Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lessons From the Other End

Things I learned over my recent five-day vacation in Singapore:

1. The end of a year brings about a huge number of stock-clearing sales. In a nation where half the business district is taken up by shopping centers, this translates into a scenario where any random store that you enter is likely having a sale at that point.

2. Most hotels underrate the concept of "personal space". Any hotel that knows its value should be recommended. (Yes, the Pan Pacific Singapore was quite good.)

3. If you must bring a single pair of shoes to wear over five consecutive days, they'd better be comfortable — especially if you must walk long distances on a daily basis.

4. Spending more than thirty minutes on a succession of subway trains can lead to disorientation, loss of balance, and the strange desire to go surfing.

5. Whenever the largest bookstore in the world offers a twenty-percent discount on everything, about half the population of Singapore will most likely be browsing there at any one time.

6. Never eat at a foodcourt that Western tourists frequent. The locals will most likely have already realized that same fact.

7. If you must create a sexy female mascot in order to promote a new product or service, make sure that that service does not involve Brazilian waxes.

8. Mobile phone services don't seem to place a great deal of vigilance with regards to their roaming services, if only because anyone who wants to complain will most likely be unable to contact them from a foreign country.

9. Do not post signs that tell people that their destination can be reached by a roundabout route, especially when said destination is right around the corner.

10. A nation that penalizes you for consuming food and drink in public places is not conducive to the notion of take-out food.

11. If you are looking for a certain book, you will be the only one searching for that specific book in a specific bookstore at a specific time — at which point you will find out that it's out of stock.

12. Never toss a wrapped package into your suitcase unless you know exactly what it is, what it's made of, and what you're likely to tell the security men when they bring you into the small white room behind the airport offices.

13. Although the malls will be open till about nine or ten in the evening, most of the shoppers will already be home by seven.

14. Young adults love it whenever you demonstrate your facility with hand puppets. Kids, however, will just stare at you as though you committed some international atrocity.

15. The state of a nation can be inferred by the "Letters to the Editor" section of the local news publications. If all of the letters express outrage or strong reaction over the political establishment, then there is a major issue with the mode of government. If the most grave correspondence on a given day involves leash laws in a public park, then it's usually safe to say that the status quo is tolerable.

16. Never expect to find an indie establishment in a place where there are no new local literary publications in the bookstores.

17. To ensure that people will pay you far more than the usual amount for sushi, you merely have to lower the price of said sushi. (You can push this further by giving these customers little or no reason to leave their table.)

18. You know that you've brought too much stuff when the lady at the counter asks that your handcarried baggage be weighed. You know that you've bought too much stuff when it's double that weight coming home.

19. It takes about twenty-four hours before you start channeling the local English accent, lah.

20. Twenty new books will ensure that one has enough reading material for a long time — about four or five days, I think.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Phat Lewtz

I'm headed to Singapore in a few hours, so this will probably be my last post for a couple of days. Seeing that the Christmas presents that I receive each year always make for a wonderful, wild and woolly assortment, I feel compelled to describe the madness that was waiting under the tree earlier this evening.

I'll ignore the usual stuff this year; every year there's usually somebody who gives me a shirt of some sort, and maybe a Parker ballpen (the last resort of the uncreative). This year, however, I got off easy — while I did get the expected shirt, it was of a color and design that was entirely wearable. Apart from that, there was a Scrabble dice game waiting for me, a pair of pajamas, some soap, a supply of chili-flavored sardines, and a belt with a copper crocodile etched on the buckle.

Those, in case you were wondering, were the mundane gifts. I've saved the most remarkable ones for your reading pleasure:

The Good: One of my best friends decided to give me a chess set. That alone should have been cause for celebration... but on top of that, it's a chess set made of hand-carved glass. With individually-stored pieces. In its own styrofoam packaging.

I'm extremely giddy about the possibility of displaying it on a coffee table somewhere, and actually playing a few games. I do have a couple of other chess sets around the house, but this is the first time I've owned something that implies a certain level of classiness and luxury with regards to my gaming hobbies. Do I need any other excuse to feel happy about owning one?

