New Publication: The Only Series that Matters

TOSTM-c-3Well, it’s newish. It’s a collection of all the posts I’ve been making about A Series of Unfortunate Events. If you haven’t been reading them, it’s a series of essays in which I examine each book in A Series of Unfortunate Events upon rereading them a decade after I first fell in love with them as a kid. The essays highlight literary techniques, thematic explorations, and the ideas communicated in these books that have resonated with me from when I first read the series to today.

If you have been reading them, consider purchasing the collection to support posts like these, and the blog in general. The collection holds all the posts that have appeared on this site so far, plus the last four posts that will appear on the site over the course of the next month, polished up and consolidated for the book. It also contains “Chapter Fourteen,” an essay that won’t be published on this blog, discussing my relationship with the series through different parts of my life, and The Appalling Appendix—an index of selected notes, quotes, and observations from the file I kept while rereading the series.

Currently it’s available on Amazon, and on May 4 it’ll be available on Smashwords (you can preorder it there now.)

New Publication: Boom Town

I’ve just published “Boom Town,” a short story available on Smashwords and Amazon.

boomtown-4The story takes place in a small town on the living planet of Eltru, when a vast reserve of fuel is discovered beneath the town. Katherine, a young girl whose family lives on a spice farm over the fuel reserve, quietly observes her parents as they struggle over whether or not to sell their land to a mining corporation, and move away from their home. She relies on her close relationship with her brother to help her understand the secret conflicts and tensions between the adults, and ends up keeping some dangerous secrets of Julian’s herself.

The publication includes an afterward where I describe how subscribing to Asimov’s influenced the story, and my writing sensibilities as a whole.

New Publication: Grumbles

I’ve just published “Grumbles,” a short story available on Smashwords and Amazon.

cover-4The story  is told by Claudio, who returns to the house of his uncle Terrance, one of his many guardians during his tumultuous childhood, to decide what memorabilia he wants to take with him on his move to the asteroid belt. As he sifts through old scrapbooks and toys, he re-discovers “Grumbles,” a robot companion from his adolescence with an acerbic, sardonic attitude. Space is limited on the shuttle out to the belt, so Claudio and Grumbles argue heatedly about which objects are worth taking, and which items present a distorted recording of the past.

The story was originally published in Kzine, and you can still purchase the issue it appeared in.

So Francis, why should I buy this thing, when I can buy another thing, which has the first thing in it, as well as other things for no additional cost?

Because you love me? Also, because this publication includes an afterword describing the origin of the story, the process of editing it, and some of my own memory-recording habits.

New Publication: He Molested Kids

cover-3I’ve just published He Molested Kids, a short play available on Smashwords and Amazon.

In this fifteen-minute play, four college students meet to plan a party, and end up sidetracked by an argument about the savior of the world. Just a few months after he defeated the Himalayan, allegations of sexual abuse have emerged around Dawa the Savior. This issue turns from small talk among a group of friends to an explosive argument with deep implications.

The publication includes an afterword in which I discuss the origins of the idea, and how my intro to political analysis class factored into it’s outlining.

Other announcement: I’m on Twitter now, @FrancisRBass.

New Publication: Just Dig

justdig-4I’ve just published “Just Dig,” a short story, available on Amazon and Smashwords. Here’s the synopsis:

Two brothers, asteroid prospectors, are awoken when an asteroid lands somewhere along the boundary between their little plot, and the enormous plot owned by their neighbors. They drive out to see on whose plot the rock has fallen, and who can claim it as theirs to sell. As they do, they argue about whether they can depend on luck to end a long dry spell, or if they’ll have to make their own luck to turn a profit.

Also included in the publication is a brief afterword, in which I explain the origins of the story, the edits it went through, and who won the 2014 FSU vs. Notre Dame football game.

New Publication: De.mocra.cy; also, Holiday Sale!

democracy-c-3Here we go with my first self-published prose piece! It’s a short story about a democratically run MMO. You can buy it for half price (more about that below) on Amazon and Smashwords. Here’s the synopsis:

Volt is the leader of the Anarchists, an official gang on the De.mocra.cy server. In a near-future internet filled with highly regulated, highly restrictive MMOs, the De.mocra.cy server is entirely self-regulated, affording unprecedented freedom of speech and freedom of violence to its users—until now. A new law has outlawed violence between consenting parties, and Volt must mobilize a fractious group of gang leaders to campaign against it—and, unbeknownst to them, to challenge the Unwritten Amendment.

