Writing

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 3

Luckily, Will’s dad was a fan of “Early to bed, early to rise,” and packed it in right after the ten o’clock news. His mom didn’t watch the news because it gave her nightmares, but she liked to read in bed. Their light was always off by eleven, though. Another lucky thing was that Will’s room was close to the stairs, so he didn’t have to climb out the window. It was too high to jump and the downspout was too flimsy to be useful. There was no way he could drag his dad’s big ladder from the garage. So it had to be the stairs. He tested them for squeaky spots that evening, while his parents were watching TV. All okay, except for the fourth from the top and the third from the bottom.

Right after his mom kissed him goodnight and left the room, Will changed from his pjs to regular clothes and got under the covers. It felt weird to be wearing jeans and a shirt and sweater in bed, but his dad sometimes checked on him, so everything had to look normal. Then he got scared he’d fall asleep and not wake up until morning. Doof would tease him mercilessly about that. Will could almost hear him singing “Rock-a-bye baby” or some other lullaby.

Finally, the clock beside Will’s bed said 11:30. He was supposed to meet Doof at the corner of 12th and Maple at midnight. Normally it would take fifteen minutes to get there, but this wasn’t normal.

The stairs had developed a lot of fresh squeaks and creaks. Will froze after each one, a story about needing a drink of water ready on his lips. But nothing happened. Going out the back door, he realized he hadn’t thought about getting back inside. He’d have to leave the door unlocked. If a burglar came in and stole something, it would be his fault.

Thinking about what his dad would say if that happened, Will almost changed his mind. But then he thought I don’t care what he says. I’m going. He closed the door softly and crept down the driveway to the street.

Doof wasn’t at 12th and Maple. No one was. Parked cars sat there reflecting the street lights. Will stood on the sidewalk wondering how long he should wait before he gave up. He’d never been out this late before, not even on Halloween. The trees rustled quietly, as though they were telling each other secrets.

“Gotcha!” Hands grabbed Will’s shoulders from behind. He screamed.

“Quiet!” Doof clamped a palm over Will’s mouth.

Will shook him off and pushed him away, nerves jangling. “What did you do that for?”

“Just testing your reflexes, pal.” Doof giggled. “Testing, testing, one, two, three. You ready?”

“Not if you’re going to be a jerk,” said Will.

“Not me! Everything’s cool. Hey, listen!”

Music. A faraway sound, getting closer, the way a siren gets closer and louder. Except this wasn’t a siren. It was the ice cream truck’s tune, frantic and jolly.

“Let’s go!”

They ran down Maple street. The numbers on the cross streets got smaller. As they crossed 1st Street, Will noticed they weren’t on Maple anymore; the street sign said Railway Avenue. He’d never been here before. The houses were much older than in his neighbourhood, and then there were no houses, only business buildings. Ahead, train tracks gleamed silver-blue under the street lights. On the other side of them was a gas station.

The lights on the pumps were off, but a yellow light shone in the garage. A couple of cars were parked outside its open door and a few dark figures stood around. Guys. Strangers. They had bottles in their hands and talked in low voices, punctuated with bursts of laughter.

Will stopped. “Are we going over there? Where are we going, anyway?”

“Don’t be a dummy. We’re going to get us some ice cream. Come on!” Doof set off across the tracks.

“Are those guys waiting for it too?” Will asked.

Doof didn’t get a chance to answer. One of the guys by the gas station saw them and came over. He wasn’t a kid. Not even a high school kid. “What’re you kids doing here?” He didn’t sound friendly.

“What’s it to you?” Doof stuck his chin out.

“This isn’t a good place for kids—”

The ice cream truck’s music sounded really close, but they couldn’t see it.

“It’s over there! Come on!” Doof took off, running hard.

The guy from the gas station noticed Will for the first time. “That kid a friend of yours?”

Will nodded.

“You know what’s making that sound?” Will nodded again.

“Then you better keep him away from it.” The guy turned and went back to the gas station, where the light in the garage suddenly looked warm and friendly.

The music brayed and wheezed, only a couple of blocks away. The tune’s words popped into Will’s head. Lullaby and good night, soon you’ll be sleeping tight. He turned and ran after Doof, just in time to see him go around a corner two blocks away.

