All posts by Troim Kryzl

Three submissions

Writing fiction is tremendous fun, but by the last chapters long format projects tend to turn into a bit of a tedium, as described and tentatively analysed in a previous post. No problem, though, won’t happen again for at least a year, now is hurrah time:

Think-o-mat has been defined completed.

And another dreaded task, writing the corresponding synopsis, has been diligently performed. So far, so milestones.

Now for one more first: The task of submitting aforementioned product, if product status it may reach, to agencies.

After some research and soul searching, three literary agents have been selected for pitching. Yes, three. Three as in 3. Only three.

According to LinkedIn wisdom, thirty plus submissions seem to be considered a must for any newbie author, especially one with as exquisite a selection of handicaps as poor hopeless me. Thirty?!

Come again, folks. Having approached this new task with the kind of open-mindedness essential to keep me performing in my day job, I hereby declare, authoritatively: Thirty is impossible.

Pitching is not a task you can hand over to an assistant, except perhaps in the case of a select few well known authors who won’t need to do that much if it anyway. In my by now lightly informed opinion. It’s mandatory to perform this duty personally, to make sure the first impression is confirmed in the actual work. Just imagine a native English speaker submitting my kind of output. Wasted time and frustration guaranteed, certainly no path to a win-win.

Thirty plus submissions can only mean one of two things:

  • Either you use some sort of bland all purpose template, making only minor adjustments that won’t succeed in conveying an impression of considered targeting.
  • Or you do it properly and end up spending more time browsing agency websites, trundling through submission guidelines and editing pitches than on your actual fiction writing.

The latter is of course justified if you’re convinced your work will become the next library and box office hit, or a Booker Nobel YouNameIt prize, if only an agent got you a publisher. OK. Point taken. I’m a reader and don’t want to miss that one. This situation calls for perseverance. Keep up the good pitching, by all means!

But this is not my type of situation. The same blatant lack of delusion that helps me make good bucks in my day job clearly tells me that my writing has every chance to be considered rubbish, certainly by an audience of native English speakers, most probably also in general. I’m a compulsive writer and enjoy both the writing and reading my own stuff, but a confirmed hooked audience of one doesn’t imply the existence of a wider public. If ever there happens to be a willing readership only waiting for this to hit the (e-)shelves, at least one of three experienced agents will notice and react. If there isn’t, I get myself one more copyright certificate, just in case, have the admin reset Think-o-mat to free access and move on.

Mad old bark

Again?! Bloody pests, why can’t they just go easy, for a change? Indigestion guaranteed, with them around. There can be too much of a good thing. Food aplenty is good in principle. Makes you grow big and strong. But overshooting four seasons in a row, that’s an aberration. Mour feels obscene. Waking up to this kind of trunk expansion should be prohibited. Time to do something about this disaster. It has lasted far too long already. Shouting should help. A proven remedy, against all kinds of nuisances. But only in the presence of an audience.

“Veira? Iscas? Li? Anyone around? You lot turned mute, or what? What kind of bloody cycle is this? And why do I wake up to yet another binge? This was supposed to be ephemeral, right? Li, you promised it wouldn’t last much longer. Well, it ephemeral-my-root-rot does. So what now? Any ideas, anyone?” Mour feels the hot flush of indignation rushing through his bulky shape. That’s an advantage, of boom times. Surplus food allows you to get real angry.

“Relax, Mour. Shouting won’t help. Yes, the bloody nuisances are still around. Even more of them than in the last season, by the feel of it. So what? Let’s look at the bright side. At least we’re not going to starve, right? As long as we’re standing, we’re just fine. It’s pretty fascinating, isn’t it? Them going to such lengths to feed us? Who’d have thought. Valuable learning, in my opinion. For when we try again. Or if ever we need to survive seriously lean times. We just kick these off once aga…” Li would have gone on, in the cheerful way of the seriously senile.

Except Mour won’t have it. If there is one irritation he hates even more than being force fed second helpings on waking up, it’s unwarranted optimism. He cuts in: “Shut up, Li. I’m not in that kind of mood. Yes, we can and will survive this. We always do. No, that’s not enough. You’re old, you don’t understand. You’ve had plenty of properly balanced seasons to enjoy. But me, I’m young. I’ve had enough. I want a life. I want them disbanded, now. That’s the fourth season, Li. The fourth! In a row! This stupid experiment has lasted long enough. Triggering sentience in bipeds was a bad idea. A very bad idea. Our ancestors thought these would do better than the octopeds. Well, they don’t. Plain fact, case closed. Now we need to get rid of them. How do we do it?”

