Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rish's Story "White House Tour" in the Masters of the Macabre contest

June/July/August 2013

Man, I have lived too long, since every one of my blog entries is about the same things.  I guess I could switch things up and talk about how I’ve been alone so long, it doesn’t even hurt anymore, or how my nephews have now become the second most important people in my life, and that doesn’t seem too sad to me either.  But today I’m at my family cabin, typing on my brother’s laptop, and the first thing I did was to get the story out that I wrote for a contest next month, and read it over, in case I could polish it up.

Unfortunately, turds have a strong aversion to being polished, and it occurred to me that there’s not really much I can do to fix the story: it just isn’t very good.  And instead of depression, a strange bit of apathy overcame me.  No, it’s not a good story, but I'm not of a mind to care, and I certainly don’t care to try to fix it somehow.  It’s a tale I wrote (the third or fourth, depending on your interpretation, that I’ve written) for the Horror Addicts podcast, and it’s the one I did the most research on.  They have a contest every year called the Masters of the Macabre, in which there’s an overall topic, and specific details given to each participant. 

The first time I entered, in 2011, the topic was Phobias, and I was given Fear of Insects.  I also had to include a luau and hang gliding in the story.  What I came up with was something I called “Friends in Paradise,” about a little girl who goes on a Hawaiian vacation with her family, and ends up using her ability to control bugs to cause mayhem.  It wasn’t a great story, and having never been to Hawaii, I had to ask a friend who lived there a couple of questions, and went ahead and wrote the story.  It turned out alright, neither very good nor very bad, and I recorded it myself, asking my niece to voice the main character. 

I didn’t win the contest, but it was an activity worth doing, since I never would’ve written that story without their prompts.  If left to my own devices, I'd probably write the same two or three stories over and over again.

The next year, I was eager to enter the contest, and the topic turned out to be Curses.  I got given the Curse of Macbeth, and wrote a story called “The Scottish Scene,” about a high school assignment to do a reading from a Shakespeare play.  The story turned out really well (I thought), but it was significantly too long, and I had to cut it down to fit it into the time limit allotted. 

I absolutely despise doing that kind of editing, because yes, it can increase one’s writing talent, trying to use an economy of speech and figuring out what is necessary to the story and what is expendable, but when you have to cut out too much, it becomes a waste of time and a detriment to the finished product.

For the podcast version, I asked my friend Renee to record the female characters, and I did the narration and the male characters (I ended up doing the witch’s voice myself, since Renee’s voice is too clear and youthful).  It’s hard to objectively state how good something I write is, but I really enjoyed writing, narrating, and editing the audio of that story, and would someday like to produce the full version, just because I enjoyed writing it, and the character who did the watch monologue from PULP FICTION as his reading in class.

You know, I will write a bit about my next story for Horror Addicts (“Unreleased”) and will publish it before this bit, but it was next, and written especially for the podcast, and again, I really liked everything about that one, except for cutting it down for length.

But the third contest, the one for 2013, is due soon, and its theme was Hauntings, a subject fraught with Horror possibilities.  They gave me the location of The White House, and an instruction to put “An Unopened Letter From 1842” somewhere in there.  It could only be ten minutes long, so I figured the tale had to be pretty simplistic.  I thought I’d write about a paranormal investigator, or a ghost expert, who goes to the White House to see if there’s any truth to the haunting stories there.

My pal Jeff and I went on a trip to Denver last month, and he tends to go to sleep early (and rise early too), while I can’t go to sleep unless it’s too late for non-criminals to be active.  That night, I thought I’d do a bit of research on the haunting of the White House, and spent an hour or two reading about the various ghosts or occurrences that have been reported over the years.  Turns out people way back in the 1800’s claimed to see or hear ghosts in the White House, and there have been various Presidents and civilians sighted there ever since.  I wondered why I’ve never seen a horror movie set in the White House, and figured it was probably budgetary.

