Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Schtick

Schtick (n.) Yiddish slang meaning "gimmick" that has come to mean "someone's signature behavior." - Urban Dictionary

I can clearly remember wanting to write since I was seven: comics, sci-fi, fantasy, and what have you. I've always thought of myself as an aspiring writer of Speculative Fiction. It never occurred to me that I'd turn into a "Louisiana Writer" but apparently I have.

The mystery story that I recently sold, "Rougarou," is set in the contemporary, albeit fictional, town of Whatley, LA (which I imagine to be somewhere in the Florida Parishes) and makes use of the Cajun werewolf myth.

The Steampunk Story that I just mailed off today takes place on the grounds of Knockwood Plantation, which I put somewhere on the Mississippi upriver from New Orleans but not as far as Donaldsonville. "Knockwood" was cobbled together from my vague recollections of visiting Nottoway and Rosedown on various school field trips, and of other old houses along the Mississippi that I've been to.

And just yesterday, while I was tightening the final screws in Knockwood's army of robots, I came across a story call for Urban Fantasy set in the Roaring Twenties. Naturally, my mind went straight back to New Orleans and the burgeoning Jazz scene. I'm committed to the story now, but I don't know if I'll send it to that particular call or do something else with it.

For one thing, the anthology they're putting together will only be published in Australia. For another, I've got this skinny little kid in the back of my head named Cleveland Cooper, and he's trying to talk me into making his story a full-length novel, not a short. See, he's stolen an angel's trumpet (Gabriel was getting hammered on Bourbon St.) and, being Cleveland, he wants the biggest venue possible. I've only known the kid for 24 hours, but I already know that he doesn't think small.

Status Update:For the first quarter of 2010, my story-a-month pledge has held. My Venus Story is currently in the running at the Writers of the Future contest, my two shorts "The Merlin House" and "Witch's Cross" were ready in time for Flash Fiction Night at the Hoover Library (they were so short, they only count as one story for the purpose of my goal), and my Steampunk Story got finished just in time for its March 31 deadline.

On tap for the next three months: an expanded version of "The Merlin House" that I'd like to shop around, the Oil Rig Story, and my Jazz Story that may or may not turn into a novel. I also need to find 15,000 more words for my first novel, Nightfall in Majadan (now The Blood Prayer) and finish the 4th draft on the sequel so I can let more people read it.

That other flash story I mentioned, "Witch's Cross", was written specifically for Flash Fiction Night. It's actually a scene from a novel that never got very far past Chapter One the first twelve times I tried to write it. I changed the context of the story so that it would stand by itself, and though I really like it I don't think it has any kind of future out in the publishing world so I'm posting it here for free:

Witch's Cross

by Jared Millet

Triss stood shaking amidst the hubbub of the Vanji encampment and felt that she was about to lose her mind. She couldn’t see past the crush of wagons and the brightly-colored pavilions, yet she felt certain that at any moment Baron Galcek’s mercenaries would crest the southern hills and sweep her back into captivity. A troop of Vanji had smuggled her away, but upon reaching the east-west road at the edge of the Baron’s fiefdom the caravan had pulled to a halt and thrown her out.

“But can’t you take me any further?” she asked Eujin, the caravan-master. He only shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

“Please,” she begged. “Arvella is only a day to the north.” She wasn't sure that her family would take her back, but it seemed her only hope.

Eujin spread his hands. “I don’t know if we’re going north. We might go east or west, or we might turn around and go back toward your Baron. You’re safe here for now. Tonight we have a dance. Tomorrow, we’ll decide.”

“Please,” she asked again. “If it’s a matter of money –”

Eujin raised his fist, but stopped himself. He pointed a finger at her nose and spoke through clenched teeth. “No money. We’re not bandits. Tonight: dance. Tomorrow, decide.”

The man walked away in a huff and Triss stood aghast, her heart racing. What had she said wrong? And why wouldn’t Eujin give her a straight answer? She looked around at the other Vanji clans that had stopped at the crossroad. Maybe one of them would be more reasonable.

“Don’t bother,” said a voice behind her. “No one will agree to anything, at least not until morning. It’s forbidden.”

She turned to see Eujin’s son, Van, leaning against a wagon-wheel. His eyes sparkled under a mop of hair that was unusually blond for one of his people. His shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and he wore the easy smile of a young man playing hooky from his chores.

“It’s forbidden for the Vanji to plan ahead?”

“No,” he said. “Usually it’s a good idea, but in this place it’s taboo. Here, let me show you.”

He took her hand and pulled her through the mob of wandering families and their animals. There was a carnival air all around, so much that she half-expected to see clowns and tumblers crossing their path. At last they came to a wide clearing in the middle of the camp. In the center of the clearing, the great eastern highway that bisected the kingdom met the road north to her home in Arvella.

