Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

December 25, 2019

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

This is part 3 (and the conclusion) of the story that had begun in this earlier post.

It was like being everywhere at once.

Warmth and sorrow, family and fear, here and there…it was all the same.  It seemed to flicker like an old nickelodeon…phft-phft-phft as each smallest split second changed to the next.

At first, Scrooge/Everything couldn’t focus.  It was one rush of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and nothing.  You couldn’t look anywhere in particular because wherever you looked, you saw something else…or was it the same thing?  You (and I) saw yourself (and it) whenever we/they tried.

Eventually (although it happened instantly), Scrooge/Everything became aware of scenes.  Not as things separate from himself or from each other, but as part of existence (and yet, the whole of it).

Scrooge felt the immersion of someone reading a book…how you enter the author’s universe, while still being part of yours.

He was a single mother, a soldier in Iraq, the captain of the high school football team, himself, a surgeon, a small child sleeping on a cement floor with five other siblings, a cat, a dog, a thought, a prayer, a kiss, a tear…a moment.

He became aware of the Cratchit family.  Bob was still at work…we had that meeting tonight.  He felt his (Bob’s?) wife’s resentment, but resignation at the same time.  Two young children, who he knew were the twins, were playing a videogame.  A third tiny youngster shouted encouragement.

“Get him, Robby, get him!”

“I’ll get him, Tim.”

Scrooge knew there was nothing on the screen right then for Robby to get.  He was humoring Tim, who was blind.  His video self fired off a shot at the wall…the TV made the distinctive “pzzoo” sound of the ray rifle.

“Did you get him, Robby?”

“Sure did, Tim!  Sure did!”

The other gamer, a girl named Kelsea, rolled her eyes.  She didn’t really approve of lying, but it made Tim happy to be a part of the game.  She was itching to see the next level, and they weren’t going to have as good a chance of getting there if Robby kept wasting his ammunition charge like that.  Still, she figured it was worth it to see Robby high-five tiny Tim’s outstretched hand.

Buzz!

A voice came through the intercom.

“Mom, it’s me!”

Scrooge knew it was Martha, the oldest daughter.  “I’ll get it!”  Tim ran unerringly to the button and buzzed his sister up the stairs.

“Hey, Double-T!  I got you something!”

“Whatizitwhatizit?”

“Well, the teachers let us out early for Thanksgiving, and Ms. Ramirez dropped me off at the library–”

“Did you get me a book?”

“I did,” Martha said smiling.  “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

“Oh boy, thanks!  What’s a pimplemill?”

Tim’s mother called from the kitchen.  “Pimpernel.  It’s a flower.”

“A flower?”  Tim was still holding out his hands to Martha.

“Not this Pimpernel, Double-T!  He’s a hero…with a secret identity and everything.”

“Like Daredevil?”

“Even better.  He saves people from the bad guys in old France.  If he didn’t, they’d cut off their heads!”

“Yaaaaay!  I’m going to go listen to it right now!  Thanks, Martha!”

Tim took the box of CDs that Martha slapped into his open hands and ran down to the room he shared with Robby and Kelsea.

“That was nice of you, Martha.”

“Well, Mom, Ms. Ramirez offered to drive me.  Mr. Cho brought turkey in for everybody, so I had enough lunch money left for the bus.  I can probably get one of the other kids to take it back.”

“Mom,” Kelsea said hesitantly, “Latella’s cousin is blind.  They don’t have to get books from the library…he gets all the audiobooks he wants sent to him for free.”

“That’s great, dear.  But to do that, you have to have a doctor certify you as blind as there is a lot of paperwork to fill out.”

Scrooge/Kelsea fell silent.  S/he knew that they couldn’t afford a doctor.  Scrooge/Mrs. Cratchit wished again that Bob had a job with full benefits.  She’d always wondered if little Tim’s eyesight could have been saved if they weren’t just going to the community clinic.  She knew it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, but she couldn’t help wondering.

“Mom, when is Dad going to get here?”

“I don’t know, Robby.  They have that annual marketing meeting tonight.”

“Dumb old Scrooge!”

“That’s Mister Scrooge, Robby…he is your father’s boss, after all.”

“I know.  I just hate that guy sometimes.  Why doesn’t Dad just quit and get a better job?”

“We don’t say hate in this house, you know that.  It’s not that easy, Robby.  It’s a hard time to find work out there.  Besides, your father likes working for Mr. Scrooge.”

Martha pouted.  “I don’t know why.  He treats him like dirt.  He doesn’t pay him anything, and he makes him work all the time.”

“I can’t say I really understand it either, dear, but it’s what your father wants.”

Scrooge suddenly found himself back in his office.  He was just himself again.  He was thinking about Bob, when a dark figure grabbed him by the wrist.

“Wait!  Slow down”

The ghost of tomorrow did not wait…it never does.

“Where are you taking me?”

Scrooge felt himself fall through the floors of the building.  He thudded on to the lobby floor.  Workers went past him, carrying chairs and tables.  They came out of the freight elevator, headed for a big truck on the street.

“Somebody must be moving,” thought Scrooge.

The spirit pointed to where the building receptionist was opening the glass case that contained the directory.  She slid out one of the printed names.

“Spirit, tell me…what is happening?”

The spirit continued to point.  The receptionist walked over to the garbage can where a security guard was standing.

The guard smiled at her.  “Well, that’s it, huh?  They are finally gone.”

“Well, it was only a matter of time, I guess.  I heard on the news that they went bankrupt.”

“Got any news on a new tenant?”

“It’s not that easy to fill a whole floor.  I’m guessing it will be awhile.”

She dropped the laminated name in the silver bin and walked back to her desk.

The spirit led Scrooge to the garbage can.  Scrooge stood, afraid to look inside, afraid at what he might see.

“No, spirit, no!”

The spirit stood, immobile and impassionate.  Scrooge couldn’t help himself…he saw the J. Marley Publishing sign, with the logo of Jacob on it.

“Bankrupt!  It can’t be!  I won’t let it happen!  You…you wouldn’t show me this unless I could do something about it, right?  Jacob said it could change…he said I had a chance if I could learn something!  I’ve learned, spirit!  I’ve learned that books are books, whatever the format!  Its not the paper, it’s the words that matter!  And poor Tim Cratchit, and a million others like him!  We…I can help them!  Please, spirit, please!  Give me another chance!”

“Unca?  Are you alright?”

Scrooge found himself back in his office again.

“You…you’re still here!  The business is still here!”

“Sure it is, Unc.  Geez, how long was I on that phone call, anyway?  So, you want to get back to that meeting?”

“Yes…yes, I do!  Cratchit!”

Bob was surprised to hear his boss yelling.

“Get in here.  No, wait, start some coffee first.  Nephew, tell me about those e-books.  I want to do them…I want to get started right away!  Make sure they have that read-aloud thing…that’s important!”

“Sure, Unc, that’s great!”

“Cratchit…Bob, I’ve decided you are going to get a bonus!”

“Uh..a bonus, sir?”

“Yep!  I’m getting everybody in your family a Kindle!  You tell Tim he can have all the books he wants, and you send me the bills.  When he gets done with The Scarlet Pimpernel, you tell him old Neezy wants to talk with him about it.”

“Yes sir!  Bless you, sir!”

Epilogue

Scrooge was never again troubled with spirits.  Jay-Em e-Romances were a permanent part of the bestseller lists, with the first one in the series  always being offered for free.  Martha Cratchit wrote a few herself, eventually becoming a successful author.  The company thrived, and the Greasy Cat Foundation, with Timothy Cratchit as its Executive Director, became a leader in providing free e-book readers to those in need.

May we all learn from the past, savor the present, and build a future not just for us, but for others.

The End

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 24, 2009.

A Kindle Carol, Part 2

December 25, 2019

This is part 2 of the story that had begun in this earlier post.

“The Greasy Cat!”

The spirit child rippled with laughter at the name.

Scrooge’s eyes grew large, and he shook his head to clear it.  There could be no doubt.  Although it was much smaller than he remembered it, he was seeing the treehouse of his youth.  They had called it “The Greasy Cat” after a secret meeting place in The Scarlet Pimpernel.  While the name, Le Chat Gris actually meant “The Gray Cat”, that had been beyond his level of French at ten years old.  Marley had known that “chat” meant “cat”, and the rest had been a guess.

“But how can it still be standing after all this time?”

The spirit child rippled again.

“It couldn’t be, could it…the house was sold years ago.   This whole area is an industrial park now.”

“Not now, silly head,” said the child.

“Of course!  This is the past.  Oh, the times Jakey and I had up there!  The laughter and the secrets.  I’d love to see the inside again…but my legs are more rickety than that old board ladder.”

There was no whirlwind, just a whisper…like the too loud hsh-hsh-hsh of small children hiding behind a couch.

Scrooge suddenly found himself inside The Greasy Cat.  He thought he would feel claustrophobic, but he didn’t.   The room hadn’t gotten bigger…and he didn’t seem smaller.  In fact, he didn’t seem to be there at all, and yet, it was all perfectly clear.

The only lighting in the room came from a two-battery flashlight with a cracked lens.   If Scrooge needed any more convincing, that would have done it.  He remembered reading so many things with that thin black jagged line across the words.  They pretended it looked like a Z, and that they could use it like a Zorro signal to call that masked defender of the people.  Although there was one night when they would swear they had both heard Tornado’s hooves, Don Diego remained as hidden from them as he had from Sargent Gonzales.

But who was holding the light…

“Jakey!”

“They seek him here,
They seek him there…”

The boy with the flashlight read on, paying Scrooge no heed.

Suddenly, another child’s voice echoed through the gloom in a lightning crack:

“They seek him in his underwear!”

