Monday, July 29, 2013

The Silence Machine

Carl Emerson’s hand shook slightly as he reluctantly reached for the phone. He put on his reading glasses and dialed the number.
When the lady answered, the noise above his bathroom, presumably the guy up there pounding his head on the floor or something, came yet again. There was no way she would ever hear it over the phone.
He glanced at the clock. It was two-thirty-two a.m.
He briefly explained the problem to the property management company’s on-call night manager.
“All right.” He heard her deep sigh of resignation over the phone. “I’ll come over and check it out.”
“I’m in three-oh-four.”
“Yes, Mister Emerson.” Again there came that sigh.
He bit down hard and rang off as politely as he could manage. This shit had been going on for a year and a half. It started two weeks after moving in.
Putting the phone down, he shook his head. The odds of her catching the guy, or even doing anything real about it if she did, were very slim. A one-bedroom unit generated eight thousand a year in revenues for the company. When someone moved out, the place was vacant for at least a month while the unit was repainted, the carpet was steam-cleaned and necessary repairs, including broken cupboards and the usual fist-holes in the drywall, would be fixed before it was shown again.
It’s not like he didn’t understand their problem.
When someone was evicted, and in his observation the only thing that could make the company do that was non-payment of rent, it might take three months to get them out. The place would be wrecked and cost a bundle to fix. Cleanup took another month to complete. In this neighborhood, at the low end of the income scale, naturally the firm was reluctant to take on the additional costs in the name of anything remotely resembling justice to the other tenants, all of whom had the same rights and paid for their apartments at the same rate. It was good, clean capitalism in action.
He had called the police five or six times, and the fellow had been ticketed for noise several times according to police. Emerson had written letters to the landlord at least seven or eight times, as without something in writing, they couldn’t go to the Landlord-Tenant Tribunal. He wondered how many people backed off on that something in writing thing.
No one liked a snitch, and it always came back on you.
Still, the problem persisted, with no relief in sight.


The building manager showed up in about twenty minutes. She stood just inside his door after going into the bathroom. He wondered if she was going to claim noisy pipes again.
Perhaps she knew it wouldn’t wash, for she didn’t bother just this once.
She had heard nothing, and yet Emerson just knew the damned noise would come again. It was the middle of the night. Just how long could he expect her to hang around?
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have to understand it’s an apartment building…”
Emerson blew up.
“Every fucking door in this building…”
“What?” She was mystified. “There’s no need for such abuse, sir. I don’t have to take it.”
Yeah, in a series of noise complaints they were sure to turn against him rather than address an actual problem. Swearing just made it easier for them. He wondered why no one else had ever complained. Maybe they had. What a minute.
Of course they had…
 Again he bit down hard.
“I’m sorry, I really am. Look. Every door in this building is solid wood. It’s in a steel frame. There are no closers, there are no rubber bumpers in the frames. Half the people in this building need a six-week course in how not to slam a door…” The windows were old, aluminum sashes, noisy old sliders that hit home with a bang.
The closet doors had aluminum tracks, hollow wooden doors and every caster needed oiling. He knew when people were home as the walls were thin and you could hear talk from other units whichever end of the unit you were in.
“Do you think it was a door you heard?”
“No.” He shook his head. “The guy’s up there banging on something. Every twenty minutes, maybe every half-hour or so.”
He knew from experience that it would go on all night. The guy knew from experience how it would go. They both cocked their ears.
Babble, babble, babble…babble babble, babble, kapow!
Someone down the hall, perhaps arriving home after the bars closed, had just closed their door, a noise all too familiar in the night. Yet the people right next to him were quiet. They knew how to close a door. They didn’t engage in long and involved conversations at the top of their lungs while going down the hallway. He knew it was, at least theoretically, possible to be quiet and to show some respect the other tenants.
She gave him a look and shrugged her shoulders. He looked away in pure disgust.
“Do you know where that came from?”
“Probably. But it’s awful hard to prove, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I have to observe it directly or it’s no good.”
She was right there. He knew fucking well it was the people three doors down on the opposite side. Bad as they were, they were at least in for the night, right on schedule, and thank God, but it wasn’t a mere twelve feet from his pillow.
The people next door didn’t come home from work and sit in the parking lot with a seven-hundred watt stereo pounding out the bass of a hip-hop tune, waiting for the song to end.
They didn’t yell from their balconies or have strange people show up at all hours and honk their horn intermittently while trying to get the attention of folks inside the building.
It was always the same ones. The ones with a big dog in a small apartment, the ones that went away for the weekend with the surround-sound TV turned on and going full blast. The ones that left windows open at both ends of the apartment in windy conditions and made everyone else listen to unsecured bedroom doors slam and bang for days on end.
Only two days previously, the superintendent had shoved a pamphlet under his door and likely every door in the building. He didn’t know if someone had made a specific complaint or if they just did it the same time every year.
The pamphlet, all about noise concerns, quoted the Bible in the first line.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What a crock of horse-shit.
Too many people could not learn by example. He was tired of turning the other cheek and getting a kick in the ass. The lady, with nothing to contribute and no discernable action to take, decided to leave at that point.
Emerson felt sick to his stomach as he carefully closed the door to avoid waking the little old lady who lived below. The people next door were moving out soon, and their door was only ten feet from his. They were just on the other side of his kitchen wall. They were nice people, although he had never really gotten to know them. But you could just tell.
He wondered exactly what sort of piece of shit would be moving in all too soon and how he would deal with their self-centered ignorance and abusive behavior. A lease was a contract. Honorable people honored their contracts. Idiots signed it because it was the only way they would get an apartment. They never gave a shit what was actually in it.
The lease clearly stated ‘No unnecessary noise after eleven p.m. and before six a.m.’
It said a few other things, too. The lease was a bad joke.
The damned pamphlet had even mentioned that some tenants worked nights and tried to sleep during the day. The problem was that Emerson was trying to sleep at night and wasn’t having much luck with it. The pamphlet made no mention of anyone trying to sleep at night.
As he lay down to try and fall asleep, he wondered just how long it would be before buddy-boy up above was banging and thumping around again.
He didn’t have long to wait.


