Monday, April 24, 2017

Fish Story

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
A friend recently directed me to a submission call for an anthology to be titled Death by Water.
This should be an easy one, I thought. Sweat free. Zero perspiration. Hell, I live on the coast. I work on a peninsula, with water, water everywhere. I even love to fish, canoe, and kayak—but I’m not the best swimmer out there. Mix all this with the fact that I usually tend to consider the worst—I write horror, for Christ’s sake—and putting something together to submit for this anthology should have been a walk in the park.
Should have been.
I decided to try a fishing story. It’s spring, and I’ve been seeing folks out there, casting from shore or sitting in small boats, though I haven’t had time to wet my line myself. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had the chance to do any fishing, and I have to say I miss it, so what with seeing it happening all around me, it’s been on my mind a bit.
Fishing story. No problem. Sweat free.
. . . And right off the bat I ran into a problem. Fishing, just like anything else, has a lot of regional terms. For instance, the skipjack tuna is also known as the aku, arctic bonito, mushmouth, oceanic bonito, striped tuna, and victor fish. Which term is the most common? And if I refer to a particular fishing rig, or technique, am I just calling it what I call it? It seemed I’d have to do a little research and verify my terminology to give my story a wider appeal and maybe get it accepted for that book.
I started with a few actual articles on fishing terminology. Some of the techniques described, though, sounded like the kind of thing I’d like to incorporate into my story, but I’d have to see them in action first. A YouTube search on a few key terms turned up quite a few videos covering the techniques I was interested in—and, wonder of wonders, there in the sidebar was a list of clips showing people using these techniques to catch monster fish. Monster fish? This was perfect research for my story! How lucky could I be? I clicked into the first video.
There was a dude in sunglasses and hat, and he was fishing, though it was hard to make out exactly what he was doing since his buddy was making the recording with his phone. What with the rocking of the boat and—whoa! That fish was huge! I hadn’t seen the technique in action very well, but it had damn sure been effective. Maybe the next video would show what the fisherman was doing a little clearer?
No, this guy was fishing solo and using a tripod, but he kind of had his back to the—holy cow! That was the biggest striper I’ve ever seen! The fisherman kind of took it in stride, but I’d have been thrilled to catch something that big. I looked at the sidebar and saw the next video in line was titled “Ultimate Monster Striper,” but there was no way it was as large as the one I’d just seen. Just no way. I clicked into the video . . .
It’s three days later, and I’ve seen huge striped bass, giant tuna, leaping sailfish, what has to be the world’s ugliest wolffish, the catfish that ate Chicago, and, and . . . and I’ve not even started that fishing story yet. It occurred to me this morning that I needed a blog for today, and I need to write something from all this research . . . so guess what you’re getting?

Talk to you later!

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Scene From Writing Life: Day Gone Awry

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
The following is a note—mostly to myself—I banged out Thursday afternoon, after a slightly frustrating morning. Lacking a really great blog to throw your way—and realizing it’s Monday night, and far too late to try to summon something from scratch—here are my notes on a writing day that wasn’t going to plan:
~ ~ * * ~ ~