Both kids exploded in raucous laughter, slapping each other and rolling on the floor.

The older Scrooge smiled.   The spirit child became a cloud and whirled around the room, mirroring the boys as they made no attempt to control themselves.

“Oh, I loved that book.”

“Not a book,” said the spirit child sternly.

“Of course it is!  That’s The Scarlet Pimpernel!  That’s why we named the treehouse the Greasy Cat.”

“Comic book.”

“Comic…say, that’s right!  We were reading the comic books!  I remember now.  We would get them at Fezziwig’s.  We used to ride our bikes down there and sneak the comics back under our shirts.  Wouldn’t do to have Dad catch me with a comic, even if it was a classic.”

“Not a real book.”

“They were real to us!  Realer than school, realer than anything!”

“Fake books.”

“Hey, at least we were reading, right?  I might not be what I am today without those comic books.”

The spirit child flew at Scrooge, and for a moment all he could see was a wall of white.

He blinked his eyes and found himself back in his office.

He jumped when a figure suddenly entered the room.

“Hey, Unc…I just need to make one more call…gotta follow up on something with one of the kids.  You know how kids are, right?”

Scrooge’s nephew turned away, his thumbs flicking on the keys.

Left alone in his office, Scrooge gave the question more consideration than it had been meant to deserve.

It had been a long time since he’d thought about children.  Children didn’t buy JMP books.  He didn’t have any kids of his own.  This company had been his life.  When Marley died, he had felt like a single parent.  JMP had been theirs…it still was.  But he had suddenly had to do it all by himself.  They had always divided everything.  It wasn’t as simple as good cop/bad cop, or tough love/tenderness.  They were both tough, and everybody knew it.   They were just tough in different ways.  Marley was tough with people…Scrooge was tough with the numbers.

When he’d been left by himself, he didn’t try to copy Marley.  He couldn’t, there was no point to it.  So, he’d just let that part die along with Jacob.

He missed him now.  He’d know kids.  He’d known what people…all people wanted.

Didn’t Cratchit have kids?  Scrooge thought he did…in fact, he was sure he did.  He’d never met Cratchit’s family…not that he could remember.

“I wish I knew more about them.”

A breeze seemed to cause the potted plant in the corner to wave from side to side.  But it couldn’t be a breeze: there were no windows, and the air conditioning was off.

“Hmph.”

The plant continued to move.  Scrooge smelled that distinctive plant smell, like walking by a park after a rainy day.  The smell terrified Scrooge.

The plant was plastic.

The smell began to fill the room.  It reminded Scrooge of a particularly unpleasant trip, when he had gone to Hawaii for a publishing convention.  He’d always hated travel…meeting with people had been Marley’s part of the deal.  But Marley had been too sick to go…he’d gotten better, that time.

Scrooge coughed and hacked.  Why wasn’t his allergy medicine working?

When he could stand again, he saw that the room was covered in ivy, overgrown in leaves.  They were still growing…flowers sprouted, tendrils twisted around branches.

A man stepped into the center of the room.  At least, “man” was the closest approximation Scrooge’s confused mind could make.  Whatever it was, it was part of the jungle that was all that Scrooge could see.  He couldn’t see where the man started and the plants stopped.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Are you the second of the spirits?”

“I am here and now.”

“What will you show me?”

“I am here and now.”

The ivy continued to grow and expand.  Scrooge felt it pressing against him, wrapping around him.  He struggled. It covered his face.  He couldn’t breath!  He felt it go through his skin, becoming part of him…or he of it?  Scrooge found it hard to think…his mind was stretched, and the thinner it became the less of him was left.

He fought to control it…control was always how he got through things.

He lost.

To be continued…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 22, 2009.

A Kindle Carol, part 1

December 25, 2019

A Kindle Carol, part 1

It was a cold night in the publishing house.  Every night was cold, and the days weren’t much better.  The employees (well, the ones that were left after the latest round of layoffs) had been told it was a cost-cutting measure.  Samir in Accounting had gotten quite a laugh when he suggested it was to match the CEO’s reptilian heart.  Michel had disagreed…he said Scrooge had no heart.

Bob Cratchit would have disagreed for a different reason, if anyone had shared the joke with him.  He’d been Mr. Scrooge’s Executive Assistant for nearly twenty years.  He believed that there was some humanity left in the Old Man, although it had been diminished by years of declining sales.  It had been ten years since his last raise…before any of his children had been born.  Company policy prohibited raises based purely on longevity, and Scrooge had given him a perfect review ten years ago.   Nine years ago, his boss had said there wouldn’t be any point in doing another review…unless Bob’s performance declined.  Bob was proud of the fact that it hadn’t.

Tonight was going to be a particularly difficult test.   It was time for the annual holiday marketing strategy meeting.  J. Marley Publishing hadn’t turned a profit in three years, and was rapidly depleting its cash reserves.  It had accepted an offer of twenty-five cents on the dollar for its audiobook business in exchange for a considerable loan that would see them through the spring.  If something didn’t change, there would be no Jay-Em romances on the beaches that summer.

“Cratchit.”

Scrooge’s voice carried into Bob’s little cell of a cubicle.  He didn’t shout: he saw no reason to spend the extra energy that would take.  The phones would only accept incoming calls…even salespeople had to use their own phones to call their clients.  There was no way to call someone’s extension from inside the building, and Scrooge wasn’t going to waste the valuable time it would take to walk the ten steps from his inner office.  Time was money: although when Scrooge saw his own face in the mirror, he knew he might soon have very little of either left.

“Yes, Mr. Scrooge?”

“How many are going to be in the meeting?”

“Just three of us, sir.  You, your nephew, and myself.”

“Don’t bother printing out any agendas, then.  We can’t afford the paper.  No coffee, no donuts.  Don’t bring the garbage can: we won’t need it.”

“Yes, sir.  Anything else?”

“No.  Don’t be late…I can’t abide tardiness.”

“Yes, sir.”  Bob Cratchit had never been late for anything in his life, much less a meeting.  He wondered what had made Scrooge forgetful, and hoped the Old Man wasn’t ill.

Scrooge wasn’t sick, or not especially sick.  When you get as old as he was, you were always sick with something.  You outlived most of the viruses…it was your own failing systems that would probably get you.   That’s why they call it natural causes…only fools were surprised when the end came.

Marley had been no fool.  Everything was in order, and Scrooge had found it all laid out in minute detail.   He had followed his old partner’s plans for three years.  Marley had always been the face of the organization, and his name could still open a few doors.  Lately, though, there had been fewer and fewer of those doors…open or otherwise.

He could almost picture Marley now.  They would strategize before these meetings.  But strategies suggest choices.  Nobody in the book industry had a lot of choices left.  “People just don’t read any more”, thought Scrooge, “unless it’s under 141 characters”.  Books were going to go the way of newsreels and LPs.   Even if the electronic cancer didn’t kill them, the rising cost of paper would…the expense of natural resources bringing on natural causes.

“Hey, Unca!”

Scrooge’s nephew burst into the room.

“Seven minutes early.”

“I figured that would be okay.  Why not get the meeting done, and we can get out of here early…it’s the night before Thanksgiving, after all.”

“Hmph.  That doesn’t mean today has to be any shorter.  Why not two hours…or half the day?  Why not take the whole week off?”

“Why not?  A lot of people do.”

“Idiots.  You can’t run a business by taking off time.  If it was up to me, we’d work through Thanksgiving.”

“You don’t mean that, Unca.”

“I do…and if you had any sense, you’d agree with me.”

“Oh, I have plenty of sense, Unca…runs in the family, right?  So, you want to have Bob join us in the Conference Room?”

“You’re already here.  Cratchit!  Cancel the lights and turn off the heat for the rest of the building.  We’ll meet here now.”

“Yes, sir.  Right away, sir.”

“You mean the heat’s on?  It’s like a refrigerator in here.”

“Mr. Scrooge, would you like to begin with old business?”

“Let’s dispense with that, Unca.  I wanted to let you know…I met with some guys from Amazon.”

“And?”

“They were talking to me about the Kindle–”

“Bah!  E-books!”

“Hear me out, Unc.  They were telling me that they thought the Jay-Em line would be a good bet.  Romances do well…all those Harlequin imprints…Kimani, Silhouette, Steeple Hill…Samhain’s moving titles, too.”

“We’re not in the software business.  We sell books.”

“These are books, Unc…they’re just a different format.”

“Paperbacks and hardbacks, those are different formats.  E-books are nothing.  What do they charge for those things?”

“Well, actually, they suggested we offer a couple of them for free–”

“FREE?  That’s not a business, it’s a charity.  Call Bill Gates…he can give them away in South America or something.”

“But Unca–”

“If those e-books were worth anything, they wouldn’t be giving them away.  Books are paper, period.  Nobody’s going to pay any real money for fake books.”

“They really open up the market, though, Unca.  People who have difficulty reading the paper books can really use the increasing text size and the text-to-speech.   It’s easier for people with arthritis and you should understand about the aging population.”

“Our market’s dying off, you don’t need to remind me.  As to the blind, they can already get books for free.  That’s no help.”

“But this is more convenient, and they can share with the family.  They don’t have to prove any kind of disability to buy books from the Kindle store.”

“We’re not here to make their lives easier…we’re here to make money.”

“But Unca, I’ve got some numbers here…oh, my cell!  It’s my wife…excuse me while I take this.”

“Cratchit, go work on those end of year calculations.  No point in wasting the time while my nephew conducts his personal business.”

Left alone in his office, Scrooge’s gaze fell on the J. Marley Publishing logo on the wall.  It was a stylized silhouette of old Marley himself.   As he stared at it, he fancied he saw the portrait turn and look at him.