“I was sort of wondering if maybe you were suffering from something we call noise anxiety.”
The shrink was a damned fool, but then so was Emerson.
When the noise came again, he lost his temper, which he had always tried not to do.
Like a damned fool, this time he called the cops.
In a sleep-deprived, surreal daze, they took him into custody the moment he opened the door. They transported him to the psychiatric wing of the local hospital for three days of observation. It never occurred to ask who exactly had signed the thing, or how long they’d had it lying around.
“People under stress, people suffering from depression, will often develop noise anxiety. It’s all too easy to think it’s directed at them, that it’s somehow personal.” They met eyes.
“We’re not talking about dump trucks going down the road in broad daylight or freight trains pulling out of the yards in the middle of the night.” The shrink looked away from Carl, flushing slightly.
Emerson had lived fifty meters from the tracks. The whole building shook. His tall bookcases wobbled back and forth and figurines rattled on their bases. That had never really bothered him, but then it couldn’t be put down to ignorance or even harassment. It was even kind of soothing, when you considered that he had been homeless for a couple of months before renting that place. He’d left there in a hurry after the daughter of the landlord starting cranking up her music when Momma wasn’t around. He lived there for three weeks. He’d wasted a thousand bucks in rent, first and last, and it cost him two more months of sleeping in his sister’s basement and another fourteen hundred bucks to get in here. Before signing the lease, he asked the inevitable question.
“This is a clean, quiet, professionally-managed building.” That’s what they said.
Like a damned fool, Emerson signed the lease and paid, cash on the barrel-head.
“Yes, that’s one thing that deeply concerns me. This fixation on another individual can be dangerous, and we would hate to see you in trouble, or, or, harm another person.”
“I’m in trouble now.” They had told him he wasn’t under arrest as they snapped the cuffs into place.
The doctor had nothing to say on that score.
Actions spoke louder than words. The thoughts of them railroading him ate quietly away at the insides of his guts.
They were so busy trying to convince him he was mentally ill that they simply would not listen.
They were incapable of listening.
Buddy-boy was fucking him over real good. Emerson had smelled crack one time when he went up to talk to the man in the middle of the night, a few days after a particularly humiliating discussion with three officers attending on a noise complaint. Some people freaked out on a noise complaint, and if there was a way they could make your life miserable afterwards, they would do it. It was inconceivable to their vanity that they could ever cause a problem for anyone.
They could justify putting it all on him.
It was who they were.
“Oh, no, we’re just here to help you.” The shrink, a thin, reedy, limp-wristed individual named Santorini, forced a cheerful look onto his face.
Mister Emerson was not responding well, and the key to a successful treatment was, first and foremost, to get the patient to admit a problem. Once that was done, and reassurances had been made that there were treatment options available, most people wanted that help, no matter what sort of debilitating bug-juice it involved. Mr. Emerson was not being very agreeable. He was eminently un-suggestible. Assessing what sort of a danger he might represent to the community was going to be difficult.
“Do you ever hear voices?’
“Suck my cock, you rat-faced piece of shit.”
A reddening Doctor Santorini, eyes downcast, made a note of his truculence.
“Well, I guess we’ve had enough for one day.”
“I’ve had enough bullshit for one fucking lifetime and one fucking town. I’ll tell you that much.”
The doctor let him out and Carl went back to the common area where they had a TV set permanently tuned to BSTV News Channel, which rather contradicted one of their statements.
You’re not being punished.
Sure I am.
But that’s what they claimed.


Finally they let him out. Going home was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do in his entire life. He had nowhere else to go. No doubt the rest of the building knew all about it and they were all laughing at him.
Trying to ignore the sound of music coming up from below, something he actually accepted as it was broad daylight and it couldn’t be heard in his bedroom with the air conditioner going twenty-four hours a day, he tried to put back the pieces of his empty and meaningless existence.
It was only after a cold glass of milk and a sandwich made with cheap no-name bologna and the last couple of slices of stale bread that Carl Emerson remembered that he had a lottery ticket sitting right there on top of the mantel.
Hitting the button on his computer, there were loud thumps coming from up above again, as he waited for it to warm up. Buddy-boy obviously knew he was home.
When he went to the website to check the number, he got the shock of his life.
Carl Emerson had just won a hundred and eighty-nine million dollars in the Power-Bucks Lotto and that sort of thing took a while to sink in.


Officers Bill Sandberg and Gina Q. Toklaz exited police headquarters at a dead run, ears assaulted by the eerie, unnatural silence.
There was rioting and looting in the streets. There were multiple-vehicle pileups at every corner. People ran around, clasping their heads, eyes bugging out in disbelieving terror.
It was like some horrific vision, a bad dream, or the end of the world.
Jumping into the cruiser, Gina snapped on the flashers and hit the siren.
It sounded oddly muted, as if there was something wrong with it. She pounded her fist on the dash in frustration.
The radio crackled with a dozen units, all heavily engaged.
“What in the hell is going on?”
The whole town was going nuts. She slammed on the brakes. A body lay in the street with a widening pool of blood around the head. A shiny silver .357 Magnum lay just beyond the outstretched hand…he’d put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger, his motorcycle parked right there by the side of the street.
Hopefully the noise, the last sound he ever heard, was worth it to him. Sandberg, unable to think of what else to do with no available EMS units, put a blanket over him, and a red safety cone by the body, and they moved on. There were more bodies just up ahead.


