Monthly Archives: December 2017

Symphony 63

It was depressing, and the other papers were worse. Much worse.

The grammar and spelling was bad enough, but the images were horrid. Neil had expected ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night. What he got was torture and dismemberment. Given the movies that kids watch, it should not have shocked him, but it did. Neil carried the same images of violence in his own head. Television assured that. But in Neil, that violence lay over a bedrock foundation of images of kindness and decency, the heritage of his own youth. These violent images were all today’s children had to think and feel with.

He drove home, deeply depressed, and nothing would have pleased him more than to lock his door against the world. But evening was coming on and the pack was out, moving from house to house to sweetly extort their bags of loot.

Neil arranged the bowl of candies near the door and turned on the shower. Before he could undress, the first of night’s legions arrived. He fed a pirate and a sheeted ghost, then went back toward the shower. He never made it; the doorbell stopped him short. Three tries later, he managed to get far enough to turn the shower off, and for an hour he fed the ghoulies. By eight-thirty, the crowd had tapered off and Neil was almost out of candy. He turned out all the lights and sat in the darkened room, hoping the world would just go away. It did not. Ten minutes later, there was a ringing at his doorbell. He ignored it, but it rang again. And again.

Finally, he went to the door. Again he was confronted by masked faces, that shouted, “Trick or treat!” He fished out the last of his candy and distributed it, trying to smile, and then said, “That’s it. I’m out of goodies.”

The crew giggled and nudged each other. Spiderman said, “Don’t you know who we are?”

He had not expected to know any of his callers. He was too many miles from Kiernan School for any of his students to come to his apartment, and he didn’t know any of the local kids. Then Cinderella slipped off her domino mask and Linda Muir stared up at him, laughing. The other masks came off of Shelly Gibson, Stephanie Hagstrom, and Larry Whitlock. Neil leaned down to look closely at the Incredible Hulk’s green painted face and saw that it was Sean Kelly.

Fiona Kelly was waving from the parking lot. Her station wagon was standing with all its doors open. Neil grinned and waved back.

“It wouldn’t have been Halloween if we hadn’t come to see you,” Stephanie said.

Linda added, “That was a great story today. Bump, BUMP.  Bump, BUMP!” She grabbed her chest as if to stop her heart from pounding so loudly.

They filed down the steps, pushing at each other and giggling. Neil waved one last time to Fiona after she had herded them back into the car, then turned to his delayed shower feeling quite human again. more Monday

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449. Go Google Yourself

Cover by artist E. Rachael Hardcastle

This is mostly for and about writers; but then, most of you are or want to be writers.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who Google themselves and those who don’t.
There are two kinds of people who Google themselves: those who admit it and those who don’t.
Me, I just do it for business reasons. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

All this came up because of a young author I occasionally converse with through post replies. J. M. Williams just published his first book The Adventures of Iric (a flash fiction collection). On the cover, his name appeared as JM Williams and he asked his followers about which worked better — J. M. or JM.

Actually, he has bigger problems than that. J. M. Williams, written either way, is not sufficiently unique in our internet world. When I went to Amazon to buy his book, he was nowhere to be found. Instead, the J. M. Williams who wrote A Legacy of Magi: A Mystic’s Path popped up. Different book, different author.

This is the second time I have had this problem. I met Thomas Watson, author of the War of the Second Iteration series at Westercon, picked up his book Chance Encounters, and found him a pleasant person to talk to. When I wanted to see what a short story sold separately as an e-publication looked like, I went to Amazon and bought one by Thomas Watson. Bad idea; it was a mess, full of blood, guts, and bad writing, because it was by a different Thomas Watson.

If J. M. Williams and Thomas Watson have this problem, what would it be like for John Smith?

If these seem like shameless plugs, so be it. I liked Chance Encounters. I have just begun Adventures of Iric and am enjoying it already.

Personally, I have the childhood misfortune of being Sydney Franklin Logsdon. The first name is from my father, who was named after a great aunt. The middle name is from my grandfather. Logsdon is unspellable and unpronouncable. That triple consonant — gsd — does not roll off the tongue. Even shortened to Syd, my name is a little girlie, which was a big deal growing up in an Oklahoma cow town. In high school I went by Log, except for a few of the smart alecks in math class who called me Logarithm.

An odd name turned out to be a godsend on the internet. The first time I googled my name, it was mostly me, not a thousand strangers using my name. When I bought the URL for my website (sydlogsdon.com), no one else had snatched it up.

J. M. Williams’ announcement of his first novel reminded me that I hadn’t googled myself recently, so I did it again.

I found a few posts by or about Sydney Logsdon, a young girl who is heavily into sports and into posting pictures of herself. The last time I did a self-google, about a year ago, she was all over the internet, but not so much this time. Perhaps she moved on, or maybe she got married and is still out there under her new name.