Li sighs. One is supposed to enjoy the presence of youngsters. But this particular juvenile has a talent for ruining what would otherwise be a perfectly nice season. Important not to shout back, though. He will have to spend his precious few remaining cycles in this hot tempered company. This calls for a didactical approach: “Glad to hear your vigor, Mour. You’re  right, the bipeds are a bit of a nuisance. But extermination, that’s not how we do things. One intervention on the mobiles every one thousand cycles, that’s the maximum the rules allow. And rightly so. These experiments need to run their course. Takes a while, to get a clear picture. Even with such a short lived species. You need to observe a lot of generations. The bipeds seemed to be going strong, not so long ago. Looked pretty sustainable, despite their upgraded brains. Not harmless, but susta…”

Mour won’t let a doddery senior interfere with his urge to kill: “Li! I’m not attending this party to talk science, for a wet heavens sake! I asked you how to get rid of the pests. If there is a rule against it, there must be a way. How is it done? What’s the trick?” Mour is curious now. Living in such a small group dominated by seniors is a tough fate for a young sentience. But there are nuggets of wisdom buried underneath the progressing dementia. The parties are much better on the other hill, where over two hundred kids celebrate their second birthday. Whereas here, you get a chance to learn things. All wisdom accumulated over the generations is of course accessible to all of them. But it takes many seasons to make sense of it. Li must be over forty. At least. He knows stuff.

“Did you guys even notice how the shoreline seems to have changed, again? Is that the waves rumbling closer, or what? Li, hate to interfere with your lecture, but this is an emergency. We’re still out of reach of the waves, yes please?” Iscas is tense, expecting the worst. His attention is fully focused on the Atlantic Ocean bashing the feet of their low cliff.

Hearing this shaky voice, Li recalls how nervous a kid Iscas used to be. Even before he got hurt in a thunderstorm. Happened when he was eight. Now he’s approaching twenty, and a penchant for a carefully measured approach has turned into an outright anxiety disorder. The ocean is down there, they are up here. No problem. Except… Li checks his sensors again. Mighty meteorite! There is a problem in the making, after all. Not with the shoreline. But underneath. Salt water is infiltrating the ground. Couple of cycles down, this could indeed cause trouble. Lethal trouble. Not for Li himself, he has grown his course. But the others better enjoy the good times while they last. Should he warn them? Rather not. Mour would waste the remaining seasons on shouting, Iscas on tearful screams. Not an attractive prospect, for an unaffected bystander. Would the imminent danger jolt Veira out of his sulk? He decided never to talk to them again five cycles ago, after one more row over the frequency of apocalyptic solar eclipses. Statistics and probabilities, they really get Veira going. He’s a mere thirty eight, but very convinced of his intellectual superiority.

“Li, I’m talking to you! And it’s not just me. Iscas raised a question, too. If we’re not allowed to exterminate the bipeds, is there at least a way to reconfigure them, to stop them stuffing us? I can feel your patterns, Li, you’re holding back. That’s not fair, not to share knowledge.” Mour pushes the one button than works on the oldie. Appealing to his fairness should do the trick.

Li is glad the shore issue has been sidelined. To keep the conversation on the bipedal pest track, he decides to grant his young companions a glimpse of their might: “It’s of course possible to reprogram the bipeds. They’re DNA based, like all live forms. And they like to eat our fruit. Perfectly easy, to introduce a DNA altering agent. We sent them brainy, we can of course switch them back. Some of them. That’s the problem, Mour. The clever ones tend to survive. Once you’ve triggered sentience in one kind of mobiles, you have to wait it out, preferred option. Or to induce intelligence in the next kind, hazardous plan b option. Let’s say, for example, we decided to upgrade the biwings currently nesting in your crown, Mour. It would be pretty easy, to turn them more clever than the bipeds. And their generational rhythm is even faster. Shouldn’t take them more than a couple of cycles, to replace the bipeds as the dominant species. But they’ll probably fuck up, too, in the longer run. That’s the problem, with mobiles. They can’t handle sentience…”

Mour cuts in once again: “You’re kidding, Li, aren’t you? These little tweep tweeps, they can’t possibly be turned intelligent? They would never be able to handle an upgrade. Wouldn’t know what to make of it. What’s so funny, why you’re laughing?”

Li calms down to answer: “See, Mour, that’s the whole point. That’s why we do it. It’s interesting. You can’t anticipate what they’ll make of it. Not even a mighty statistician like Veira here can tell you in advance what the civilization of a particular species of mobiles will look like. It’s so creative. The ultimate art. For example, the octopeds, most guys daring a prognosis would have guessed…”

The breeze is on once again, the early morning lull is over. A bright sunshine day, not one cloud on the horizon. Even the mighty Atlantic waves seem to be rolling in more gently than usual. So peaceful. Such a contrast to Li’s tale. Apogees of vice and violence characterized the Tarantulean. The octoped civilization went after everything. Each other. Other species. On and off planet. Exterminated a full eighty percent of life forms, before they were brought down by a virus they had engineered as a biological weapon. Only minuscule shadows of their former selves, dumbed down and harmless, grace the planet these days. Good riddance.

