Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Flaming Metaphors

And so chapter 2 begins. Picking the opening piece was difficult. It had to be what I considered one of the better pieces, for one. I read a lot of anthologies, and much like the first line, or first paragraph of a novel, the first story has to be a good one. It sets the tone. Open on a stinker and you have to work hard to get the reader back on board, you're making life harder for yourself.

So I thought I would open simply. I really like the imagery in Fire and Eternity, and you can just take it for that. For me painting a picture. Or you could take it for the metaphor it is (or, more accurately 'was', at the time of writing).

There's a hint of phoenix myth in there too, whenever I write about flames and wings there always will be. The phoenix myth, and the differences between the Eastern and Western iterations of the myth, makes such sweet metaphor. And I do love my metaphors, the obvious ones and the less so. Which again, makes it a good pick: Here Be Metaphors, you have been warned. ;)

Something else I've been thinking about recently, since a piece of mine was rejected for being too much imagery and not enough story, is the importance of narrative and 'beginning, middle and end' in micro-fiction. Fire and Eternity is a scene, an image, not so much a story, although there is a story there. It is an 'end', although it could equally well be a 'middle', or even the 'beginning' of something...

And that's precisely one of the things I love about micro (or flash) fiction. It's right there in my profile, I'm looking to create seeds, I'm looking to hint at the greater story, to tell a story that is thousands of words long in just a thousand words or less. And it might be a different story in different people's heads (which is awesome).

The next Missing Piece is much more story. It has a beginning, middle and end. Although as with every story, something came before, and things will come after. However, it has more narrative, and character development. It is a very recent piece, where F&E is much older. It should set a nice contrast to Fire and Eternity, in more ways than one.

In the meantime, there's another piece of mine, Worship, over on Ink, Sweat and Tears as part of their Twelve Days of Christmas. Again, this one is more of a scene, and definitely a metaphor (or an allegory, you choose ;) ). Enjoy.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Finding Lost Things

But what shall I talk about with no story to launch the discussion off!?

As I was publishing (blogging?) most of the first chapter of Missing Pieces I already had the rest written. So my week would go something like: post/edit/commentary/blog/edit/post and so on. Since for the past few weeks I've been writing the next chapter this quite chilled pace has been disrupted. It's been post/write/edit/write/write/write/write/write and so on. So my SF blog and other endeavours fall by the wayside a little.

I don't mind. I love writing. That's kind of the point. I don't mind if I never do this for money (although, you know...), I mostly want to tell stories. That does of course mean I want people to read my work, and like it... I want to tell the stories to someone. The larger the audience, the better... one day, maybe.

In the meantime. I'll just keep myself and my friends entertained. =)

So I'm just about to start publishing the next chapter of Missing Pieces. It's about half written, a little more than, which makes it different to the first chapter which was pretty much finished when I started. I'm also picking the order in which they're published, instead of the first chapter which was in the order they were written (except for a couple of festive concessions). There's a really good mix (I think), of genres and lengths and styles. There's some more fanciful, playful pieces, some serious fantasy, some heavy SF... it's gonna be fun. ;D

One of the things that (hopefully) you'll see coming through in the later half of this chapter is a major influence on my life... Roald Dahl. I read all of the kids' books when I was younger, but I'm just now reading some of his adult stories, some of his Unexpected Tales. I can't believe I managed to do a creative writing degree and was never made to read these. They are, for the most part, so well handled; the characterisation, pacing and plot development are superb. And taking the obvious twist, nodding at it and passing it by... is brilliant. If you like short fiction, you should read them.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Writing Nightmares

Ambiguity is always fun in writing. Getting the balance right is hard though.

Make it too obvious, give too much away and the reader is left feeling disappointed. Make it too obscure, and the reader is left confused.

Of course, this also depends on what you are trying to achieve. Do you want it unclear, or do you want it resolved, but with an edge of uncertainty. I mean, once the beast is slain, do you want it unclear as to whether the beast really killed everyone or if it was one of the protagonists... or do you want the beast slain, but a flash of something dark in one of the protagonist's eyes, the beast lives on in them?

Hmm... that wasn't entirely clear was it. It may be even harder to write about writing ambiguously than the ambiguous writing itself.

So in This Bedtime Story are Audrey's devils real, or are they just night terrors she has conjured up over missing her father? Obviously, I like the weird, so I'd like to think their is more to this world than most of us get to experience. If you know my writing you'll probably er on the side of the weird being the truth. But then, maybe those are just the nightmares of a child with imagination, the early stages of a writer like me.

I tend to try for the less obvious edge of ambiguity. I guess I'd rather leave someone confused than disappointed. Certainly in the past I know I've left people more in a state of WTF than I might have intended. But I would rather credit readers with intelligence than think they need everything spelled out to them.