I found one obituary of my father — different middle name — with misspellings and no mention of children. The internet has a lot of accuracy problems.

I found a Myspace music mix by Sydney Logsdon aka dumbgirl98. She is probably a namesake I don’t want to meet.

I found quite a few references to my newest novel Cyan. I found a ton of advertisements from used bookstores selling Jandrax or A Fond Farewell to Dying. One of them was in French. I even saw one in German, touting Todesgesänge, the translation of FFTD. It had a review I couldn’t read.

I found a review I hadn’t seen before for FFTD. In English, this time. That also gave me a new old-SF review site to follow.

I found somebody with my name telling how to make slime.

I found a number of sites selling illegal copies of my novels as ebooks. You won’t be surprised to see that I am not including a link to any of them.

What I didn’t see, was a hundred other people using my name. I dodged that bullet.

If you are a writer, or want to be, and your name is Avant B. Jones, don’t use A. B. Jones as the name on your novel. If your name is Bill Smith, you might consider a pseudonym. It’s a matter of branding, and it gives you something to think about while you are waiting for your first book to hit the internet.

Symphony 62

Neil smiled a wooden smile as story after story followed the same pattern. The children did not know how to come to an ending. They wrote themselves into corners. Half of the stories ended when someone woke up. The rest of the students used Hemingway’s habitual solution and killed off their main character. The stories all seemed to come from the horror movies the kids watched. Neil could not quite be sure, since he did not watch those kind of movies himself, but the kids seemed to recognize movie scenes as they were repeated in the stories. 

All in all, they were a sad batch of tales. Oscar’s was by far the best. Elanor Romero’s was more typical.

It was Halloween night. Elanor and Lauren went out to trick and treat, and they were going down the street, and it was dark, and they suddenly came to an old house. It was dark inside and they went to the door and Frankenstein opened the door. They screamed and ran home.

When the bell finally rang, it was more of a relief to Neil than to the kids who had feared to read.

# # #

Afternoon was a repeat of morning. His afternoon class had already heard that he was going to read a scary story to them, so it did not have quite the effect that it had had in the morning. The kids complained less about having to read aloud. They had already heard about that, too.

None of the stories were up to Oscar Teixeira’s standards. Most of them were more like Elanor Romero’s. One in particular story sent cold chills up Neil’s spine. Lisa Cobb had written:

One night three girls went out trick-or-treating and two of them got lost. The other one went to this old house and went in. It was dark and she was all alone. She walked down this long hallway to a room and it was a bedroom. She was all alone there when someone came out of the closet and pushed her down. She tried to scream, but he had his hand over her mouth and she couldn’t do anything.

Then she woke up.

Neil thought, Please, God, let her be remembering a movie, and not a scene from her own life.

# # #

Neil stayed after school to correct the Halloween stories. He took Oscar’s first. It had sounded good when Oscar read it, but on paper it was a mess.

It was Hlloween night.  Three boys named Oscar, Richard, and Rafael were going out trick-or-treating.  The had costumes on.  Oscar was dressedlike Dracula.  Richard was dressed lik gostbusters.  rafael had on a Freddie Kruger mask  He also had popsickle sticks taped to his fingers to look like long claws.

they went to this first haouse and got candy.  Then they went to thi second haouse and got more candy  And some gum.  they went to this thrd house and nobody was home, so Rafaelsaid, “Let’s eg it.”  “We dont’ hive any egs, dummy,’; Richard said,  Well maybe their are som chickens in that little house oaut back,” Oscar said

they all went out to the back weher there ws this old shack.  Ricard said he could heer chikens, but Rafeael said he was Nuts.  The Oscar found a nest with 3 egs in it undder a rose bush. 

“You can’t eg a house with only three egs, Richard said,.  But Rafael threw his anyway.  It smashed against the front door and ran down the front door like slime.  Richard yelled, “I’ve been slimed and held his throat.  Rafeal thought that was pretty funny.  Then richard threw his eg and it ran down th front the same way.  Then Oscar decided to throw his eg againt the window, but the window broke and the boys decided to runaway.  But before they could turn around a big tall dark guy said, What do you think youre doing.

What’s it to you Oscar yealled, and they all ran away. more tomorrow

================

ASIDE: If you think I’m making up the quality of a good paper in a low performing sixth grade, in California, in the late eighties — I wish I were. SL

Symphony 61

Neil’s eyes swept the room. Duarte, Oscar, Sean, Stephanie, even Tanya. Those students he knew fairly well. He knew Tasmeen’s history and she had done nothing out of character for the person he assumed her to be, but she was too quiet, too enclosed, for him to honestly say he knew her.

