Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blast From the Past

The thing about the net is this -- it keeps everything.  Maybe it's an old photo of you in a schoolgirl outfit and a Richard Nixon mask with an aquarium full of ferrets balanced on your head (okay, maybe that's just me).  Maybe it's the complete record of an ill-advised flame war in which you were a combatant back in 1999.  Maybe it's that old high school yearbook picture someone on Facebook keeps reposting.

In my case, it's a short story I sold way back in 2004 to a webzine named Abyss&Apex.

The story is called The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree.  You can still read it, for free, seven years after it was posted.  Abyss&Apex is still going strong.

This is one of the few stories I set in the so-called real world.  It's about two white kids befriending a mysterious black man in 1970s Mississippi.  Yeah, there are ghosts.  Everything I write has ghosts.  A therapist should probably address that, someday.

I just re-read DD Dupree again today, mainly to see if something I wrote seven years ago would make me first cringe in horror and then hide under the desk in shame.  Surprisingly, it doesn't.  My writing has changed in the last seven years, but that's a pretty good story.

If you've gone and read the story, you might be interested to know that the character Wade Lee was based on a real man, who was really missing both legs and an arm.  He lost them the same way the Wade Lee in the story lost his -- they were torn off by a corn picker.  And the real Wade Lee lived in a tiny shack exactly like the one in the story.

The Browny Woods are based on a real place, too.  The real location has no name, but I could take you to it, and I think you too would feel the same creepy sense of  being watched, of being asked for something, that I always felt there.

The grease truck man?  Also based on a real person.  I worked at a deli as a kid, and we emptied spent fryer grease into a huge barrel behind the store.  It vanished, twice a month, in the dead of night, whisked away to parts and fates unknown.

So if you're bored and you've got a few minutes to kill, here's a blast from the past, entitled The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Brief Blast of Summer

From the looks of things, we're all fairly sick of winter.

I am.  As much as I loathe the unrelenting heat and merciless humidity of a Mississippi summer, I'm ready to trade in cold rain and lingering snow for heat prostration and chiggers.

So, for anyone else ready to bid farewell to short dim days and long cold nights, here are a few reminders of what's in store for us, a few short months from now.

I call the image above 'The 4th of July.'  Mainly because I took it on the 4th, at the big fireworks show here in Oxford, right on the edge of campus.  I took this shot with a Pentax K1000 film camera, ASA 400 film, and I held the shutter open manually with a cable.  I got lucky and got the explosion, and got very lucky and caught the spectators too, in all their blurry glory.  Long live film, baby!

The next shot is from Cade's Cove in Tennessee.  Those are the Great Smokey Mountains in the background. That's grass in the foreground.  I guess.  If it's not on the salad bar, frankly I don't know much about it.

Finally, we have a glorious sunset, shot from my own backyard.  It was nice and warm that night.

Not a single snowflake anywhere in that sky!

Wait until about August.  I'll be blogging about how wretched the heat is, and posting pictures of last month's snow.  Such is human nature.

Lou Ann is with me now, just a few feet away.  She's on her back in the recliner, with all four feet stuck in the air.  Her tongue is hanging out of her mouth, and despite that somehow she's snoring.  

I think maybe she has the right idea about wintertime.

Just roll over and sleep right through it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Few Suggestions for Improvement

The Universe is crammed full of natural laws.  Electrons have to behave one way when they're being observed and another way when they're not.  Gravity is always busy.  You never see Magnetism loafing in the vacuum, playing pinochle with Weak Nuclear Forces while iron filings everywhere forget where to stand.

The Universe is an orderly place.  Writer Terry Pratchett summed it up beautifully, I think, when he described it as 'lots of rocks moving in big circles.'

Even so, I think there is plenty of room for a few additional natural laws.  Here are the ones I'd like to see implemented:

1) It should never EVER rain on people in wheelchairs.  Ever.  It's bad enough someone is in a wheelchair.  Raining on them is just rude.

2) People who text and drive should immediately be struck by powerful bolts of lightning.  Twice.

3) The smoking corpses left in the wake of Rule #2 above should be struck by lightning again, just to show everyone else that the Universe isn't screwing around this time.

4) When the lights go down in a theatre, the audience should, for the duration of the movie, lose the power of speech.  Seriously.  What motivates people to believe a roomful of strangers wants to hear their running commentary on a movie they neither made, starred in, nor even plan to watch?

5) We won't even discuss what happens to people who text during movies.  It's simply too gory and awful to contemplate.  Leopards are involved.  Leopards, and rabid bears.  Rabid bears with frickin' lasers.  And lightning.  Lots and lots of lightning.

That's it -- five simple natural laws.  None of them are nearly as complicated as quantum mechanics or even linear algebra.  They all revolve around lightning, and bears with lasers, all of which are more or less common items.  We're talking off-the-shelf components here, Universe.  Easy installation.  Low maintenance.  It's not like there's a big shortage of lightning, right?

But if I can only get one new law put into place, let's go with Number 1.

Now that wasn't so hard, was it?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Riverboats and Torsos

First of all, I have to design a riverboat.

And not just any riverboat.  The Brown River Queen, as she will be called, is to be an opulent gambling hall, complete with two casinos and numerous staterooms and three restaurants and even a stage for floor shows. 

So far, my real-world model is a craft named the J. M. White.  The White was enormous; she measured 320 feet long and 91 feet wide and her twin stacks rose 81 feet above the muddy Mississippi. 

She was a beautiful boat.  Chandeliers graced the main cabin.  She had 75 luxury cabins, and her pilot wheel was a whopping 12 feet in diameter.

And when she burned late one night in 1886, the flames consumed her entirely in less than 15 minutes.

My boat isn't going to burn.  The Queen will number, among her crew, several vampires, a couple of ogre bouncers, and half a dozen wand-wavers who mill around in the casinos spotting hexers and other magical cheats.  Oh, and there will be a murder, on the Queen's maiden voyage, no less...

But I can't kill anyone until I get the boat built in my head.  Which means drawings and maps of rooms and little scribbled notes about how long it would take Miscreant A to run from Stateroom 15 to Stateroom 27 if he was trying to carry a dismembered torso at the time.

And people wonder why writers always look distracted.  It's because we're imagining bags packed with dismembered torsos and trying to decide how much they'd weigh, and how fast we could run with them.

Yes, Brown River Queen is the working title of the new Markhat novel.   I'm taking everything that makes Rannit fun and throwing in a dash of old New Orleans, this time around.  There will be gumbo.  And perhaps even Voodoo.  Spun for compatibility with Markhat's rough and tumble world of magic, of course, but the basic flavors will all be there.

So it's back to my musty old reference books.  I need to immerse myself in all things riverboatish for a while, to get into the spirit of the thing.  It looks like that will be fun.

And by the way, an average adult human torso weighs about 105 pounds.  And no, you don't get to ask how I know...