Archive for the ‘Jim Smiley’ Category

Persons of Interest

Posted: February 3, 2011 in Jim Smiley, The Whole Works

“Persons of Interest” by Jim Smiley

My new friend looked at me intently. “Wait a damn second. You’re a Southerner?”

I puffed out my chest and made pigeon noises. “Enough. I’m actually just a border ruffian from Southwest Missouri.”

Lou laughed. “I think to be a Southerner is to be forever in a state of exile.”

“I think I agree, but is it because we know that no one, ever, lives up to the bullshit they preach in church? And everyone who knows better would rather live in exile than be a hypocrite?”

“You might have read some Flannery O’Connor.”

“I might have, at that.” I took a deep breath. “But if what we say is true, then that means the place we love is less about the geography than the people.”

“That means the people are the geography.”

Point taken.

The upshot? Get out there. People are interesting. Pull on your hip waders, and prepare to bullshit!


Embrace the Chaos

Posted: January 18, 2011 in Jim Smiley, The Whole Works

“Embrace the Chaos” by Jim Smiley

Scratch. Scratch.

You know it is there, and it isn’t your head finally coming unraveled after six shots of espresso. You try to ignore the hell out of it, because you know your wife left an hour ago. You aren’t expecting anyone. But what the devil is it?

You check the door, expecting– what? The Reformed Church of Satan? The Coalition to Ban Free Will? None of the above.

Her eyes meet yours in an ageless, knowing hunger. You sag, defeated.

“Very well, Charlene. Breakfast is on me. Please don’t climb on any more fire extinguishers.”

She chitters and barks her hello. Fucking squirrel.

Nothing really to prove here, just a point of illustration. Adventure (and good ideas, and quiet dreams of stillness) are where you might find them. There is no hard and fast rule for where inspirations might be found.

An exercise I like to call, “The Stalker’s Lament” goes like this. You see a random person, and you take a mental snapshot. You never look at them again. You construct an elaborate story around them, with motivations and complications.

How is this random or chaotic? The very act of them being in that one place for you to see them is an act of randomness. The only thing left for you to do as a writer is to jump off that particular cliff.

“The Wet Dark” by Jim Smiley

The forest and the mountains might have been there forever; I didn’t know. I couldn’t see much beyond a few yards, and I’d never seen anything to compare with this weather. Rain sluiced down my shirt, adding to the awful chill around my heart. Ground fog eddied around the trees, giving the me impression that there were shadows moving around in there.

It had been at least a few hours since I escaped from the fiendish bitch in the schloss. Like the fool I was, I thought she only meant to kill me, or turn me into one of her slaves. No such luck; it pleased her to make me keep reliving the worst turns in my life. I think the smell of my living blood tormented her, and she thrived on the pain she inflicted on herself. It figured that she’d enjoy torturing herself, as well as others.

One time, she left herself open, and I could see into the ancient past. Her past. The trauma and fear of a young bride, just into her teens, married to a cruel man thirty years her senior. Unending nights of horror, until she felt nothing at all. Until only torture could stir her heart at all. A visit from one who served the will of Satan himself, and the hurried flight from Cjesthe. That was the closest thing she’d ever had to a honeymoon, and it ended in her Undeath.

I saw light ahead of me, and a became dimly aware of the Countess’s light footfall behind me. With some last reserve of strength, I threw myself into the light from the door. She hissed, cheated of quarry at the last moment. I could see the scene through her eyes, and my pity for her died abruptly, as I finally understood.

The light from the door was on my chest, and it was in the shape of a cross. The Countess hated the shape, hated to be reminded of what she had been cheated out of, but mostly, it was the symbol of eternal love and sacrifice, things her night existence could neither acknowledge or fathom. I still felt pity for her, but I knew when I struck the blow that finished her, I’d just be relieved that she’d never inflict any more nightmares. I had more pity for her future victims.

“Slayer of Lilith….why do you fear me? Could it be that you fear more for another? Someone dearer to you than your mortal life?”

She was thin on facts. I hadn’t put down Lilith; I was just there at the time. But I’d take the credit. But her implied threat had me going, and I almost forgot where I was and what time it was. I simply wanted to rip her head from her shoulders. About that time, I felt warm hands under my arms, pulling me inside the cloister, and locking out the darkness that still walked.

“Symmetry” by Jim Smiley

A wind, soft but insistent, ran over the prairie grass. Two or three wisps of cloud tried to stand against it, but they finally gave up and departed, leaving two figures standing alone in the churchyard.