“What my client is saying, Sergeant, is that the first thing people do when they buy a new Harley-Davidson is to dismantle the exhaust system and take out the baffles. What he is saying, Sergeant, is that kids are putting three-thousand watt stereos in their little cars and driving around all night, spewing out frequencies that are known, well-documented in fact, to cause stress and aggression in ninety-nine percent of all individuals tested, and that the other one percent can be induced to violence quite quickly. What he’s saying, is that neither you, nor any of the officers under you command, have never issued one noise-related ticket in your entire career. It is apparently beneath your notice or your dignity. I know, because my team has checked and we know our facts, even if you don’t. You even went so far as to lie to my client and say that you did.”
Don Eldridge turned to his client, a look of sardonic good humour, for which he was widely known, stamped indelibly all over his rugged good looks.
“I think we’re just about done here.” He wasn’t particularly surprised to discover that they weren’t.
His client wanted a word on his own.
“Sergeant. While there may be noise by-laws, there is, and never will be, a law against silence.” He would see to that personally.
Lawyer and client stood.
“What I am saying, is that some miserable piece of shit on two legs can abuse his neighbors using the most petty of means—and you can’t catch him, probably because you don’t want to. That’s because I’m on disability, after falling from a scaffold and breaking my back in three different places. And so I have no rights, and all you can do is label me mentally ill and chuck my ass in the loonie bin. You’re a fucking no-good piece of shit and a disgrace to that uniform.”
Don put his hand on Carl’s upper arm and he stopped there. Don had explained about libel and slander and all of that. The name-calling was over.
“You caused a riot!”
“No, asshole. You did—by neglect and default, by your sheer, unmitigated ignorance and carelessness.”
People just couldn’t stand the quiet. It gave them a chance to hear their own thoughts and they couldn’t take the fatuity, the uninspired vapidity of what was inside of their piddling little brains.
“Charges are still pending. You haven’t heard the last of me.” The sergeant was pissed.
Emerson had created, using Wikipedia, schematic circuit diagrams, large-scale emitters, and high-tension cable bought for a small fortune, something he called a silence generator. He must have pushed the button, sat back, and enjoyed his sweet revenge, right up to the hilt.
“I wouldn’t leave town if I were you.”
The sergeant understood the theory of white noise, and how it could be used to muffle other noises, but that was the least of the issues involved.
“My client’s premises are private property. If you violate your oath, or the law, we will pursue you and your kind to the ends of the Earth.”
“And if I want to crank up my silence machine to the max and just stomp all over this poke-ass little town, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Fuck off, Sergeant. Fuck off.”
“My client saw a need and he fulfilled it, Sergeant. Think of it as free enterprise and you’ll be all right. He’s designing a more power-efficient model and is rationalizing the design and production process. Major cities all over the globe, property developers…rich people, are interested in his machine.”
“I’m not a piece of shit on ODSP anymore, Sergeant. You’d be surprised what a little money can do. I’m a great man, now.” Emerson nodded firmly, a feral snarl on his face.
He had caged tiger written all over him. He looked at Don.
“Now, we’re done here.”
The attorney nodded agreement.
Carl and Don stood watching, just for a second, as he chewed on it. The sergeant fumed, but he wasn’t ready to move just yet, although a psychological-commitment did have its allure. The trouble with that, was that it would only buy him three days. They had a limited supply of pre-signed documents left. A board-assessment on psychiatric grounds took a while, and for that they needed a long history of actual evidence. It could be done, but the trouble was that the case was drawing a lot of international publicity. Emerson’s legal team had copies of all his records, freaking all of them, from every agency known to man, going back over forty years…
No one beat him. No one. This wasn’t over yet.
They looked at each other.
“I’ll buy lunch.”
Don smiled. He had enjoyed this perhaps more than he should. It was the experience of a lifetime really, when he thought about it.
“That would be very nice, Mister Emerson.”
Emerson made sure to slam the door as hard as he could on the way out, although he didn’t bother to look back to see the sergeant flinch at the percussive impact on his guts and psyche, leaving him trembling and red-faced, the sweat of anger beading his seamy and rather rakishly-sloping forehead. In the small space of the sergeant’s cubicle, it sounded like an eighteen-inch naval gun going off.


After they left, the sergeant pondered for a while, fingers folded across his ample belly, a look of sheer, white-hot hatred on his face. His mouth worked back and forth. That miserable son of a bitch Emerson had shares in the recently privatized power industry. With all his new money, he could afford to pay the bill for five or ten thousand megawatts a month well into the foreseeable future. Apparently he didn’t even live in town these days. He had six thousand acres somewhere up in northern Ontario and thought he was untouchable.
It probably was pretty quiet up there. The thought lacked even a trace of wistfulness.
Society really was stupid, when he thought about it. He should have shot them both as they sat in their chairs, and answered questions later. There were no witnesses and he had an exemplary record with several decorations to prove he was a hero.
Second thoughts were always hell.
Finally his hand moved to the phone.
“Get me Dale Craydon.”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
Craydon was the local Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. While a Conservative and in opposition, perhaps a Private Member’s Bill would be supported by enough members of all parties to pass.
The one thing the state could not tolerate was defiance.


Friday, July 26, 2013

The process of finishing a novel.

Rupert Davies as Maigret. (Allan Warren.)

The process of writing a novel culminates in the finishing. The finish can be a process too. The finishing process begins when you have reached the end of the first draft.

More than anything, in a first draft I want to get to the end of the plot. I want to pace the amount of words I use in order to come out at or slightly short of the desired word count. By writing one or two thousand words a day, I get to think it out ahead of time, two or three scenes ahead at any given time. Then I sit down and try to get to the end of the scenes.

The end of the book is sort of thin and threadbare, and yet when I remember something or some thought comes up, I go back and add it in. I re-read the beginning or previous material from time to time. I add details, make a scene fuller. The start of the book is always a little denser at the end of the first draft than the end of the book. All of that is smoothed out in the re-writes, and for me they seem essential, even though my pace was good, and even though the pace of the action was good, and even though the logic seemed pretty good. Right.

For a novel, a minimum of 60,000 words is required.

I’ve got a novel underway. It’s at 52,000 words as of this writing. I have two more scenes left to do. I might even get more ideas, even though I think I know how the story turns out. If each scene comes in at a thousand or two thousand words, then everything is fine and dandy.

That would amount to about 55,000 words.

When I go back to the beginning of the book for rewriting, I will be looking for logic, in that a person can’t change names in the middle of a scene. They’re either in or out of the scene. The thing has to make sense. But what I’m really doing is fleshing out the environment. I leave out details of room description. In the first draft people are rarely physically described.

