Friday, March 20, 2009

Baffu's First Story Complete.

For your reading convenience, the whole story is in the comment section of this post. Strictly rough draft, completely off the top of my head -- but I think it's a solid start.

That said, I have no idea what the title is.

Baffu's First Story: Part Nine

“Good enough,” Doctors said. “Good enough.” Then he looked at the potted plant and got up from his couch. While he had been speaking the rain had thinned and then stopped, though clouds still hid the world beyond the sky. “I think the buds have been softened enough for the blossoms to…”

Baffu got up and went to the plant. Doctors was right; one of the buds was splitting. Baffu held his finger out and the blossom crawled onto it, seeming grateful for the warmth. Its cluster of crinkled petals pulsed and swelled, turning into wings. Its eyes glowed with the internal light of coals under ash.

Full text in comments.

Baffu's First Story: Part Eight

“You mean whore’s paisley,” Baffu said. “I’ve heard that after a time it turns women into men.”

“Not so, not so,” Doctors said. “But it does have certain… unfortunate cosmetic effects. Thusly, it is only used on the lowest grade of prostitute, one whose employer intends to use and discard them. Now if I may return to the story – and I trust you’re paying attention?”

Baffu nodded.

Full text in comments.

Baffu's First Story: Part Seven

Doctors stared out at the potted plant with its struggling luminous buds in silence, then drained his cup. Baffu picked opened a third bottle and poured for both of them.

“So?” he asked.

“So, indeed,” Doctors said. “The next time the Justice of Black and Gray saw the student the young man lacked the modest dignity that had formerly been his hallmark; the student turned this way and that, his scholar’s robe open so that his private parts were displayed to any who cared to look. That is because his sash was around his neck and he hung from a rafter in his room. It was the restauranteur who found him when the smell of the student was stronger than the smell of cooking."

Full text in the comments.

Baffu's First Story: Part Six

He gestured to a plaque on the wall; it was much like the one Baffu had seen in the court where Doctors acted as judge but older and simpler in design. Carved out of fine-grained ivory and inlayed with colored wood and shell, it showed four figures, posed close together; a tall stern man with a dour face, a calm woman with a look of keen intelligence, a dark angry youth, and a gently smiling girl with downcast eyes.

“Kneel before them,” Doctors said. It was a command.

Full text in the comments.

Baffu's First Story: Part Five

“Older brother, I need your advice,” he said. “You know I keep the peace out in the market. Well, now they’re asking me to settle disputes and I fear it won’t be long before I’m working your main line of business.”

“So I hear,” the old man said, and curled his lips in a shape that only resembled a smile.

Full text in the comments.

Baffu's First Story: Part Four

There were no lanterns, no candles. The square patio and the porch surrounding it were lit only by the steady pink-and-yellow glow from the buds of the potted plant that was the evening’s focus. It was Doctors’s (so-called because of his meritorious degrees in medicine, literature, engineering, and of course jurisprudence) first blossom viewing since he’d been exiled to the City of Wealth (so-called because of the wealth it brought to the Four Empires, its name a cruel joke to locals like Baffu).

Full text in the comments.

Baffu's First Story: Part Three

“Spend night?” First Wife asked.

“Depend drunk, we,” Baffu said.

“La, la,” First Wife shook her head, then broke into the language of the poets. “My beloved younger brother, our venerable repository of justice and wisdom is anxious for your company.” She hooked a thumb in the direction of the patio and lapsed back into Market. “Out there, got bottle. Food soon.”

The complete version of this page is in the comments.

Baffu's First Story: Part Two

The giant Baffu crawled through the service entrance, scarred knotty knuckles pounding the bone floor like mallets. First Wife rushed toward him holding a towel and once he was fully inside he sat cross-legged and bent forward so she could dry his hair.

“Walk in rain, you.” First Wife spoke in Market pidgen and her voice had a companionable, familiar nag to it.

“Try fly, older sister. Don’t work,” Baffu said. He extended his hands and flapped. Carefully.

The full section is in the comments...

Baffu's First Story: Part One

No pictures today. Sorry about that...

So I want to apply to this writer's workshop, Viable Paradise. They want somewhere in the neighborhood of eight thousand words of fiction -- one or two stories or a chunk of a larger work. What makes this tricky is that what you submit is what you work on over the course of the workshop.

I want to get in, so I want to send my best work -- but if my best work works, why would I want to spend a week having it prodded at? It seems as if I'd rather spend the time working on something that needs help.

I thought about it and realized that I have a story that contains some of my best stuff -- but the story isn't quite there. It was good enough to be published in issue seven of Monday Night but it still feels as if it's not quite there. Nothing that's in submission to a pro market is allowed but Monday Night is strictly small press. So that takes care of story number one.

That leaves me with story number two. And that problem has been driving me out of my mind. See, Viable Paradise is a SF/Fantasy-oriented workshop. That appeals to me because my genre side has been a wee tad hampered by the writers I work with. It's great to have had so much of a mainstream/literary influence on my work but genre fiction is important to me as well.

But my first story, God's Tourists, is about five thousand five hundred words long. And I don't have any fantastic fiction that's short enough to fit into the remaining space.

