Updates and Housekeeping

Hi.  I just wanted to post a little update.

If you haven’t read “Peace?  I Hate the Word,” the first story of my short story challenge, I’d suggest making haste.  It will only be up for free until Monday.  Then it will go up on my Kindle and Smashwords pages, alongside Blood for Blood.

Clearly, I have not been keeping up with the one short story per week goal of the challenge.  I said from the beginning that I most likely would not.  I have a relatively low word count per day goal, and I have kept that pretty well, but my current work schedule, school schedule, family commitments, etc. have prevented me from the relatively major investment of time and energy necessary to do a full short story a week (especially since my short stories are long – “Peace? I Hate the Word” has actually turned into a Novelette (over 7,500 words), and is thus too long to publish in most magazines.  That’s fine: I’m putting it up here for a while and then moving it to my Kindle and Smashwords stores.

That said, if I do write any stories of a length and type to be acceptable to the major market magazines, I’ll refrain from posting them here so that I can submit them there.  Several posts by Dean Wesley Smith convinced me that this is a good idea, because the magazines not only serve as free advertisement for all my work, but they pay decently, and they revert the rights back to the author (me!) within a year (often less) of publication.  No non-compete clauses or agency agreements involved.

In other news, I’ve been working on preparing Toward Darkness for e-publication.  I found a new cover image, and I’ve made a few minor changes to better lay the groundwork for the whole series.  I’ll give you more information when it’s up.

Short Story #1: “Peace? I Hate the Word”

Well, without further ado, I present to you the first short story from my summer project.  As you may remember, I’m working on five things: character voice, sensory details, proactive characters, not using profanity (which is a temporary thing to make sure I’m not just using it because I’m lazy), and an internal and inherent premise.

In addition to being the first short story of this summer project, “Peace? I Hate the Word” is also the first short story I’ve written in this new stage of writing (roughly the last three years).  Anyway, I hope that reading it is a good for you as writing it has been for me.

Peace? I Hate the Word

(A Tale of Tarafore)

by Brent Dedeaux

“Two families, both alike in indignity, in fair Cassa where we lay our scene,” the elder Merengo said, chuckling at a half-remembered passage from an ancient book of Earth.  His clear baritone filled the room as the cry of a great stag fills the forest, echoing off the stone walls, undiminished by thick hanging tapestries.

His second son stood, his deep brown eyes wide with shock.  “The Merengo and the Fiorentino, alike in dignity?” Lorenzo said, leaving his tutor behind and stepping toward his father, his hands grasping at his doublet.  “Surely, my lord, you jest.”

Lord Cruhuer Merengo laughed deep and long.  “Ah, to see the concern on your face, son,” he said, “perhaps you seek to cure me of this heresy, as our uncles have so long sought to do.”

“Father, may I speak freely?”

“If you cannot, I have done a poor job indeed as your father.”

“I can almost understand your desire to expand the franchise beyond the noble houses, to bring the merchants and wealthy professional classes into the council,” Lorenzo said, “for they will side with us far more often than not, giving us leverage against the Peccavi and Kamitaas.  I can understand that their time will come, and crushing them, as the Houses of the Boar, the Ram, and the Wolf are likely to do, will only lead to greater devastation later.  But to call the Fiorentino our equals?  May the Creator forbid it!”

At the mention of The Creator, Lorenzo’s tutor silently made the sign of a circle, starting with his lips, proceeding to his chest, his navel, and back around to his lips.

“These books of Earth you read,” Lorenzo continued, aristocratic indignation raising him above his place, “I understand they are the wisdom of our sister-world, but Father, you cannot blindly follow their words -”

“You think my plans and beliefs came from a book?”  Cruhuer boomed, his dark eyes wide, tossing his head like a great stag might, “even a book from Earth itself?  No.  They come from my own eyes, my own experience.  Is Pierro my nephew?”

“Yes,” Lorenzo said, “of course.”

“Is he your cousin?”

“You know he is.”

“And that is how you see him,” Merengo rumbled, “as your cousin.  Not as hired help, or an enforcer, but as a cousin – lesser estate, because he is excluded from the line of succession, but still, family.”

“Yes, my lord,” Lorenzo said, drawing back a bit, “you know I do.”

“But is Pierro of our blood?” Lord Merengo asked.

Lorenzo paused. “I -”

“He is not our blood, is he?”

Lorenzo dropped his eyes.  “No, sir.”

“Yet he is family.  My nephew, your cousin.”  It was not a question.

“Yes, of course.”

