We’re Going to the Big Screen!

View of PragueI just wanted to quickly share an email I received from a fan a few days ago.

This is from Roma Raju:

I’m originally from India, but I live in a small south bohemian town in Czech Republic, not far from Prague.

I’m supposed to be making a film this semester. But if you ask me, I think nobody should make a film or create any piece of art if they don’t have anything worthwhile to say. Well, that was before I read your short story online, Private Showing.

I loved it! Its very “Visual.” A beautiful story, well-told. I would like to make a short film based on it, if you allow me.

I’ve mentioned a bunch how cool it is to have readers all over the world, but this one really made my day.

I obviously told Roma to go ahead with this project (all of my short stories are open for this sort of thing under their Creative Commons license) and I was promised a peek at the final filmwhen it was finished.

If you don’t remember, this is Private Showing, truly a popcorn worthy short story if I’ve ever seen one.

In other news, the virtual tour is moving along and I’ll be recapping fully when it’s done, plus I’m posting links all over Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s the latest review if you can’t wait for the recap:

Probability Angels turned out to be, quite possibly, one of the most original additions to the theme that I’ve read in many years.

 

New Short Story: Your Princess is in Another Castle

Castle GatesAnother new short story is up. And, again, it’s based on a short-fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. This one was nuts. Just plain nuts. The goal was to mash two genres together, which maybe doesn’t sound that bad, as far as these challenges go that’s kind of standard. However the genres were hyper specific sub-genres. Not just “Gothic” but “Southern Gothic,” for example.

Here was the list to choose from: Southern Gothic, Cyberpunk, Sword & Sorcery, Femslash, Black Comedy, Picaresque.

I didn’t even know what half of these were, quite frankly.

I chose Cyberpunk and Femslash.

If you don’t know what those are, READ THE LINKS. I assure you, one of them is not at all what it sounds like.

The story is on my site here.

And, while I’m at it, I should mention that all of my short stories are now in different places on the site in what, I hope, is a better organized arrangement. If you check the list here you might find some new ones that weren’t up before.

Again, here is the new story, “Your Princess is in Another Castle.”

Enjoy

 

Moment 3: Smith Gives Me a Motto

Way back at the start of this project, back before Epp brought a cathedral crashing down, back before Matthew smoked his first cigar, before Jacob checked out or Dorian chased his wife into the past, back before all of that there was “Liquid Calling.”

A simple tale of a hit man, a conspiracy theory to spread Alzheimer’s and a young man named Smith. For a lot of people this story is a favorite and the twisty plot and clear writing put it pretty high up on my list as well. Taken away from this project I think I’d still like this story, but within the confines of “26 Stories” Smith and Morzeny’s battle against death and each other took on a lot more weight.

This whole concept always seems so simple when I think about it: I write stories; you read the stories; if you like them you tell some friends. And we go from there.

But then things go all crazy. Because I’m out here in the wilds of the internet, and at times it doesn’t seem like the internet. It doesn’t seem like the internet at all. It seems like the wild west. I’m in some rustic town with no law. Madmen and lunatics own the streets and whore houses outnumber farmhouses by about a hundred to one. All the major players from back east, well they all have representation here, but all those representatives do is fly the company colors and hope for a transfer back to the big city where things are really happening. And there are gold in the hills all around, or so we’ve all been told. We have stories of those who have struck deep rich veins of the stuff. But after awhile you begin to wonder how much of those stories are myth because when you take a real good look around it seems that all of the deals being cut out here revolve around gambling or sex. And there are no rules. And there are no plans. And I’m standing in the middle of the muddy road as gunslingers and stagecoaches and drunks and whores and jesters and gamblers roll past, holding up my little stories like some embattled preacher, trying to bring my brand of literature to this land.

Although since I’m talking about literature instead of religion, maybe I’m not the embattled preacher. I guess that makes me the doe-eyed schoolmarm.

Maybe I shouldn’t push this metaphor too far.

The fact is, of course, that since diving into the internet I’ve come across a number of blogs that I really do love to read, and a lot of sites written with wit and intelligence, and works of art that have no classification but still take my breath away. So I know it’s not all that bad.

