Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Skip

No story this week. No big sexy reason, either, except that I've pretty well cycled through all the good stuff in this last batch, with the exception of one really good story, which I just sold! for actual money! and to which I will link when it's published. 

I imagine I'll be posting new fiction again before too long — I'm still committed to the principles of the project, and I've got several that are in various stages of "nearly finished" — but I'm going to need a couple of weeks, at least, to clear the decks from a crush of other commitments.

See you soon. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Bradbury Project, Week 5: Baby Grand



When Bowman Garris drifted into the piano lounge on a foggy Tuesday night, a few hours before closing, it was fancied that a shimmering trail of musical notes drifted in behind him. It was fancied so mainly by Bo Garris himself, but that didn’t make it any less true. With a saunter refined by long practice, he made his way to the bar and exchanged folding money for a scotch-and-soda. His scotch was high-end. He was establishing credibility. The whole thing was accomplished without meeting the bartender’s eyes. Garris didn’t have an eye to spare; he was looking for the piano player. Looking to size him up.

He found him in the corner of the bar farthest from the door, opposite the window. The pink and blue of the neon 88 LOUNGE sign outside diffused in the fog, making cool-toned shadows on the tiled floor. The piano man looked like a ghost in the dim, thin and threadbare in a dinner jacket of dubious provenance, with a doleful face and colorless hair. He was young. Garris made him at twenty-five, tops. The piano itself was a baby grand, done up in some light color rather than the usual black lacquer, and the kid hunched close over it like he was performing heart surgery. His lips were moving, but if he was singing Garris could not make it out. He played so quietly that Garris had to step away from the bar for a moment to even identify the tune. Ellington. Very tastily played, too, but soft-pedaled to a murmur.

Garris lifted his drink to hide a smile. The scotch glowed in his empty belly. He had not eaten since leaving St. Louis, and he was hungry; but there was work to do before he could eat.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Playing the Blues in Twelve Bars



I don’t have much to say about this week’s story, “Baby Grand,” except that it is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever written, and that I am exceedingly fond of it; that I felt the spirit of Ray Bradbury very much at my elbow as I wrote it; that three markets have rejected it, all taking their time to do so, as if they kind of wanted to run it but were ultimately put off by how unabashedly dopey it is; and that for a while it was called “Tuesday Night at the 88 Lounge,” as if a more respectable title could save it, but that eventually I just decided to drop the pretense and double down on the stupid. It’s about 4,000 words, and it will go live tomorrow at noon EDT.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Bradbury Project, Week 4: Bride of Quiet



ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: 5,900 words—only slightly shorter than the actual Talmud.

—1—

It is the first morning of Iyyar, halfway to Pesach Sheni, and spring should be well underway; but it has turned cold overnight, and there is snow on the ground as I trudge through the fields. My infant son sleeps in my arms, bundled against the cold, his little face still red and blotchy. He is eight days old; but for him there will be today no brit milah, no covenant of circumcision.

This morning before the rising of the sun, I dressed myself and my son for traveling in the dim of the little timber house. He gave a tiny wail of protest at being stirred, a cry both brief and soft, and my husband and his mother both awoke. They stared at me with questions aching in their eyes. But they knew better than to ask, for I am a daughter of angels; and I volunteered nothing. I took up the child and left them there, the two of them, my beloved and his mother.

The snow is hardly a dusting. It melts away as the sun climbs, leaving my boots streaked with wet. I hold my son to my heart and move heavily through the meadow to the edge of the forest, then step into the shadow of the trees.

I know as I step in that I will return alone.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

He Puts His Scary Trousers On One Leg at A Time Like Anybody Else



This week’s story is a Neil Gaiman story, essentially, and self-consciously so.

