Monday, July 3, 2017

Ding-Ding Punching The Heat Miser


Greetings, WYMOP fans!
Okay, it’s July. It's been hot. And humid. And hot. And gross. And did I mention hot?
To kind of get our minds off all that hot humid grossness, I’d like to share an excerpt from one of my stories in the recently released anthology, Insanity Tales III: Seasons of Shadow. We were writing about seasons (hence the subtitle, duh Rob), and I happened to pen a winter tale, called “Tracks in the Snow.”
Snow, get it? No gross, humid, or hot.
So, to place you in this story, some schoolchildren have noticed a set of mysterious sled tracks on the snow-covered hill outside their classroom window, just two days before Christmas. They’ve brought them to the attention of their teacher, Mr. Garabedian—the oldest teacher in their school—and he’s settled in to tell them the story of the tracks in the snow.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
“Back in 1965—yes, ancient history, I know—before the hill even had a name, there was a little boy named Willie. He was eight years old, as I recall, and curious, as are most boys of that age. In his snooping about the house in the week prior to Christmas, he discovered a cache of presents his parents planned to give him on the morning of the holiday, and in among the other toys was a sled: a brand new Flexible Flyer.”
He shook his head at us. “You probably wouldn’t understand, with your sleds of today—flat sheets of soulless plastic—but the sleds of my boyhood were things of beauty, with bright red runners and the wood polished to a high sheen, a red arrow running the length of the deck and the words Flexible Flyer emblazoned across the steering stick in vivid blue. They were the kind of thing to catch the eye and capture the imagination, and for young Willie it certainly did both. Though he didn’t let on to his parents that he knew about his coming prize, it seems to have preyed upon his mind, and lured him into foolishness.”
He gestured toward Bobby. “Just like today, Mr. Urabus, it was two days before Christmas, and snow was expected in the night. I don’t know what’s going to happen this evening, but back in 1965, we got snow.”
“Wait,” I said. “You mean you’re from Willowdale, Mr. Garabedian?”
“Yes, Mr. Acadia,” he confirmed, mildly annoyed at my interruption. “I am. The snow started before Willie would’ve gone to bed, and it is presumed he lay there, awake, watching the world outside disappear beneath its own wintry blanket. The snowfall, combined with the draw of the beautiful sled, proved too much for the boy. One imagines him listening to the house fall silent as first his older brother, and then his parents, went to bed. He gave them enough time to fall soundly asleep, and then he was up and dressing, pulling on snow pants and winter boots, donning his parka, hat, and mittens, and sneaking into the basement to fetch his new sled and take it for a ride.
“He came to the hill you see right outside—it was one he knew, the children all went sledding here, even then—and it was far enough from his house he may have thought not to get caught. And right out there, in the dark of night, little Willie took his new sled for a test drive. And it was dark. I want you to understand that. The school did not look as you see it today: in 1965 there were no floodlights mounted on the building, illuminating the schoolyard and its environs through the night. And the neighborhoods to the far side of the hill, where many of you now live, did not exist. This school stood on the edge of town back then, and where now there are streets and houses, fifty years ago there was nothing but forest for miles. Willowdale has grown in the past five decades, and the forest has shrunk, but there was still quite a wilderness about in my youth.
“There was a great deal of discussion about it afterward, and a great deal of conjecture, but it’s assumed little Willie thought he’d be all right as long as he could see the school; he’d still be able to orient himself and find his way home.
“It was also assumed that, though Willie was aware of the snow, he was thinking of it in the same terms as our Mr. Urabus, here”—he pointed to Bobby—“as nothing more than a day off from school. He was not, we think, paying attention to the actual weather reports. What began as enough snow to sled in rapidly became what would eventually be called ‘The Blizzard of ’65.’”
He paused, staring out at the thin parallel tracks in the snow, and his blue eyes looked unfocused. “It was the worst snowstorm in Willowdale’s history,” he said, almost speaking to himself. Then he looked at the class, as if remembering we were there, and raised his voice again. “Whiteout conditions, the kind of weather where you can’t see your hand before your face. By the time he realized it, Willie must’ve lost the school. Rather than going home, he struck out in the wrong direction, found himself instead in the woods, and then became completely lost. When his family woke on the morning of the twenty-fourth, it was to find Willie’s bed empty and his play clothes and new sled gone.”
Mr. Garabedian paused, eyeballing us.
“He never made it home.”
~ ~ * * ~ ~
And things go downhill from there (ba-dum bum).
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
But you see? Cold, wintry, snowy thoughts. Did it work? Did you feel the chill? Or do you still feel like punching the Heat Miser in the ding-ding?