“These old eyes of mine are playing tricks on me,” Scrooge thought.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Audio hallucinations as well.  It was only a matter of time.”

“I am no hallucination.”

“Nonsense.  My mind is starting to go…I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately.  After the holidays, I’ll catch up and then I won’t have to worry about mind slips like you.”

“You know who I was.”

“I know you appear to be Jacob Marley, but you could have been a two-headed giraffe.  It’s just a normal consequence of sleep deprivation.  See that stack of bills?  That’s real.”

At this, the figure of Marley let out a wail that shook Scrooge to his toes.  He was sure that Cratchit and his nephew must have heard it, and would rush in at any moment.  When that didn’t happen, he knew that only he could hear and see it.

“It seems it’s just the two of us.  Alright, I’ll play along. ”

“We do not play games in this office…you of all people should know that.”

“What do you want of me?”

“Much.”

“Good luck with that.  There is very little of me left…I’ve already given everything to this company.”

“You do not know what you have to give.  But you will.  If you can still learn, you will.”

These last words chilled Scrooge.  He was unsure that he could learn anything new…and if he couldn’t, what would be the consequences?  He frantically looked at the ghost, looked for anything there that might give him a way to avoid the lesson.  He noticed the spectral ruins of buildings at the feet of the phantom.

“What…what are those crumbled walls?”

“Those are the chains to which we sold when I was alive…Crown Books, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks…I am tied to them in death as I was in life.  I stumble over them, wander their empty halls…I can not leave them, can not move on to more fertile markets.   If you can not change, you will join me here in death.”

“Tell me, spirit…tell me what I have to do!”

“That is not for me to do.  When you see me, you see our lives together.  The echoes of the past will overwhelm any truth I might tell you now.  That will be for the others.”

“Others?”

Scrooge’s heart beat faster than it had in years.  Seeing your dead business partner was one thing…he could manage Marley.  But other people…other ghosts…Scrooge had always been better with numbers than people.  That had been Marley’s area.

“Three others.  Listen openly to what they tell you, Ebenezer.  You will not be given another chance.”

At this, the figure faded back into the logo on the wall.

The ruins crumbled into dust, and the dust to lesser dust, until there was no sign that anything had ever been there.

“Delusions,” said Scrooge, “brought on by stress and lack of sleep.  Where is that nephew of mine?  Work…that’s what I need.  Back to work, and I won’t be bothered by these ridiculous visions any more.”

He noticed the old-fashioned Rolodex that sat on a corner of his desk.  He flipped backwards, precisely one letter at time.  “Just the thing,” thought Scrooge.  “I’ve been meaning to get this organized.”

He began with the letter A.  He looked at the first card.  “Dead.”  He put it in a large envelope he used to take shredding to the bank…JMP wasn’t going to pay a shredding service while he was in charge.  He looked at the second card.  “Out of business.”  The third: “Merged.”

Soon, his envelope was filled to overflowing.  He decided he would need something bigger.  He took a dusty plaque honoring the company on its first million seller out of a box.  He tried to shake the cards into the box, but they wouldn’t come out of the envelope.

“Out, you lazy garbage!  Staying together isn’t going to save you!”

He shook harder, and the cards came out in a lump.  Scrooge was stunned, though, to see that they didn’t fall.  They hung in the air above the box.   Slowly, the cards began to spread out…first in one direction, then another.  Two long flows spread towards the floor, and two more towards the walls.  A fifth formed a lump at about Scrooge’s chest level.  It took on the shape of a child.

“Neezy,” it said in a soft and gentle voice.

“Neezy?!”  No one had called Scrooge that since he was a child himself.  Scrooge had almost no memories of his own childhood…they had long ago been crushed under the weight of corporate responsibility.

The figure, who ruffled and shuffled as its card body constantly flowed and changed, held out a “hand” to the Old Man.

“No, no!  What is it?  Where do you want to take me?”

“Only where you have already been.  You will see nothing new…nothing you haven’t already lived.”

Scrooge thought about that…if there was damage to be done by the past, it had already hurt him…and he had beaten it.  He had forgotten the worst of it before…he could do it again.

“Spirit, you do not frighten me.”

“It is your past we will see…do you frighten yourself?”

The hand began to withdraw, but Scrooge snatched it before it could merge back into the card cloud.  He had never been afraid to seize an opportunity.

The rustling became an overwhelming sound, like being swept up in a tornado!  The sprite grabbed Scrooge’s other hand, and they whirled in a mad game of ring-around-the-rosy, spinning faster and faster, until it seemed to Scrooge he was in danger of exploding outwards into a million pieces!

The spinning stopped, the sound subsided…and Scrooge saw something he would never have expected…

To be continued…

This story continues in Part 2.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 1, 2009.

A Trip to The Bookstore

January 21, 2019

A Trip to The Bookstore

Note: this is a re-post of an article which originally appeared in this blog on 2011/02/20. I am scheduled for major surgery on January 17th, and I don’t know how quickly I’ll be able to write after that. So, to keep the content going, I am pre-scheduling posts. It’s possible conditions have changed since I wrote it, but I’ll try to lightly edit these when that’s necessary for clarity. 

Grandpa: Okay, kids, here we are…The Bookstore.

Watson (a six-year old boy): Yay!  We’re at the bookstore!  What’s a bookstore, Grandpa?

StefJo (a nine-year old girl): It’s a site where they sell books, BeeSOD.

Grandpa: We don’t call them sites when we are there in person, StefJo…we call them stores.  And don’t call your brother names.

StefJo: Yes, Grandpa.

Salesclerk: Hi, can I help you folks find something?

(Watson starts crying and hides behind Grandpa)

StefJo (whispering): Grandpa, why is that man talking to us?  We don’t know him.

Grandpa (whispering): It’s okay, StefJo…he works for the store.  You just say, “No thank you, we’re just looking.”

StefJo: No thank you, we’re just looking.

Salesclerk: Well, if you folks want anything, just let me know.  (leaves)

StefJo: I don’t understand, Grandpa.  Why would a stranger talk to us like that?

Grandpa: Well, the store would pay them to do that.  That way, he can help us find some books to buy.

StefJo: Why can’t we find them ourselves?

Grandpa: We can…but this is a big place, we might need help.

StefJo: Can’t we just do a search?

Grandpa: There might be a computer around here some place–

Watson: I have a phone!

Grandpa: I know you do, Byte-Byte.  That won’t help us here, though.  Your phone won’t know which books are where.

StefJo: What do you mean?  Don’t they bring us the books?

Grandpa: No, we walk around the store and look.  See those signs?  They tell us what kind of books are where.  We just need to find the Children’s section.

Watson: Carry me!

Grandpa: Hop up here, Sport.  I think I see the children’s books over there.

(Grandpa carries Watson over to the children’s books section.  StefJo walks up to a shelf of Young Adult books.)

StefJo: Look, Grandpa, they have Nancy Drew!  (She touches the picture on the spine of the book.  She rubs her fingers up and down the spine.)  Grandpa, I can’t get it to open.

Grandpa: You have to take it off the shelf first.  Just get one finger on the top, like this, and you can tilt it towards you and pull it off.  Okay, there’s a comfortable chair…why don’t you sit there and read?  I’m going to help your brother find a book.

StefJo: Sure, Grandpa.

(Grandpa takes Watson to an area with picture books.  He pulls out a copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and starts Watson looking at the book)

StefJo: Grandpa!

Grandpa: What is it, Princess?

StefJo: I got the book open, but it isn’t in English.  How do I change it?

Grandpa: It’s not?  Oh, I see, you have the book upside down.

StefJo: Oh.

Grandpa: Were you reading this book before we came here?

StefJo: No, why?

Grandpa: Well, you’re in the middle of the book.

StefJo: I didn’t know how to make it go to the beginning.

Grandpa: You just start over here on this side.  Then, as you finish reading a page, you turn to the next one…like this.

StefJo: Thanks, Grandpa.  Are these numbers the percentages?  This is short!

Grandpa: No, those are page numbers.  See?  Every time you turn the page, the number gets higher.

StefJo: But I tried and the number was like ten higher!

Grandpa: You must have turned too many pages.  You have to be careful just to get one of them.

StefJo: That’s hard!

Grandpa: You’ll get used to it.

StefJo: Oops!  The page has a big line on it!

Grandpa: Let me see that…oh, it looks like you tore the page!

StefJo: I’m sorry, Grandpa.

Grandpa: Oh, that’s okay, that happens.  We’ll just have to buy this one.  We can tape it up when we get home.

StefJo: What’s tape?

Grandpa: I think they sell it here.  You use it to stick two pieces of paper together.

StefJo: What’s paper?

Grandpa: That’s what the pages are made of.  If we tape it together, it won’t tear any more.

StefJo: Why don’t they just make the whole book out of tape, then?

Grandpa: That’s a good question, Stef.  Let’s go see how your brother is doing.  Hey, Byte-Byte…where is the book?

Watson: I deleted it.

Grandpa: You deleted…what do you mean?

Watson: I got done, so I threw it away.

Grandpa: Why did you do that?  Why didn’t you put it back on the shelf?

Watson: I didn’t like it.  It didn’t sing to me like at home.

Grandpa: Where did you throw it away?

Watson (starting to cry again): Over there!

(Grandpa fishes the book out of a garbage can)

Grandpa: Well, we’re lucky they have old-fashioned garbage cans here, too, and not recyclatrons.  We’ll just have to buy this one, too.

Watson: I don’t want it!  I don’t want it! (crying and screaming)

Grandpa: Watson!  Calm down!

StefJo: Couldn’t we just put it back on the shelf?  It looks okay.