Will pelted down the street and around the corner. Doof was still a block ahead of him, and the ice cream truck was coming toward them. It pulled over to the kerb by a vacant lot across the street and stopped. The music faded to a growl.

Will almost ran into Doof, who had stopped by some bushes. He felt suffocated from holding his breath.

Doof stood and panted. “Maybe they’re waiting for us.” “Let’s not get too close to it,” said Will, and for once Doof didn’t argue.

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The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 2

“Hey, how about if you come home with me for supper?” Will thought he wouldn’t get into as much trouble for being late if he had a friend with him. And his dad had been asking if he’d made any friends yet, so bringing one home would show him.

Doof shifted from one foot to the other, twirling his baseball cap around his finger. “I dunno. Maybe your mom wouldn’t like that.”

“She won’t mind. She always cooks way too much food. Come on.” Will led the way at a brisk trot. They had followed the ice cream truck farther than he’d realized.

Will’s house was warm and full of good smells. Will showed Doof the bathroom so he could wash his hands and went to tell his mom about his guest.

Will’s dad was standing by his chair at the head of the table when the boys came into the dining room. Will carried an extra plate, glass, and cutlery for Doof. “Will, you know it’s disrespectful to be late for supper. This is the second time this week.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. This is my friend Doo—uh, Harold. Harold Duffy.” Will shifted his plate over and put the extras on the table. “This is my Dad.”

Doof and Will’s Dad stared at each other. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Todd.” Doof stuck out a hand, but Will’s dad ignored it.

“That’s Professor Todd,” he said and turned to Will, eyebrows crumpled. “This boy is joining us for the meal? Does your mother know?”

“She says it’s okay.”

Doof was backing up like he was planning to run out the door. Will pulled one of the spare chairs over and put it in place. “You can sit here. It’s okay.”

Will’s dad nodded and they all sat down.

While they ate pot roast, mashed potatoes and broccoli, Will couldn’t help noticing things about Doof that didn’t seem to matter before. His shirt had holes in the elbows and wasn’t too clean. There was a fading bruise on one of his wrists. Without his baseball cap on, you could tell he needed a haircut.

Will’s mom kept a kind of conversation going by asking Doof things like how did he like school and what sports he played and did he have any pets. Doof did okay answering her questions, didn’t even talk with his mouth full, used his napkin properly, ate up everything on his plate, and accepted seconds.

“I have a dog,” said Doof, answering the pet question. “Well, he’s not really my dog, but he’s my pal, you know.”

“It’d be cool to have a dog,” said Will.

Will’s dad cleared his throat. “We’re not getting a dog, Will. I don’t care for dogs. What does your father do, Harold?”

Doof didn’t reply right away. He lowered his glass of milk and looked like he was consulting an inner authority. “Business,” he said finally.

“What kind of business?” asked Will’s dad.

“All kinds,” said Doof. “It depends.”

“Where do you live, Harold?”

For a couple of seconds Will thought he would say, “None of your business,” but instead Doof gave a little one-sided smile and said, “Walnut Hill.”

The best neighbourhood in town, where all the rich people lived. Will was pretty sure Doof was lying, but after that Will’s dad stopped asking questions.

Dessert was apple pie and ice cream. As soon as he was finished, Doof put his folded napkin on his plate. “May I be excused?” he said. “I have to go home now. Thank you for supper, Mrs. Todd. Good night, Professor Todd.” He was out the door before anyone got up to see him out. Will ran after him, but all he saw was the pale blur of Doof’s shirt fading into the dark.

When he got back to the table, his father gave him a look. “That the only friend you managed to make at school? Can’t you do any better?”

“The boy was hungry,” said Will’s Mom. “Did you see how much he ate? I wonder if he’s getting proper meals at home. His table manners were good, though.”

“Do you really live in Walnut Hill?” Will asked Doof at recess the next day.

Doof narrowed his eyes. “What do you think?”

“I think you were lying.”

“Two points for Willy! Yeah, I lied to Professor Todd. So what? Don’t you ever lie to your dad? Or don’t you dare?”

Will shrugged, blushing. “So what kind of business does your dad do?”

“It depends,” said Doof,

“My dad said he figured it was probably funny business.”

Doof’s face turned red. “Your dad thinks he knows everything, doesn’t he?”

“Well, he is a professor.” Will paused. “But he doesn’t know about that ice cream truck.”

