Sunday, April 22, 2012

Take Me to Your Tweeter

Take Me to Your Tweeter

Okay, I have to admit I'm a sucker for short, gimmicky word games. I've even had a couple of sentences published in the Dark and Stormy Night competitions. So, when I saw that the Brits were running a Twitter science fiction and fantasy competition, I had to take a shot. Sudden fiction with a 140-character limit (actually, a 134-character limit—every entry has to include the #TBSFA hashtag). Sounds damned near impossible, you might say after reading the page of rules governing the competition. And you'd be right, judging by most of the entries.

There were some real stinkers. There were some really brilliant pieces. More to the point, most entries didn't satisfy any reasonable set of conditions of what might constitute a story. Think about it: a story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has to have a primary conflict, and it has to have a resolution. Clearly, you can't spell all of these aspects out in 134 characters, so that means you have to imply some of these parts. Success, to me, entails accomplishing that degree of implication. I'm sure there will be quite a few arguments about these successes as the balloting continues. I just wish the BSFA would tell us when and where they plan to announce the winners. The rules page says that they will announce a winner on their website, but that covers a lot of ground. Where on their website? And they still don't say when. The rules  also hint that other entries might be published in future BSFA publications.

Whatever that means.

Anyway, here are my entries, in no particular order. The first one is embarassingly close to the so-called World's Shortest Story (The last man on earth sits reading a book. There is a knock at the door.) And the second one is just a bad joke (also with that embarrassing whiff of plagiarism).

#TBSFA He opened his veins in the tub, unwilling to live as the lone last human. As life ebbed, he heard her voice: "Hello? Anyone there?"

#TBSFA "Only one wish," said the genie. "Wealth? Power? Eternal youth?"
"I wish I had a thousand of you."

Kathy's and Ansel's favorite (and the only one that got responses): 

#TBSFA Exiting the time pod into the present, he was surrounded by hideous

bare-faced giants. He tried to call out: "Meow?"

And my personal favorite:

#TBSFA Please, someone reply. The vile Hryq can't read our words. If you're human, you're not alone. I have food, weapons. Please, reply.

Next time, more novel development.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Blood Totem

As promised, the following is a short story I published a couple decades back under a different title in Blue Moon Review. The original is still out on the internet, but I seem to have been far too interested in semicolons in those days. I think this version reads better. The story is essentially true. The names, of course, are all false.

Blood Totem
by D. G. Grace

Petty Officer Daniel Carter and Petty Officer Daniel Sandusky had very little in common. Oh, they looked enough alike, same age (22), same height (average) and weight (slight), same gray eyes and olive skin and brown hair and aquiline nose, and of course the same first names, but who selects friends based on that? As far as anyone on the boat was concerned, the two Daniels were exact opposites. Daniel Carter, the introvert, was married with a child on the way. Daniel Sandusky, the party boy, planned for a desultory bachelor life. Carter spent WesPac visiting historical monuments and reading The Brothers Karamazov and Faerie Queene. Sandusky, armed with maps and magazines, a walkman full of punk rock, a snorkel and fins, a new pair of Adidas, drew detailed hiking, biking, and scuba schedules for layovers in Yokosuka, Perth, Guam, Bangkok. Carter had worked hard to know everything about the ship’s system and was the go-to guy for engineering trivia. Sandusky couldn’t tell you at any given time which bilge he was in the process of not scrubbing, but he could tell you where to hide if you needed to cop a nap.
Nonetheless, the Daniels were friends, each in his element ably defended the other. Neither Daniel could say why he liked the other—Carter usually fell back on dusty electric-particle-interaction clich├ęs—but each considered the other a fine man. Still, mostly for lack of common interests, in the three years and seven cities in which these two antithetical Daniels had been acquainted, they had never been drawn together for so much as a shared beery moment ashore.

Olongapo changed that. Changed a lot about both Daniels.