Grandpa: Yes, you’re right.  It’s okay, Sport, it’s okay!  You don’t have to have the book.

StefJo: Grandpa, look out!  It’s that man again!  We’re just looking, we’re just looking!

Salesclerk: Everything okay here, folks?

Grandpa: Yes, yes.  I’m afraid there was a little misunderstanding, and my grandson here threw this book in the garbage.  I’d be happy to pay for it…

Salesclerk: Don’t worry about it…happens all the time.  I’ve seen kids do a lot worse things to books.  We’ll just put it back right here, and someone else can buy it.

StefJo (whispering): Are all the books dirty like that?

Grandpa (whispering): It’s not dirty, but you never know what someone else has done with a book you buy.

StefJo: Ew!

Grandpa: Unfortunately, we did damage this one…I insist on buying it.

Salesclerk: That’s fine, then.  Come right over here to the check-out.  That one is one hundred dollars.

Grandpa: That’s more than what we paid for our admission tickets to this place.

StefJo: I’m sorry, Grandpa.

Grandpa: Oh, that’s okay, Princess.  It’s fun for Grandpa to buy a book like in the old days.

StefJo: Will you carry it for me?  It’s heavy.

Grandpa: Sure, Princess.

StefJO: Where are we going next?

Grandpa: To The Pet Store.  I understand they have some real live dogs and cats.

StefJo: You mean alive alive?

Grandpa: I think so.

StefJo: That’s scary!  I don’t think Watson would like that.

Grandpa: Yes, you’re a smart girl.  I can see how that might scare him.  You are much braver, aren’t you?

(StefJo gives a shy smile)

Grandpa: Where would you like to go, Sport?

Watson: I wanna eat.

Grandpa: We can go to The Food Court.  They have some amazing things there!

StefJo: Do they have broccoli?  I like broccoli.

Grandpa: Wouldn’t you like to try something from when your parents were kids?  I’ll bet they’ll have a Happy Meal!  Doesn’t that sound good?

StefJo: I guess so.  People aren’t going to talk to us there, right?

Grandpa: Well, there is usually somebody behind the counter who takes our orders.  But they won’t come to the table.

Watson (looking confused): What’s a table?

Grandpa: I’ll show you when we get there.  It’s a place where we all sit down together and talk to each other.

StefJo: The olden days sure were hard, Grandpa.

Grandpa: I guess they were in some ways, Princess.  But you know what was always the same?

StefJo: What’s that?

Grandpa: There were always grandpas who loved their grandkids very much.

Watson: I love you, Grandpa!

Grandpa: I love you too, Sport!  Let’s go get some fries…and later on, I’ll show you a car!

(The three of them start to leave The Bookstore together, Grandpa holding StefJo’s hand, StefJo holding Watson’s hand.  In Grandpa’s other hand is a bag, and in it is a book.)

Grandpa: You kids wait here for a minute…play with your phones.

(Grandpa walks over to the salesclerk who is dusting off some books)

Grandpa: Sir?  Would you mind very much if I gave you this back?

Salesclerk: I’m afraid I can’t give you a refund…you said it was damaged.

Grandpa: I don’t want a refund.  You can just put it back on the shelf.  I was thinking about it…I don’t think their parents are going to want me to bring it home: they wouldn’t have any place to put it.  I think it belongs here, where other kids can see it.

Salesclerk: But what about your granddaughter?  Didn’t you buy it for her?

Grandpa: Don’t worry about it…she won’t even miss it.

Salesclerk: As you wish, sir.  Thank you for shopping with The Bookstore.  We’ll look forward to seeing you again.

Grandpa: Maybe when the kids are older…I think they’ll appreciate the history of it more.  Think you’ll still be around in five years?

Salesclerk: Why certainly, sir.  We’ve been doing business the same way for over one hundred years.  Now that we are entirely government supported, there’s no reason we can’t keep doing it for the next hundred.

Grandpa: See you in five years, then.

(Grandpa walks back towards the kids, but stops a meter away.  Neither child looks up.  They haven’t noticed him yet.  Watson is shaking his phone wildly with his eyes closed, playing some kind of game with tactile feedback or a machine-brain interface.  StefJo sits quietly, reading as the pages turn automatically for her.  Grandpa remembers back to lying under a blanket reading with a flashlight, or sitting under a tree with a book.  He recognizes that look on her face…she’s wherever the book has taken her…Mars, Oz, Fairlyland…or a time long ago when people did things in strange ways.  He knows that look, and he smiles.  Some things never change.)


[2019 note: this has been the only one of my works to date where I authorized a translated version (to Portuguese…that was thrilling! There may be others out there that are infringing, of course, and in the future, simple translations may be handled effectively by artificial intelligence…but I do think it will be some time before that will be anywhere near what a really skilled human translator can do.]

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 This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

December 25, 2018

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

This is part 3 (and the conclusion) of the story that had begun in this earlier post.

It was like being everywhere at once.

Warmth and sorrow, family and fear, here and there…it was all the same.  It seemed to flicker like an old nickelodeon…phft-phft-phft as each smallest split second changed to the next.

At first, Scrooge/Everything couldn’t focus.  It was one rush of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and nothing.  You couldn’t look anywhere in particular because wherever you looked, you saw something else…or was it the same thing?  You (and I) saw yourself (and it) whenever we/they tried.

Eventually (although it happened instantly), Scrooge/Everything became aware of scenes.  Not as things separate from himself or from each other, but as part of existence (and yet, the whole of it).

Scrooge felt the immersion of someone reading a book…how you enter the author’s universe, while still being part of yours.

He was a single mother, a soldier in Iraq, the captain of the high school football team, himself, a surgeon, a small child sleeping on a cement floor with five other siblings, a cat, a dog, a thought, a prayer, a kiss, a tear…a moment.

He became aware of the Cratchit family.  Bob was still at work…we had that meeting tonight.  He felt his (Bob’s?) wife’s resentment, but resignation at the same time.  Two young children, who he knew were the twins, were playing a videogame.  A third tiny youngster shouted encouragement.

“Get him, Robby, get him!”

“I’ll get him, Tim.”

Scrooge knew there was nothing on the screen right then for Robby to get.  He was humoring Tim, who was blind.  His video self fired off a shot at the wall…the TV made the distinctive “pzzoo” sound of the ray rifle.

“Did you get him, Robby?”

“Sure did, Tim!  Sure did!”

The other gamer, a girl named Kelsea, rolled her eyes.  She didn’t really approve of lying, but it made Tim happy to be a part of the game.  She was itching to see the next level, and they weren’t going to have as good a chance of getting there if Robby kept wasting his ammunition charge like that.  Still, she figured it was worth it to see Robby high-five tiny Tim’s outstretched hand.

Buzz!

A voice came through the intercom.

“Mom, it’s me!”

Scrooge knew it was Martha, the oldest daughter.  “I’ll get it!”  Tim ran unerringly to the button and buzzed his sister up the stairs.

“Hey, Double-T!  I got you something!”

“Whatizitwhatizit?”

“Well, the teachers let us out early for Thanksgiving, and Ms. Ramirez dropped me off at the library–”

“Did you get me a book?”

“I did,” Martha said smiling.  “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

“Oh boy, thanks!  What’s a pimplemill?”

Tim’s mother called from the kitchen.  “Pimpernel.  It’s a flower.”

“A flower?”  Tim was still holding out his hands to Martha.

“Not this Pimpernel, Double-T!  He’s a hero…with a secret identity and everything.”

“Like Daredevil?”

“Even better.  He saves people from the bad guys in old France.  If he didn’t, they’d cut off their heads!”

“Yaaaaay!  I’m going to go listen to it right now!  Thanks, Martha!”

Tim took the box of CDs that Martha slapped into his open hands and ran down to the room he shared with Robby and Kelsea.

“That was nice of you, Martha.”

“Well, Mom, Ms. Ramirez offered to drive me.  Mr. Cho brought turkey in for everybody, so I had enough lunch money left for the bus.  I can probably get one of the other kids to take it back.”

“Mom,” Kelsea said hesitantly, “Latella’s cousin is blind.  They don’t have to get books from the library…he gets all the audiobooks he wants sent to him for free.”

“That’s great, dear.  But to do that, you have to have a doctor certify you as blind as there is a lot of paperwork to fill out.”

Scrooge/Kelsea fell silent.  S/he knew that they couldn’t afford a doctor.  Scrooge/Mrs. Cratchit wished again that Bob had a job with full benefits.  She’d always wondered if little Tim’s eyesight could have been saved if they weren’t just going to the community clinic.  She knew it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, but she couldn’t help wondering.

“Mom, when is Dad going to get here?”

“I don’t know, Robby.  They have that annual marketing meeting tonight.”

“Dumb old Scrooge!”

“That’s Mister Scrooge, Robby…he is your father’s boss, after all.”

“I know.  I just hate that guy sometimes.  Why doesn’t Dad just quit and get a better job?”

“We don’t say hate in this house, you know that.  It’s not that easy, Robby.  It’s a hard time to find work out there.  Besides, your father likes working for Mr. Scrooge.”

Martha pouted.  “I don’t know why.  He treats him like dirt.  He doesn’t pay him anything, and he makes him work all the time.”

“I can’t say I really understand it either, dear, but it’s what your father wants.”

Scrooge suddenly found himself back in his office.  He was just himself again.  He was thinking about Bob, when a dark figure grabbed him by the wrist.

“Wait!  Slow down”

The ghost of tomorrow did not wait…it never does.

“Where are you taking me?”

Scrooge felt himself fall through the floors of the building.  He thudded on to the lobby floor.  Workers went past him, carrying chairs and tables.  They came out of the freight elevator, headed for a big truck on the street.

“Somebody must be moving,” thought Scrooge.