Personally, I’d kind of like to ding-ding punch the Heat Miser. But that’s me.

Keep cool! Talk to you later.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Shopping Happy, Driving Crappy, New Book's Snappy!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

I have two things to mention this week: a little fun, and then a little business.
First, the fun:
*********
I was having a good day, and I was grocery shopping.
If you’ve ever been grocery shopping with me when I was having a good day, you probably understand what that means, but for the less shopped-with, I’ll elaborate: there was singing and whistling along with the music from the overhead speakers, plus the occasional surreptitious dance move when I thought no one was looking.
Yeah, I’m one of those guys.
I’d whistled my way through check-out (yes, the people around me were most likely wishing death upon me, or maybe an aneurysm, or at least that one of my goddamn lips would fall off), told my cashier to have a good day, told my bagger to have a good day, told the grumpy-looking woman who blocked my exit for a couple of minutes while she reorganized her coupons to be ready for next week’s shopping trip to have a good day (I think she was one of the lip-falling-off-wish people), and was strolling out to my car behind a half-loaded shopping cart. I’d consciously decided to stroll, rather than get a running start and jump on the back of the cart, riding it across the lot yelling “Weeeee!” and making vroom-vroom race car noises; it was a fine, sunny day, and I wasn’t in a rush, and besides, there was a big old car coasting down the aisle toward me.
The big old car stopped, and its directional started flashing. I saw a little old woman behind the wheel of the big old car—she was more than mere knuckles on the steering wheel, but not by much—and noticed she was waiting to turn into one of the three vacant spots to the left of my car. I wouldn’t have been in her way even if I were loading up my trunk at the time, but she had no way of knowing that, and she was being nice enough to wait for me to pass (unlike the sour-faced coupon woman). I pulled my cart to a halt and waved her on, letting the sweet little lady get on with taking her space and getting in the store.
Now we enter a very subjective part of my day, a sort of slowtime, where one second seems like ten, and ten seconds can last forever. Fans of The Matrix know what I’m talking about—if someone had fired a gun at me right then, I’d have had plenty of time to watch the bullet soar slowly past because my mind was cranking along at roughly the speed of light on crack.
All in the space of an actual second, though it seemed more like a minute, I noticed four things.
  1. She wasn’t going for the spot to the far left of me, or even the middle space available; she was trying to snug her battleship right up beside my defenseless little Mini—a Mini that’s already been hit twice by other drivers, both times right in front of me.
  2. Either she’d not pulled the wheel quite enough, or the gunboat she was piloting was designed to have a turning radius a third again as wide as every other car in existence.
  3. The right front bumper of her car, the point even now lumbering toward my innocent, unsuspecting little vehicle, bore a dent wide and deep enough that you could have shoved a football helmet all the way into it and wiggled it around a bit and with no risk of even scratching the paint job on the brain bucket. Either she’d been the victim of a howitzer attack (that building she was driving could have been mistaken for an M1 Abrams), or she’d missed this kind of turn before. Maybe lots of times.
  4. And I believed in Jesus, because I started talking to him right away.
“Oh, Christ!”
That was as far as I got, because I burst into a case of fear-sweat so profound it sucked all the spit from my tongue as fuel. “No!” I rasped, but no real sound came out, and because of the slowtime effect, it seemed to come out as a wheezy “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo . . .
I watched, frozen, as the monstrous machine swung closer . . . closer . . . and the bumper of my little car passed right through the void left by the howitzer attack, actually passing into, and then out of, the enemy car.
If I hadn’t already fear-sweated myself into a state of extreme dehydration, I might have wet my pants. She exited her car and tottered past on her way into the store, and I returned her friendly wave with a short chop of my own shaky hand. I filled up my trunk and drove home in silence; even hours later, when I tried to whistle along with a song my son played on his sound system, I lacked the saliva to produce a single note.
Damn those lip-falling-off-wish people. Those curses work.
***************
That was the fun part; now on to a little  bit of business . . . which is also fun.
Insanity Tales III.jpgI’m all kinds of happy to announce The Storyside (the writers’ collaborative I belong to) has a new anthology coming out tomorrow, June 6, 2017. It’s called Insanity Tales III: Seasons of Shadow, and if you read my Writer in Progress post two weeks ago, you know I have a couple of stories in there. “A Bee,” and “Tracks in the Snow.”