The Bad: I received a nice little office set from an acquaintance, which includes a little pencil holder, a handy refillable sheet of post-it notes, and a storage bin for paper clips. It also comes with a printed calendar, which would have been nice if it weren't for the fact that the dates are completely wrong. Yes, I do appreciate the gift — but it is kind of a downer that somebody would design a calendar that doesn't work.

The Weird: My siblings game me a cow. Unfortunately, no, it's not a stuffed toy... rather, it's a plastic cow bank where I can store my loose change.

Did I mention that it's about two feet wide, one foot square, and scares the living daylights out of my beanbag pikachu? I hate to imagine how I'm supposed to cart it around once it's full.

Oh, and did I mention that it moos whenever I put a coin into the slot?

Yes, that's right — it moos whenever I put a coin into the slot. We tried it out mere minutes after I opened the box. My sister took pictures. I will post them once I get my grubby little hands on her camera.

An hour after we finished opening our presents, I brought mine upstairs and started emptying my container of coins into the massive bovine. And for one moment just before midnight, the hills came alive with the sound of moosic.

I like the gift, mind you... it caters perfectly to my sense of humor, and I can show it around to people just so that they can get a good laugh. But for goodness' sakes, where am I supposed to put it? How many coins am I likely to feed it before I get completely sick of its audio mechanism? And how long will it be before the neighbors become quite unsettled with the incessant cow sounds?

Ah, well. It's Christmas anyway; they can afford to be generous.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Traveling Without Moving

In case somebody out there hasn't heard yet, I'm going to be in Singapore for a few days later this month. Thankfully, it's for leisure purposes, and seeing the hours I've been working lately, I look forward to scouring the bookstores over there for collectibles, rarities, and Things That Man Was Not Meant To Know™.

What that also means is that I've been busy for the last few days. Apart from organizing a good part of the vacation itself, there's also the matter of making sure that all obligations are completed and tied down so that the world can survive without me for about four days. That means talking to my backups, putting any and all emergency measures in place, and running a disproportionate number of errands that suddenly seem to be popping out of the woodwork this week. (Murphy has never been so accurate.)

For starters, I've had to pay the bills. Make no mistake about it — December is a really confusing time for bill payments. Most collectors will give you until the 20th of the month (or so) in order to make your obligations, but with my vacation and the strange holiday schema this year, I felt that it would be best to make sure that everything was squared away before my departure. Just to be certain that none of the utility services would be calling me while I was away, I threw in their payments for January as well... which was a decision that cost me something in the realm of the mid-thousands this month. (Yowtch!)

There was also the matter of making sure that the travel bags were filled, so I went on a supply run this weekend. This involved looking for the little itty-bitty necessities that we would need to bring along; Toothpaste being one example, razor blades another. This resulted in my spending the better part of an hour looking for a single toothbrush in the bowels of one of the local malls (a story for another time), as well as having to skulk around in various deodorant sections like an embarrassed criminal.

Then, there was the matter of my mileage program. Despite the fact that I applied for it three years ago, Philippine Airlines has not seen fit to acknowledge my presence (nor the existence of tons of miles earned from a previous trip to the United States), so I'm being forced to reactivate it all over again. What's even more absurd is that some indifferent encoder out there decided to enter my name as "Jean" instead of the correct "Sean", so the airline is now asking me to prove that I'm exactly who I say I am... which somehow involves dropping by their main offices a good hour's ride away. *Sigh*

I'd also describe my experience with the bank with regards to my travel funds, but the less said about those, the better.

My sister and I also spent the afternoon looking for canned goods and other gifts for our bakeshop's Christmas basket. If you haven't gone canvassing like this yet, then you haven't realized what an exercise in patience it is. In this case, we ended up lucky — we only had to run through the entire supermarket three times (one to check the prices, one to load the stuff, and one to fish around for missing items). The end result, of course, involved an overweighted shopping cart, an sizeable dent in our credit account (yowtch again), and the knowledge that we were going to spend the next couple of hours picking off a few hundred price tags. At least the end result was worthwhile, I suppose.

The interesting part, of course, is that I haven't even started packing yet — although I plan to do that tomorrow. I will need to pencil that in among a few other errands, though. For starters, I still have to give Philippine Airlines a piece of my mind. Then I have to visit my barber for a haircut that matches my passport photo better. (There was this little incident the last time I visited China, you see... and, well... ah, let's just leave it at that, shall we?)

