Spawn of Mars
Characters and a situation are a story only if by the end something changes or something is revealed.
Submission Guidelines Are a Bother
Writing Something Good Is Never Enough
Saturday, July 31, 2021 1:21 pm
So I heard that Pulp Modern was taking submissions tomorrow, for one day only, as they do twice a year. I've never submitted to them but, heck, why not? I even had something that might do, a pulpish bit of urban fantasy.

Then I check the submission guidelines. 

First, Pulp Modern wants stories between 3,500 and 5,000 words. My candidate is 2,900 words. This happens to me all the damn time. I cannot seem to write for this middling length that so many magazines want. My stories are either under 3K or well over 5K. It's weird. Seriously! Of all my works written over the past forty years, only three are between 3,500 and 5,000 words.

Second, for this go around, Pulp Modern wants stories set in 1981. Huh. 1981? Well, that's weird and arbitrary. I feel compelled here to deploy some WTF emoji.

Okay. But perhaps a challenge was manifesting. Sure, why not? Add 600 words to my story to get it to 3,500, and use those 600 words to recast the tale for 1981.

Now, I didn't want to do the lame thing and pepper my tale with references to time-specific consumer products or trends. Nor did I want merely to mention events of 1981. Rather, I wanted to ask: What was it about 1981 that would feed into the tale as it is? What from 1981 would be relevant?

The original story is fairly timeless. It just has phones, hired guns, and criminal mobs. Being explicit and placing it in 1981 is possible. And as I did a little historical research into mob stuff from ca. 1980, I discovered an absolutely relevant theme of everything falling apart.

Here's a passage I drafted.

He used to be an assassin. An instrument of the Families. A shadow in a realm of shadows. He had killed whom they wanted killed and with impunity, as the State, when not corrupted or cowed, could never pierce the omertà. Naively, perhaps, he hadn’t been concerned when that Kefauver mischief lit the scene, with Senators opining on sinister criminal organizations; but later, in ’63, that rat Valachi finally gave the Feds his precious testimony, and now, not twenty years later, the shadows were gone and RICO was picking away at it all.

Gideon had been freelancing in Vegas when sinister capital organizations – with the collaboration of the State of Nevada – had begun legitimizing the casinos, using lawful money to push out the thugs. He had retreated to New York and, for a time, joined the war in Hell’s Kitchen, eliminating the Irish for the Italians. Something had soured, however. For all their bluster the Families seemed in their dotage. The Feds were getting too good at snaring and turning bosses. And Gideon was worn out.

My idea was that, in this milieu, Gideon has been reduced to what, in the story, he is: a babysitter to a demon that has usurped his role as assassin. The old shadows of omertà have been replaced by those of Hell.

And so on.

But in the end it felt like what it was: contrived padding. The story I had written was complete and whole. It didn't need 1981. It didn't need another 600 words. Since I couldn't see stretching the Kefauverish stuff to 600 words (that chunk above is only 176), I soon found myself re-implanting phrases and descriptions I had once deemed superfluous. I was ruining the story.

So I stopped.

Maybe if I had more than two days — I only learned of this opportunity on Thursday — I could properly twist things to meet Pulp Modern's guidelines without breaking my tale. But I doubt it.

Back to other things...

How to Tell If Your Story Is Woke
Try This One Simple Test!
Thursday, July 22, 2021 10:46 pm
Beware! Colossal spoilers for "Black Sails."

Among the many irritating traits of the SJW is obtuseness. She really doesn't understand your objections to her antics. She believes that all she is doing is providing representation to the Blessed Marginalized. Her face shrunken in petulance, she shrieks: "I'm just putting a gay man in this TV show! What do you have against gays, you hateful homophobe?" 

Well, against their behavior, my dear, a few things; but that is not the issue.

I have no objection to the fictional depiction of a man who is attracted to men. I have no objection even to the sympathetic depiction of such a man. Such men exist, such men are human, such men are fodder for literature.

What I object to is your haranguing me on their behalf. What I object to is your sour attempt to disseminate the moralistic shibboleths of your ilk.

Consider the TV show Black Sails.

I love this show. Yeah, whatever, I have my complaints about it; but not one of my complaints is that the central motive of the central character is his love for another man. Indeed, I would argue that Black Sails is so well written, so humanly written, that I would not even want the writers to have done otherwise.

I wish, however, that they hadn't been woke.

Note I am about to make a distinction between telling a tale about a homosexual and being woke. This is what the SJW cannot fathom: That there is a distinction.

