Short Short Story: “Fur”

This story, based on something I witnessed, woke me up Wednesday morning. It’s both sad and honest, and it involves one of the tougher issues many of us will face.

I’d like to hear feedback, so have a read: Fur or The Trouble With Pets

 

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An 8:23-a.m. Ramble

Lots of pain this morning. Bottoms of my feet, both sets of toes, left top of my foot (separate, somehow), knees aching, lower back disagreeable. This is ridiculous. I’m 42, I can’t be broken. Chalk the weight gain up to fatigue and pain (the eating beast self-perpetuates craftily) plus a liberal summer of milkshakes. Good thing I’m on my way to the gym, where sweat and pain are required. Then it will all be worth something.

I’m waiting on job news, both exciting and exhausting. Four phone chats. Five? Just give me entry-level work, for chrissakes. Foot in the door, turn the corner on my hole-ridden resume. I’ll work my way up. Delays in finding an afternoon nanny threaten to send me back to square one. I don’t like square one. I want responsibilities, adult interaction, a W-2. Kinda sick of hearing about the nobility and value in putting the kids (needs and schedules) first. Why can’t I put them tied for first while I work through a healthy hopper?

The house Wi-Fi took an inexplicable siesta yesterday. A little thing, first-world inconvenience, but the timing was excellent. Job research, Luanne’s paperwork, kids griping without reason to gripe. I need to get out of this house.

On Tuesday, I saw a heartbreaking moment. I’ll share that soon.

In the dark this morning, I revisited the sadness of ET. Would Elliott ever be okay? In real life, he’d be around 46, trying to explain loss to his own kids. I’m sure there’s a ton of manuals on the subject, and I’m sure most of them suck.

Tempest Road comes out in a few weeks. I want to celebrate it, share it with people, and then move on. I don’t want to entertain the fantasy of robust sales, this time. Hope can be a killer. The cover seems awesome to me–my idea, Greg Simanson’s work. I have about seven seconds to entice people with it. Seven seconds to pique a reader’s interest, because two thousand hours of sweat equity just looks like black type on white paper. And any fool can do that.

Sip the coffee, fill the water, get out to the gym. An essay on Sherman Alexie popped into mind, scrawled on the kitchen white board with my carbs-count and ‘gf’ for gluten-free days (wheat may not be hurting, but it certainly wasn’t helping!) and note to work on a friend’s website. At the bottom is a command, the way I imagine Mr. Alexie (ever the funny man) would put it: “Get a job, you bum.”

Swell.

What It Takes

While looking up a citation for Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” for Tempest Road, I learned that Ride the Lightning, their second album, cost $30,000 to make. In today’s dollars, thanks to www.calculator.net, that amounts to $72,359. Granted, that’s only studio time in Copenhagen and actual production costs for the record (and doesn’t account for the all-important sweat equity). Still, less than $75k for an album that went on to sell millions of copies and launched stardom.

Steven Spielberg’s brilliant adaptation of Peter Benchley’s Jaws was reportedly made for $6 million, with a quarter of that spent on the titular munch machine. It was over-budget, threatened to ruin many careers, and one scene (the sunken-boat thriller) had to be re-filmed in somebody’s swimming pool. The results? The film literally frightened people out of the theater and went on to gross a half-billion dollars.

I once read that the manuscript for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone for the U.S. market) was turned down by 31 agents around the United Kingdom. Yes, 31 people thought that book wouldn’t be “good enough” to represent.

Edge of a folded 5-dollar bill and CD on Justin Edison's bar

Not everything is about money, of course. We can define success in other ways–or we can watch our dreams be slaughtered from behind vice-tinted glasses. But success won’t happen–it won’t, it won’t, it won’t–if you don’t put in the sweat equity. The late nights, the pacing, the hair-pulling, the coffee or tea, the “honest opinion” solicitations (oh yes, lots of those). It counts.

My son’s immensely talented soccer coach (who would dismiss the idea that he’s brilliant) is fond of saying how “it’s all about the effort.” The individual skill and talent and strategy all take a backseat to the effort. Put in the hard work and dedication, and you’ve done your job.

The one thing Metallica, Spielberg and Rowling have in common (besides creativity) is the labor they poured into projects they believed in. All that sweat equity in the face of doubt.

After all, you never know what could happen.