For my first four days off work, I have yet to experience circumstances that even so much as make me feel like I'm taking a break. It's not nice, of course, and it's a little funny in the right light. But now... well, it's not so nice at the moment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Stuffed Up

The all-powerful committee handling the office Christmas party this year decided that they would go along with a "slumber party" theme, so tonight was a rather strange affair. About a third of the office came in "formal" sleepwear: various pajama tops and bottoms, bathrobes, and smoking jackets. Another third came in the house clothes that they normally slept in: old shirts, old shorts, baby tees, and a couple of sweatpants.

I was of the last third of the audience, and we were those people who were either so stiff or so embarrassed that we came to the office in full semi-formal attire, and then barely made a dint of effort at the spirit of sleepwear. I brought along a pair of bedroom slippers — albeit slippers that looked like giant monster feet — and spent the evening looking as though I had just stepped out of the lunatic asylum. (My feet got a few compliments, though.)

Three days ago, however, I found out that we were permitted to bring accessories. So I dug through my collection of stuffed toys and brought four rather familiar figures along for the ride. You probably know three of them as the Lion, the Raccoon, and the little yellow pocket monster; The fourth was a tiny green plush turtle that I received as a gift earlier this year.

To be honest, they weren't my first choice, if only because they're so small that they probably can't be taken seriously as plushies that you bring to bed with you. My first choice was actually the giant gray penguin that you see as my icon; unfortunately, my sister was adamantly against the idea for some reason.

As a result, the merry trio (and their turtle companion) spent about twelve hours inside my little office. Just for kicks, I took them out of my traveling case a few minutes after I arrived, and posed them around my desk to see what kind of reception they would get. Pretty much everybody noticed (as most of my officemates know about my small collection), although a few of them did ask me why they were sitting there.

The lion and the raccoon didn't get as much attention as I expected. A few people did recognize them from their earlier appearance on my blog, but they were left alone for the most part. Everybody seemed to point out the bean-bag Pikachu in one way or another, though, and I suspect that his namesake's fame had something to do with it. A couple of them even asked if they could borrow Pikachu to pose at their desks; I imagine that he made for an excellent stress toy today. The green turtle was a little more nondescript; it sat on top of my empty inbox like some sort of eager young paperweight.

As the day wore on, more people began borrowing the toys. Someone made the observation that the raccoon looked a bit intelligent and dignified (which matched my recent thoughts), and it was more interesting to pose on one's desk. The lion got some comments about his mane (which constantly gets tangled and matted), which eventually led into some conversation about alternate hairstyles. Nevertheless, the lion spent most of the day cradled in the arms of female officemates, which wasn't too bad a situation for him.

The Pikachu went from hand to hand as a definite stress toy; It was as though everybody wanted to squeeze him at least once. I don't know if there was a lot of pent-up frustration running around the office today, or if it's something about bean stuffing. I finally got hold of him near the end of the day, however, after which I set him aside to prevent any further squeezing.

The little green turtle was stuck looking over my shoulder for the entire day, so much that I contemplated naming it right then and there. (But no, I haven't thought of a name yet.)

At around six in the evening, I finally managed to gather all four of them back together for the Christmas party. I didn't have any plans for them beyond, say, mere accessories, but I figured that they would probably be right at home. The three-hour sleepwear-themed event turned out to be an extremely busy one, however, so they did stay put throughout the whole thing — I eventually lined them up along a single table so that they could just watch the action. We had a little bit of time once the proceedings were over, though, so while I searched for leftover pizza, Mr. Lion demonstrated to the others whatever thing he did that attracted the ladies so much.

All four stuffed toys arrived home completely safe and sound (except maybe for the Pikachu), and they're now back in their original places around the bedrooms. It's been a while since any of them has actually been outside the house, I suppose, so this was probably an interesting experience.

I have a couple of other plushies that I'd like to take on a field trip one of these days. There's the neon-blue teddy bear, for example, who sits on top of a DVD player all day and doesn't say a word. There's the husband-and-wife-pygmy-hippo duo as well, who definitely need a break from reading newspapers and seeing their marriage counselor. Then there's the Mogwai (who comes with stern instructions warning me to keep him dry at all times, and never to feed him after midnight). And of course, there's Trevor, who still sits at the edge of my bed, waiting for the day when he will kill me in my sleep.