But still, sometimes when I look back over my shoulder I don’t see the world wide web. I see Dodge City.

There have been any number of times over the past year that I’ve thought back on Smith and Morzeny sitting in that apartment, both mortally wounded, neither wanting to budge a millimeter. And I would think about one of my favorite lines to come out of Smith’s mouth. And what was weird was that after enough time and enough stories had gone by, my favorite line of Smith’s really started to seem like something someone else had said: “I prefer to be underestimated.”

And it became my motto. Mind you, there’s a fine line between “I prefer to be underestimated,” and “I’m pretending that this is where I want to be because I screw everything up and wind up on the losing end naturally so I might as well act like I meant it.” So I never started saying Smith’s line out loud or anything. Never took it too deep to heart. Never printed it up and taped it to my wall. No, it just became something to repeat to myself when it was Monday night, I had no story, the stats were down and I was wondering what life as a banker would be like.

Moment number three. Smith gives me a motto:

Morzeny rolled his cigarette slowly between his thumb and first finger. His arm was settling into a slow, deep, throb. Had he not been trained for this he knew he’d be going to pieces. “You’re not what you appear to be,” Morzeny said.

I’m not what I appear to be?” Smith said, gritting his teeth with the effort of talking louder than a whisper.

“Your dirty sweatshirt, your stupid haircut, your head bobbing walk, your annoying teenager attitude, it’s all an act, isn’t it?”

Smith’s eyes glared hard for a second, then his head rolled back, away from Morzeny, and Morzeny knew he had finally figured Smith out.

“I prefer to be underestimated,” Smith said.

Moment 5: Frankie Doogan Takes a Bath

I have nothing against happy endings. I really don’t. But they don’t come to me naturally very often. I would argue, mind you, that everything I write is a happy ending, or at least an optimistic ending, it’s just that I rarely view happiness as dependent on everything working out perfectly. I like a little grit in my life. The way I look at it, it’s going to be there anyway so you might as well figure out how to use it for you.

So my endings don’t usually have an “everyone’s ducks are in a row” type of feel, mainly because my life never seems to have an “everyone’s ducks are in a row” type of feel, and even if it does for a moment the next moment something requiring my attention is bound to pop up, so “ducks in a row” doesn’t seem like a very honest type of ending to write. And why are we lining up our ducks anyway?

Which brings us to the one clear-cut happy ending I wrote for this project, “Black Eyed Susan.” The story of Unnamed Male Narrator and Unnamed Female Narrator (no, they never receive names) wasn’t written with a plan in mind. It wasn’t written with a structure in mind. It wasn’t written with an ending in mind. It was just written. I had a male voice, and he was talking about meeting his wife, and I had his wife, the female voice, talking about meeting her husband. They took it from there and I wound up, much to my surprise, writing a love story. But after a few pages I came to realize that this was only 50% love story. The other 50%? The other 50% was nothing short of a judo match.

Each section was a push from one side or the other. Unnamed Male Narrator would give a few paragraphs of honest emotion and his view of things that put him just far enough out on a limb so that when the section ended and we swapped over to her side of things, Unnamed Female would be able to take his story and neatly tumble it ass-over-elbows with one or two deft sentences. Then Unnamed Female would start telling her point of view, build up steam through her section until she herself had gone a little too far with her viewpoint, and then we’d have another section break and sure enough Unnamed Male would step in and throw Unnamed Female’s story for a tumble.

It got to a point where I didn’t know what was coming next; I just knew that when I hit a section break I should duck. The sometimes playful sometimes painful tug of war that brought this story to light was one of the more enjoyable experiences of this project. I loved every turnaround, every section where he saw things one way, would state things quite firmly with his ending sentence, only to have her section open with the complete opposite point of view.

So slot number five goes to one of their smallest sparring bouts. A quick four sentence break involving Unnamed Male’s rival love interest, one Frankie Doogan, and Unnamed Female’s firm belief that nobody was pulling strings the night of their first kiss. This moment actually prompted a real Frank Doogan out there who had spent time at the Jersey Shore to e-mail me and ask if he had ever inadvertently tried to steal my girlfriend. He didn’t. This story is all fiction.

