whole sad episode I lay most firmly at the feet of Mutya Ardlevice, daughter of Calthrop Ardlevice. Old Calthrop himself was a usurer, a man of substance, one of the wealthiest and most respected men of business in Port Naain. He was universally known as Ballplein from his habit of messing about with mechanical contraptions in his leisure time. The name came from his bald pate being considered remarkably similar to the hammer he tended to carry. His wife, known to everybody, (including, apparently, her husband) as Madam Ardlevice, was a patron of mine.

Young Mistress Mutya was a delightful child who grew up to become an attractive young woman. The presence of two younger brothers ensured that she was prized rather than spoiled. As is the way, she had many close friends amongst the young ladies of her age and they tended to meet socially on a regular basis.

One summer, they formed a picnic club. They would chose a location and meet there for a picnic. There was safety in numbers and whilst all you would see was the young ladies, just out of sight but still in earshot were domestic staff with ponies, traps and hampers. To be fair I merely heard about these events as the ladies entertained themselves and could fill a pleasant afternoon with convivial gossip and good fellowship. They did not feel the need for the services of a poet.

They made a rule for themselves that their picnics would be ‘ladies only.’ Whilst at any given time a number of them could boast gentlemen admirers, it was felt that they needed a space in which they could relax. Not only that but it meant that they had a forum where, should it be necessary, the failings of someone outwith their fellowship could be discussed in confidence. So the unreasonable demands of mothers, the financial constraints imposed by fathers, and the inane activities of brothers all got a proper airing.

These are doubtless reasonable, even proper subjects for discussion. Yet Mistress Mutya took things to another level when she discussed a young gentleman called Crisanto. It appears that this individual had caught Mutya’s eye and she was disposed to smile upon him. Crisanto seemed to be flattered by this attention, but seemed to be a most inconstant admirer. She had no evidence of him paying court to other ladies, but he seemed to struggle to ‘fit her in’ and she could go for days without hearing from him.

This got other young ladies pondering the issue. Finally one of them, Sissi Clearsmith, who was ‘walking out’ with Bromar Heel, rather smugly drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that Bromar was always charming and attentive. The meeting took heart from this. This inattentiveness wasn’t a universal failing. There were gentlemen out there who could behave properly.

Once this was accepted by the meeting, the discussion moved on to what should be done about it? Some sort of corrective action was obviously called for. The problem is, what should this action be? On this note the picnic ended but the young women agreed that they would ponder, and suggest remedies when they met the following week.

Unfortunately Sissi Clearsmith decided to discuss the matter with Bromar Heel. The problem she faced was not that he was unwilling to dance attendance upon her, but that she had great difficulty finding excuses to go and meet him. It might help if I were to explain that there are two opinions about Bromar Heel. A fair number of ladies consider him to be charming, personable, and excellent company. A lesser number of ladies and virtually all men regard him as a cad and dastard. Indeed I have known men with no female relatives whatsoever who will still instinctively reach for their horsewhip in his presence. Sissi’s father could not say the man’s name without spitting. It was only because her mother rather liked the young man that Sissi could get to meet him at all.

When Sissi brought her problem to Bromar Heel, he did not hesitate. “Any man so discourteous as to ignore the wishes of a lady deserves to be taught a strong lesson. A flogging is too good for him.”
To be fair to Bromar, when you have been threatened with as many floggings as he had, the temptation to get your revenge must be overwhelming. Unfortunately whereas an older or wiser lady would have disregarded his comments, Sissi hung on his every word and reported them verbatim to her confederates when they held the next picnic.

Again here I find myself wondering at the unfortunate combination of circumstances. Whilst this collection of young ladies might lack experience of the world, they were not to be treated lightly. Their parents were successful people, prone to take decisions and act decisively. These weren’t the daughters of a decayed aristocracy. These were the daughters of men and women who had made the most of their advantages and had worked hard to get where they were. I have noticed that this sort of thing can rub off on their offspring.

So Sissi made her suggestion, it was generally agreed and various of those present put forward names of young men whom they felt were in need of correction. Mutya was deputised to arrange matters, and the ladies all chipped in a sum so that there was a budget for the project. Mutya’s childhood nurse, now retired, was the sister of an elderly enforcer, Brag Three-Teeth. Mutya merely dropped in on the old lady and finding the Brag present, gave him the list of names and the money to go with it.

Here Mutya was lucky. Provided you aren’t fussy about your instruments it is remarkably cheap to get somebody killed in Port Naain. Admittedly at the cheaper end of the market one has to deal with drunken psychopaths who will probably kill the wrong person. Still when Brag looked at the names and the sum of money he had been given, he realised that he could hire competent assassins. At this point he decided that for Mutya’s sake he would instead merely hire ruffians to administer a beating. This took a mere third of the budget and the money saved would keep his sister and him in some comfort through the next winter.

Now it may be he had been too economical.  Had he paid somebody who had enough good hard lads to deal with everybody on the list on the same day, then matters would doubtless have gone much as he expected. Unfortunately he gave the job to Young Maggins. This doubtless capable individual was starting out for himself. No longer satisfied to just wield a truncheon at somebody else’s direction, he had decided to put together a team of his own and to tender for contracts directly. I confess I can see where Brag was coming from. We ought to encourage those just starting out in business. But in this case, whilst Maggins was conscientiously working through the list, there was only him and three lads. The list was going to take him a couple of weeks. So inevitably word got round. Young men, realising that a friend of theirs had been beaten up by hired professionals, would take more care. Indeed they made a point of going round in groups. Soon, rather than administering a perfunctory beating, Maggins found he was forced to fight pitched battles. Others got drawn in, and generally things got out of hand and over budget. Finally when one brawl had brought Ropewalk to a standstill the Watch took an interest. Maggins, his leg in plaster and with his head aching abominably, confessed that it was Brag Three-teeth who had given him the work. But because Brag had been sadly loose-mouthed, Maggins also mentioned Mutya.