There is a book that was given by Thomas Hamilton to Captain Flint. Hamilton and Flint were lovers. Flint's piratical rage was born from the fatal mistreatment of Hamilton. The book is an important prop in the narrative.

There is an inscription in the book. Here it is.

The name of him to whom this love is directed is, as you can see, obscured; earlier, the viewer supposes it says "Miranda," the name of Hamilton's (public) wife, but in fact it says "James," Flint's true first name.

This inscription is a great example of intrusive wokeness.

If it had said only, "James, My truest love, T.H.", it would have been powerful. With that line, "Know no shame," it becomes propaganda. We hear in it all the bleating about pride and escaping closets; we see the fingers wagging at us — we who might shame the homosexual — telling us to eat our unbigoted spinach.

This is not the only woke moment in the show. The "shame" motif comes up several times. But this example is so stark and compact! One little line. Keep it, and the moment is woke. Remove it, and the moment is human.

Which do you prefer?

P.S. Yes, the very fact that they made Flint a homosexual at all is rather typical of woke approaches to fiction. It's the usual erasure of the hetero. I think we can be confident that Robert Louis Stevenson did not imagine Flint that way. Still, it's a fair change, considering Black Sails only toys with Treasure Island. And it is merited by the good narrative use made of it.

P.P.S. Huh. With that attitude, I should probably return my membership card for the He-Man Poofter-Haters Club.

Mermaids & Termites
As of July
Monday, July 19, 2021 11:26 pm
A reviewer of An Uncommon Day at the Lake thought I was making a pun on "day" because the women in the story — Lovely and Happy — have the surname "Day." I was not. It was absolutely reasonable of him to think so; but until he pointed it out, I didn't even realize there could be a pun. 

Likewise, if I died tomorrow and someone checked all the presets on the radio in my car, he would think I had a secret fondness for Beyoncé or some other tripe. But I do not. The presets were there when I acquired the car. They spew at me when I swap out CDs. I have never changed them, because I don't use the radio.

How many assertions are made about authors based on "evidence" that is wholly without relevance or meaning? Many, I am sure.

I finished my story for Cirsova. It is called The Unshrouded Stars. If Alex the editor refuses The Impossible Footprint, I'll still have a backup submission for 2022.

In the draft of my cover letter I mention this backup. Originally I described it as "weird-horror SF." I called it SF because it is set on the International Space Station (even though, in my usual fashion, I am a little unspecific, calling it just "the Station," trying to imply a world just a little to the left of ours).

Thing is, though, there is nothing science fictional in the story. It's not even near-future. It is set on the ISS, which is real. Being in space is very relevant to the story but the setting is no more fanciful than a train or a castle. This story set on a space station contains no science fiction!

That's remarkable to me.

Anyhow, I revised the description to "weird-horror."

Every so often I submit The Giant's Walk to a publisher. Self-publishing has proven pointless. Today I received the most recent rejection. I never really expect acceptance. I know the book is eccentric. Rejection still disappoints me.

Speaking of disappointments, it's time for my monthly whining about Stupefying Stories. My frustration continues. I don't know what's going on with my two stories. Leaving contributors in the dark is not good. I sympathize with their troubles, but semi-pro shouldn't mean unprofessional. It's so sad, really. I don't even plan to send them any more stories. Why bother? Any stories I send, even if they are accepted, will just fall into a years-long limbo...

For all that, when my stranded stories do get published, I will be happy. I still think Stupefying is a good venue, despite its near collapse. I had just hoped it might become a kind of home, like Cirsova and StoryHack. Sigh.

The Baron of Nevada and His Branded Broads

Come on. That is a fantastic title. It comes from the cover of a men's magazine from 1962. Now, I suppose that the author was not unaware of the title's absurdity; yet I believe that he was earnest, as well. We have lost something if our only response to such a title is ironic snickering.

I think an excellent project would be to take such titles and write one's own appropriate tales — not in mockery, but seriously. To be sure, most such stories were soft-core pr0n, and that I would not do. But sexy and adventurous... Mmm!

I changed the title of this monthly miscellany to Mermaids & Termites because I like the sound of that and it nicely suggests the miscellaneous mode.

I also re-coded the blog page to present random quotes at the top, instead of solely the heretofore static "If you like your religion..." quote.

