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.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

What Do You Care About?

     This one is for the other fiction writers out there, whether already practicing or still just “loosening up.”

Why do you [want to] write?

     It’s a question many of us never face squarely.

     I’ve known people who were avid for what they imagined as the “lifestyle” of a writer. Seldom did their imaginings bear much relation to reality.

     I’ve known people who wanted to memorialize certain events through a fictional lens. They found those events to be supremely important, and they knew that fiction is better than exposition at expressing the underlying themes of human action and human nature.

     I’ve known people – including one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever met – who merely saw fiction as a way to augment their incomes. The great majority of them have been bitterly disappointed by the returns on investment.

     And I’ve known people who just wanted to see their names on the cover and spine of a book: the “now I’m somebody” syndrome that more often plays out in the context of one of the performing arts.

     But why do you want to write? Is it one of the reasons above? If not, then what?

     You really should know, and quite clearly, before you set your fingers to the keys. It will determine everything.

     One of the foremost science fiction writers of the Twentieth Century, Robert A. Heinlein, said on several occasions that he wrote “to buy groceries:” i.e., simply for what he could earn that way. You sure as hell can’t tell from most of what he wrote! They’re replete with insights of all kinds: into government and politics, social structures and their evolution, religion and human speculations about the supernatural, human motivation, the limits of the achievable, and so on. A few of his books might seem lightweight at first. A couple of them, toward the end of his life, were self-indulgences (e.g., I Will Fear No Evil and The Number of the Beast). But by far the greater part of Heinlein’s oeuvre is rich with thematic content of the sort that renders them usefully instructive – intellectually durable – memorable for the best of reasons.

     I could name other writers, alive and producing, who claim to be “in it for the money” but whose stuff has the thematic heft and solidity of Heinlein. A dear departed friend who sought to make his living from fiction discovered that he couldn’t do it. He cared too much about the quality and thematic content of his stories to pour out saleable hackwork. And I will tell you something I’ve never told anyone before: I couldn’t do it either. My first agent encouraged me to “lighten up,” to write stuff she knew she could sell because it was already flying off the shelves. I tried...and gave it up long before I could produce even one novel-length tale.

     At this point I’ll stop circumnavigating the shrub and tell you baldly what you need to know, fellow storytellers and storytellers-to-be:

You’d better know what you care about the most, because that’s what you’ll write about.

     And there is not one single thing you can do about it.

     Fiction writing is hard. It takes a lot of time and effort. It’s frequently frustrating, too. No one can dedicate himself to something as prolonged, arduous, and intermittently maddening as the creation of a novel unless he’s getting exactly what he wants from the process and its products.

     Storytelling can be like mining coal, or it can be like searching for diamonds. The market for coal is much, much larger and steadier than the market for diamonds...but you must be willing to accept the grime and the drudgery of coal mining to reap the profits available from that market. And what you get for your labors is weariness, black fingernails, and coal. There’s no kidding yourself about that.

     So know, clearly, explicitly, and beyond all possibility of self-deception, what you care about sufficiently to embrace the labors of the storyteller. I’m here to tell you: storytelling is the hardest work I’ve ever done.

     I have no doubt that you’ll feel the same.

     You might be wondering why I chose this topic for today. Simple, really: I’m serving as a countervailing voice to a writer I like personally who apparently feels otherwise. Sarah has a lot of books available. I haven’t read most of them, and most of the ones I’ve read have failed to affect me. However, Sarah is a respected figure, at least among speculative-fiction writers and fans. For that reason a lot of aspiring writers and newly fledged ones will take her sentiments to heart. That makes it important that other perspectives are available to them.