 

Dreams Defied

Hours ago, I had a dream in which a family of vacationers assumed my house was the VRBO they’d rented. In the middle of a sunny school day, they started hauling in bags and cases of orange juice concentrate and asking where the beach was (not anywhere near this house). And they were annoying as hell.

If this was an anxiety dream–I’m not an anxious person–at least it was rather benign. My OB/GYN wife recently dreamed that, during a delivery, the baby’s head popped off. She had to put it back on–quickly–with the medical equivalent of duct tape.

My dreams used to take me to very dark places. Munched by big sharks (numerous times), thrown off a cliff, shot (for a bewildering number of reasons, one of them logical), munched by giant spiders (before I read “It” or “The Two Towers”), set on fire, blown up, crushed, minced or sometimes just left in a setting with Darkness from Ridley Scott’s “Legend” film. Fear of the dark? For years, I was terrified of falling asleep. My brain was not my friend.

The one consistency through all these dreams (and as many as I can remember) is the issue of powerlessness. It’s a theme that pervades my books: Heroes (or other characters) are thrust into situations they have little ability to control. That’s a fun, safe trajectory for story-telling. Greed tales would lean toward parables, and veins of apathy or bigotry would be exceptionally difficult for a man who can’t truly understand either. (For capturing the GOP in novel form, I wouldn’t be the right guy.)

In my dreams, I’ve realized, I’m often not me. There’s usually a moral component–I feel bad, or I want to act in an ethical way–but I don’t act. I watch. As if my inner self is really just a giant chicken. ‘Hey, look at that. That’s kind of awful. No, don’t come my way!’

Or maybe my dreams are a kind of reminder, a guide to what what I should or shouldn’t do. My job is to act, to defy that inner pathetic weakling.

My wife is, of course, an extremely careful and thoughtful provider. I still don’t go too deep in the ocean (guilty) and I wouldn’t enter a nightmare-worthy cabin in the woods. If others are in peril (especially kids) I’d know to get them to safety, first.

Justin Edison's front door, through which pours...

And I’m sure, if a bunch of mistaken vacationers tried to waltz in here with their attendant crap and attitudes, I’d raise my voice pretty damned loud.

As the kids remind me, my inner ogre is always standing by.

Counter

They way a number of creative brains work–speaking from personal experience–is that doing something unrelated to the creative process can provide the burst, the spark, the breakthrough. I don’t know the science behind it. Maybe it’s immersing oneself in mundane activity that forces the brain to go for a romp in fantasy-land.

I had one of these gem-finding moments while I was at Camp Hamilton with my son’s school last week. As one of the cooks, I was tired (early mornings in the kitchen) and I’d gone back to my cabin alone for a de-groggifying shower before the dinner prep started. Sitting there, showered and dressed and barefoot (painful foot issues set aside, for a spell) in a musty-smelling cabin in the woods, without a single item of technology in sight, I had a thought about technology. That’s a little counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Sleeping bags, trees, breeze, pine needles, dusty windows, dirty laundry piles (four cabin-mates), distant screams of occupied middle-school kids, a bit of cellophane litter outside–and I have a thought about a digital sharpshooter’s scope? How does that compute?

Red lights from bank of walkie-talkies at Camp Hamilton lodge

The item I thought of, for the second book in my Woman at War series, is a pattern-recognition capability for my heroine’s rifle. It would be an expensive piece of tech, to be sure, and I’m willing to bet we (or someone) has something similar in the works, now. (In the story, June Vereeth would use the enhanced scope to target incoming aerial assault vehicles. A tri-layer crosshairs image, in four quadrants, would help the user re-acquire a fast-moving target.)

Whether any of this technology would work out for “Destruction” remains to be seen. The story is, after all, what I imagine warfare might look like in a couple hundred years. (Small victory: I won’t be around to be proven wrong, ultimately.)

Red lights from bank of walkie-talkies at Camp Hamilton lodge

I wrote much of the snowbound first book, “Endgame,” while in sunny San Diego. Palm trees and surf–and I’m trying to figure out how my heroes might survive in an ice cave. I’ve also penned fantasy scenes (for Doublesight shape-shifters and ogres) while sitting in my parked minivan, waiting for kids to get out of martial arts or piano lessons.

Somehow, it all works. Although it may drive my wife crazy when I pause from doing dishes to pen a note, I’ll keep doing it. I know I’m super-lucky. There’s a reason I don’t go anywhere without pen and paper, these days. Inspiration is everywhere.