There is danger in overworking it too. Less so in micro-fiction maybe. The X-Files, for example, was better when it was just It's aliens! No it's the government! when it carried on a few seasons with aliens/ government/ aliens/ government/ aliens/ government ad nauseum, I got a bit bored.

Ideally, obviously, you want to hit that sweet spot. Where the reader thinks they know what the truth is, but there is still a delicious edge of what if?, a splash of maybe.

There's a distinction to be made between ambiguity and suspense too. Or maybe a demonstration of symbiosis. And I think I've really been talking about something between the two. Because ambiguity covers a whole lot more than just a suspenseful ending and a lingering sense of unfinished business, although it is a great tool for that kind of effect.

Sometimes, ambiguity can just be bad or unclear writing. But when it is intentional and controlled I think it is something brilliant and interesting. Ambiguity is the opening of a discussion between the reader and the writer. What do you think is happening here?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Strangers and Pitfalls

I've never really been able to write comedy, any more than the odd moment of humour at least. This Pit is probably one of my most comical pieces, which says it all really. I hope you find humour in the bizarre... ;)

One thing that commonly suffers in micro-fiction is character description. Shorter shorter fiction will always have certain restrictions, which is why you have to work hard to evoke a sense of what you are conveying, and let the reader's imagination work hard too. With characters I often try and convey a sense of personality rather than physicality, I think that is probably the more important aspect to convey. People will often have their own, different ideas of what a character in a book will look like, but the personality is the key: it is (for the most part) what makes them who they are.

So it's probably odd that a stranger who has less than half a story and no name gets more description than most of my other characters.

"He had unruly dark hair, stubble and a tan trench coat. He looked like a TV detective."

Odder still that I describe a stereotype, and then confirm that stereotype. But it is (I hope) an instant image. Whether you picture the pulp detective from a book jacket, or a Columbo type figure, you still have a picture. The words have done their job.

This Most Unfrabjous Day and This Alien Land both go into physical descriptions. For the former it helps establish the characters, the chalk and cheese partners and the physical state of Barry, which is a mirror of is decaying mental state; in the latter the first half of the story is character (or creature) description, because that is the story...

I think one of the ways flash fiction falls into the cracks between prose and poetry is that, in a very poetic way, they are often trying to capture and evoke a single image or feeling, a snapshot of something, real or otherwise. They try and pin something down so that it can be released fluttering and free inside your mind. But flash fiction is a scene or a snapshot, something captured from something larger; for me fiction should be synonymous with story - micro-fiction is a story in miniature to me, a glimpse of narrative, one or two steps of a larger journey.

Of course there are many arguments to be had in all directions as to what exactly constitutes poetry and what constitutes prose. And what separates the two, or even if they need be separate... It is in this no man's land, this fertile wasteland, that flash-fiction falls.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Round and round and round and smash.

One of the things I love about writing is that it's never doing the same thing again and again and again. OK, so there is the editing process, and for This Merry Go Round I spent some time moving individual lines up and down in an attempt to get the flow of information, the build and the pace right. But most of writing is about thinking of new things, creating new things exploring new situations, or exploring old situations in new ways.

This is especially so with micro-fiction, of course. I mean look at me, at least 52 new stories in a year. 104 if my other planned project goes ahead. Plus other odds and ends.

I recently wrote two pieces for a micro horror competition, on You can read both of them here. They haven't announced the winners yet and since this is the first year I've entered I don't know if having been posted means I'm out of the running or whether they post all of the entries before announcing. There's some really stiff competition, some really creepy stuff. It's been really good just keeping an eye on the site and reading everything else that's been posted. =)

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Memories and Empty Spaces

The older I get the more my memory becomes full of empty spaces...

Space is an interesting concept. Particularly empty space. Whether that be outer space or not. You can fill empty space with all kinds of things. But you can also just tell people something is there and let them fill it with their worst fears. Some of the best monster films hardly show the monster at all.

But what if all the space out there that is reassuringly full of stuff became suddenly empty?

I wrote This Empty Space months ago, as I did with all of these 'lost and found' pieces, so it's very odd that it happened to come up for posting the same weekend as the deadline for a micro-horror competition with the theme of 'space'... (Although I actually bumped it off Halloween Sunday for cowboys and zombies)

You can see a little experimental style coming in with This Empty Space, with the two longer paragraphs focussing on a character each. It feels a little odd to have such big paragraphs in such a small piece, but I think it works ok. The more I think about the story, the more I think it is quietly terrifying. Never my intention, and not because everything has disappeared, but because the last humans (under the best intentions) are just left drifting forever in cryo-sleep (or suspended animation, whatever), never to wake again, never to die but never to live.