Neither Daniel fit Olongapo. Daniel Carter wanted to go out and dance and drink and perhaps even carouse and debauch with his buddies, but he was too busy convincing himself of his loyal, abiding love for his wife—pregnant with his daughter on the light side of the world—to feel more than a warm rush when one of the Philippine honeys sat to rub his knee, his thigh, and whatever came up. Daniel Carter tried getting drunk, but the formaldehyde in the San Miguel sold by every bar in Olongapo made him ill well in advance of intoxication, and the sweet toxic stench of the concoction the bartenders called Mojo made his stomach complain any time it came within sniffing distance. He even tried just dancing when the honeys asked, but they would slither up against his crotch and he couldn’t keep time. Carter bought another San Miguel and set his mind to trying to get drunk again, but a scantily clad foursome of tiny women crowded his chair, two of them trying to crawl into his lap.

Stationdido,” he said, raising his voice over the band’s Styx imitation (“Jew know it CHEW, BEBB!”). It had become his mantra: “Stationdido.” Every Subic Bay hustler knew they couldn’t work the GIs stationed there, but Daniel Carter didn’t know whether that was naval lore or just good politics. Steeled by two days experience in Olongapo’s converted warehouse superclubs, he chanted this Tagalog abracadabra and refused to let his eyes light on puckered nipples as he raised his voice to say, “Peddle it somewhere else, honey,” and waved their little terrycloth-pantied butts away with his beer bottle. For better or worse, the four honeys moped off to flypaper other sailors.

One of the women, her crows’ feet spackled with eye-shadow and wearing a plunging mini-dress, which just covered her stretchmarks, winked and called back, “I love you no bullshit, Joe.” Her mantra, apparently. She laughed off into the crowd and left him sipping his uriney San Miguel and listening to the snotty inner voice that accused him of being a counterfeit boy scout who was just afraid of getting the clap.
Daniel Sandusky and the other machinists were sitting at the next table, barnacled with their own cadre of terrycloth bikini girls. Sandusky was too mom-and-apple-pie for the 1980 Philippine scene to register on his psyche as anything but a sight: a Grand Canyon of slums, a Space Needle of filth, an Angel Falls of debauchery. When Chalmers, the big muscleman in Sonar, pounded the table, bragging that he’d picked up two full-access honeys and a flat for the week at a price of three fresh oranges per day that he swiped from the galley, Daniel just shook his head and blushed and giggled. When Parker, the short electrician at the next table, paid a girl—who looked all of thirteen—fifty pisos to crawl under the tablecloth and play Smile with him and his three torpedomen buddies, Daniel watched confused as Parker and the torpedo boys unzipped their flies and leaned back in their chairs. When it finally dawned on Sandusky why Parker called the game Smile, Sandusky covered his eyes with a blushing hand and tripped over four chairs and a barmaid getting away from the table.

“Oh, man!” He laughed but looked like he would throw up any minute.

Carter reached up to touch Sandusky’s elbow. “You okay, Daniel?”

Sandusky spun smartly and grinned. “Why, yes, Daniel. And yourself? Say, Daniel, how’d you like to do some shopping with me? Maybe pick up some monkey-pod or silver trinkets for the little woman.”

Carter had about reached his limit of vicarious debauchery. “You’re on, Daniel.”

Out in the squinting noonlight, they stopped to get their bearings. Carter opened his mouth to suggest walking in any direction that was away from the stench of Shit River when a roving peddler tried to sell him one of the dozen “real gold no bullshit” watches strapped to his sweaty arm. Simultaneously, a sloe-eyed shoe shine boy—couldn’t have been more than nine years old—popped up in front of Sandusky. Normally, they would have just waved both away and continued walking. Eventually they’ll get tired of following and look for another target. This time, the two of them and the bar behind had the Daniels in a tripartite blockade.

“Not interested,” Sandusky said. “Look, kid, they’re basketball shoes. You can’t polish suede, man.”

“You know how much these worth, Joe? Swiss. I give you good deal.”

“I have a watch,” Carter said.

“I clean good, you see. Ten piso.”

“Is waterproof, show moon and date, time in seven time zones. Forty-five piso.”

“No, really.”

“Okay, I clean shine, five piso, five.”

“Please, I don’t need—”

“Forty piso. Two watches. You robbin’ me, Joe.”

“Two piso. Just two piso.”

“Stationdido. No watch, man. Stationdido.”