Then again, maybe there's a good reason why I only brought those aforementioned four toys out of the house...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Teetotaller's Nightmare

Sometime during dinner tonight, my brother raised the fact that he was looking for something to get his godparents this Christmas. Wine was his current choice; it was formal, it was classy, and it would make a good statement for a godchild who was now a manager in the insurance industry. The only question involved what kind of wine was best for the occasion, and where he could pick it up.

"Why look for wine outside?" my mother asked. "We have a lot of it here."

Fifteen minutes' rooting around one of the cabinets revealed an unlikely trove. It seemed that other people had been similarly generous with us in the past, enough to have gifted us with various bottles of wine over the years. The irony, however, was that we were a non-drinking family: My mother avoids the stuff for her health, I swear off the alcohol because I hate the taste (and because of a delicate liver condition), my brother just plain refuses it, and while my sister tries the odd drink every now and then, those are more along the lines of commercial shandy and wine coolers than anything else. Simply put, we're not a family that drinks.

Nevertheless, it turned out that we'd amassed a small collection of eleven or twelve wine bottles over the years, all as gifts, raffle prizes, and/or tokens of appreciation in some form. And these were the proceeds from a single cabinet — I'm not quite sure what else was in any of the others.

Some of the labels, in fact, were actually peeling off by the time we got to them. My mother was the first to get hold of a bottle partially wrapped in silver foil and ask me how the word "chardonnay" was pronounced, after which she asked me if wine had an expiry date. (I rolled my eyes.)

The small collection was mostly comprised of red wine, a sample of white wine (the aforementioned chardonnay), a bottle of cider, something in a foreign language that none of us could read, and a lone container of soy sauce that looked completely out of place. I was surprised at the lack of sparkling grape juice (which was an obvious alternative for a non-drinking family), only to find that we had apparently set aside a different cabinet for those. I'm afraid to find out just how many samples we have of that.

This sparked a discussion of whether or not it was okay to re-gift wine. It could be some sort of social faux pas, I think, if we wrapped up a couple of other peoples' bottles to give to a few friends. We've done it for other things, I admit — toys and small appliances for the most part — but there may be an etiquettal restriction against wine. I'm just not sure.

Complicating things further was the fact that we didn't know where any of the wine came from. I mean, this isn't the kind of thing that comes with gift tags attached.

We were certain that none of the wine had come from my brother's godparents, though, and he was quite willing to set aside a couple of bottles for the re-gifting. We were highly unlikely to use it at all, we were even less likely to have house guests for which it could be served, and we didn't exactly looking forward to setting aside the needed space for the next few years.

So now my brother's doing some research as to exactly what the best method is for re-gifting gifted wine. I mean, we're not certain if we can just drop the stuff into a plastic bag, or if we need to tuck it into a small wooden crate stuffed with straw, or if we should just tie a brightly-colored ribbon around it and present it to a lucky recipient who'd be absolutely thrilled at our good taste.

Now if they only knew the truth. And if they only wouldn't get others to give us the same gifts in return...

Friday, December 12, 2008

...Feels Rushed

The title phrase seems to be the most common bit of literary criticism that I've been receiving lately: "The story is good, but the execution feels rushed." "The setup is unique and the characters are very original, but it feels rushed as a whole." "It looks like the author wrote this in all of thirty minutes or less."

There's a deep, dark, dirty secret to that, of course, and it's the fact that my stories have been quite rushed lately.

I work a rather tough job, to start with, and I've taken on a couple of new roles in recent months. Unfortunately, my predecessors and colleagues are almost all located in North America, which means that I've had to stay up late at night for a lot of meetings. That, coupled with a spate of real-life deadlines, has left me with precious little time to conceptualize, plot, and lay out a story. It's really been a question of spending more time at the office and less time playing with my mind. (Yes, the two of them are mutually exclusive at times.)

In addition, most of my writing has taken place here on this blog. I write my "serious" stories — the ones geared towards printed publications and worthwhile contests — on Microsoft Word 2003, usually after two or three days' worth of agony and rewritten drafts. In contrast to those, my blog stories are more "throwaway": I write them up with considerably less effort, with no obligation to follow a word limit or any setting constraints.