I just want to get the action down on paper. So as I go through the draft, when I come to Joe Blow I sort of see him in my mind—he’s a trooper, he’s got red hair, blue eyes and freckles no less. He’s not that tall but he’s lanky. He’s twenty-one years old and signed on for adventure.

Then I add it in nice and natural.

When they travel through an environment, I can see it in my head on the first draft. I simply didn’t bother to write it down in passing. But it’s an alien world, and that requires some attention to details of world-building, including a whole ecology of flora and fauna, the way the people live, their culture, whatever.

I began the book around the middle of June, 2013. The day of this writing is July 25 or thereabouts. Blogger will date it for us.

If I can write 52,000 words in about a month and a half, then surely this thing will be done in another couple of weeks, i.e. I wrote (or will have written) a 60,000-word novel in about a month and a half. That leaves time for another book of similar length, and then I will write short stories during what people call Nano-Month, (November) when everyone tries to write a book in a month.

I’m going to submit my new one a couple of places rather than immediately chuck it into the black hole that is the fate of most self-published authors to date.

That gets it out of my hair for a while. My hair’s thin enough as it is.

More importantly, all kinds of ideas, modus operandi and perp-profile, are coming together for my third mystery novel. Inspector Maintenon will have a real hum-dinger of a murder mystery this time. He usually solves two cases in each story, so that just makes it a little more fun for the writer as well as the reader.

In a mystery, there is the presentation of certain facts, but there are various interpretations of those facts, and of course a good deal of misdirection. When I used to read Agatha Christie novels, and my mom had a lot of them lying around, honestly, I never knew who the killer was until the very end.

That’s why we have detectives, right?

In this next one, we have a female victim in the major portion of the story, plus I’ll have a smaller mystery. That’s a first for me. I’ve written one novella and two books in the series so far. Those all had male victims.

“A certain type of victim requires a certain type of killer.” That’s what Gilles says in Redemption.

Other than that, I won’t give away a whole lot of plot points, although the series is set in the twenties, and Inspector Gilles Maintenon works homicide for the Surete in Paris, France. He’s a middle-aged man who entered the force as a cadet and his father cried at his graduation ceremony…you get the idea.

I know a lot of readers will assume the series was inspired by Hercule Poirot or even Inspector Clouseau, but it was Georges Simenon’s Maigret character that originally sort of stuck in my mind. I always wanted to do a book like that, and the original novella led to a series. I don’t even really know why, something about the feel of that world maybe.

You can get them at the following links, free where indicated.

The Handbag’s Tale (Novella)

Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery

The Art of Murder

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Excerpt: Work in Progress.

Third World has a population of half a million and one spaceport. (Bardash Dmytro.)

Hank tore his eyes off Polly Morgensen and tried to contribute something to the discussion.

She sure was beautiful, though. Her chin came up and she looked his way again. He saw it in his peripheral vision.

It was like an illness with him lately.

“Drifters.” Hank had run across one or two over the years.

They were little better than the nomads, who at least had purpose, following the great herds across the unbroken steppe of Third World’s northern hemisphere. Drifters were just that. Nomads stayed clear of settlement and cultivation, knowing there was plenty of room in the world. They needed open range, good grass and water. Drifters sought many things for many reasons. They tended to gravitate to more settled areas. During harvest, when hands were short, they were welcome in some places more than others.

“That’s what they say. They’re camping up around Marjorie’s Way.” Red glanced around, but the other shoppers in the general store ignored them. “Word is they’ve been there a while.”

Perhaps the other people had already heard the news. Hank came into town once or twice in a month, usually a Monday but other days as well.

Nomads follow the herds. It's a big place. (Wing-Chi Poon.)
Marjorie’s Way was a notch in the hills just over the eastern horizon, obscured by the tops of barren pines, one of the few introduced species to do well here. On the other side of the hills there was a brackish marsh at the end of a small run-off that brought a few of the indigenous waterfowl in season. After that, the trail petered out into a maze of hunting camps and thin ribbons of water in a vast marsh which had never been properly explored. People thought it went clear to the Blue Mountains. It was possible.

Drifters were often desperate, fleeing the law, debt more often. Sometimes it was young people running away, or just unfortunates looking for a new home someplace else. Hank had never really thought about it.

“I see.” Hank Beveridge’s homestead was four kilometres out towards the morning sunrise, in the rolling hills where the true grasslands began.

He had a small river, and had painstakingly tanked up the seeps at the base of the hill where it came down. Hank had a small herd of pack, draft and riding animals which he sold in an emergency, or when all else failed. He needed them for the business, or he would have done with only one or two animals. In the off season there was always work or worry.

The men watched a girl, her name was Polly. She and her mother haggled and fussed over a bolt of good red broadcloth. It looked like they were after a few things. Winter was coming and the kids would need shirts and pants and coats for winter, or even school. Polly was a fresh-faced beauty with a hint of a blush in her cheeks, almost as if she was aware of their scrutiny. She had long, straight black hair, with fine pale skin, long curling lashes and big dark eyes looking at everything in the store with an air of serious intent. She stood up straight, and that was one of the things he liked about her. It said much. Out of politeness, Hank took off his most prized possession, a pair of spectacles framed in thin steel wire. He put them in the case to protect them, as they were irreplaceable, and stuck them in his side pocket.

Hank’s purchase wasn’t urgent, but he’d been planning it for some time. Accounts receivable were one thing, and actually collecting them was another. He waited for long months on some accounts. The whole trade was predicated on long turnaround times. When possible, he paid for things in cash, which meant he owed few people and kept what he earned. It just took a little foresight, and he had some of that.

Red went on.

“So far no one’s talked to them.” He looked around, but as long as Peltham was busy, he wasn’t going to get any cartridges, which was what he had ostensibly come in for.

Red could kill a half a day in town on three or four errands. The butter and eggs were running out and he didn’t do that on his own little plot, although he did have a respectable vegetable garden. It was something he was good at, and he could at least walk away from it, for a few days at a time, to go hunting or if some kind of work came up.

He sold cabbages and other produce at the end of the year, and Hank always looked him up as turnips and such kept pretty good over the winter. Red waxed them up real good.