Also included in the publication is an afterword, in which I discuss some of what I mentioned in my post about limits, as well as where the idea for the story came from, and what “–> <— vs. <– –>” means.

In addition to publishing this, I’ve set all my ebooks to half price, at which price they shall remain until the end of December. You can find them all on Smashwords and on Amazon.

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyous Kwanza, and just good job being a human, everybody!

No Longer Than

In a few days I’m going to self publish the short story “De.mocra.cy,” and writing the afterword for it brought me back to an interesting revelation I had after editing it. I hate limitations in writing, and will do everything to work around, nullify, or flat out ignore them.

This may seem oppositional to the idea that limits are good for writing, though it isn’t entirely. The limitations which I hate are artificial ones—ones which exist beyond the world of the story. In this post I hope to clarify that distinction, explain what drove me to this realization, and tangentially promote that upcoming short story. Although maybe this will actually make the story seem less appealing, who knows.

Before I talk about my experience with that piece though, I’ll go all the way back to my experience in the fourth and fifth grade. Because at that time, I already knew that I hated limits. I wasn’t much of a writer then—at least, I didn’t write regularly, though I did enjoy it a lot. I was always happy to have creative writing assignments in school, because I loved imagining strange worlds and interesting characters. What I didn’t love was that these assignments had to be a maximum of five pages double-spaced (I think—it may have actually been shorter.) That’s about a thousand words, which is about two thirds the length of this post. And while that’s a fine amount of work for most nine- to ten-year-olds, for me it was awful. I always found myself pushing up against the max length, and ending the stories abruptly. That length is just not congruent with the way my imagination works. Over the past six years I’ve written twenty-six short stories, and only one of them was under that length.

But that’s not so bad. A few bizarre, goofy short stories truncated—it’s no big loss, and it was no big frustration to me. What was worse was the max length for plays in high school.Read More »

Free Writing: On the Walk Home

Here’s a somewhat spooky piece of writing for Halloween, inspired by a thought I had while  …

On the Walk Home
Francis Bass

My legs pound into the ground, leaden, burning.

I stumble. I stop.

I’ve never seen this place before. I don’t remember getting here. I don’t remember anything from this walk, I don’t know how long I’ve been walking, but I started for home at noon, and now it’s dusk. I’m on the side of a deserted highway, surrounded by unfamiliar, old, low buildings with peeling paint, and tall dark pine trees.

“…He has had a long day in court. I left him there with Vholes. You don’t like Vholes, I hope?”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House. It drones in my ears.

I don’t know what part of the book this is. When I headed home from school, I was just listening to the first chapter, trying to get a head start on my reading for Tuesday.

A cold wind leaps up behind me and swoops over my shoulders and through my sweat-soaked shirt.

The sun is low, pumpkin-orange, gray clouds puffed in front of it. I look at the buildings, search them for some scrap of familiarity that might orient me. “Canaan Groceries” is beside me. It looks long closed, but there’s a faded blue pickup parked in front of it. A daycare squats across the street from me with a bleached sign bearing a rainbow and some illegible lettering. Not far ahead is an impoundment lot, filled with the rounded bodies of cars hunkering down.

Lights flare up and a car zooms past me on the road.

“… in her most genteel accents, ‘my executor, administrator, and assign. (Our Chancery phrases …’”

I tear my phone out of my pocket, and just as I do the audiobook stops playing, and a battery icon, empty, blinks on the screen. Then the screen goes black.

I stick my phone back in my pocket and twist around. The seat of my shorts is wet, my underarms are wet, the back of my shirt is wet, and its all cold in the wind. I hold my thumb out to the road stupidly, but there are no cars coming from either direction, just the fast disappearing red winks of taillights on the car that just passed. The only other motion is the pine trees, big dark furry sprouts walling in the highway, swaying. My arm aches after only a few seconds of holding it up.

I turn around and yank off my earbuds. I walk to the pickup in front of the grocer’s, but as I approach I see that the tires are gone, the thing is beached, stranded, ownerless, covered in dead leaves and pine straw.

I hear a car coming, and I run back to the street and hold my thumb out, but the approaching headlights just blast past me. I realize how dark it is now. The sun is just a few jagged scraps seen through fractal black foliage. Long shadows blend into one big shadow which spills across all the road and all the parking lots and all the trees. I start walking up the street, in the opposite direction from where I had been heading before.