What you may not know (because I have yet to mention it anywhere) is that my two favorite stories in this book aren’t my own, and that may tell you something about the terrific stories in this book. My favorite stories in Insanity Tales III—and it was a two-way tie for favorite—are “Eat Your Vegetables,” by Stacey Longo, and “Over the Gulfs of Dream,” by David Daniel. If you like dark fiction that hangs around on the suspenseful side of things, give Insanity Tales a look-see. You won’t be disappointed.


I'll talk to you later!






Monday, May 8, 2017

Moving On . . . Sort Of.

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Yup. I’m moving. Sort of.
Yeah, this is going to be weird, but this’ll be my last WYMOP post for a while. Now, before you get all teary-eyed, let me explain.
Wow, how to explain . . .
I started While You’re Making Other Plans way back in—hold on, let me check the actual blog—May, 2011; pretty much six years on the nose. I’ve closed WYMOP down before, temporarily, because I was too busy with other writing, and to be honest, that is part of this sort-of move.
Anyway, I started WYMOP back in 2011 mostly in response to the people around me. I’d begun writing about seven months earlier, and what was coming out of me was a little on the dark side. Ghost stories. Stories about bad things happening to good people. Stories about fear. Not the kind of things you’d expect from a happy person—though I am a postal worker, so there must be something wrong with me. A few people asked me if I was okay; mainly family at first, but then a few friends, including one who lived 3,000 miles away.
I was fine, I told them. I still like to laugh and make other people laugh. I’m not depressed (at least, I think I’m not, so I’m sticking with that story), but when I sit down to write there’s a certain dark little twist to what winds up on the page. Some people still seemed worried, though, and I assumed that they assumed my writing was some sort of window into my subconscious.
To be fair, it pretty much is, but not in the way they thought.
So I started a blog where I could reassure them, where I could write down some of the other stuff that occurred to me. I was shooting for funny, or if not funny, at least amusing—hell, maybe even touching and serious; just not horror. And I was writing as me, not some character, so it was even more of a pipeline from my subconscious, right? So I was writing over here as myself, and it would have nothing to do with my fiction, and it would reassure the hell out of everyone. That was the plan, and I stuck to it.
For while, anyway.
But I’ve done a lot, writing-wise, in the past six years (the technical term may be a shitload). As I’ve worked on getting better at it, writing’s become more and more a part of my life, to the point where I was having quite a hard time not writing about writing. I know I’ve slipped up here and there along the years—especially recently—and I apologize for that if it wasn’t what you were here for.
The problem is time.
Time changes things. Handsome, once a huge part of this blog because we did so much together, is almost fifteen now. He has school, and homework, and computer games, and a girlfriend, and a lot less time for hanging out with Dad. Besides, you’d be hard-pressed to find a teen out there who wants to hang out with their parents. I remember being the same way—it’s like we’re genetically programmed to be embarrassed by family members over a certain age once we hit thirteen.
My job at the post office used to be a big part of my blog, but time’s changed that as well. I used to like my job, but as things have become more corporate and less local, the focus shifting from the people and customers to the numbers, I’m not all that fond of the place I work anymore. I could write about work every week, but most of it would be me bitching and complaining, and even if I tried to make it all funny it would get monotonous pretty damn quick—for you and for me.