Doof threw a rock at a bird sitting on the schoolyard fence. The rock missed. The bird flew away. “Race you back to school.” He took off.

By the time Will caught up, Doof had a grin on his face. “I dare you,” he said.

“Dare me what?”

“Find that ice cream truck. Tonight.”

“After supper? I’m not allowed—”

“‘I’m not allowed! My daddy won’t let me!'” Doof mocked, his voice high and whining. “That’s why I’m daring you. And not just after supper. I’m talking real night time. Midnight. Are you up for it?”

“Midnight! That’s stupid. Nobody’s going to be selling ice cream then.”

“I’ll bet that ice cream truck does,” said Doof. “I’ve heard its music at night. So’ve you.”

“Yeah, but…”

“But nothing! Are you with me or not? ‘Cause I’m going anyway.”

“Tonight?”

“You bet! Big ol’ Friday night.”

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 1

This is a story in seven parts, each about 1,000 words. I’ll post one part a day from now until May 7th.

Music. A happy, merry tune, growing faint with distance and then coming back. Will Todd knew the tune, even though he couldn’t remember its name. The sound of an ice cream truck meant it was summer and everything was all right. They were still living in their old house. Will wouldn’t be going to a new school where he didn’t know anyone. It was summer and he could have ice cream for breakfast.

Then he woke up. Even in a dream he’d never be allowed to have ice cream for breakfast. His mom might say okay, but not his dad.

Leaning out his window, Will thought he could still hear the music floating through the air. He kept listening for it, but most of the time it was just a siren far away or a car stereo beating out a rhythm.

September became October and the rawness of seventh grade at a new school wore off. Late one afternoon Will heard the music again, for real. From far away, maybe four or five blocks, it came, that jolly, happy music. He stood and listened, trying to follow the tune, until moms started calling kids in for supper. Until kids knew they’d get heck if they came home late, to chilling soup and congealing gravy and stern lectures from dads.

“I heard an ice cream truck,” said Will, sitting down to meat loaf and mashed potatoes that had stopped steaming but weren’t cold. “I wanted to get a look at it, so I waited, but it went away.”

“It can’t be an ice cream truck,” Will’s dad said. “Not in October. Not this time of day. You should know better than that, son.”

“You must have heard somebody’s radio,” said his mom. “Now eat your supper.”

“But it was—”

Will’s dad looked up from the book next to his plate, held open with his knife. “You heard your mother. Eat your supper.” He was using his college professor voice. Will shut up.

But he kept the argument going in his head while he chewed meat loaf and green beans. No one played music like that on the radio, the same tune over and over, in the same tinkly, wheezy style. It had to be an ice cream truck, cruising the neighbourhoods in the dying day. But the music he’d heard wasn’t “Pop Goes the Weasel” or “Turkey in the Straw” or “Little Brown Jug.” It was something else, a familiar tune, but with something wrong about it. Will wondered what kind of ice cream the truck sold.

Doof might know. He always knew stuff. Doof was the only kid Will had managed to make friends with. He was the class weirdo, but at least he didn’t look at Will like he was a new kind of bug, the way the other kids did. If Doof was at school next day and felt like talking, Will would ask him if he’d heard the ice cream truck. Some days Doof just wouldn’t talk. When Will asked him why, Doof threatened to rearrange Will’s nose so he wouldn’t go sticking it into other people’s business.

His real name was Harold Duffy, but no one called him Harold except teachers. Doof was short for “Doofus,” and even though that wasn’t exactly a compliment, it was better than “Harold.” Everybody called him Doof, even the nice kids.

Doof was good at getting into trouble. He’d crack jokes in class and talk too loudly. Other days he was grumpy or wild, picking fights for no reason. He usually had an array of bruises, in a range of colours from purple to yellow, green, and brown. Every now and then he’d show up with a black eye.

“Got beat up by some big kids,” he said, when Will asked him where he’d gotten the shiner. “They thought I was trying to move in on their territory.”

“What territory?”

“Never mind. Let’s check out the creek.”

That was another thing about Doof. He knew all the interesting places. The creek with a knotted rope on a tree, where you could swing out over the water like Tarzan. A little house where no one lived that was stuffed full of old tires. Shortcuts to everywhere, through alleys and vacant lots.