Part of the point of this project is to expand my range a little, and one way to break out of my own formulas is to borrow someone else’s. Something that Neil does brilliantly is to reinterpret traditional stories and fairy tales—things like “Snow, Glass, Apples,” or The Sleeper and the Spindle. That’s something that I haven’t done much at all (not in fiction, anyway; I have written a bunch of songs that riff on folk themes), and I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to break down the formula and reverse-engineer it. I’d been browsing through Gabriel’s Palace, an anthology of Jewish mystical tales collected and retold by Howard Schwartz, and I came across “The Angel’s Daughter,” a folk story originally told in the Central Asian region of Bukhara (now part of Uzbekistan), which lent itself to the treatment. That it was deep-cut Judaica only made it more Gaimanesque, which amused me.

I’ve also been consciously trying for more gender parity in my writing, trying to write more women characters, and to do so with more empathy and imagination. Along with Gabriel’s Palace, I’d been reading a lot of feminist commentary about negotiating the impossible standards and demands that patriarchy imposes on women, and Shulem Deen’s funny, rueful essays about living—and leaving—his Hasidic faith. As all of these things filtered into the story, it became (I think) something more than a goof or a pastiche. It made me angry as I wrote it, and it made me sad.

I still haven’t found a title that I’m entirely happy with, but in this draft it’s called “Bride of Quiet.” It will be another long one, about 5,000 words, and it will run in this space at noon EDT tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Bradbury Project, Week 3: There Is Power In A Union



Here’s how I pitched this one: “…a fantasia folding real figures from American music and the labor movement into a narrative of forbidden technology and political resistance, all framed in the form of an oral history.” In other words: a 5,000 word in-joke for a tiny niche audience, written entirely in dialect to boot. I still can’t understand why it got bounced three times in six weeks.
 
[tape starts]



—see why you want to put it so close, is all. That’s a cardioid mike. It’s gonna pick up just fine.



INTERVIEWER: [off-mic, unintelligible]



Whyn’t you put on them cans and watch the meters, then? Tell me what I’m about. You rollin on that thing? All right. One, two. A salt pickle tastes fine with ham. Open the crate but don’t break the glass. Add the sum to the product of these three. The ripe taste of cheese improves with age. Sibilance. Sssssssssibilance.



INTERVIEWER: [unintelligible]



That’s what I told you. Shoot, sister, I been a audio engineer since your gran’daddy was in knee pants. Don’t you tell me what I’m about.



INTERVIEWER: [unintelligible]



Well, that was me and Equity. That was his name, Equity Prentiss. You like that? Equity Prentiss, ain’t that the damnedest name? And He shall govern the peoples with equity. Like the Bible. That’s where it come from, or that’s what he told me. Said his daddy wanted to name him Retribution, and it was his mother who talked him down to Equity. He wasn’t Pennsylvania Dutch, but he was one of them. Old Order Mennonite, or something or other. He left his church, though, long fore I meet him. Left his church, left his people. Or they thrown him out. On account of he took up with lectricity. That’s what we had in common.



This is a pretty long story, now. You sure you got enough tape on them reels?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Electricity



Being an introduction of sorts to this week’s story, which will run in this space tomorrow. With introductions, as with most things, I am of two minds: On the one hand, I firmly believe in letting the meaning of the work speak for itself; on the other, I am a huge fiending nerd for the procedural, and I love to know and talk about where things come from and how they come to be. So for some — though probably not all — of these stories, I imagine I’ll be writing one of these little forewords, the explanatory notes that would go in the collected edition that will never be published. I promise, in any case, to never pull a Harlan Ellison and write an introduction that’s longer than the story itself.

Two huge events happened in the summer of 1969, within weeks of each other — both game-changers, both with seismic impact on culture and industry: the moon shot and Woodstock. Both were first and foremost triumphs of logistics and technology, and as such were natural subjects of speculation for science fiction. For some reason, though, there’s been a lot of SF written about, and for, and in some cases by rocket scientists — but hardly any for audio engineers. The sound systems that (say) Meyer Labs crafted for the Grateful Dead in the 1970s represented a technological leap on a par with anything devised by NASA, but they haven’t been fodder for imaginative extrapolation the way that spacecraft have. And that’s both a shame and an unforgivable oversight. Innovation fuels imagination. And there’s always innovation happening somewhere, often in unfamiliar fields; and there are fresh stories there.