There’s also my website. Did I mention I have a website? I do. It’s about me as a writer, and it’s where I direct people if they want to find out more about me. It’s included in the bios I send in to anthologies that publish me, and in the back of my own books. I mention it whenever I do an interview, either in text or audio . . . and it needs work.
Serious work.
Here’s the thing: publishers, when they’re thinking about working with you, take many things into consideration. One of the things they look at (I have been told, by people who would know) is your web presence. They look at your Facebook page, your Twitter account, and your website, if you have one. I do have one, and I’m directing people there all the time, as I said, but from the look of my website I’m a lazy guy who doesn’t keep up his own URL, so how hard am I going to work for this hypothetical publisher who’s looking into me?
Not only that, but people who read my work, and like it, and are looking for more of it, they don’t want to see that all I have going on at the site I sent them to is a six month old blog post. Did I mention there’s a blog on my website? Well, there is, and compared to WYMOP it’s pitiful. Anemic. Emaciated. And it’s not doing anyone any good.
The whole site isn’t doing me any good, and that’s a problem. At the moment I’m working on two novellas, co-writing a novel while another waits in the wings, polishing a couple of short stories, writing a monthly movie review column, working as part of a writers’ collaborative, and I’ve helped edit two books in the past six weeks with S & L Editing—but according to my website, I’m a bit of a shlub.
So here I have one blog where I’ve got a few readers but I’m running out of material, and there I have this separate website that I probably have more material for, that’s actually a little hurtful to me at the moment. I need to fix this, but to fix it I need time, which is one of those things in limited supply. So here’s the plan—and it’s a flexible plan; I just hammered some of it out less than an hour ago: I’m changing and cutting back on my blogging.
Rather than posting to WYMOP once a week, I’m going to be here once a month. Once a month I’ll also be posting on my other blog, Writer in Progress. A post every other week, on alternating blogs. Sound confusing? Yeah, to me, too. Look, I’m just writing all this down on the fly, trying to write to a deadline that’s 12 minutes away.
If I’m blogging over at The Storyteller (my website), even just once a month, it’ll show some activity to anyone looking into it. And those two off weeks, when I’m not blogging? Well, hey, I can use that time to pump my decrepit website back into shape—and if there’s any time left over, I can spend it on the writing all this is supposed to help promote. This sort-of move will be win-win for me (I hope!), and is something I kind of need to do if I want to look like I’m taking my writing seriously.
And believe me, I’m taking it seriously.
So if you usually get to While You’re Making Other Plans via the link I throw into Facebook each week, I’ll see you in about two weeks with a link to a new blog post over on Writer in Progress. I’ll be the same guy, whether I’m writing over here or over there, so if you’ve liked WYMOP you’ll probably like that, too. Please give it a chance. Either way, I hope to see you back here next month, when I’ll be once again typing Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Until then, I’ll talk to you later.

P.S. Oh, and feel free to check out the decrepit website—there’s a link to Writer in Progress up there in the navigation bar, and from there you can, of course, get to the whole Storyteller site. There’s no new content over there, but I’m working on revamping the whole damn thing, so a bunch of it may change, hopefully soon. Poke around if you like. See what’s what. Be my guest—I’d love to have you.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sunday, Sunday, The Best Day Of The Week


Greetings, WYMOP readers!