We go to sleep every night relatively assured that we will wake up the next morning. I should think if they ever invent some kind of suspended animation then it will become a genuine phobia for some people in not knowing if they will be awoken on time. A sort of existential fear of re-awakening well past your due-date. (covered in various SF films/ books already, I know)

One of the interesting things about the advancement of technology is that we fit more and more into less and less space. Particularly when it comes to data and data storage. The inspiration behind These Memories.

It's a story, or at least the kernel of a story, a key piece in the jigsaw. It's about so much being so little, and whether worth should be judged by size. It is less than one hundred words. Ninety-seven to be precise, or ninety-nine with the title.

Is there a term for a story in just a hundred, or do I lump it in with all the other stories of less than two thousand? Why do I even say ‘less than two thousand’. That’s an odd number isn’t it? Most of the Missing Pieces are less than a thousand. But since micro-fiction, as I see it, should be ‘about a thousand words’, that sometimes means more than a thousand... Micro-fiction or flash fiction or nano fiction or whatever nomenclature you choose (and it is your choice).

Is it a discipline to write to a specific word count? Certainly I could have tweaked this to hit exactly one hundred words.

If you’re writing to a specific word count, it can be restrictive. I write 100 word book reviews for a magazine... and as you might guess from my longer reviews on Space-Time Industries it's often a difficult task to cut it down so much, you definitely lose a lot. But then for the purposes of the magazine it's needs to be that short. From my experience stories have a natural size. Trying to bulk a story up often results in it being dry and too slow, trying to cut it back can make it seem too choppy and disjointed.

Obviously there are times when editing up or down is necessary, when you want those kinds of effects, when the word length interferes with the pace or tone. I’m talking about editing purely for the sake of word count though, and I don’t think it’s so much a discipline as an affliction, or an excuse. If you can, through harsh editing, keep all your stories below a thousand words, is that a good thing? If you get it to a thousand words, spot on, does that mean it's finished and as good as it can be?

I don’t think so. If the story is better for it, then great, it needed that editing anyway. But if you’re cutting some vital flourish, some depth, purely for the sake of word count, then maybe you’ve just pruned the life out of it.

One thousand and three great words is better than a story missing three words that it needs.

Monday, 1 November 2010

A Stranger Shade of Pale

At the time I wrote This Pale Stranger I was judging a micro-fiction competition. Open to anybody, any subject, the only restriction the word count. In the first ten stories there were two about vampires... I began to despair.

And then I wrote my own vampire story.

There is nothing wrong with writing a vampire story, of course, but it's difficult to do it well and be original these days. But it can be done. Park Chan-Wook's film Thirst is a great example, the lead character a devout priest learning to deal with vampirism and the new urges it brings, superb stuff. Let the Right One In, again, an excellent approach to the subject. Both of these go into the psychology of the vampire and find fertile ground for story-telling there.

I will not claim mine has any of that depth, it's a bit of fun, the undead in the wild west, and I like it. I'm not sure why I went with the Nosferatu style of teeth, maybe just for something different.

This was going to be longer. In my head the stranger saves the sheriff, then they spend the night clearing the town, burning the bodies and the stranger says his final line as he rides away, not into the sunrise because, well...

But, all that would have been filler. For the sake of micro-fiction it would have to have been so much tell and not enough show (again with the show and tell!). It would have been a few paragraphs of sweeping events, the whorehouse; Jed’s mother, maybe; the superstitious, drunk native; blood and guts and gore. To justify itself beyond the punch line it would need human drama and characterisation, it would need to be fully humanised – a longer short story, not just a missing piece.

I like this idea of a racial war between the undead; the zombies and the vampires. They are both so similar in some ways, the hunger and the undeath. But the vampires have thought...

One day it may become a longer piece. A larger part of the puzzle.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Infernal Passions

Writing can seem eternal and infernal sometimes... you take out a word, you put it back in. You swap two phrases in a sentence back and forth. You think you've got it right... you go away, come back, and... decide it was better the way you originally had it.

But writing is a passion, it has to be, because there is no instant success (for most people, at least) you have to keep going, keep trying.

I’m going to talk a little about process. When I said last time about the way I intended that story to work (with an easy image, then an intrigue hook, then a narrowing of the plot), I was simplifying. I should clarify: I did not have this in mind when I began. I had an idea, and I wrote. When the first draft was out I saw the shape of the story and I was able to hone it. Much in the way I have heard that sculptors or whittlers say the shape of the final piece is already there within the stone or wood and they are just uncovering it; discovering it, if you like.

This is where the editing comes in. The major stuff like shuffling whole paragraphs or removing whole sentences and the minor tuning, the odd word or two. I've been doing a lot of that this week. Trying to write a couple of pieces for a horror competition.