Li enjoys himself. What a wonderful cycle. Lecturing the kids is his favorite pastime. One of the last remaining pleasures past middle age. And the Tarantulean was at least an interesting period. Totally different scale of entertainment. Rooting through the records of the octoped exploits as compiled by generations of diligent chroniclers, Li once again regrets to have grown in the wrong era. The bipeds are so boring. Not even achieving space travel. Nor making any serious attempts at living underground or underwater. Just crawling the surface in ever greater numbers. Plain boring lack of ambition. All mobiles turn vicious, once endowed with intelligence. Seems to be an eternal rule of nature. So be it. But they should at least strive to make it an interesting kind of vice. But the bipeds are just boring. Like the ones that come trampling up the hill.

“Dad, there is a sign. Can you read the sign, dad? Is that Portuguese, dad? What does it say?” The kid has reached the top of the cliff ahead of his parents and longs for anything to disrupt the tedious hiking routine. Nothing but stupid landscape to look at for at least an hour, that’s not a holiday, that feels like a punishment. They could at least have put up some interactive educationals, to make up for nothing of interest ever happening here.

Dad has put out his smart phone to make sense of the sign and provides clarification: “Yes, Darek, this is Portuguese indeed. But only the second part, the explanation. The first bit is Latin. ‘Oliva Europea’ is the Latin name of the olive tree. Wow, now look at this, who’d have thought? The tree in the middle, the big one, it has been carbon dated to at least 1,960 years. Two thousand years old, can you imagine? This tree was here before Columbus set sail for America. Wow!”

His wife cuts in, slightly impatient: “Never mind Columbus, darling, you’ll only end up confusing the boy. What daddy meant to say, Darek, is that this tree witnessed the time of Cesar, when the Romans ruled Europe. Like in your comic book, you know?”

Dad is glad for the search engine once again assisting with dignity preservation. It’s his role to introduce his son to science as he’s perfectly able to perform: “It also says here that there seems to be more to the humble olive tree than the banal appearance suggests. With something called a PCR method they have discovered that the trees undergo subtle genetic changes. Every thirty five years, their metabolism speeds up and a peculiar pattern occurs. This tree being 1,960 years old, the pattern will have happened 56 times. And guess what, it’s on now.”

The boy dutifully looks at the trees once again. Nothing happening. Boring. He longs to get back to their holiday apartment. There is an old computer with a wicked game. You get to kill huge spiders.

Last stretch urge

Spent months loving, nurturing, developing, refining and generally never getting enough of my cast. Reach chapter 9 out of 10 and  wham, change of mindset. I just want to get it over with. AFAP.

Judging by what happened with the Pluggers, the last stretch of  Think-o-mat will again consist of a fortnight of tedium. Writing fast and under unfavorable conditions, to get it done. Rewriting a lot, because this way of proceeding ruins a style that is pretty bad in the first place. Without managing to maintain more than a semblance of the low standard achieved in the previous chapters. The last stretch is as much fun as sorting bills. Why?

There isn’t much significance to be gleaned from a sample of two, but twice is much better than no repeatability and now is the perfect time* to speculate about what causes the phenomenon:

  1. The actual fun is less in the writing than in the development of the characters. On the last stretch, they are all set in their ways, the story just rolls on to its denouement. This turns the creative process = fun into work = tedium.
  2. Reaching the end there is no longer any escape from the fact that this is all one big pile of rubbish that should never have been written. The plot, the cast, the style, it all doesn’t make one bit of sense. The daily dire doubts on steroids, minus the chance to escape into plotting the next step.
  3. Writing the finale is no worse than the earlier phases, but awareness of the approaching ordeal ruins the experience. Like trying to enjoy a good movie when you’ve got a dentist appointment scheduled right after it.  Synopsis writing and handling publishing questions would be the root canal therapy equivalents in the authoring business.
  4. Knowing that once cherished characters will soon be abandoned to their very well known fates calls for emotional stabilization, which triggers a kind of premature mourning. If it was still fun, how would you manage to stop writing at the target point?

Enough speculation. A bigger sample is needed first. Perfect time* to ask the subject matter experts on LinkedIn if they struggle with some sort of last stretch phenomenon.

*Perfect time is an euphemism for active shirking. You can only write one piece at any given time. Blogging and posting on LinkedIn postpones the drudge. Oh, and it’s a new month, too. Words to go and the Aspiring Writers Short Story Challenge call for action.