Hank studied Polly. Women were as scarce as hen’s teeth around these parts and she looked to be getting close to marrying age. He thought about it from time to time, her and one or two others. He fantasized about a few other ones, married as they were and so unattainable except in a daydream…at his present age of forty or thereabouts, it was pretty much all fantasy.

Red cleared his throat.

“You’re pretty close to Marjorie’s Way.”

Hank nodded.

“It’s about two and a half kilometres from my place.” It was to the north of his homestead, the sides of the hills and banks were very steep along there.

The valleys ran all east and west. The hollows were full of scrub and there was no easy way through, so he hardly ever went up there. It was easier to get there from town, as the northeast trail ran through from here. They might even be camped on a corner of his land. Not that it mattered, they could do little harm as the first grass fire season was over and the land was lush and surprisingly damp this year. The odds were they would move on. Cold grey clouds had dominated the weather for weeks.

Drifters were nothing new. One heard stories of course.

End of Excerpt.

Working Title: (Not too sure.)

A nice, quiet little science fiction story. Oh, yeah, and some romance in there as well.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Labels, and that little voice in our head.

I am what I am.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about labels. By that I mean the labels we put on ourselves and on others.

Labels bug the hell out of me, for any number of reasons. I really don’t like it when someone sticks a label on me, because it’s always for their own reasons. I may not see the justice in it, or disagree with it strongly or find it insulting.

The worst labels are the ones that justify treating someone different from everybody else.

What brought this on was getting new Twitter followers. You can’t really be on Twitter without a bio. You have to fill in those fields when setting it up.

It is surprising what some people put in those fields—those little labels. We all want to be perceived as unique, and that comes through in the wit, the sarcasm, the facetiousness of some bios . Sameness is drab, and the fact is that we are all special, unique. That’s one thing, and I understand that.

People label themselves ‘nigga’ and I, a ‘white-bread honkey,’ can even understand the point. It is defiance. It is a kind of contempt. It is a statement made for very complex reasons, some of which I don’t get because I haven’t lived that experience…

What about the guy who called himself ‘a piece of shit?’ What about the lady who said ‘I’m a bitch?’

Putting labels on ourselves is stupid, but we do it all the time. Most labels are relatively benign.

“Hi, I’m Dave. I’m an architect. This is my wife Amy. She’s a registered nurse…”

Those labels aren’t causing a lot of harm. It conveys something about who we are and what our social status is. It is a measure of our pride, and solid proof of our hard work and effort. Not all labels are necessarily bad.

Some of them can be limiting.

Someone knocked over a glass and what they said next was kind of revealing.

“It’s okay, I’ve always been stupid…”

Who told you that? That was not my initial impression.

My initial impression was that you had knocked over a glass, and we all do that from time to time.

What happens when you label a girl ‘a slut?’ Then go off and tell everyone else. Doesn’t that sort of label lead to every skanky guy who just doesn’t care to go and hit on her? Aren’t they mostly false and misleading in their statements and treatment in order to get what they want? Don’t they all lie to her to get her to do what they want—to be a slut?

Labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You know, my mother was really impressed with me one day.

What happened was, she introduced me to somebody, I forget who, a realtor or whatever (another label, but you know what I mean,) and the inevitable question arose.

“So, what do you do for a living, Louis?”

“I’m a writer.” That was the first time in my entire life that I had ever said that to someone. More than anything, I want other people to call me a writer. Does that seem strange? I’d give my left nut for some really great writers to say I was a good writer. What other people think of us is surprisingly important, don’t get me wrong on that score.

“I’m a writer.” Notice I didn’t say, ‘crazy as a shit-house rat,’ or ‘mean person,’ or ‘asshole.’

But then, I don’t think of myself that way. Not at all—so the label is clearly inappropriate.

I have never said, upon an introduction, ‘I’m a Caucasian.’ (Sort of self-evident anyway.)

There were a lot of things I didn’t label myself over the years—alcoholic for example.

Oh, I can drink, and I like the feeling of being a bit drunk. I’ve drank out of sheer boredom, I’ve drank to help me go to sleep at night after a long afternoon shift at the fibreglass plant, and I’ve drank socially.

But I never labeled myself an alcoholic.

And when I don’t have any money, I’m not going through withdrawal. I miss it but don’t crave it. Yet you could say I need a beer once in a while.

Labeling me ‘some guy who needs a beer once in a while’ seems rather silly and pointless, as I am sure the reader would agree.

What if you constantly told a kid, ‘You’re no good.’

Wouldn’t they try to live up to that, or at least wouldn’t they find normal reinforcement, just as we all do, when things didn’t work out, or they got into some minor trouble? Wouldn’t everything work out in the end, and as they sat in a jail cell, later in life, wouldn’t it all seem so inevitable?

Wouldn't it appear, at least to them, that they never had a chance? That it was beyond their control?

I’m constantly surprised by the things that parents say to their children.

If someone is trying to label you something bad, don’t wear that label. Pick one out for yourself—and make it a good one.

At Shalako Publishing, we are always challenging assumptions, our own mostly.

That’s a good thing, mostly, for sometimes learning takes a long time. And sometimes it happens in an instant.

I spend a lot of time alone, as you can imagine, and I do a lot of this sort of introspective thinking, but the perspective of other people is vitally important because they see us from outside, which is a completely different perspective.

My mother is a real smart lady. You know what she said?

“The voice we hear most often is our own. It’s with us always, there inside of our heads, and we can’t get away from it. Your brain is the most powerful instrument you will ever have. And it doesn’t control you—that’s a fallacy. You control it…”

She’s a real smart lady, ain’t she? I’m lucky to have her, and don’t I know it.

The point is that other people don’t hear that voice that’s inside my head or yours. They don’t know anything about it.

They make their own observations.

I was thinking about some of my Facebook friends. I won’t just pick a name, but some very respectable people are on that list. I wondered what some of them would say about me, or how they would describe me. For the most part, they seem to tolerate me, or they would drop me, wouldn’t they?