It was Sunday, and I was heading out to Salem Con, a spooky extravaganza in lovely downtown Salem, Massachusetts, put on by the Massachusetts Ghost Hunters Paranormal Society. I was checking it out as a place to maybe get a table and sell books next year, but also because it’s right there in my hometown, and I was fairly clueless about it. I had no idea what it was like or how large it was; all I knew was it was all happening at the Hawthorne Hotel. That was terrific for two reasons: it was a ten-minute drive for me, and there was parking right there behind the hotel.
I was half right. Ten minutes after pulling out of the driveway I was indeed zooming around the parking lot behind the Hawthorne Hotel; what I was not doing was parking. Every spot was filled with vehicles bearing license plates from all over New England: New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. Never saw one from New Hampshire, though. But still, maybe this thing was a little bigger deal than I thought?
I wound up parking about three blocks away, at the Church Street lot. I locked the Mini and hustled toward the hotel, giggling quietly at the out-of-towners gathered about the parking kiosk. Parking’s free on Sunday, suckers, I thought, satisfied in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to wait in line behind those five to get into the demonology Q&A I was on my way to attend.
I went into the Q&A intending to quietly laugh up my sleeve at the whole show, but it was actually a lot of fun and very informative. It was also a little scary—not the part about demons and spirits, but the audience of more than a hundred people. These were some diehard believers in the supernatural—and one animal communicator—and the thought was at the back of my mind the whole time that one of the presenters was about to go all stiff about the neck and shoulders, point to me dramatically, and boom, “It seems we have an unbeliever among us!” If that happened I was pretty sure the crowd would have knocked me down, taken me up, and carried me, kicking and screaming, to the roof, where they would burn me up in a big wicker man.
Luckily I flew under the radar on that one. For the record, I’m neither believer nor unbeliever; it depends on when you catch me. By the light of day, surrounded by people, the supernatural is something to laugh at and make fun of. When there’s an unexplained noise when I’m alone in the house at 3am though, you better believe ghosts are real, as real death, taxes, and Milk Duds, and I don’t joke about Milk Duds.
The event as a whole was better than I'd expected. Like I said, that Q&A was fun (except for the wicker man vibe), and the dealer rooms were fairly busy. I saw a couple of local vendors I knew, as well as a small publishing house I've spoken with before. It was that small publisher who broke the bubble of happiness that had grown about my head as I’d enjoyed the event.
“I just have to hustle back to Church Street and get my car,” I said. “You know, before the exit rush ruins the traffic.”
“Church Street?” She looked puzzled. “Why didn’t you just park in the garage down the block? It’s like twenty-five cents an hour.”
Partially because I didn’t know that. But I wasn’t going to let her know I didn’t know. “It’s about the same distance,” I said with a smile. “Besides, parking’s free on Sunday.”
“But this is Saturday,” she said.
“Um, what?” I said.
“It’s Saturday,” she repeated—and now she was smiling.
“Um, what?”
“It’s Sat—” she began again, but it was too late; I was gone, hustle-walking through the crowd (you know, that tight-assed, lotta-hip walk that covers ground faster than a jog, looks a little like a speed-walk, and just emanates a whole bunch of move along, move along, nothing to see here) muttering to myself, checking the calendar in my phone every sixth-through-eighth steps to verify that it was indeed Saturday, and I’d just spent three hours shilly-shallying around with ghost hunters and demon wranglers and giving the real horror all the time in the world to pounce:
The meter maid.
Did I find a ticket on my car? No. But it was raining, so I fully expect to receive my citation in the mail. If there’s one thing in this world that’s real—even realer than Milk Duds—it’s parking tickets.
Damn you, Saturday. Damn you to hell!

~ ~ * * ~ ~

Now, on a more serious note, I’m moving.
No, not moving house. If I were doing that you’d have heard me bitching about it long before now—with or without this blog. What I am going to do is a bit of a hop from one blog to another. I was going to do it this week, sort of surprise you all with it, but things didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned; that story in itself is something that belongs on WYMOP.
I’ll explain it all next week, in a much better way than I was going to (I was rushing myself a bit). I’ll tell you where I’ll be going, and why, and most of all I’ll be inviting you all to join me over there. In fact, I dearly hope you will.
But enough about that. I’m about to get maudlin, and if I do that now, what will I have for next week?
Ah! Something for you to look forward to.

Talk to you later!

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!