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I was looking at a forum thread about “story theory.” Things like theme, structure, and charter vs. plot were discussed.

I just finished reading Samuel R. Delany’s “Tales of Neveryon,” and was feeling particularly thoughtful. As I knew I would after reading it. Here’s my story theory.

A story is the map of an island.

Maps of poorly charted, largely unknown islands are regular. They form smooth shapes, and make easy sense of the world. They show the world to be something sensible.

But the more an island is explored, the more that part of the world falls from the unknown to the known, the more irregular the map. What was once made of sweeping lines connecting north to south, east to west, is revealed as broken and jagged.

Careful study doesn’t help. Bold headlands are crumbling, temporary structures, and even the placid, peaceful beaches can shift with a storm. The more exactingly the lines of the coast are measured, the deeper the irregularities go. The chaos never ends.

So back away from the fractal knives that threaten to cut when examining anything too closely. There’s a level of detail that, while perhaps still confusing, rewards study.

Readers can use such maps to chart an accurate course and sail past wrecking-rocks not shown elsewhere, or even to places too strange to fit on any simpler map.

No map is the territory. But some maps can be almost mystical, and in the cartographer’s carefully chosen detail reveal more about the territory than is apparent when they disembark and smell the trees and listen to the rain, and wonder what’s on the other side of the hill.

I’ve been beavering away, writing. No new publications, but I won a contest!


Speaking of beavers … Searching out pictures to convince Nick that hamster soldiers are real, I ran across references to the Hamstalfar, and thought I’d share.


It’s an example of the sort of thing I got up to before writing made its bid to consume all my free time: A fully functional civilization for the PC game Civilization IV, inspired by the Kibblic Edda.

virginia_ohanlon_ca-_1895Actually, I was the one who received some seasonal kindness. Virginia Marybury shooed me away from Facebook when I should have been writing. I’m afraid I went back a little later – but only briefly! The mood of impotently stewing over the world’s injustices that marks the Facebook experience had been broken.

As proof that I did get back to work, here’s an excerpt of the night’s output.


Finush dropped the plate and backed away, eyes wide from Ennat’s shout. “I’m … I’m sorry, Bel! He—”
“He just left?”
“Yas, Bel.”
“I don’t know! I’m sorry, Bel. I told you!”
Ennat held up his hand, to stop Finush retreating from the dining table, and took a calming breath. “Okay, just let me get this straight. Imduk-Gesh arrived, and you offered him a place to rest.”
“Yas, Bel-Ennat.”
“And then you offered refreshments.”
“Yas, great Bel.”
Ennat stabbed his hand at the serving tray in the center of the table. “And you gave him the lamb? My special lamb!”
“Yas, Bel, I’m sorry Bel!”
“It’s what he asked for, generous Bel. I couldn’t refuse Bel-Imduk-Gesh.”
“Give him some other lamb!”
“He asked specifically for this one, Bel.”
Ennat threw his hands wide. “How did he even know about it?”
Finush moved back another step. “I’m sorry, merciful Bel. He saw it marinating.”
“He saw it?” Ennat shook his head. “What was he doing in the kitchen?”
Finush felt the wall at his back. He’d been hoping it was the doorway … “It’s where he asked to rest, Bel.”
“The kitchen? Why did you let him rest in the kitchen?”
“It’s what he asked for, Bel. I couldn’t re—” Seeing Ennat’s features twist, Finush shut up.
Ennat concentrated on his breathing. He knew he shouldn’t let it bother him … but he’d really been looking forward to that lamb. Worst of all, he’d been at Imduk-Gesh’s private stores. He hated it when Imduk-Gesh preemptively got revenge. It was a terrible habit in a friend.
But the lamb didn’t explain why he’d left. It wasn’t the significant thing, the strange thing …
“All right,” sighed Ennat. “Forget the lamb. Forget how much wheedling I had to do, with that insane priestess, to get it. Forget what a long day I’ve already had, and how much I was looking forward to it. All right?”
“Yas, Bel.” Finush sighed, but silently. The Bel wasn’t going to let him forget it.
Ennat pointed to the table again. “What I want to know is, what’s going on with the beer and wine?”
Finush frowned. “I don’t know Bel. Is it a new trick? Should I bring in the whole family, so they can see, too?”
No it’s not a—” Ennat stopped. Finush was grinning. “Very funny. No, look … look at this!” Ennat lifted first the beer server, then the amphora of wine, setting each back down on the table with a thud, demonstrating their full-laden weights. “Imduk-Gesh barely drank anything.”
“Those are the second pot and amphora, Bel-Ennat.”
“I can see that! The empties are right there! But only one container of each?”
Finush nodded. “Yas. That’s unusual, isn’t it Bel?”
“It’s a miracle is what it is. Was the Lugal here, personally saving his most pious priest from a life of dissolute drunkenness?”
“No, Bel.”
“I didn’t think so. So why did he leave? Did a messenger come?”
“No, Bel … He spit out some wine, Bel, and left right after.”
Ennat frowned sourly. “Did the Mistress appear behind him?”
“Never mind. People spit out their wine sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
“Sorry, Bel.”
The hair on the back of Ennat’s neck stood up.
Ennat stared straight ahead. He wasn’t going to turn around. She wasn’t there.
“Please, Bel-Ennat?”
Ennat’s eyes focused on Finush. “What?”
Finush’s mouth fell open. “Um …”
“Right. Imduk-Gesh. Spitting. It does mean something, sometimes. What happened when he spit it out?”
“I said, ‘That’s all right, Bel, I didn’t like that tablecloth anyway.’ ”
“No, I mean, what happened just before his little accident. What caused it?”
“We were talking.”
Ennat looked at Finush expectantly, waiting, then said. “All right, yes. I can understand his position. But what were you talking about?”
“Ah …” Finush tapped at his lower lip with one ham-roll of a finger, thinking. “Oh! Bel, he was asking how you were, how the household was, how—”
“He was spying, yes, go on.”
“Yas, Bel. It was … he asked about visitors, and I told him that Gilmun-Enmet had been here this morning.”
Ennat’s eyes narrowed. “And he spat out his wine.”
“Yas, Bel.”
“He left right after that?”
“Immediately, Bel.”
“Well … he asked for a carry-box, first. For the lamb.”

Just that I’m actually planning out a novel to some extent. That’s the surprise I’m referring to.

I think the color coding was a waste of time. We’ll see.


I’m feeling sanguine about pumpkin spice everything, everywhere you go, because … well, first, because I never go anywhere. But also because I’ve got three stories being published this month or soon after. I’ll post links as they become available.

“The Cage,” a literary magical realism story,* won 87 Bedford’s Foreign Setting Short Story Contest. It should be published late this month.

Şehzade Suleiman, thinking himself safe in the Kafes, meets an impossible man, and is offered what seems an impossible choice.

Gallery of Curiosities will be podcasting “The Greatest Zombie Story Ever.” It’s funny, not scary, so let your kids pull up a chair and give it a listen. They’ll learn something.

In the bunker, Russell Albro faces a crowd almost as hostile as the unquiet dead on the street. But a single bad night is just a setback. He made Hollywood great again, and he’s still full of bright ideas.

“Egg Basket,” another humor piece, will be published by Bewildering Stories on the 3rd.

Two explorers from Earth shop at the Mall of the Orion and find a sale that changes their world.

I also want to mention “The Keepsake,” a romance, more or less, was published awhile ago by TWJ Magazine.

A bittersweet story of powerful memories bound in a strange lump of plastic.

*Yes, that’s the best label I can come up with.