Just before he fell asleep that night, Will thought he heard that music, faint and far away. He listened but couldn’t pick up the tune. Out in the hallway, the night light cast its dim glow. Will was glad to see that little light. Then he was asleep.

Doof wasn’t at school the next day, but on his way home, Will saw him standing on a corner looking up at the sky.

“Hey!” said Will, sneaking up behind him.

“Geez, Will! Don’t do that to a guy!”

“Looking for Santa? Too early by a couple months. What’cha doing?”

Doof wound up a punch, but stopped halfway and held up a finger. “Listen!”

A sound floated toward them. Music, coming closer.

“You know what that is?” Doof’s eyes narrowed.

“It’s that ice cream truck!” said Will.

“There it is!” Doof pointed and ran, and Will followed. I’ll be late for supper.

The ice cream truck turned onto the street two blocks ahead of them, braying its incongruously cheerful tune.

“It’s purple!” said Will. “Weird.” All the ice cream trucks he’d ever seen were painted in bright summery colours like pink or yellow. This one was a solid, dark purple, a night colour. On the roof, a lit-up plastic ice cream cone twirled bright red stripes.

“That’s not all that’s weird about it,” said Doof, puffing a bit. “Come on, hurry up!”

But they couldn’t catch it. The ice cream truck was going too fast toward downtown, its taillights glowing an intense red. Will thought he saw orange and purple sparks coming out of the tailpipe. As it went around a corner and out of sight, Will almost remembered the tune, some kind of lullaby, but played so fast it sounded anything but soothing.

“It’s a special ice cream truck,” Doof said, as the two of them stood catching their breaths. “It goes out at night. I’ll bet it’s got special ice cream and maybe other stuff. It’s only for grownups, or kids who don’t go running home to Mommy just ’cause it’s getting dark.” Doof jerked his head, flinging his mop of hair back, and grinned at Will while he put his baseball cap back on.

“My dad says there can’t be an ice cream truck. It’s getting cold, and who wants ice cream at night?”

“Why not? All kinds of things happen at night.” Doof hummed the Jaws theme. “Doo, doo, doo, doo, woo! Boogeyman gonna get ya, Willy!”

Will laughed and punched him on the arm “How do you know so much about that ice cream truck, anyway?”

“I go places you don’t and keep my eyes open while I’m there.” Doof flapped his ball cap at Will.

“Have you had any ice cream from it? What’s it like?”

“Not yet,” said Doof, “but I’m gonna find out.”

tires or tyres

Retread #3: Only now…

I originally posted this somewhat quirky set of thoughts about the word “only” back in June of 2014.

In the fourth of H.P.  Lovecraft’s stories serialized under the title “Herbert West, Reanimator,” West tells the narrator that a traveler collapsed and died while asking for directions at his door — presenting him with an opportunity for a really fresh specimen for one of his reanimation experiments. When the fellow comes back to life, he reveals to the narrator that West murdered him. But before that, the first words he utters as life returns to him are “Only now.” Unfortunately, with the return of full consciousness, the subject remembers his murder and never completes that intriguing sentence. Only now… what? Since H.P.L. was an atheist, it was probably not a secret of the afterlife. But “only” is an interesting word.

1. Only I can help you now.

2. I only can help you now.

3. I can only help you now.

4. I can help only you now.

5. I can help you only now.

Five sentences with quite different meanings. The wording is identical except for placement of one word — only. A slippery little word, sometimes redundant, occasionally powerful, as in #1 above. (Sentence #2, in my opinion, is problematic, but I included it for the sake of completeness). A warning before you read any more — I am no grammarian. Like a musician who doesn’t read music, I write by ear.

“Only” is an adverb, derived from Old English “anlic,” meaning “one-like.” But it’s also used as an adjective (“This is my only chance”) and a conjunction (replacing “but,” as in “I wanted to do it right, only I failed”). It can even be a noun, as in “You are my one and only.”

People are often careless in their use of “only,” especially in conversation, tossing it into sentences without much concern as to where it lands. “I’ll only be a minute,” one says, when “I’ll be only a minute” is more precise. There is a tendency to put “only” near the beginning of a sentence, often immediately before the verb. (Makes sense when it’s an adverb). The verb is the action word in a sentence, and “only,”  intended here to convey brevity or insignificance, is applied to the action word rather than to “minute,” the word that really conveys brevity.