 

Alt Left SciFi pitch

Some amazing advice kindly provided by Ariel Ayangwo:

Eight Ways to Spark More Social Shares on Your Content Fast

It’s targeted at bloggers, but Ariel’s 4U-rule can easily be applied  to fiction writing. The corresponding Alt Left SciFi pitch reads:

  1. Useful: Feeling challenged? Your life no paradise? Regardless of whether you love or hate the changes affecting the world as we know it, Alt Left SciFi will provide distraction while raising your privilege awareness. And up goes the happiness score.
  2. Unique:  Authentic non-native business English, scientific affairs and multination company experience applied to storytelling. Alt Left SciFi plot cores will pass as promising business plans at the height of a corresponding tech boom.
  3. Ultra specific: If you are a member of the non-Anglo corporate or scientific frequent flyer tribe, you will feel at home in Alt Left SciFi. Same for supporting professions. But beware: We are not alone and you won’t feel worshipped.
  4. Urgency: Enjoy it while it lasts! The “Alt” gracing “Alt Left SciFi”  owes its presence to the high probability of upcoming changes. While the plot cores are no more factual than fake news, any look into any history book will tell you that a certain level of inequality calls for a rebalancing, if and when it becomes evident to a sufficient number of sufficiently apt people. Conventional Left promises utopias, Alt Left SciFi predicts transitions. Read Plugger stuff or register as beta-reader for Think-o-mat now to get ready for a dynamic future.

Inside the box

“It’s no worse than an office or a cubicle, Elisa. Will you stop making a fuzz? People were upset, when the first open space workplaces appeared, you know? Saw a documentary about this. One day the workers had each their own office. The next they were assigned cubicles, in a large common room. They suddenly were confronted to each other. Some made a fuzz.”.

Noticing the lack of affirmative response, Sharifa raises her voice: “Why am I telling you this, Elisa? Why talk about offices and cubicles? To remind you that you’ve got a perfectly nice job, of course. Now you go do it. The working conditions are fine. You said so yourself. You told me about the health & safety inspection. You mentioned the certificate confirming everything is in good order. What more do you want? Don’t try telling me you’d prefer to live on basic universal…”.

Elisa, still standing in front of the building, does hate it. Them. Everything. The building, for being her workplace. The raindrops on her glasses, for impeding her vision. The augmented reality feed is all blurred, too. She also hates the rain as such, for making a bad morning even worse. This should be a special day. And the plug inside her left ear, she hates that one, too. For delivering unwelcome encouragement. And Sharifa… No, not Sharifa. She’s not a problem, she’s a solution. Even if she currently sounds like one more mistake. Sharifa is an improvement, compared to her former flat mate. Polymeros, he was a disaster.

Elisa would love to be good at words. Why is it so hard, for Sharifa, to understand she can’t keep doing this? This so called job is an aberration. It’s inhumane, to spent your days at the mercy of weird people. Offices? Cubicles? As if this was just another call center. Some vile clients enjoy their flat rate subscriptions with the RHHB, the Regional Health and Happiness Board. HH as in haha. The acronym is the perfect misrepresentation of average employee job satisfaction.

At the other end, Sharifa takes a deep breath. Freaking out won’t work. She has to play this cool. Slouching on a bean bag chair, vintage 2012, she takes a sip from the replica one-way coffee-to-go cup before resuming the pep talk. Elisa can be so… complicated. Two hours ago, her flat mate stood up, went to the bathroom, had breakfast, summoned a commutopod, folded herself into the guaranteed harassment free mono compartment and rolled off, without one single complaint. Now that she’s there, right in front of her workplace, she starts arguing. Stupid. No wonder she wasn’t considered viable for any more intellectual occupation.

“What’s not to like, Elisa? It’s safe, it’s inside, it’s technology-driven, it’s hygienic,… Your job delivers good marks on pretty much any scales anyone can come up with. Just think of the poor field scavengers following the harvesters. They at least have a reason to complain. Even your hours are good. Every fourth week. When you’re on the 08:00 to 14:00 shift. As you are now. As I hopefully won’t need reminding you. Please look at the watch in your glasses to check, if you don’t believe me. And while you’re at it, please do notice you’re running out of time. If you keep idling in front of that building, you will have to dress up at speed. Don’t you come home moaning about how you had to endure a crease in the gear pinching you mad for six hours…”.

Sharifa trails off again. Sarcasm doesn’t work, on Elisa. She needs a gentle hand. Gentle, but firm. Even for the early shift, the most harmless of the four. Most roboes, as RHHB staff call themselves, are quite comfortable with the early shift. It’s mainly about exercise and shopping, interspersed with a bit of wellness and very few odd requests. Late shifts are far more rowdy. And only the most seasoned and thick skinned employees manage to handle a full week on one of the night shifts without resorting to doping. Antidepressants, mostly.

Sharifa sits up to have another go at exhortations when the little dot on the monitor wall starts moving again. And in the right direction, too. Five more meters. Up the stairs. This is the lock. Hurrah, Elisa is inside. A major milestone. All is not yet won, though. She could still turn around and call it quits. As long as she’s not geared up and plugged in, escape is possible.

This is exactly what Elisa is thinking about, wandering through the hall to reach the elevator. But you don’t get out without an interview. If you try to leave before having performed according to the shift schedule, you will have to explain your motives. All roboes end up in that interview at least once in their careers. Typically early on, in their first or second week. 

It starts harmlessly enough. You get to select your preferred type of voice for the artificial intelligence in charge of human resources: Male, female or hard to tell? Old, young or hard to tell? Intonation oriental, orientav, orienty or plain glob? For anglotrads, please add @ to confirm you claim minority status and wish to be addressed in a complex ancient language.

