fiction, humor, philosophy, science

A Tale of Two Kitties

In Dickens’ tale, Madame Defarge is obsessed with vengeance.  The characters in our tale have different obsessions.  One of them is with understanding the code used to knit the fabric of reality.
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When they called for weird stories to be submitted for Volume 2 of The Rabbit Hole, the editors suggested science and/or weather and/or entertainment as themes.  While the suggestion was not a requirement, many of the writers who responded did use those themes.  In particular, You’re Not Late has great synergy between weather and an aspect of science other than weather forecasting.  Maybe there are other great synergies; it will take me a while to read all the stories in RH-2.

Modern scientific theories are also stories, of a special kind.  Tho hard to read w/o wrangling equations, they are gloriously predictive and useful.  (U don’t need hard copy to read this post.)  They are also weird.  As the editors remark in the preface:

The stories are weird because life is weird; all these stories do is cross the boundary of our logic and assumptions, fetch a few samples from whatever lies beyond, and bring them back for you to see.  Just as explorers did in ages past, and scientists do today.
 

Back in 1935, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger told a story to illustrate the weirdness of quantum theory.  The story eventually became a celebrated meme, and here is yet another celebration:

Ode to Schrödinger’s Cat
|Schrödinger’s cat
|is both skinny and fat;
|both dead and alive
|(past age seventy five);
|both purring and hissing
|(while measurement’s missing);
|both mewing and yowling
|(while Einstein is howling).
|Schrödinger’s gone,
|but his cat carries on
|with a Cheshire cat grin
|at the pickle we’re in.

cheshire-cat

Hmmm.  Saying that the cat is “both dead and alive” is a common (and admittedly oversimplified) shorthand for the statistical limbo called “superposition of states” in quantum theory.  Here is a closer approximation to what the theory actually says:

If the box is opened now, there is a certain probability P_q (which we can approximate) that the cat will be observed to be dead, along with the complementary probability 1-P_q that the cat will be observed to be alive.  Before the box is opened, it makes no sense to say that the cat is “really” dead or alive.
 

Despite having a deterministic philosophy, Einstein had no qualms about common-sense probabilities:

The cat is really dead or alive, but we don’t know which.  From what we do know, we can compute an approximate probability P_c of the cat being dead now and an approximate probability 1-P_c of the cat being alive now.
 

Greenish-BunnyIs the clash between quantum theory and common sense just something for novice philosophers to argue about?  Nope.  To see why, we don’t need the nasty gadgets in Schrödinger’s story.  We need two kittens from the same litter, in separate boxes some distance apart.  We also — ah — ah — ACHOO!  The cat dander is ticking off my allergy.

Never mind.  There is a short humorous allegory about this stuff in my story Entanglements, with petting but no pets.  Spoiler alert: quantum theory wins.

Getting You’re Not Late and Entanglements and 27 other stories is easy.  Just buy RH-2.  To consider buying it from Amazon as either a printed book at $11.50 or an e-book at $2.99, click here.  To consider buying an e-book from other retailers at $2.99, click on the rabbit.

To see the Disney version of the Cheshire cat do its thing, U can get to a video on Facebook by clicking on the cat’s image here.  Clicking twice on the cat’s image there will start the video, but only buying RH-2 will get U to the 29 weird stories.

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fiction, humor, serendipity

Time Warp in 2019

A little of the best from the past will come back in the near future, aided by the release of the second annual volume of “The Rabbit Hole” (an anthology of weird stories).
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For several years before and after 1960, I watched many episodes of the TV shows The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  The best of them were imaginative and well-crafted, not just weird or scary.  Some episodes had ironic twists or clever ways of conveying hints about how to cope with a nasty world.  Some endure on YouTube.

Memories of those old shows resurfaced when I read some of the shorter stories in The Rabbit Hole, Volume 2.  (Will wait until I have the ink-on-paper version of RH-2 before reading the whole thing.)  The ambiance and a few details in two stories were strong triggers: … Puppet Theater … for The Twilight Zone and Carpaccio for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Various kinds of humor often appeared in those old shows, and RH-2 continues that tradition.  The humor in RH-2 can be cynical (as in A Towering Tale), dark (as in The Service Call), or light (as in The Apple Cosmos and Entanglements).  In old shows and new book, the humor is more than just giggles at pratfalls.

Click here to find out how to preorder RH-2 at a discount from Amazon.  (For other retailers, click on the image below.)  Don’t worry if U miss the discount.  Both the e-book and the printed book will still be quite affordable after the release on 2019-10-01, and there are plenty of other things to worry about.

Rabbit Hole Vol Two cover

Serendipity in 2019: I got this post’s image for The Twilight Zone from the web page announcing the show’s revival with streaming technology.  But I settled for a discontinued tee shirt design that approximates my vague memory of the logo for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Whatever works.

