Short Stories – Wait Till You See Me Dance

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Keep Calm and Focus on the Short StoriesWait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth (2017)

The collection struck me in a way none of the others in this series have. Olin Unferth walks a difficult line with these 30 stories. They are bright, even cheery, on the surface but there is a darkness lurking below the surface.

Story after story, I was certain that she couldn’t slide that darkness in with such subtlety again. And with every story, she proved me wrong. Each story is unique with varied points of view (“The First Full Thought of Her Life” uses changing POVs in a fascinating and disturbing fashion) and wide-ranging settings. As a writer, I am impressed by the craft displayed, while as a reader, the fascination is the wonder of each new world.

Story length varies widely too. Several stories take up less than a page. They are tightly focused on a single moment or idea. (Like “Fear of Trees’, which runs just shy of 80 words.) The rest range through more “traditional” short story lengths. Through them all, I never felt that she had used a word more than necessary. The writing is masterful and individual. I’ve never read anyone quite like her.

Stories that stood out –

Granted – two academics find themselves trapped by the terms of their financial grant

A Crossroads – a warm and joy-filled story that slides the darkness in like a blade

Opera Season – the perfect summary of a season at the opera for those who don’t know the art

My Daughter Debby – a funny story that grows darker with every paragraph

Voltaire Night – a story that begins low but ends high.

Another great collection for The Year of the Short Story

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On Books – E versus DTB

The amount of energy that gets expended on the debate between E-books and traditional (DTB – Dead Tree Books) always amazes me. Because there’s not really a “debate” to be had. There is a clear and simple answer to the question. I’ll get to that in a minute.

If you read through the threads, it comes down to a simple concept most times. “I prefer…” That’s it. Whatever that reader likes is what they think is best. Which is fine but hardly the basis for any kind of argument. It’s when “my preference” becomes “the best”, or worse yet “the only”. The level of ego required to make that leap (especially the last one) is impressive. But our culture has a growing inclination to play that game. “If I don’t like it, it’s no good”. Sorry, but as a general rule, WRONG. I don’t like fantasy novels where the author falls in love with their world-building and overwhelms me with details. Even Tolkien falls prey to that. (I skim those bits). There are folks who love it. Good for them. I don’t like most any avant-garde art, in any form. It doesn’t speak to me but it does to others. More power to them. The list goes on.

There are times when I can explain why I think something fails in writing or film or whatever. There are many things that aren’t any good, in my opinion. Sometimes I’m even RIGHT! But “I don’t like it” isn’t ever a compelling argument.

You may prefer all the sensory inputs that come from a traditional book. I will admit to enjoying the physical sensations of the sound and smell of a book. The feeling of the pages as my fingers turn them.

At the same time, I own both a Nook and a Kindle. Both get regular use. The ability to carry dozens of books at once in a single slim, light “volume” is wonderful. I have no trouble reading them, and they are a special joy while traveling.

So, what’s my simple, clear answer to the question of “E vs tree”? Whatever gets someone to open a book. If it works for the reader, this author is all about it. Read on your phone or from a book on your lap. On a screen or a paperback.

The format is unimportant.

As is the debate.

Grab what works for you.

And read.

Peace

Jay

What I’m Reading – Time Traders

Time Traders by Andre Norton (1958) A young thief is offered a chance for an adventure through space and time. What begins as a secret war with enemies on Earth will end up testing his skills on multiple worlds.

Norton is one of the big names in sci-fi of the 20th century. An award-winning author whose work spans the genre. He’s a go-to author when I want a book that I know I’ll enjoy.

Which is exactly what brought “Time Traders” to my reading list. I was in the mood for some science fiction and wanted something that would be “comfortable”. Walking through the library searching titles and author names, I knew Norton would fit the bill.

Despite the tacky cover, the book was a great fit. It feels like a pair of short story/novellas featuring the same characters joined together. Each half of the book is a self-contained story without any large carry over in the action from the first to the second.

The idea of a force that can travel through time to protect/maintain/ manipulate history has been explored by a lot of authors. Here, Norton puts it in terms of the U.S./Russian political power struggle. The Russians have found a way to travel back in time. Once they realize the treat, the U.S. captures the technology and begins investigating what the Russians are doing. It’s the start of a dangerous game of chess with all of the future at risk.

