My Fiction Site

In the right sidebar are clickable images of the covers of my novels, which will take you to their Amazon listings. Other posts will link to available free works – mostly shorter ones – and assorted thoughts on the writing of fiction.

Friday, November 16, 2018

New Fiction! (UPDATED)

     It’s here at last:

     The long awaited sequel to Innocents:

     A neurophysiologist develops a technique for altering human desires...
     A college strictly for futanari finds its protective obscurity threatened...
     A romance novelist becomes the emotional target of a young transwoman...
     A young American genius unknowingly courts a futanari from distant China...
     A Japanese sex slaver whose business was destroyed by an American security company seeks vengeance...

     Once again, Father Raymond Altomare, pastor of Onteora County, has his hands full.

     Experiences is currently $3.99 in digital form.

     UPDATE: The paperback edition is now available, priced at $9.99.

     Also, I’ve released an omnibus edition of the three Athene Academy novelettes, priced at $1.99.

     Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Serious Troubles Afoot

     Incredibly, Amazon is disputing my rights to one of my books. Here’s the email I received:

Hello,

     Thank you for publishing with Amazon. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has his or her books sold by anyone else. To publish your book, please respond with documentation confirming your publishing rights within four days:

     Love In The Time Of Cinema by Francis Porretto (AUTHOR) (ID: PRI-CXTSTTECFD9)
     Examples of documentation we cannot accept are:

     - A personal statement by you that you have the publishing rights
     - A copyright application for which registration has not been confirmed
     - Contracts that have not been signed by all parties

     Examples of acceptable documentation are:

     - If you are the author and you are republishing your book after your publication rights have been reverted to you, a signed reversion letter from your former publisher
     - A signed contract between you and the author granting you the rights to publish the book in the territories, languages and formats you have selected
     - An e-mail from the address listed on the author’s (or their agent’s) official website confirming that you have the rights to publish their book in the territories, languages and formats you have selected

     If you publish books for which you do not hold the publishing rights, your account may be terminated.

Best regards,

Amazon KDP

     I’m at a loss here. No one but Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has ever issued Love in the Time of Cinema. To the best of my knowledge, no one else is claiming to be its author.

     Here’s my reply to the email above:

Dear Sirs and Madames at Amazon,

     I don’t understand the reason for this demand. I am both the author and the publisher of Love in the Time of Cinema. Why is there any question about that? Has someone else claimed that the book belongs to him?

     I operate several websites, all of them on Google’s Blogger system:
     http://bastionofliberty.blogspot.com – My general commentary website.
     http://fwporretto.blogspot.com – If I have an “author’s official website,” I suppose this would be it, even though it doesn’t amount to much.
     http://face-press.blogspot.com/ -- This one is just a “vanity press” I invented myself.

     But at no time has anyone other than myself published any of my books. Indeed, at this time, all of them are available strictly through Amazon!

     Is it possible that there’s some confusion because I don’t consistently use my middle initial? Some of my books appear under Francis Porretto, and some under Francis W. Porretto. But both of those are the same individual: me!

     Please let me know what other information you need to resolve this, as I am totally dependent on Amazon for the sale of my books, including Love in the Time of Cinema.

Sincerely,
Francis W. Porretto

     Can anyone offer any insight? Any remedy?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Quickies: In Search Of An Idea

     (Leonard Nimoy, call your office!)

     As I await my cover artist’s creation, I’ve been maundering over what to do next fictionally. The Onteora Canon, as much fun as it’s been, deserves a rest, possibly a permanent one. Concerning the Spooner Federation Saga, with which I’ve had an equally good time (and which deserves at least one more novel), I haven’t quite worked up the energy for another volume in that especially taxing series. And I think I need to be away from Athene Academy and the futanari of Onteora County for a little while, for similar reasons.

     But I dislike idleness. To pause for a week or two after completing a novel-length story is one thing; to go on a months-long sabbatical away from fiction is quite another. Dangerous. I could lose my fictioneering chops and be relegated to nothing but these interminable op-eds for the rest of my days. So I’ve been casting about for a fresh idea that would sustain a novel-length story.