“How did he come into our family?” Cruhuer asked.

“You know as well as I, Father,” Lorenzo said, “his father was of our line, but his mother was of House Lucrece of Cartagi.  She was as the Fiorentino, a granddaughter of Earth, with no Great Beast watching over her House.  They could never conceive, not unless -”  Lorenzo paused, unwilling to speak of such a subject.

“Not unless the power of the Breaking overcame them,” his father said, “causing them to bring forth a creature, half of Earth and half of the Great Stag, a harbinger of chaos.”

“Yes,” Lorenzo said, bowing his head, “but nobility cannot remain childless.  It cannot be, so they adopted a foundling, one clearly of neither House Merengo or House Lucrece, so he would feel equal kinship to both.”

“Pierro, whose ancestral beast was clearly the Great Cat,” Cruhuer said, “a beast that has served us all well, and saved our lives today.”

“Indeed, I claim him among my most valued of kin,” Lorenzo said.

“If Pierro Merengo can be our equal, with no drop of noble blood,” Cruhuer said, “why are the commoners not our equals?  What is the difference?”

Lorenzo stopped, mouth open, and said, simply, “Father, that is not the way of things.  Pierro has been raised since his infancy to be one of our kind -”

“But now the merchants equal and even exceed our accomplishments,” Lord Merengo said, “and educate their children much as we educate ours.  I know we can offer no real equality for the illiterate, the uneducated, the true masses – such would be a mere fantasy.  But we can expand our doors to allow those who can look us in the eye, in all but name and title, to stand beside us, and help guide this city.  It is right.  Moreover, it is rational.”

“That is well and good, Father, but the Fiorentino?”  Lorenzo shuddered.  “Their bloodline is pure enough, but their conduct is beneath reproach!  I’d sooner claim kinship with the Amicitias’s petty thugs!”

“They, too, are our brothers,” Lord Cruhuer said, “misguided and callous as they may be.”  He smiled slyly.  “But I did not mention the Fiorentino.  I believe the two houses in the Earth-man’s book were Montague and Capulet.  And the city may not have been Cassa, but Verona, now that I consider it.”

“Then why, dear father, did you let me proceed this far?” Lorenzo said, embarrassment and anger vying in his dark eyes, “I have made a great fool of myself in front of -”

“Only myself and Alfonse,” His father said gently, “and we have seen much worse.”  He took a deep breath.  “Though I admit there was a purpose to my misquoting.”

“To make a jester of me?”  Lorenzo said, exasperated beyond the point of proper respect.

Lord Merengo sighed.  “Lorenzo, do you know why I gave you a Cassan name, when I gave your brothers ancestral Merengo names?”

“No,” Lorenzo said, “I had always assumed you owed a debt of honor to a man named Lorenzo, and chose to honor him through me.”

“No,” Cruhuer said, “You are the only Lorenzo I have ever known, personally.  I gave you a name fit for the City-State of Cassa because you are to be my emissary to Cassa.  Collin, your older brother, will inherit my title, but you, Lorenzo, you must carry on my work.  You must be my voice in Cassa after I am gone.”

“Father -”

“And to that end, you must learn circumspection,” his father continued, “you must learn wisdom.  You must master your temper, learn to wield and control the fire that burns inside you.  You must learn to hear the whole story before you act, to be absolutely certain your actions, as well as your words, are true.  Do you understand?”

Lorenzo hung his head.  “Yes, Father.”

“Good,” Lord Merengo said, “so now you understand why I bait you so.”  He smiled.  “I am proud of you, son, despite your temper.  Come, our guests will arrive soon, and we must dress for dinner.”

Lorenzo followed his father out of the parlor and down a breezeway that led to the residential wing. Though the interior hallways were doubtless more secure, a summer wind blew cool on their faces, carrying with it the heat-driven smell of roses and honeysuckle.

Without knowing why, Lord Merengo’s hand went to his waist, closing around the grip of his small sword.  Lorenzo sniffed the air.  “I smell an Amicitias rat,” he whispered, sliding his dagger slowly from his belt.

“Speak not of the devil,” Cruhuer rumbled as four black-cloaked men clambered onto the breezeway, faces hooded, daggers dripping poison.  Father and son stood back to back, blades drawn, dangerously outmatched.  “They have come for me, my son.  Use this opportunity to escape.”

“I’d sooner rot in the bowels of Mount Strife,” Lorenzo said, shivering with rage and fear and anticipation…

(Sorry; the free preview is over, but you can buy this short story on my Smashwords or Kindle pages.  It may take a couple of days for it to show up on my pages, so please be patient).

