Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Shark Cafe" is Abroad

This weekend my flash "Shark Cafe" is appearing over at Karen Berner's blog. Of all the absurdism I've ever written it might be the piece of which I'm most proud, because it never gives into how ridiculous a restaurant specializing in hot brewed shark is.

How do you brew shark? Is it immoral? What are the dangers of shark deficiency? All these questions and more are largely ignored at this link.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Drowning World Turtle

Nowadays it’s impossible to imagine the world without apocalypses. The imps built palaces in the sky to rule from above and were dashed by comets. The gremlins thought it was their turn, built automatons to do all the heavy lifting for their empire, and the autos turned on them. An electrical storm reduced the autos to blank statues, humanity thought it was finally their turn, and in the middle of a perfectly nice day reality ripped open the sauropods came back. It’s as natural as seasonal cycles. Yet if you consult the oral legends of the oldest races, the centaurs and the nine-legs, and the remaining records of the gremlins, you find common references to a First Apocalypse.

All land once floated on the back of a World Turtle, which swam either among the stars or in what today we call the oceans. A big son-of-a-something, and healthy, such that all the world’s plants grew from its shell. Since it was green, most of the flora were forests. Thick jungles that consumed lumbering beasts, toughening the sauropods and cyclopes, so that all life was hardy, ruled under the Four Gods.

And there were gods, captains of this Great Ship World Turtle. One would wander down to its slippery head and whisper, “I feel like inventing ‘East’ today. Find a new direction and name it that.” And it would comply, because turtles are prone to peer pressure.

So one day the Goddess of the Sky climbed down the World Turtle’s neck and whispered, “You notice that yellow thing up there that makes days possible? Swim over to that. I want to know what it’s like.”

Then she climbed up to the highest point on the World Turtle’s shell for the best view of the sun. But while she mounted, the God of the Depths climbed down the World Turtle’s neck. He whispered, “That nasty thing’s hot. How about we dive? See what’s under the waters of the world?”

Then he scampered off to the apex of the shell, expecting to get the best view of his desires. Yet as he ascended, the Goddess of Mystery rode the rivers between the plates of the World Turtle’s shell down to its ear. She cupped its beak and whispered, “Why did we ever start going forward? We never saw all of what was at the beginning of creation. Can’t you go backwards for just a few eons so I can see everything back there?”

To the World Turtle’s credit, it both began to dip under the waves while it about-faced, seeming to concede to two demands at once. Upturning so dumped a thousand sauropods into the surf and enraged the God of Boldness, who had been teaching them beach sports. He tumbled down the World Turtle’s slope, jabbing a javelin into its scalp to hold on.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he chastised. “We’re making headway. We might see where creation ends if you just kept the bearing. We need to find what else is out there.”

The Goddess of Mystery hadn’t yet departed, and so contested his virtue. Their argument whirled into a tempest, the ferocity of which was only split when the Goddess of Sky and God of the Depths coming roaring down at each other. The desires of the four were irreconcilable, and none were willing to go second. They argued for so long that some of the lesser critters had to develop free will just to go on living, and they would have kept going forever if the World Turtle hadn’t stopped. Its continental body drifted, listless, unable to obey so many commands.

The Four Gods quit its head, unable to argue the World Turtle into submission with three dissenters. After it became obvious none could coerce each other, they split separate ways. That’s why none of them had alibis.

Tragedy struck at dusk. Jungles suddenly wilted to nothingness. The continental shell cracked and powdered into soil. Countless species died from the sudden shock of our world being born. Mortals rushed to the great head and found it dangling under the tide. Someone had drowned the World Turtle.

There were only four capable of such feats, though no one saw which God did the deed. Sky accused Depth, Depth accused Mystery, Mystery suspected Boldness, and Boldness pointed fingers at them all. They dragged each other to Celestial Court and have spent all known history simultaneously arguing four homicide cases. It is very difficult to out-argue someone who is nigh-omniscient and exists outside time; more difficult still to reconcile four such people who are all intentionally playing obtuse for argument’s sake. Allegedly we’ll know when they reach a verdict, as they’ll restore order to this world – or it’ll be another apocalypse.

For the cyclopes, sauropods and other beings, it was a confounding dusk. There was all beloved life, drifting on a dead turtle, with no supervision from the Gods, and mildly curious how their fellow surviving life-forms tasted. It’s small wonder things went wrong after that.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

PayPal Backs Off Censoring Erotica

At last, some good news in publishing this week: PayPal has backed off its pressure on Smashwords over erotica. Previously they had threatened to pull functionality from Smashwords if they continued to sell certain kinds of erotica, or refuse to process payments related to those works. According to Smahwords-boss Mark Coker on their blog, PayPal will not segregate against any form of legal fiction.
Even if your way is with a St. Bernard.

Coker bravely and wisely aired this topic on the net for weeks. The official Smashwords blog became a chronicle of every development in his struggle with PayPal, letting people know in detail the censorship that was at risk and changes of people’s favor. Generous to his clientele, Coker credits activists and authors who spread the issue’s prominence with convincing PayPal to back down. I suspect there’s more to it, though, and would pretty happily buy a book on how negotiations went up to this settlement. We can’t undervalue the tactics and appeals that work in convincing independent bodies about issues like censorship.

This is an important precedent, for if Coker really negotiated with the biggest electronic-era payment service to not press moral issues like this, then operators of smaller services will be less likely to challenge publishers, since they have less a chance of winning, and additional chances of simply forking business over to a bigger competitor.