My footsteps sound strange, out-of-sync. I stop for a moment, and quiet, crunching footsteps continue. I am riveted in place. My throat is dry. My eyes burn in the wind. I start walking again, looking straight ahead, into the darkness of the road. The footsteps are near me. I hear rubber soles squeaking. I fumble at my side, not looking down, grab my dangling earbuds, and put them into my ears. The footsteps start running, whapping the ground faster faster faster right toward my back with deafening crunching thunking sound blasting into my skull through the earbuds and I keep walking, don’t think, into the wind, into the dark of the set sun.

My legs pound the ground.

I’m in front of the door to my apartment complex. I reach for my keys.

“… has come up from her place in Lincolnshire (hotly pursued by the fashionable intelligence) …”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House droning in my ear. I realize that I haven’t actually been listening to it. A warm wind blows past me, and I enter my apartment building, stepping out of the mid-day sun. As the door shuts behind me, I realize I don’t recall anything from my walk home. I left my classroom, started listening to the audiobook … it doesn’t matter. I’ll have to re-listen to those chapters, or just actually read them, tonight, since we have a reading quiz for them tomorrow. It’s a shame. I was hoping to get the reading done on my walk home so I could have the night free.

It sure sucks having Halloween on a Monday.

Copyright © by Francis Bass 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Learning from Shakespeare’s Histories

adolf_schro%cc%88dter_falstaff_und_sein_page
Falstaff and his Page by Adolf Schrödte

In preparation for writing a historical play (not based on real history, but a play with banners and kings and armies) I’ve been reading a few of Shakespeare’s histories—namely, Richard IIHenry IV part 1Henry IV part 2Henry V, and Julius Caesar.

Now, I’m not taking any classes on Shakespeare, nor have I ever taken any classes exclusively focused on Shakespeare. This post doesn’t come from a well-informed scholarly background, or from someone intimately familiar with the discourse surrounding Shakespeare. I’m just some guy who likes reading and writing and watching plays. With that said, this is what I’ve learned.Read More »

New Publication: Monastery

School’smonastery-c-hvd-2 back in, so what better time to read a play about the future of higher education and students arguing with each other?

You can buy Monastery on Smashwords or on Amazon. Here’s the synopsis:

A couple decades in the future higher education has evolved, and Academic Campuses (sometimes referred to as “monasteries”) offer an affordable, though longer and more intensive, alternative to universities. In this hour-long play, the student editors of the Marietta Academic Campus’s literary journal, The Mac, meet just before the start of summer to finish up the latest issue, and to celebrate their success. As the play continues, a hypothetical conversation about graduating early and starting up a magazine outside the monastery turns into a spirited argument.

As usual the publication includes an afterword. In this one I describe my own arguments with myself about college, and my outlining process for the play.

Harry Potter and the Holistic Review

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverI just finished Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I feel like it was one of the most multi-layered reading experiences I’ve ever had with a contemporary work. By multi-layered I mean that I was thinking about, and analyzing meta-textual elements while reading it—which is a common enough experience, when I’m reading old literature for my english classes, but pretty rare with recently published books and plays. So, rather than just reviewing the play as I might review Mr. Burns or Water by the Spoonful, I’m going to review the play in all it’s aspects—the things I noticed as a reader, as a writer, as a theatre person(ish), as a fan of the original books, and as someone interested in the publishing industry. I’ll mention plot elements throughout this post, so if you don’t want the play spoiled, halt now.

So, let’s begin.Read More »

New Publication: We’ll Tell Happy Stories

We’ll Tell Happy Stories is now availableCover-2 on Smashwords and Amazon!

The 70-minute play is about Boa and Ardom, two refugees posing as ambassadors. With the help of a local captain, they and their daughter have survived for years pretending that their home country, Choroa, is still perfectly stable. When a royal edict orders that all Choroans must leave the country or face enslavement, Boa and Ardom must reveal harsh truths and spin fanciful stories in order to convince their hosts that they should be allowed to stay.

The publication also includes an afterword describing how the classes I was taking at the time affected this play, the origins of some of the names, and other trivia you may find interesting.

You can read the first half of the play for free below.Read More »

New Publication: Beach Realty of Sandcastle Isle

Beach Realty of Sandcastle Isle is now available for purchasecover-5 on Amazon!

UPDATE: Also on Smashwords!