This is not to say that the stuff I write on this blog is of lower quality, of course. I am merely admitting that I use this blog as a perpetual "free-mind" exercise. As a result, you will see far more stories on this web site than you will see under my name in various publications... with the trade-off being that I make no guarantees with regards to their quality of execution here. You will find a diamond in the rough every now and then, but the works on this site obviously can't all be gems.

However, that means that I need to take a step back and take a critical look at the situation. I know that I've spent a lot of time recently coming up with short stories on the fly — I mean, I have ten examples from last month alone — and I think that I might need to regain some "serious" writing time. Fortunately I have some vacation leave coming up as a result of our glorious end-of-year holidays, so I might spend some portion of that trying to catch up on my old habits.

My recent "by-the-seat-of-my-pants" phase hasn't been a total loss, though. I suppose that I now know that I can wing it when the deadlines come knocking at my door. However, it's easy to fall into the trap of waiting till the last minute in order to write, and I suspect that I've been pushing that limit for a while now. It's literally time for me to sit staring at the computer screen for long hours again, knowing what it's like to agonize over the perfect phrase. And hey, I'm cool with that. Anything for me to improve, really.

And with a little luck, I'll get better reviews and see print in more venues next year. Like that's going to happen anytime soon. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Sean is standing in line at the Mongolian buffet table. He has a bowl of rice in one hand, and a pair of chopsticks in the other. In front of him is a woman of advanced age, who's navigating the meat section. The following conversation ensues.

Old Lady: Excuse me.

Sean: Yes?

O: (Points towards a tray of raw meat.) What's this?

S: (Glances.) Oh, that's the beef.

O: Thank you.




O: Excuse me, but what's this?

S: (Glances.) It's beef.

O: Thank you.



O: What's this?

S: (Glances, gives a curious look.) That's the beef.

O: Thank you.



O: What's this?

S: (Stares.) Beef.

O: Thank you.



O: Excuse me, but what's this?

S: (Completely exasperated by now.) It's the b... you know what? That's chicken.

O: Are you sure? It looks like beef.

says nothing, and just walks away.)


Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Author's Notes

First, I present a few statistics about the Ten/Thirty Project, because everybody loves statistics:

Total number of short stories: 10
Total number of short stories written during November: 8
Total number of short stories pulled from archives: 2 (one of which was rewritten)

Total number of words: 17,227 (About 34% of the expected NaNoWriMo output, which implies that I'd need to write the equivalent of 30 short stories — about one per day — in order to match the novelists.)
Average number of words per story: 1,722

Shortest story: Progenitor (807 words)
Longest story: Dinner for Two (3,375 words)

First named character introduced: Priscilla, from Just Think of the Children. (Yes, I wrote four stories before I got around to actually naming a character.)
Largest cast of main and supporting characters: Forecast. (Five total — Ben Waller, and each of the four elementals.)

And now, some individual notes on each of the works. I was taking on a couple of new roles at work during November, so I spent a good portion of my time in the office taking training from my contacts in the United States. This meant that I usually arrived home rather late on weekdays (close to midnight more often than not), which translated into some late writing time for these stories. As a result, you'll notice that the post times are usually set for the wee hours of the morning.

The late writing sessions also meant that I didn't have much time to establish plots beforehand, or even to resolve a good number of loose threads. I spent many hours writing in white heat this way, and often had to wrap up a story at three or four in the morning without benefit of a truly satisfactory conclusion. Sometimes I would read through a work the next day and be surprised at what turned out.

Ground Floor, Please
This piece was directly inspired by the bank of elevators resident in my office building, all of whom display odd facets of behavior. The resident elevator company is real as well; the only major deviation that I made up (apart from the guy who talks to elevators) was the nature of those elevators to served different floors... which was taken from another office building that I've visited.

This is also the first time I've written a short story from the given point of view. It feels a lot like a written letter, to be honest — in fact, with a bit of tweaking, it can easily become an honest letter to a building administrator. I felt that it would be best to include some (unseen) interaction into the story, however, because this would reflect audience disbelief. Assuming that I wrote this correctly, the readers' level of disbelief should move from incredulity to amusement to acceptance as it goes on.