     Well, Our Lord and Savior has told us to pray for what we need, so this morning before Mass I asked Him – and His Dad and The Spook, of course – for an idea that would be:

  • Suitable for a novel-length story;
  • Usable in a fantasy or science fiction setting;
  • Relevant to contemporary discourse on a subject of interest.

     And glory be! I got one.

     What’s of greater current interest than ecological balances, eh? Damned near nothing I can think of. Perhaps the most contentious issue within that envelope would be the role of Man in the Terrestrial ecology. the loudest voices are those that proclaim that Man is an excrescence upon Earth’s ecology: an intruder who can only do harm, and whose effects we are morally obligated to minimize.

     But there are arguments, good ones, to the effect that the reverse is true: that Man is an integral part of the ecology, and that his subtraction from it would give rise to what any objective observer would call catastrophe... that is, if there were an objective observer around after Man had been removed from the scene.

     Now, in our temporal reality we would look for destructive organisms and pernicious influences that would surge beyond control without Man to moderate them. But a spec-fic approach would not be restricted to what know of Earth in reality.

     Larry Niven, Steven Barnes, and Jerry Pournelle turned in a nice treatment of this idea in The Legacy of Heorot and sequelae. But that hasn’t used it up. There’s room for further exploration of the idea. A significant departure might include non-biological interactors with a planetary ecosystem: interactors that only Man can control.

     I’ll be tossing this around for a few days, I’m sure.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Mr. Gone-Mobile"

     I’ve had a lot of fun, recently, owing to a kinda-sorta collaboration over my most recent novel, Experienced. (Yeah, yeah, I haven’t released it yet. I’m waiting for my cover artist, and I refuse to hurry her. She’s too good.) Because that interaction, conducted via email with a distant friend, was both productive and fun – it contributed materially to the final version of the novel – I thought I might extend the adventure. So here goes nothing.

     Regard the following character sketch:

     He’s in his early forties, unmarried and without children. He enjoyed enormous success in his trade, but he no longer practices it and is reluctant to talk about it. He drives around the U.S. in his motorhome, apparently unconcerned about the passage of time. He makes a point of knowing where the Catholic Churches are, and of attending Mass as often as he can.

     He’s six feet tall, weighs about a hundred eighty pounds, and is very fit. He takes pride in his appearance and his physical aptitudes, but he doesn’t brag about them. His outward presentation is unassuming: polo shirts or tees, khaki trousers or dark jeans, loafers or running shoes.

     He must have money, for he’s unconcerned by it. Now and then he takes a temporary job, but he’s never concerned about the pay. Moreover, the jobs are of every sort except office work. “I’ve had enough of that,” he was once heard to say.

     He can cook, but he eats out quite often, usually alone. His motorhome is impeccably kept and maintained. He doesn’t do much of that himself; he trusts the specialists who’ve made it their oeuvre...until they try to cheat him.

     His large motorhome contains several compartments that are unobvious to the casual observer, or even one who’s not so casual. One of them contains his firearms. A second is a walk-in refrigerator/freezer, equipped for easy sterilization. A third is large enough for two people to hide in. All of them are insulated against sound, radar, and infrared emissions.

     He’s seldom parted from his laptop computer. It’s a high-end model. He uses it both to read and to write. Now and then he’ll send an article to the op-ed section of the local paper. They’re seldom rejected.

     He likes people and makes a point of meeting the locals wherever he goes, but he’s disinclined to spend more than a week or two anywhere. There’s a lot of country to see, and he knows it could take more than a lifetime to see it all. That doesn’t keep him from becoming involved with the locals or in local affairs.

     Okay, Gentle Readers, here are my questions for you:

  1. What’s his name?
  2. Was he ever married?
  3. Should he travel with a dog?
  4. Does he have any living relatives?
  5. What are his reasons for choosing a life on the road? Is a lost love one of them?
  6. What white-collar trade did he practice that made him wealthy? Why did he give it up?
  7. Where should his first story take him and in what sort of adventure should he involve himself there?

     Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments, or to email them to me at the address I use for the website:

morelonhouse
- at –
optonline
- dot –
net

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Boil Them Down!

     Slowly, the Mule bowed his head, as anger and despair cornered his mind completely, “Yes. Too late–Too late–Now I see it.”
     “Now you see it,” agreed the First Speaker, “and now you don't.”

     [Isaac Asimov, Foundation and Empire]

     The period between the completion of the first draft of a novel and embarking upon the changes required to reach a final draft is, for me at least, one of great intensity. Sometimes it tells me things I seriously needed to learn – and not just for the refinement of the current novel-under-construction.

     In my stories, the driving force is always character. More specifically, my stories are about the reasons people do things. Tom Kratman has said that illuminating the “eternal verities” is his fuel. That’s a good short way to put it, for the eternal verities are immutable facts of human nature – and the most important of those facts, at that. So as I write, the characterization process is continuously uppermost in my thoughts.

     That doesn’t mean I always get it right.

     A friend I shan’t name has served as an indispensable test reader for Experienced, which is drawing near to release. Her observations have proved critical to unearthing flaws and under-exploited motifs in the story. But the most valuable thing she’s done for me is to illuminate, to and for me, a stunningly important guideline to characterization.

     There are only three ways to characterize a character:

  • Through what he says;
  • Through what he does;
  • Through what other characters say about him.

     My friend illustrated this for me by capturing each of the Marquee and Supporting Cast characters in Experienced in no more than three sentences. And in reading her summations I had a brain flash that damned near incinerated the BLEEP!ing useless thing:

A character’s character – i.e., his animating desires, fears, and convictions – must be summarizable in no more than three sentences.
If you can’t do that, you’ve got a problem.

     That comes pretty close to being a fictioneer’s Philosopher’s Stone.


     Characterization is critical to any writer who has a theme of importance in mind. If Smith wants his story to impress the importance of some idea on his readers, he must do so through the decisions and actions of his Marquee characters, and through the changes they experience as they travel his fictional landscape. Bad fiction will fail at this; good fiction will bring it off beautifully.

     The novelists of centuries past often missed this point. I find it relatively easy to excuse them; after all, the novel as a form was still in its infancy, and what works / doesn’t work was still being discovered. We of today have no excuse.

     Theme is closely coupled to the emotions we feel at seeing a character triumph or fail, or be exalted or destroyed. In my little tome The Storyteller’s Art, I wrote:

     [I]t's the passion evoked by the theme that's really important. However, the writer can't simply scream at his readers, “Feel deeply for my characters!” That would be akin to an actor trying to evoke audience emotion without a script, by the sheer power of his expressions and poses. That's called “emoting,” and no self-respecting theatergoer -- or reader -- will stand for it.

     Theme, as embodied in plot and character, is the conduit by which the writer transmits his passion to his readers. There’s a conservation law at work here, though not one you’d study in first-year physics: passion can neither be created nor destroyed, but only transmitted from artist to consumer.

     This approaches tautology. Yet the heartily detested maxim ”Show, don’t tell!” which fledgling writers have resented since Ug first scrawled on the wall of his cave is about nothing else.

     And as always, the fewer words you need to capture a character you’ll use to transmit your passion to your readers, the more likely you’ll be to depict that character in a maximally effective way.

     So: Once you’ve decided on your theme and Marquee characters, for each character, write three sentences, no more. One about the sort of things the character will do. One about the sort of things he’ll say. And one about what the other characters will be prone to saying about him. Strain for concision in each sentence; concision is the best imaginable aid to clarity. For best results, do this before typing the first sentence of the story. Print the results on a 3” x 5” card, prop that card in front of your monitor, and make a point of reviewing it before you begin a scene.

     It’s the cure for what ails your stories, and it’s available without a prescription. Trust kindly old Dr. Fran. Might help with your rheumatism, too.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Chekhov's Law

     (No, not that everything was invented in Russia!)