One still marks the grim flipside: that PayPal’s operators ought to have the right to choose what transactions they facilitate. By “winning” and coercing them to continue services, Smashwords has won for the rights of authors, but hopefully not discouraged the rights of business owners. I’m inclined to overlook this because PayPal’s operators were convinced of their own will – though for anything more specific, again, we might need a journalist to write us a book.
Dana Carvey does not necessarily endorse "Daddy" incest-porn.
Paul Biba and other bloggers complained of our cultural double-standard, some mistakenly thinking it merely Puritanical. It’s not. It doesn't take Church Lady to be grossed out by rape-porn, and anthropology and ethnology have revealed that hunter-gatherers killed in public and rutted in private. The different handling of sexuality and violence is as old as society. Of course it keeps showing up, especially when we broach fringe issues, which encompassed all of PayPal’s targets.

To some degree this was about double-standards, but in a vital way it wasn’t: liberty of fiction is an All-or-Nothing game. Either authors are allowed to write fiction about anything, or they’re not. Either the right exists or it doesn’t. It’s that terrifyingly simple. Either you can write incestual smut, or you don’t actually have freedom of expression – just temporary allowances based on the tastes of others.

There’s never been a year in my adult life when I haven’t thrown a book across the room, but I’d never ban their publication. Seeing the markets support that notion is heartening. Sometimes, especially with recent motions of the Big Six, Department of Justice, and Amazon, you can forget the markets ever move in positive directions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bathroom Monolgue: Cost of Normal

It means getting up early, but he'll soak in Epsom salts for half an hour before anything else. When he lies in the tub he'll take the first cocktail of pills, letting them digest on an empty stomach long before breakfast. He'll eat breakfast lying down because sitting up is so taxing, and he has so much sitting ahead of him. So much sitting, so much standing, so much carrying that no one else seems to think about. He'll think about it as he swallows the second cocktail and fastens on his back brace over his bare skin. The back brace is always under a t-shirt, which is always under a jacket, even in Spring, so that no one will see it. They will see him stagger, and some will catch him wheezing. They will mock him as a smoker, or a feeb, or a freak, meaning none of it, none of them caring about the truth. The utter ambivalence of his fellow children allow him to fit in, pretending to be normal. He will keep doing this every morning. It's only two more years to graduation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: The Difference Between Alligators and Crocodiles

When the bait came loose, Mrs. Hardin reeled the line back up and jabbed another steak onto the hook. She had an entire bucket of them and wouldn’t share a one, even though I’d smuggled a hibachi in my rucksack.

I looked across the swamp; so far the meat hadn’t attracted more than gnats.

“You sure that’ll fetch an alligator, Mrs. Hardin?” I asked.

She spooned some cow drippings around the side of our raft with all harpoons. “Crocodile, Maya. We’re hunting crocodiles.”

“Well now what’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?”

As though to answer, a scaly back rippled through the film of the swamp. It swished a needlessly long tail as it swam toward our raft, which suddenly felt far too small.

“Crocodile tried to eat my husband, Maya.” Mrs. Hardin picked up a harpoon in one hand and a shotgun in the other. She waited at the end of the raft, stirring the bloody waters with double-barrels. “An alligator’s what actually did it.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Novel is Done... Are The Bathroom Monologues?

This photo by Tom Woodward via Wikimedia

The beast is slain anew. At 489 pages in the preposterous Standard Manuscript Format, The House That Nobody Built has now gone off to theta readers. I've collapsed paragraphs, goosed dialogue and re-wrote whole chapters based on the generous feedback of my original beta reading crew, and presently can't improve the draft any further. It's up to outside sources to get me the rest of the way to what I earnestly believe will be the best thing I've ever produced.

One reason I can't improve it any further is that the old Writer's Exhaustion is looming again. The agitation has stirred up my neuromuscular syndrome to disturbing degrees, and at the urgency of some smart people, I'm going to claim a victory on the book and take a little time off. It's a good opportunity to read Ursula K. LeGuin and P.G. Wodehouse for the first time.

I've tried to keep the compositional process open, since there seem to be so many readers who are interested in how work gets done. I'm happy to field any questions, especially the embarrassing ones. I nearly led this post with a photo of all the rewritten chapters printed out, marked up in various colored pencils, and rearranged on my bed. That may show up later.

Because I keep my process open, I want to ask you folks about this site. I've managed to keep it going daily for over three years with over 1500 pieces of fiction, even during surgeries, cancer scares and novels. Recently I've been wondering how much longer I can keep it up, especially if the novels take off, and how much my readership really wants new Bathroom Monologues every day.

I've added a new poll to the site. Please be as honest as you can, and don't spare my feelings. How often do you visit? Do you enjoy what you read here? Enough to pass it on? Is there something you wish I'd provide but don't, or something I do provide that you wish were more frequent?

I assure you that the Bathroom Monologues are not going anywhere. It's just that, especially with my latest health scare, I want to take stock. Thank you all for all you are.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Ethical Rig, OR, Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?

It's a well known fact that a man is entitled to the sweat of his brow. But in societies of advanced capitalism, a man (and many women) engage in enterprises of the multi-brow variety. The farm-owner who creates fifty jobs may not perspire much, yet is he not entitled to the sweat carried out in his operation, on his property, by workers who only perspire because he invented the niche in which they toil? Naturally he does. Yet how is he to collect his share of their mutual salty solution? That is where our product comes into play. Through advance polymer technology, the Ethical Rig has automated dispatachable arm-units that will track every employee in an establishment, and at periods set by the owner, will lower a polymer bin across their foreheads and scrape away a pre-set percentage of perspiration. The busy businessman need only punch in a few numbers and trust that his employees' brows will be divided of their sweat ethically and scientifically. And because the Ethical Rig is neither sentient nor biological itself, it will never sweat and thus will never require rights to the profits of its brow. All it is concerned about is keeping your sweat stockpile at the desired temperature.
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