Carter’s hustler waved a disgusted hand at him and scurried off after a freckled face, and Sandusky placed one resigned foot on the boy’s portable shoe shine box. As the child toothbrushed away groove-grit, bleached Sandusky’s shoe-rubber back to white, and curried the suede back to supple, he stopped occasionally to look up at the sunshadow of Sandusky’s face, dropping precise verbal hooks:

“I do good, no?”

“I surprise you, yes?”

“I make shine, you give tip, no?”

“Is worth more than two piso, eh Joe?”

By the end of the job, Sandusky’s Adidas looked newer than any two-year-old shoes he’d ever seen. He smiled and, his face seeming large with his own impending magnanimity, took out his wallet to give the boy a ten piso note.

“Good job, kid. You were right, it’s worth more than—”

But the little boy shook his head and turned his shine box around to show the ad painted on a side of the box we hadn’t seen: GOOD SHOE SHINE CLEEN 20 PISO. Sandusky’s smile fell, and Carter looked around to see if any Olongapo police were hovering. The city of Olongapo had a hundred laws designed to fleece sailors. If a business operator performed a job for which he carried prominently advertised prices, the prices always won in a court of law. Walking the streets, Carter had seen “prominent advertising” with letters in pica type. If the boy had a pet cop working with him, any refusal on Sandusky’s part would immediately be labeled an attempt to swindle the boy, and both Daniels would be in jail within the hour. Somehow, jail terms for sailors always ended in a five-hundred-dollar fine. Carter just stood frowning, apparently also mulling over the local laws.

The boy suddenly took off running, leaving Sandusky staring open-mouthed at his empty hands. “He took my wallet.”

“Daniel!” Carter yelled, but Sandusky took off running after the boy. Carter snatched at his arm and missed. “Daniel!”

“Stop, thief!” Sandusky chased the kid to an intersection and through an open-sided jeepney. “Stop, thief!”

As Carter ran after Sandusky running after the boy, laughing brown faces closed in around them: mango and barbecued-monkey-paw peddlers, leather and knife vendors, three-card-monte hustlers, sky-blue-uniformed Olongapo police who’d been holding up doorframes, high-heeled and lipsticked strutters, wrung-out raggedy bag women in alleys. Half-naked children with bellies like basketballs hooted and threw clumped wetbrown street trash at the Daniels. Scooter and jeepney drivers burped their horns. Every mouth stretched around wide volumes of laughter; every eye squinted; every voice joined the traffic noise. Even the sailors and marines on the street were holding ribs and rocking and howling. Every face on that street rejoiced in the citychild outrunning the rich American. Carter began feeling foolish.

As Sandusky and his small prey wove through food carts, Carter stumbled to a halt. Stop, Daniel, he thought to shout. Let him have the wallet. It’s not worth it. Two minutes later, he wanted to go back in time just far enough to shout those shouts.

“He’s got my wallet! Stop that stinking little thief!”

Stop, Daniel.

Then Carter saw one face not smiling. A National Guardsman, one of President Marcos’s boys in green fatigues and spit-shined boots, appeared in the center of traffic. A split second’s side glance of his mirrored shades halted the oncoming jeepneys, and his left hand released a spring-loaded bolt. It snapped into place with a clang that deafened the whole city. He dropped his right forearm parallel to the ground like an usher ready to receive your tickets, but of course, an usher wouldn’t have that AK-47 wedged in the crook of his elbow. Then he clenched, and bullets drew a dashed line up the street and up the boy’s back, popping crimson buttons out his front. Emptied, the child rag-dolled to the sidewalk, a red cartoon boy running on ahead of him a few feet before it, too, collapsed. Carter heard the wallet plop into the babyblood.
The Guardsman strolled past toppled fruit carts and, stepping on one small still thigh, reached down and plucked the wallet from the blood with thumb and forefinger. As he handed the thing to Daniel Sandusky, the Guardsman tipped his Castro hat and flashed a brief Thank-You-For-Shopping-At-K-Mart smile. He strolled off without a word.