That’s how the interview starts. Two hours later, you feel like a pile of trash, for having considered leaving without performing. ‘Retroactive depersuasion’, that’s what they call this management technique. Elisa shivers. A six hour shift is bad. Getting interviewed by HR is equally bad. She would like to dissolve into thin air, to avoid both options.

Some of the roboes love to speculate, for hours, about the interview algorithm. It’s supposed to be based on a matrix combining your choice of linguistic interface with your profile. One legend has it that the @ will spare you the worst, whatever your origins and educational achievements. But you need to be more than a bit crazy, to actively claim anglotrad status. Asking to be mobbed, that is. And what if you don’t manage to make sense of the questions? Replete with nuances, the antique lingos. Anglotrad is supposed to be more straightforward than Aramaic, but…

Elisa asked Sharifa for her opinion, on the @ legend, and she just laughed. If Artificial Intelligence algorithms were that simple, she would have made it through the computer science selection process easy. Instead of hitting the wall at level five out of eight and being made to earn the means for her vintage tastes as a mere human medical procedure interface. Better than a roboe, but not a career you proudly mention in sophisticated company. You can’t second guess an artificial intelligence, dumbo. Why not put humans in charge of running RHHB, while you’re at it?

Of all the people Elisa doesn’t like to meet it has to be Polymeros joining her in the elevator. Brimming with service mentality, as usual: “Elisa, isn’t this one wonderful Wednesday? Can’t wait to get online! Just hope it’s not too quiet. Seems like a bit of a lull, lately, doesn’t it? RHHB really need to do more marketing, no offense intended. I had three breaks, yesterday, three! In just one shift! And the longest lasted for upwards of four minutes. Felt like a holiday. I immediately cancelled one of my five days of annual leave, to make up for it…”.

Elisa would love the elevator to accelerate. Instead, it stops at level three. She should have opted for the session with the artificial intelligence. Anything is better than Polymeros. If he got his head stuck into a toilet bowl, you can bet he would scream: “Oh, lovely, a waterfall!”.

She doesn’t know the new entrant by name, but she (most probably she) looks nice sad enough. Especially by comparison. Anything is better than a one-on-one with Polymeros. And she (or would that be he after all?) had business on level three. At this hour, he most probably tried his luck at requesting a reassignment. Only two services, on level three. Vocational counseling and Accident & Emergencies. If you count the row of padded cells as part of A&E, which you should. Nervous overstretch is their biggest occupational hazard.

“…, that would be so nice! Or one more marshmallow addict. Love marshmallow addicts! Did you ever get one of these, Elisa? My last one, he went up to forty six. Forty six! Amazing, what this does to your metabolism. Went on a real high, wanted to keep going. But the emergency stop got triggered. Pity. Whereas your average fancy dress fan, not much happening. You really need to think of an extra, to turn this kind of performance into an experience. Like last night, for example. Because I volunteered for an additional early night shift. Was boring out at home. Just dressing up into a 1899 swimsuit would have been a terrible dud. So I ordered some ice cold water, added a couple of blue ice cubes for additional visual, and splash,…”.

Elisa is glad to see the third floor entrant sharing her feelings. Polymeros, and anyone of his persuasion, will be the first to go when the revolution comes. Perhaps they could be relocated to an island all of their own, the service mentals. Elisa longs for a humane revolution. No killings. Just some gentle relocations. Even though the likes of Polymeros don’t deserve kind treatment. They are every bit as bad as the job itself. Humiliating yourself to provide clients with a live flow of virtual experiences, that’s horrible. Becoming intimately associated with people fancying vanilla pudding, pints of extra sweet vanilla pudding, does ruin your emphatic inclinations. But coworkers pretending to like this nightmare of a job, they are the worst. 

Level eight, finally. Elisa doesn’t want to arrive. But at least she’s getting rid of Polymeros. He rides on to level twelve. Fishy, level twelve. Lots of service mentals. You wonder if they were mad before getting their performance space assigned, or if it’s the level turning them into freaks.

Sharifa was right to tell her to hurry. Elisa is late and has to stop brooding, to put on the captor harness as fast as possible. It might look like a blue catsuit completely covering the roboe’s body, including most of the face, but it is fiendishly difficult to adjust. All sensors need to be in exactly the right place. Feverishly tapping commands on the touchscreen, Elisa forces the material to adapt. All 120 captor point dots need to switch from red to green.

Currently, it’s all green all right. No red dots on display. Except her left ankle feels like shackled. Trying to reposition the captor promptly turns the dot back to red. Bloody fuck-up of a useless technology, will you behave now? It takes her two more attempts to finally achieve both a green dot and a bearable sensation. Someone really should invent a less tight captor harness. But trust the designers not to care. They don’t get to wear this.