So this is my day so far.
I wanted to work on the collaboration I’m part of—it’s my turn to write a chapter, and I’m taking too long to do it—but my partner had left a note at the end of her last chapter saying she was unsure if it should stay the way it was or undergo some kind of major rewrite.
I messaged her at just after 10:00 to say I was fine with what she had, and I could very well run with it, but wanted to make sure she didn't want to change it before I got to work on it. I hadn’t even thought of the direction she’d taken the story in, but I liked it. It would have sucked to write a whole chapter based on what she’d done only to find out afterward that she’d been working on a rewrite the whole time. That would be a time of great weeping, the rending of garments, and the gnashing of teeth.
While waiting for a response (that’s the problem with texting: you have no idea if the other person is sitting right there paying attention or out walking the cat, re-roofing the house, or even killing a transient and hiding the body, there’s really no way of knowing), I decided to try and re-submit a story I received a rejection on yesterday. I got to work looking for a suitable place. The problem was that most publications that might be looking for a story like the one I have also have word caps too low for me to submit it. They’re looking for stories that are a maximum of four or five thousand—maybe even six—but my story’s almost seven thousand.
My partner got back to me in about 40 minutes, but I was on the hunt by then, and kept looking for places to submit. I looked for two hours before finding a magazine taking stories up to ten thousand words . . . but it might not be exactly what they’re looking for. What the hell, I thought, I’ll give it a try. At least it won’t be rejected out of hand for length.
They have an automated submission system, so I got to work filling in the boxes and rewriting my cover letter to fit the new market. Everything was great until I tried to attach the file. This particular magazine was asking for the story file to be in a specific Word format, and not the newest one at that. Up until this point I’d done all my work in Google Docs, using OpenOffice (a free Word knock-off) whenever I needed to convert a file to something Google Docs couldn’t handle, but this format appeared to be beyond OpenOffice’s capabilities: it would save it in the correct format, but would also insert random blank pages, lines written in gibberish, and stripped out the letters T, F, and all vowels from the text, rendering my carefully-written story into something cut-and-pasted together, ransom note style, by a spastic three-year-old with a substance abuse problem.
I’m exaggerating. A little.
I finally broke down and decided to join the 21st century writing world and buy Word. The problem now was figuring out which to get—there are so many versions of Word and Microsoft Office out there—so I texted my partner. I should have gotten Word months ago just for doing S&L Editing work, but I’d been being kind of a dick and sort of forcing her to do the final formatting on everything before sending it to the clients. Whatever I got should (hopefully) mesh well with what she has.
Once she finished burying the transient on her neighbor’s property (or, you know, whatever) she got right back to me. She has Word 2013.
I could not get Word 2013.
Oh, I could get it, but as a CDROM sent to me in the mail rather than as a direct download. I’d come this far, squandered my morning searching and shopping, and I wanted something to show for it. A story submission would have to do. I settled on Student Office 2016, bought and downloaded it (it's tax deductible!) and submitted my story . . . and I’d only started searching three and a half hours earlier.
I'm giving up on writing for now. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, and I’d planned to be done writing by 2:00 anyway, as I have errands to run and chores to do that require a little daylight. I’ve barely done anything I meant to do, writing-wise, and I took almost six hours not doing it. I haven’t eaten anything yet today, and I suspect that funny aroma I’m smelling is me. Maybe raking the yard or cleaning off the back deck will give me a sense of accomplishment. Or even just going to the bank.
But first, I need a shower. And maybe some pants.

Talk to you later.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Diorama-lama-bo-bama (Or: Scenes From a Growing Boy)

Greetings, WYMOP readers.
So, this happened:
“Here, I wanted to show you this,” said Handsome, striding into the dining room with bounce in his step and a box in his hands. “It oughta look familiar to you.”
He put the box on the table in front of me, and I saw that though it had started life as the container for his most recent pair of sneakers (size sasquatch, and still growing), the lid had been cut off and there was something other than shoes inside. The bottom was now lined with gray and white marble-patterned paper which looked a lot like ice. Skirting the ice along one side of the box was a white paper snowbank, mounding high and sloping toward the water as lake shores often do. Out in the middle of the box were two little paper men, cut from a printed picture, dressed for the weather and working a miniscule auger through the frozen lake.
“Never seen it before,” I said. “Ice fishing diorama?”
“We had to make a diorama for school,” he said. “A scene from a book we like.”
“Okay,” I said. I knew he really liked the Shadowmagic Trilogy, but I couldn’t remember any ice fishing in it. I sat there wracking my brain, trying to remember anything I knew he’d read recently—hell, at all—that might have had a scene like this.
I finally gave in. “And I should know this?”
“Yeah, you ought to know the book. Well, the story.”
My mind flew to a story I’d written a long time ago for Dead of Winter, called “Fishing Hole,” that was all about ice fishing. But so far as I knew he’d never read Dead of Winter. And there were four guys in that story, not two. And—but wait. Even longer ago than that, I’d written—
“Is this my Christmas story? ‘Fishing Buddy?’ ”
“The one where two guys go ice fishing on Christmas Eve, and one of them turns out to be Santa?” he said with a grin. “Yeah. I like that story.”
“Me, too,” I said, looking at the diorama again. He’s going to be fifteen in a few months, and he was just ten years old when that story was published, but there they were: two guys ice fishing on Christmas Eve. “This is really cool. Thank you.”
“I thought you’d like it,” he said over a shoulder, heading back into the kitchen.
I sat there checking out the diorama again, and though I will neither confirm nor deny that I wiped away a tear once he wasn’t looking, yes, I liked it.
I liked it very much.
Talk to you later.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lattice Entertain You