Each story is nicely crafted, weaving interesting characters into suspense-filled stories. Norton offers a nice twist on a familiar story idea. Which is always nice to find in such familiar territory.

Unless I missed it, there’s one glaring oversight. The characters travel through space to other planets. When they arrive back on Earth, there are no time dilation issues. There are a couple ways around this, but I don’t remember seeing any discussion of them.

And then there’s the cover. Which doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the story. Other than appealing to juvenile readers’ vision of a “sci-fi” cover, it’s one in a long history of lame genre cover art.

“Time Traders” is the first of a series about this universe and characters.

Rating – *** Worth a Look

Please Vote!

For years I have said the same thing on Election Day, I don’t care who you vote for, just go vote.  We may not agree on anything politically, but I still want you to vote.  I’m also a member of the “Don’t Vote = Don’t Gripe” party.  Be part of the process as we try to find a way into the future.  If you choose not to do so, why on Earth should I care about what you think later on?  You have your chance today.

Please Vote!

 

Year of the Short Story – Ray Bradbury

There was no way that I was going to do a short story series and not include Ray Bradbury. When I am asked about authors I admire, Bradbury always tops the list. He is the author whose work strikes deepest into my heart and mind. If I am given the choice of an author to whom I’d wish to be compared, it’s him.

Given that I struggled with his writing at first, it’s an interesting place to land. “The Martian Chronicles” is where I began with Bradbury. And I could not get past page 37. It took three attempts before I forced myself to just finish the book. Already a science fiction fan, I felt that this was a “must read”. Once I finished it, I never looked back.

BradburyWith 100 short stories, this is a great place for both the beginning Bradbury reader and the established fan. The majority of his output was short stories. Stories that spanned genres were his trademark.

Stephen King, in his book “Danse Macabre”, claimed that Bradbury belonged more to the horror world than science fiction. I was outraged at the time I first read that. As I continued reading Bradbury, I realized that there is a thread of horror that permeates the vast majority of his writing. It is a subtle, creeping dread that you feel at the edges of your senses.

In his output, you can find something for anyone. Coming of age stories, romance, humor, science fiction, and horror.

There’s no way I will even try to list all 100 stories in this collection. I enjoyed every last one. The following stuck out:

The Illustrated Man – This is the most subtle horror story of them all for me.

Another Fine Mess – Old movies are a passion that I share with Bradbury.  Movies are ghosts in many ways.  Here’s a story about movie ghosts.

The Rocket – The master takes on racism.  The end of the world is coming and only some will be saved.

One for His Lordship and One For the Road – Really just some silliness, but wonderfully built as always.

The Whole Town’s Sleeping – Here is a classic, pure horror story.

The Beggar on O’Connell Bridge – another horror, but subtle writing takes it beyond mere fear.

The Wonderful Depth of Dudley Stone – A darkly funny story about how death can set an author free.

The Swan – A love story that reaches beyond time.

Oh, let’s face it, I could list every single story in this collection as one that grabbed me.  Find any of his collections or novels (Because it’s based in the glory days of the movies, “A Graveyard For Lunatics” is a special favorite of mine), and explore Bradbury’s brilliant technique and storytelling.

On Writing – Why I Write

On the days that the words do not flow, this is the question on the top of my mind. Writing can be the hardest work in my world or the easiest. There doesn’t appear to be anything in the middle. The words flow like water coming down a mountain or they disappear into the darkest night without a sound or sign.

So why do I do this? There are a lot of other things that could fill that time. But I keep coming back to the blank page or the blinking cursor. And I write.

Normally it’s a red

For me, it is part of a longer path in my life. I have spent my life telling stories. The first time I told a story in front of an audience I was in kindergarten. I filled my childhood with stories for myself. Riding in the backseat of my parents’ car, I would scan for enemy spies tailing me, while the backyard served as a battlefield and kingdom for a mighty warrior and his “sword” (usually a stick.) I would try out accents when I spoke, much to my father’s annoyance. My real life was a rather dull, suburban, middle-class existence. So, I told myself stories to brighten my day.

The next step was not the written page, but onstage. I have never had a fear of audiences; I love them, in fact. So, moving into competitive speaking and acting were the natural next steps.

I didn’t begin to write until late in high school and then into college. It was my college writing classes (thank you, Dr. Ralph Sturm!) that inspired my love of creating stories on paper. Here was a new way to use words to bring the images in my head to life.