This use of “only” is as a “softener,” a word that tones down the impact of a sentence, turning it from a demand to a request. In such a situation,  you may wish to use “just” rather than “only.” “Just” is a kind of throwaway word, and often a sentence is improved by throwing it out.

If you want a rule, it might be this:  put “only” right before the word it applies to. Move it around until the sentence conveys your intended meaning.

“Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Indeed she does.

“God only knows.” He isn’t talking, but someone else might, unless only God knows, in which case prayer is your only option.

 

Remember The Ice Cream Truck from Hell? That serial story is almost ready. Part 1 will roll out on May 1st!

It’s really coming!

Images from Pixabay

gargoyle grumpy

Retread #2: Editors and Credibility

Several years ago I read a lot of spirited discussions on a LinkedIn writers’ group which no longer exists. I suspect it self-immolated. Here’s a post from early 2013. Grumpiness warning!

Since joining LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers’ Guild last year, I’ve wasted — er, spent a lot of hours reading and occasionally commenting on several discussions. They are all about fiction writing and increasingly about self-published fiction. Inevitably, the topic of editing comes up. Someone opines that of course a self-published work must be substandard if the author has skipped the all-important step of having their work “professionally edited.” In the throes of one of these debates, someone said, “A writer who edits him- or herself has a fool for a client,” echoing a similar opinion about people who represent themselves in a court of law.

I found this statement quite provocative and felt a Rant coming on. Several weeks have passed and now I can offer a few temperate observations.

First of all, I will say that a writer who has contracted with a “traditional” publisher to publish their work has no choice in the matter of being edited. Since the publisher is investing their time and treasure in the work, it is entirely logical that they should shape the product in whatever way they believe is necessary. I’ll say no more about this. This screed is entirely about self-published works.

“Editing” is not a monolithic process. There is structural or developmental editing, in which the editor suggests getting rid of characters or giving specific characters more important roles. Entire scenes or chapters may be cut, or new ones written. The entire novel may be rewritten. This is huge and fundamental stuff. To me it makes sense that structural editing happen[s] early in the writing process. A writer who is having trouble making their story come to life as envisioned may well need a structural edit.

Line and copy editing happen in the final stage of a manuscript’s life, to deal with things such as typos, grammatical problems and continuity.

Freelance editors with connections in the traditional publishing industry may be worth paying for, but I suspect they are in a position to command high prices and be selective as to which writers they take on — just like agents.

So who is a “professional editor?” Anybody. There is no accrediting body or degree-granting authority for editors. Like writers, they create their reputations by pursuing their craft. Success comes in the form of recognition by readers, writers and peers. And as with writers, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Writers who want to hire an editor to help them structure their work or provide the professional polish are advised to use a process similar to that of hiring a contractor to do renovations on their house — request references and ask to see samples of their work. Someone suggested getting test pieces edited and going with the one you like best, but given some of the opinions expressed on LinkedIn, my suspicious self wondered if the opposite approach wouldn’t be better. We writers are a self-castigating bunch.

Here I’m getting into Rant territory again. Perhaps because the current abundance of self-published fiction includes quite a lot of naive, or unpolished, or — to be quite frank — “bad” writing, some people have decided that all self-published writers are childish, self-indulgent seekers of adulation, brainlessly inflicting half-baked textual travesties on the overburdened reading public. They need to be whipped into shape by Editors.

Like all sweeping condemnations, this bugs me. Which is why I’m writing this.

Back to that “fool for a client” remark. I disagree with that 100%. I think anyone who wants to call themselves a writer should also know how to edit. It’s part of the package.

Another thing to keep in mind is that independent, self-published authors are just that — independent. Unlike editors who work for publishing houses, they are not obliged to create a marketable “product” that will show a return on investment in a limited time. The self-published writer decides how much of their time and treasure they are going to invest in their work, and what constitutes success. Options for editing include critique groups, beta readers and endless rewriting.

In the end, what is the worst consequence of publishing a flawed, unpopular or obscure piece of writing? If it’s an e-book, it will cost the reader no more than a few dollars (less than $5 in many cases) and however much time they are prepared to spend reading until they decide a book isn’t for them. That happens all the time with traditionally published books — even so-called “best-sellers” — bought for considerably more money. And at least an unwanted ebook can be disposed of with the push of a button. It won’t be cluttering up anyone’s shelf or taking up space in the landfill.

thinking, contemplation, statue

Retread #1: The Reminiscing Voice

Here’s a post from 2011, when I frequently opined on various writing rules. This one is a bit more interesting and less grumpy than some. The text is unchanged, but I’ve bolded a few bits to zing it up visually.