Casey, Larry, Lauren, and Linda. They were all transparently easy to know. Olivia, Rafael, and Flavio were more restrained, but he had made the effort to reach out to them, and could say that he knew them. Tony he knew well, though they had an antagonistic relationship.

If they are smart or friendly, I know them. If they are notably ill behaved or stupid, I know them. But if they are ordinary, they remain strangers to me.

That was a problem to be worked on.

Oscar raised his hand and said, “I’m done.”

“Fine. Find something to read or draw quietly until everyone else is finished.”

“Can I read mine now?”

“When everyone is finished, Oscar.”

That took a while. For most of the students, most of the time, writing was a weary, difficult business. When the bell rang at the end of the second period, Neil announced that they would have no more time. Students would begin reading as soon as they came back.

As he walked out, Tony muttered, “Maybe I just won’t come back.”

Of course, he did.

When the children returned, Neil let them volunteer to read, knowing that he would not get to them all that hour. It was a trick, but not an unkind one. Those who most hated the idea of reading to the class would have to sweat out a sure knowledge that they had to read, only to be given a reprieve when Neil ran out of time. The next time, he would call on them first, before they had time to sweat.

Six hands went up immediately. Neil let Oscar read first since he had been the first to finish. He carried his paper to the front of the room and leaned back against the chalkboard. Richard Lujan, who was Oscar’s friend, whispered, “This will be good.”

It was Halloween night. Three boys named Oscar, Richard, and Rafael were going out trick-or-treating. They had costumes on. Oscar was dressed like Dracula. Richard was dressed like Ghostbusters. Rafael had on a Freddie Kruger mask. He also had popsickle sticks taped to his fingers to look like long claws.

They went to this first house and got candy. Then they went to this second house and got more candy and some gum. They went to this third house and nobody was home, so Rafael said, “Let’s egg it.”

“We don’t have any eggs, Dummy,” Richard said.

“Well, maybe there are some chickens in that little house out back,” Oscar said.

They all went out to the back where there was this old shack. Richard said he could hear chickens, but Rafael said he was nuts. Then Oscar found a nest with three eggs in it under a rose bush. 

“You can’t egg a house with only three eggs,” Richard said. But Rafael threw his anyway. It smashed against the front door and ran down the front door like slime. Richard yelled, “I’ve been slimed,” and held his throat. Rafael thought that was pretty funny. Then Richard threw his egg and it ran down the front door the same way.

Then Oscar decided to throw his egg against the window, but the window broke and the boys decided to run away. But before they could turn around a big, tall, dark guy said, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“What’s it to you?” Oscar yelled, and they all ran away.

All the kids thought that was great. Rafael wanted to go next. He had taken Neil’s advice about making up his own Freddie Kruger — sort of. His villain was named Sammy Kruger. Otherwise, Neil could see no difference from the original. more tomorrow

448. The Good King

Merry Christmas and why are you on the internet when you should be sitting by the Christmas tree?

Christmas is my favorite holiday. Of all the masses of Biblical knowledge I accumulated in my religious childhood and youth, the story of the Nativity is the only part that still moves me to joy.

I particularly enjoy Christmas carols, even the unsingable ones. However, I never understood the appeal of Good King Wenceslas until I saw and heard it in the movie Miracle Down Under, where it is sung by a poor family and some swagmen to the accompaniment of a washboard. Then I understood the bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump non-melody as something that could be handled even by coarse voices without instruments.

I also paid attention to the lyrics for the first time. The King is watching over his people, and when a poor man is spotted gathering wood for his fire, the King goes to his hut with food. The final few lines are particularly moving, despite their awkwardness as they are tacked on as a sort of “moral of the story”.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
    wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
    shall yourselves find blessing.

Not bad. Even today, we could use a President who understands that simple message.

Symphony 60

Rafael asked, “Mr. McCrae, can mine star Freddie Kruger?”

“Use some imagination. Make up your own Freddie Kruger.”

Sabrina Palmer came up to his desk and whispered, “Can I say this . . .” and started to read her first sentence.

Neil cut her off and whispered, “Save it until you have finished. Then I’ll want to hear it.”

“Do I have to read it out loud?” she whispered. Neil nodded. She said, “But Mr. McCrae, it’s not any good.”

Knowing Sabrina, he was sure that it would not be any good, but he said, “It will be just fine. You go write it and be ready to read it.” She went back to her seat, looking worried.

Neil looked across the classroom to see how his class was getting along. For the first time in a long while, Oscar Teixeira was fascinated with an assignment. His head was down and his pencil was flying. He already had half a page done while the rest of the class was struggling with first sentences.

Tim Galloway raised his hand and said, “Listen to this!”