I decided the story needed to be too short to have it be anything other than a simple, direct narrative (this blog post is itself nearly fifteen hundred words long so far), and figured I’d write the tale of when the paranormal investigator was a boy, and what got him interested in the unknown.  The boy is ten years old and goes on a tour of the White House with his mother and new stepfather.

Unfortunately, though it’s debatable whether the story turned out good or not, it’s definitely NOT scary (this is the "Masters of the Macabre" contest, after all, not "Masters of the Mundane").  I decided which of the famous ghosts he’d encounter, and went ahead with as short an account as I could.  It ended up being almost exactly two thousand words, and I stopped, content that it did what it was supposed to do.

Today, I re-read it, making a couple of minor changes, adding a bit of dialogue, and expanding it slightly to 2060 words.  I don’t imagine it’ll take much shaving to get it down to size, but if I need to, there’s a bit of fat here and there I can slice off.  The real problem with the story is that it’s not particularly compelling.  It’s straight-forward, and I leave the answers to the end (as you’re probably supposed to do), but it’s as though I went out of my way to make it tame and unthreatening, like I wrote it for the Disney Channel or something.  Also, I was sorely tempted to convey a lot of information from my research in the tale, but I’m afraid that would make it even less of a Horror story, and more of an Children's Educational piece.

I’ve complained a lot about the listeners of EscapePod (the Science Fiction podcast), and their arrogant tendency to claim to know where every story is going, complaining about predictability in each and every episode, and wow, they would have a field day with this story.  They’d probably ensure that I’d never appear on that vaunted podcast again.

Oh wait, I have never appeared there.  Touché, EscapePod listeners. Touché.

In a recent episode of That Gets My Goat, I spoke of missing the deadline for submitting this tale, and how it was the sort of stupid mistake I've made all my life, but it turns out there weren't a lot of participants in this year's contest, and they extended the deadline for a few days, so everyone could get theirs in.

Here's the link to the aired episode:

It's a contest, but I'm not asking anyone to vote for it.  That's not my bag, baby, even if I thought it was the best thing I'd ever written.  And I doubt that would work if I made it my bag.

I recorded the story, and once again had my niece voice the part of a kid (I honestly don't know if that makes the listening experience better or worse, but I like it when kids are used instead of adults, and want to encourage her to be artistic, if she likes).  Sure enough, the story was a couple of minutes too long, despite me trying to head that off at the pass.  It's easier to edit text than audio, since you can always shorten a paragraph to convey something in two sentences instead of five, but when it's recorded, you usually have to leave a sentence or two intact and lose the rest.  All in all, it was short enough it only took twenty minutes or so to get it to length.

They've also included the text of the story at this link:  It's probably about one minute off from the recorded version, since I went from cutting out lines in both, to just trimming the audio.

Right now, my story is called “White House Tour,” and I wanted to be clever and call it something like “Tour De Force,” but that’s as lame as, I don’t know, a Dane Cook fan.  I could come up with a good title, if I really try, but the larger problem, the story’s content, is much more difficult.

I gave it my best shot, and the story is what it is (or rather, what it turned out to be).  Ultimately, I think I’m just gonna let it go.  I apologize to the Horror Addicts folks, who continue to encourage me to write stories I would never otherwise pen, but this will just have to be chalked up to experience.  I am, in my own estimation, a writer of some talent, but some projects turn out better than others.  You never know until you write them, and I’ll sometimes suspect a crappy story partway through, and will abandon it. 

It’s a part of life, reminding me of that ancient Spanish proverb, “Aun Spielberg hizo Hook.

Rish Outfield

P.S. In the weeks since I wrote the above (they gave us an extra few weeks so that more than . . . one person could enter the contest), I feel I may have been overly harsh with my story criticism.  I worked on it when I could've been doing something else, and tried to make the best one I could.  If you like my writing, it has the same charm I try to put into everything I do (even what you're reading now), and my niece's voice sounds good in the recording (better than mine, which has been so sped up to shorten the tale that it's almost ridiculous).  I'm still not going to ask anybody to vote for me over the other two entries, but if somebody out there actually does like the story, I'm not going to begrudge them for it.

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