The fifteen-minute play follows two characters—Raymond Mare and Sandra Holt—as they vie for control of Sandcastle Isle. Ray is the CEO and inheritor of Mare Realty, an old, moneyed company which has a near total monopoly on the Floridian beach island. Sandra Holt works for the newer, less successful Beach Realty of Sandcastle Isle. Sandra, pretending she’s only a tourist, befriends and manipulates Ray, and the power dynamic between the two companies begins to shift. With each passing scene, the stage is constricted as the water rises, and the beach steadily erodes.

If you read my post “That’d Make a Great Play,” this is the play I was talking about. I was driven to right it because I found the spectacle of staging an eroding beach so interesting (it was also an assignment for my playwriting class, but whatever—I would’ve written it anyway.)

Included also in this publication is an afterword describing how I came upon this idea, why I went the path that I did with it, and why the name is so damn long.

What better summer reading than a play about Florida sinking?

New Publication: “Grumbles” in Kzine

MyKzine15cover short story “Grumbles” is now available in the May 2016 issue of Kzine! This is my first publication by a paying magazine, so I’m very excited about it.

Kzine is a genre magazine, which publishes crime, horror, fantasy, and sci-fi stories. “Grumbles” falls into the sci-fi category. It’s about a foul-mouthed robot companion arguing with his owner about what childhood memorabilia the owner should pack for his move out to the asteroid belt. So if you’re interested in AI, futurism, or explorations of memory (thematically and science-fictionally), “Grumbles” should be an enjoyable read for you.

You can buy it here if you’re in the US, and here if you’re in the UK, and if you’re somewhere else you probably know better than me how to get ahold of foreign publications. It will also be available for free tomorrow, the 29th, for the day.

How a World Makes a Story

Whenever I’m writing a secondary world, I always draw a map. Even when I don’t need to—even when the characters aren’t going to be traveling all over that beautiful map I drew. I imagine for some writers they aren’t important. It’s enough to know the distance between certain locations, and the names of the different countries, and that’s it. But I feel like I can’t start without knowing the shape of the world. I often don’t begin to do any world-building before drawing the map.

Part of it is this idea that I don’t know what I’ll need until I get there—I don’t know if I’ll need to know the topography of a certain part of the world until I’m in the middle of the first draft, and a character needs to have an anecdote about it. If I come across that situation, I’d rather be able to pull from an independent document rather than make something up on the spot (though I certainly have done that.)

Last week I talked about my personal process for drawing maps. This week, I’m writing about how all the information that I put into my maps helps me with world-building, characters, and plotting. While everything I’m going to talk about can be accomplished through written world-building, I find that maps do a lot of the same stuff much better and more efficiently than written descriptions. So, here are the four aspects of world-building and plotting for which I rely greatly on maps.Read More »

How I Make a World

I write a lot of secondary worlds, so I draw a lot of maps. Some are fairly simple, some are more detailed. The more detailed ones are for worlds that I’ll have to write in for awhile—novel- or novella-length pieces. In this post, I’ll go through my process for making one of these most detailed maps, because the process for less detailed maps is essentially the same, but with only the specific aspects I need.

This post isn’t meant to be a how-to—it’s just my own system that I’ve developed and modified as I’ve been drawing maps for invented worlds since I was ten. There are a thousand ways to go about map making (one of those thousand being to not make a map at all), and this is just one of them. I’m sharing it because I think it’s interesting, and I haven’t read much from other writers about this part of the creative process. Hopefully it is at least entertaining, and at most it provides some useful tools for fellow writers to improve their world-building.

So, let’s begin.Read More »

That’d Make a Great Play

I think you can turn any idea into a play, and any idea into a piece of prose. However, there are some ideas that just suit one form or the other better, and since I enjoy writing both, I never try to make an idea that’s best for a short story into a play, or visa versa. I can’t really say what makes an idea excellent material for prose, because there’s so much flexibility in style and scope with prose fiction—however, plays are much more limited. So it really is special when I have an idea for a story, or find inspiration in some piece of news, and think, Man, that’d make a great play. So, when I’m considering how to develop an idea, these are the biggest characteristics that make me think it’d be a good candidate for a work of theatre.

Restricted Setting

This is probably the most obvious one. Because theaters have limited budgets, and limited stage space, most plays take place in one or a few locations. Of course there are exceptions, like every Shakespeare play, but most plays feature just one or two settings. This is something that sets prose and plays apart. There is a clear limitation on the story which is communicated to the audience. The characters can’t get around one another—they can’t solve their problems somewhere else. Everything is going to have to go down on stage, and that creates tension. Even if a prose story is all set in one place, there’s no feeling of suspense over the knowledge that it’s going to be finished in that space—because it isn’t necessarily going to be finished in that space. There are no inherent limits to the form, so the characters can go anywhere they want to, and it takes more work for the author to establish restrictions. With plays, the restrictions are instantly clear.Read More »

No One Thinks of Salt

No one thinks of salt.