I wanted to do something really SF-y for the second story. I wanted to do something action-oriented.

I haven't been able to come up with an idea.

So in casting around I remembered a story idea that I should be able to write within the permitted word count. The thing is, is that the story uses character and setting details from what I intend to eventually be my Big Work, the series of novels that I want to write for my bread and butter in the long run. I've been working on it both mentally and on paper since I was a kid. It was the subject of my first attempt at game design -- I tried to write it as an adventure game before there was Dungeons and Dragons.

The shape of the thing has changed radically over the years, going from goofy far-future SF to weird fantasy, from being intentionally escapist to being a tool for confronting issues both personal and political. It's really, really ambitious and I wasn't going to try and tackle it until I had at least one successful (in the artistic rather than the commercial sense of the word) novel under my belt.

Thing is, there's still a lot of work to be done. A lot of world-building is still ahead of me. Much of what I'm going to do is gonna have to be changed because I cannibalized a good chunk of the material for my current novel-in-progress...

And part of this story touches on elements that are central to my pal Allison's big work in progress. They actually predate my friendship with Allison but I'm nervous about working her side of the street, especially on issues as sensitive as this.

But I need a fucking story. So here's the deal.

This is a test boring. This is an experiment. This is the first attempt I've made at working with these characters since I've achieved any success with my writing.

So I'm gonna liveblog the story. Gonna do a draft of the whole thing today and then send it out to my Monday night writer's group. I'll post each page (ending at the last completed paragraph) as I go. I'll lead each post with a sample paragraph and then put the rest of the page in the comments section.

See you next post...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Few Thoughts On Special Bunnies

I filled up a couple of pages with random markings and then went to the kitchen to find something to draw...

A fellow named Dave recently added a comment to an old post of mine... If you're curious, read it here. Among other things, he wrote, "I believe strongly that something has gone wrong in our society....there's no respect anymore, and people DO feel entitled..."

Got to say, I agree. While I've seen that a certain feeling of entitlement can be a useful life tool -- it's hard to really try and achieve a goal if you don't think you deserve it -- there are way, way too many people out there who think that it's their world and the rest of us are just cluttering up the landscape.

I think that one of the problems is the notion that the central problem in the world is self-esteem -- I recently ran across a statement to the effect that the reason people behave badly is that they just don't have enough self-esteem. That Hitler wouldn't have been so darned mean if he'd just felt better about himself.

I don't buy that for a goddamned minute. I think Hitler felt a great deal of pride in what he did and thought it only proper that he be allowed to do it.

Rather than teaching children to love themselves unconditionally, I'd rather see them taught to work hard at being worthy of love. I think a certain amount of self-doubt is an important part of being a decent human being, that a capacity for shame and guilt is a necessary component in a fully-realized human being. They allow us to be conscious of our negative behavior -- and thus are the first requisite in controlling that behavior.

There's a desperate, pathetic need in our culture to feel special -- and a lot of people identify specialness with privilege. Special people live special lives full of special toys and everybody wants their share. They think they deserve the car, the boat, the babe... whatever.

The current economic disaster has its roots in these feelings -- the country has been eaten to the bone by a bunch of special bunnies who regard greed as a moral imperative -- whose self esteem has completely overridden their shame and guilt -- and this has been allowed to occur by a population of self-involved halfwits who believe that they are a pop song, a ball game, or a lottery ticket away from becoming special bunnies themselves -- and who spend and vote accordingly.

They don't aspire to the drive and discipline it takes to develop the superior set of skills it takes to do something really worthwhile -- they aspire to the privilege that those skills can earn a fortunate person. It's the luck that's special to them -- not the hard-earned abilities that make it possible to take advantage of luck.

I've been in a number of discussions where I've pointed to the Scandinavian republics as role models for industrial nations and the same idiot cry is always mewled forth -- "Their taxes are so high!"

Yeah, and they have their needs met. And everyone around them has their needs met. They don't have to watch the old and the crazy rot in the street. They don't have to worry about having their houses taken away if they get sick. And so on. And so forth. To run a country on the basis of what you'd like to be able to do if you were wealthy is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Just ask Iceland.

Look, no matter what your income is, you'll hit a state of emotional equilibrium that won't really be affected by your income, provided your basic needs are met. If the person who's unhappy because they have to brew their own coffee rather than go to Starbucks becomes rich, they'll soon find themselves unhappy because the thread count of the sheets on the cruise ship is inadequate.

Special bunnies are not special. They're assholes and assholes are about as common as you get.

Think about the special people in your life, the really special ones. What makes them special -- what they have or what they give?

Yeah, I want to be a special person. I work hard to be a special person. And the only way to really do that is to try and put more into the world than you take out. It's an impossible task, but if you don't at least make a serious attempt at it I really don't have a whole lot of time for you.

You special bunny...

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Gualala Show

Here's the piece as it appeared in the show. Ain't nothing like the real thing, though. You see this full size and it makes you want to sacrifice a goat to it. A thousand bucks and it's yours.

