More “Election” Returns

(Taken from the Pike County News-Herald-Republican-Watchman-Tribune of November 4, 2009)

Pike County, OH– (Ilene Dover, staff writer) In the continuing bizarre events surrounding the vacant At-Large seat for North Jackson Township Trustee, it appears that the winner this time is Foreclosure. Once again the winner was not on the ballot and won as part of an intensive write in campaign. Unlike the 2007 midterm election where a national realtor chain won the At-Large seat, there is no individual, business or organization that can be contacted for comment about the win. At press time three separate estate auction houses have filed claims to the seat at the county courthouse, although none of them are listed in the phone book or tax rolls under the name ‘Foreclosure’ or ‘Closure’.

Interviews with local residents shed more light on yesterday’s election outcome. Mr. James Truthsbury of North Jackson Pike Road stated “his campaign signs were posted all over the place for well over two years now. I seen them pop up at one neighbor’s house only to move down the road a bit to the farm of another. Frankly I got so sick of seein’ them signs all over that I decided to vote for the guy so that he’d stop his never ending campainin’. In behind sight, I guess I fell into his lame election tactics. I mean, I guess I shoulda voted for Whitt, Maloy or Harris because they remove their election signs after every election. But I didn’t want to have to sit in the barbershop and get ribbed about backing a loser, again. So, I wrote him in.”

Ms. Falsy Higginbotham of Mill St. in the village of Alpha claimed “Mr. Closure has the support of everyone around here, right? All them signs were for him, right? Signs saying ‘For Closure’ means they aren’t against him, right? Besides, he’s rich, right? It appears he owns three maybe four auction houses, right?”

A constituent that wished to remain anonymous told us “he was more for the little people than them other ones. I mean most folks who had for Closure signs in their yards been talking down at the Quick Mart how them Wall Street, them government bailout money grabbin’ crooks, them banks and mortgage companies was gonna take everything they had and turn them out into the street. I figure if them folks was for Closure then I should be too. Hey, what paper are you from? I see you are wearing an American Flag lapel pin, your paper must be backing them government Wall Street bailouts, so don’t you dare use my name or I’ll sue.”

When asked for comments, candidates Faith Whitt and Steadman Harris issued a joint statement announcing that they would not be seeking a recount because “the people have spoken.” The third candidate running for the North Jackson Township At-Large trustee seat, Buster Maloy, was somewhere out in the township removing his election signage at press time and could not be reached for comment.

This reporter visited the area, and indeed nearly a sixth of the households had Foreclosure signs in their yards. It should be noted that a Mr. Sale, also a write in candidate, placed second in the election and will serve the term of office if Mr. Closure does not present himself to be sworn in at the Township Board of Trustee’s meeting next Monday evening.

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How the Human Got His Free Will

Every Day Fiction has decided to publish my story, “How the Human Got His Free Will” as part of their November line up.

The framework for this story started as part of my desire to create modern stories in the vein of Kipling’s ‘just so’ stories. You know, “How the Camel Got His Hump” and the rest. While I had intended to have social commentary as part of the story, I did not intend for the commentary to become the story. Alas, as it is in most cases, this story turned out much differently than I had originally envisioned it and it is likely a much better story because of it. If is going to be published on November 25th, 2009.

Summer and Autumn distractions have really eaten into my writing time. I have gotten good feedback from critique readers and editors on a number of stories. I haven’t done anything with it. The stories are just sitting there waiting for revisions. I really need to do a better job at time management.

Becoming Anthologized

Good news about one of my short stories.
Every Day Fiction has chosen my story “Becoming Cottontail” to be part of their “Best of Every Day Fiction 2009” anthology. I am stoked about this.

Sadly, the old cottontail rabbit that was the inspiration for getting this story started was not around this spring and summer. Last year she would sit in our front yard and watch us. We could exit the house, slam the door, stomp up and down the sidewalk and she would just sit there watching, only running if we approached her within five or six feet.

The Rocky Balboa movies

I am a sucker for boxing movies with formula plots.

As a whole the Rocky movies are really nothing special, but in their way, they are at least as good, and at moments better, than your typical run of the mill (to use a cliche to describe the cliched) action movies.