In a previous post I said how partial I am to first person narrator for writing fiction. Without realizing it, I have at times been seduced by a style within that category, the reminiscing voice.

It took me a while to figure this out. I am right now in the process of editing the second novel of my Herbert West series in preparation for publication later this year. A fellow writer who has read most of the manuscript recently commented that certain sections were too slow, with too many details not relevant to the story. Years ago, a letter from a publisher rejecting this work annoyed me by using the term “plodding prose.” When I discussed this at the time with another fellow writer, we concluded that the removed, reflective quality of the narrative voice may have been what led to this opinion.

Thinking about this some more, I have identified this style of narrative as the reminiscing voice. The narrator is remembering events long after they have occurred, from a perspective of stillness and calm. Whatever the narrator’s problems, conflicts and sufferings may have been, they are over, but they were important events in the life of this character, and he or she is about to relate them to the reader.

Today I took a quick look among my books to find examples of the reminiscing voice.  As an aside, I will mention that many of the books I own — never to be dignified with the terms “collection” or “library” — were purchased in the 1970s and ’80s at used bookstores with no pretensions to the antiquarian. One of these, Ted Fraser’s Book Bin in Vancouver, B.C., actually had “bargain barrels” — big wooden barrels full of books selling at ten cents apiece. Lord only knows what was at the bottom of those barrels. The fact that many of my best-loved reads came from sources such as this should tell you something.

Back to the reminiscing voice. Here is the beginning of The Crystal Cave, the first book in Mary Stewart’s Merlin series:

I am an old man now, but then I was already past my prime when Arthur was crowned King. The years since then seem to me now more dim and faded than the earlier years, as if my life were a growing tree which burst to flower and leaf with him, and now has nothing more to do than yellow to the grave.

This is followed by four substantial paragraphs about memory and remembering, before the story begins. And even then, we are still in the Prologue.

Another example, this one the first paragraph of The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams (a book that has huge flaws, but which I re-read every few years because… Well, I don’t actually know why):

All day it has been windy — strange weather for late July — the wind swirling through the hedges like an invisible flood-tide among seaweed; tugging, compelling them in its own direction, dragging them one way until the patches of elder and privet sagged outward from the tougher stretches of blackthorn on either side. It ripped the purple clematis from its trellis and whirled away twigs and green leaves from the oaks at the bottom of the shrubbery.

And on and on like this for another two long paragraphs which are word-pictures of a garden and landscape, really quite vivid, but definitely not germane to the story of how the narrator met and lost his wife, the mysterious Karin. Adams breaks another Rule of Writing here, which is never to begin with a description of weather.

For some reason, I find beginnings of this sort compelling, both to read and to write. To me, they are like slow crescendos, starting out quietly and building to a climax in which the narrator is no longer merely remembering, but reliving. But it appears that others disagree. Slow and not sufficiently relevant, they say, and it is difficult to argue with these assessments. “Yes, but I like it, ” isn’t really an argument.

I think it’s OK to use the reminiscing voice if it suits the narrator and his or her situation, but as with so many other things, moderation is the key. Use the reflective style to set the scene and indicate something about the narrator’s personality, but move fairly soon into reliving mode. This is related to the advice about “back story,” that it’s best presented in small, cunningly concealed doses, rather than as a lengthy, identifiable section — sort of like coating a cat pill in butter to make it slip down more easily.

That is if you are following the rules because you must please those who make them, be they instructors, editors or publishers. If you are writing to please only yourself or whatever spirit has inspired you to write, and the reminiscing voice is the voice that speaks, go for it. When I was only a reader and not a writer, I would begin to read a novel and continue to read it to the end, if its voice pleased, allured or fascinated me, never mind why. Much of this writing, I suspect, broke some sort of rule. It’s nearly impossible to identify the precise qualities of prose that attract or repel a particular reader, which is why it is also nearly impossible to come up with a set of definitive rules for writing.