The spirit pointed to where the building receptionist was opening the glass case that contained the directory.  She slid out one of the printed names.

“Spirit, tell me…what is happening?”

The spirit continued to point.  The receptionist walked over to the garbage can where a security guard was standing.

The guard smiled at her.  “Well, that’s it, huh?  They are finally gone.”

“Well, it was only a matter of time, I guess.  I heard on the news that they went bankrupt.”

“Got any news on a new tenant?”

“It’s not that easy to fill a whole floor.  I’m guessing it will be awhile.”

She dropped the laminated name in the silver bin and walked back to her desk.

The spirit led Scrooge to the garbage can.  Scrooge stood, afraid to look inside, afraid at what he might see.

“No, spirit, no!”

The spirit stood, immobile and impassionate.  Scrooge couldn’t help himself…he saw the J. Marley Publishing sign, with the logo of Jacob on it.

“Bankrupt!  It can’t be!  I won’t let it happen!  You…you wouldn’t show me this unless I could do something about it, right?  Jacob said it could change…he said I had a chance if I could learn something!  I’ve learned, spirit!  I’ve learned that books are books, whatever the format!  Its not the paper, it’s the words that matter!  And poor Tim Cratchit, and a million others like him!  We…I can help them!  Please, spirit, please!  Give me another chance!”

“Unca?  Are you alright?”

Scrooge found himself back in his office again.

“You…you’re still here!  The business is still here!”

“Sure it is, Unc.  Geez, how long was I on that phone call, anyway?  So, you want to get back to that meeting?”

“Yes…yes, I do!  Cratchit!”

Bob was surprised to hear his boss yelling.

“Get in here.  No, wait, start some coffee first.  Nephew, tell me about those e-books.  I want to do them…I want to get started right away!  Make sure they have that read-aloud thing…that’s important!”

“Sure, Unc, that’s great!”

“Cratchit…Bob, I’ve decided you are going to get a bonus!”

“Uh..a bonus, sir?”

“Yep!  I’m getting everybody in your family a Kindle!  You tell Tim he can have all the books he wants, and you send me the bills.  When he gets done with The Scarlet Pimpernel, you tell him old Neezy wants to talk with him about it.”

“Yes sir!  Bless you, sir!”

Epilogue

Scrooge was never again troubled with spirits.  Jay-Em e-Romances were a permanent part of the bestseller lists, with the first one in the series  always being offered for free.  Martha Cratchit wrote a few herself, eventually becoming a successful author.  The company thrived, and the Greasy Cat Foundation, with Timothy Cratchit as its Executive Director, became a leader in providing free e-book readers to those in need.

May we all learn from the past, savor the present, and build a future not just for us, but for others.

The End

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 24, 2009.

A Kindle Carol, Part 2

December 24, 2018

This is part 2 of the story that had begun in this earlier post.

“The Greasy Cat!”

The spirit child rippled with laughter at the name.

Scrooge’s eyes grew large, and he shook his head to clear it.  There could be no doubt.  Although it was much smaller than he remembered it, he was seeing the treehouse of his youth.  They had called it “The Greasy Cat” after a secret meeting place in The Scarlet Pimpernel.  While the name, Le Chat Gris actually meant “The Gray Cat”, that had been beyond his level of French at ten years old.  Marley had known that “chat” meant “cat”, and the rest had been a guess.

“But how can it still be standing after all this time?”

The spirit child rippled again.

“It couldn’t be, could it…the house was sold years ago.   This whole area is an industrial park now.”

“Not now, silly head,” said the child.

“Of course!  This is the past.  Oh, the times Jakey and I had up there!  The laughter and the secrets.  I’d love to see the inside again…but my legs are more rickety than that old board ladder.”

There was no whirlwind, just a whisper…like the too loud hsh-hsh-hsh of small children hiding behind a couch.

Scrooge suddenly found himself inside The Greasy Cat.  He thought he would feel claustrophobic, but he didn’t.   The room hadn’t gotten bigger…and he didn’t seem smaller.  In fact, he didn’t seem to be there at all, and yet, it was all perfectly clear.

The only lighting in the room came from a two-battery flashlight with a cracked lens.   If Scrooge needed any more convincing, that would have done it.  He remembered reading so many things with that thin black jagged line across the words.  They pretended it looked like a Z, and that they could use it like a Zorro signal to call that masked defender of the people.  Although there was one night when they would swear they had both heard Tornado’s hooves, Don Diego remained as hidden from them as he had from Sargent Gonzales.

But who was holding the light…

“Jakey!”

“They seek him here,
They seek him there…”

The boy with the flashlight read on, paying Scrooge no heed.

Suddenly, another child’s voice echoed through the gloom in a lightning crack:

“They seek him in his underwear!”

Both kids exploded in raucous laughter, slapping each other and rolling on the floor.

The older Scrooge smiled.   The spirit child became a cloud and whirled around the room, mirroring the boys as they made no attempt to control themselves.

“Oh, I loved that book.”

“Not a book,” said the spirit child sternly.

“Of course it is!  That’s The Scarlet Pimpernel!  That’s why we named the treehouse the Greasy Cat.”

“Comic book.”

“Comic…say, that’s right!  We were reading the comic books!  I remember now.  We would get them at Fezziwig’s.  We used to ride our bikes down there and sneak the comics back under our shirts.  Wouldn’t do to have Dad catch me with a comic, even if it was a classic.”

“Not a real book.”

“They were real to us!  Realer than school, realer than anything!”

“Fake books.”

“Hey, at least we were reading, right?  I might not be what I am today without those comic books.”

The spirit child flew at Scrooge, and for a moment all he could see was a wall of white.

He blinked his eyes and found himself back in his office.

He jumped when a figure suddenly entered the room.

“Hey, Unc…I just need to make one more call…gotta follow up on something with one of the kids.  You know how kids are, right?”

Scrooge’s nephew turned away, his thumbs flicking on the keys.

Left alone in his office, Scrooge gave the question more consideration than it had been meant to deserve.

It had been a long time since he’d thought about children.  Children didn’t buy JMP books.  He didn’t have any kids of his own.  This company had been his life.  When Marley died, he had felt like a single parent.  JMP had been theirs…it still was.  But he had suddenly had to do it all by himself.  They had always divided everything.  It wasn’t as simple as good cop/bad cop, or tough love/tenderness.  They were both tough, and everybody knew it.   They were just tough in different ways.  Marley was tough with people…Scrooge was tough with the numbers.

When he’d been left by himself, he didn’t try to copy Marley.  He couldn’t, there was no point to it.  So, he’d just let that part die along with Jacob.

He missed him now.  He’d know kids.  He’d known what people…all people wanted.

Didn’t Cratchit have kids?  Scrooge thought he did…in fact, he was sure he did.  He’d never met Cratchit’s family…not that he could remember.

“I wish I knew more about them.”

A breeze seemed to cause the potted plant in the corner to wave from side to side.  But it couldn’t be a breeze: there were no windows, and the air conditioning was off.

“Hmph.”

The plant continued to move.  Scrooge smelled that distinctive plant smell, like walking by a park after a rainy day.  The smell terrified Scrooge.

The plant was plastic.

The smell began to fill the room.  It reminded Scrooge of a particularly unpleasant trip, when he had gone to Hawaii for a publishing convention.  He’d always hated travel…meeting with people had been Marley’s part of the deal.  But Marley had been too sick to go…he’d gotten better, that time.

Scrooge coughed and hacked.  Why wasn’t his allergy medicine working?

When he could stand again, he saw that the room was covered in ivy, overgrown in leaves.  They were still growing…flowers sprouted, tendrils twisted around branches.

A man stepped into the center of the room.  At least, “man” was the closest approximation Scrooge’s confused mind could make.  Whatever it was, it was part of the jungle that was all that Scrooge could see.  He couldn’t see where the man started and the plants stopped.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Are you the second of the spirits?”

“I am here and now.”

“What will you show me?”

“I am here and now.”

The ivy continued to grow and expand.  Scrooge felt it pressing against him, wrapping around him.  He struggled. It covered his face.  He couldn’t breath!  He felt it go through his skin, becoming part of him…or he of it?  Scrooge found it hard to think…his mind was stretched, and the thinner it became the less of him was left.

He fought to control it…control was always how he got through things.

He lost.

To be continued…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 22, 2009.

A Kindle Carol, part 1

December 23, 2018

A Kindle Carol, part 1

It was a cold night in the publishing house.  Every night was cold, and the days weren’t much better.  The employees (well, the ones that were left after the latest round of layoffs) had been told it was a cost-cutting measure.  Samir in Accounting had gotten quite a laugh when he suggested it was to match the CEO’s reptilian heart.  Michel had disagreed…he said Scrooge had no heart.

Bob Cratchit would have disagreed for a different reason, if anyone had shared the joke with him.  He’d been Mr. Scrooge’s Executive Assistant for nearly twenty years.  He believed that there was some humanity left in the Old Man, although it had been diminished by years of declining sales.  It had been ten years since his last raise…before any of his children had been born.  Company policy prohibited raises based purely on longevity, and Scrooge had given him a perfect review ten years ago.   Nine years ago, his boss had said there wouldn’t be any point in doing another review…unless Bob’s performance declined.  Bob was proud of the fact that it hadn’t.

Tonight was going to be a particularly difficult test.   It was time for the annual holiday marketing strategy meeting.  J. Marley Publishing hadn’t turned a profit in three years, and was rapidly depleting its cash reserves.  It had accepted an offer of twenty-five cents on the dollar for its audiobook business in exchange for a considerable loan that would see them through the spring.  If something didn’t change, there would be no Jay-Em romances on the beaches that summer.