Buddhism, fiction, humor, language

Live in the present.  Write there too.

The ancient advice is still good.  Live mostly in the present, with enough dwelling on the past to serve specific purposes like learning from mistakes.  Also good is the much more recent advice to write fiction in the present tense, unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense.

Zen lore includes some stories with endings of the form

At that moment, __________ attained enlightenment.

Fill in the blank with the name of somebody who studied Zen for some time and finally saw the light when his teacher said or did something outrageously weird.

While my story Satori from a Consulting Gig does not presuppose any knowledge of Zen lore, it does have a surprise ending (partly inspired by those Zen stories) with my own way to fill in the blank.  Using the past tense in my story’s last sentence helps make the allusion to Zen lore clear to those who might care about it.

Did I choose to write my story in the past tense because I planned to end it that way?  Not consciously.  I just set out to write a short story.  I’ll write some fiction.  I’ll use the customary past tense.  Doesn’t everybody?

Not quite.  I got over 16 million hits when I googled

present tense vs past tense fiction

much later, in preparation for writing this post.  Before discussing some pros and cons that are out there (and some that may be new), there is a little more to be said about my story’s tense situation.

Rope fraying

© S. Silver | 123RF Stock Photo

My story was written for an anthology whose editors asked the contributors to supply blurbs.  I wrote a blurb in the same tense as the story, then noticed that other contributors wrote blurbs in the present tense for stories in the past tense.  Why?  I found the inconsistency troubling.

Another contributor (Sue Ranscht) kindly remarked that the present tense “creates a punchier tease” in blurbs than the past tense does.  Indeed.  Why not make the actual story (not just the blurb) be as vivid and engrossing as it can possibly be?  Unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense, why not write in the present tense?

§1: Perilous Present

Written in the present tense, my newer story Entanglements begins with

Squatting over the airport, a thunderstorm supercell demolishes …

Yes, the word demolishes might be misread as (a typo for) demolished.  Yes, the reader might be a little disoriented at first.  Worse, the reader might suspect that gimmicky writing is camoflage for weak content.  Such concerns loom large in a thoughtful page that recommends using the past tense by default and the present in some special cases.  We can agree on the bedrock principle that one size does not fit all, even as we disagree amicably on where to draw some lines and how strongly to weight some concerns.  That’s a respite from the train wreck of contemporary politics.

Dunno how 16 million hits in my Google search compares with how often the present tense has actually been used in good stuff.  As good uses accumulate, the prudential reasons for defaulting to the past tense will gradually weaken.  Of course, there will always be people who believe that the earth is flat, the moon landings were faked, and

Thou shalt write fiction in the past tense.

came down from Mount Sinai with Moses.

§2: Perilous Past

Readers (and writers!) may not be native speakers of English.  As with many other aspects of language, English is exuberantly irregular in how it forms the past tense.  People learn the past tense of a verb later (and less thoroughly?) than they learn the present tense.  Can U hear the rumble of an approaching storm?

When offline (or distrustful of Google Translate), Pierre consults his French/English dictionary.  How can he say prendre in English?  No problem.  Just say take.  But Pierre is writing in the customary past tense.  Neglecting to look up take in the other half of the dictionary, he says taked where he should say took.

Consider 3 common ways that verbs ending in -it can form their past tenses: hit/hit, pit/pitted, and sit/sat.  Quick now: knit/knit or knit/knitted?  Shit/shit or shit/shat?

There are a few verbs with 2 ways to form the past: an irregular usual way and a regular way for a special usage:

  • Starting a road trip, the team flew out to Chicago.
    Swinging at the first pitch, the batter flied out to left field.
  • The picture was hung in a prominent place.
    Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy on 1776-09-22.

This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.

§3: Perilous Past Perfect

Pierre is back.  The draft of his story has a short paragraph about some taking that happened at an earlier time.  Not fond of flashbacks, he has a good reason to put this paragraph as late as it is, not earlier in the narrative.

Sadder but wiser after being corrected by a ten-year old whose first language is English, Pierre refrains from writing had took for the past perfect for the verb take.  He looks up the actual past participle and writes had taken.

Pierre’s pluperfect paragraph is grammatical but clunky.  What to do?  Rewrite the main narrative in the present tense and the clunky paragraph in the past.  That will be a chore, but such a clear and distinct idea deserves the effort.  Descartes would approve.

§4: John and Jane Get Tense

John has been writing screenplays that often use flashbacks.  Now he wants to write a novel and still likes flashbacks.  He realizes that readers would be confused if nothing but a paragraph break separates what the characters do and experience “now” (from their viewpoint) from the start or end of a flashback.  There is a lot of sensible advice out there about things like narrative transitions to and from flashbacks, but John wants to stay closer to his cinematic roots.  He uses the present tense for the main content and the past tense for the flashbacks.  If he also switches to a noticeably different font for the flashbacks, that might be enough in most places (after narrative transitions for the first few flashbacks).