Carter heard traffic moving again, and he vomited a quart of beer on a T-shirt vendor’s table. The vendor silently wadded up his wares, folded his table, and walked away. Sandusky dropped to his butt on the sidewalk and cried, rocking and hugging the wallet, smearing blood all over his face and polo shirt.
Back on the boat, after Carter had told this story seven times over in crew’s mess, Parker said, “Whoa, he’s gotta keep that wallet. It’ll bring him luck; it’s got a life in it, y’know. It’s kinda like in the middle ages: when they first killed someone with a sword it made the sword more powerful. They even named the swords when that happened. I mean, that kid dying for that thing has to make it worth something.”

They didn’t see Sandusky drag himself from the bow compartment, but suddenly, there he stood, black eye-circles eating away at his cheekbones. He dropped the wallet on the table in front of Parker, and brown flakes dandruffed off and settled onto the formica in a rough circle. Daniel looked at Parker with round empty eyes, like a shark just before it strikes or a Guardsman before he fires.

“It’s imitation leather,” Sandusky said, “and it’s got a picture of my mother in it, along with my expired California driver’s license and twenty-four pisos. All together it’s worth about six bucks. Keep it.”

Chief Treeter, the head cook, stuck his head out of the galley and pointed at Parker. “Parker, you a friggin’ ghoul, you take that damn’ thing,” but Parker took it.

The next night, while Parker was on watch back in Engineering, Carter went to the bow compartment and broke open Parker’s bunk lock with a pair of bolt cutters. Brown bits of blood flaked off in his hand, and he worked through a possible future. He would wait in a rack directly across from Parker’s. When Parker dragged himself up here in another hour and fell into his rack to sleep until sunrise, Carter would wait until he heard the electrician snoring. Stealthily, he would climb from his hiding place. He would stuff the bloody wallet in Parker’s mouth and hold him down with a pillow until he stopped kicking. If he fought too hard, Carter would elbow him him in the throat to speed the end. Someone, eventually, would find Parker, eyes red, lips blue, the wallet filling his mouth with its death magic.

Carter shook his head. He took the wallet topside and chucked it well out into the bay, watching it spin and skip across the sewage-dulled waters. Goodbye, babykiller.

Parker complained, of course, and the XO opened a theft investigation. Carter figured at least twenty people saw him, either breaking the lock or walking through Ops with the wallet in his hand, and the topside watch had stood beside him watching it frisbee out into Subic Bay’s fetid waters. A month later the XO closed his investigation, unresolved due to a lack of material evidence, including a complete absence of witnesses.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Live Music and Dead Music

As one reader noted, a literal interpretation of the phrase "live music" implies the possibility of dead music. If tunes in Austin can come to life, then, surely they must also be able to die. One problem with turning metaphor into magic is that the individual analogue elements of the metaphor have to track. The tracking doesn't have to be absolute—can't be absolute, in fact. To give you some idea what I mean by absolute tracking, if tune develops a life analogous to the life of a human being, the tune would have to have a mother and father, the mother would have to carry the tune to term, the birth of the tune would appear normal, the tune would age normally, suffer the slings and arrows (measles, heartbreak, traffic tickets, broken bones), and it would eventually die in an accident or of some disease. 

SPOILER ALERT: that ain't gonna happen. No gestation, no birth canal, no umbilicus, no actual childhood (unless the tune is clearly a child).

Okay, so, it's not really much of a spoiler. The death thing, though, is a serious concern. If a song can come to life, either it's immortal or it can die. But how do you kill a tune? If you hit it with a truck and splatter it's body all over the road, you'd think that would effectively end its life, but in the world of music magic that I'm describing, that wouldn't really kill a tune. It would certainly wipe out that particular avatar of the tune, but would it be permanent? 

It depends.

Before I go any further, here's a quick look into my personal editing process. After writing up the first version of the following, I was dizzy. Tunethis and tunethat and tunetheotherthing. It gets a little annoying. So, one minor change from my previous exposition: I'm dumping the term tunemage and replacing it with magus. I mean, it's not like I'll be needing to keep various types of magi sorted.

To be specific, a tune's mortality depends on the circumstances of its birth. Remember, tunes have two elements of creation: composition and performance. Every tune is either created by the combined efforts of a tunesmith and a tuneweaver, a tunesmith and a tunecoven, or a magus acting as both composer and performer. Because the case involving a tunecoven is essentially the same as that of a tuneweaver, I'll just talk about two cases: (1) tunemage and (2) tunesmith plus tuneweaver. 