“Cratchit.”

Scrooge’s voice carried into Bob’s little cell of a cubicle.  He didn’t shout: he saw no reason to spend the extra energy that would take.  The phones would only accept incoming calls…even salespeople had to use their own phones to call their clients.  There was no way to call someone’s extension from inside the building, and Scrooge wasn’t going to waste the valuable time it would take to walk the ten steps from his inner office.  Time was money: although when Scrooge saw his own face in the mirror, he knew he might soon have very little of either left.

“Yes, Mr. Scrooge?”

“How many are going to be in the meeting?”

“Just three of us, sir.  You, your nephew, and myself.”

“Don’t bother printing out any agendas, then.  We can’t afford the paper.  No coffee, no donuts.  Don’t bring the garbage can: we won’t need it.”

“Yes, sir.  Anything else?”

“No.  Don’t be late…I can’t abide tardiness.”

“Yes, sir.”  Bob Cratchit had never been late for anything in his life, much less a meeting.  He wondered what had made Scrooge forgetful, and hoped the Old Man wasn’t ill.

Scrooge wasn’t sick, or not especially sick.  When you get as old as he was, you were always sick with something.  You outlived most of the viruses…it was your own failing systems that would probably get you.   That’s why they call it natural causes…only fools were surprised when the end came.

Marley had been no fool.  Everything was in order, and Scrooge had found it all laid out in minute detail.   He had followed his old partner’s plans for three years.  Marley had always been the face of the organization, and his name could still open a few doors.  Lately, though, there had been fewer and fewer of those doors…open or otherwise.

He could almost picture Marley now.  They would strategize before these meetings.  But strategies suggest choices.  Nobody in the book industry had a lot of choices left.  “People just don’t read any more”, thought Scrooge, “unless it’s under 141 characters”.  Books were going to go the way of newsreels and LPs.   Even if the electronic cancer didn’t kill them, the rising cost of paper would…the expense of natural resources bringing on natural causes.

“Hey, Unca!”

Scrooge’s nephew burst into the room.

“Seven minutes early.”

“I figured that would be okay.  Why not get the meeting done, and we can get out of here early…it’s the night before Thanksgiving, after all.”

“Hmph.  That doesn’t mean today has to be any shorter.  Why not two hours…or half the day?  Why not take the whole week off?”

“Why not?  A lot of people do.”

“Idiots.  You can’t run a business by taking off time.  If it was up to me, we’d work through Thanksgiving.”

“You don’t mean that, Unca.”

“I do…and if you had any sense, you’d agree with me.”

“Oh, I have plenty of sense, Unca…runs in the family, right?  So, you want to have Bob join us in the Conference Room?”

“You’re already here.  Cratchit!  Cancel the lights and turn off the heat for the rest of the building.  We’ll meet here now.”

“Yes, sir.  Right away, sir.”

“You mean the heat’s on?  It’s like a refrigerator in here.”

“Mr. Scrooge, would you like to begin with old business?”

“Let’s dispense with that, Unca.  I wanted to let you know…I met with some guys from Amazon.”

“And?”

“They were talking to me about the Kindle–”

“Bah!  E-books!”

“Hear me out, Unc.  They were telling me that they thought the Jay-Em line would be a good bet.  Romances do well…all those Harlequin imprints…Kimani, Silhouette, Steeple Hill…Samhain’s moving titles, too.”

“We’re not in the software business.  We sell books.”

“These are books, Unc…they’re just a different format.”

“Paperbacks and hardbacks, those are different formats.  E-books are nothing.  What do they charge for those things?”

“Well, actually, they suggested we offer a couple of them for free–”

“FREE?  That’s not a business, it’s a charity.  Call Bill Gates…he can give them away in South America or something.”

“But Unca–”

“If those e-books were worth anything, they wouldn’t be giving them away.  Books are paper, period.  Nobody’s going to pay any real money for fake books.”

“They really open up the market, though, Unca.  People who have difficulty reading the paper books can really use the increasing text size and the text-to-speech.   It’s easier for people with arthritis and you should understand about the aging population.”

“Our market’s dying off, you don’t need to remind me.  As to the blind, they can already get books for free.  That’s no help.”

“But this is more convenient, and they can share with the family.  They don’t have to prove any kind of disability to buy books from the Kindle store.”

“We’re not here to make their lives easier…we’re here to make money.”

“But Unca, I’ve got some numbers here…oh, my cell!  It’s my wife…excuse me while I take this.”

“Cratchit, go work on those end of year calculations.  No point in wasting the time while my nephew conducts his personal business.”

Left alone in his office, Scrooge’s gaze fell on the J. Marley Publishing logo on the wall.  It was a stylized silhouette of old Marley himself.   As he stared at it, he fancied he saw the portrait turn and look at him.

“These old eyes of mine are playing tricks on me,” Scrooge thought.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Audio hallucinations as well.  It was only a matter of time.”

“I am no hallucination.”

“Nonsense.  My mind is starting to go…I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately.  After the holidays, I’ll catch up and then I won’t have to worry about mind slips like you.”

“You know who I was.”

“I know you appear to be Jacob Marley, but you could have been a two-headed giraffe.  It’s just a normal consequence of sleep deprivation.  See that stack of bills?  That’s real.”

At this, the figure of Marley let out a wail that shook Scrooge to his toes.  He was sure that Cratchit and his nephew must have heard it, and would rush in at any moment.  When that didn’t happen, he knew that only he could hear and see it.

“It seems it’s just the two of us.  Alright, I’ll play along. ”

“We do not play games in this office…you of all people should know that.”

“What do you want of me?”

“Much.”

“Good luck with that.  There is very little of me left…I’ve already given everything to this company.”

“You do not know what you have to give.  But you will.  If you can still learn, you will.”

These last words chilled Scrooge.  He was unsure that he could learn anything new…and if he couldn’t, what would be the consequences?  He frantically looked at the ghost, looked for anything there that might give him a way to avoid the lesson.  He noticed the spectral ruins of buildings at the feet of the phantom.

“What…what are those crumbled walls?”

“Those are the chains to which we sold when I was alive…Crown Books, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks…I am tied to them in death as I was in life.  I stumble over them, wander their empty halls…I can not leave them, can not move on to more fertile markets.   If you can not change, you will join me here in death.”

“Tell me, spirit…tell me what I have to do!”

“That is not for me to do.  When you see me, you see our lives together.  The echoes of the past will overwhelm any truth I might tell you now.  That will be for the others.”

“Others?”

Scrooge’s heart beat faster than it had in years.  Seeing your dead business partner was one thing…he could manage Marley.  But other people…other ghosts…Scrooge had always been better with numbers than people.  That had been Marley’s area.

“Three others.  Listen openly to what they tell you, Ebenezer.  You will not be given another chance.”

At this, the figure faded back into the logo on the wall.

The ruins crumbled into dust, and the dust to lesser dust, until there was no sign that anything had ever been there.

“Delusions,” said Scrooge, “brought on by stress and lack of sleep.  Where is that nephew of mine?  Work…that’s what I need.  Back to work, and I won’t be bothered by these ridiculous visions any more.”

He noticed the old-fashioned Rolodex that sat on a corner of his desk.  He flipped backwards, precisely one letter at time.  “Just the thing,” thought Scrooge.  “I’ve been meaning to get this organized.”

He began with the letter A.  He looked at the first card.  “Dead.”  He put it in a large envelope he used to take shredding to the bank…JMP wasn’t going to pay a shredding service while he was in charge.  He looked at the second card.  “Out of business.”  The third: “Merged.”

Soon, his envelope was filled to overflowing.  He decided he would need something bigger.  He took a dusty plaque honoring the company on its first million seller out of a box.  He tried to shake the cards into the box, but they wouldn’t come out of the envelope.

“Out, you lazy garbage!  Staying together isn’t going to save you!”

He shook harder, and the cards came out in a lump.  Scrooge was stunned, though, to see that they didn’t fall.  They hung in the air above the box.   Slowly, the cards began to spread out…first in one direction, then another.  Two long flows spread towards the floor, and two more towards the walls.  A fifth formed a lump at about Scrooge’s chest level.  It took on the shape of a child.

“Neezy,” it said in a soft and gentle voice.

“Neezy?!”  No one had called Scrooge that since he was a child himself.  Scrooge had almost no memories of his own childhood…they had long ago been crushed under the weight of corporate responsibility.

The figure, who ruffled and shuffled as its card body constantly flowed and changed, held out a “hand” to the Old Man.

“No, no!  What is it?  Where do you want to take me?”

“Only where you have already been.  You will see nothing new…nothing you haven’t already lived.”

Scrooge thought about that…if there was damage to be done by the past, it had already hurt him…and he had beaten it.  He had forgotten the worst of it before…he could do it again.

“Spirit, you do not frighten me.”

“It is your past we will see…do you frighten yourself?”

The hand began to withdraw, but Scrooge snatched it before it could merge back into the card cloud.  He had never been afraid to seize an opportunity.

The rustling became an overwhelming sound, like being swept up in a tornado!  The sprite grabbed Scrooge’s other hand, and they whirled in a mad game of ring-around-the-rosy, spinning faster and faster, until it seemed to Scrooge he was in danger of exploding outwards into a million pieces!

The spinning stopped, the sound subsided…and Scrooge saw something he would never have expected…

To be continued…

This story continues in Part 2.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 1, 2009.

Regular Delivery

October 15, 2017

Regular Delivery

No one was home.

No one was ever home any more.

In fact, no one had been home for years…anywhere.

That might have mattered to Joyce, but no one had bothered to give Joyce a sense of time longer than how long it took to make a delivery.

That’s what Joyce did…deliver packages for Amazon.