The challenge was that writing requires a level of patience that is not natural for me. I am easily bored by routine and get frustrated when what I’m doing isn’t perfect the first time through. (According to experts like Dr. Kevin Lehman, this is not unusual in first-born and only children. I’m a first born.) That’s a problem for a writer! The work is always flawed at first, and a routine for writing is one of the few things that pretty much everyone agrees is needed for writing success.

 I began to do some work-related blogging that expanded into movie and book reviews. There were weekly radio scripts for my media commentary program that I shared on the blog as well.

So, for years I “played” at my writing. It was only with the challenge from my oldest (and only) child to “get serious” about my writing that things changed. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) showed me that I could produce quality, if initially flawed, work on a regular basis. I rediscovered my love of short stories and published a collection of them.

Today my writing is my primary mode to tell stories. I feel yearning to bring some of that oral aspect back, so I’m looking at ways to make that part of my routine.

In the end, I am a storyteller. Because of that, I am a writer.

Peace

A Life In Faith – Surviving The End

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

(Warning – the following topic makes me cranky.  You have been warned)

Well, I’ve done it again.

In fact, so far I’ve done it several times just this year.

Survived another prediction of the end times/rapture/whatever. Honestly, I’ve lost track of how many of these have come and gone. It’s around a dozen, maybe more. All of them have come with various levels of “support” and, sadly, media coverage. None of them have been true.

Not. One. Of. Them.

None.

I am truly tired of people making my faith look foolish (this isn’t the only way this is happening. But for today, I’ll stick to just this one.) From a media point of view, it’s a fun story. And an easy one. Plenty of sizzle (the END OF THE WORLD!!), plenty of people willing to talk about it, and a concept that “affects” everyone. (There’s just one problem.)

It’s all rubbish.

Complete and utter nonsense. Here are a few things that don’t play for me.

  1. The Rapture – This is not a universal Christian belief. The word doesn’t appear in scripture (in this sense). A certain amount of interpreting various bits of scripture is required to build a foundation for the concept. Does that mean it won’t happen? No, but I’m agnostic on the subject. Especially in light of #(4)
  2. Scripture Code – There is an even smaller group of Christians that believe that woven in the words of the Bible is a secret code. A secret code that only a few people can figure out. It’s an elitist approach to scripture that’s at odds with all of the obvious teaching of the Gospel. Jesus doesn’t whisper secrets to an elite few, he tells them to go out into all the world. And why would God put “Easter eggs” into it? Making sure we’re not losing the meaning as it moves from language to language is a full-time job. So naturally, because He loves us and wants us to live the way He wants, important pieces of information are hidden in the text. This requires an understanding of the Divine as a game player. And one who plays favorites. Which is inconsistent with the Gospel.
  3. Bad Science – One “prophecy” this year required the planet Nibiru. Never heard of it? Not surprising, since there is no evidence it exists. An even smaller group of people have latched onto this “Planet X”, an enormous planetary object that will supposedly strike (and destroy) the Earth. First discussed in 1995 by a person who claimed to be able to speak with extraterrestrials through an implant in her head, science utterly rejects its existence. An object that big would create disruptions to all the other objects in our solar system, making it easy to identify. There’s no evidence of anything of the sort. No evidence at all.

Oh, and Nibiru was supposed to hit in 2003 AND 2012.

Oops.

  1. Jesus didn’t know, so how do you? – According to Matthew 24:36

“But about that day or hour, no one knows. Not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (NIV)

The Rapture is always associated, to some degree, with the Second Coming. And no code breaking is required to figure out that we aren’t supposed to know. I Thessalonians (5:2) reinforces that idea that we won’t know.

Unless you’re one of the “special” people who have secret knowledge.

The whole thing aggravates me. That it has come to be treated like a mainstream Christian belief aggravates me. That more Christians and our leaders don’t make clear what an out of left field belief system this is aggravates me.

This is the belief of a tiny fraction of the population. Beyond the broader question of the Rapture, the rest is a threadbare cloth of bad theology and worse science.

The best thing for all of us, believers and non-believers, is to stop giving this foolishness an audience.

Because it’s rubbish.

Don’t waste your time thinking about this kind of stuff. It distracts from what our life in faith is supposed to be about. Loving God, loving one another, caring for those in need. If you’re busy doing that, it makes no difference when or if the world comes to an end.

Peace

J