I decided to watch all six movies. It had been a long time since I’d seen some of them, and two I had not seen at all. One through three I saw in movie theaters. Four on broadcast TV, shortened for time and content. Five I’d managed to avoid except for the very ending which I’d stumbled across three or four times on lazy Sunday afternoons. I wanted to watch “Rocky Balboa” in the theater, but failed to find the time.

Over the span of a month I rented all six on DVD.

I was surprised that “Rocky” has survived the test of time. The things that date it–clothes, cars, etc.–give it the feel of a recounting of an important event in Philadelphia’s past. The honest ending is still something modern studios should pay attention to.

“Rocky II” still feels like a typical Hollywood sequel. I have always felt that it was the movie that the studio would have insisted that “Rocky” be if Stallone had been on their radar as a box office draw when it was made. I don’t like the “hollywood” ending. Still, I like the movie. Mostly because of the character moments. Even the minor characters grow and change. Burgess Meredith’s Mickey is perhaps my most favorite supporting character.

What a romp “Rocky III” was. Still it is the same formula as the first two movies, just upside down and squished together. Clubber Lang is the Rocky-like character, and Rocky is Creed-ish. Still, it works for me, again because of character growth. I liked getting to see Apollo Creed being more than a limited dimension foil.

“Rocky IV” would not have worked for me if I hadn’t started to like Creed. During this viewing, I finally got to see scenes that get cut when the film is shown on TV. And yes, this is a revenge movie. Yes, it is a rehashing of the plot elements of “Rocky III” taken to an international scale. Yes, the ending was hokey. But… But sometimes I can’t help and wonder if “Rocky IV” put a spider crack in a wall that East Berliners tore down seven years later.

I was told by a friend to avoid “Rocky V”, and I did. I am glad I did. If I had seen it when if first came out I know it would have been a bitter experience. What really saddens me is the potential this movie has. It could have been so much more. The first part of the movie had me hooked. Here was a punch-drunk Rocky, wanting desperately to be a good father and husband, but not understanding how to do that. Stallone played the dementia astonishingly well. Talia Shire was so wonderful. I could really see Adrian struggling with walking the thin line between defending her husband from those who would take advantage of him, and giving her husband the freedom to feel useful; to feel like himself. She did not deserve to be nominated for the Razzie award. About halfway in the movie simply broke. Parts of it seem disjointed. The ending does not fit. Not at all. I see the great movie this could have been, and shake my head.

“Rocky Balboa” was outstanding. It was clear that a lot of effort went into the script. Characterization again was at the forefront, and Stallone even used some of the broken things from “Rocky V” and in doing so gave more credence to, strengthened and (somewhat) fixed the earlier movie. Paulie finally gets his moment to grow and Burt Young portrayed it so well. Elements from all five previous movies were used to define Rocky. There are moments when he is still obviously battling the dementia from getting hammered by Clubber Lang and Drago, but there are also moments where he is still the joke telling, bashful, good-hearted man introduced to us in the very first movie. The climax and denouement worked well. I really like this movie.

As a whole, the series does have some shortcomings. There is not much wiggle room when you have a plot device that allows only two outcomes. Win, lose. On, off. Yes, no. In these movies the moments that worked the best were when “maybe” was introduced or explored. Maybe Rocky will not go the distance. Maybe Rocky is more than a pug. Maybe Rocky has an inflated ego. Maybe Rocky is willing to die. Maybe Rocky can’t avoid who he really is. Maybe Rocky is going to be just fine.

I am glad I did this exercise in film watching. I just might do the same thing with the Rambo series…

A Good Rejection; and Another Not So…

First the good rejection. My story, “The Last Ride of Harvey Mushman” survived the slush pile at Abyss & Apex, an award winning semi-pro magazine. The personal rejection that arrived this morning from the Editor-in-chief was very straight forward. There were no problems with the story other than it didn’t fit the personal tastes of the editor.
I can see that. Not everyone would automatically like stories with a motorcycle race as the setting. What I am taking away from this rejection is that there were no problems with the story, craft or otherwise. It just was not a good fit. Off to another market with this one. ASAP.