Blue. Why does this place have to be so blue? The floor, the walls, the ceiling, the 3D outline of Elisa’s own body, all blue. Only exception: The red emergency stop button that has materialized on the display, next to the countdown signaling she will be online in twelve seconds.

Originally, the red button was intended to provide the roboes with the means to get rid of customers requesting inappropriate action. There are guidelines, and there is a filter, of course. RHHB worries about the potential for scandal anyway. A big company is just one staff error away from fatal scandal, according to Elisa’s trainer. He emphasized their right to cut off customers. In case of improper requests, they are to terminate the connection, at once. Complaint management will handle the rest, including apologies and refunds where necessary. RHHB is a principled employer who will not put staff in harms way.

The emergency stop in practice mostly serves as a pause button. The coffee break concept didn’t make it into modern shift arrangements. But bio breaks are hard to avoid, if you rely on human staff. The sensory stand-in for a customer sampling teas to decide which blend to order will need a bio break, at some stage. Even an artificial intelligence with only the most virtual grasp of the inconveniences associated with a full bladder can accept that input has to be followed by output. And that the next customer is sure to complain, if his experience is perturbed by sensory remnants of previous assignments. RHHB offers a premium service. The clients are made to believe the roboes idle around most of the day, only waiting for them to come up with an idea.

Three, two, one, could have been worse. Elisa’s first job of the day is a workout. To be performed in the body shape of a man. In his fifties. With a serious body mass issue. She looks horrid in this shape. He is sure to have photoshopped the 3D projection to make himself feel good about his appearance. But he’s horrid. The Superman shirt, his idea, makes esthetics worse. But a workout is good. Exercise is fine. Keeps you trim. Allows you to get rid of all the angry feelings.

Amazing how many people believe that remotely experiencing some of the sensations of a roboe exercising on your behalf makes you loose weight. Urban legends…

Elisa puts her heart into it. In her own body shape, this could be borderline pleasant. But doing it for someone else is so degrading. And she has another fourteen years to go. She feels like blowing up the whole place. You don’t get used to this. You can do it for fifty one years, and still hate every single day. And this is no way to celebrate your seventy first birthday.

We are not alone

Really love a post by Elisabeth Giovani on LinkedIn, about the scares and doubts about not writing in our mother languages. Feels good not to be alone, shared scares are lighter scares!

Funny, though, how we automatically refer to native speakers as arbiters who might grant or refuse us permission to write in English. As if they were familiar with the language we are using.

The globalized non-native English speakers and writers, talking mostly non-fiction here,  have developed their own codes and good verbalization practices, as anyone working in an international environment can testify. The rules are fairly straightforward:

  • Keep it simple: The sentence structure or syntax, the vocabulary, the references, the metaphors, all of what you say or write.
  • Forget about stylistic aspirations. Achieving comprehension is hard enough without additional handicaps.
  • Try to avoid cultural references that don’t travel easily. Keep in mind that your Fridays are some else’s Sundays.
  • Think before joking. Humor has the nasty tendency to rely on prejudices that might well be mutually exclusive.

In the world of anglophone non-fiction, you get training to understand what you’re up against and learn these rules. Forget abut elegance. Keep it simple or the plane won’t fly. Those who are not willing to adjust don’t last long.

Making a living in this universe doesn’t prepare you well for encounters with the anglophone fiction writers guild. Turns out the bad English we have been using for decades didn’t make it into this particular sphere. OK, point taken. Think-o-mat is too well advanced to reformat the American and British characters. Starting with the following project, the full cast and the narrator will be non-native speakers. Pity there are no non-native agents and publishers.

With friends like these…

Dustin has never been a fan of navigating the Rhône-Sète canal, but now he’s considering to quit. Fine to spend his days with the cargo ghosts. Without, his job would be a lonely affair. But this is an outrageous proposal. Oilyboy is a naughty number.

With a soy ghost, you’d expect no good. Agro bulk never means anything but trouble.

Pity he got himself sacked from ContiCross. When he was ferrying around containers full of gadgets, he got Whizzby. She was so nice to look at. With a more substantial body, she could have been a top model. No, not skinny enough. A 1950 pin up girl. Whizzby was pleasant conversation, too. Being on a first name basis with so many tablet cores, she was a treasure trove of news.

Another three hours to go. 4,000 tons upstream, you need to push real hard.

“Whales complaining about oceanic noise pollution should come try a high traffic river!”

Oilyboy won’t give up. Never does. Dustin is well aware his fellow traveler can’t have a clue, about whales. He’s not biological, how would he? It’s surprising enough he manages to make himself heard. They should at least mention the phenomenon, in the physics manuals for school. Or someone could do a YouTube tutorial. Like the one on how to launch rocket propelled grenades.

The real Oilyboy is bound not look like an tango dancer right out of Argentina. Cargo ghosts are called ghosts for a reason. They make your brain hear and see a humanized version of themselves. Originally, according to Whizzby, who was very much into interspecies politics, to complain about the disturbance. It’s low frequency noise creating disruption, in their subsoil world. They used to ignore surface roaming biological entities, for lack of common issues. Except mammoths, mastodons and elephants, the rare low frequency offenders in the good old days.