He started to read and Neil said, “Tim,” then again, a little louder, “Tim! Save it until you have finished.” Tim ground to a halt with a look of comical frustration on his face. Neil motioned to Tim’s desk and silently mouthed the word, “Write.” After Tim had begun to write again, Neil said softly to the class as a whole, “Don’t waste your energy and imagination on reading something that is half done. While you are hot, write! There will always be time to change things and to share after you are done. Don’t waste the creative moment.”

Larry Whitlock said, “Mr. McCrae can I say . . .”  eil just stared him down, looking patient and perplexed. Larry gave a sheepish grin and said, “I know. Write it, don’t talk it.”

Write it, don’t talk it was a phrase Neil had been drumming into their heads for two months. They all knew it perfectly well, but practicing it was foreign to their volatile natures. Like Larry, each one of them would have liked to shout out the equivalent of, “Tell me. Talk to me personally, and make me the center of your attention.” If they had been first graders, each one of them would have done exactly that.

School is about reading, writing, and math; but even more, school is about learning that you aren’t the center of the universe.

By now, they were all underway; even those who had absolutely nothing to say had their heads down faking it. Neil had at least three minutes of peace before the first student would announce, loudly, that he or she was done. He used the time to study them. It had taken him a couple of weeks to fit names with faces; now he was able to fit personalities to faces for many of them.

Some of them were still mysteries to him. Martin Christoffersen was a puzzle. Big for a sixth grader, tall, athletic, quick with his hands, friendly, at ease with the other students. At back to school night, his parents had seemed bright enough, and their language had been perfectly normal. Probably his family had been in the United States for generations. Neil could find no reason why the boy couldn’t read, except that he was as dense as granite,.

Pedro Velasquez, on the other hand, spoke only the most broken English and his parents spoke none. It was tempting to presume that that was his only problem, but after a couple of months of observation, Neil was not sure. He had just about concluded that Pedro’s inabilities would have been just as great if he had been named Johnny Smith, with ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. It was really unfortunate that he was at a small district like Kiernan; like Brandy Runyon, he needed the kind of special setting only a larger district could provide. All Neil could do was to treat Pedro humanely so that he would continue to consider himself a valuable human being; he could teach the boy nothing. more tomorrow

Symphony 59

Neil sent Greg and Rosa to close the drapes and a hush of expectancy came upon the classroom. This was good stuff. They had expected to have to work; at best, they had expected free time. They had never expected this.

The drapes let in only a little light, certainly not enough to read by. Neil opened his desk drawer and took out a pair of candles on matching brass candlesticks that he had borrowed from Pearl. He lit them. He moved them so that they threw his face into harsh relief and projected his shadow, huge and menacing, on the wall behind him. He opened another book and read:

True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken!  and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

He read The Tell-Tale Heart through to its grisly conclusion, timing himself by the clock on the back wall so that he reached the denouncement when the narrator cried, “. . . tear up the planks! here, here — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”, just half a minute before the period ended. For those long seconds after he had finished, the classroom was tomb silent.

Then the bell rang.

Half the students leaped to their feet screaming, then broke into laughter, and went out for their break repeating juicy bits of the story to one another. Neil sat back with a feeling of satisfaction, mixed with amusement at his own self-indulgence. There was a lot of theater in Neil McCrae, but he kept it on a tight leash. He had no respect for teachers who used their classes as captive audiences to gratify their own egos.

Once in a while, though! Just once in a while it felt good to cut loose.

# # #

When the children returned, Neil said, “Now it’s your turn. I want each of you to write a Halloween story for me. It can be about ghosts and goblins or it can be about kids like you going out trick-or-treating. It can be realistic, or funny, or scary. I want you to fill at least one page, and when you are finished, you are going to read your stories to the class.”

Bob Thorkelson said, “Do we have to?”

“Yes. This is a real assignment, just like any other day.”

Laura Dias wanted to know, “Do we have to read them in front of the class?”

“Yes. I’ve been telling you for weeks now that sooner or later you had to start reading what you wrote in front of the class. This is the day.”

“Do we have to?” This was a cry of genuine distress from at least three students.

Neil nodded slowly. Tony slammed his desk top down and muttered, “That’s cheap!” Neil ignored him.

By now at least half of the class had taken out paper and begun to write. By reading a scary story to them first, he had given them both a model and an incentive. One by one, the rest of them got out paper and began, but Olivia made one last try at getting out of reading her story aloud by asking, “Mr. McCrae, will you read our stories for us?”

Neil just smiled at her and shook his head. Olivia said, “Rats!” but there was a secret smile on her face that made Neil think she would have been disappointed if he had said yes.

By this time, those who had started at once were getting into their stories. Tanya Michelson said, “Mr. McCrae, can my story take place around here?”

“Of course.”

Rafael asked, “Mr. McCrae, can mine star Freddie Kruger?” more Monday