I was surprised to find that this base plot had been considered before, because I certainly haven't read anything that even looks vaguely like this one. On the other hand, it's not exactly the sort of story idea that gets taken seriously.

I can't for the life of me remember why I chose to shelve this story. I know that I liked it a couple of days after I first wrote it (despite the somewhat indifferent reader reaction), but I don't remember why I never had this published in some form. Maybe I was busy at the time.

I think that I wrote this story in the middle of my "dating" phase, and that it came about as a result of the observation that most of the women I went out with had some sort of affinity for chocolate. I have no great love for chocolate myself, but I did give quite a bit of the stuff away. Ironically, this request for affection never seemed to work as well as expected — I could only assume that every single one of those nice young women was associated or fixated on a presumably more handsome young man at the time. Eventually I equated the prospect of chocolate with these invisible young men who were always beating me out of a potential relationship... and thus the story was born.

The Monk and the Tiger
I always wanted to try my hand at writing a fable-type story. The problem was that all the good moral lessons are taken, and it shows here.

I suspect that one of the primary inspirations for the story involved a South Asian project team that I was handling at the time; over the course of a week's worth of meetings, I became amazed at how truly unflappable they were — I could demand changes that would threaten their project schedule, and they would make them quickly without even so much as a word of complaint. (The fact that these were important security changes may have had something to do with it.) I'm fairly certain that the master's character in this story reflects how truly calm they were as a group.

Just Think of the Children
I once mentioned that one way to create stories was to take two elements that were completely unrelated to each other, and build a plotline based on their unlikely combination. In this case, the two disparate ideas just happened to be "Sushi restaurant", and "Santa Claus".

The immediate problem, however, was that while I could conceive of Santa Claus sitting at a misono table munching on a plate of unagi sashimi, I didn't think that that would constitute a story by itself. Eventually I concluded that the story didn't lie in the fact that Kris Kringle was eating sushi; it was in the fact that he was going to a Japanese restaurant for some reason. Maybe he was meeting up with a couple of friends. Maybe they were professional colleagues in the industry. Maybe they had some serious matters to discuss...

Ultimately, this gave rise to the characters of Leon the Boogeyman and Priscilla the Tooth Fairy, two characters unconnected to the traditional holidays because I wanted Santa's appearance to provide the twist at the end. I imagine that they would fight like that in real life, although I wouldn't expect Santa Claus to be an arbiter of sorts. No, that role would probably go to the Valentines' Day Cupid, who just happened to be on vacation leave at the time.

Suicidal Tendencies
I wouldn't be surprised if this was judged my worst work of the month, because I don't think of it as really story-worthy.

Some years ago, I attempted a NaNoWriMo-type experiment where I would write installments of a fifty-thousand word novel via blog posts. The result was Self-Termination Protocol, a work that went as far as 3,714 words before I got too busy to continue writing it further. I haven't touched it for a while, but I still read through the chapters every now and then and wonder if I can pull it off in the future. On a recent read, I found myself fixated on the following excerpt:

There was a knock at the door.

Serge ignored it, concentrating on his reflection and wondering if it was even worth the effort to pick up a toothbrush and clean his enamel whites. Nobody ever called on him this early in the morning, and if it was a business matter, the Force would probably have buzzed him over the neural-net instead.

There was another knock at the door.

Serge held the toothbrush between two dirty fingers, long enough to chuck it into the automatic waste dispenser. The flat steel cylinder made a humming sound as it chewed up what was left of his dental hygiene.

The idea of destroying your own toothbrush tickled me (I mean, what significance would dental hygiene have to a dying man?), and I wanted to see if I could pull off that same style again. This story for the Ten/Thirty project reflects that sentiment as a result. Unfortunately, I didn't have much material left by the time I hit three in the morning, so I just closed up the sutures and published it as it was. Maybe I'll find a way to fix it up later on.

I wanted a flash fiction entry for Ten/Thirty month, and I really wanted to see what I could do with a one-hundred-word limit. Unfortunately, the stories have a tendency to get away from me quite easily nowadays, and while this work ended up shorter than the others, it's still far longer than the one hundred words that I had planned for it.

