Writing: New Story Completed

I finished a new story last night, "Beks and the Second Note".  This is the first story I've completed since returning to work at the end of July.  I'd been worried that losing 40 hours of free time a week, plus a few more hours commute time, would be too much of a time and energy drain to keep working on fiction. Looks like it's still possible, though not easy.

Bok Beks, the narrator of the new story, is a character I've written before.  He first appeared in "Beks and the Monkey", in a chapbook-size anthology, REQUIEM FOR THE RADIOACTIVE MONKEYS, abut eight or nine years ago.  There are a couple more incomplete stories about Beks in my old files, which I may get back to if this new one manages to find a home.

The Beks stories are mysteries, not my usual SF or fantasy.  Once you get past the Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's magazines, it's harder to find mystery/thriller short fiction markets than for SF/fantasy.  For one thing, SF/Fantasy has several sites devoted to listing current markets for short fiction.  (Thank you, ralan.com.) There doesn't seem to be a good equivalent for mystery/thriller fiction; a lot of the listings I've found have been out of date and cluttered with dead links.  So, while I think the story's good enough to eventually find a home, it may take a while.  (I'll run it through the local library's monthly writers' workshop for critique before I actually send it out.)

In related news, the latest submission for "Julius Jeremiah and the Time Machinist", the SF story I finished a few months ago, came back with a personal note saying "This one's so well-crafted that I expect you'll have no trouble finding a home for it."  I hope that's just a nice compliment, and not The Kiss of Total Fucking Death.

To explain:  Back when I first started trying to write serious fiction in 1980 (1975's "The Return of Captain Nucleus" was written as a joke; I was surprised to get a check.), that first serious story, "Glorypain", eventually went to 45 markets.  About half those markets sent back rejections essentially saying "This is a very good story.  I don't want to publish it."  (One editor wrote a three-page letter telling me how good it was... and then didn't buy it.)  It eventually got really frustrating to get that kind of rejection back, to the point where I almost preferred to get a form rejection instead.

(I stopped sending "Glorypain" out after 9/11.  A large chunk of the story was set at an airport, and I never worked up the energy to try and revise it to reflect the new security environment at airports.)

I'm enjoying writing (and completing) stories again, after a long time of inactivity occasionally punctuated by fragments, false starts, and dead ends.  I'd enjoy it even more if the new stories (and a few older ones I've dusted off and sent out again) actually started selling.  (This is me being grumpy.)

(Typewriter image from Wikimedia Commons.  Originally appeared in advertisement in Weird Tales magazine.)


Night Visitor -- On Feral cats

There are about a half-dozen feral cats on the property where I work.  Because one of the VP's there is a cat-lover, a feeding station has been set up where they can get water and food.  The company also tries to do a neuter-and-release program with as many of the ferals as they can catch.  The population shifts over time, as the older cats disappear or die, new cats come in, and the occasional litter of kittens still shows up in a drainpipe or other sheltered spot in spite of the neutering program.

Most of the ferals are highly skittish about human contact, but a couple are more trusting.  This one, a gorgeous orange tabby will sometimes come up to within a few inches if you stand still.  (The photo is B&W because the night-time lighting on the site causes color photos to shift into a ghastly palette)

Besides disease, cars and other dangers feral cats face, our property is within walking distance of a large urban mountain-preserve/park that provides home to a fair number of wild coyotes.  Occasionally a coyote or several wander out of the preserve and find their way under the property's fence.  Mostly they're looking for the rabbits that make a home on the undeveloped acreage or by the driving range, but I've seen them stalking an occasional cat a few times.  Without success that I've witnessed, but that may be because while a cat may resemble a funny-looking rabbit, it's a funny-looking rabbit with a bad attitude and its own fangs and claws.  (It may also be that, in the case of some of the ferals who disappeared, the body wasn't left behind to be found.)

It's hard to socialize adult feral cats (why the neutered ones are put back where they came from), but if you can get one of the kittens young enough they can adapt easily to being a household cat.  (One of our Very Best Cats from about thirty years ago, a big old guy we named Sir Kay, came from a feral mother's litter.)

Update, 9/15/13:  Here's a post-sunrise color shot of the orange tabby:


BOOK REVIEW: Stealing Into Winter, by Graeme Talboys

I've gotten pretty jaded with fantasy novels over the years.  There are tropes and plot devices and character types that have been used over and over.  It's hard to find a new one that keeps my interest.

This one worked.  Even though the main character is a thief (how many times have we seen that in fantasy before?), the opening segment caught my interest.  We first see Jeniche in a prison dungeon as it starts to collapse around her, the result of an invading army shelling the city.  Between dodging falling stonework and having to fight another, psychopathic, prisoner in her effort to fully escape, the segment is breakneck, non-stop action, very well done.  It hooked me in.

Subsequent chapters begin to fill out the world Jeniche lives in.  It's an old world, largely fallen to pre-industrial levels.  (There are exceptions, like the dirigibles that show up late in the story.)  Ancient ruins, worn and eroded, are common, and one section takes place in a long-abandoned city now buried beneath desert sands.  This story may actually take place in a far-future, fallen Earth; there's a passing mention of huge windowless buildings that makes anyone who approaches too closely sicken and die.  (Nuclear power plants?)

What I liked about Talboys writing is that he doesn't explain everything.  The city of Makamba, where the story begins, is built up slowly in the reader's mind.  We learn some of Jeniche's backstory, and that of the other characters, but not all of it, and it's not delivered in a lump, but slowly, a bit at a time.   The buried city, and the world's deep past, remain largely a mystery.

One thing that some readers might find disconcerting is that there are time breaks between chapters.  Stuff happens during those time breaks, and it's revealed by subsequent dialogue and interactions between Jeniche and the group of monks and nuns she finds herself aiding in an epic journey across the world, pursued by elements of the same army that invaded Makamba.

I didn't mind that technique.  It made me pay closer attention to what was said, and how the characters acted towards each other.  If Talboys made me work a little to keep track of what was going on, and to figure out some of the backstory and history, I enjoyed the effort, and I'm hoping to see further volumes of Jeniche's story, and to learn more about her history and the forgotten history of the world she lives in.

(And it turns out, as I double-check info before posting this, that the second book, Exile & Pilgrim, is available for the Amazon Kindle.  There's also a hardcopy version, available from Amazon.uk.)

Stealing Into Winter, Graeme K. Talboys, 240 pages, Roundfire Books, 2012.