I was surprised by the answers I got—from that little voice in my head. By going outside of myself and taking another look.

It turns out I’m not such a bad guy after all.

Where did I ever get the idea that I was a bad guy?

Every once in a while we should just pick someone out of a crowd and say something nice to them.

Mostly for our own sakes.

Anyhow, thanks for listening.


Sunday, July 14, 2013


Human beings live in a world of sensation. For much of the time we simply ignore it.
We ignore the kids screaming in the yard, we ignore the pangs of hunger when lunch is an hour away and we have work to do and the boss looking over our shoulder.
We ignore the heat or the cold as best we can, in fact we lock it out of our homes and automobiles. We control those sensations to some degree.
Many of our sensations don’t even register on our consciousness. Closing my eyes due to the shampoo and turning a hundred and eighty degrees in the shower, was really the only time today when I considered my sense of balance, and a marvelous thing it is, too. Fighter pilots, in the peak of health and with all kinds of physical conditioning report that vertigo, the loss of the sense of balance and the well-being that it brings is not only terrifying but uncontrollable—they have to fight to focus on their instruments and take it on pure faith that the readings are true and credible, for their body tells them otherwise.
If someone offered you a piece of chocolate cake, and you put it in your mouth and it tasted awful, what would you do? Would you eat it anyway? I mean, it looks like cake and everything.
Your taste buds would trump your vision in this particular case, wouldn’t they? No matter how good it looks or even smells—your eyes don’t have to chew it up and swallow it, do they?
We trust our sensations, we rely on them.
I rode my bike to the beach today. With no major anxieties going on right now in my personal life, it was good to focus on those sensations exclusively—no raking over old coals, no over-analyzing what so and so said, no deep worries about what people think.
The waves lapped at the shore, children screamed and hollered in the distance. The air was hot and the water was cool. The sand felt gritty between my toes. Seagulls squawked and cardinals sang in the trees behind me. A bunch of moths have hatched out recently, possibly the oak-savannah environment has something to do with it, and the little buggers were brushing up against me as the wind dried me. I stood in the shade, for the sand was too hot for my feet and I’ve had enough sun for a couple of days. The western horizon was chock full of cumulus clouds and the sky over Lake Huron was pure oxygen-blue and I drank water that was still cool, with just a hint of plastic flavour from my water bottle and sucked tobacco smoke into my lungs.
There are other sensations. The sense of well-being, of being fed, of having a full belly or a bed to sleep on. The sense of injustice or hate, or anger, is a kind of physical sensation because it brings physical effects along with it.
We like the feeling of excitement when watching football, hockey or an auto race, we like the suspense or tension of baseball and golf.
Since I came into this world, I have experienced love, hate, desire, disgust, loneliness, friendship, pain, orgasm, terror and triumph. I have enjoyed or suffered the whole gamut of emotions that humans can feel.
It’s got its ups and downs, no doubt about it, but it’s just a whole helluva lot better than feeling nothing at all.
Enjoy your lives as best you can, for life is short and there is nothing that comes afterwards.
Don’t waste your time here. Do something with it.
I wrote this naked. For one thing, my shorts are still wet, and for another, I have this other sense, probably my best one: a sense of humour.
Hopefully you do too, but if not, I pity you, for surely you must be among the most miserable of men.
Now go on, get out of here. Go out and play or something.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Garage Sale.

Ildar Sagdejev (Specious.) > Wiki.

Suzie Caruthers sat in the family’s den, allegedly her den but for the heaps of laundry in baskets and Rex’s files from work which he’d been promising to go through and dispose of. Cardboard banker’s boxes lined all available floor space, so he had at least gotten that far.

She had been meaning to get around to creating some system, for they had heaps of Christmas cards. Suzie thought it would be nice to pull them out next year. It would make the job of finding names and addresses easier, especially if she kept a rubber band around each year and kept them all in one place.

“I know.” Aunt Muriel’s cookie tin would be just the thing.

Up until now it had been entirely useless.

Kicking around the house for years, a gift of course, the blue and gold metal box had decorative flowers on the lid. She’d been meaning to use it for herbal teas or something. Counter space was at a premium in their kitchen and she’d never gotten around to it.

It would have to be in the back of the bottom kitchen cupboards or maybe up on top somewhere. She kept big juice pitchers and stuff that wouldn’t fit anywhere else on top of the cabinets. It was just a waste of space otherwise. It wasn’t for display—it was all very utilitarian and you couldn’t really see much up there anyway.

The slender thirty-six year-old mother of three left the den in its turmoil and went looking for the cookie tin as it should probably hold a couple of big bundles and it was about the right size.

She spent ten minutes pulling open cupboards, closing them, and opening them up to check again, finally looking under the sink. Suzie tried to recall when she’d last seen it.

Going out into the living room where Rex was firmly planted in his armchair, reading all the Sunday papers and making a fine mess of her coffee table, she asked him.

“Have you seen Aunt Muffy’s cookie box?”

“Huh?” His mouth opened and his head swung and he stared at her.

The look of pure bewilderment on his face was priceless, and then she burst out laughing and had to explain it all right from the beginning.


Alison Martin, a nine-to-fiver down at the Monolith Insurance company head office, one of the town’s major employers and not far from the health center where she worked out almost religiously two or three times a week, pointed triumphantly at the top shelf of the oaken wall unit on the far end of her mostly brass and glass living room.

The thing was jammed with books, hard-covers on the lower shelves and paperbacks on the upper three layers, all romance writers Bill had never cared for. There was a cleaner spot on the shelf and she just knew she hadn’t moved it.

“What, what?” She was always going on about something.

“Justice is gone!”

He threw the financial section down in disgust.

“Alison. What in the hell are you talking about?”

It all came out in a rush and he wondered if she’d had her noon pill yet. She was such a good woman and he still loved her, still found her surprisingly good in bed after all these years.

“My little bronze figure—remember, the scales went up and down and stuff like that?”

Bill got up and gravely took her in his arms.

“Uh, not really.”