When Dustin heard his first cargo ghost, he was still a trucker. It was back home in Wales and he had seven tons of chilled pork halves on board. The worst possible cargo for a first encounter.

Dustin dutifully reported himself to a general practitioner who referred him to a psychiatrist who prescribed antipsychotic drugs. He was a good boy and took them. His neck went stiff, as the medic had foretold. The stuff was also supposed to shut down any alternative reality sights and sounds.

Pinkypally didn’t mind, about the neuroleptic. Obviously, it wasn’t her shoulders aching. She was too weak to achieve more than a faint hint of a slender silhouette for an image. But her voice was clear enough. You could have sliced pork with her laughs. She was brutal, in her comparisons between humans and livestock. Sent him veggie, for days at a time.

Doing six pork runs a week, for half a year, he had ample time to get used to Pinkypally. Eventually, she calmed down. Occasionally, she engaged in meaningful conversation. Explained, about the Beneathverse. Something about geology. And vibrations condensing into sentient structures. And more, some q-thing. Physicist stuff. Someone really should do a TED talk.

He got hooked on cargo ghosts. It’s special, being chums with these guys. Human friends and likes on social networks? Forget it. Humans are boring. Like when you go pub. Or bar café, as the pubs are called down here. You know who’s there, before entering. You can guess what they’ll say. And your own response, too. Except for the football results, there is no news. Whereas a cargo ghost, she can be a him in a blink. If she wants to. A big if with some, like Pinkypally. She was a nuisance, most of the time. But he owes her anyway.

He soon wanted more than a mere truckload shadow. The bigger the heap, and the engine, the more massive the ghost. You can spend your life waiting by an apple cart vroomed at by a generator, nothing will happen. Whereas a lorry full of gravel puffing up a hill might get you a date with Crusher. Looks like feeding on nails, gentle as a puppy. Dreams of marrying a garden gnome. And please do make that a neon blue and yellow one.

Dustin wanted more. He pulled himself together, fought hard for his license. Transoceanic container ships provide the most stunning encounters. Some folks even whisper of haptic 3D experiences. But a high seas captain’s patent was beyond his means, and they only take Asians for sailors these days. So he became a river skipper, moving first to Belgium and then on to France in his quest to be put in charge of ever bigger boats. Until that bloody accident set him back.

“Come on, Dustin. What’s the problem? You’ll love it.”

Oilyboy fills most of his field of vision, grinning from ear to ear. He’s standing right inside the front window, on no floor. Some cargo ghosts get it, how people and objects interact. Not Oilyboy. Impossible to mistake him for a real person, despite the precisely crafted mustache. He’s always either floating above or sinking into, not standing on. Now he’s thrusting his pelvis forward, in a gesture even more obscene than the perfidy he’s proposing. It’s really hard, not to reprimand aloud. Time to think firmly.

Courtesy of Whizzby, Dustin is aware Oilyboy is only partly to blame, for his bad manners. It’s a severe handicap, to consist of vibrations sharing a structure with foodstuff. Digestion. What goes in goes out. Small wonder the agro bulk ghosts are so ill tempered. They’ve seen it all.

How long has this phone been ringing? Picking it up and seeing the icon, Dustin braces himself: “Laafi, chérie, so good to hear your voice!” Aminata is from Mali and can occasionally be softened by greeting her in Mossi. Not today.

She strikes back, voice sharp and hard: “Don’t you dare laafi-chérie me, bozo. Who is it? You’re up to something, not hearing the phone like that. If you crash one more…”.

No need to listen to this bullshit, he’s done nothing wrong: “Calm down, chérie. I’ve got a job to do, here. Steering a boat requires action, can’t just pick up the phone at all times. That would be unsafe, and you certainly don’t want unsafe, right?”.

Oilyboy grimacing doesn’t help with this conversation. Sucker. Whizzby would never have interfered. Too keen to observe humans interacting with each other. Like a zoologist.

Turns out Aminata has a good reason to call. The generator they’ve been looking for has finally popped up on eBay. Bargain, self-collectors only, a mere eighty kilometers to drive. Aminata already checked with Camille, a parcel service driver living two houses down. He can make himself and his delivery van available on Saturday, in exchange for Dustin helping fix the roof. Deal.

Shoving the phone back into his trouser pocket, Dustin looks forward to the first trial run on Sunday. The new generator combined with the amplifier he already bought, set up in the courtyard of the cement factory next to a pile of sacks, that’s worth a try. Massimo, a trucker friend from Italy employed there, has the keys to the gate and will let them in. Would be cool, if Crusher turned up. He’s friends with both him and Massimo, there’s a chance.