     This one is mine. Make of it what you will.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Not Quite New Fiction

     In fact, if you’re a Liberty’s Torch Gentle Reader, you’ve probably read them all already:

     This little collection pulls together the short stories that have appeared only at Liberty's Torch, and adds a few that previously appeared at Smashwords, from which I am gradually disassociating. Amazon won’t allow me to give it away, so I have to ask a price, but it’s only $0.99, so if you’d like a permanent copy of them, guaranteed to remain yours when the day comes that Google finally chases me off this service, it’s about a third of the cost of a cup of Starbucks coffee. Consider it a Christmas gift with a small delivery charge. Also, it’s without the horror of “Digital Rights Management,” so feel free to pass it around.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Light Bill

     [A short story for you today. Copyright (C) 2018 by Francis W. Porretto – FWP]

     She looked up as he seated himself at the dinette table. The gloom in his face nearly shocked her out of her own seat.
     “What’s the matter, love?” She caressed the back of his hand. “You look like you just ate a whole lemon.”
     “I wish that were all I had on my mind,” he muttered. He picked up his fork and started to address his meatloaf, dropped it and sat back with his arms crossed against his chest.
     I know that look. It’s money.
     Presently he said “We can’t stay here.”
     “Sweetie,” she said, “if we have to cut back on something—”
     “There no way we can cut back any further,” he said. “Not enough to matter, anyway.”
     She waited.
     “The light bill arrived today,” he said.
     Her anxiety surged. “Bad?”
     “Crippling. Over a thousand.”
     It shocked the breath out of her. “For two months?”
     He nodded.
     “What was the previous one?”
     “Seven hundred and some.”
     That was bad enough. I couldn’t get a word out of him for days.
     She looked down at her plate. A scoop of mashed potatoes, a tablespoonful of peas, and a very modest slice of meatloaf. It was the most indulgent meal she’d prepared all month...and with light bills on that order, she wouldn’t be serving it for the foreseeable future.
     He’s right. We can’t stay here. Unless—
     “Sweetie,” she murmured, “why don’t we have a look around after we’ve finished our dinners? There might still be some ways we could bring it down, and once we’re fed—”
     He was shaking his head.
     “You did another sweep already?”
     He nodded. “We’ve done everything we can do, love. There’s nowhere we can tighten up any further, and I’m not willing to live in the dark. It’s not us, it’s the rates. They’ve skyrocketed.”
     She sought her own resolve, found it, and brought it forth.
     “Then we’ll move to Broadville.”
     He looked up sharply. “You’d be willing?”
     She nodded. “If we must, we must.”
     “I remember how thrilled you were to move here,” he said. “A beautiful neighborhood, peaceful and green. Clean streets. Nice neighbors. Everything you wanted for our children to come.”
     “Everything,” she said, “except affordable. The light bill was extortionate even at the outset. Now it’s insupportable. So we move. Besides,” she said, “Broadville isn’t so bad. Pam and I were over there to shop just a few days ago. The community has cleaned itself up pretty well.”
     His gaze was steady. He seemed to be in the process of decision.
     Trying to figure out whether I’m sincere about moving, probably.
     “You sure you’re okay with it?” he said.
     She nodded once, firmly.
     “Then I’ll put this dump on the market tomorrow.”

     They got an entirely satisfactory offer almost at once. The buyers were a young married couple with no children. They were obviously very well off. He told them frankly about the light bills they could expect. That didn’t seem to matter to them. The man immediately wrote a check for half the stipulated down payment and suggested a closing that very week. They left smiling.
     She retreated to her little home office, pulled her crocheting project out of the wicker basket beside her armchair, settled herself and set the needles to clicking.
     I can’t believe it was that easy. There has to be a catch.
     But there wasn’t. When he came home he assured her of it.
     “The check cashed with no questions,” he said. “We’ve got twenty-five thousand dollars in the bank, with another twenty-five coming on Friday.” He crouched before her and took her hands. “We’re going to move, and we’re going to be okay!”
     She smiled broadly. For the first time in months she felt her anxieties lift. An impish thought took her.
     “Let’s celebrate,” she said. “Let’s splurge.
     He cocked an eyebrow. “What do you have in mind?”
     She rose. “Come with me.”
     She pulled him to the living room and gestured at the windows. All were tightly covered with blackout shades, just as they had been from the day they’d moved in.
     “Open them all,” she proclaimed. “All the way to the ceiling.”
     His mouth fell open. “The university—”
     “Damn the university. Damn the astronomers! Let’s have ourselves a revel. Just for tonight, sweetie!”
     Her wildness seemed to infect him. A wolfish grin formed on his features.
     “As you wish, my love.” He bared his teeth at the instrument of retribution. “We’ll just ignore them!”
     They went from window to window, raising the shades to their highest stops, often with a jerk nearly strong enough to rip them down. For the first time in months, light streamed freely through those windows, illuminating the otherwise pitch-black neighborhood they would soon leave behind.
     The phone began to ring almost at once. They let it ring.