Let's look at a blatant killing of a tune and how it might differ in the two cases. Let's assume the tune "Pinball Wizard" came to life in Austin. So, for case (1) we assume Pete Townsend is a tunemage and that The Who once performed Tommy in Austin, bringing the Pinball Wizard to life. Twenty years go by, and the Pinball Wizard just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, purchasing a bottle of whiskey when the liquor store is robbed. The whole affair goes pear shaped, and the Pinball Wizard takes the .9 mm slug to the heart. He should be dead in a couple of seconds, but this is a fantasy creature. Does he die? Well, I've considered a lot of different scenarios, and I think the tunes will be remarkably resilient. They will not, however, be immortal. So, in this instance, yes, the Pinball Wizard dies.

For case (2), I'll instead assume that Townsend is a tunesmith but that The Who is not a tunecoven (as unlikely as that seems), nor is any member of The Who a tuneweaver or magus. Instead, let's assume that Elton John is a tuneweaver and that he once performed "Pinball Wizard" in Austin. Again, after twenty years, in that same liquor store holdup, Pinball Wizard takes a bullet to the heart and dies.

Okay, sounds like the same thing, right? In many ways, yes, the cases are identical. Where they differ is in the character of the tune and the possibilities that follow. First, the Pinball Wizard performed by The Who has a different character than the Elton John Pinball Wizard. The version performed by The Who comes across as more astonished by Tommy and stunned that he just turned over his crown to a "deaf, dumb and blind kid." Elton John's version gives voice and character to the deposed pinball champion. He's a pinball wizard, too, and he's devastated that he's lost his crown to Tommy. Elton John's Pinball Wizard is the tragic hero of his own tale, singing his own fall from grace. Sure, the lyrics are the same in both performances, but Elton John sings in character, and the difference is profound.

Second, the chance of the Pinball Wizard coming back to life is, in both cases, dependent upon the same tuneweaver, tunecoven, or magus performing the song in Austin again. If, for example, the tune were brought to life by The Who's performance, a performance by Elton John, or anyone, for that matter, brings him back to life, but he won't be the same person. He also won't have the original's memories. 

Of course, once more, we're raising as many questions as we're answering. What effect does a tuneweaver's performance have upon an extant tune? Can two or more versions of a single tune exist at one time? Does playing a tune (recorded versions) affect an extant tune? Does tune mortality differ from that of normal humans in other ways? What about aging? Disease? All this and more in the next few weeks, but first I think I'm going to jump to a different topic next time. I'm going to publish a few short shorts in future blogs, starting with the next one. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is Michael Chabon God?

Is Michael Chabon God?

I can just imagine Michael's wife reading that title and thinking, O Lord, he's going to be insufferable for at least a month. Eh, maybe not. By all reports, Michael is a pretty grounded guy.

So, why this question of worshipfulness of a successful contemporary author? To explain, I need to go back several decades and explain a little about my own past. Like a lot of teens and pre-teens, my first really intense interests in fiction were science fiction, fantasy, horror, and who-done-its. My first fictions were horror, followed closely by lots of science fiction and fantasy. Of the few dozen poems and short stories I've published over the years, save one experimental piece of erotica, my only professional fiction publications are a pair of science fiction stories I sold to Aboriginal Science Fiction in the '90s.
I believe my taste in fiction has matured over the years.I still prefer science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, and horror to other varieties of fiction, but I want my fiction—no matter the genre—to be well-written. Years of exposure to Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, Gene Wolfe, James Tiptree Jr., Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. LeGuin, and many more have shown that science fiction can be quality literature with well-drawn and complex characters with an honest connection to the human condition. In other words, science fiction can be fine literature and vice versa.