Ideally, one of your best editing tools is space. Time to step away from the story, step back, and return to it later with fresh eyes. Something I didn't really have time for. However, there is another great tool, which is other people. Whatever it seems like in your head, as a writer you have full access to the intention of the story, which an outsider does not.

So those stories have been despatched... I'll let you know if anything comes of it. Just trying to get my name out there really.

I can’t remember where This Infernal Waiting came from. I’m not convinced the transition from establishing shot to story is thoroughly smooth. I think, again, it is too much tell and not enough show. But I like the opening and in this case I am going to indulge myself and let it slide. Not very professional but then... no one is paying me, so I can allow myself a little indulgence now and then. ;)

Having said that, I do think the story is the strongest so far. You might argue that the set-up seems more of a limbo than an inferno, but that makes for a far less interesting title...

Also, I've thought of a name for this first collection of stories. It is a pleasing metaphor:

Lost and Found

Since it is a collection of Missing Pieces. Since the whole project was born out of me losing my way a little and trying to find my way again. When this initial run is complete I will probably re-order the collection and produce a preferred reading order. The order I would have the pieces in were they ever to see print.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Loving the Madness


A change in title format?!

And so a change in identity, if not purpose. Because this blog is not just about the Missing Pieces commentary, it is about more. Sure, blogging commentaries for my weekly Xeroverse posts is a good excuse to make me post here weekly too, but that's always just been a springboard for me to talk about other aspects of writing. As the subtitle says: Thoughts about stories. Ramblings on writing. Comments about my own fiction.

Which I re-ordered to prioritise the fact that mostly I just want to talk about the greatest passion in my life... stories. Over on Missing Pieces I publish a new story every week. That's 52 stories a year that take 5 minutes (at most) to read. 52 more stories a year in your life for almost no extra effort.

One of the reasons I love comics is that in a minimal amount of time I can cram a whole bunch of new story - new plot, new character, new twists. Books can take longer, more of a commitment, but it's a different experience, it's purer in some ways, for me, the written word. Films are good hits. Computer games can have great story-telling, and can be so immersive with the right gameplay.

Now I don't read a lot of literary fiction, which seems to me as often about astute observation of the human condition as it is about storytelling. I've commented before that I feel sometimes I might enjoy a story more if it was only set on a spaceship. That's both tongue-in-cheek and very serious. I like an element of the fantastical to spark my imagination, I'm not saying I don't like character studies and philosophical conundrums in my reading, but only if they're riding the back of an exciting, bucking plot.

I can even easily forgive weak characterisation if there's a cracking story to go with it, the more imagination slopped over it the better, and the more scope to use my own imagination... better still.

With This Beloved Madness I try and harness your imagination. I start out slowly, obviously. Hopefully in a few lines I set up a fairly clichéd image of the character in your mind. You know exactly what I'm describing. Then I throw in this idea of some kind of tragedy, blowing your imagination wide open. Go wild, it could be anything at this point. Then I narrow it down to my idea. But it's still got that degree of ambiguity, that bit of wiggle room for the imagination.

(actually, that's a whole lot of wiggle room. That's a whole story that fits in that gap. In less than five hundred words, I've (hopefully) created a story shape in your head. And one that will be different in different heads.)

I think this is my favourite Missing Piece so far.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Author's Commentary: This Mundane Slavery

This Mundane Slavery

What's in a title?

When I wrote this it was called 'This Peaceful Slavery'. What I had in mind was a gentleness of life, with the ultimate threat of death keeping us trapped in a mundane existence. I didn't really think the title worked once the piece was finished. I wanted more of an interesting contrast.

This Mundane Slavery is a more interesting title, but runs the danger that it also contains the word mundane. Who wants to read something that proclaims itself mundane? Hopefully, knowing it's micro-fiction, people will be interested enough to at least try it (and this story runs at under 500 words, which is a good length for it). I'm also looking forward to starting to run pieces that don't have 'this' (or some variation of) in the title. It was my opening gambit, and it was a useful device, but it is definitely limited.

I think 'This is Micro-Fiction' as the title under which to collect these first few is maybe a little pretentious... they do show some range and scope with what is possible within micro-fiction, but they are all genre-based, and there is little that really pushes the envelope. So, a new umbrella is needed to gather all these mixed metaphors to the same bosom. These Missing Pieces would seem a little obvious, so I'll keep it stewing in the back of my brain for a little while. And since I have just about enough 'this' pieces to run me to the end of the year, we'll see what I have by then.

You may also noticed that the blog's design has changed. It's nothing mind-blowing, but I like it and the previous layout was kind of thrown up just so that there was something there. I seem to prefer a darker look, I tried a few lighter backgrounds, with dark text, but none of them really worked for me...