Jane has been writing historical fiction and using the past tense to make it look like history.  Now she wants to write fiction with a first-person narrator and package it as a rather one-sided conversation with an implicit listener.  She plans to keep the past tense for the main content and add some present-tense remarks, often in response to what the listener has presumably just said.  The present-tense remarks will be frequent and incongruous.  The narrator will tell a self-serving version of a sequence of events in the past tense while accidentally revealing the darker and/or funnier truth in the present tense.

I warned Jane that readers (especially impatient thick-headed guys like me) may just take the narrator to be ditzy and bail out early.  But Jane is game to try.  If she does make it work, I know a good place to submit her story.

§5: Recurring Rabbit

Rabbit-Hole_Worried-Rabbit
The Rabbit Hole is a series of anthologies of weird stories, with a troika of editors.  Volume 1 came out in 2018, Volume 2 is scheduled to come out on 2019-10-01, and the editors hope to continue annually.  Maybe Jane can contribute to Volume 3.

My story Satori from a Consulting Gig in Volume 1 is just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought the book for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

While every extended narrative in Volume 1 uses the customary past tense, Volume 2 will have at least two stories told in the present tense.  No, the editors’ fondness for weird stories does not extend to a fondness for weird writing.  As originally submitted for Volume 2, my story Entanglements did have some weird writing at the end that seemed unavoidable to me.  One of the editors (Curtis Bausse) suggested a strategy for avoiding the unwanted weirdness, and the strategy worked.  There was no fuss at all about my use of the present tense.  That is as it should be.

fiction, humor

Weird Works Wanted in 2019

If my excerpt from a call for submissions sounds interesting, please consider submitting a story or some poetry.  (Previously published work is OK if the author retained the rights.)  This post ends with visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny.
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If the following excerpt from a call for submissions sounds interesting, please don’t lament having missed the deadline in 2019.  The intrepid editors plan to put out an anthology of weird stories (or poems) each year.  (Previously published work is OK if the author retained the rights.)  This post ends with a few visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny.

The Writers’ Co-op invites submissions of short stories (and poems) for the second edition of our yearly anthology, The Rabbit HoleVolume one was released in November last year, volume two is scheduled for September 2019.

This year, we are looking for weird stories dealing with the following themes: entertainment, weather or science.  (If you want to combine all three, we’re very open to stories about a group of scientists on their way to the theatre when they’re caught in a freak snowstorm.)  However, there will also be a section Weird At Large for stories that don’t fit the specific themes suggested.

• • •

The deadline is 31st March 2019.  Submissions should be sent in an attached file to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com with the subject ‘Co-op submission’.  They may have been previously published on personal websites (or elsewhere) but authors must have full rights to them when submitting.  Authors will retain said rights after the story or poem is published in the Writers’ Co-op anthology.

The call for submissions describes the many kinds of weirdness suitable for the anthology.  While definitely not required, humor is encouraged.  For visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny (and sometimes thought-provoking), those whose memories of works like the classic Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson have faded can look at some of the Bizarro cartoons by Dan Piraro.  The following images are also links to the pages where they appear and are discussed:

Bizarro_girm-reaper-gondolier

Bizarro_road-sign -tropies

fiction, humor, photography

Wondrous Weirdness — Why Am I Here?

The first edition of a new yearly Writers’ Co-op anthology is a little like a great surrealist painting by René Magritte, and that helps answer the question posed by the subtitle.
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The subtitle’s question is rhetorical, not an ancient conundrum.  Nearly all of the prose I read or write is nonfiction.  Why am I posting (for the third and final time) about a book of weird stories rather than about something in the endlessly fascinating Real World?

The tweetable answer begs the question.  Sure, I wrote one of the 35 stories.  (Click here to see blurbs for some of them.)  But why did I get involved in a substantial fiction project?  The answer is some nonfiction weirdness.

The call for submissions grabbed me in 2 ways:

  • Contributors could opt (as many indeed would) to have their shares of any royalties donated to the Against Malaria Foundation.
  • While weird things are often disturbing (when not merely weird), the call was emphatic about the possibility of being weird and funny (or even weird and funny and disturbing, all at once).

Hmmm.  Could some of the stories in this anthology be simultaneously weird and funny and thought-provoking?  Could they be a little like some of the best surrealist paintings?  The following photo doubles down on the idea behind a great painting by René Magritte:

gecko-not_840x1212

Seduced by the call for submissions, I took up the challenge of revising a fragment of weird fiction from a discussion of several poems (and comments) that involved various people, so as make a standalone short story that would be broader and even weirder.  After another revision in light of helpful comments from one of the editors (Atthys Gage), I believe that my story is good as well as weird.  It is also just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought The Rabbit Hole for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

Do U have 0.5% of your Amazon purchases donated to a charity by Amazon Smile?  Thru 2018-11-02, the percentage will be 5% instead.