In 1992, I was accepted into the graduate English program at The University of Texas at Austin. Shortly after starting there, I read the works of Peter LaSalle and Zulfikar Ghose, both excellent writers and both (then) on the creative writing faculty at UT. I took an undergraduate creative writing workshop with Pete and enjoyed it immensely but felt I needed a workshop with a more focused group of writers. So, I talked with Zulfikar and he let me into one of his graduate workshops. The workshop went well, I produced some of my best work in that class (including one of the short stories I sold to Aboriginal). Zulfikar thought I belonged in the MFA program. He knew my heart really wasn't into Chaucer, that I wanted to be a professional writer. He said I should switch to creative writing, apply for a Michener fellowship, and write what I wanted to write. If I could have gotten into that program by applying to Pete and Zulfikar alone, I would have been a shoo-in. Unfortunately, the rest of the UT creative writing faculty at the time were not as open-minded. I applied to some of their classes and was told in no uncertain terms that they would not consider anything but "serious literary fiction" (two of them actually refused to look at my works). By serious they meant non-genre fiction. What's really ludicrous, as Michael Chabon points out in Maps and Legends, is that all fiction belongs to some genre. What most modern writers and critics mean when they say literary fiction is fiction of introspection. In fiction of introspection, nothing much happens in the way of physical action. The climax comes in an epiphany, sometimes stated, sometimes vaguely implied. Ironically, even science fiction and fantasy can be fiction of introspection. Gene Wolfe's "How the Whip Came Back" comes to mind. In that story, the protagonist gradually realizes how she will deal with an impending change in national laws such that—to ease growing population pressures on prisons—slavery will be legalized in lieu of imprisonment.

So, my options at the time were either to blow off the Michener fellowship and the MFA program or build up a portfolio of introspective fiction. I made an effort to build an introspective fiction portfolio while I was working my way through grad school. During my time at UT, I never felt I had amassed enough quality literary works to satisfy the range of tastes represented by the UT faculty. Plus, I never felt too comfortable with those stories. In all, likely more a failure of nerve than of writing skill.

Back to Michael Chabon. He actually did it. Starting as a fan of SF, fantasy, horror, and detective fiction, Chabon ran into the same barrier: no science fiction allowed in the workshops. In response, he produced some damned impressive collection of literary works: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, and most incredible of all his Pulitzer-award winning The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (the most amazing novel I've read in the past three decades). Wow. Then, as if that weren't enough, Chabon turns around and publishes The Yiddish Policemen's Union, an alternate history (and therefore science fiction) detective mystery novel. It won the Hugo, the Nebula, the Sidewise, and Ignotus awards. Wow. Fucking wow. That's the way you do it. Chabon has even managed to publish a Lovecraftian horror story in the New Yorker. Of course, George Saunders had already opened that door in 1992, publishing a science fiction tale—cyberpunk, no less—in the New Yorker, "Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz."

Okay, Michael Chabon may not be a god, nor Jonathan Lethem or John Crowley (who did the reverse of Chabon, starting with science fiction and fantasy novels and then moving into literary works), but they have opened the door a crack. In a literary environment that has too long considered plot-driven fiction and so-called genre fiction to be no more than adolescent escapist drivel, these writers and a growing list of others have produced genre fiction of recognized literary quality and published those works in what are generally considered "respectable" venues.

Who knows, maybe we will eventually see a science fiction writer in the Michener fellowship program.

Hell, maybe it'll be me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ansel Adams Grace. I love this guy. I can't call him my amanuensis since he clearly doesn't type, and he's on the wrong side of my wrist to be a support. Forearm warmer? Fuzzy muse?

Live Music—theories of Austin magic

So, the base theory is simple enough. Music comes to life in Austin, but not all music. For the sake of separating the live songs from just any old song, I'm going to call songs that come to life tunes. The living avatars of the tunes call themselves tunes, which creates some ambiguity as to whether the referent in any case is the living being or the original song. What determines which song comes to life? I considered four possibilities:
  1. Music composed by the magically gifted. I'll call those composers tunesmiths
  2. Music played by the magically-gifted. This actually could entail two possibilities: magically-gifted individuals (tuneweavers) or groups that, together, are magically-gifted (tunecovens). This allows some songs to come to life only when performed by a tuneweaver or tunecoven. 
  3. The double-threat would be a tunesmith who is also a tuneweaver or part of a tunecoven. I've already decided that a few extant artists belong in this category: Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash, k.d. lang, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, maybe others. Tunemages. My protagonist will be among their number.
  4. Magical audiences. I considered this, even sketched some stories based on this idea. It just complicated matters. I prefer tales of magic that only work within its own structure of laws, something like a science. Allowing for tunes created by audiences would create too much variation and confusion, making some tunes' origins untraceable. Complexity is messy but interesting. I'm still thinking about this one. Maybe I'll consider it further down the line.
Every tune not created by a tunemage must have both a tunesmith and a tuneweaver or tunecoven. Tunes know their parents.I like that this means many tunesmiths in the world never know what they've created.