I also launched Metamorphosis which is, if you like, my kind of art. It symbolises both the permanence and impermanence of the internet. Some things will be there forever, never read, other things will disappear. We are creating our own archaeology, wherein future peoples, or now peoples, will learn to dig through layers of archives and cached sites in order to excavate old data.

Wow, I'm quite chatty this week. =)

But wait... there's more! I was actually going to talk about the story itself... So I actually wrote this story twice. Normally, my editing process is to go through the story and tweak as I go. Whether that be a few words, a sentence or rearranging/ rewriting whole paragraphs. In fact, paragraph breaks are pretty important and I switch those around a fair bit, this is where the poetry comparison comes up again, with looking at the effect each 'verse' is meant to achieve.

That's beside the point though. I was looking at This Mundane Slavery and I decided that it was too much show and not enough tell. It was more like a voice-over than a person thinking. That's what I was going to mention in the commentary. The creative writer's mantra:

Show, don't tell.

And I was going to point out what I was doing wrong. Then I realised that I should just try to do it right... it was a bit of a rush job, so it's still got a little of the voice-over to it, but it's more personal than it was before. To do this, instead of attempting to edit, I pulled up a crisp new blank page and just wrote it all again. Well, I did copy and paste and edit a few bits, the ending is almost the same, but the first line I wrote from scratch, with just the idea of the old opening in mind.

The addition of the chair and window, I think, makes all the difference. Instead of starting in a head, inside a thought process we start in a room, something we can relate to. Furniture, the mundane, makes the story that much more real, that much more identifiable. (you know, as real as giant robots get...)

Monday, 4 October 2010

Author's Commentary: This Bright Lie

This Bright Lie

Names are always a strange thing when you're writing fiction. Sometimes the right name just pops into your head as you type; when you reach that point in the sentence it's there, waiting to fall into place. Other times it just won't come, every name you think of seems too mundane, too common or just wrong. I like the name Billy, I don't know why, I think I've used it more than once (if not yet on Xeroverse, then probably soon). That's probably a cardinal sin for a writer, to use the same name again.

I say that tongue in cheek, of course; there are only so many names, and especially if you write a lot of shorter fiction you will keep needing to come up with new characters. All of whose names need to be right...

This Bright Lie is about angels. It says so, right there in the third paragraph. I could have described them and not named them and people would have worked it out, but why make it harder on myself? I am kind of obsessed with winged things, specifically supernatural winged things, and angels are one of the big ones. There are so many interpretations, from a biblical warrior or messenger to a modern day spiritual guardian/ caretaker. They have so much resonance, human-like but different, winged, powerful, bright and yet when they fall they become the darkest of the dark, Lucifer himself was once one of the greatest of their kind.

They have such scope as a fictional thing. They come loaded with meaning but recontextualise them and you can play with that meaning, take it new places.

This Bright Lie really fulfils the mandate I set with the Xeroverse. All you need is there. That's the story. But it makes me wonder, I hope it makes you wonder too.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Author's Commentary: This-That and the Other

This-That and the Other

I love it when I write something like this. Fairy tales and simple strangeness. I rarely set out to write this kind of thing (despite it probably being my favourite kind of writing) which you might think is odd, but really, I think it's the kind of thing that won't be forced. When there is the right conjunction of mind and fingers these words happen all by themselves.

I think it falls into the magic realism category. Although I would normally think that a little more 'real world gone sideways'. This isn't really long enough a piece to explore its relationship with the real world.

At the same time as I was editing this, or rather, in parallel, I was also turning it into a picture book script; which is an entirely different experience. The common fallacy, I suspect, would be to think writing picture books is easy. It's not. Not only do you have to consider the story, but also language and positioning the text and image: directing, if you will. I suspect my first attempt has a few too many pages of This-That and Other just talking to each other. Which may not be that visually stimulating even if I think the words are good.

I also need the right artist, who will listen to my suggestions as well as bringing their own talent to the table. To be honest, while I have in my head a vague visual aesthetic, and while I have storyboarded the book, I only have the loosest sense of what the two characters look like. Which is the artist's challenge... shape two characters that have to look right, when the best I can do is tell you how they feel to me...

Friday, 24 September 2010

Author's Commentary: These Killing Fields

These Killing Fields

(In which I don't actually write much about the piece at all)

Have you ever started writing one morning and suddenly realised you're writing from the point of view of a raven? No?

Writing for an hour or two every morning is fine for micro-fiction (or flash fiction, if you like). The shorter the better. You can write it in one morning (or two if it's being awkward or running long), and edit a whole bunch another morning. It's fine for blogging.

An hour or two is less good for writing anything longer. It takes a while to get into the right mindset. You have to start the ideas and plotlines and characters swirling in your head, then toss the right style into that mix. It's like juggling, you have to get everything moving, everything up in the air, and then you have to settle yourself into a regular pattern before you can relax, before you can start to do the really interesting stuff...