In Comes Romeo, he’s moaning…

(Bonus points if you get the reference in the title.  If not, click here).

I think by now we all know I’m a Shakespeare fan – I’m not a true Shakespeare nerd, because I haven’t read and seen them all, but I am a fan.  And one of my favorite Shakespeare plays is Romeo & Juliet … at least in theory.

I say “at least in theory” because I have so rarely seen a performance of the play that even came close to doing it justice.  Romeo & Juliet isn’t a Harlequin Romance Novel or Disney Princess Movie that incongruously ends with everyone dead.  It’s a tragedy, and a far more brutal tragedy than MacBeth or Hamlet, because the violence doesn’t just kill people, it kills love and hope.  It ends, not with a sword fight, but with a suicide.  It consumes the city of Verona with a hatred so deep it becomes unconscious and dehumanizing.

The opening conversation between (Act I, Scene i) two Capulet servants is often omitted or cut to little more than an issued challenge, but it is by far the most telling and important conversation in the play.  I’ve quoted the most relevant part below.  You can find the whole script here.

SAMPSON A dog of the house of Montague moves me.

GREGORY To move is to stir; and to be valiant is to stand: therefore, if thou art moved, thou runn’st away.

SAMPSON A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s.

GREGORY That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.

SAMPSON True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids
to the wall.

GREGORY The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.

SAMPSON ‘Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads.

GREGORY The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt.

GREGORY They must take it in sense that feel it.

SAMPSON Me they shall feel while I am able to stand: and ’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.

So they’re standing around talking smack about the Montagues, Gregory’s egging Sampson on by questioning his courage.  Sampson is bragging about how he will kill the Montague men and then rape and/or kill the Montague women.  “Maidenhead,” as you know, is Elizabethan-era slang for the hymen in particular and virginity in general.  This is basically two guys out on the street talking smack … glorifying the rape and murder of the Montagues.  Gregory and Sampson aren’t actually Capulets; they’re servants of the Capulets.  They barely even have any stake in this feud, but the generational feud has generated such an atmosphere of hatred that this is what they talk about when they’re not working: rape and murder.

The premise of Romeo & Juliet isn’t that love conquers all: it most assuredly does not.  The moral is that an unwillingness to forgive will destroy everything that you love, leaving nothing but guilt and grief behind, and that the cycle of hate and destruction will not end until both sides have suffered enough to learn to forgive.  Considering the 20th century’s history of ethnic cleansing and genocide, Shakespeare’s ending may have actually been overly optimistic.

It drives me straight up the wall to see this play watered down, presented like a love story, stripped of all the violence and ugliness of the vendetta.  I’ve seen the Royal Shakespearean company do this (I almost thought they’d just misprinted the programs, and I was really watching Much Ado About Nothing until the end, when everyone died), I’ve seen Hollywood do this (more than once, though I’ll admit that Gnomeo and Juliet won me over, despite it all).

The only version I’ve ever seen that captured the violence and ugliness was Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet, which kept the Shakespearean script but used modern-day settings, clothes, etc.  The Sampson and Gregory dialogue was replaced by a fairly brutal, extended fight that conveyed the same information to audiences who might not know what “maidenhead” meant or get the significance of pushing people “to the wall” or “off the walls.”

A lot of people criticize this film for using modern sets and costumes, but ironically, it’s the only production of the play I have ever seen that is actually faithful to the script.

Luhrmann’s film to emphasize the feud’s engrained violence, the privilege of nobility, and the crushing atmosphere this provided, creating an atmosphere so full of hate and vengeance that love may well have been the ultimate rebellion.

So… you may be asking, what has this got to do with anything?

Well, the message of Romeo & Juliet is a powerfully moral one, one that we can all learn from: if we cannot learn to forgive, we will destroy everything we love.  But that message cannot shine out if  someone, for whatever reason, blunts the darkness and ugliness.  Without that darkness and ugliness, Romeo and Juliet’s love becomes just another love story, not a singular point of light in a violent, hateful, ugly city of darkness.  Without that darkness and ugliness, the destruction of their love seems just like a bummer, and ending that doesn’t make sense, something Shakespeare should have revised.  Or worse, their deaths seem romantic, like the end of Wuthering Heights, and the entire point is lost.

You all know I’ve been wrestling with my writing – harsh language, the darkness of the subject matter, the violence itself (especially in my Blood Oath trilogy).  And thinking about Romeo & Juliet has made me reconsider another angle.  I can’t self-censor to the point that the most important part of the story gets lost, muddled in a respectable, slightly dim haze.  If I have any light to share, I must show it as truthfully as possible, even if that means going into a dark, violent, ugly place.  And I won’t feel ashamed about it, either.