I know, I know. I've been ignoring the blog the last week or so. Sorry about that. I've been going through it a bit -- not the kind of mood where the missus cries and worries that I might be arrested, just the kind where I'm pissy and useless. It happens some times.

Part of that has been my nervousness and doubts about participating in this art show up at Gualala. It's my very first outing into one of these things and while I'm not sure where the Gualala Art Center fits into the academy's hierarchy it's definitely a couple of notches up from a pizza place or a realtor's office. What I'm saying is real artists, real art, real display space.

It had me nervous, especially given my stated opinions on the fine art world.

Also, I was part of the group responsible for the food and had no idea what was expected of me and what I could count on from other people. That had me nervous as well.

Then there's the old social anxiety. I'm trying to tackle this one and so was looking forward to using the event as a therapeutic tool as much as anything else -- but I was going to be dealing with a bunch of people I don't know.

And I was spending a ton of money in preparation for this and I really doubt that I'm going to sell my piece and even if I do I'll just be making a couple of hundred bucks and what the hell is going on, oh christ the earth is spiraling into the sun...

... and so on. It is my way.

And here I am standing next to it. It really happened! Really! The observant will notice that since the print is three by four feet and I'm around six-three, that means that my legs are two feet long. Which disturbs me on some level.

The good news was that my family rallied around me. My sister Charity, bless her heart, rented a wonderful, luxurious house for us up in Gualala. My dad Verle came along, and his wife Lisa (we're too close in age to make me feel comfortable calling her my step-mom, same as with me and the missus's daughters) and of course the young ladies Ava and Una.

I can't tell you how much this helped. Being around them socially puts me into a familiar and functional mindset and their pride and support really made me feel good.

So I contacted the other food people, made a shitload of sandwiches (artisanal ham, aged Gouda, and pickle with mustard, sopprasetta, hot coppa, and a nice nasty provolone with vinaigrette, fresh mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil, dressed with a lot of sweet balsamic vinaigrette to make up for the weak out-of-season tomatoes), threw a fistful of Jack Vance novels (perfect for insomnia reading) into my knapsack, and kissed the missus goodbye for the weekend.

Since Lisa was taking the pictures we have no record of her, but here's the rest of my family. From left to right, Ava, Charity, Una, and Verle. You'll have to excuse the expression on my dad's face -- he was overcome by his love for the sea.

The preparations for the show went well -- the people getting the food ready to roll worked well and neatly together and the overall contributions were enough to provide an impressive spread.

By keeping busy I was able to keep my jitters under control. The beauty of the area helped a lot -- nothing like trees to calm me down. And that's how I handled the show. I'd go inside, cruise around, gulp some beer, talk to anyone who made eye contact, then after the conversation I'd go out and walk around, check in with the family, breathe deeply, and return to the fray.

That's how you do it when you're a grownup, right?

It was nice -- not my idea of a good time but not painful.

As for the show itself, it looked good. Really good. It struck me that arranging a collection of extremely diverse art like that is the same kind of exercise of taste as putting together a good mix tape, and in this case the results were very pleasing -- exhilarating jumps and bumps with no jarring transitions.

It's funny. I'm so used to thinking about this stuff from the creative perspective that it was kind of a numb shock to see people looking at it as, well. Art. It left me with a sense of vague dreamlike unreality.

There were all kinds of crazy visual details at the beach. I've got to take photography next semester -- and I think I might try and tease Lisa into taking her photography a bit more seriously. Honestly, throw a little Photoshop on this and you've got a great print right here.

That night we went back to the house. A little wine mixed nicely with my back pills and a hot tub to render me more physically comfortable than I'd been in some time.

And the company was great. Honestly, if you were to record three or four hours of my family hanging out you'd be able to put together a solid forty-two minute show for Comedy Central. They're smart, funny people with a combination of edge and heart that just makes me feel good. I'm so grateful to spend time with them.

Then two things happened the next day that gave me a bit of a slow-burn realization. We were checking out some nifty dinosaur sculptures at a nursery-cum-giftshop, and when I complimented them to the woman running the place I mentioned that I'd done some paleo art. She asked for websites, talked to me about her own background -- a nice little conversation that left me feeling as though I were on the inside.

And then after our delightful excursion to the beach (full of top-notch crabby kid drama; the ladies can sulk like nobody's business when they throw themselves into it, so the inevitable happy ending makes for a good story arc) we went to fetch the cooler I'd borrowed from Dad and Lisa from the art center. While we were there, I asked Lisa to take a picture of me next to the print for the blog.

And when I was looking at the picture on the camera's monitor it hit me. The thing that had been hanging over me the whole time, the reason I had put myself out with no real expectation of selling the work and no real profit even if it did sell.

There I was, in a real gallery, standing next to something I'd done myself. There was my work next to the work of my instructors and TAs and the ringer students, the real artists. And it belonged there. And I belonged there.

It was kind of like a graduation, a bar mitzvah, a wedding. Or like the first check I ever got for my writing. I was different.

I've been faking it out of a combination of intellectual knowledge and bravado. Now I feel like an artist. Doesn't matter if I ever achieve any success. I now know that my work is at that level. I have that. It can't be taken away from me.

It feels good.