Red lights from bank of walkie-talkies at Camp Hamilton lodge

A bank of walkie-talkies waiting overnight for owners, Discover Lodge, Camp Hamilton with EAS.

The Prince of Endless, pt. 2

I’ve been writing this material as screenplays, assuming (foolishly) that the format would actually be valuable to a Hollywood agent and, further down the fantasy road, movie director. I also thought I’d put this all into novel form someday. That might happen. For the time being, the scene setting, actions and dialogue (all in present tense) will suffice.

This all takes place in Verisye, a fantasy world not unlike others seen many times. There’s no real technology above crossbows, catapults and large-gear mechanisms. The biggest distinction is the Aviarinelle, a multicolored river which runs through the sky. It’s high enough that it courses past snowy mountain peaks, and it is endless to the eye. Occasionally, characters hear it or think they hear it, so the river serves as a kind of constant in place of any widespread religion.

Tagline for this story: In a fantasy world, two unlikely heroes race to save a boy prince who’s been kidnapped.

(Opening credits with “Would?” by Alice In Chains)

 

In early morning in a fogged-in swamp, two constables (police) creep along a wet boat dock. They are MARVELLA, a blond woman (our heroine) and IBIX, a tough, older man. Both wear the light armor and swords of their job, which is to protect their small nearby town of Dillingham. They are both afraid, swords drawn. Visibility is only twenty feet in the fog.

“We must be close,” Ibix says.

“Why in Gerji [hell] would a boat come here? The dock has been rotting for years,” Marvella says.

“Unknown. Damn this fog.”

Soon, the grunts and moans of a dying “man” are heard. At the sound of clinking armor, Marvella pushes forward to help him.

Close to the boat, which rammed the splintering dock, they reach an Ehara who has been mortally wounded in vicious combat (he still has a sword run through him). A smeared trail of his blood leads back to a broken section of dock, where he fell from the boat.

[Ehara are my own invention, a race of wildly-colored humanoids from the tropical southeast regions. They are thin and tall, averaging seven feet in height, hairless, and come in different hues with markings like tiger stripes, etc. in a different color. Their structure looks similar to an NBA player, but gives them phenomenal strength and mass (they can’t ride horses) and speed. The trade-off is that they are forbidden from magic use, they don’t believe in possessions and are generally altruistic. They are also mistrusted in much of the realm, thanks to the Knight Wars.]

Marvella says, “Ehara.”

Ibix comes up, surprised.

The Ehara man, beige-toned with green markings, perks up at their arrival.

“The prince,” he says, fighting to breathe/stay conscious. “My cousin…Dirkennion…in Greenhump. Find…Dirkennion. They took the Prince of Endless.”

The Ehara man dies. Marvella and Ibix stand up.

Marvella asks, “The Prince of Endless?”

“He means Endruskenlessinia. Everyone just calls it ‘Endless.'”

The two of them look at the boat in the clearing fog. An axe is buried in a bloody railing.

“Endless,” Marvella repeats. “Is this prince the heir?”

“I imagine so.”

~~~

Wall cornerpiece in York, UK

Greenhump is a hillside farming village so named for a large grassy bulge on one side.

DIRKENNION, an Ehara man with maroon skin and copper-colored stripes, wearing light clothing, is standing under a walking bridge being constructed. He is holding a large stone centerpiece in place while workers on ladders adjust other stones to complete it. The bridge crosses a steep-sided creek.

A worker grunts, “Sorry. Almost there.”

Dirkennion replies, “You are okay. Do not pinch your fingers.”

From the creekside, a VILLAGE ELDER watches with admiration. Others watch as well.

A worker says, “It’s in. Let go.”

Another worker says, “Careful. Slowly.”

Dirkennion ignores him and slowly lets go. The stones hold in place. People applaud. Workers clap happily and continue.

Soon, Dirkennion comes to the Village Elder.

“Well done, Master Dirkennion. What will we do without you?”

“I will be around.”

Village Elder gives him a pained expression. “Your time of service is almost complete. Where is the council sending you after this peaceful village? Greenhump is not very exciting, I know.”

“The peace has never bothered me.”

“You are Murrizza, an elite warrior. For two years, you have baled hay and plowed fields for us simple folk.”

Dirkennion smiles at him. “I go where I am needed, Master.”

Village Elder laughs, knowing Dirkennion is halfway joking with him.

 

to be continued…

 

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