Now the bad rejection… “History” sat at a market for a very long time. They had been closed to submissions for nearly a year when they announced recently that they were reopening to submissions on August 1st. Previously, their guidelines page had told authors not to query the status of stories, that the slush pile was so large that they needed time to deal with it, but not to worry they would contact everyone as soon as a decision had been made.
With the re-opening to submissions announcement they removed the ban on submission queries, and since they were going to be open to submissions in a few days, I decided yesterday that it was a good time to query.
Yesterday, I got a form letter rejection.
The response to my query was very fast. Either they had decided to reject it before my query and failed to inform me, or they made a snap judgment about it after sitting on it for 455 days. (That’s right; a year and a quarter!) Very unsatisfying. Very.

I keep my chin up because the good rejections are out numbering the bad ones.

Pins and Needles can sting

This is one of those typical bad news, good news posts.

I have been waiting on pins and needles for well over a month now to hear back from an editor about the status of one of my stories. The story had survived the slush pile, and all the subsequent readings and opinions by the editorial staff until it reached the managing editor. The bad news it that it was rejected.

But then there is the good news. The magazine was a professional market that is recognized by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). To have a story get past initial slush was an accomplishment; to have it survive the winnowing process until it was rejected by the editor that makes the final decisions was remarkable; to receive personal feedback by the magazine’s editorial team was unexpected, and I am grateful for the experience.

Understand that the rejection stings. The longer the story survived the selection process, the more hopeful I became. I was really wanting an acceptance. Who wouldn’t?

But as the disappointment wanes I am already thinking of the editors’ (yes, plural) insightful comments. I have already decided that two small tweaks can make the story stronger. I have also decided which market to send it to next.

The magazine? Flash Fiction Online.

This Post is About Something

I have been a writer my entire life. I made up stories before I could write. My sister and I would create the most amazing silliness out of the most mundane. I remember acting out skits that we learned from listening to comedy records and disc jockeys. After one particularly silly ‘for the family only’ performance, we slipped into a bit from the Wizard of Oz, linked arms and did the yellow brick road stutter step walk out of the dining room (our stage) singing the phrase “We’re off” over and over and over like a broken record caught in a endless loop. Not only were we telling our family that the improv show was over, but we were also fessing up that we knew were not the Ozzie and Harriet definition of normal. That was really something for kids our age to be aware of! I learned the lesson that creativity, and flash stories in particular, need to be about something not just about some things. Somehow I forgot that.

Writers get asked “where do you get your ideas.” Let me tell you that ideas are everywhere. I have a list of great ideas. Laundry lists of things that I could write about. Clever stuff. Original thoughts. Earth shattering “would you look at that” things. Just last night I had an idea about a guy who forgot that his vocal cords are not twenty years old anymore. But ideas are not stories.
For example, I had a clever thought back in the mid-90’s. It tied animal created paths to purpose built roads and then on to interstellar travel on not-so-original ‘warp lanes’. It was clever enough to make a few people chuckle. But that was all there was, and for most people the cleverness wasn’t enough. It was in all honesty very boring.

An idea, a thing, a clever turn of phrase alone can never be a good story. I don’t throw away these ideas. I keep them. They tumble around in my very quirky and very weird brain. They are still important ingredients for a story. They just lack something.

I kept that clever warp lane idea. One day it collided with another not-so-original clever idea that involved David Brin-ish intelligent Koala bears. Koala bears traveling up and down the warp lane tickled the silliness in me. But it wasn’t until I started thinking about why a sapient Koala would want to travel the warp lane that a story formed.

The ‘why’ gave me the something that the story needed. The something that knitted these clever and silly ideas together and gave them a reason to be told. Everyone, or so I think, experiences some form of prejudice. Mine was being a dirt poor kid growing up on a farm with poor dirt. My sister and I created stories for a reason. We were too poor to replace the television that had fried when a lightening bolt hit the antenna. Even if I had been popular, there wasn’t a lot of time to socialize. I had chores to do after school and on nearly every summer day. The garden wasn’t for a few fresh veggies to highlight an autumn feast, it fed us during the long winter. I was teased by my peers because my jeans had patches on them, my tennis shoes had plastic soles instead of rubber, and because my hand-me-down clothes didn’t fit well. I have listened to acquaintances talk of acts of prejudice that make my experiences diminish to nothing in comparison. But because of my experiences I had the hint of a hope that I could relate to the abuses they had endured. I cling to a lot of similar hints. They too are some things that can become part of a story.