I consider the reminiscing voice at the beginning of a novel to be a signal to the reader that the narrator has something important to say, but isn’t going to launch into the story until the reader is ready to listen. It’s sort of like the opening credits in a movie, that let you settle into your seat, position your popcorn and get set to watch. Or like fancy gift wrapping on a special present, that gives you an opportunity to whet your anticipation. Or like foreplay.

tires or tyres

Coming: Retreads… and a Serial!

Sometimes when I think of a topic for a blog post I wonder, “Haven’t I already posted about that?” Even though I post no more than once or twice a week, I’ve been at this blogging stuff for nearly nine years. There are hundreds of posts in my archives.

When I began blogging in 2010, I was talking mostly to myself. I’m sure many of my posts were never read by anyone but me. I’ve had a look at some of them lately and I plan to reblog the best of them, rather than repeat myself. Maybe they’ll attract a few more eyeballs this time.

I’ve also decided to post as a serial a story I’ve been working on way too long — once I manage to finish it. I’m saying that right here to make sure I’ll actually deliver. Look out for “The Ice Cream Truck from Hell” by the end of April. (Right now it’s broken down somewhere in the nether regions and needs a jump-start.)

It’s coming!

Images from Pixabay

Photo-prompt Flash Fiction: Answering the Call

The seas had crept higher each year and hurricanes got stronger. Month by month, the Moon’s leering face grew larger as the highest tides of the millennium invaded the land. Rumors spoke of stirrings in the deep, of some new power that made it perilous to live near the sea.

Then came the earthquake, convulsing the entire eastern seaboard. Cities foundered, towns drowned. The oceans climbed the hills and entered every door. Streets once said to be paved with gold vanished under wave-laid ridges of sand. The deep waters touched the things of humans, left their marks and placed their claims.

People abandoned the coastlines and fled inland. Ruins remained ruins. Towers thrust empty into silent skies. Crabs frolicked in the sandy streets by day and seabirds soared above; rats hunted there at night.

The boy had journeyed far. In the turmoil of the time, watchfulness failed in the asylum he had been sent to when his gills emerged. Slipping through an unwatched door, he fled and hid. Travelling by night, he wandered eastward, tugged by an ancient impulse toward the sea. The nights flung vast arrays of stars across the sky. Before she went away, his grandmother had told him their patterns had changed since she was small. She told him he would follow her some day. He knew he had to hasten now, to reach land’s end when the time was right.

Sometimes, the lights glowing from house windows reminded him of sweet, lost things. But always the sea-longing in his blood pulled him away. And there were his gills, of course. They had grown and developed. He was able to swim a long way underwater now and had changed in other ways too. When he raised a hand to the sun, the webs between his fingers filtered the light. The few people who came close enough to get a good look at his face ran away screaming.

The metropolis was a vast labyrinth inhabited by animals grown bold and curious. The boy avoided them, exploring the empty streets by day, finding safe places to hide in at night. He knew this wasn’t where he needed to be. This wasn’t the great undersea city of his grandmother’s stories, or the brooding, ancient town where she was born.

On the night the moon ate the sun, the boy heard voices calling to him. He ran down a long street to the harbour, jumping over the ridges of sand between rows of hollow, blank-windowed buildings. The Deep Ones had arrived. “Iä! Iä!” they cried. “He sleeps no more, he dreams no more. He lives! Come to us, little one!” As the boy approached the desolate, weed-grown wharves, shapes emerged from the sea. His people. They would guide him to the portal in the deeps, where the elders would welcome him home.

Written in response to Diana’s March Speculative Fiction Prompt.

Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Image by Natan Vance from Pixabay.

leap over the chasm

Crossing the Chasm

I don’t get writer’s block. When I start to write, I have in mind a beginning and an ending. I know where I’m starting from and where I’m going.

But the path is narrow and sometimes invisible. Once I start, I can’t be certain I’ll keep going. Inevitably, the mental Critic questions the whole project. Or the Imaginer decides it’s getting tired.

What if a few paragraphs in, or maybe a chapter or two, I’ll be terrified to go any farther? Frozen on the edge. Or at the bottom of the Metaphorical Gorge.

Sometimes, just the possibility of this is enough to keep me from starting a piece of writing. (Why do you think I’m writing this post?)

It’s not a block. It’s a chasm.

Image courtesy of Pixabay