45,000 Lawns

When I was five years old I wanted to have a life’s work. I didn’t know what that meant. I just overheard my mother use that phrase. She said it as if it was something very valuable, something not many people possessed, only the very lucky few. She said she was not one of those people. As far as she could tell, she would spend the rest of her days doing other people’s laundry and taking out their trash. So I asked her, if you could have a life’s work, what would it be? She thought about it for a moment, and then said, you know? I can’t think of anything!

I was not happy with that answer. I was only five, and didn’t have much experience with the world, so I couldn’t think of anything either, but I decided right then and there to make it my mission to have a life’s work. I locked myself in my room and told myself I couldn’t have another pretzel until I’d thought of a life’s work of my own, and since I loved pretzels more than anything, you can tell I was really serious. I stared at the walls of my room. I stared at the floor. I stared at my toys. I looked out the window. That was when I had my big idea.

Lawns.

I grew up in a small city in the mid-west where everybody had a lawn, even the poorest of the poor had a small patch of something in their back yard, maybe it was only weeds, and maybe it was mostly broken cement, but they counted. Even my mom’s sorry excuse for a backyard counted for a lawn. I looked at that patch of dirt and dandelions and I said to myself, George? (my name is George). You are going to make that lawn count if it’s the last thing you do. But no, I said to myself. Not make the lawn count. Count the lawn! That’s the thing. I was going to count the lawns, every last lawn I ever encountered for as long as I lived.

I did not originally have a target number in mind. I thought maybe there were about a hundred lawns in the world, and at the time, one hundred was the biggest number I knew. I didn’t hesitate. I was never a dawdler. I ran right down the stairs and raced outside and started counting lawns.

It wasn’t enough to see them. I had to physically occupy them in one way or another, even if only for an instant. That’s how I came upon the strategy of “one step, one vote”. I ran up and down the street, “tagging” every lawn in the neighborhood with either my right or my left foot (never both). I soon got quite carried away, so carried away in fact that by the time I counted my forty-fifth lawn I was already blocks from home and had no idea where I was.

When the police woman found me all I could tell her was that my name was George, and that my house had the sorriest excuse for a lawn, and that my mother did not possess a life’s work whatsoever. I don’t know how they ever tracked her down, but they did.

Of course I never told her what I was up to, not then, and not ever, not even when I graduated from high school some eleven thousand, two hundred and eighteen lawns later, and not when I graduated from law school, where I studied property law and amassed a total of twenty six thousand four hundred and ninety lawns by the time I passed the state bar. Somehow I knew it was nothing to be particularly proud of, especially on those occasions when my life’s work got me into trouble.

I was something of an expert on trespassing by then, but even experts make mistakes.

Still I kept my secret, even under severe cross-examination and throughout the lost years I spent in prison when I stepped on no lawns at all. I can promise you that the first thing I did on my release was begin to make up for all that time. I racked up hundreds more within my first few months of freedom.

I became a connoisseur of lawn treading. I began to resist the urge to stomp on every mere patch, reserving the right to refuse steps for lawns that didn’t measure up to my increasingly lofty standards. Now my lawns were required to be cared for, to be respected if not always treasured. My lawns deserved a degree of dignity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a figure had begun to take shape, the number 45,000 began appearing in my dreams and randomly occurring to me even during daylight hours. Perhaps it was a shadow, a reflection of those early forty-five, the first I had counted before I got lost and had sat down by the side of the road, sobbing and miserable and certain I was doomed forever.

Now, as I approached the numinous integer, I applied my standards ever more rigorously, until there was hardly a lawn that qualified for my attention. I stalled out in the mid forty-four thousands, and for an entire sixteen months I stepped on nary a lawn. Finally I decided to break through this blockage, this self-inflicted obstacle barricading me from the achievement of my life’s work, and I resolved to trod on every lawn until I reached that sacred figure and that once I did, my journey would be complete. Only then could I rest.

So you see, your honor, that’s what I was doing in Mrs. Jenkins backyard on the evening of the 27th. I was certainly not attempting to break into her house, and of course I always wear all black when I go out counting lawns. Doesn’t everyone?

 

(the narrator would like to think that this story has been illustrated in the manner of the classic children’s book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millions_of_Cats)

Renegade Cover Art

Thanks to a blog post by my friend and much-admired writer Michael Graeme, I went back to look at some of the books I’d posted ages ago on the (rather dodgy)website Free-Ebooks.net (tip, you can self-publish there for free as long as you side-step their efforts to get your money). There I was surprised to find they had created and posted all-new covers for several of my books. I’m not complaining. It’s a pretty obscure site that never generated much interest in my stories . I just find it fairly hilarious. Here are some of their attempts:

 

My favorite is probably Secret Sidewalk (perhaps because it is my personal favorite of all my books) though it captures nothing at all of the content. Snapdragon Alley is not so bad either.