I really like These Killing Fields. I can't remember where the story came from, maybe it all came from the first line. Right now, however, I'm trying to write something a little longer, so I'm going to stop procrastinating and go and make myself a cup of tea. I mean, go and write it.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Author's Commentary: This Most Unfrabjous Day

This Most Unfrabjous Day

The word fictionaut fascinates me.

Most recognisably similar to astronaut. From 'nautes', greek for sailor, tells me. Someone who sails space, travels through space. Fictionaut, someone who sails through fiction, who enters fiction, and journeys there.

In some small sense it's what we do every time we read a book, a short story or a micro-fiction. I can't help but imagine more of the world. Sometimes I will put the book down a moment and the story carries on in my head, I am so lost in a world that the words distract me. I honestly yearn for the ability to truly travel in such a fashion, to create a world and enter it. Or to enter someone else's world and explore it.

There is a lot of fiction that explores this concept. In Warren Ellis' excellent Planetary series their is an expedition into a fictional world, similarly in Grant Morrison's Filth, characters fly straight out of the page of a comic into the 'real world', into the comic you are reading (to the characters in the comic they fly out of, they simply seem to have disappeared). Mike Carey's Unwritten is all about blurring the lines between fiction and the real world. Three excellent series, from three of my favourite authors.

If you prefer less pictures... Then you could try Jasper Fforde's Eyre Affair. I'm sure there are more I haven't read, or have forgotten, too.

I think it would be interesting to review books as if you had actually travelled into them, an eyewitness to the events of the book. A good tell of how immersed in the world the author can get you.


Talking about This Most Unfrabjous day in particular now... I could probably have removed the few lines after the stars. However, unlike the lines I removed from the previous story, I think these lines create more without denotatively telling you how it is, a further mystery to lodge itself in your mind. The final lines are not just so much exposition as the ones I removed from This Alien Land were.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Author's Commentary: This Alien Land

This Alien Land

A two-pronged commentary for this one.

The first prong concerns editing and possessiveness. Sometimes it can be difficult to let go. The hardest part of editing is not the tweaking (although that can be difficult in its own way), but the cutting. Just before posting I cut three paragraphs straight off the end. Just before I wrote this commentary (4 days after posting) I've just cut another couple of sentences again. (Naughty maybe, but the beauty of digital copy is that you can edit a piece after publication.)

I'll put the missing paragraphs at the end of this post, but it's up to you whether you read them or not. They reveal a bit more background. They flesh out the world a bit. But I felt they were not really essential to the core image.

Speaking of tweaking, I like the last paragraph, but I'm not sure it's quite right just yet...

Onto prong two... flash fiction vs. micro-fiction. This is the first piece I've added the flash fiction tag to. The two terms are fairly interchangeable, amongst a whole host of similar terms (wikipedia entry). Wiki redirects all to the flash fiction page so maybe that's the most commonly used term, maybe. I prefer micro-fiction, but since I want people to find me, and read me, I shall include the flash fiction tag too.

Until next Sunday... the missing paragraphs:

And saying that, she knows now that she can move on, finally. She can mourn her husband properly, as she should have been able to two months ago, when he died. Now she begins to tremble, tears welling in her eyes.

He leans on one forearm to raise the other and touch her shoulder gently, with a lightness belying his great strength.

“I am and I am not. This planet, its ecology is so different, its biology so difficult to reconcile with our own. On Earth, the creatures of this world would be subject to the Earth’s way, if they died, they would just be gone; but here, the creatures of Earth are subject to Barl’s way, they remain.

“Because of our world’s ecology our view of such things is so narrow, so stunted. I must prepare, and help this planet prepare. As more humans die here they will become a part of Barl too. They will change as I have, though in different ways, and Barl will change with them.”

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Author's Commentary: This Old Man, Once Mighty

This Old Man, Once Mighty

I like this old guy. You just know he's about to go and kick some arse, and then, unfortunately, probably die in an act that inspires the new generation of heroes. Or not, I reckon he's just canny enough that even though there was no way he could possibly have survived... well... you know...

I think I maybe thought of the title before the story on this one. Because thinking about it, he wasn't really mighty before, sure he was in 'the League', but his powers always supplemented the big boys (and girls), he was an essential part of the team, but by himself he wasn't so hot; he wasn't super-strong or invulnerable or super-fast or super-smart. I like the idea of the retired hero though, called back into action one last time. It's a cliché, but what isn't these days? You just have to write it right and it doesn't matter. Look at Ellis' Red (soon to be a major motion picture ;) ) or Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. (I'm talking superheroes, so I've gotta talk comics)

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Author's Commentary: This Tall Tale

This Tall Tale

John Harley is one of my longest running characters. I think originally he was an embodiment of my youthful fantasies, a little bit of wishful thinking from me, a lot of Indy and a large helping of random occult. The name is my name (obviously) with added 'Harley', as in the bike: masculine, hard and cool. Like I say, youthful fantasies.