Apparently she was referring to a small bronze figure of a well-known Roman goddess, complete with working scales, the scales of justice, something that had uncomfortably suggested drug deals and illicit cash to Bill, but he’d never mentioned that. Their house wasn’t that kind of place.


Belinda Davies had a list of gripes.

“And that’s not the only thing.”

Brad Davies held her and tried to get to the bottom of what was really bothering her.
Their reflection, ghostly in the hallway mirror, mocked him in its enigmatic reflection of his tired, shopworn face and her back, and long red hair. She was a bit lumpy around the hips and thighs but she was all paid for and had a lot of good miles in her yet.

“No, what else, honey?” She’d been pretty good lately, but a relapse wasn’t unheard of in times of stress, although he couldn’t think of anything major in their lives presently.

Her distant cousin Sheela’s wedding couldn’t have anything to do with it, if anything it gave her purpose, something to look forward to and even meddle in. But Belinda had always been special. Her vulnerable neediness had appealed to him as a somewhat stodgy sophomore without a date, and, in the end, he really couldn’t have been happier.

Every family had some kind of a problem. Theirs had several.

“I can’t seem to find my meat grinder.”

Meat grinder. Meat grinder. Then Brad recalled.

“Oh, yes, the meat grinder.” He thought for a moment. “And you can’t find it?”

There was nothing unusual with that, not in this house, not with two teenage boys walking off with all of his tools all the time and never putting them back. He’d taken to keeping all the good stuff at work, where his job box was permanently locked and off-limits in terms of lending and borrowing. When he needed something, he brought it home in his lunch bucket and did whatever little job he had to do. Then he took it back to work.

“I could have sworn it was there just a month or so ago. It was in the back of the end drawer, by the back hallway.’

Belinda had bought the meat-grinder for twenty-five dollars at some garage sale and a long-suffering Brad had clamped down hard on his tongue and said not a thing about it. He knew the odds of her actually using it to grind meat were infinitely small. The grinder was all cast iron, or possibly aluminum, shiny and grey, and it clamped onto the end of a table or something. You fed in chunks of meat and turned a big handle and voila, you had ground meat for making meatballs or meatloaf.

Brad pondered the significance of all this. It seemed just so unlikely to turn out well. Every once in a while Belinda started looking through recipes in magazines, asking him over and over again what he thought of this, and that, and the other, and then look out.

“Well. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Why don’t you just go to the market if you need some, ah, ground pork, or lamb or something.”

She looked at him uncertainly.

There was no trace of sarcasm, and now, she realized, he would probably be expecting something good for supper.

“Never mind.” It’s just that it was right there, right in the back of that last kitchen drawer, only now it wasn’t.

It was gone, for all intents and purposes vanished into thin air, and no one cared to wonder why.

As for her husband’s innermost thoughts, they were perhaps a bit clearer than he might have known, which only tended to irritate Belinda further.

But that bloody meat-grinder had to be somewhere.


They were proceeding east down Pine Street in the Toyota, having just left the three-way stop at the intersection with Empire Circle, when Belinda grabbed Brad’s shoulder and bellowed in his ear, her stabbing arm pointing off to the left through the windshield.

“Stop! Stop the car!” Her voice was shrill and commanding, like some termagant in a TV commercial but she really wasn’t like that and it really must be an emergency.

He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary in a quick sweep where she was pointing…

Brad jammed on the brakes wondering what the problem was, although there were a lot of parked cars and people moving about…some sort of garage sale going on at that address, and yet there were no kids or dogs or people in the street. Mystified, he turned to inquire politely just what exactly was up and why was she yelling?

His wife whipped off her seatbelt, threw open the door, and as Brad stared in some oddly objective fascination, nipped around the front end of the vehicle, and she charged over there into that crowd of people and started yelling. He threw the car in park and went after her on sheer reflex, rather than any strong desire to get involved.

She was his wife, he loved her dearly, and something was up, mostly likely with her.

He’d been dreading this for some time. It was like things were going too well in the last couple of months or so.

With a deep sigh, Brad stepped up to the better half and gently tried to catch her elbow, which she flung off without a glance and then she lunged for the other woman, who, as a sick sense of what was going on settled over Bill, was clutching a cast-iron meat-grinder for all her stout arms were worth. Both ladies were screaming and shouting and the language coming out of his wife was distinctly troubling in front of all these nice people.

“Honey! Honey! Let’s not make a scene here.”


Sergeant Ed O’Herlihy stood by the back end of the cruiser as Patrol Officer Angie Marrietta recounted her observations. Real trouble in this upscale suburban neighbourhood was unusual, although people always had concerns. This looked like one big mix-up and not much more.

“So you were just talking to the caller when this other woman steps up?”

“Yes. Mrs. Caruthers She says she thinks this other thingy belongs to her—some kind of brass figure. It’s like Lady Justice or something. She swears it’s a carbon-copy of one that went missing from her bookshelf.” That one wasn’t really insisting on charges, but it helped to build a picture.

“So what do we have?” The idea of the homeowner, Steve Maynard, a Navy vet with an artificial leg, pensioned off for thirty years, going around burgling homes for knick-knacks and bric-a-brac seemed a bit far-fetched, and yet murder had been committed for fifty cents or a pack of smokes in some places.

Those places were some ways off, but you never knew.

“All right, let’s have a word with the man.” Sergeant O’Herlihy went up to Officer Marrietta’s cruiser and she opened up the door and stood aside with her hand on her weapon.

“So. What’s going on here, sir?”

Turns out Mister Maynard was hopping mad and had a vocabulary that was extensive.


After being held all night and going before a judge, Steve Maynard vehemently denied theft and insisted he’d bought all of the items in question. It turned out there were a lot more than just two suspicious items on those tables when bystanders and passers-by really started looking. He said he’d bought them all at garage sales.

The crowd jeered when they heard that. It’s a good thing they had backup, two more cruisers rolling up at just that instant settling the crowd of early-morning garage-sale shoppers right down.

It was a small town.

It was like the crime of the century around here. They just wanted to be helpful. They were being tough on crime. The moral stance was easy enough, but opportunities were few and far between.