That’s the respectable origin story for tomorrow’s piece. The truth is considerably more stupid: I made this goofy audio mash-up on a whim and wanted to create an in-universe rationale for its existence. So I came up with the idea of a slipstream alt-history story about a big electric rock festival happening in 1937 or so, with a bunch of the American labor movement’s biggest figures on the bill — all of it, an elaborate justification so I could write about Aunt Molly Jackson singing over a Led Zeppelin riff.


 And then I realized that maybe I had something here besides a bizarre conceptual gag, so I kept writing; it took a long time, because somewhere along the line the voice became an essential element of the story. When I realized I could write the riff out of the story altogether, I knew I was on the right track.

I am, as I’ve surely noted elsewhere, horrible with titles. The story started as “Red Dog Black Dog” and stayed that for a long time; it went through a couple of fleeting working titles before I started calling it “There Is Power In A Union.” That’s the title under which it will run in this space, tomorrow, at noon Eastern time. See you then.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Bradbury Project, Week 2: Van Helsing’s Hound



This story was not one that I ever submitted anywhere. It's a slight little thing, which came very quickly; I dictated it into my little digital recorder, pretty much as you read it here, while taking the dog for a long walk.

The killer of vampires put her hand to the door of the caretaker’s shed and, finding the lock broken, drew back to enter. The killer was neither a sun-kissed California cheerleader nor a gothic revenant, but a broad, athletic woman edging into middle age, built like a cage fighter, all in tactical gear. She looked, for want of a better word, professional.


She squared her shoulders like a beat cop responding to a domestic violence call, preparing in her heart for any ugliness imaginable. A high-powered lantern in one hand; and a stout silver crucifix in the other. She shifted the latch with her cross-hand and pushed through the doorway with one hip, flipping the crucifix right-way-up as she went. The killer of vampires was altogether silent as she entered and pulled the barn-style door shut behind her.

The shed was a single room. Windowless — much darker inside than out without the moon, with only two winking red lights in the blackness. The killer of vampires toggled on her lantern; raw white light sprang out like a sword unsheathed, and she heard a gasp. She swept the beam across the room. A desk, a chair, a corkboard. A rack of spades and rakes. A couple of lawnmowers. Electric trimmers, the tally lights on their charging cradles making the red eyes in the dark. And huddled in a corner, half-hidden behind a palette of grass seed, a lone figure, knees to chest, face turned away from the light.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Shakedown and Update



In January, as noted below, I took a lovely phone interview with Khrista Rypl of Studio 360. The idea was that as I wrote my 52 short stories this year I might share my progress with a national radio audience in a five-minute chat every six weeks or so.

Radio, of course, is a narrative medium, and as I talked to Khrista I could sense her trying to find a narrative frame for my Bradbury Project. What made you want to do this? What are you hoping to get out of it?

Now, I’ve written at some length in this space about my goals and motivations for this folly, and they’re admittedly a little… abstract. My main aim is to shake up my process, to jump-start my ideation; to work in different modes; to use deadlines to inspire velocity; to do the thing for its own sake. My goal, when deciding to write 52 short stories, was mostly just to write 52 short stories. Nothing more, nothing less. My end product would be 52 stories in my trunk and some incremental improvement in my writing. 

Explaining all this to Khrista, I began to realize how unsuited for radio this project really was. As I described it, it all seemed so nonlinear, so entirely process-oriented. There was no arc, no milestones along the way. It didn’t build to anything. It was just ticking off weeks on the calendar and piling up stories, one after another. 

When Studio 360 ultimately declined to include me in their ongoing coverage, I was disappointed but ultimately unsurprised. There was no proper language, no frame that could make the Bradbury Project compelling for radio, and that’s Khrista’s job: to make compelling radio. No harm, no foul.