After-Action Report: Writing the First Short Story

As I’ve said, writing short stories is hard for me, and I almost broke the rules on this one – it’s about 50 words shy from being a novelette (7501-17,500 words).  The hardest thing is getting over the fear and actually getting the story written.  But now that I’ve done that, I’ve had more ideas for short stories just start flowing.

I have a few things I’m still worried about – the story is set in Tarafore a fantasy setting I’ve been toying with since childhood.  It’s the first story I’ve been able to write set in the main area of focus in Tarafore, the City-States (specifically, the City-State of Cassa).

Tarafore is defined by The Breaking, a period every 250 years, lasting about 25 years, during which time magic returns to the world, powerful Warlords rise, and kings and empires are brought low.  One thousand years ago, Tarafore emerged from the Great Breaking, and its people fear that each new breaking could be a return to 1,000 years of chaos and darkness.

During each Breaking, humans from Earth come through to Tarafore, and they are in part responsible for Tarafore’s technology (early Imperial era, more 16oo’s than 1500’s, really) and society (mostly late Renaissance).

Most of the natives of Tarafore look quite human, but are actually descendants of a handful of ancestral Beasts, and thus separate species.  However, noble families still have to intermarry their younger children in order to establish political or economic alliances.  This has led to some unusually modern views on adoption, and some very un-Renaissance views on the origins of noble superiority (which, on Tarafore, are based on education and raising, not bloodline)

I think you know I’m a Shakespeare fan.  Well, about ten years ago I had occasion to read several historical monographs about Renaissance Italy in particular and early modern Europe in general.  A lot of that made it into Tarafore, especially in the face of the City-State of Cassa.

Cassa is, as best as I can write it, like something drawn from historical Renaissance Italy, and from Shakespeare’s Italian plays (including tragedies such as Romeo & Juliet, Othello, and Titus Andronicus [which was actually Roman, but fits the mood pretty well] as well as comedies like Much Ado About Nothing).

A council of five Great Houses rule Cassa – the Merengo, led by the idealistic reformer Cruhuer (who is loved by many, but hated by more, even within his own House); the Fiorentino, led by the dissolute, decadent prodigy Giuseppe, who hates the Merengo with an almost mad passion; Crynnlynn, secretive, calm, always scheming; Peccavi, who once were mercenaries and have now become a family of priests, though they have gone from penitents to princes of the church; and Kamitaas, once a tribe of warriors, now the strong arm that keeps order, sister-house and ally to Peccavi.

The alliance between the Kamitaas and Peccavi provides a great deal of stability, standing in the path of both bloody chaos and needed reform.  Meanwhile, the houses fight their cold wars, executing their vendettas in secret.

Frankly, it’s a perfect place to play against my violent imagination.  Dueling, vendetta and assassination are always at hand, but the close family ties means nobody goes unmourned, and that every act of violence likely begets more and more violence.

“Peace?  I Hate the Word” is the story of one short outburst of violence, and the cost it extracts from House Merengo.

It wasn’t easy to write.  Though I believe I have succeeded in making each character’s voice sound unique, I worry that the dialogue is a little too “Shakespearean” for something written in 2012 (there’s a fine line between period-appropriate and stiffly pretentious).

And I’m not entirely sure I’m really through with it.  I think there may be enough there to turn it into a novella, by expanding upon the motivations and plans of the various characters and factions involved.

Not only that, but now that the floodgates are open, I can tell you with full confidence that I’ll be writing more short stories set in Cassa.  I’ve already got one outlined.

Accomplishment Unlocked: First … Story … COMPLETED!!

Whew!

I just finished the first short story of my short story challenge.  I had hoped to finish it on Friday, so I could spend the weekend pondering the next story, but life intervened.  I worked on it steadily (except Sunday), but I wasn’t able to finish it until today.

And I wasn’t at all sure I was going to be able to finish it today (life intervenes a lot, doesn’t it?).

I want to run it by my first reader and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid, then I’m going to post it here for a short period of time before putting it up on Kindle and Smashwords (I’ll leave a sample up permanently).

It was hard, but I managed to make progress on all the issues I wanted to work on (the whole reason I started this challenge in the first place):

  • distinctive character voice
  • proactive protagonists
  • stories with a clear premise
  • dealing with the violent imagination

So needless to say, I feel REALLY happy about this one.  It’s pretty long, at just under 7200 words (if it had been 7501 words, it wouldn’t even have been a short story anymore, but a novelette).