This moment also caused me to laugh harder than at any other point in this project. I’m talking pushed away from my desk, headphones off, face buried in my hands because I had just burst out cackling so hard I might have freaked out my neighbors.

Three simple sentences.

Then a fourth that changed everything all over again:

Did I know about Frankie Doogan? Of course I knew about Frankie Doogan. Why do you think I pushed him into the bay that night?

Of course karma paid me back after your mother broke my heart.

(thanks to Dom Dada for the photo)

Moment 6: Blob Gets a Name

I still have no idea why I decided to write a children’s book. Actually, I have some vague recollection of thinking that I would “take it easy” for this story. Back in January what this meant to me was that I would write a children’s book. So simple. How hard could it be? You rhyme mouse with house, draw some pictures, and you’re done.

Plus, I work with kids, large parts of me are still beguilingly childish, I like talking animals, it seemed a perfect way to coast through a story and catch a break after the halfway mark of the project.

A number of people who are far smarter than I am have hypothesized, after reading “Mindy and Barkley,” that I probably have a new found respect for Dr. Seuss and his ilk now because these things, duh, aren’t easy.

To put it simply, yes. Yes I do. Ridiculous amounts of new found respect for Watterson and Seuss and everyone whose books and rhymes entertained me growing up. Rhyming is hard. And while I enjoy doodling, and while the pictures I made still make me laugh with their in your face crapulence, making a picture that carries the story and maybe even adds to it is also, as it turns out, really hard.

Really.

During these two weeks I didn’t exactly get a chance to “take it easy.” I did get a chance, though, to create one of my favorite stories and to cut loose from whatever rules happened to be with me at the time and completely go nuts. Imaginary friends, blobs, poop jokes, etc. You name it. It’s all there. Plus, come on, who didn’t bawl their eyes out when Barkley came back? Huh? Show of hands?

On top of all this there was the notion that for the first time ever I was writing something fully intended to be read aloud. I’ve never done that before. It made meter king in a way I haven’t ever experienced. It also allowed me to mess with anyone who dared to take that step and read this to a child. Because when you read aloud you get into a rhythm, you start to feel the words, you develop a running flow, and I went ahead and intentionally threw a gigantic hurdle in there of unjumpable proportions when it came time to give my blob a name. Because I was floundering like crazy during those two weeks, it seemed to me that anyone who followed me should flounder too.

So slot six goes to these two couplets from “Mindy and Barkley”. Just imagine trying to read this out loud. Mwahahahahahah!:

Now, way far away in a neighboring land,
Lived an angry green monster with ugly thick hands

His name was Slzzynqux, though to friends he was Blob,
And he wandered about with a frown on his gob.

Moment 8: Will Quits Running

New York City Marathon” is a favorite story of mine and will always be a favorite story of mine. This is the story one thinks about writing when one manages to find time to daydream and think about writing. The whole notion of “capturing a generation” or becoming “the voice of a” group of people is a pretty common daydream among writers.

I have no idea if I managed to do either of those things here, mind you, but for me this story is a nice take on my life during the past decade. The notion of living in New York being a bit of a long haul meshed nicely with one of my favorite events in the city, the marathon, to provide a backdrop that works well on a number of levels. Which is to say that the people in this story wearing jogging shorts aren’t the only characters who are running a marathon.

The most cutting moment for me came when Will and the unnamed runner crumble and decide to give up the race. I wrote it as simply as I could, aiming for less description and written thought whenever possible and tried to have them just give up. Just feel pain. Just start sobbing. Plain and simple. Because Will and the runner were only part of the equation. Really it’s watching Byron react that drives this moment home.

Byron, the ever caustic smart-ass, has his guard forced down as he witnesses the unnamed runner, and thus Will, at their most vulnerable moments and we get a brief, albeit swear induced moment of humanity from him. The rest of the story doesn’t work, I don’t think, if Byron doesn’t crack open here. This scene allowed his character to become rounded out to a degree I often fail to achieve.