I kept writing stories anyway. Not one a week, by any means — I should have 30+ in the can by now, and I’ve got nowhere near that — but stories. And any stories I wrote would be more than I wrote last year, so I was satisfied with my numbers. I just kept my head down and worked on thinking up ideas; I focused on the process and had not a worry in the world.

Then a funny thing happened; some of the stories, I thought, turned out pretty good.

This surprised me. When I decided on this exercise, quality never even entered into the equation. If I wrote anything good, it would be strictly by accident.

But I made my way through a batch of stories, and I caught myself thinking, I should pitch this somewhere.

And I’ve been doing just that. Over the last few months, I’ve pitched a number of new stories. They’ve all been dinged, so far. So barring a couple that are still outstanding, I’ve decided to retire this batch — most of which have been rejected by multiple markets — and present them here over the next few weeks, so that at least somebody gets a kick out of them.

First one runs tomorrow. See you then.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In So Many Words


Science fiction … means what we point to when we say it.”
            —Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction (1956)



“Many years ago, the science-fiction critic Damon Knight, asked for a definition of SF, responded (I paraphrase): ‘You know what it is when you see it.’ This may be the best definition of film noir, too: You know what it is when you see it.”
            —John Grant, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference (2013)

“In his famous soliloquy, Hamlet ponders the existential question (I paraphrase): ‘So should I kill myself, or what?’ That, indeed, is the question.”
            —L.M. Parsifal, Hold the Line: Memoirs of a Suicide Hotline Volunteer (2001)

“The cornerstone of the vast edifice of imagination which constitutes Tolkien’s signal achievement is but a single simple sentence, the unassuming declaration upon which all the rest  is founded (I paraphrase): ‘Hobbits live in holes underground.’”
            —Bardine Skop, ed. Readings in Bucolic Fantasy (2012)

“Dickens famously described the atmosphere of the 1780s in A Tale of Two Cities (I paraphrase): ‘It was a time of contradictions.’ Not unlike the Clinton years, in fact: A time of contradictions.”
            —Gregory Fiddlewood, What the Meaning of ‘Is’ Is: Semantics in an Age of Irony (2005)

“Novelist Thomas Pynchon evoked the terrors of the Blitz in the famous opening line of his modernist classic Gravity’s Rainbow (I paraphrase): ‘Ugh, the sound of rockets is just the WORST.’”
            W. Owens-Jingo, World War II in Literature: An Overview (1997)

“George Orwell’s iconic opening to Nineteen Eighty Four sets the action on (I paraphrase) ‘a cold April day, at 1:00 PM sharp.’ A day and a time not unlike the day in 1953 when CIA director Allen Dulles signed the order authorizing the MKUltra program.”
            —Ben Sharples, American Svengali: A History of Government Mind Control (2001)

“Amidst the tide of cynicism that followed the Kennedy assassination, Star Trek retained the idealism of the decade’s first half, as summed up in in the promise of its opening narration (I paraphrase): ‘We will travel to places otherwise never visited, with no fear.’”
            —Abby Grieves, ed. After the Fall of Camelot: Studies in Popular Culture, 1964-1972 (1993)

“Every sport entails its own traditions, deeply ingrained in our cultural character. A trip to the ballyard, for instance, carries with it all the sights, sounds and smells of our national pastime; the ritual count of balls and strikes, the aroma of grilled hot dogs, and the rising of the assembly for the seventh-inning stretch, accompanied by the famous melodic exhortation (I paraphrase): ‘Are you ready for some baseball?!?’ Much the same could be said for football.”
            —Headley Leathers, Pigskin Nation (2011)

“The Borscht Belt comedian Henny Youngman was noted for his one-liners, such as (I paraphrase): ‘Let me make an example of my wife, if you know what I mean.’ Let me plead of the reader the same indulgence.”
            —Richard Tarbuckle, Mrs. Richard Tarbuckle: A Life (2005)