I like him though. I can't find the original story right now, but it was one of my favorites, I might have a hunt for it, to see if it has stood the test of time. It has been on the internets, but is not so easily found now, apparently.

I was going to write a trilogy of shorts back then, but I think I only got as far as planning number two. Later on he appeared on Hidden Tracks, in a mildly disturbing little piece called Zombiegasm. I'm pretty sure I've written more, but I can't recall them right now. One day he will have his own book.

This isn't really the next in the 'This is micro-fiction' series. I've skipped the Christmas one. I'm saving that piece of unsettling yuletide disturbia for nearer the big day. You lucky people.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Author's Commentary: This Institution

This Institution

And here I am back in my alternate history where Germany won the war... But this time it's more of a vehicle, and I'm not sure it was the right one. I'm not sure when exactly modern bookshops, as we know them, came into being. With the fierce commerciality and warring for space. And that is what I'm talking about here. So whether Master Shakespeare would really have experienced bookshops like this I don't know.

I have.

It's something I keep coming back to. There is something a little like Jormungandr in modern retailing, we fill the shelves so people can take the books off the shelves so we can fill them again. In total we have more books in stock and on order then can fit on the shelves because we allow for ordering time and empty space is wasted space. It is a constant fight to make sure we have enough (and the right) things in stock so that people will buy them so that we can get more in so that people will buy those...

When the new Dan Brown comes out he expands from half a shelf to a shelf and a half as interest in his backlist revives, while other authors' shelf space shrinks. Interest in an author or a genre waxes and wanes. Already growing in popularity, the boost from Twilight thrust paranormal romance (or 'Dark Fantasy' as you will find it branded in Waterstones) into enough commercial significance that it now has its own section. It sells better than traditional horror. Now there's a scary thought...

My point is, bookshops do breath and stretch and twitch. They are alive.

I was taught there are seven signs that define an organism as living. I could take my Hammer of Metaphorical Excess and, with only a little bludgeoning, show that bookshops display them all.

Author's Commentary: This is Albion

This is Albion

Oddly, this was another that arose out of criticism. Albion is over-used. It's a great name for an alternate Britain where the name never died, it inspires thoughts of Arthur and a mystical era of druids and myths and superstitions. When I first came across the name I loved it, I vowed to use it, I would have an alternate England, of mysticism and wonder, and it would be Albion.

And everyone else had the same idea.

It's like writing about an alternate history where Germany won the war.

So I took the name and made it science fiction. Took the legends and thrust them into the future. I get to use the name Albion without it just being another England, but I keep that superstitious edge. 'One hundred and one days' is such a fairytale length of time, possibly a step back from 'a year and a day' but that extra day makes a journey a quest, a quest an adventure, an adventure - epic. Actually I think if I reworked this, it would be a year and a day... (I'm tempted to go edit it right now...)

This is George and the Dragon. This is Arthurian legend where the lady in the lake is an alien race, thrusting gleaming technology forth from the darkening depths of their own extinction. This is science fiction. This is Albion.

(so the blurb would say... maybe ;) )

It's also one of the longer pieces so far, and I can see the wisdom in 365tomorrows keeping all their stories beneath 600 words. It's a good length for an internet attention span. I considered breaking this down into two parts, and it would certainly be possible with a little work. But doesn't that strike you as odd? Two parts at less than a thousand words each? Maybe nowadays, but I think it will become less odd as we become more used to micro-fiction... flash fiction... short shorts... whatever you want to call them.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

This Doublespeak: Author's Commentary

This Doublespeak

"Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself."
-1984, George Orwell

I was thinking about alternate histories. The classic and most overused alternate history is the Nazis winning World War 2. I didn't want to do that, it's too obvious, but it did get me thinking... In an offhand comment to a friend I mentioned the eternally burning pyres of London and New York, thinking of the book burning. Thinking that in every country they took the Germans would have one eternally burning bonfire of illicit books, confiscated from around that country.

I didn't say it made sense...

I just like the idea that with typical English pride, the British Library would become an underground resistance movement. So while I wouldn't write a longer piece in which the Nazis won, I couldn't help but sketch the idea as micro-fiction. Twice, in fact, you'll see another in two weeks time...

Orwell probably wouldn't have written 1984 in this world, of course, and it certainly wouldn't have been published; which is why the final quotation isn't in quote marks - in their world it isn't one.