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

People tend to like the characters I write into my fiction, in part because they seem so real. Well, to be fair, in part they are. I meet people every day—quite often on my route at work—who form the basis for characters who then find their way into my writing. I mean, let’s face it: sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about—and not even that extreme an example.
There is an older woman who moved to my route a couple of years ago. She’s not gone whackadoodle, as some older folks do, wearing her underwear on the outside of her pants, or forgetting the pants entirely (I’ve heard of both) or anything like that, but she does have one quirk: though I park in front of her house, and as soon as I have my mail bag on my shoulder I’m going to walk straight to her door, she feels the need, when she sees me, to pop out of her house like a life-sized jack-in-the-box as soon as the truck grinds to a halt. She marches right up to my door to call in my window, “Can I have my mail?”
She doesn’t necessarily want to talk—some people do, they’re friendly and just want to say hi—but she needs her mail. ASAP. Now, if not sooner. She’d oft-times get it quicker if she weren’t crowding me, making it harder to get out and around to the rear of the vehicle where her mail actually is. Sometimes, though, I’m speedy enough, or she just doesn’t see me until it’s too late, or maybe the weather’s just too awful, and she instead meets me at her door, opening it a crack to thrust her claw through the gap with a cry of “I’m right here!”
Then there are the rare, rare times when she misses me entirely, and I actually get to use her mailbox. This had been one of those times.
Now, I can understand why she tries to meet me at the door, especially on cold days or when the weather isn’t otherwise especially human friendly. There is a sort of arbor over her door, a roofed but lattice-sided box about three feet deep forming a sort of outside entry hall. The former tenants had their mailbox mounted inside this arbor, beneath the small roof and right beside the door: open the door, stick your hand out, grab the mail. Hell, they could have done it naked—probably did—and no one would ever know.
The woman in question, however, despite my suggestion to the contrary, afixed her mailbox to the wall of the house outside the arbor, necessitating a walk out and around the lattice wall, a full-body immersion into a cold winter day or complete exposure to wind and rain when fetching the post. I don’t blame her for not wanting to make that trip, if she can avoid it . . . which leads me to a couple of weeks ago.
We had snow. Not a whole hell of a lot—not nearly as much as they’d predicted—but enough to be a pain in the ass for working outside in. I parked, filled up my mail satchel at the rear of the truck, started at the jack-in-the-box’s house, then walked about delivering the whole street. When I got back to my truck I heard a call from behind me, thin and reedy and fairly familiar: “Excuse me, could you hand me my mail?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I called back, slung my truck door closed, turned, and stopped.
There she stood, one foot inside the house, the other out. Not wanting to step out into the dusting of snow on the ground, she’d managed to worm one large and bony hand through the lattice, her spindly wrist—about as thick around as two broomsticks lain side-by-side—fitting quite comfortably in the gap. She’d opened her box, grabbed tight her mail . . . and then discovered her fist, which was probably as large as mine, wouldn’t fit back through the hole. Even as I watched, she twisted her hand this way and that, looking for the magical angle which would let her squeeze that big bundle of knuckles back through the lattice while still clutching her prize.
Now, she could have dropped the prize, then simply stepped around the lattice to retrieve it once more. Barring that, she might have put the mail back in the box—it was obviously within reach—keeping her mail out of the snow and her from having to bend to pick it up. None of this occurred to her, however. So focused was she on having that mail, I think that if I hadn’t come back to my truck, or if she’d tried the stunt after I’d driven away, she might have stood there until her daughter came to visit; half-in, half-out of the house, wrist stuck in a handcuff the size of her house.
I took the bills and junk mail from her trapped mitt and she easily pulled her hand back through the lattice. I stepped around and handed her the bundle, which she accepted with a smile. “Thanks,” she said. “I won’t try that again!”
And she hasn’t. Yet. But I make sure now, when I get back to the truck after delivering her street, to take a peek into her arbor, waiting for the day I hear it again: Excuse me, could you hand me my mail?
So, at some point in the future is the can I have my mail lady going to wind up in a story? Sure, if the story calls for a perfectly normal person with just one little quirk, one odd obsession. I may change it some—maybe write a man who’s just like everyone else, except he’s got one particular brand of gum he needs, or a woman who needs to stop the car so she can get out and smell wild lilac whenever she drives past it—but I’ll probably have the can I have my mail lady in mind when I do.
Because truth is stranger than fiction.

Talk to you later!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Earworm (2017)

An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, or stuck song syndrome, is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing.

