Sturgeon’s Law and Fall Reading Suggestions

Many years (decades? lordy, I’m old) ago I saw an interview with Billy Joel where he was asked: Did he think he was a “great” songwriter?

Rather than engage in false humility, he said: “Well, I think I am a good songwriter—but in an age of mediocre songwriting, that makes me a great songwriter.” Isn’t that great? I mean, what’s not to like about that answer?

I remember that whenever I think about how to estimate/rate/review any work of art. One of my favorite authors, Andew Vachss, as with most things, has a very direct and laser-focused take on this topic. Concerning writing:

The lie is that writing is a meritocracy. The lie is that the cream rises to the top. The truth is that it’s a crap shoot. It’s a blind leech in a muddy swamp that swims along until it gets lucky and strikes a vein so it has some blood to suck on. It’s not a fist-fight. It’s not a weightlifting contest. It’s not a sprint. It’s not any ‘may the best man win’ because there is no objective standard for judging writing. At all.

As a slight counterpoint, another of my favorites, Stephen R. Donaldson, said:

Back in the days when I taught writing, I used to say (sometimes strenuously) that ‘Good is subjective: bad is objective.’ Just to pick one trivial example. Confusing pronoun reference is an ‘objective’ problem: a writer who can’t keep his/her pronouns straight actively prevents comprehension (which, I think we can all agree, is *not* a Good Thing). The same principle applies on every level of storytelling. But the farther we move from the objectively bad, the more we enter the domain of the subjective. I call Patricia McKillip ‘the most elegant and evocative stylist writing today.’ Someone else (this is purely hypothetical) might call her work ‘effete and juvenile.’ To such a reader, I could never *prove* that I was right. Nor could such a reader ever persuade me. No, I’m afraid that *time* is the only reliable judge.

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My Guy

I struggled as quietly as possible so the cool November air wouldn’t carry the noise to the guards around front. Not being young anymore, it was really hard to lift myself through the side window. In my haste, I had ended up stuck in place–one leg hanging on either side of the extra-wide sill–as my torso contorted like a goddam mummenschanz.

After several convulsions, I eventually squirted through and landed with a grunt inside the dimly-lit school hallway. I pushed myself up from a kneel with one hand to reach my feet. At least no one saw that.

“Stop there!” barked Jimmy. I rolled my eyes as his voice echoed off the trophy cases and down the hall. Of course, it would be Jimmy.

His doughy form was covered in tight-fitting para-military camo. Plates of black plastic and plexiglass with big-button pouches were held together with various straps that hung off his form like a low-rent cosplayer.

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Life is just a fantasy

Please find below three more of my previously-published fantasy short-stories.

Besides these three, I also currently have another short-story, called The Beast, in print. The Beast is featured in Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Volume 4, Book 2—which just came out last month. The Beast was borne of an exercise that I had done as part of Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass.

As for these three: Limited Omniscient is a UF piece from seventeen years ago. It was accepted by the now-defunct SDO Fantasy online e-zine.

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Limited Omniscient

He was very nearly already dead when he came to see me. Not at all what I had expected from the High Father: the Great Winged Serpent Who Rules All.

My first glimpse of him was through my specially located peephole. He leaned heavily against his wooden umbrella. He wasn’t dressed in ceremonial garb, rather he wore a light windbreaker and khakis. Picture a Chicano George Burns.

His face was completely hidden behind his own wrinkles. But his smile was patient. It had taken me several minutes to come downstairs in the lift and answer the doorbell in my wheelchair.

I asked who it was as I opened the door. Without a word of greeting, he stabbed at me with an exacto knife– of course he was too weak and only succeeded in falling on me and clumsily knocking us both over, back into my foyer.

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Sudoku

As long as anyone remembered, K…(that’s what they called him: “K”– the letter, not the nickname)…K was always counting: One, two, three as he walked. He measured time when his teachers talked, usually thousands, when his friends played tag (Edgar was the best, he always tagged someone before eight)– his first kiss was a one. But later him and Sally kissed all the way to seventeen before his friends caught them behind the school and made fun of them…

K sat in his room one night, long after everyone was asleep, and stared at the Sudoku book on his lap. It was a gift from his parents. His “focused” behavior– no one used the word “obsessive” in their house– was a source of shame for his parents. But they also realized that his genius wasn’t all bad. K got to hear his Dad tell people lots of jokes about visiting Vegas.

K was ashamed of how well he did at number puzzles. But he was proud, too.

He stared at the first puzzle in the book. He saw a grid of eighty-one squares, nine-by-nine– or, if you prefer: a grid of nine 3-by-3 grids. Selected squares had a single number, one through nine, inside them. Most of the squares were blank and you were supposed to fill those in. Each row, each column, and each 3-by-3 box within the overall grid was supposed to contain only one each of the nine digits, one through nine. That was the puzzle.

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Happy Halloween…Silver Shamrock!*

I’ve only finished one horror piece, a short short (or micro-fic, if you prefer) from last year. It’s called Happy Hollows.

When I was a small child, I had an uncle who inundated me with age-inappropriate horror movies and stories. This has served to make me somewhat impervious/desensitized to horror as a genre, which makes me a less-than-ideal creator of same.

Still, I kind of like this one. Less is More, maybe. I definitely get the impression that if I ever managed to write something that scared me, it would utterly wreck others. Something to shoot for, someday, perhaps.

Of course, the first thirty pages would just be trigger warnings. I wonder if you could write an entire short-story of nothing but trigger warnings? The reader would just absorb the story proper through a process of nothing but emotionally safe osmosis.

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