BTW, gecko lizards really can climb straight up hard, smooth walls.  Weird.  But they don’t speak with an Australian accent or tout insurance.  Not in this universe, anyway.

Providing a brief writer’s bio for the anthology prompted me to revise this blog’s grossly outdated About page.  The revised page has a new joke, a few links, and a nice photo.  A nice photo of me would be really weird, so the photo is of something else appropriate.

My other short forays into fiction are also weird.  Both are about an ancient Greek (but written in modern English): Plato watches baseball and copes with a hangover.

fiction, humor

Wondrous Weirdness — Worried Wabbit

The [Menu] button (atop the vertical black bar) reveals widgets like the Search box.  Typing just the [Enter] key into the Search box is a way to browse WordPress blogs.

Rabbit-Hole_Worried-Rabbit
Our little friend is worried.  Mistaken for Bugs Bunny by Elmer Fudd’s hired hit man, (s)he was on the run for a while.  There was no chance to pause for rational thought about whether to get the prerelease discount on The Rabbit Hole by ordering the e-book before 2018-11-01.  Yes, being big on rationality is weird for a rabbit.  Some weirdness rubbed off when (s)he posed for the cover of the book, but there is still plenty inside.

The upside of ordering early is that (s)he could save $1; the downside is that (s)he would be trusting promotions like my previous post.  Should (s)he wait for a chance to use something like [Look Inside] on Amazon?  After release, the e-price would still be low at $2.99, and the ink-on-paper version would be an option at $12.50.  Decisions, decisions.

Maybe our little friend will feel better after reading blurbs for some of the 35 stories, ordered as in the book:

  • Foggy
    A father and daughter’s boating trip is ambushed by a mysterious, underwater tormentor.
  • I Should’ve Known Better
    There’s just one thing wrong with his beautiful luxury apartment: it’s a transdimensional portal.  Will the Flying Demon Things get him before he gets one of the centaur Babes?
  • The Scroll and the Silver Kazoo
    You never know who (or what) will show up at an open mic event.
  • Quicksilver Falls
    A mysterious phenomenon puts the future of the world in the hands of a simple Indiana farmer and sparks the world’s strangest writing competition.
  • Satori from a Consulting Gig
    Management consultant Frank Dow has a new client: God.
  • The Adventures of Conqueror Cat
    Herr Trinket (a sharp-eyed and even sharper-tongued shelter cat) traverses an interdimensional rabbit hole into poochlandia to explore the enduring dog-cat dichotomy.
  • Eggs On End
    Claudia had a secret: she was ordinary – agonizingly, mind numbingly ordinary.  But all that was about to change.  And it would all begin with eggs.
  • Life Changing
    Lawrence decides to exercise his brain to avoid his Alzheimer-stricken mother’s fate, but when his life twists beyond recognition, he can’t escape the possibility that lost minds must be somewhere.
  • Carolina Brimstone
    The passion of the zealot is proportional to the power of the demon inside.  Constance Hennfield’s fervor knows no bounds.

 

fiction, humor

Wondrous Weirdness — Prerelease Discount

The [Menu] button (atop the vertical black bar) reveals widgets like the Search box.  Typing just the [Enter] key into the Search box is a way to browse WordPress blogs.

The first volume in a new Writers’ Co-op anthology series will be released on 2018-11-01:

Rabbit-Hole_840x1267

An e-book version can be preordered now by clicking on the image and then clicking on the button for your platform.  On the release date, the e-price will rise from $1.99 to $2.99.  There will be good news then also: oldsters like me will be able to buy the physical ink-on-paper version from Amazon.

For 3 of the 4 platforms reached from the link to The Rabbit Hole, the platform’s page has a nice summary of the contents and spirit of the anthology:

How do you like your weirdness?  A subtle nudge towards the untoward?  A quick zap of zany?  Or a full-on assault of aberration?  Whatever your taste, you’ll find it here, and many more strains of strange that you didn’t suspect existed.  From magic rain to a talking (severed) head, extraordinary eggs to belligerent birds, the stories in this collection enter the rabbit hole to explore its hidden corners and winding ways.  Through all the variety, what they have in common is originality, creativity and fine writing.

While I will wait for hard copy before reading the whole thing, I really have read several of the stories (not just the one I contributed).  I solemnly swear (or affirm) that the following paragraph is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Rabbit Hole‘s first edition has 35 diverse selections by 35 authors.  Anybody with a taste for weirdness has a good chance of finding some things they like.  Moods are as varied as lengths, which run from 1 to 17 pages (with 7.6 as the average).  There is humanity and humor as well as some darkness and much weirdness.