     You’ve seen me discourse about it before:

     “Everything not essential to the story must be ruthlessly cut away. If in Act One you say that a gun hung on the wall, then by Act Two or Act Three at the latest, it must be discharged.” – Anton Chekhov

     Anton Chekhov was principally a writer of short stories and plays. His sense for the constraints that apply to those forms animated his Law. He applied it as ruthlessly as he commanded the rest of us to do, even in his longer works.

     Myself, I prefer Mikhail Bakunin’s two rules for anarchists:
     Rule 1: There are no rules.
     Rule 2: Rule 1 is not binding.

     Nevertheless, I do appreciate the thought behind Chekhov’s Law. It pertains to dramatic unity: the sense that everything the reader has encountered will figure in the ultimate climax of the tale. And in the construction of a short story or novelette, it’s a far, far better thing to abide by it rather than to imagine oneself free of such a requirement.

     But hearken to one of the foremost storytellers of his time, the late, great Roger Zelazny:

     [A]ny story we tell is as much an exercise in omission as inclusion. Our death sentence reflexes normally take care of this, so that we hardly think of the bits of scenery, stray thoughts, passing faces, unimportant physical details we are leaving out.

     Somewhere, sometime early I came to believe in tossing in a bit of gratuitous characterization as I went along. It seemed to add something to the story as a whole if – by means of a few extra sentences – a stock character could be shown to have an existence beyond his walk-on role. I remember doing this with the civil servant Briggs – and showing something of the bureaucracy behind him – in Isle of the Dead. This I suppose to be a corollary of the Hemingway principle – an indication of the presence of things perhaps important in their own right but not essential to the story itself – actually the reverse of cutting an essential item and hoping that its light shines through. But I believe the effect is similar – in making people feel something more than they understand. It works to expand the setting of the entire piece and to provide evidence of the larger reality surrounding the action by giving the reader a momentary, possibly even subliminal, feeling that there is something more there.

     [“The Parts That Are Only Glimpsed,” in Unicorn Variations]

     Today this matter of “giving the reader a feeling that there is something more there” is pursued mainly by crafting interminable series of novels that feature a gaggle of characters the writer can’t seem to stop writing about. You know, like the Onteora Canon.

     So we have two great writers, separated by many years, on opposite sides of a critical “rule.” One tells us to abide by it; the other says it can be broken to good effect. Where, then, is Truth?

     I’d say it's here, in Uber-Rule Zero:

Carry yourself with enough brass,
And you can get away with anything.

     Note that this rule is far wider of application than Chekhov’s Law.

     I’ve been dancing around the edges of Uber-Rule Zero ever since I started writing fiction. I’ve played with implausibilities of many kinds. I’ve used themes that nearly never appear in contemporary fiction written for a general audience. I’ve contrived plots to which Rube Goldberg would say “Aw, c’mon!” I’ve crafted characters that will strain any reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief: immortal supermen, great geniuses, priests of great wisdom and benevolence, and politicians with consciences to which they actually pay attention. And I’ve done my best to act as if it’s utterly natural, “all in a day’s work.”

     Because the one and only true requirement of fiction is that the reader buy it and derive entertainment from it. That requires that the writer maintain a seamless pretense of auctorial nonchalance, as if his decisions are so swift and unstressed that he need say nothing about them...except for the story, of course.

     A caveat about the above: It’s not a prescription for the novice fictioneer to discard all the wise precepts successful writers have set down for him. Craftsmanship matters. So does a keen sense for the way people really act and speak. A coherent plot requires respect for the motivations of your characters. And of course, you must have a story to tell.

     Still, once you’ve mastered a certain degree of craftsmanship and have learned enough about people to be able to construct plausible stories about them, there’s a sense of liberation about it all. After all, fiction writing, as Lawrence Block has told us, is about “telling lies for fun and profit.” It’s very much like that greatest of all characterological assets for real – i.e., non-fictional – people, sincerity: if you can fake that, you can get away with anything. Really!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Being A Proper Authoritarian

     No, this will be an entirely nonpolitical piece. What’s on my mind this morning is a phenomenon I’ve long wondered whether any other writer shares: the sense that we lack complete authority over our own works-in-progress.