Every time I go back into the blog code these days, it is a strange and melancholic task. I once coded for a living. I am able to change things now not because I really remember how, but because I can decipher other code and mimic it as needed. God help me if I ever have to recreate this website. Backups notwithstanding.

I usually turn on subtitles with British TV shows because, let's be frank, they barely speak English in the UK; and I've often wondered if the subtitles provided by Amazon Prime are made by humans. Recently a character said that someone had been doing something "since the ball wall." Eh? It took my brain a moment to ignore the subtitle, review the audio I had just heard, and realize that the character had said "since the Boer War." Though a human might have heard "ball wall," I can't imagine he would have been so utterly smooth-brained to record it that way. Amazon Prime either uses some sort of inadequate AI or has farmed out their subtitling to morons who couldn't care less.

I am unlikely, in the short term, to take up the tale of the branded broads, but having finished The Unshrouded Stars I do need something to work on. Misha Burnett has himself temporarily set aside And Who Shall I Say Is Calling? (our collaboration). I could pick up the baton. I will immediately, if he resumes his interest. In the meantime, though, I think I will start the fifth Hamlin Becker tale. I do have another short in progress — weird-horror again, called Sympathy of Clocks — but that might be better left as a post-Becker activity.

Becker and the sisters Day need another adventure, I think.

Sundry & Motley
As of June
Sunday, June 6, 2021 1:22 pm
Misha Burnett had seven stories that he had stalled on. He offered them as potential "duets" with other authors. I volunteered, read several, and was inspired by one. I sent him my proposal for the plot and resolution, which he liked, and I picked up where he had left off. I added 3.5K words and passed the baton to him. Depending on how it goes, he'll bring us to the ~4/5ths mark and then I'll wrap it up. 

I've never collaborated with another author before. He's pretty easy going, so it's been good so far. And the story is coming together rather nicely.

It's amusing to read his Twitter and see oblique comments about the story we're working on. He's not being explicit about the plot or characters, and he hasn't mentioned the collaboration. I feel like I'm in the know. Ha.

One of the reasons I passed the baton to Mr. Burnett is that I want to concentrate on writing a story for Cirsova 2022. Being an Official Contributor to Cirsova, I got an invitation from Alex the editor (although submissions are open this year anyhow).

I am going to persuade Alex to take The Impossible Footprint. You may recall it's way longer than what he normally publishes, but darn it, I wrote it for Cirsova and it's great.

But if I am unpersuasive, I need a fallback. Hence the break from the duet. Submissions are open the first week of August. So I've got less than two months to write a new story. And I'm a tortoise.

Fortunately Michigan has finally decided winter is over. This week looks to be invigoratingly sunny and warm. I might get things done!

The first six (of seven) seasons of The Venture Bros. are finally available for cheap. I bought them. I had only seen some of seasons four and five, and none of six (or of seven, for that matter).

The show never got bad as seasons four and five proceeded, but it got distasteful. The gays and pederasts and gender-bending became rather too ubiquitous. It was tiresome. The very lowest point was a routine about a "rusty venture." It was disgusting, and not in a funny way. It went on so long I thought I was watching the execrable Family Guy.

And then I got to the sixth season and... I was enjoying it again. I was laughing far more and the story and characters were good! And, not so incidentally, there was a decided decrease in the homo-pederasty. Not an absence of it — but then, it's the 21st century, isn't it? You can't escape the rainbow.

By the way, Rick and Morty is another show that's crossed the line. In many episodes, the fourth season is turn-your-head-away bad. "Oooh, we're edgy and vulgar, watch us edgily vulgarize!" Yeah, I guess I haven't abandoned Rick and Morty, but its nihilism really isn't as fun and clever anymore.

Notably there is more explicitly Christophobic "humor." That's the thing with nihilism: It usually becomes ever more vitriolic and, losing patience with subtlety, bitterly admits it just hates Jesus. Note well that you will never see Rick and Morty mock Mohammed — but that is a hoary and tired observation.

So I was cutting off the stems and leaves of a bunch of carrots and this little guy dropped out. It seems I snuck an extra carrot through the grocery checkout!

Speaking of grocery shopping, my store has been particularly enthusiastic about enforcing Michigan's eternal face-diaper mandate. They literally once threatened me with a burly six-foot stockboy, offering me a choice of putting on the diaper or being booted to the parking lot. I guess one chooses one's battles, but I am definitely one who has submitted.

I just want my carrots, you rotten karens.