I should mention that the story also doesn’t work if Byron stays cracked open, so him righting himself while his brother watched almost won. Likewise Byron and Calvin returning to their race, running down the street, sliding back into their usual roles with some friendly punches at the end of the story almost edged out this moment. But in the end Byron cracking open was what stayed in my mind, and him cracking doesn’t happen without the unnamed runner quitting, and that doesn’t carry as much weight without being interplayed with Will’s decision to move back home. Yes, that might really be three moments in one, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

So slot eight goes to Calvin and Byron and all the other people out there currently on the hard-side of the mile seventeen marker in their own personal marathons.

Remember to stop off for drinks periodically:

There was no need for him to be in this city anymore. He would move back to Ohio.

And that was it. It was decided. And Will, for the first time in months, maybe years, felt the absence of pressure on his body. He would tell everyone in a day or so. Right now, with that decision firmly in his head, he just wanted to go home, maybe get a good night’s sleep. He was tired.

“I’m heading out, guys,” Will said, getting a wave and a smile from Byron and a couple of words of goodbye from Calvin. Then he turned and started walking down the street.

Byron was staring intently at the race. There was something strange in his face and Calvin was about to ask what was going on when Byron spoke.

“Ah, shit,” Byron said, “I saw this start to happen while I was over there.” His voice was very different, lower, heartier, a gravel filled bed of humanity running underneath his usual bite. “I hate to see this.”

Calvin watched Byron swallow slowly and then turned to see what he was looking at. Coming towards them from the race was a group of three people. Two were obviously not runners, they were dressed in jeans that didn’t fit right and t-shirts that were too busy. They were flanking the third person, a woman, who was slowly making her way down the street. This third person was dressed in full racing gear, teal shorts and a stretch tank top. She was favoring one leg as she walked. Her shoulders were covered in a foil blanket. She was sobbing.

Byron was staring at her, one of his hands up at his face, his first two fingers lightly rubbing up and down his jaw line. “I actually saw the moment when she decided to quit,” he said slowly. “She saw her two friends on the sideline, she had forced herself to make it to them, then she just veered off and stepped out of the race.” He pulled at his lower lip. “I’m not sure when she started crying.” Byron and Calvin watched the woman let herself be guided to the other side of the street. She stopped near a car parked on the other side and they could hear her crying change pitch as some new pain flared in her body. Her two friends turned and started walking back to her.

“Come on,” Byron said, staring across at the scene playing out, the volume of his voice soft but the force behind it strong. “Come on,” he said again, rooting her on, his energy strong enough that Calvin felt himself getting caught up in it. “Let yourself do this much at least.”

Moment 9: Neil Bakes Muffins

I like plots. A lot. And in general I enjoy writing plots. I like creating characters, winding them up, then watching them act out stories. I enjoy treating events like open ended puzzle pieces that I can then mix and match in order to create a larger picture. So whenever I write something in which basically nothing happens it’s always a scary time for me.

There is no way to know what people are going to make of it when your story takes place completely internally. When I, say, take one character and have him inject another character with deadly poison in front of your eyes, I know that this is going to come across in some way or another. At the very least you’ll see the physical motion, you might not be entirely with me as far as what’s going on inside of these characters, but you’ll get something.

If you take away the deadly poison, though, things become very tricky. Then it’s just two characters standing there. And as a writer you have no footing that you can be sure of. For all you know (and all the little voice inside your head tells you) everyone who reads what you’ve written is going to do nothing but ask why you thought watching a guy make muffins then watching that same guy try to sleep was a good idea for a story. Because in “You’re Allowed to Order Take-Out” that’s all that happens, really, as far as the stuff taking place right in front of you. They mess up muffins, they have trouble sleeping. The end.

But people were more than happy to linger with Neil in a way I never expected and it was touching for me how many of you found it touching yourselves to watch this overwhelmed father struggling with how his new daughter fit into his life while worrying about how he would fit into hers.

So the number nine spot goes to Neil as he drifted off into what I can only hope turned out to be a mouse-free sleep:

And he wondered what time it was, and wondered who else was awake, and wondered what kept the world going at this hour, and wondered if the bagel store down the street made good coffee, and wondered that his new daughter would someday be able to talk to him like Illiam and he wondered if she knew he was here worrying about her in the middle of the night. He lay down on the couch so his head was near the crib and rested a hand on one of the wooden slats, the physical nearness of her a comfort to him, and in a few minutes he fell asleep, his body relaxing deeper and deeper as the rain softly pelted the windows.