Here the watch was discreet and efficient. Rather than go through the proper procedures, they merely raised the matter with Madam Ardlevice. As I was present, helping to organise Madam’s Summer Ball, I was retained by Madam as a witness. Mutya was summoned to her mother’s presence, and on being questioned, candidly explained how the situation had arisen. Madam, to my surprise, was more exasperated than angry.

“Mutya my girl, would you describe your father as a good father?”

Somewhat surprised at this line of questioning, Mutya loyally answered in the affirmative.

“So Mutya, would you say he is ever attentive, constantly dancing attendance on my, and pandering to my every whim?”

Here one could see Mutya’s instinctive loyalty to her much loved father battling with her innate honesty. “No.”

“For as long as I’ve known him, your father has had a fascination with mechanisms. Indeed when we were courting there were times when I realised that he hadn’t time for a lady-friend and his beloved steam engines, and I loathed those little engines because of it.”
I could see from Mutya’s face that she both followed her mother’s argument and agreed with it. Madam continued. “But when I became the wife, I realised I loved those little engines for exactly the same reason. He still hasn’t time for lady friends and steam engines.”

Here the slow dawning of realisation was visible on Mutya’s face. “You mean….”

“Yes, no woman in Port Naain has a more loyal or obliging husband than I.”

With this Mutya was silent and I could see her mother watching her. It was obvious to me at least that the older woman was struggling to remain stern-faced.

“Do your brothers have hobbies?”

Mutya looked up. “Yes.” Then with a note of distaste she added, “Their rooms are filled with stuffed animals or insects pinned to cards.”

“All men have interests they follow assiduously throughout their lives. They are by nature collectors. But you will notice some men seem to avoid this, and instead they will be charming and attentive and ladies find them excellent company.”

Cautiously Mutya said, “I have noticed this. I assumed it to be a norm from which other men had fallen.”

“No Mutya, they are merely men whose hobby is women. Have you ever known a collector whose collection stopped with one specimen?”

Swimming for profit and pleasure  Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories

Jim’s Amazon author’s page:
https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I?

 

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

Why Write

– by Morgan Smith

I don’t know why I write.

The internet is filled to bursting with writers, and with on-line writing groups. I’m in a lot of those groups, and I read their stories, and bios, and Twitter posts on motivation.

To a man and woman, they seem to have known that they were writers from the moment they first encountered a book. To a man and woman, they know that writing is as necessary and natural to them as the oxygen-to-Co2 exchange they perform 12 or so times per minute.

I still don’t know why I write.

I know why I wrote my first novel. You can read about in detail here:

https://morgansmithauthor.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/the-genesis-of-a-novelist/

But TL;DR? Someone dared me to.

I think the next novel was just scratching a vague itch over a throwaway sentence in the first one (the bit about Keri being given her grandmother’s old chainmail shirt) and hearing from everyone in the self-publishing field that more books equal more sales.

The memoir? That was just me entertaining myself on cold winter nights in hotel rooms, because my job required me to go to and stay in every out-of-the-way small town in my province, and there was, literally, nothing else to do after 6pm.

(Well, I could have gotten drunk. Many of my co-workers did. But since the job also required me to be awake, dressed, and coherent at 6 AM (!) this seemed unwise.)

But even at that point, I didn’t think of myself as a writer.

Hell, even after deciding to self-publish, I had a hard time thinking of myself as a writer.

On the other hand, I have realized that I was “writing” all along: I just didn’t get it down on paper.

I created characters and sent them on adventures, but only in my head. Keri, Caoimhe, and now Tamar: these were people I had actually known and lived through vicariously in my imagination, for literally YEARS, as a way to get through long and boring hours of mindless employment. Like many another person in North America, I’ve had to take jobs that not only gave no personal satisfaction – they could be done using less than 3% of the brain power it takes to chew gum.

So maybe I was a writer all along?

No. I think I was Walter Mitty.

I think almost everyone is.

I’m just self-esteem-ey enough to think I can sell this stuff to other people.

But not so ego-driven that I can’t see it as the plain, unvarnished truth: I am not special. I’m not a sacred talent.

I’m just another girl with a laptop and internet access, and the nerve to throw my stuff onto Amazon..

Long may we wave.

About the Author
Morgan Smith has been a goatherd, a weaver, a bookstore owner, a travel writer, and an archaeologist, and she will drop everything to travel anywhere, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Writing is something she has been doing all her life, though, one way or another, and now she thinks she might actually have something to say.

In progress: A Trick of the Light – Book Three of the Averraine Cycle
(Please don’t ask me when this will come out. The protagonist is in a very sticky situation just now, and I don’t know how or when she’ll get out of it.)

Follow Morgan on social media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/morgansmithauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/morganauthor1
Blog: https://morgansmithauthor.wordpress.com
Website: https://theaverrainecycle.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/welcome-to-averraine/

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