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
This morning I had a song stuck in my head. It happens a lot, I know, and to lots of people, but with me there’s an added problem: I sing. Not all that well, but often, and usually without thinking. I whistle, too. Sometimes I’m like a noise machine, and if I’m busy doing something somewhat mindless—sorting the mail, walking my route, driving a car, all that stuff—then everyone around gets to hear what’s running through my head like it’s on a constant loop.
Sorry, world.
This morning it was (and I have no idea why) “Rockin’ Robin,” by Bobby Day. It’s not even like I remember all the lyrics to the song—though, to be honest, there’s only a handful of songs out there I do remember all the lyrics to. This is why I whistle: I may lose the words, but the tune sticks like glue.
So all morning I was whistling “Rockin’ Robin.” I went out to load up my truck whistling “Rockin’ Robin.” I sorted my mail whistling “Rockin’ Robin.” I went out to deliver my route whistling “Rockin’ Robin.” See? It sounds repetitive to you, and you weren’t even there. It’s been like thirty seconds, four or five recurrences of just the title, and already you’re probably ready to give me a swift kick to the jangly bits.
It even started wearing on me. There I was, slogging around in the rain (sans rain gear, but that’s another story) on a 40 degree day, whistling this jaunty tune the whole time because I simply couldn’t stop. “Well,” my customers would say, “someone’s not letting the weather get them down.” Or, “So, you like this rain?” Or even, “Wow, that’s what I like to hear: someone happy with their work.”
The problem was the weather was getting me down, and I don’t like the rain, and (this day, at least) I wasn’t happy with my work. I wanted to go home, take a hot shower, dry off, and sit with a hot cup of cocoa and write, or maybe read, or—if I felt I had the time—watch a movie to review for Monster Movie Madness. What I did not want was a bunch of happy-asses pointing out how cheerful I was when I really felt more like a frozen drowned rat than a party clown. I wanted to kick them in the jangly bits.
So I tried to drive the earworm out. I intentionally sang other earworms, trying to change gears somehow, or at least loosen the bright and cheerful stranglehold “Rockin’ Robin” had on me.
I sang the Gilligan’s Island theme. I sang The Addams Family theme. I sang Underdog. I whistled the hell out of The Munsters, Hawaii Five-0, and Mission Impossible. Nothing worked: I kept reverting to “Rockin’ Robin” whenever I wasn’t paying attention. In desperation, I turned to the biggest gun in the earworm arsenal, the mac daddy of all earworms, guaranteed to lock itself into place in even the most tone-deaf of persons: the theme from The Bridge Over the River Kwai.
It worked. Eventually.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai managed to knock “Rockin’ Robin” loose, and with everything else I had running through my head all day, what I wound up with by the time I’d finished my route was a jumble of words and tunes. Nothing could get a firm grip on me anymore; all my earworms were cancelling each other out.
I had won.
I walked in the office that afternoon with a smile on my face, despite the weather and my own physical misery. I stood at my bench, going through my end of the day routine. I was just tidying things up for tomorrow, when I realized the guy beside me was whistling something, and I’d started unconsciously whistling it along with him.
It was “Rockin’ Robin.”
“You son of a bitch,” I said. “I’ve been trying to get that damn song out of my head since this morning, and here you go putting it back in again?”
And the bastard jumped out of his case, leveled a finger at me, and shouted “Ahaaaaaaa!”
Dammit. Revenge, he said, was sweet.

Talk to you later.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Operators Are Standing By

