Deconstructing “A Day Ruined”

February 9, 2017

“A Day Ruined” is a new, very short story posted at the end of 2016, inspired by a recent, dispiriting set of stamps from the Postal Service that sends the wrong message about pets and exotics.

Pet Stamps - Side 1 of USPS stamps Side 2 of USPS Stamps

Once you get beyond the dogs and cats/puppies and kittens, the pictured animals are less and less appropriate as companions. Many are routinely removed from their native habitats and shipped in poor conditions, only to be abandoned by irresponsible owners.

In any event, many people are concerned about issues of animal suffering, and the day-to-day life of people who care about such things, or who care about anything, is getting difficult in today’s America, where the loudest voices dominate current political discussions by venting their inner asshole. And all this noise covers up actions like the USDA’s, which recently pulled public information about animal abuse from its site.

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Something New

March 10, 2016

The short story “The Crook of a Tree” is new to this site, although this piece was done a few years back and first  made “publicly available” as part of the compilation “Stories from Austin: A Collection of Short Stories from the Austin Creative Fiction Writers Group.”

The site has also gone under a modest makeover, mainly to eliminate Flash in the interior page navigation.

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January 2, 2016

I re-edited and posted the very short short story “Toy Lists” to start the new year. You might be asking, Why keep this story alive? Because it uses the word “frowsy.” That is simply a great word. It is the type of word you dream about.

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And We Paid For This?!?

January 8, 2015

And We Paid For This?!? is not, despite your deepest hopes, the name of a new self-deprecating alt band, with a pithy throwaway name that you grumble on your way out of the club … the opposite of Free Beer, which will forever be the urban legend for best band name ever…

No, “and we paid for this?!?” is what you might say after you buy your copy of “Stories from Austin: A Collection of Short Stories from the Austin Creative Fiction Writers Group,” which features over 20 short stories, including two originally posted on this site. Now you might be saying, “Didn’t we once get those for free?” To which I would say, “Yes … but now you have the honor of purchasing it alongside a set of clogs and the soundtrack to Back to the Future II…”

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Where is the Highway Virus link?

June 10, 2011

For those of you keeping score at home (and that is a sad little joke told to an empty room), you may have noticed the recent change in the home page makes the Highway Virus stories inaccessible. Actually you can still get to them from links in the blog – like this one – but that section of the site is no longer navigable from the main pages.

So, since it is moderately difficult to access these pages, they are essentially offline. Why? I decided to retire the tone of those stories. The notion of a grim, tooth-and-claw postapocalyptic future is overdone, and it was difficult for me to maintain that tone without becoming too didactic.

So I am trying to change the tone for my “sci-fi” or “futuristic” writing. Here is an excerpt from a new piece, with the working title “The Blue Caves of Austin,” just because I like that title:

“With the end of the world, or the world as you knew it, there were many things we had to do before we could start over. You left quite a mess. Lots of junk and lots of bodies. There’s a lot of talk, blaming you, speculating why you acted as you did. But there will be people in our future, and they will say the same things about us. I know because you said the same things about your antecedents.

“They want me to tuck this missive away, put it where it will find its way back to you. As though one day, we will wake up, and the skies will be clear, the ground clean, as though it were possible to change the course of the world.”

So that’s not quite as heavy handed as past efforts, I think. Which brings up a new question – do I always have to write in the first person?

Why “trogg dogs”?

November 25, 2010

The Wastelands book continues to plague my Noosphere – indirectly this time. As mentioned before, my favorite story in this book (of those I’ve read) is Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The People of Sand and Slag,” also available in his book Pump Six. So naturally I was drawn to the September 2008 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which has his name on the cover (full disclosure: it was a free copy I picked up at a convention – but it would not have stood out of the pile of free stuff if not for his name).

So I read “Pump Six,” and to my dismay, Bacigalupi has in his story entities called trogs, carnal subhumans who populate the story’s future society, hanging out like homeless but unabashedly humping in public. That name is eerily similar to my trogg dogs, a persistent threat to the humans in the Highway Virus series. These animals rove the decimated landscape, attack live humans and eat the dead ones. They are, in some ways, a force of nature, tied to the rise of the Highway Virus as it started to infect people.

So what’s in the name (i.e., how did I come to pick the name trogg dogs)? For one, trogg dogs look mostly like wolves, although much bigger, so “dogs” is a natural association. Second, the press named them, and as it does so often with real threats, they trivialized them. As the narrator in “Little Things” says, they needed some funny little story at the end of each hour to offset the day’s harsh realities. Trogg dogs seemed to fulfill that need, and a copy boy with a fetish for classic rock came up with the name to complete this wonderful distraction.