Tunes, once they've been realized, live like normal people, more or less. They do have certain possible aspects created for them. For example, if the Heart song "Magic Man" were to be a tune, he would, himself, have magical abilities. If the old folk song "I've Been Working on the Railroad" came to life, he would be a railway worker. That means his inception would actually create his career as well as some obvious facts about his work ethic.

One of the characters in Live Music uses the pseudonym Ty Samba. His real name is the same as the tune from which he was born: "Bang the Drum All Day." His friends call him Bang. The original real world song (for anyone not around in 1983 or not a fan of the period), written by Todd Rundgren, describes someone who doesn't want to work or play, just bang the drum. Bang was realized during SXSW when a group of drum troupes were having a drum-off. In the last round, the competition was down to a taiko company and a samba troupe, both playing "Bang the Drum All Day." The two teams together composed a tunecoven and gave birth to Bang—half Japanese, half Brazilian and resembling a mocha-skinned, broad-shouldered Jimi Hendrix with epicanthic folds.

My wife Kathy thinks the original song would look pretty much like Rundgren did in the eighties: tall, skinny, white and long-haired. I don't want to set a precedent that the songs look like the composers, parental metaphors notwithstanding.

Monday, April 2, 2012

And So Begins the Novel

And So Begins the Novel

(My white-and-black typing assistant is Ansel. He loves to sleep in my lap, especially when the laptop's out. He does tend to drop my typing speed a bit, but I'm getting used to working around him.)

Welcome to my brainstorm.

A few weeks back, I had an idea for a fantasy story. I thought I could probably draw a single short story from the idea, but three days, several false starts and revisions later, I had one seriously messed up short story. The problem was simply that I had way too much material for a five-thousand-word short story. O, I considered stretching the tale to a thirty-thousand-or-so-word novella, but even at that length, I knew I'd be leaving a lot of potential material untapped. I also considered writing a series of interconnected short stories, but I firmly believe short stories should be able to stand alone, and making these short stories standalone entities would entail too much repetition. No matter how I approached this concept, it kept coming back novel.

So, my initial idea was a simple reconsideration of my hometown's favorite nickname. I don't know who bestowed this particular sobriquet, but Austin has long been proud to call itself the "Live Music Capital of the World."  From a realistic point of view, live music is a fascinating phenomenon. Live music aficionados know that live music differs from studio recordings in far more complex ways than simply the type of recording equipment used or the possibility of editing and revision. Sure, studio recordings eliminate all the possible interference from the audience, provide a cleaner acoustic ambience, and allow the artists to repeat, amend, and generally revise their work. On the other hand, studio recordings lose any possible visual components in the artists' performance, and the studio recordings don't have immediate audience feedback telling the artist how well the work is being received. But there's more to the live performance than even a video recording can capture. Live performances—especially in smaller venues—are a communication process. Even a holographic recording that allows a viewer to change perspective, focus, light levels, and control every aspect of the audio component, still takes the performance out of context. You might be able to see and hear the audience responses, but you don't feel yourself a part of that response. Short of virtual reality, no recording of a live performance will ever capture the true experience, the magic, the essence of live. Live music is live in more ways than simply having a live artist play before a live audience.

As I began toying with this idea, the phrase live music kept bouncing around in my mind. I slept on it and dreamstormed the idea of live music. What if it meant something more literal? What if music—some music, anyway—what if live music were truly alive? What if songs could come to life? What would they be? Human? Animals? Fantasy creatures? A combination thereof? And whence the magic? Assuming that, even in the Live Music Capital, not all live music comes to life, what makes the difference? The composer? The performer? The venue? The audience?

Well, that's my starting point. The working title, for now, is Live Music.

In my next entry, I'll outline some of the basic laws of magic as they apply to my alternate Austin reality. Until then, if you have any ideas relative to Live Music—inputs, criticism, points you think I might have overlooked—let me know.