It Always Comes as a Surprise

Yesterday was unusual in that it was a Saturday where I actually had to interact with the outside world more than I usually do on a given Saturday: I had a business conference call at noon, and then last night I did a live reading and discussion of my story for The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and the event was in conjunction with the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, California. Also reading were Abby L. Vandiver, Alison Gaylin, and Kate Flora. It was very interesting and fun, and my story, of course, is “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I didn’t spend much time writing yesterday, but I do think I solved some of my computer issues with the desktop; at least it is working fine for now and not making me want to smash it into little pieces with a hammer. We shall see how it goes from now on, however; I reserve the right to lose my temper over it wasting enormous amounts of my time going forward.

It was fun talking about presidents, and history, and my story last evening. The story was fun to write, once I figured out what I was going to write about and how to frame the story. As I have said repeatedly, short stories are difficult for me to write, and I think part of the reason I enjoy them so much–both writing and reading–is because they are a challenge for me; plus, I can explore something–style, character, voice, etc.–vastly different from what I usually do, which I think also helps me become a better writer. I will always accept an invitation to write for an anthology or a magazine or something to challenge myself. The Sherlock Holmes story was a challenge for me–I still don’t know if they are going to use  it, or if it’s going to come back to me all marked up with lots of revision requested, or it’s going to be passed on–but once I got into the rhythm of the voice and the period, it was kind of a fun challenge. I’ve even thought about writing another one, which is really crazy when you think about it. I have never been a Sherlockian, although I’ve always appreciated the character and the importance of the stories to the history of crime fiction–seriously, where would any of us be without Holmes?–but it’s not like I’ve joined any fan groups, or have considered writing pastiches before…I certainly wouldn’t have written this one had I not been asked–and I do think it could be fun to write other Holmes stories set in that pre-American participation in WWI period, from say around 1912-1917, and maybe even beyond. It could, for example, be a lot of fun to write a story around German espionage in New Orleans, and it’s a very interesting time in New Orleans history. Maybe “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” could turn into the start of a whole new direction for me. Who knows? That’s the fun thing about short stories–you’re never sure where writing one might wind up leading you.

But I have my entire day free today, and I am going to shortly adjourn to my easy chair to drink more coffee and read more of The Red Carnelian before I buckle down to my own writing. I am hoping to get a lot of progress on the Secret Project done today, and maybe some work on one of my short stories, perhaps even one of the novellas. I just realized next weekend is actually a three-day weekend–where has May gone already?–and so I should also be able to get a shit ton done next weekend….or at least, so one might think.

Paul and I also started watching The Great on Hulu last night, with Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s a sort of based on the real story, but a lot liberties are taken with actual history (for one example, Catherine’s husband was not the son of Peter the Great but his grandson; his aunt Elizabeth was actually the empress and selected Catherine as his wife for him–and he didn’t rule for long after Elizabeth died before Catherine usurped his throne. However, the time between Catherine’s arrival in Russia and her seizure of the throne was about twenty years or so; she was no longer a young woman when she became empress–but you can’t spread this story out over twenty years or the series wouldn’t be very interesting.

I also like that they admit up front they are taking liberties; as opposed to The Tudors or The White Queen, which also did but didn’t admit it. It’s also written by the same guy who wrote The Favourite, and the entire show has a similar feel to that movie.

And now, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–I know I intend to!

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I Will Remember You

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day; which originally was called Armistice Day. The day began as a remembrance of what was then considered, and called, the Great War. There had never been any war prior that was so awful, so horrific, so bloody. It changed the face of the world…empires crumbled and new nations rose from the ashes of the old. But the peace treaty that ended it was short-sighted and vengeful.

World War I was a horrific experience. “The war to end all wars” was what it was called; in the United States it was sold to Americans as “making (sic) the world safe for democracy”–despite being allied with the despotic autocracy of the Romanov empire in Russia. It was a most hideous war, one that left both the winners and the losers heartily sick of the waste of war and its pointlessness…yet merely served as a prelude to the much more horrific second world war; its conclusion set the stage for the rise of the Fascists in Italy and Germany, and the utter collapse of the German empire around the world, as well as the utter exhaustion and weakness of the surviving empires of the French and the British, set the stage for the rise of Imperial Japan in the Pacific and Asia…this rise ultimately led Imperial Japan into conflict with the United States. So, the “peace” of the first world war planted and fertilized the seeds for the second.

The flower of Europe’s youth died in this war,  in the trenches, in the mud and the wet and the cold. PTSD was first recognized after this war in soldiers who came home; only it was called shell shock back then. The boys who went off to this war came home as men forever changed by what they’d seen and experienced and borne witness to. It was a new kind of war, one presaged by the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. It would take yet another war for humanity to begin to rethink war.

And of course, the existence of nuclear weapons also had a lot to do with that critical rethinking.

I abhor war because I’ve studied it; for me, supporting the troops has always, for me, meant not putting them in unnecessary danger. Wars might sometimes be necessary, but they are, above and beyond all else, waste. Waste of lives, waste of money, waste of resources, all in the service of what is far-too-often an unclear, amorphous goal or purpose. I value the lives of our military, and not only the sacrifice of those serving but of their families, and I don’t think their lives and limbs should be placed in jeopardy without being absolutely certain there is no other alternative, and if they are to be place in such jeopardy, it should be for clearly defined, well understood objectives. I also believe they deserve everything we can, as a country, can do for them after their service. Our VA Hospitals should be the best in the world. No veteran should be homeless or unable to get the help they need to get back on their feet. No service family should be on food stamps, or go hungry, or worry about how to pay their bills or feed and clothe their children.

It’s the absolute least we can do for them.

Happy Veterans’ Day, and thank you for your sacrifice and service.

The Saints won big! Huzzah! GEAUX SAINTS! That was a lot of fun to watch, and I must say, the Saints are looking pretty amazing this year.

I also read “The Compendium of Srem” by F. Paul Wilson, from Bibliomysteries Volume 2, edited by Otto Penzler, for the Short Story Project.

Tomas de Torquemada opened his eyes in the dark.

Was that…?

Yes. Someone knocking on his door.

“Who is it?”

“Brother Adelard, good Prior. I must speak to you.” Even if he had not said his name, Tomas would have recognized the French accent. He glanced up at his open window. Stars filled the sky with no hint of dawn.

“It is late. Can it not wait until morning?”

“I fear not.”

“Come then.”

With great effort, Tomas struggled to bring his eighty-year-old body to a sitting position as Brother Adelard entered the tiny room. He carried a candle and a cloth-wrapped bundle. He set both next to the Vulgate Bible on the rickety desk in the corner.

I’ve not read F. Paul Wilson before; I know of him, of course, and have always meant to get around to reading him…but you know how it is, Constant Reader: too many books and authors, not enough time.

But “The Compendium of Srem” is a terrific story; about a mysterious book that comes to the attention of Torquemada and the Inquisition in Avila. Wilson provides just enough background for the story to place it firmly in its time period: Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, during the time after the reconquest and after Columbus sailed; when they were purifying the country of heresy (Moors and Jews). This story shows how simple it can actually be to write historical fiction–just a dib and a dab lightly dropped into the story, to place it in a context of time and place, without over-embellishing or over-explaining (the dreaded info dump); which of course has put ideas into my head. I greatly enjoyed reading this story, and look forward to reading more of Wilson.

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