This and That – a Feed Book (completed)

ThisAndThat

Finished up today and posted on Smashwords as well as Kindle and Wattpad (where it was born and bred). Sometimes you just have to stop and say it’s done.

Description: Told in the style of a combined social media feed, ‘This and That’ relates several overlapping and interwoven stories; a woman facing treatment for cancer, a man held hostage for no reason by a foreign government, a global corporation enamored of its power and reach, an unstable future world disorder, and more. Filled with drama, pathos and dark, dark humor, ‘This and That’ is a piece of performance fiction that was improvised live as it didn’t actually happen.

Recommended: More Wattpad Goodness

I’ve nearly completed half of my pledge to take a year off from writing fiction, and it’s helped that I’ve been swamped at work, putting in around 60 hours a week at the old open-floor-plan-paradise-prison that passes for the norm in Silicon Valley these days. With a partial clearing in the release schedule, though, I’ve found a bit of time to catch up and hunker down with some of my favorite writers on Wattpad.

@DawnAdrie – Rules of Escape – is a journey into the linked minds of otherwise institutionalized autistic young people. This story is quite original and succeeds very well in shifting perspective among several characters, some of whom are inside, and some of whom are outside the telepathic circle . There are abundant twists and turns and I’m genuinely excited every time a new chapter pops up in my mobile notifications because I never have any idea whose turn it’s going to be or how it’s going to advance the story.

@ShalonSims – The Dreaming: Dark Star Book Five – the next in an exciting and ambitious tale of a world where totalitarian rulers harness the power of dream walkers in a battle of unlikely factions, featuring the old and the young, the innocent and the suspect, the foolish and the wise, the human and the alien. There’s a lot to unpack in this and its related series, all well worth looking in to.

@LaraBlunte – Blame the Devil – she’s at it again. Yet another irresistible page-turner from the unstoppable @LaraBlunte, a writer of such talent and mystique that she even has me reading romance fiction, almost against my will, and enjoying it immensely, because of her great style and perspective. I always say that my favorite feature of reading is how it lets you remotely occupy the mind of another person. It’s always a treat visiting this one.

@MichaelGraeme – The Sea View Cafe – and speaking of treats, Michael is rolling out another instantly hypnotic story of individuals pulled along by their own incomprehensible inner forces. In other words, literature. Michael’s writing always reminds me of the classics, writers like Conrad and James, Thackery and Eliot. He’s a masterful stylist and quietly burrows you deep inside his characters’ souls. His The Price of Being with Sunita is still resonating, months after I finished reading it.

Highly recommended, all.

In a general note, I’ve enjoyed that past few weeks of having my last story, ‘How my Brained Ended up Inside this Box’, featured on Wattpad. It was even on the top row of the app for a few days there and got a bunch of ‘eyes’ looking at it (also thanks to the beautiful new cover someone made for me (I won’t mention their name here so they don’t get besieged with requests!). Another friend recently made some new covers for some of my other stories – what a great treat. I’m so grateful. But what I started out to say was that you have to enjoy these moments as they happen and not try to hang on to them forever. As a bookseller for many years I became accustomed to the rhythms of the business, and the cycles of sales enjoyed by books as they came and went throughout the years. You’d come across gems and want everyone to read them but their time is always limited. Whenever I think of ‘success’ in fiction I think of The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, an excellent writer who had several stories featured famously and one book which had its shining moment in the sun. His own moment, his life, was sadly far too short, ending in suicide. I believe we ought to love our time as best we can, and let the things we do, the things we create, have their own time, detach them from our selves, and let them go. They are not us. We have our own stories to live.

Everything is Scammable, in its own way

Reading about the poor souls whose self-published online novels have been stolen and plagiarized by unscrupulous ghouls, I was reminded of the nefarious hacks who’ve attempted to profit on my own non-existent fame and notoriety by publishing fake versions of fake books using my real and profitless name. I pity the fools. But everything is scammable in this world and probably the next one as well. Witness the clownish attempt to get people to click on phishing links when they search for How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box – a masterpiece of meaningless drivel in and of itself:

backed

the real truth is, here is a real link to a free version of the book thus described.