If there's anything that I'm proud of for this story, it's the fact that it never names the identity of the speaker despite leaving some very obvious clues. Ironically, it uses the stereotype rather than the actual literary reference in order to identify him... which sometimes makes me wonder if I should have written about Igor instead.

This is the oldest of any short story that I've posted on this blog, and as I mentioned in the post itself, it was originally written as a script for a short comic that never got made. I was originally asked to contribute such a thing to a publication that never materialized, and in my search for ideas, I found myself trapped in a car under heavy rain in the middle of traffic one day. This got me wondering how a man would try to manipulate the weather, which gave me the first part of the story. Then I got to wondering what kind of man would want to manipulate the weather, and what kind of purpose it would fulfill. The obvious answers, of course, were "a weatherman", and "accurate weather reports".

As a comic script would have been too long to fit on this blog, I set about reformatting the work as a "proper" short story. I expected the process to take me about thirty minutes; it instead took me over two hours to do so, which meant that I might as well have rewritten the silly thing from scratch.

The Temporal Connection
This started as a second attempt at flash fiction, only for me to abandon the idea once it became evident that this would need a huge degree of subtlety in order to work. I could have brought in any number of strange changes that would indicate the shift in reality, but I only chose to show two of them: the sudden metamorphosis of each of the two characters. I suspected that putting in too many details would have ruined the surprise; part of this story's charm probably lies in Morgan's sudden temporal sex-change operation, which gave me a laugh at the end.

This is one of the few stories I write that has its inspiration in another creative work. In this case, it's The Wager, from Winston Rowntree's dark-humored "Subnormality" webcomic. I doff my hat to Rowntree's creativity here, and can only assume that he's as half-mad as the rest of us.

Observer's Sight
I wrote this story with a rather unique approach: I used a random six-card pull from the standard Talecraft deck, and cobbled together a plotlike scenario from there. I found myself forced to write something that would fulfill the conditions of both the Fantasy and the Mystery genre, with characters that would reflect a Reclusive Genius and a Competent Man, involving Blood and a Lock of Hair. (The hair ended up being a bit of a stretch.)

Fortunately, these elements were rather easy to combine, particularly Keldar and Bruni's comprehensive dual approach. The only problem I encountered was that it was difficult to compress a full-blown mystery into less than three thousand words; I'm actually happy that I didn't go overboard with this one.

Dinner for Two
Two of my rejected ideas from the month involved a minotaur and a gorgon, for some reason. I first wanted to write a story about Astarion (the original minotaur from Greek mythology), in which we learn the nature of his life in the labyrinth and his hatred of humanity (as well as his deep-seated mommy issues). Afterwards, I considered doing a similar approach from Medusa's point of view, in which we learn her sensual affinity towards stone and her mute desire for acceptance among the living world.

After spending a bit of time with both, I shelved both ideas because their stories would inevitably involve a lot of whining and self-pity. I wanted to make them sympathetic, but I didn't want to risk people hating them even more than was necessary. This, however, brought about the curious idea of giving them some sort of happy ending. And the first thing that came to mind was, "what if they went out on a date or something?" (Yes, my mind really does work this way.)

The best part, of course, involved all the little details about how a minotaur and a gorgon would interact with the modern world. A minotaur would be considered well-hung, for example, and a gorgon would have to wear a mask to prevent her from turning everything else to stone. I could work in all the little textual in-jokes that I could imagine, and on top of that, I could intersperse this with our mundane surroundings and have the audience just stare at the unlikely pair for the duration of their date. When the text started reading as though it had a good flow to it, I knew that I had something interesting on my hands.

My only regret, of course, is that I didn't have enough time to work their respective natures of existence into the ending; you expect it to have something to do with the fact that he's a minotaur and she's a gorgon, after all. That said, I have a hard enough time trying to imagine what the remainder of their evening will be like, and I leave that as an exercise to the reader.


Thus ends the Ten/Thirty project, and thus begins my return to "normal" blogging. This was a very interesting exercise (regardless of how late the nights got, or how bad the stories turned out), and I'll actually consider doing this again next year. I don't know how or why I would do it again, but ten more stories is too interesting a prospect to miss...