“Once upon a time,” said Van, “a witch lived here. She would stop travelers who came to the crossing and predict which road they were going to take. They say she put on a good show. Once she’d convinced her victims of her ability to see the future, she would predict that some horrible fate would befall them if they went down their chosen path. Then her marks would always say, ‘But I don’t have a choice. I have to get these sheep to market,’ or ‘I have to deliver this message,’ or ‘I have to see my sick, dying mother.’ Then the witch would offer to use her powers to ward off whatever evil future she’d foreseen. She made a big deal out of it, of course, and she charged an awful lot of money for her 'services.' They say it was pretty funny to watch, actually.

“As long as she was only going after city-rubes, no one cared. But then she started pulling her act on Vanji. The Elders didn’t like seeing their kinsmen scammed, but they were afraid to make a move against her in case she really was a witch and not just a fraud. Then a boy named Jack came up with a solution.

“‘Let me go to the crossroad,’ he said, ‘and I’ll hear which road this witch says I’m going to take. When she does, I’ll just walk down a different one. That’ll prove she doesn’t have any power.’

“No one had a better idea, so they let Jack try it. He went to the crossroad ahead of his caravan and the witch came out to meet him.

“‘Well, old woman?’ he said. ‘Which way will my journey take me?’

“‘You’ll take whichever road you choose,’ the witch said, ‘but probably not the one I tell you.’

“Jack was trapped, see. No matter which road he chose, he would be fulfilling her prophecy. But then he figured a way out and smiled.

“‘You’re wrong,’ said Jack. ‘I’m not taking a road at all, and you have no power over me.’ To prove it, he stepped off the highway and marched into the wilderness. After that, the Elders drove the witch away and no one ever heard from her again.”

“What happened to Jack?” asked Triss.

“That,” said Van, “is another story. But to this day, no Vanji who comes to this crossroad will make any commitments as to where he’s going next. And every now and then someone will leave his clan, head off into the wild, and follow after Jack.”

Van stared at the hills as if he might do it himself. Triss felt the same urge. None of her options seemed good. To the south lay the Baron. To the north was her family, but would they take her back or turn her away in disgrace? She didn’t know what going east or west might bring, but poverty and starvation were as likely as any other adventure. A drop of water tickled her cheek.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“That’s good,” said Van. “That means you’re free. Hold on to that feeling. Tomorrow, decide whatever is right. Tonight there’s time to dance.”

This story is copyright 2010 Jared Millet.

It was performed on March 23, 2010, at the Hoover Public Library as part of the first Flash Fiction Night put on by the Hoover Library Write Club.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

First Day Back from Vacation

1. Woke up several times as a big fat cat barfed in the bedroom. You know, to welcome us home.

2. Went to work and walked face-first into the spinning fan blades of a budget crisis.

3. Checked personal email before heading home, beaten and bruised.

4. Discovered that I sold another story!

"Rougarou" is my Cajun werewolf piece that I reported "vanished into the small press ether" in a previous blog entry. Well, the small press ether finally spat it back out, and it will appear in a forthcoming anthology from Kerlak Publishing. No release date yet, but I'll post more details as they emerge.

If you'll excuse me now, I think I'll go pass out with a silly grin on my face.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The New Story Experience

So I wake up this morning with a brand new story idea sprouting out of my head. No idea where it came from. My new story will be set on an oil rig, so it may have been inspired tangentially by the fact that I watched Moon last night, but only in the detail that both are set around mining operations. Other than that, they've got nothing in common.

So anyway, my story starts forming buds before I even leave for work. I'm churning the whole thing around in my head so much that I forget to stop at Mom's and drop off her vegetables. (D'oh!) By the time I'm walking across Lynn Park downtown, I've got several levels of conflict started, and by the time I ride the elevator up to my office, I've got a piece of the resolution, some ideas about my protagonist, and a whole page worth of notes I need to jot down right this fucking minute before I lose them. I've got a story idea file for all the random thoughts that occur to me, but most of those kernels are just a sentence or two that might grow into something or might not. It's really rare that this much of a story comes to me all at once.

And it's pretty exhilirating. I've got myself all excited about it, and I can't wait for more ideas to come. I'm not nearly ready to start writing things down, though. Like Harlan Ellison recommends, I'm going to take all these ideas, toss them back into the swamp of my subconscious, and see what kind of lumpy, misshapen monster arises. As of right now, the story is a little more political than what I've written before, and runs the risk of becoming preachy. I'll have to wait and see what other concepts latch on to it. Besides, I have other things to finish first.

This is fun!

Status update: My Mercury Story has been rewritten again and submitted to the annual Jim Baen contest. My Venus Story is just about ready to send to Writers of the Future. With luck, I'll have the Oil Rig Story ready to send to them next quarter (though at the moment, it feels more like an Analog story than any other idea I've had so far). I'm about 1/4 the way through the first draft of my Steampunk Robots in Louisiana story, which is due by the end of the month. My short-short piece "Witch's Cross" is ready for the Write Club Flash Fiction Night, but I still haven't put "The Merlin House" on paper. It's all there, lock safe in my brain, I swear! It'll just take a few hours to get it down, once I escape from the mechanical men of Knockwood Plantation.

Plus there's that pesky day job, dammit. Oh, well.