It occurred to me that even a Koala rich enough to travel up and down the warp lane, no matter how smart or how dapper he may also be, would be considered uppity or someone to fear by others simply because he was different. Now that is something.
I typed out 95 words and The Journey was begun. I had a story.

But I didn’t recognize the lesson. I stumbled into a handful of other clever ideas that happened to get immersed in something that made them into stories. Prejudice is a common theme for me. One I really didn’t recognize fully until I had the clever idea for this post. But even this strong idea that resonates with so many people is still just a thing. Relating acts and effects of prejudice do not make a story. There has to be something; something more. It is a subtle distinction. Editors recognize it and sometimes even tell us that ‘something’ is missing. I can’t define this ‘something’ any better than with the examples I have given above. Maybe this is what people are really asking when they want to know where a writer’s ideas come from.

Here I am. It took me two full years of purposeful writing to remember a lesson I had learned as a child. A story has to be about something, not just about some things.

Cross Canadian Ragweed

This is not a post about an invasive plant species.

Cross Canadian Ragweed is a southern rock band out of Oklahoma. They have been around since the mid-1990s but did not hit my radar until a few years ago. I like ’em.
I picked a song from their 2002 eponymous album to share. I hope you like it.

Brooklyn Kid

The writing hiatus is over

I took a short break from writing fiction. I make the distinction because I do a lot of non-fiction writing for work; software code, software manuals, useless paperwork, etc. Well some of the useless paperwork can look like fiction at times…
It has been a busy springtime, but it is time to get back to writing stories. I must admit I was a little down about writing. I had a long string of rejections. But then, during the hiatus, something interesting happened. Two of my stories survived the slush piles and are now waiting for further consideration. They are at markets that I really would like to break into, and one of them is a market recognized by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).

I am on pins and needles waiting for replies.

90% Sure; 100% Wrong

I had another good trail building experience last week. I am still amazed at how much work a few folks can do when they set their minds to it. I have been helping to build hiking trails for the Buckeye Trail Association for over two years now. And I am still learning tricks, new techniques and how to deal with the diversity of mother nature.
One thing that I did early on while building trail was to skip over an area that I was not sure how to handle. Originally I skipped over things like deep cuts into the hillside, extremely large buried rocks, and the like (I jump in and tackle those things solo now). I’d return to the spot later when I would see a more experienced worker at that section, or I’d study it at the end of the day to see what was done. It is a good way to learn.
I passed over a gully this time. Before moving on I paused and tried to figure out what I would do if I didn’t have any help. My plan was close to what the finished trail was. The only difference, and it is a big one, was to build a rock base that the water can trickle through, and build up the tread with dirt hauled in from a different spot. I would have built up the dirt and left a small gap for the water to run through.
This was a hard week, and as one of the two workers under 60 that stayed the entire week, I was pressed into some of the more strenuous tasks. I volunteered to move rock from two sections that were nothing but rock slides. At the end of the week we did a rough calculation and determined that those of us working on the rock slides had moved approximately 30 tons of sandstone. Some rocks were over 100 pounds each, easy.
Inside one of these rocky sections there were still small trees to grub out. With all the stone, you have to dig out the rocks before you can cut the roots or you will nick the cutting blade of the mattock or pulaski. I was 90% sure that I had all the rocks removed from around a particular root. That is about the best you can get without totally digging the root out and have nothing but air around it. Well I was 100% wrong. There was a stone pretending to be dirt directly under the root. The shock of hitting it with a powerful chop jarred the elbow on my right arm. It really hurt. Luckily I am a fairly coordinated person, and I was able to switch to using the mattock southpaw for the rest of the day. The elbow is back completely to normal now. Lesson learned? In a rocky section 90% sure is not good enough when swinging a chopping tool with all your strength.

Two other events made the trail building week special. Doris came over to the Pike Lake campsite and shared dinner with the workers one evening. She seemed to have a lot of fun. Then on the last workday, Chris joined me in trail building. He worked hard and even got a blister. I am sure that it was an eye opener for him.

Building hiking trail is hard work, but it is so very rewarding. AND my back is doing even better now.