“I think I need to go away,” mused the taller of the two.

“Is there any place that can comfort you? Especially now? After seeing the things you’ve seen?” The second figure spoke from millennia of knowledge.

“I never doubted there were nasty things in the world. But their problem should have been with me. My family was off-limits. Under protection.”

“That’s not the way it’s done, Matt. We have set rules for this sort of thing, after all.”

“And you expect the Prince of Darkness to play fair? I can see myself burning in Hell for being dumb enough to buy your line of pious bullshit.” Matt kicked at a discarded blossom.

“Does it not occur to you that Satan might not even know of the attack on you and your family? That there are other factions in play?”

“I thought about that. He’s been in charge of the darkness a long time. I doubt that he didn’t know about the operation. He had to have known.”

“It’s not like you suppose. You have this idea of the Prince as some mighty, horned god out of your nightmares. He was that way, once.” He exhaled, pausing for effect. “He’s just an old man now, besotted and senile. Hell is being run by those who came after.”

“Then what have I been fighting against all these years?”

“It might be a hundred lesser devils that are the ones responsible.”

“Responsibility. You make them sound like demonic terrorists.”

“If it helps to put that name to them, then do so.”

“It’s not like I’m a member of the angelic host….and I’m only a mortal, with only this lifetime….”

“I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but I don’t believe I like it. What exactly do you propose?”

“I’m proposing nothing, you pompous twat. I’m telling you: this attack on my family means war.”

The angel did not quite laugh. “And do you think you can even get the direct attention of Hell?”

“I know how to get there incarnate. I kill everything that crosses my path. I don’t care who or what they are.”

“Even if you could get to Satan, what do you mean to do? He was an archangel, Matt. Even old and brittle, he is too much of a foe for you.”

“Let my friend in Novisibirsk worry about that. He owes me a big favor. Say…about five kilotons worth.”

“You’ll be killed.”

“How about that? I’ll already be in Hell. Convenient.” He turned to leave, and never knew it when the angel broke his neck with a casual, fatal blow.

“I’m sorry, Matt. But Satan provides symmetry. The Son wouldn’t like what I did here today, but what He doesn’t know won’t hurt Him.”


Finding Your Happy Place

Posted: December 18, 2010 in Jim Smiley, The Whole Works

“Finding Your Happy Place” by Jim Smiley

Very well. We’ve discussed music, source material, inspirations, and other things. But where to go to write? Let us look at some of the typical haunts of the writer; we can call it Laphroaig’s Guide to Unusual Birds.

The coffee shop: Always a favorite of impoverished creative types, coffee shops have their own ambience. The brown residue on the noses of the habitues isn’t blood; it’s coffee grounds. This a great place to write, provided you don’t mind the company of skinny beatniks (they’re skinny because they haven’t figured out caffeine is an appetite suppressant), and other writers. This could even be territorial: a writer, brandishing a laptop instead of a bone, in front of the monolith. But come prepared with earphones for your iTunes. Heavy music seems to work well with too much in the way of stimulants.

The pub: Beloved of those of us of Celt and German extraction, the pub differs from the bar in that it typically more intimate, quieter (I wouldn’t count on this), darker, and friendlier. It’s worth noting that a good pub is worth scouting out for the best times to write. Good pubs tend to get crowded and loud. Another characteristic that I’ve found in researching this is that pubs offer better customer service and ale selection than bars. At worst, if it gets too loud to write, you at least have somewhere comfortable to watch people. That’s usually good for story ideas. By all means, avoid any establishment with a dance floor. You’ll never get anything done, unless you enjoy watching alcohol-fueled stupidity.

The library: Most public libraries are okay for this, but the real ideas (for me, at least) tend to flow better at university libraries. They tend to be quieter, and have fewer people milling about. This is the only one where you’ll need to supply your own refreshment…but you do have the option of Bliss In A Can. Energy drinks. If nothing else, you’ll get a lot down on paper, and once it’s there, it can be edited.

