Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why I Sinned, And How

My run at this year's Flash Fiction Fest is now up. Eight short-short stories (which was what we called flash fiction back in the pre-Cambrian), all for free. And in addition, there are works from P.T. Dilloway and Neil Vogler, who brought me in to participate in last year's We Are Now. New December House writers Daryn Guarino, Jess Leather, J Freese, Philip Leslie, and Simon Kewin. (Sorry, Simon, the link clicked to Philip.)

Last year, I did a serial that turned out to be the seed of a novel. The reviews were... kind, but unimpressed. I had a hard time arguing. I wanted better than that this time around, so I made each story stand alone, and I tried to do a little fancy footwork here and there, a little showy technique for the sake of skylarking. I had a good time with these. I wouldn't mind the opportunity to give them an extra layer of varnish, but what the hell.


At The Eden came first, before I'd considered the notion of the seven deadly sins. I've always had a fondness for goofy bar stories -- the Drone's club, the White Hart, Jorkens, Gavagan's Bar, and so on. I work a lot with Rob Pierce, and bars crop up in his work regularly. I'm not a bar drinker. I don't like the noise, the difficulty in holding a conversation, the expense.... but I love bar stories.

This one started with the voice, and the setting. I lived through the seventies, and there were certain public spaces that were like being drowned in rainbow sherbet while choking on cigarette smoke. And I didn't much like church back then, either.


The Language Of Women grows out of my interest in gender, and specifically the times when culture diverges so far as to result in gender-specific languages. I'm by no means a scholar on the subject, but from time to time I run across something interesting, and the factoids have been accreting over the years, and here we are.

This story is derived from a specific quirk of history. In Japan, during the time immediately before the Warring States period (sic, probably, I have no idea what the real nomenclature is), there was a period where the Chinese script was the written language of scholars, and there was a separate script for women. If you don't believe my story is true, go to a bookstore, and look for, say, The Tale Of Genji or The Pillow Book Of Sei Shonagon. Then try and find works by male writers who were their contemporaries.

On the first round through, it was all written in the style of the passages dealing with women's language, and all the readers reacted with wary suspicion. So I pulled out my utility-grade poetry and got to work. (You wouldn't want to read a whole fucking book of my poetry, but I can slide a little in here and there without feeling like too much of a jackass.)


I had an ongoing mental argument with an imaginary Jennie McCarthy for a long time. The missus plays video poker, I fight in my head, we all need hobbies. Anyway, it blows me away that someone can torment, mutilate, and kill children with nothing more than trick boobs and hubris, and never, ever be held responsible for the toll of human suffering on her slate.

I'd been turning this one over in my mind when I was presented with the Seven Deadly sins. I thought to myself, "The Eden story will do for Lust, Language works for Pride, and this will be Malice."

But Malice is not a deadly sin. December House took it anyway, but this is one of the reasons I was bushwhacked at the last moment. I"d forgotten all about Pride.

But go read A Leaven Of Malice, by Robertson Davies. It's real good if you're in a mood for Canadian bacon.


Right now, I am in a very odd socioeconomic position. I've been financially dependent for about a year now, and am applying for SSI and Social Security. But my daily life is one of relative comfort and prosperity. I am closely connected to people who have it a lot better than I do, and people who have it a lot worse. So I get to see the intimate differences between the way life is conducted among the rich and among the poor, and to be regarded variously as one or the other when I feel as if I'm floating in the middle. Closer to the bottom, but not that close.

I have come to view human industrial and economic behavior as a parasitic para-lifeform composed of an interlocking web of technology and a nervous system whose synapses are quanta of human desire. If you called it a god, I wouldn't argue. I do not like the organism, I do not trust the organism, I would kill the organism if I could.

But I'm not likely to get a real opportunity, and in the meantime I"m trying to broker some kind of temporary truce.

And that was when the ideas ran out, and I had no more fiction to offer, and I had to settle for the more energetic if less convincing real life for inspiration. Thankfully, I sin regularly and with great regret.

(Gluttony, but this one isn't a one-sin story)

Oh, I was worried about the reaction to this one. But when I read it live at the Ain't No Fun When The Rabbit's Got The Gun reading (I did violence in the form of the fight scene from my novel in progress, then sex with this), people got pulled right into it.

I've gotten in the habit of dealing with my darkest secrets by anatomizing them in front of a crowd composed mostly of strangers, but with enough friends and relatives mixed in to guarantee regular judgment for the remainder of my life.

It works okay.


"How do you write a story about sloth?" I thought. "I never..." and then I remembered. Now, do I want to reveal in public that I am a sheltered house-pet incapable of refilling his own water dish?

Beats blowing the assignment. Yes, this really happened. No, it is not likely to happen again. I am in therapy specifically to address issues like this. The missus is no longer frightened by the idea of leaving me at home alone.

Now, that, I probably shouldn't have said.


The Oaf: So you know that thing I do where I get upset, and I"m compelled to patrol my neighborhood, and the more upset I am, the more territory I cover? Well, I found out who else does that.

The Shrink: Yes, it's typical of disorganized pattern killers.

The Oaf: I keep forgetting you study this stuff.

The Shrink: Nah, I just read too many thrillers.

(The therapeutic relationship in brief. And for the record, I take Wrath and Sloth quite seriously. How are your sins coming along?)


My first shot at Envy was one of those things I do where people go, "Yeah, it's nice, but what is it?" It was an attempt at an elegant fantasy -- I was aiming for Lord Dunsany and Clarke Ashton Smith, but I think I hit Moorcock-flavored Lin Carter by mistake -- and despite being chock-full of envy, it wasn't publishable. Only running up against one of those was a relief. It has been returned to the compost heap, and may return at some point. I now know what happens next, but I don't know if it has an ending.

So this little slice-of-life was called forth to fill in the gap. The fun for me was writing a technical document. It's nothing, but those with a fondness for animals might find it amusing. For the record, I am now up to nine pillows.