So there’s the answer to a question no one asked. The name came to me long before I had heard of the name “Bacigalupi,” but apparently it did bump up against him while floating in the Noosphere. If I can take one positive from it, this coincidence partially allays my fear that the name “trogg dogs” is too “Atwoodesque,” i.e., that it is too hokey to be believable as part of a realistic lexicon. There is another “trog” in print, and that is important, considering I feel I took a few liberties with the evolution of these creatures.

For one, I worry the emergence of this new species was too compressed, even though in present day we have numerous stories about packs of wild dogs ravaging countrysides. But in looking at the fictional timeline of the Highway Virus series, the trogg dogs happened too fast. Real evolution typically occurs over long periods of time although the fossil record does seem to indicate the actual evolution of the modern dog occurred in a relatively short period.

And, at least according to one hypothesis, they came because of our garbage. We humans are a waste-producing species – this skill will likely be our lasting contribution to the planet. Starting with our ancient antecedents, anywhere we go, we leave crap behind. Wild wolves with a “tamer” genetic variation ventured close to these human settlements, where food was easy but came with the risk of attack from ugly, hairless bipeds. From that starting point, the dog became domesticated and developed specific attributes that complemented this new symbiosis.

Perhaps that is why the notion of wild packs of dogs is a high sign of the end of civil society. Civilization formed around waste dumps and animal domestication. Wild dogs roaming the street is a clear metaphor for the collapse of that structure, or at least its downward trajectory, and we humans seem to have a strong innate reaction to this image. It symbolizes our loss of control. Canis lupus familiaris evolved in close conjunction with homo sapien, so if one goes, so too does the other. A feral relapse is at the tipping point of civilization, the line that, when crossed, represents our failure to hold it all together.

And perhaps that’s why so many dumb apes in Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and the like have such an irrational fear/hatred of wolves. Their brains are stuck in a primitive coded loop, still trying to protect their pile of garbage…

Welcome to the New Apocalypse – Same as the Old Apocalypse

November 13, 2010

Would anyone be surprised to wake up in the midst of a zombie apocalypse? Or are our minds conditioned to expect any deep sleep, any extended hospital stay, carries at least a 50/50 chance that the undead will be walking before your discharge? It struck me, when watching The Walking Dead, how no one asked how or why the Earth became overrun with zombies. There would have been more exposition if a tsunami or an earthquake or global warming had destroyed the world.

Of course that’s a recognition of today’s audience – we no longer need an explanation for zombies – but have we reached the point where we don’t expect our characters to question the existence of the walking dead either? If so, then the creator of Zombie Nice spent way too much time searching for the right cause for zombification…

Zombies – What Is Hip?

August 7, 2010

I have loaded up the new story “Dreams of Zombies,” which is about the desperate chase for the next big idea. The narrator is this poor schmo who somehow thinks he can make a living writing. Laughable, I know. You can imagine him writing teen vampire stories – but at least here he is trying to get ahead of the next trend with a story about zombies, which in itself might not be a bad story. Entertaining but disposable – so there’s no reason to think it couldn’t sell a million copies or turn into a multimillion-dollar film. Heck, people seem to like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I couldn’t get past the dull prose and endless exposition. I’ll settle for the movie.

The main character equates good ideas to winning the lottery, and the desperation in his life leads to changing plans and shifting loyalties, with an old writers’ workshop I attended over 10 years ago used as inspiration.

Expanding “Toy Lists”

May 31, 2010

The short story “Toy Lists” is a little longer now and a little more involved. I admit, it is a goofy story. The first part, the conversation about work versus personal emails, was fun to write, and I hope it supports the main theme of the story, which is our need to make connections with others, and the extent we go to make those connections, especially in “unnatural settings” (meaning, an office).

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Tweaking “Little Things”

April 29, 2010

I made a few small modifications to “Little Things” last week, nothing that affects the plot of the story but more in the way of attempts to refine and improve the language of the piece. I’d like to say I am done with that story, that it is frozen forever now as it will always be, but as everyone should know by now, revision is a never-ending process. And having the story online gives it a sense of elasticity that it would not possess in print.

That’s probably why online publishing is having a hard time shaking the stigma of lesser quality. No matter how many tweets the Library of Congress preserves, online content still carries that sense of impermanence.

It would be difficult to go back to the “old ways” though. I do miss the sound and sensation of the typewriter, but I don’t know if I could still use that tool, what with all the deleting and copying and cutting and pasting I do on the computer just to put one story together. This new technology has altered whatever modicum of skills I have as a writer, just as the printing press ruined our memories. It used to be within the realm of human ability to memorize and recite The Iliad or Beowulf. Now it seems we barely have the capacity to remember what we read ten minutes ago, much less the complete text of an epic poem exploring our place in the universe.

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