The Ten/Thirty Project

The Ten/Thirty Project was an effort that I performed last November 2008 in response to NaNoWriMo month. Because of the nature of my work and my writing experience, I am unable to find the time nor the inclination to plan and write a fifty-thousand-word novel. However, as I am in the perfect position to plot short stories, I instead decided to produce at least ten of them within a thirty-day period.

If you've read this before, then you're probably feeling a sense of déja vu right now. That's because I'm writing this post to act as a convenient index for these short stories. I'm glad to say that the original works and the lost pieces brought out of my archives allowed me to be successful at this endeavor.

I will be posting further notes and other interesting tidbits in a later blog entry, but for now, I leave the links for each of these ten short stories below:

Ground Floor, Please
The Monk and the Tiger
Just Think of the Children
Suicidal Tendencies
The Temporal Connection
Observer's Sight
Dinner for Two

If you liked or disliked any story out of these ten, please feel free to leave a note in the comments below. I'm curious as to which styles worked well, and which styles could stand a bit of improvement.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Disclaimer: December 2008

It's past two in the morning, and I'm tired.

One month ago, I promised in a disclaimer post that I would spend the whole of November trying to write at least ten short stories — original, unpublished short stories — in response to an inability to churn out fifty thousand words for a novel that my schedule cannot accommodate. Ten short stories is itself a challenge for someone who spends whole weekday evenings at the office talking to people from halfway across the world... but I felt that it was a more reasonable challenge that I could accomplish.

Now, many sleepless hours later, I've placed the finishing touches on the tenth one. Yay.

And yes, I've got notes coming on each of them. Just watch for this in a future post.

The mere fact that I've literally slaved over each and every one of these stories is basis for my disclaimers and pseudo-legal text. Moreover, the fact that I worked against an artificial deadline has no bearing on the legality of my demands: I worked hard on each and every one of these pieces, I put them together completely from scratch, and anyone who decides to take them from me and use them under their own names will be the recipient of a well-deserved and righteous beating.

But that isn't the essence of these disclaimers. No, the point of this constant feature is to remind people that there are original minds out there who can come up with these sorts of things. The fact they they choose to share these with you on the Internet does not mean that you can immediately do with them as you will. You must follow the guidelines set forth by their creators in order to ensure that they are used in the correct and proper context, with the right attributions. If these creators (and me) would come down harshly on any trespassers, it is because they represent a threat to our existence — the base realization that when anyone can steal our work, then it leaves us with no further motivation to keep creating new works.

And on top of all that, there is the constant question: As opposed to taking other peoples' works, why not come up with your own? You never know just how good you are until you try.

Now I go through the motions again, in case they are not familiar to you yet:

1. Everything written on this weblog is an original work as created by Sean, its owner and maintainer. The only exceptions are those items that belong to other creators, for which I am always careful to provide acknowledgments (often relating to footnotes or links to their online sites).

2. If you do not agree with the manner by which your material is presented on this weblog, you may simply contact me and cordially discuss how to resolve the situation. I neither want anything to do with the Varsitarian approach, nor do I want anonymous trolls pestering me — these moves will only succeed in irritating me more than I normally feel. I am a perfectly reasonable (and perhaps even generous) man, and I can adjust, remove or even provide compensation for articles as required. You just have to ask.

3. Similarly, you can also contact me if you want to use anything from this blog for any purpose. I will need to know the reason for which you need the work, and I will need to make certain that it is not used in a threatening, harmful, or out-of-context manner. I reserve the right to ask for compensation, but this is unlikely — I'll probably just request for acknowledgment and a link to this web site. As above, you just have to ask.

4. In case my above statement was not clear, I will note it again: Do not take anything from this site with the intent of using it under your own name. Do not take excerpts from this site with the intention of quoting them for malicious purposes. Do not quote any article here out of its original context. Contrary to popular opinion, altering or rephrasing select parts of a given work does not automatically make it your own; do not do this.

5. I support the Creative Commons License, which allows for free use of my material across the Internet under the stipulations that I have given both above and below. There is a link to my reserved tenets at the bottom of my right-hand sidebar on this site, which offers me a form of legal protection in exchange for my adherence.

Now I'm really tired, and if you'll excuse me, it's time that I got some sleep.

As this will be my last disclaimer for the year, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. Hopefully we don't do anything that will eventually give us coal in our stocking this year.