Featured on Wattpad: How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box

featured_on_wattpad

I’m happy to see that my most recent sci-fi story, “How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box”, is now a “featured” selection on Wattpad. It’s a bit of what I like to call “magical futurism”, featuring a black-market “artificially intelligent person” (or A.I.P., or “ape” in the colloquial sense, as in ‘the planet of the’), an organic being, farm-raised on genetically engineered smoothies and destined for auction to the highest bidding criminal enterprise. Gifted with the ability to communicate with foul-mouthed seagulls and ill-tempered felines, the gender-less, age-less, race-less creature has to find its way to escape from the clutches of its mother and other assorted enemies, in this fairly exciting and ultimately utterly unexpected novel.

As with all my books, this one is free on Smashwords and Feedbooks as well.

 

How My Brain got a nice review

On Goodreads. Made me happy and edged up my books’ overall Goodreads average rating to 2.99. Can they ever hit 3.00? The Law of Average would say “maybe”. If enough random people randomly read random books and rated them, that rating would likely be around 3.00, and that’s exactly what seems to have happened with mine.

Anyway: How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box really is (IMHO) a pretty good story, a fresh and somewhat more sane take on artificial intelligence than the usual. And it’s free, of course, like all my books always are on Smashwords or Feedbooks.

Such a great book! A fresh new take on the whole Artificial Intelligence genre. And it’s simplicity is its beauty!

When the AIP discovers their self, we people’s-people reading it discover ourselves and the world along with them!

Glad I stumbled across this little treasure. It will be in one of my all time favourite reads.

This Week in Wattpad

This week in #Wattpad I’ve been happily reading some more good stuff, including (but not necessarily limited to)

Companionship by @PeerGlen, a genuine space opera with unusually inventive escapades and characters

Cursed Times – What Now? by @linahanson, a supernatural culture clash set in contemporary Ancient Egypt

Someday by @drwhogivesadamn, an exploratory friendship with the new kid next door, a fascinating reveal

Ally’s Revenge, by @BrandyLee1031, an unfolding drama told by two major characters as their paths draw closer to intersect

Phantoms of Folklore, by @joannajadoo, folk tales old and new told enchantingly by a gifted storyteller

A thief’s nightmare by @Keeylie, a clash of clans in a mythical world

The Magician’s Horses by @bkbennett made me race to the finish of this fascinating time travel experiment

@AnnWrites had me on the edge of my seat with two stories, The Trophy Wife’s Lover and 666: A Psychological Thriller

My “Library” is too full and the Android version of the Wattpad app is unpredictable – I never know what’s going to show up or in what order, but as always there’s no shortage of stories to check out there.

How My Brain Ended Up Free Online

When I was born I was so small I was mistaken for a french fry. I was never an ordinary child. My best friend was a seagull. I was also illegal. Artificially intelligent people like me had been banned ever since that thing with the Twelve Elevens. Mother raised me for profit. Buyers and sellers had other plans for me, but then I grew a mind of my own. This is my story, the story of how my brain ended up in this box.

My new short novel is now available from the usual suspects:

for free from Smashwords or Feedbooks or from Amazon Kindle if for some reason you feel like throwing ninety nine cents at it. It’ll make it onto Wattpad too one of these days (in the meantime, I have other stuff there if you’re a Wattpadite)

HowMyBrain_Cover1

Recommended: The Choices, by Michael Graeme

The myth of the eternal return is one of those bottomless founts for speculative fiction. What if you could do it all over again? What would you do this time? If only this instead of that had happened. If only you could get a second chance. It’s fertile ground, often trod, but like clay can be shaped anew in the hands of every one who picks it up and plays with it. Michael Graeme has a nice take on it here in this story. There is no reincarnation, no continuous replay of the same day a la Groundhog Day, but one’s entire life, as it is, rewound and replayed over and over again seemingly for eternity, each time allowing for all the paths not taken to be taken, for each one to lead out into its own ending, and yet to have to start all over again no matter what the outcome. The narrator has done this so many times that he has narrowed down the critical juncture of his life to one night in one hotel bar and the set of possible alternatives presented to him there. He has come to believe that the cycle can only be broken when the one “correct” choice has been made, when the real and true destiny is selected and followed through to the end. We cannot know if he is right about that, and the ending leaves us suspecting that there is no end, there is no right choice, there are only “the choices”. If, as the expression goes these days, “it is what it is”, then these choices “are what they are”, and each of us are limited to a certain set. It may be a large set – the imagination boggles at all the possible twistings and turnings of fate that can occur at any instant – but a finite set nonetheless. We are here and now, in this time and place, and nowhere else, and as no one else. In the final analysis, wherever you go, there you are. Michael Graeme tells this story as clearly, as calmly and as compellingly as he always does, taking you down another road well worth traveling.