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

I’m trying to get down to 200 pounds. I’ve been trying for a while now, and it’s becoming rather depressing. It’s only 14 pounds, but I just can’t seem to lose it.
So I decide I’ll eat less at dinnertime. I mean, whatever calories I take in that late in the day have the least chance of being burnt off due to activity, right? Not going to get ripped abs in my sleep, or anything. Well, not unless I buy those capsules being touted on late-night television by a strangely googly-eyed man in a multicolored bowtie, rainbow suspenders, and a rather forceful English accent.
Or is it Australian? He seems to kind of waver between the two—but look, whatever it is, it’s really forceful, so that stuff must really work, right? I mean, he’s not offering any science supporting the product, but the way he keeps grinning and shouting “Am I right?” at the studio audience, he’s so convincing . . .
But no, I’ll just eat less at dinnertime, rather than spend the nearly $300 (in three easy installments of just $99 each!) buying a 1-week supply of Poops-A-Lot, guaranteed to flatten your stomach while you sleep1, even though operators are standing by. I have this in mind as I set about cooking dinner.
I’m making pork chops, mashed potatoes, and corn for myself, Handsome, and Miss D. There are six chops (I have to cook all of them, it’s not like the package is resealable or anything), but they’re thin cut, and I’ll just have one. The spuds are coming out of a box (instant-schminstant, these things take almost five minutes!), and I’ll just make two servings of those. The corn is frozen, so I’ll just make one box of that. Nothing too out of control here!
The chops are in the oven and the corn’s in the microwave, so I’m buttering, boiling, milking, and mixing the potatoes on the stove. You think if I put the instant spuds in the microwave they’d go back in time? I’ll find out next week. But it seems that when you follow the directions on the instant spuds box you don’t wind up with mashed potatoes: you wind up with a sort of potato soup with the consistency of Cream of Wheat.
So I shake in some more flakes, and stir. And shake. And stir. And shake. And stir.
God damn, the instructions on the box are off by a mile! Maybe I added too much water? Or milk? Or butter? I suppose it’s possible I may have added a little too much of all three—but they’re getting close to the right consistency now. I’ll just have to taste them to find out.
Mmmm. Close.
Shake. Stir. Taste. Shake. Stir. Taste. Shake. Stir. Taste. Stir. Taste. Stir. Taste. Taste. Taste.
And the microwave beeps, and the oven timer goes off, and dinner is ready. I take my one pork chop, a moderate amount of corn, and just a little of the potatoes—I only made two servings for three people, after all—and I go sit at the table.
Handsome and Miss D come fix their own plates, and the next thing I know Handsome’s standing at my elbow with a fork chop (a pork chop on a fork, so you can eat it like a lollipop).
“Dad, eat this.”
“No,” I say, sticking to my guns. “I’m good, thanks.”
“But there’s just one left, and I want to put the pan in the sink.”
I look at my plate. The one chop I have does look a little lonely, and, really, there are barely any mashed potatoes there, and what with those few kernels of corn . . .
“Okay. I’ll take it.”
The two chops nestle on my plate, snuggling, practically spooning—at least, until I begin sectioning up the new chop into bite-sized pieces as the first chop looks on in horror. I eat the pieces with great relish and lots of noises signifying almost sensual pleasure, those sounds probably driving the remaining pork chop mad with terror as it waits for me to—
But I digress. I eat my dinner, miniscule as it is, satisfied to be holding to the eating less at night plan. I’m surprised upon finishing at just how full I am; after all, I just had the two chops and barely anything else, right?
The kids are done and gone now, so I guess it’s up to me to clean the kitchen. The potato pot is practically empty, but I’d like to get as much out of it as I can before rinsing it for the dishwasher; if the spuds dry on, sometimes the dishwasher’s not enough to get them off. I scrape out the pot with the wooden serving spoon, scraping and scraping—and hey! The spoon’s full. Be a shame to waste that spoonful of spuds, what with children starving in, uh, that starving kid place where Sally Struthers films those commercials.
I eat them.
I scrape some more, and have to eat the spoonful again. I scrape still more—sometimes I’m very disappointed in our dishwasher’s performance—and eat, and scrape, and eat, and then it’s time to rinse the pot.
But while the pot is rinsing, I see how much corn is left in the bowl by the stove. It’s quite a lot, actually, plenty to save for leftovers if only I had some potatoes, or even a pork chop to store with them. As just corn, though, it’s likely to go to waste if I put it in the fridge. That wouldn’t be right. I use the serving spoon to finish this off, too.
I put everything in the dishwasher and wipe down the counters, surprised once more at how totally full I feel, especially considering the drips and drabs that were on my plate.
The next morning I wake up and head straight to the scale—by way of the bathroom. I’m anxious to see how my plan’s working out. I pee for what seems like an hour, then step on the scale. I step off, let it zero, and slip cautiously back on, like I’m trying not to frighten it.
“Son of a bitch!”
After being so careful, after practically starving myself for the evening, I’ve gained two pounds!
I wave my arms. I stomp about. I argue with myself. I argue with God—he doesn’t bother arguing back, so I decide to call that a win.
And then, before I leave the house, I make a single phone call. The number’s easy to remember: 1-800-P-O-O-P-S-A-L-O-T.
Operators are standing by.

1―The makers of Poops-A-Lot claim no responsibility for soiled sheets, social embarrassment, or destroyed relationships via use of this product. Use only as directed.

Talk to you later!