The Violent Imagination

I’ve been listening to “What’s so Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding”  and thinking about the title “What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”  And it’s made me mad.  It’s made me sad.  Worse still, it’s made me preachy.  I wrote a 300-ish word post called “What’s so Funny?”, which I might haul out sometime if I need an example of what not to do.

Ultimately, this is one more stage in the transformation of my imagination.  Like most American kids, I was raised on a diet of sanitized violence, the heroism of the fist.  And to a large degree I love those stories, still, stories where a single death is treated as a tragedy, not a footnote or statistic.

Honestly, the violent imagination problem isn’t about loving Superman or Optimus Prime, any more than the materialistic consumer problem comes from believing in Santa Claus.  It’s what happens when the story grows up without really maturing.  Regarding materialism, the problem comes when the wide-eyed wonder of Christmas morning becomes, not the wide-eyed joy of giving, but the short-lived “hit” of buying new stuff (if television is the opiate of the masses, consumerism is its crack cocaine).

The violent imagination problem comes when we leave Superman behind for The Authority, or The Punisher, or Dirty Harry, or The Bride from Kill Bill.  Or Hamlet, for that matter.  We are taught, by media both vulgar and elevated, that things will get better if the good guys kill the right people.  We’re taught this by our government.  We’re taught this by our news media.  We teach and learn this from each other.  Our civil religion teaches us this is so, echoing the sentiment from ten thousand pulpits.

The message is so ingrained in our culture that it’s nigh-impossible to avoid it, and it even feels a little bit like treason to try.

But that doesn’t change the truth.  The world will NOT get better just because we kill the right people.

I’m not a pacifist.  Maybe I will be one day, but I’m not right now.  I believe that sometimes, fighting is necessary, and when necessary, it is right, even if our past behavior set the wheels in motion.  On September 12, 2001, we couldn’t go back in time and undo all the times our foreign policy screwed over the people of the Middle East, pushing them into the arms of murderous radicals.  Those sins were committed, relics of an abominable Cold War strategy that said, effectively, “we’ll support any anti-communist, no matter how cruel, despotic, or dysfunctional he is.”

Likewise, in 1942, we couldn’t undo the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I and saddled Germany with oppressive, punitive reparation payments it could not pay, leaving the German people demoralized, impoverished, and ripe for a demagogue’s pickings (I know the U.S. never even signed the Treaty of Versailles, but President Wilson could have worked a lot harder to stop it, perhaps by making U.S. rebuilding aid to England and France contingent upon a fair peace treaty with Germany).

And so we fight, because we have to.  But this is not glorious, and it is not bloodless.  Whether Dresden or Afghanistan, even our necessary wars still leave thousands of dead civilians in their wake.

But we never seem to learn.  We never learn to be peacemakers, to stop laying the seeds for the next brutal conflict in the resolution of this one.  We never learn that we are a giant in a playground, and that we cannot behave like (for example) France, because we are not on their scale, and our actions have far more devastating consequences than theirs.

But we’ve been taught since childhood that we are the good guys, and so it follows that whatever we do is good.  We measure the body count of our wars in American dead, as if brown foreigners don’t count.  But it’s not because of racism, not really; it’s because we’ve been taught to divide up good and bad, and glory in the bad guys’ deaths.

 

And it is maddeningly hard to shake this.

And even more maddening to do it in a way that doesn’t disrespect the sacrifices our soldiers have made to protect us.  Their most sheltered supply clerk has sacrificed more for America than I have: enduring boot camp, moving to wherever the army tells him or her to go, sacrificing, at least while he or she is within the army, the right to free speech and expression.

Heck, with an easily-acquired (for those without criminal records) permit, I can carry a firearm a huge number of places, including my home.  Soldiers who live on base don’t get to do that; they don’t even get to have guns in their homes.  They can still worship freely, but they’ve pretty much sacrificed the rest of their Bill of Rights protections in order to serve.

Many servicemen and women have given far more: years away from family, their babies’ first steps, arms, legs, marriages, lives, traumatic brain injuries that steal their intellect and even personalities.  Even those who escape the combat zone apparently unscathed often have nightmares that linger for years.  I never want to minimize that, or pretend I know what it’s like.

But that doesn’t change the truth.  I can’t cheer anyone’s death, not any more.  And I can’t write in such a way that my writing cheers anyone’s death.  So where does that leave me?