Sunday, 25 July 2010

Commentary: This is Foolproof and This One-Sided Showdown

This is Foolproof

This One-Sided Showdown

Two for one!

...mainly because I ran out of time last week. Which is something of a shame, because This is Foolproof is probably the piece so far that needed the most editing...

This is Foolproof is a perfectly competent story. It is entirely adequate. Which is, of course, damning it with faint praise. It's not great, it's ok. This is the problem with publishing these stories in order, and writing so many on such a short time scale. Write the last word, move on. No thought to selection, a little brief thought to editing as I post.

Of course, these are short enough that sometimes 'as I post' is plenty of time.

This One-Sided Showdown also probably needed a little more editing. I like it much more as it stands, though; it does much more in a smaller space.

I tagged it superhero, but I don't really think the elites are superheroes in the traditional sense (spandex and perfect teeth), although they are obviously powered. DC calls them meta-humans, Wildstorm post-humans (which I like best I think), I'm not sure if Marvel has an overall term, nothing pops to mind.

Another interesting thing about all this is the potential for expansion in each of these. With This One-Sided Showdown I'm curious about what led to this point. There's a whole novel that could be written leading up to this reveal. One I wrote the other day (which you won't get to see for another couple of months, This Pale Stranger) is a kind of hundred years earlier prequel to another book in my head, and it could easily be a longer short story itself.

This is the effect I was trying to inspire in others, worlds beyond stories. Unfortunately it does mean that this morning I sit down to write and my head is full of stories I've already written...

I suppose one of the great things about publishing Xeroverse: Missing Pieces is that it's like the piles of notebooks I have, full of ideas. But instead of never seeing the light of day, all of these are here, even if they never make it to book or magazine.


Sunday, 11 July 2010

This Crumbling Bastion: author's commentary

This Crumbling Bastion

As I mentioned last week, I haven't written for a while, so this is me floundering around a little trying to find my voice again.

I always like to experiment anyway, as you can see here with the italicised phrases, but this becomes harder when you don't quite have the confidence in your own writing back yet. For just my second piece of writing in a while this may have been a little ambitious. I don't think I quite pulled it off, but at the same time I don't dislike it; it is, in my opinion, a moderate success.

I wasn't sure about how much to change the ending, either; on re-reading I felt it wasn't entirely clear what I had in my mind as this scene was taking place. I didn't want to spell it out, and I didn't want to underestimate the reader's intuition, so in the end I left the final paragraph as I originally wrote it, more or less. Which leaves it more open to ambiguity... but then that has always been a hallmark of my micro-fiction.


Sunday, 4 July 2010

This Unholy Place: author's commentary

This Unholy Place

These author commentaries will accompany each piece of micro-fiction I post to Xeroverse: Missing Pieces. They are not intended to explain the story, that would defeat the point. That would seem a failing if I thought the story needed more information than just what was self-contained.

I might expand a little, but that would only be for the sake of interest. At the risk of repeating myself... the story should stand on its own.

So this being the first, there's a lot I want to say.

I don't think it's my strongest story, that I've written, that I've thought of, or that I have ready to post. So why open a new fiction blog with a piece that isn't my strongest?

Well, until recently I hadn't written for a while. I wouldn't say I had writer's block. The ideas were there, I scribbled notes, but I was afflicted with that other common writer's malady. Procrastination. I was busy doing Other Stuff.

Then, spurred on by a couple of events, I decided it was time to get myself back in gear. Time to put some validity behind my claims to be a writer. So I decided I would write a piece of micro-fiction each day. I would force a story out, because I wanted to get back into the habit. And, if you plan to carry on reading, this is what you will be subjected to; initially at least. They live in a folder on my laptop called 'sketches', which is as apt a metaphor as any.

As a series it is called This Micro-fiction. Imaginative, I know. But the theme continues into the titles and it gives me something to work with. There will be thirty. This is the goal I have set. I am already behind, but catch-up days are allowed. So long as there are thirty pieces in thirty days.

So This Unholy Place is the first piece I wrote. The more astute among you might surmise that I have been reading a little Lovecraft recently, others just that the piece is a little melodramatic and over-written.

I don't always know or remember what it was that inspired a particular piece, though it is often art. As I would hope my micro-fiction would inspire universes in your mind, artwork often inspires the same in me. Before I began writing this I flicked through an old Spectrum collection, and certainly elements came from there. Spectrum produce wonderful yearly collections, subtitled the best in contemporary fantastic art, which they are. I definitely recommend checking them out.

This writing is not my 'usual' style, one of the joys of micro-fiction is flirting with varying styles. Having said that, there are certain styles and tones I use regularly; that are perhaps more recognisably 'me' (at least if you have read more of my old writing). Hopefully you'll see what I mean in the coming weeks, and hopefully you'll like what you see.