Moment 10: Penelope Speaks Gibberish

The Donkey of Vincento” is the single stupidest story I’ve ever written. In my mind it goes flying past “Light-Years Ahead of His Time” by…well by light-years. But this story makes the list for one very simple reason: The whole project almost tanked during these two weeks. I almost gave up. I remember this pretty clearly. I was tearing myself apart trying to write something good and nothing was coming except this stupid idea for a…I don’t even know what…a concept story written as a poor translation of a fairy tale from a made up place. Sort of like a bad joke crossed with a pointless story (for the nth time I also feel obligated to point out that all of the “foreign language” in this story is nothing short of complete gibberish. I actually translated gibberish into other languages using babelfish, then retyped it incorrectly. Part of me wants to believe that this resulted in perfect Cantonese…but that’s probably not what happened). And I was about ready to just say to hell with it and start ignoring my deadlines. But I didn’t. And the story turned out to be not completely horrible. A lot of readers actually enjoyed it. Somehow.

And so it makes number ten because of that. Because a lot of this blog is intended for fellow writers and a lot of the e-mails I get are from fellow writers and any lessons I learned from this past year I feel I should try to pass on. So here’s the lesson this stupid donkey story taught me: Sometimes you write crap. Not only that, but sometimes you’re supposed to be writing crap. If I had strained really hard to make this a touching literary-minded story with great crisp writing and all that, it would have turned out horrible. Because that’s not what this story is. This story is silly and light and a fairy tale.

I guess I have three points. First, it’s okay to not write well. If you’re stuck, just keep going, do your best, know that you can always start another story once you’ve finished the current one. Two, don’t force your stories to be what they’re not. And three, your readers can sometimes bring things to life in a way you never expected. Seriously. Some people liked this one.

So coming in at number ten we have Penolope’s final surge of delight at the end of “The Donkey of Vincento” when she declares in a language that I totally made up out of nothing:

“Maecenas odio ante consectetuer pullazo, uscevitale risus mauris sollicitudin; phasellus statione, libernecanto adipiscing gravid acciastona!”

She’s got a name

I’m rather feeling my oats right now. My first draft was done as of this morning, I’ve got a title, and here it is only Tuesday. I’m never this far ahead. I feel like my computer needs to explode or something to set the universe back in order.

I may change the title. I know I say that with every single title I put up, but this time I mean it. There are a number of variations on very very similar words that I keep playing around with. I feel like I’m close but still have yet to nail it dead on.

Right now, though, I’m watching lots of the Food Network off of my neglected DVR. There’s this show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” that I love. The guy has a knack for digging up interesting restaurants serving wonderfully un-hoity-toity stuff. As the name might suggest. Although there are a fair amount of ramshackle places that serve up preposterously upscale dishes. Duck con fit alongside of pancakes sort of thing.

Anyway, I love it. I sit and watch two episodes in a row and I’m utterly enraptured the entire time staring at hamburgers and fried chicken cooking. There was this one place that took three days to make their onion rings. Three! First they put the whole onions in the fridge for a day to dry them out a bit, (refrigerators are very dry places, so if you need to dry a chicken or something there are worse places you could stash it for a few hours) then they cut the onions into slices which go into the fridge for another day, then they finally dredge and cook them. Three day onion rings.

Man.

A Tale of Two Somethings

I’m very curious to see the reaction to this next story.  For starters, as I’ve mentioned, it’s actually short.  The shorter stories tend to get read more because…well because they’re short I’d imagine.  Also for newcomers it’s probably easier to take a chance on a few thousand words rather than eight thousand words.  Suckers.  You’ll never know what you’re missing.

This story is really so simple, though, and with just a hint of my out-there-ness.  I dunno.  This is like a drawing you do on a cocktail napkin while you’re out at a bar waiting for someone to show up, and you aren’t really thinking about much, you’re just sort of doodling, and when you’re done you look at what you did and think, “Huh. That’s kind of neat.”  And the napkin goes into your wallet and even years later you find yourself taking it out now and then to look at it.

It’s sort of like that.

Also some huge scenes from the Matthew and Epp world clicked into place this morning.  God, I love Kyo.