Ah, but the mandate has changed slightly. You don't have to wear a diaper if you have been "fully vaccinated." Now, I will never have my genes altered by a politically rushed "vaccine" in order to avoid a bad cold. But, I can pretend to be vaccinated. What a wonderful taste of freedom it was, to shop this past Friday without that dehumanizing diaper. It was nice to breathe, too.

StoryHack #7 Is Out
Read My Story in It!
Friday, May 14, 2021 1:45 am
The latest issue of StoryHack is here! And it contains the third Hamlin Becker tale!

Buy it on Amazon (to give the publisher money). Review it on Amazon (to increase its rank). Read my story An Uncommon Day at the Lake and be amazed by my stupendifulacrity. Go, now!
Gyno Wars 2
Just Stop It Already
Thursday, February 25, 2021 3:54 pm
Having finished Cyberpunk 2077, I fell into a replay of Fallout: New Vegas. Then, having finished FNV, I suddenly had an urge to resume playing Guild Wars 2. I stopped playing GW2 about three or four years ago because I was sick of it. I had played it to death. But this past month I decided to play the narrative chapters that have been steadily released in my absence. (I regularly logged in, these past years, just to keep my game up to date.)

Good God, the gynarchy has conquered GW2. 

Yes, it's been woke for a few years. The writers did what the SJWs usually do, supplanting an original heroic cast with a Burger King Club of Diversity — and this in a game that was only a few years old! But GW2 had the misfortune of being released just before the Great Awokening and so succumbed early in its life.

Every character you meet is female. Generals, scientists, researchers, pirate captains, heads of councils, leaders of refugee bands, trivial fodder NPCs... The central dragon, your heroic pal, is female. As is the dragon mount you hatch and raise! There is not an admixture of women; there is a domination. What especially killed me is that I came upon an ancient Dwarven Forge, one used to craft the weapons of the gods, and the forge master is — well, you know. Is there anything more masculine than hammering steel in fire? Ah, but every lass has it in herself to be a blacksmith, if only the men get out of the way!

And of course when there are males, they are mostly villains, comic relief, or pathetic soyboys. There's clearly an effort to create dudels in distress and to ensure that no female is other than fierce and confident. Sure, there are a couple of token males who are not utter weenies (notably those who have the requisite excess of melanin). But again, the entire command structure of this world is female. It is unnatural — and off-putting.

And for a land awash in estrogen, it is decidedly bereft of the feminine. Every girl is LARPing as a boy.

Good thing I like killing monsters and grinding for rewards. The combat is fun, at least.

P.S. I forgot to mention the priest — a killer with a sniper rifle — whose god was killed by you, the player character. Here was an opportunity for depicting a bitter, nearly ruined soul, in a way that actually resonates with a normal person. Picture the rage in every 1,000-yard shot. Now picture the priest's lack of a penis. You go girl-sniper-priest! Just another dissonant note...

Sundry & Motley
As of February
Monday, February 22, 2021 11:44 am
I have an interesting post about peril in fiction (using Stargate SG-1 as an example), but that post is still fermenting. I have an even more inchoate post about the corruption of the tomboy, but as that subject is too directly political I'm hesitant to bring it up at all. Then there's that post about Warhammer 40K that I promised three or four years ago, which is also quite unwritten.

So instead, a few updates.

I sold An Uncommon Day at the Lake to StoryHack. Hurrah! So in 2021, I will have at least two stories published, one in StoryHack and another in Cirsova.

The two stories for Stupefying Stories — accepted in 2019 — are still in limbo. I have had no reply from the editor. Again, I realize he's been overwhelmed this past year, but at this point I'm frustrated. The original contracts for the stories are about to expire, without publication! If I didn't still want to be part of a resurrected Stupefying Stories — or if I had to feed myself from my writing — I would be done with this waiting. But I can hold out another year and a half, I guess. Not like any other mags are banging on my door.

I guess I am now famous. I was checking the Internet Science Fiction Database about some authors and something made me check for my own name. And lo, I'm in ISFDB! To be sure, my author entry was auto-generated from the tables of contents of my home issues of StoryHack and Cirsova. Nevertheless, it's neat to be counted, and counted accurately. Check it out!

By the way, after having resurrected The Santa Mantle, I reviewed my trash pile and determined that, yes, all the rest of the trash is still trash. That is actually reassuring. First, I would not want good works of mine to be lost; second, I would not want to start second-guessing myself as regards my judgments of my works.
Magazines
StoryHack #7
Stupefying Stories #23
Cirsova: Winter 2020
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