Sunday, July 25, 2010

Smoker of Cheap Cigars


Still at Confluence.  Still having fun.  Last night I did a reading of "The Pearls of Byzantium," a story I crafted from the opening chapters of Dancing With Bears by stripping off the end, adding a completely different ending to make it a stand-alone, and then ruthlessly cutting it down from fifty pages to thirty.  You can do that with a reading-story, which will sound full with a text that, read silently, would look spare.

Five weeks down and only one to go . . .

This is the 35th story in as many days.  Like the students working at Clarion, I'm feeling exhausted, exhilarated, and almost done.

Of course, they've been working  harder than I have.

Here's the story:

Smoker of Cheap Cigars
Michael Swanwick

This is Dennis Ginoza: wheelchair user, collector of typewriters, smoker of cheap cigars. If he were a city, he’d be Chicago and Carl Sandberg would write a poem about him, throwing in hog butcher for the world, stacker of wheat, and player with railroads just for good measure. Perhaps in some larger cosmic sense, that’s how and why it ahappened. Some people warp the reality about them; they’re strangeness magnets.

Ginoza could go them one better, however. He had a flatulent bulldog named Leo. That pushed him into new realms of oddity. As the sign on his desk said: THE STRANGENESS STOPS HERE.

He was sitting in his office late one night working on a story when a seedy man walked in without knocking. “I need your help,” he said, “and I’m willing to pay one hundred dollars a day, plus expenses.”

“You got the wrong guy,” Ginoza said. “I don’t do noir. Now beat it!” He lit a cigar and returned to his story.

Half an hour later, somebody knocked tentatively at the door. He opened it and saw a beautiful woman with a haunted expression on her face. Without preamble, she said, “Please. I was the protagonist in a postmodern novel and when I refused to deliver the terrible dialogue its author had composed, he wrote me out of the book entirely.”

“I don’t do metafiction either.” Gnoza wheeled himself back to his desk. He had barely begun to type when there was yet another knok. This time he didn’t even give the woman time enough to talk. One glance at her frilly pink dress and extraordinary cleavage told him all he needed to know. “Or romance!” He slammed the door.

He was beginning to enjoy this. He was looking forward to his next visitor.

Time passed. Ginoza was making good progress with his story when the inevitable fourth caller came. He was slim, androgynous man in an ivory suit; it was possible she was a woman in drag. “Look here,” he or she said. “Just to save everybody a lot of trouble, exactly what kind of writer are you?”

Ginoza leaned back and gave it some thought. He blew a smoke ring. Then, finally he said, “Genre, mostly. Science fiction and fantasy. I’m a pretty straightforward writer, but occasionally I can’t help indulging my taste for the absurd. Does that help?”

“Immeasurably.” The ivory-suited man went away. Not much later, an alien appeared in the doorway he had just vacated.

“I have a proposition for you,” the insectoid creature said. “All on the up-and-up nad perfectly legit.” It explained what it wanted and how much it could pay. The deal seemed pretty good to Ginoza, so he agreed. He scrolled a new sheet of paper in his machine and started to type.

Before leaving, five single-lined pages clutched tightly in his third hand, the alien clacked its mandibles and said, “This must have been a very strange night for you, Mr. Ginoza. I must say, you have negotiated it with considerable aplomb.”

“Hell,” Ginoza said, reaching down to scratch his bulldog’s head. “If you think this was a strange night, you should have been here last Tuesday.”


Above:  David Hartwell, reminiscing about Phil Klass.  "He was a hard man to agree with."


Shawn said...

Hey Mike, Every time I log onto your blog I wonder whether it was an intentional anagram of blogging fable? And in your story today (Sunday) was the main character a (sort of) anagram of Gardner Dozois?
Please excuse my poorly written e-mail.
A very large fan...

Michael Swanwick said...

As of an instant before reading your note, Shawn, the blog's title came from the fact that I created it (on orders of my editor) to promote THE DRAGONS OF BABEL and thought I might as well be up-front about its purpose. I like your reading much better, though, and so I'm retroactively making that the official explanation.

Dennis Ginoza, however, is a real person who bought a tuckerization to help support Clarion West. So I can't take similar liberties with his name.