I’m not a pacifist.  Sometimes terrible forces must be met with force.  Saying “everything would be better if everyone was a pacifist” doesn’t really help.  The question is, will we unilaterally be pacifists, or will we not?

And the answer is, we’re suicidal to just unilaterally become pacifists in the face of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, even Bin Laden.  Passive resistance works against fundamentally decent people (like the British in India or Americans during segregation) who are committing an atrocity, because once they are convinced they are committing an atrocity, their decency will force them to put an end to it.  It doesn’t work against a totalitarian war machine that is already in process of killing tens of millions.  Its record isn’t even that good against small-potatoes Third World dictatorships, though it does, at least, have a chance there.

But if pacifism is too far to go, we can be peacemakers, reserving violence only for the last resort, and actively working to de-escalate situations that can lead to violence.

This is the responsibility of everyone who legally carries a concealed handgun: to de-escalate situations, to let the other guy have the last word, to even let yourself be spat upon, because you know you are carrying death in your pocket, and you cannot unleash death unless death is already threatened  (I’ll leave off any comments on the Travyon Martin case, and simply say that all parties need our prayers.  I will say that Mr. Zimmerman should voluntarily surrender his permit to carry a weapon, even if he is not guilty of murder.  Following someone around and confronting them is a violation of the peacemaker mentality required to responsibly carry).

So, once more, where does this leave me as a writer?  I mean, I like writing action scenes.  But I can’t glorify killing.  And I’m not sure I can, with a clean conscience, write the kind of chivalrous, bloodless violence that Superman, the Lone Ranger, and their comrades practice.  That doesn’t really exist in the real world.

So what do I do?

Right now, I’m writing a lot of unhappy endings, or rather, pyrrhic victories and bittersweet endings.  That can’t really last forever.  I like happy endings, and I want to figure out how to get there from here.  I can think of two roads forward: unlocking my nonviolent imagination by learning more about creative nonviolent resistance, and learning to write creative nonviolent resistance; and really thinking about the good take-away messages of childhood heroes.

Much as Santa Claus can teach the joy of giving, the message of many of the best stories about the childhood heroes is that of self-sacrifice, of bravery, of putting others ahead of oneself.  Every time Superman steps in front of a missile (which could, perhaps, hurt him), we see a four-color version of our own better natures.  The fistfight with the guy who shot the missile is far less important than the act of stepping in front of it.  Time and time again one of these cartoony characters steps into a doorway to hold that point against an army, so a group of innocents can escape.  Of course they escape, most of the time.  Sometimes they don’t, though the authors always seem to bring them back.

Sometimes, the bloodless violence fistfight types (Superman for example, or even Batman [spoilers],  etc.) can serve as counter-arguments against those who say that the ends justifies the means, that wiping out the bad guys is the right move, that the ends justifies the means.  But I still don’t think I can write that kind of sanitized faux-violence, not having seen what real-world violence is.

So what do I do?  This is part of what the short story challenge is all about, even more so than character voice, unified premise, or proactive protagonists.  It’s about figuring out what a hero is, and learning how to write it.

No wonder I’m nervous.

The Short Story Challenge: Why Does it Have to Be So Challenging???

I’m doing this instead of actually working on this week’s short story.  Yup.

Why?  It’s scary.  Short stories are all the hard parts (the getting started parts, the planning out parts), all the time.  Plus, I have to watch my length, leave out things that I’d like to explore, all because of space.

And since I’m working on premise and character voice especially, I’m having to work much harder in my writing than usual.  I have to be more mindful of my text, especially dialogue, which I usually like to just let “flow” at high speed, writing the whole conversation very quickly.  The only problem is, that tends to produce fairly generic-ized conversation that doesn’t strictly keep to the characters’ voices.  That’s tough, at least for me.

Also, I’m not accustomed to starting with a premise, and making sure the fiction sticks to it.  I’m used to coming up with ideas, characters, settings, some kind of inspiration, running with it, writing some scenes, then figuring out a plot around them.  I’m not entirely convinced that this is a bad method, nor that I need to abandon it altogether.

However, much like profanity, I’m “giving it up for Lent” regarding this short story challenge.  I’m doing things a different way to learn how to be the master of the fiction I write (if that makes sense), to prove to myself that my prior methods aren’t just laziness or weakness.

So, the desire to make myself a better writer, to prove myself to myself, is driving me on, and fear of failure (and, honestly, of the difficult, possibly painful work ahead) is holding me back, pushing me to find excuses not to write these stories.  Heh, story of my life.  Okay: break’s over …