     They found a suitable home in Broadville after a very brief search. They noticed at once that the windows were covered by venetian blinds, rather than the heavy blackout shades they’d endured for so long. They paid the entire down payment at once and demanded an immediate closing. The owners were happy to oblige them.
     The moving van had departed only minutes before, and they were in the process of unpacking, when the doorbell rang. She went to answer it.
     The man at the door was nattily attired. He carried the sort of briefcase one might see dangling from the hand of a lawyer. His smile was polished and impersonal.
     “I see that you’re new to Broadville,” he said with a gesture at the piles of half-unpacked boxes, “so you might not be aware of some of the most recent developments. May I have a few minutes of your time?”
     She glanced back at her husband. He nodded. She stepped aside to admit him. The three sat around their coffee table. Their guest set his briefcase on the table and popped the catches.
     “You’re in a tightly restricted zone,” he said, “so your application will be more demanding than most other Broadville residents.” From the briefcase he drew a segment of thick foam rubber. “This is the filling used in our wall hangings. Guaranteed to establish a twenty-eight decibel attenuation of secondary sound emissions. A number of attractive cover designs are available. Our products come with a five year warranty, with no pro rata and no return shipping charges. We also offer a liberal payment plan, thirty-six monthly payments at only three percent annually.”
     There was a brief silence. The salesman smiled calmly, as if their reaction were no more than he’d expected.
     “Anti-sound hangings?” she murmured.
     The salesman nodded. “You should get them up as fast as possible, Ma’am. The local seismographic institute will be on your case at once if you don’t. Fortunately, we have a crew working the neighborhood already, so I can pencil you in for the day after tomorrow.” He reached into his briefcase again and pulled out a clipboard loaded with blank order forms. “What credit card would you like to use? We accept all the major ones.”
     She turned to her husband. He stared open-mouthed, clearly in shock.
     He must not have known.
     “I think,” she said at last, “we should take some time over this.”
     “I understand,” the salesman said. He returned his sample and clipboard to his briefcase, fastened it closed, and rose. “But I’d advise you not to take too long. You don’t want to leave your house un-attenuated. Even for a properly shielded house, the sound bills in this district can be murder.”


Monday, November 26, 2018

From The “Why Am I Doing This?” Files

     Well, apparently Black Friday isn’t a choice day for a book promotion. Nor has Experiences set the world on fire just yet. But then, the stories I tell are pretty outrĂ©, so I shouldn’t expect them to be popular, right?

     So why do I write them?

     It’s a question I’ve asked myself before. I’ve also answered it before. However, owing to the amount of effort my novels demand of me, there are days the answer doesn’t pop out of the usual slot. So I compel myself to think about it afresh.

     On average, completing a novel-length story takes me about a year. That’s not a “standard,” 2000-hour work year typical of wage employment; it’s just the elapsed time from inception to release. I do other things during that time, of course, or I wouldn’t have a properly stocked larder, clean clothes, and an orderly house (and you wouldn’t get these sententious essays). My estimate for the average number of “labor hours” I put into a novel is about 700. I seem unable to speed up the process.

     That’s an average, Gentle Reader. Love in the Time of Cinema took fewer hours of effort; Which Art In Hope took far more. Each novel, however, has required an emotional commitment of a sort virtually every artist or craftsman will recognize: a dedication to the story as worthy of the effort regardless of how it will eventually be greeted by the reading public.

     In other words, the story must strike me as being worth telling in and of itself.

     I’ve occasionally lamented the fall-off in originality that’s afflicted fantasy, science fiction, and horror: the three “speculative” genres. But originality has its costs. One of them is the eschewal of trend-following: i.e., “getting on the gravy train.” Another is a near-constant state of self-questioning: the “why am I doing this?” of the title.

     Even the most dedicated creator will doubt himself. (Not the Creator, mind you; just us fleshbound types.) “Why am I doing this when I could be simulating traffic patterns / jumping my wife / finishing Rise of the Tomb Raider? Where’s the return on investment?”