Of course, people who live in cities close enough to either pole of the Earth do—they see it on sidewalks and roads and doormats for some period of time every year. They couldn’t not think of it, like they couldn’t not think of shoes. But they don’t really think of it in the way I mean. By “think of,” I mean “think up.” And while this could be applied more broadly, I’m mostly focusing on writers when I say “no one.”

More accurately I should say “no one would think of salt,” but that’s not as snappy. Besides, the idea came to me as “no one thinks of salt!” with an implied “if they have no exposure to it.”

So now that everyone’s confused, I’ll try to start making sense. I’ve lived in Tallahassee, Florida almost my whole life. The city, and the entire county it’s in, has just one snow truck, which practically never gets used. In my whole life living there, it only snowed once—and then it was more sleet than snow. So I definitely didn’t think of salt.

I knew that people salted roads in cities where it snowed, but what I didn’t consider is that sidewalks would be salted too. Now that I live in Iowa City, and I’m experiencing my first northern winter, I’ve realized that this is the case. I’ve also realized that salt gets stuck in the treads of your boots, and ends up all over the floor if you don’t kick them off thoroughly. Had I written a story before I lived here, about a city experiencing a typical, snowy winter, I never would have thought to add the detail of a character having salt caked around their boots. But that kind of inventive, extrapolated detail is what makes good writing, especially in science-fiction and fantasy.

Granted, world-building isn’t everything, and a well-told story with the typical fantasy props (castles, dragons, swords, etc.) can still be fun. But there’s no reason a writer can’t tell a good story and develop a well-realized world. Reading science fiction from the fifties, it always nags at me when nuclear power shows up. Many sci-fi writers used it as some catch-all that could power everything from household appliances to helicopters, rather than fully considering other potential energy sources. As a result, the worlds feel simplistic and flat.

Kim Stanley Robinson on the other hand is an excellent world-builder (though not from the fifties.) In his Mars trilogy, he has the typical tented colonies you might find in any martian story, but he also considers the possibility of cities built into mesas, or under the ice caps, or within lava tubes. His rendition of a colonized Mars feels explorable and deep.

Now back to the salt that no one thinks of. Let’s suppose an Earth that is covered by an enormous ocean, with every human being confined to an equatorial island where it never snows. On this tropical island, fantasy writers might spin tales of an incredible world where ice falls in little droplets from the sky. Science fiction writers might speculate about colonizing the polar ice caps. Would these writers consider the problem of snow obstructing paths, and the need to remove it? Probably. But what would their solutions for this problem be? They’d probably be pretty straightforward, and be more impractical than they’d appear on paper. These writers might imagine snow plows, or heated roads, or awnings that could extend to cover pathways when the snow fell. Maybe these writers would lazily speculate that snow could be channeled through gutters just like rain. Salt, although highly practical, would not be the common representation of a solution in these snow stories. But if some writer were inventive and thoughtful enough to envision salt as a solution, their story would be so much richer than the same-old same-old plows and heated roads.

This is what makes some speculative fiction feel not so speculative. What’s fantastic about another retread of Tolkien’s orcs elves and dwarves? What’s innovative about a domed colony on Mars?

It’s the writers that take the time and consideration to extrapolate, and solve problems from the viewpoint of a character in that world rather than an outsider, that create three-dimensional setting. Beyond speculative fiction, it’s the writers that research, or actually visit the setting of their story and fully observe its complexities, that portray a landscape which feels genuine.

It’s the writers who think of salt that craft worlds a reader can live in even after they’ve stopped reading.

Upcoming Publication: “Grumbles”

I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, Kzine15cover“Grumbles,” will appear in the May 2016 issue of Kzine, which will be published sometime around the end of May.

Kzine is a kindle only magazine featuring stories of crime, horror, fantasy, and science fiction. My story falls into the latter category, and once again deals with robots. More than being about sentience or robot souls though, “Grumbles” is about preserving memories, and choosing which memories to hold onto. More literally, it’s about a foul-mouthed robot companion arguing with his owner about what childhood memorabilia the owner should pack for his move out to the asteroid belt.

So … get hype? I think that’s the industry parlance.