“Come on, Dustin, don’t be such a wimp.” Oilyboy is couching in mid air, staring at him. Why can’t he at least pretend to lie on some flying carpet? Lack of logic always makes Dustin itch. He thinks, forcefully: “Shut up. Me, I’ve got a Christmas present for my kids to plan. Sick of telling them fairy tales myself. They’ll get a cargo ghost, home delivery.”.

Oilyboy flips back to what would be a standing position if he was touching the floor: “Fine, Dustin, fine. Good plan. And next you’ll invent an app. Any kind of home delivery has an app. But first you need to do it. Be a man. A real man. Act. And we film it. And we post it. It will make you feel better.” And the pelvic thrust gesture again. This cargo ghost is a nuisance.

“Remember how they make you slave. You, who should steer a proud container convoy, reduced to puttering along with mere agro bulk. It’s not fair. A real man fights back.“

Dustin gives up, as he knew he would. Taking great care to set the autopilot correctly, this time, he steps out of the cabin and opens the lid covering the first bulk compartment. Look around. No one. Look upwards. No drones. Camera in one hand. Relevant anatomy in the other. And go.

Oilyboy is doing what would be a tap dance if his legs were visible. They’re not, he’s up to the arms in soy: “Yes, Dustin! Like the burger flippers spitting between the buns! You’re a genius, Dustin.“

This is so stupid. But there will be his piss in the soy that goes into the beef that goes onto the burger that goes into some idiot ruining rainforests.

Heading back to his cabin and steering wheel, Dustin knows Aminata will love the little film. As long as he doesn’t crash and get himself sacked, she’s all in favor of cargo ghost pranks. That’s how she got herself married, after all.

The 2k challenge

Fascinating, the number of formats out there.  Longshot Island does me the favor to define precise criteria:

Usually stories with more characters work better than stories with fewer characters.

Check. Lots of spiky characters, that’s the easy bit.

 We prefer shorter stories, 500 words to 2,500 in length.

Wordcount feels kind of low, even for shorts. The newbie writer goes search and finds confirmation. Cliff’s Notes provide a range of 1,000 to 20,000 words for short stories. A short short. Why not?

Except there is also this detail of a creative requirement:

We are looking for stories that surpass traditional genres. Slipstream. Steampunk. Subterranean. To name a few possibilities. We are looking for lost places. We want stories that make people laugh as well as cry. We want something different.

This calls for a quick check on Wikipedia.

Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction.

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrialsteam-powered machinery.

Subterranean fiction is a subgenre of adventure fiction which focuses on underground settings, sometimes at the center of the Earth or otherwise deep below the surface.

Interesting business model. Let’s try this and call it the 2k challenge.

Genre malaise

Time for my very first call for help to the LinkedIn community.

The more diligently I read, the more confused I get. Very basic basics are under reconsideration. I’m still convinced what I write should be called Science Fiction. Little science and lots of fiction = Science Fiction. Used to feel like a no-brainer.

Looking at conventional and electronic publishers kindly providing genre characterizations on their websites I’m starting to wonder.

I’ll use Smashwords categories to describe my irritation:

Top level category: Fiction. Easy. Check.

First level subcategory: Science Fiction. Easy. Check.

Oops, so many second level subcategories for Science Fiction:

  1. adventure
  2. apocalyptic
  3. cyberpunk
  4. general
  5. hard sci-fi
  6. high tech
  7. military
  8. space opera
  9. steampunk & retropunk
  10. utopias  & dystopias

According to my badly informed gut feeling, Plugger stuff ticks boxes 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. I can safely exclude 2 and 8. Less sure for 3 and 9. Phew, really now? And I’m supposed to select just one?

Anyone willing to provide me with a content percentage estimate, with any straightforward criteria to facilitate genre attribution?

As if this wasn’t messy enough, I should probably at least mention some of the other first level subcategories, to help readers avoid uncomfortable encounters: Cultural & ethnic themes, gay & lesbian fiction, humor & comedy (it’s a bit of a farce, really, but there’s no satire category, so comedy will have to stand in), and…

Wonder if there is anyone else out there struggling with these boundaries.  Feeling ultra-niche. Third language author with acute genre dysphoria, a foolproof recipe for success, hurrah?

Narrative beats

Amazing, the amount of terminology one needs to master to discuss book quality issues. Newest addition, courtesy of Ally Machate, owner of The Writer’s Ally via LinkedIn: ‘Beat’, as in narrative beats.

Repetitive beats as one major cause of boredom, makes loads of sense. Even novice me experiences occasional rewriting urges associated with a feeling of ‘We’ve been there, haven’t we?’. The plot needs to progress, or the character to reveal one more trait, stalling is no good. But where to stop the pruning and condensing?

Can’t there be some fun in discovering how a previously revealed attitude becomes manifest in a novel situation? The personality-savvy reader enjoying to be able to guess how a certain character will struggle through a particular adversity?

I do wonder and won’t ask yet. One more future question. In the meantime, lets pay attention to the beats. This weekend will see one more back to beginnings rewriting round for Think-o-mat anyway.