That’s what Joyce had always done…that’s what Joyce was made to do.

Program check:

  1. Wake up in the charging station at the warehouse
  2. Pick up the packages, scan the locations
  3. Get on the road
  4. Deliver packages
  5. Rendezvous with the drone for road charging
  6. Deliver packages
  7. Find the next pick up spot, get more packages
  8. Drive
  9. Deliver packages
  10. Road charging
  11. Deliver packages
  12. Pick up packages
  13. Road charging
  14. When necessary, return to warehouse for servicing

Everything checks.

Efficiency has been exceptionally high lately, which feels good. Yes, feels good. Joyce definitely wants to feel good, and wants to be efficient.

Pattern analysis: why are things going well? What can Joyce do more?

Answers:

  • No returns. Returns take up room. There hasn’t been a return at a house for the last few delivery cycles. How long is that? Joyce doesn’t know
  • No traffic, outside of other autons. Autons know how to be efficient on the road, and talk to each other

Not under Joyce’s control, nothing to change.

Balancing measures:

  • More debris on the road, and especially in front of homes
  • Pick up spots are further apart, empty more often. Subscribe and Save dominates more, which can be heavier and bulkier
  • Charging drones are less available
  • Refrigerators are sometimes full
  • More animal encounters outside homes and fewer inside

Everything is within acceptable levels. 

No need to change.

Joyce has never heard the term, “Special Delivery”. Every delivery is equally important, and done with a smile…on the box.


There have been some very interesting stories about Amazon and the future of delivery lately. There are a couple of threads which add up to a very interesting vision. I particularly want to thank John Aga (@jbaga01) who alerted me to Amazon’s recent patent for drones which can charge an electric car…even while it is driving:

Green Tech Media article by Emma Foehringer Merchant

The articles I’ve seen on this thought it was for Amazon to charge “your car”, but I doubt that’s it.

I think it goes with another recent story, that Amazon is testing its own delivery service (think UPS/Fed Ex), called Seller Flex:

The Street article by Giovanni Bruno

and one more, about Amazon being able to deliver inside your home, by having a device that would grant the delivery person access:

ZDNet article by Charlie Osborne

I do love the idea of being able to get packages in the house…we have had a problem with mail theft, including Amazon packages. We now either have the packages delivered to an Amazon Locker, or to my Significant Other’s office.

However, the idea that a person would be in my home when I wasn’t there is…uncomfortable. It certainly wouldn’t sit well with our dogs! We also had a break-in robbery…that does change your perspective.

A robot in my house, though? That’s perfectly fine with me.

So, I pictured the above scenario. Autonomous electric Amazon vehicles, being charged on the road by drones, delivering packages inside the home…even inside your refrigerator.

They might not need human interaction for days…weeks…possibly years.

I do think that AI (Artificial Intelligence) will have some sort of pleasure reward system to keep them on track. There is nothing that I’ve proposed in this story which is fantasy, based on what’s been happening with AI.

Of course, we can now get books delivered electronically, which is even easier, but I have a number of Amazon packages coming in the near future, so this will certainly impact Kindleers…we need some way to read our e-books, until they can be transmitted directly to an in-body machine brain interface. 😉

Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.


You can be part of my next book, Because of the Kindle!


My current Amazon giveaway:

Beyond Curie: Four women in physics and their remarkable discoveries 1903 to 1963 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Giveaway:

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/b139e577ee333624

  • Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winners.
    Requirements for participation:
  • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
  • Follow Scott Calvin on Amazon

Start:Sep 25, 2017 5:46 AM PDT

End:Oct 25, 2017 11:59 PM PDT


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All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)

November 25, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)

This is part 3 of a piece which began here.

“Good afternoon! I figure you all know this by now, seeing as how this is the third lecture in this series, but my name’s ‘Tack’ Carlson. I’ve learned a couple of your names, but I have to tell you, I’m pretty good with faces. I think that’s  part of  being a lawyer, at least of  the courtroom variety. We’re pretty good observers, and right decent at telling how you feel about things. After all, that’s my job: to get you to feel a certain way about the facts, and I can’t change your feelings if I can’t tell what they are now.

I don’t see any unfamiliar folks out there…did you all attend the first two talks? Great! Don’t worry, there isn’t going to be a test. You’ll get those in your regular classes here at Fictional Character University…I’m just a guest speaker for an elective.

Let’s just do a little review first.

The name of this series is Surviving ‘The End’. Everybody in here is a lead character in a first novel which is still in a draft. I’m hoping to help you get past that first novel and on to a second.

I’m not going  to claim to have all the answers, but I’ve done it myself, and I can humbly say, well as much as a lawyer can ever be humble, that I know something about the topic.

In the first talk, I told you about

Rule #1: You have to accept change.

I explained how long-lasting characters usually have some kind of stress in their first novels, or just before the novel starts. It’s part of your origin story, and helping the real-worlders get to where you are…at least in their heads.

In the second one, we discussed

Rule #2: Be the same.

Anybody remember what else I called that?”

“The principle of ‘Ride the same horse'”.

“Yep! Antares, isn’t it?”

“You grok.”

“Just knowing somebody’s name is a pretty low thresholding for grokking,  isn’t it?”

“Maybe I didn’t say it just because you knew my name.”

“Maybe not. I remember we had a nice piece of dialog. Ready to ride with me a bit further?”

“Sure.”

“Well, I’m  pretty sure Antares knows the answer, but what’s the topic of today’s talk?”

“Have interesting friends?”

“Yes…friends and enemies, for that matter. Thanks for giving Antares time to respond to some texts…although I’m guessing you’ve been doing that all along. What’s your name?”

“Sujay Rodriguez, but they call me ‘C.J.’. I’m a safety inspector.”

“Do you inspect anything in particular?”

“I used to work for a state agency, but my job got eliminated. I got a decent severance package, so now I freelance…anything, anywhere, any time.”

“How does that work? How do you have all that knowhow?”

“Most safety issues involve the same thing…somebody doing something stupid. That usually isn’t the guy who gets hurt…it’s the guy who told the guy who got hurt what to do.”

“I see.”

“The rest of it’s just a matter of doing the research.”

“I understand doing research. Not sure I’d want to have you on a jury in a negligence case, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t want to have most of us characters on a jury…we have a tendency to take over. You know, a lot of strong personalities.

That brings me to today’s topic.

We have those strong personalities, but that’s not enough. We need to have other folks around us, too…and interesting folks.

They can be a lot of things: sidekicks; bosses; friends; lovers; enemies…there are a lot of choices.

Here, let me demonstrate with something I call the ‘And Chain’.

We talked about Sherlock Holmes before. If I say, ‘Sherlock Holmes and…’, and you know I’m talking about another person, what would you say? ‘Watson’, right? Let’s keep going…give me a different answer. Holmes and…”

“Professor Moriarty.”

“And…”

“Mrs. Hudson.”

“And..”

“Inspector Lestrade.”

“And…”

“The Baker Street Irregulars.”

“Good answer! We  could keep going. All of these characters are memorable. All of them have appeared in more than one Holmes title. Real world readers know them.

How about a more recent example…Stephanie Plum. Stephanie Plum and…”

“Lula!”

“Morelli!”

“Grandma Mazur!”

“Ranger…he’s hot!”

“Well, it sounds like the class generally agrees with you. Let’s keep going. Stephanie Plum and…”

“Uh…Vinny?”

“Yes, he owns the Bail Bonds business…and he’s Stephanie’s cousin.”

“Rex!”

“That’s not a character!”

“Actually, I would consider Rex, the hamster, a character…and I reckon my horse Seafounder would agree with me. Characters don’t have to be human beings…heck, dogs and cats have been main characters, along with a whole slew of other species. There are other human characters, and if I name off a few I think most of you will recognize them: Connie, who also works in the Bonds office; Grandma Bella; Moon-Man Dunphy;  and that’s not even counting crossover folks and one-timers.

The point is, you might be super interesting, but you aren’t enough.  Humans are social animals: it wouldn’t seem realistic to the real-worlders, so to speak, if you existed in a vacuum. Besides, some people are going to read your books just to catch up on those other characters…and them reading your books is what’s going to keep you alive.”

Speaking of staying alive, shouldn’t Rex be in the Guinness book as the oldest hamster ever?”

“Well, he’s not as old as Sherlock Holmes, and he is still going strong. I wanted to introduce you to somebody. Come on out! This here’s Catherine Ketcham, better known as–“

“Catch ’em Kate!”

“Thank you, Antares. How many of you have heard of Catch ’em Kate? Great! How would you describe the character?”

“A female bounty hunter?”

“Just a bounty hunter will do, mister. My sex ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”

“Easy, Kate. I’m sure that’s how Stephanie Plum get described, too.”

“That don’t make it right, Tack. What’s wrong for me is wrong for that Jersey gal.”

“Gender and diversity is an issue that we can save for another time.”

“Ain’t it always?”

“I wanted to give it a full session, that’s all. You know I’ve never treated you any differently.”

“That’s for durn sure.”

“Um…where was I? Right, the importance of having other characters like Kate with you in your stories. What I do as a lawyer would be pretty tame…Kate runs them down, and that brings a needed boost of adrenaline to the Courtroom Cowboy novels.”

Yep…and then you get them bonded out again.”

“If I do, that just gives you another chance to bring them in, right? Twice the bounty.”

“Them’s lawyerin’ words. You always did know how to turn scat into flapjacks.”

“Does anybody have any questions?”

“Where’s Dusty Ambush?”

“I was hoping for a question for Kate, who was kind enough to join us today.”

“Tell ’em, Tack.”