     The late Florence King, in one of her book review columns, wrote that it’s the role of an author to be an authoritarian. However, I don’t remember what she was commenting on at the time and can no longer find the link. What I’m thinking of is the curious authority of the words themselves, once they’re in the manuscript.

     There are several necessities involved in putting a novel together:

  1. Settling on a theme;
  2. Imagining a plot that would dramatize it;
  3. Conceiving of characters suited to acting out the plot;
  4. Composing a series of events to generate the necessary clashes;
  5. Setting those events in a timeline that’s both plausible and compelling;
  6. Working out both the resolution and the pointers forward into the unwritten future.

     Yes, it’s a lot of work – and after you’ve managed all six of those steps, you still have to write the BLEEP!ing thing. So it’s understandable that a writer will be reluctant to do it, or any significant parts of it, more than once in a given novel-project. But sometimes it’s imperative...yet at those moments it can be even harder to face than usual.

     An example: I submitted my first draft of On Broken Wings to an excellent free-lance editor – Rafe, if you’re out there anywhere, I hope you’re well and happy – who gigged the manuscript for a number of minor blemishes and one major one. The major one involved a love scene, which had cost me enormous effort to write. Rafe criticized it as unbearably sappy. While I eventually came to agree with Rafe’s assessment, I was massively reluctant to resculpt that scene. Indeed, it seemed impossible.

     Why? For a supremely bizarre reason: it was there. It was “in the past.” My characters had already acted it out. That alone made it seem immutable.

     Pretty weird, eh, Gentle Reader? I mean, you already knew that I’m fairly strange, but...well, never mind. My reluctance to excise the offending scene and write a replacement was stronger than you can imagine. I eventually did, of course, to the considerable improvement of the book. Still, that bizarre sense of the author’s lack of authority over his own work has recurred on several subsequent occasions, including in my most recent novel, Innocents, and in Experienced, the sequel under construction.

     It probably has something to do with the characterization process. If your characters are “strong” – i.e., if you have a vivid, nicely detailed conception of them that propels how they respond to the crap you put them through – substantially altering a particular scene can make you feel as if you’re being untrue to them. It can be tough to retain your conception of your characters, especially your Marquee characters, when you have to put a scene significant to your vision of them “under the knife.”

     What is more valuable to a novel than vividly conceived characters? You certainly wouldn’t want your major protagonists and antagonists to be weakly colored. Yet the “stronger” they are in that sense, the more likely it is that you’ll need to do major surgery on one or more scenes in your first draft: not merely rewording a few sentences here and there, but removing the originally narrated action and replacing it entirely. And that requires being a proper authoritarian: declaring to your characters that “Thou shalt not behave the way I originally had you acting,” and redoing their deeds and / or the scene in which they occur.

     It strikes me that this is less likely to be a significant concern to short-story writers. In a short story, the animating idea is all; the characters can’t be allowed a lot of room for hijinks. However, we do have one classic and very funny case available: the famous “tandem story” of Laurie and Carl:

Rebecca and Gary
English 44A
SMU
Creative Writing
Prof Miller

In-class Assignment for Wednesday:

     Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. One of you will then write the first paragraph of a short story. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth. Remember to reread what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.

     At first, Laurie couldn’t decide which kind of tea she wanted. The camomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked camomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So camomile was out of the question.

     Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. “A.S. Harris to Geostation 17,” he said into his transgalactic communicator. “Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far...” But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship’s cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.

     He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. “Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel.” Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth—when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspapers to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. “Why must one lose one’s innocence to become a woman?” she pondered wistfully.

     Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu’udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through Congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu’udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion which vaporized Laurie and 85 million other Americans. The President slammed his fist on the conference table. “We can’t allow this! I’m going to veto that treaty! Let’s blow ‘em out of the sky!”

     This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic, semi-literate adolescent.

     Yeah? Well, you’re a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium.

     You total $*&.

     Stupid %&#$!.

[Professor Miller: A+ I really liked this one!]

     I would have loved to be a fly on the wall the next time those two encountered one another. But back to my main query: Are there any other writers out there who’ve had the sense of lacking the author’s proper authority over your own work? The public wants to know!