     The return on investment must come from the work itself. The tangible ROI, for a typical indie writer, is likely to be paltry. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m terrible at promotion.

     That’s why I emphasize the importance of theme.

     Every worthwhile story speaks of the nature of Man.

     The previous sentence is a slight misstatement for purposes of impact. In a more accurate formulation, “Man” would be replaced by “personhood.” There are ineluctable consequences to personhood. The requirements:

  • Delimited existence;
  • Individual consciousness;
  • Limited powers;
  • Inescapable needs;
  • Individual wants and priorities;

     ...give rise to everything else: what philosopher Loren Lomasky called the nature of the “project pursuer.” They also give rise to the moral and ethical laws that bind us. Tom Kratman has called these properties “the eternal verities.” It’s the right name for them, for as Thomas Carlyle once wrote, they are “fixed by the everlasting congruity of things” and are not alterable by any artifice.

     The theme of a worthwhile story must perforce be the illumination some aspect of the nature of Man and the laws that flow from it.

     Just in case you’ve been reading this half-asleep – I know, a lot of my tripe reads better that way – this is a fiction writer talking about fiction from an existential perspective: a “why bother?” sort of inquiry. It’s inherently opinion rather than exposition. However, it explains – to my satisfaction, at least – why so much fiction is inherently forgettable:

A poor story illuminates nothing of importance to us.

     Please don’t mistake me. It’s not that we don’t know our own natures or the moral and ethical laws that flow from them. Our knowledge of those things is built-in, installed by God and communicated to us through our consciences. So it’s unlikely that even the best story will tell the reader something he never knew. It’s more likely to remind him of something he’s always known, though he might have temporarily mislaid (or overlooked) it.

     The desire to dramatize elements of that knowledge is why I write. A factual-logical argument for a baldly stated abstraction, no matter how imperative, doesn’t capture the allegiance of the listener nearly as well as a dramatic demonstration of how it would work among characters the reader cares about. Ayn Rand inspired more freedom advocates with Atlas Shrugged than the thousands of purely factual and logical arguments for individual freedom that came before her.

     The great persuaders have all known this. Start from Jesus Christ and work your way forward.

     My futanari stories have had several different principal themes. Innocents is about the importance of justice to the just and what it can compel them to do. Experiences dramatizes the power of the need for acceptance. I have a third novel-length story percolating as I write this – working title The Wise and the Mad — in which I intend to address the supreme question of our time: what is tolerable, what is not, and how to distinguish between them. (I think of this as the “one idiot allowed per village” problem.)

     Perhaps we already know the answers to the questions above. Perhaps, if pressed, any man could articulate the answers. But there’s more juice – more power to motivate – in a story about such things than in any dry academic argument about them.

     And with that, it’s back to my labors. Keep the faith.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

For Those Who Want Them

     I really should have mentioned this sooner: there are now paperback editions of:

     Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) section has made it so easy (and so costless) to release paperbacks that I could no longer resist the opportunity. Mind you, there’s nothing in the paperbacks that isn’t in the digital editions, but some readers prefer a hardcopy book. I should know; I have over 13,000 of them.

     Thus, all my novel-length works are available in both hardcopy and digital editions. Enjoy!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Free Fiction!

     Everybody else is having a Black Friday sale, so I might as well have one too:

     All day November 23, 2018, Innocents is free of charge at Amazon:

     A novel of the Onteora Canon, set in the very near future. Genetic engineering and zygotic microsurgery have produced both wonders and horrors. Wonders such as drugs tailored to attack a specific disease in a specific sufferer, or surgery to eliminate genetically borne handicaps before mitosis can begin. Horrors such as blindness or deafness deliberately inflicted upon unborn babies, or pitiable creatures whose bodies and minds are warped to satisfy the whims of wealthy perverts.

     Security specialist Larry Sokoloff is on vacation far from home, straining to forget a woman he loves but cannot have, when Fountain, a teenaged escapee from a malevolent institution, comes under his protection. What he learns of her nature and origins lays bare the darker face of the Janus of biotechnology, and catapults him and his colleague Trish McAvoy into a mission of vengeance and cleansing. For adults only.

     Innocents is the prequel to my recently released Experiences, so take the opportunity to collect the whole set and save a few bucks!

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.