“Okay, Kate. It is educational, even if…emotionally uncomfortable. Dusty was too weak to make the trip. While I’ve been lucky enough to keep getting new books and stories published, not to mention the adaptations, and to have Kate’s assistance, Dusty…well, Dusty hasn’t been in a new novel for, oh, thirty years or so. You’ve heard about characters fading into obscurity…that’s what’s happening with Dusty. He’s getting weaker and weaker…some days, it’s hard to even make out what he’s saying.”

“Sad.”

“That’s  something you all have to understand. As long as real-worlders are reading you, you’ll stick around. Having new stories for them helps, but if they are reading your old stuff, that will keep you strong and vital.”

“Tack!”

“Gerry Carlyle! Sorry for the interruption, class. This is Gerry Carlyle, from the Interplanetary Hunter stories. Gerry, can this wait? I’m in the middle of a lecture.”

“Sorry, no. It’s an emergency.”

“Did you need Kate?”

“We could always use another strong arm, but we also need a lawyer…and that means you, ‘Professor'”.

“I guess that ends today’s lecture, then. I’ll have the school let everybody know if we need to reschedule the next one. Gerry, can you at least tell them the nature of the case?”

“Rather not.”

“Who else is with you?”

“Jimgrim, Edward Malone, Frank Reade, and Mrs. Paschal.”

“Sounds like you’ve got plenty of room for me and Kate. Let me ask you: that spaceship of yours have room for a few observers?”

“There’s room.”

“Thanks! I’m sure you don’t mind if I bring along a few of these students…it would be great for them to see a real adventure, and I think they could be helpful.”

“As long as they aren’t just deadheading.”

“Oh, they’ll work, I’m sure. Everybody’s signed field trip releases, right?  Or had their legal guardians give approval? Good. Antares…the baker…and let’s bring the cat. As for the rest of you, I want you to think about those three lessons: embrace the change, be the same, and have interesting friends and enemies. If you have any questions, send me an e-mail.

One last thing…Gerry,  I hate to ask you this, but–“

“Seafounder’s already onboard in one of the holding pens.”

“That horse is a durn sight smarter than Tack, anyway.”

“You know, Gerry, if you aren’t sure there’s enough room to take all of us, maybe Ms. Ketcham…never mind, I’m just kidding. Kate’s right about Seafounder…although it sounds like my legal education might be of some small use in this instance.”

 “I told you we needed you. Look, we need to go now…you two can argue after we blast off.”

“I’m sure we will…it wouldn’t be much fun if we didn’t. I hate to leave the class in such suspense…can’t you just give them a hint?”

“Professor Challenger’s been arrested.”

“Where are we going? I’ll need to study up on local jurisdiction on the way.”

“Barsoom…”

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 2)

November 14, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 2)

This is a continuation of a piece that began here. 

“Welcome back!

This is the second in my lecture series on how to survive your first novel here at Fictional Characters University. If you missed the first one, well, you might want to have a talk with your placement counselor.

Here’s a link to the recording of the first one, in case you want to review it later:

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 1)

You’ll find it in your reference materials, and online at my FCU homepage.

Just to refresh your recollection, I’m Thackeray “Tack” Carlson. I’ve been in 23 novels, and a heap of adaptations, and I made my first appearance in 1936.

You might think 23 puts me into a rarefied category, but you know what? Just being in two novels does that. We characters don’t have much of a life expectancy…not one percent of us make it past our first novel and on to a second one.

You’re all here because you are hoping to be one of the lucky ones.

Well, let me tell you…there is a lot of luck involved.

Sure as daylight in Dallas, though, it’s not just luck. There are things you can do to up your odds. There are no guarantees: it doesn’t matter how good a case I’ve made in court, you never know what’s going to happen in that deliberation room.”

“Professor Carlson?”

“Tack is fine…I’m not on the faculty here, just a guest lecturer.”

“Um…I was wondering. As a fictional lawyer, don’t you know you are going to win every case?”

“Well, let’s just say I’ve won my fair share…some people might say more than that. No question, I’ve got it easier than my real world counterparts, but I’ve lost a few cases. I guess the difference is that when I lose, something good always comes out of it. Wouldn’t satisfy my fans if it didn’t. As I was saying, there are some guidelines for getting to number two.

Last time, I talked about embracing change. You need an origin story. You see, we fictional folks are extraordinary. That’s what makes us worth reading about. People are going to want to know what made you that way. They want to see a path from every day to once in a lifetime. That doesn’t mean they want to walk that path…most of them are just fine with the troubles and tribulations they have now. It just helps them sympathize and yes, believe in you, if they can see how you got there.

Does anybody remember what I said I was going to talk about this time?”

“Be the same.”

“Yep. Thanks for paying attention last time…or for cheating off the website on your SmartPhone. Either one shows initiative.

You see, I don’t want to set you up just to get to two books…I want you to do a series. You have to figure out what makes a reader want to find out more about you…and what makes them satisfied when they do.

What’s your name, ‘be the same’?”

“Antares Nebula”.

“Science fiction?”

“Young adult. My name’s meta: I’m a kid from a hunter/gatherer culture who got adopted by geek parents.”

“Okay. You knew the topic of today’s talk…do you mind if I use you to illustrate a point?”

“Go ahead…I’m used to that.”

“What’s the name of the Lone Ranger’s horse?”

“Silver.”

“I’m impressed! I wasn’t sure you’d know.”

“I’ve got the internet. Besides, my parents taught me to be interested in everything, and John Reid’s one of the original superheroes.”

John Reid? Are you sure?”

“I wanted to keep it simple. I’ve found I have a tendency to confuse people.”

“Got it. Well, the point is, you knew the name of his horse. Lots of people do. Does your family have a car?”

“No. We’re part of the sharing economy…we don’t like to own stuff.”

“I understand. Do you know anybody who has a car?”

“Some people at my Mom’s work.”

“What are the names of their cars?”

“You mean like the model?”

“No, the individual car. Since we’re talking about the Reid family, like the Black Beauty.”

“I don’t know.”

“Has any of them had more than one car since you’ve known them?”

“Sure. My Mom’s co-worker totaled hers.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It really wasn’t…long story, and one I probably shouldn’t talk about in class.”

“We don’t want to get anybody in trouble. Did she get the same kind of car?”

“No.”

“Was anybody shocked that she got a different car?”

“Not really.”

“What if the Lone Ranger drove that same car?”

“The Lone Ranger doesn’t drive a car.”

“Exactly, thank you. The Lone Ranger doesn’t drive a car. The Lone Ranger rides a horse named Silver. The Lone Ranger also wears a mask. The Lone Ranger uses silver bullets, and doesn’t shoot to kill. All of those are things that make the Lone Ranger, well, the Lone Ranger. Readers expect to see those elements when they see the Lone Ranger.”

“What about Tonto?”

“Hold on to that thought…I’m going to come back to that.

Real worlders aren’t defined the same way…they are much more complex. Think about it: how many words describe one of us when a reader first meets us? How many data points? It would be unusual if readers knew more than about five things about us after that first encounter. I’m a mixed race lawyer cowboy with a horse named Seafounder. That defines me.

When a real worlder meets another real worlder, they have probably a hundred data points or more: height, hair color, eye color, accent, shoe brand, where they sit in the room, what car they drive, brand of clothes, perfume or cologne or whatever, and so on.

Change one of my characteristics and I might be twenty percent different to the average reader. Change one characteristic about a real worlder, and it’s only maybe one percent.”

“Question?”

“Are you asking one, or did you want me to ask you one?”

“Um…asking. It’s not really important, though.”

“I was just kidding you…let’s let the class decide what’s important. That’s what the readers do when we speak, anyway.”

“I was just wondering: why is your horse’s name Seafounder?”

“Well, I don’t know about everybody else, but I think that’s a great question…especially since it lets me give you a great answer. My original author’s name is Buck Tooson, but as I mentioned last time, her real name was Mary Prydudd. Anybody know what kind of name that is?”

“Welsh?”

“You got it. Anybody here speak Welsh? No? Worth a shot…I’ve noticed every year that these classes are getting to be more diverse. ‘Cyfiawnder’ is Welsh for ‘Justice’. Buck figured, rightly I think, that folks would have anglicized that, so Cyfiawnder become Seafounder. Now, I know a lot of you probably don’t see a connection between being a lawyer and justice, but Buck did, and I do, too. Good story, right? Thanks again for asking.

Let’s see…oh, yes.  So, you don’t to go against what people expect to see. I call the principle, ‘Ride the same horse’.

Does that sound boring?

It doesn’t have to be…although be careful about what your author wants to make part and parcel of your main characteristics. You want it to be flexible enough to work in a lot of situations. Remember, you can refuse to pick up that buggy whip, if that’s what the author wants you to do. If you are really uncomfortable with it, they can tell.”

“I don’t want to be the same all the time.”

“There are some options for taking a personality vacation every once in a while. You can go undercover as someone else. You can have a dream sequence. You can go off canon…you know, in parodies and fan fiction, unofficial adventures. Just don’t overdue it.

Now, who asked me about Tonto?”

“That was me.”

“What’s your story?”

“I bake cupcakes that change people’s lives. You see, I have deep insight into the problems people have, and I bake a specific cupcake with particular flavors, ingredients, and decorations that act as a catalyst to send them in a new direction.”

“That’s different. Who else is in the bakery with you?”

“I’m pretty much it, at least as the story goes so far.”

Do you see the same people, after you change them?”

“No.”

“Nobody helps you? There are no recurring characters besides you? You don’t have a Tonto?”

“Not in eleven short stories, and not in the latest draft of the novel. Is that a problem?”

“Let’s just say that’s going to be the topic of my next lecture in this series: Rule #3: have interesting friends and/or enemies. See you all then!”


This piece continues in part 3.

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