Local recommendation: Maher’s, in Lake Oswego, OR. This is one of the finest pubs I’ve been in, with Irish sensibilities down to its toes, stellar service and food, and -wait for it- authentic Guinness, brewed in Ireland. It can and does get crowded, and the layout doesn’t lend itself well to plugging in your laptop, due to the comparatively small floor space of the establishment. But it’s warm, fun, and friendly. If you need a break from writing, or just can’t get any ideas at all, go there with a legal pad and pen. Just relax. Look at the flags attached to the ceiling. Have a second Guinness. Order the corned beef. Breathe. Note the fragments of conversations. Just jot them down, without trying to form a plot. Soak up the atmosphere; without the Green Dragon for contrast, Mordor wouldn’t have seemed half so oppressive.

“That Hidden Place” by Jim Smiley

“How did I get here?”

“Is that the best you can do? ‘How did I get here?’ You sound like a hungover Irishman.”

“Marion? What are you doing here?”

“Watching you dither, and flail about. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Walking away from you.”

“Think harder, love. After you said goodbye. After you buried my heart in the cold, cold ground.”

“My head hurts. You don’t have to make it worse.”

“I don’t have to make it worse, but I have to confess…I’m enjoying myself.”

“Okay; maybe I deserve that.”

“And more, you lout.”

“More? What’s more? What could be worse than this?”

“I’m the last woman you loved. I get to tell you things.”

“And I’m sure you will.”

“I get to tell you…that you died.”

“When? When did that happen?”

“Let’s see…you left me at the altar, weeping, and went on for three years. screwing whatever crossed your path, and never cared again about anyone’s feelings. Even your own.”

“If I’m dead, smartass, then how come you’re here too?”

“You never knew, did you? Of course not. Mom told me all about your exploits. “When I couldn’t stand the quiet in our house anymore, I had a little accident. I’ve been waiting for you, just so I could point a finger, and tell you what I really think of you….”

“Wait a minute. Go back to when I left you at the altar. What happened after?”

“You died like the stupid drunk you were. You would make a mess on your way out of the world.”

“I left you for a good reason.”

“I doubt I’ll see it that way. But go on. We’ve got nothing but time.”

“You mother threatened to tell you that your sister was sleeping with me. She threatened to tell your church group that you had an abortion at sixteen, and were a hooker in college.”

“But Dierdre hated you. Those other two weren’t true…or were they?”

“No. But your mother told me that if she couldn’t have you, no one could. I was afraid that if she made good on her threats, you’d kill yourself. I think she counted on your lack of memory. I think that…with no one to rein her in since your father died, she went further and further into insanity.

“Here’s something awful: I couldn’t live without you. I died that day I left you. It just took years for me to fall over.”

“You don’t have to cry. But tell me, where are we?”

“I don’t know. I only wait. Wait for you.”

“Now that I’m here, what happens?”

“I should go to Hell for killing myself.”

“I should go for not killing your mother for this. But I didn’t know you were dead.”

“You never even checked?”

“Why are you tearing up again? If a door to Hell opens, I have something to tell the management. Someone’s got a lot to answer for.”

“Over the Top with Animals” by Jim Smiley

Here’s a quaint bit of lore common to both the South, and the Pacific Northwest: Pets are family. Animals add qualities to characters: some overly cliched, like the library cat, and others are just good indicators of disposition.

Cats, first. They have a lot of mystical qualities, and a lot of folklore around them. But say you have a witch character, and her cat is white, instead of black. Someone calls her on it. How to explain it?

A. “These things happen.”

B.  “He was black, but then he saw you naked.”

C.  “He flunked the physical.”

Critters really are characters in and of themselves, and they make perfectly good foils. The slavish familiar, such as that nasty raven of Maleficent, in Sleeping Beauty? Great reinforcement, since we know the evil bitch is in league with the forces of Hell. Hell evidently doesn’t tolerate much in the way of backtalk. But neutral or good characters can benefit greatly from the presence of animals as foils or friends. In the case of children, the presence of pet can signal that the child has a sense of responsibility.

Dogs are a personal favorite of mine (my sorry butt having been saved by one). Dogs take the prize for being judges of character. Say that you have a character that is dysfunctional, and the dog wants to play. The dog is being normal; the character is too tired, depressed or grief-stricken to behave normally, and the contrast is sharp for those of your readers who are dog people.

Choice of pet can be a good indicator, too. Fish go well with introverts, who just like to look at them swimming. Cats and dogs go well with people they would describe as ‘suckers.’ You know, the cranky old man that gets up at seven in the morning to put out peanuts for the neighborhood squirrels. The grizzled veteran that won’t turn away a hungry dog or cat. These might be stereotypes, but the way they got that way was a resonation in the collective soul of us all.