It seemed half the people in town were sort of missing things, small things, and the sergeant himself had been a bit perturbed to find a gnarly old wooden lamp, broken, needing a new socket assembly and a shade perhaps, and it would be as good as new. That lamp looked awfully familiar. It was the spitting image of one he’d had in the recreation room for ages. The last time he’d seen it, it was maybe sitting on the end of the workbench in his two-car garage, just waiting for inspiration.

To go out and buy a shade and a new socket was a low priority, but undoubtedly he would get around to it one day.

Could it be?

When the sergeant called home and had his wife look in the garage, she told him a bit breathlessly over the phone that she couldn’t find it. But the garage was a mess and the lamp disassembled. He settled for thinking it could be there. It could be that she just didn’t recognize it.

“Honey, have we ever had a garage sale?”

It turned out they had, last summer or the summer before, she thought. All of this was pretty inconclusive, as the sergeant wouldn’t put it past her or Jinny, his fourteen year-old daughter and very snarky she was these days, to put that out on a table, in all cynicism, and try and get fifty cents for it. Why not, after all? It was just a piece of junk. The fact that his father once told him he had carved that in high school wood-working shop would mean nothing to them, would it?

Someone was claiming some crummy old wooden cigar box was theirs, and another person was looking through all their old photo albums, hoping to identify a maple end table, with a broken leg re-glued in an amateur fashion and with knife gouges in the top made by someone’s undisciplined child, perhaps the previous owner…

The sergeant sighed.

With a bit of luck they would get a murder or a big bank robbery, or something, any day now and then they could quietly drop the whole thing.

Otherwise, it looked pretty bad for old Maynard.

All in the name of justice, they would run him through the meat grinder.

The sergeant drummed his fingers on the desk top and looked at his coffee, already going cold.

He had the luxury of time, and a good dose of discretion. He would think on it.

For no particular reason, the sly look on Maynard’s face when leaving with his lawyer, released by the judge on his own recognizance, kind of bothered him. He couldn’t really say why, it was just an impression.

The words of a familiar nursery rhyme came to him. He’d sung it to his own daughter often enough.

“With a knick-knack, paddy-whack, give the dog a bone. This old man came rolling home…”

In the quiet background hum of the station, a small shiver went up and down his spine and the hairs prickled on the back of his neck.

Three more years until early retirement.

He rubbed his eyes and looked blearily over the squad-room through his glass partition.

Small evil lurked in small places. He mustn’t forget that. A cop could never forget that.

Right about then the sun went behind a cloud, his office seemed dimmer and it was like the temperature dropped three or four degrees—just enough to be a little spooky.

Ah, well. Maybe they’d get their murder after all.


At the time of this writing, all my books are free for the downloading from Smashwords.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Writing: Short Story versus the Novel.

Sometimes I drive around thinking about stuff.

There are differences in writing the short story versus the novel.

The most obvious difference is sheer length. However, if you can write a good, stand-alone short story, then you can certainly write a good chapter. The chapter allows more leeway, not less, because you have all the stuff that went before, and all the stuff that comes after. It might have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but it’s not so final—not until you get to the end of the book.

Assuming you write twenty or so chapters, each of four to six thousand words, you’ve got yourself a good first draft of a novel, at least in terms of sheer word count.

A good first draft takes me anywhere from two to three months to write. That takes care of the plot and the characters to some degree. I need to get to the ending before I begin to feel really comfortable with the thing as a totality.

Usually it’s around sixty thousand words. Re-writing usually makes it a bit longer, and yet I’m always paring words out as I go. With luck, I manage a thousand words a day for two or three months. Some days might not see any work at all, and on other days I might manage two or three thousand words. The thing has to be making progress to be motivating.

It’s not hard to write a thousand words a day. It takes about an hour, sometimes even less. First, you need to know what the next scene is.

You can’t write it if you can’t imagine it, seeing enough of the basic movements and settings, clearly in your head. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what comes next. I know where I’m going tomorrow when I sit down to write. My current novel is up to eighteen thousand words right now, and it’s my eleventh novel.

(Other than that, I have no real qualifications for speaking on such matters.)

A novel has to have some kind of compelling climax and a satisfying ending. When I begin a novel, I often don’t know exactly how it all turns out.

Working at a thousand words a day gives me time to figure that out, and work towards that end point.

When writing a short story, I can’t even begin to write the thing until I figure out the ‘gag.’ Once I have a gag, the structure reveals itself and works itself out.

I have to know the ending. In that sense it’s easier structurally. All the rest of the novel is left out of a short story. I say that because any good story can be made longer. I have short stories that arguably should be made into novels. Why I abandon them, is a very good question. That one I think is purely intuitive—they simply didn’t grab me by the guts and refuse to let go until I did the work and got it out of my system.

Another major difference is simple time. I wrote a seven thousand word short story over the weekend. It took two and a half days. It’s already submitted. There is the satisfaction of coming up with an idea, working with it, solving the problems and then completing it. There is that quick gratification with writing short stories. You write them and submit them and hope for the next good idea to come to you as soon as possible.

Making a submission is a fairly positive moment.

Right now I have probably a dozen, pretty strong short stories under submission in pro and semi-pro markets. As long as you’re writing new material and resubmitting as soon as a rejection slip comes in, that part of the business is relatively easy to maintain. Read the guidelines and keep track of your submissions. If you get even the silliest idea, write it up, polish it, and submit.

See what happens, and repeat as necessary.

As for writing a novel, the motivation, the urge must be sustained over a longer term. It takes enthusiasm generated over the long haul. There may be no real clear idea of where it is headed for the first twenty or thirty thousand words. You may have no idea of who the people are until they begin to react to each other in their own voices and their own characteristic way. It happens on the page as you write it. There is spontaneity in the novel. It just takes longer to write one.

In order to submit or self-publish a book, first you have to write one, and complete it, and polish it until all doubts are removed insofar as that is possible.

No one can teach you how to write or tell a story. It is a journey of discovery. If we want it bad enough, we will learn. We teach ourselves. Ultimately, we’re all alone out here.

You learn a lot about yourself as you go along.