It’s the early nineteen-nineties, and Jerry, a successful advertising executive, is having a breakdown. He’s done too much shading of the truth, and he’s watched too much Headline News, and he can no longer make sense of the world. Now, sitting at the breakfast table, he contemplates the possible future for himself and his family while dealing out a hand of solitaire…
Good morning! Allow me to welcome you to another Thursday, which I know you’ve been awaiting with bated breath. It’s the first Thursday of December 2018, and the new year rapidly approaches. Hanukkah has already begun, and some other biggish holiday is also coming up, based on the various decorations and songs one hears in the shops.
I’ve been working steadily, if sometimes not as quickly as I like. Solitaire should be ready to publish soon, probably before the end of the year. We’ve already begun working on the cover design, which I don’t expect to be a great surprise, but which nevertheless is so appropriate as to be all but inevitable.
I’m excited about publishing Solitaire, and I’m enthusiastic about people reading it, but I want to say again before that day arrives: this is not a happy story. It has its moments of sardonic humor, I suppose, but it is supremely dark…so dark that, when I originally wrote it, I couldn’t imagine where to send it to get it published. I couldn’t see how any magazine would want it.
Not that it’s not a good story; obviously, I think it is. But it’s not science fiction, and it’s not supernatural. Thus, venues dedicated to those genres were not readily available. And though there is a surprise revelation involved, it’s not really a mystery story, either. It’s the tale of an advertising executive having a breakdown, and contemplating the recent events of his life, and that of his family, while dealing out a hand of solitaire at the breakfast table.
But this is not the whole story of why I never tried to have it published; it’s actually a bit of excuse-making. The fact is, especially as a younger man, I was nervous about putting Solitaire out into the world. From then to now, the reactions of those who have read it have ranged from, “Man, that guy’s really bitter,” to “Doc, you’re fucked in the head.” These comments have always been made in good humor—the commenters clearly meaning what they said as a species of compliment—but these were people who know me, after all. They know I’m a good guy.
Strangers reading Solitaire might be rather put off. I suppose that’s okay. People who can’t handle dark things should avoid it; for certain others it may even be “triggering.” I would go so far as to say that someone in the throes of a significant mood disorder probably should not read it.
Still, I think it’s a good story, and I’m proud of it, despite its darkness…or perhaps because of it, who knows? If I don’t, I don’t see how anyone else could. I think that, although sometimes the best way to deal with darkness is to whistle past the graveyard and make jokes, at other times its just as well to dive right into the deep, dark end of the frigid pool and get it over with, or get used to it, or whatever you want to call the process. Maybe such fiction is a way of saying, “The world can be dark. Sometimes it can be very dark. We can take it. Bring it on.”
Whatever the meaning, I’m delighted to have rediscovered it, and to be able to present it to you in a venue all its own, hopefully for your enjoyment.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m also editing Penal Colony. It’s taking longer than Solitaire, partly because it’s a longer story, and partly because Solitaire gets priority. Penal Colony is more light-hearted, and it is definitely science fiction, though not of the ray-gun, starship variety—it takes place in the modern world, mostly in an all-night diner. Make of that what you will.
And, of course, Unanimity is moving along as well. We’re about to reach the final confrontation, something I’ve been approaching for many times longer than have the characters in the story (which takes place over only a few months). It’s been a long road, much longer than I expected, and it’s good to be able finally to catch a glimpse of the end, even if it is still off on the horizon. Or some other, better metaphor.
Have a happy holiday season, even you only tacitly celebrate the Winter Solstice. It may be cold and dark outside, at least in the northern hemisphere, but that’s okay. As I said above, we can take it.
Bring it on.
First of all, I’d like to wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to all those living in the United States. I hope you have a wonderful day, enjoy a feast with friends and family, perhaps watching some decent football games, and doing any and all other good stuff such as will make you feel thankful.
I wasn’t sure I was going to write anything today; I often skip these posts on holidays, as you may have noticed. However, such a fortuitous and unexpected thing happened to me today that I simply had to share it. Talk about being thankful!
I was fiddling around with an older email account, one that I’ve had for many years. It may even be my very first personal (as opposed to work-related) email, I’m not sure. Anyway, I used one of its functions to look through the list of all the files that had ever been attached to my emails. I was, specifically, searching for an old Harry Potter fanfic of mine that I liked quite a bit, but which I’d lost (I wrote part of another at the same time, and I still have that, so it’s doubly frustrating not being able to find the other). It’s a silly story, to be honest, one that I never even had the nerve to submit to a fanfiction site, but I really would like to be able to find it and read it again.
Well…I haven’t found it. I’m not giving up, but my Bayesian estimated prior probability of ever locating it is small indeed.
So, why am I thankful? I’ll tell you.
Some of you longer-term readers may recall me mentioning an old short story I once wrote, and that I had more than half a mind to try to rewrite. This short story was called Solitaire. Well, I did NOT find my lost Harry Potter fanfic (title: Disinhibition), but I DID find an older-style Microsoft Word copy of the short story Solitaire! It’s the complete story! As written, if memory serves, way back in the early nineteen nineties, or perhaps even the late eighties!
I wrote the story during the summer, when I was visiting the young woman who would later become my wife. I don’t think we were officially dating then, but if we were, we had just started…it was right after she graduated from university. In fact, it may have been that summer when we first got involved.
Anyway, she had a summer job with Squibb, if I remember correctly, and was working on a project that was going to keep her up all night. I’ve always been a night owl, and she worked better with my company (according to her), so I stayed up with her. I had a spiral-bound notebook with me, probably from my own college stuff, and I decided, while she worked, to write a story.
Solitaire was that story. I wrote the whole thing that night, almost in its finished form. It didn’t need much editing. When she read it, her response was along the lines of, “It’s really good…but what in the world was going through your mind to make you write something like this?” To that I had no clear answer then, and I have no clear answer now. It’s just the way my mind seems to work.
I never tried to get it published because, frankly, I couldn’t see what kind of publication would want to release such a dark story. Now, though, I have just the venue, and I’m going to put it out for Kindle (and will later include it in my eventual next collection of short stories). It will probably be ready to publish before Penal Colony…which is coming along well, thanks for asking.
I’m obviously even happier than I would have been if I had found the Harry Potter fanfic (though I am still frustrated about that). In fact, I think the only thing that might make me happier would be if I’d magically found a file containing my complete first horror novel, Vagabond. Alas, though that was saved as a computer file, I don’t think I ever emailed it to anyone. If it’s ever published, it will have to have been rewritten.
[This isn’t as heartbreaking as the loss of the first novel I ever completed, back in high school, Ends of the Maelstrom. Unfortunately, that was 570-some-odd single-spaced, handwritten pages, with much overflow squeezed between lines and into the margins, and I never got the nerve up to begin rewriting it. My procrastination cost me dearly there, as that book is now lost with all my other worldly possessions from prior to 2011 (see this week’s post in Iterations of Zero for an explanation of why).]
Hopefully I’ll let that be a lesson to me. Knowing me, though…well, we’ll have to see, I suppose.
But still…wow! Solitaire, in near-original form, discovered at long last. Thank goodness for the near-eternal memory of the Internet. Soon, all of you will have the opportunity, for less than a buck, to read the story that caused the woman I was going to marry to wonder just what the hell was going on in my head. (She did marry me, so obviously she wasn’t all that worried, though many years later she effectively reversed the decision.) And, of course, shortly after that, you’ll get to read Penal Colony and In the Shade if you’re so inclined. And not too much after that, Unanimity will be forthcoming.
You have so much to which to look forward. I envy you.