All posts by Troim Kryzl

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.

 

Target audience?

One more LinkedIn learning, and I once again lost track of the advice, meaning I can’t thank the author personally. Bad Troim.

Anyway, I do recall the advice: “Know your target audience. ”

Well, this is either very easy or borderline impossible.

At first glance it’s a no-brainer: I’m the target audience. I’m first and foremost entertaining myself. Know this sounds like the admission of a bad neurosis. Bad luck. I’m having fun writing stupid stories in bad English. I need to practice my third language for day job purposes, and this is even more fun than reading The Guardian and The Economist, listening to npr and watching CNN or BBC World.

The author of the advice assumes that any writer longs for as large an audience as possible. For purse and/or pride reasons. Let’s pretend for a second to be affected by this particular delusion.

If what is supposed to be my target audience shares traits with me, the following preferences prevail:

  • Escapism through entertainment: Laugh and puzzle good. Deep thoughts bad, unless they come in light doses and funny wraps.
  • Linguistic simplicity: Fine to occasionally need Google translate  and reread some sentences. ‘Occasionally’. ‘Some’.
  • Race, gender and class stereotypes as well as gross violence, especially torture, are no entertainment, they are plain yuck. 

Simple preferences.  But how to find people sharing them? This list doesn’t easily translate into conventional sociological categories. I’ll settle for knowing my audience’s preferences without having the slightest clue how to reach it.

 

Obsessed with visuals

In principle, Think-o-mat doesn’t progress too badly, on the plot and character side of issues. Chapter 6 will be available by the end of the week. But style remains a huge concern…

The third language issue is solved by having been declared a feature.

Rewriting after a gap of at least one day is both a must and fine. At least half of the first version of any scene is found guilty of verbosity and goes trash while the rest is subjected to mood stress tests and has to survive a couple of permutations. So far, so fine. Long live the memory of Saint Steve, inventor of the tablet without all this wouldn’t be possible.

What really sucks is my obsession with optical balance. No writer should worry about a single small word ending up all alone in a new line. This is irrelevant. In todays eWorld, line breaks vary according to gadgets. I know it. I tell myself to ignore optical balance. And end up spending time on dreaming up constructions that don’t sound too bad while looking more balanced. Bad Troim! Probably correlated to my Duck-on-Wall tick. Or trick.

Wonder if other writers, especially real, professional ones, experience similar kinds of bias. Don’t dare raise the question in one of the LinkedIn groups. Yet.

Third language travails

One of the disadvantages of writing in a third language is the occasional confrontation with gaps. Had to look up the definition of ‘aside’, just to be on the safe side when using this format option.

Turns out it means as suspected. Phew. Got really close to a dire doubt here. Except one of the reasons for this whole project is a little revenge. Anglo-american linguistic dominance forces a whole generation of specialists who never aspired to linguistic brilliance to spend our days writing and speaking a foreign language, badly.

If we keep increasing our numbers at the present rate, we’ll soon be the majority determining style. Yep, I know this is a ghastly outlook. Hurts me less than thou, though.