Categories
Humor Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

Seconds: “First of a Fine Spectacle”

Did you know Russian empress Catherine the Great wrote operas?  She did, badly, or so goes her history. Anyway, back in my own when came an anthology call for Catherine the Great stories and here she was upon research having tried her imperial hand at librettos. I wrote it, a comic romp. Got a yes. So there I was, 2013, me and a Catherine the Great opera romp. Not everyone can say that’s in their locker, y’all.

I like this one. It’s imperfect in execution but wonderful for its tomfoolery. It appeared only then in Pure Slush‘s Catherine, Refracted. Today, our world is struggling. People could use a breather romp. So, here is that Catherine story. As published, all hindsight editing resisted to preserve its goofball spirit. I hope it brings a needed smile.

FIRST OF A FINE SPECTACLE

Katerina hooded her gaze. “La Harpe told you everything?”

Her footman intoning “Katerina the Second, Empress and Autocrat of All the Russians,” still dizzied me even after it no longer echoed through her salon. My endless bow had me near toppling over, blood pounding in my ears. I, the librettist known for his single glorious failure, had been dragged into a private audience with the Empress herself.

“I’d have us speak plainly.” Katerina said. “Mr. Nowicki, are you quite well?”

I was not. My business in Saint Petersburg, to discuss texts for the soon-to-open Bolshoi opera, had ended badly. Before I could present my tragedy Kristall-Herzen, a fortune teller in love with her destined murderer, La Harpe made clear the true commission: to supervise texts credited to Empress Katerina. We debated the matter, he considering it an honor and I a prison sentence to be shunted into a ghost-writer’s closet. In that sense I won the argument when imperial guardsmen hauled me away.

“Mr. Nowicki?”

Katerina stood beside the piano, her face a once-perfect egg now swollen by age, her dark blue eyes still dancing with intelligence. Her white gown glowed in the sunlight surging through the windows. Outside the river flowed oblivious to my plight.

“Mr. Nowicki, I am accustomed to having my questions answered.”

Categories
Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories Southern Fiction

She Who Must Be Seen: Behind “Star of Zoe”

I just have to see her.

How “Star of Zoe” first got going, well, it was without Zoe. Not technically, I mean. I was riffing on this idea, this phrase: I just have to see her. So right there comes a She Who Must Be Seen. A proto-Zoe in the mix. My first riff, though, opened with our point-of-view “I” in the equation, our man-on-a-mission. Jimmy.

He’s banging at a door, desperate. In love, still in love. Being denied entry. What door? Who’s blocking it? Didn’t know, but questions like that are why we riff.

I just have to see her.

Categories
Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories

Borgias, Bother, and Bad Ideas: Behind “Book of Hours”

So I had this idea for a novel.

There was this gentleman thief, see, and he needed to steal something. Wait. There was more. This something, see, was hidden in the pit network underneath the Colosseum. The hypogeum, if you’re into archeology. A caper in front of ten thousand tourists. Say crooks or spies did drop exchanges there, payoff money or hacked secrets. Glam Rome, high stakes, chases through crumbling passages. Toss in the yucks. It sells itself, right?

Some ideas know better than to come together. I worked on the first draft, got 15,000 words in. And froze. Several times. Even with the leeway of a comic premise, story problems kept clogging the works. No thief, see, could get past modern security, polizia squads, and ten thousand smart phone cameras. And why the hell would any mobster anywhere choose the Colosseum to stash diamonds or jump drives? The pits where tour groups flock through all the Italian day? Out of a million less complicated alternatives? No, my idea wouldn’t be selling itself.

But the first chapter worked. It stood alone more or less, no Colosseum-sized plot problems. Our hero, see, just had to steal something stealable from a place such things get stolen from. A super-valuable book. The scene zipped like a Bond movie opening, a slam bang action setpiece launching into the main plot.

We’d last left our hero in a bad way. Ed, our once-brash gent, had been outfoxed by a mademoiselle high on Holmesian deduction and low on morals (“Aix to Grind,” AHMM September 2014). Now a few months later, Ed is in crushing debt to the Corsican mob for his Aix sins, and worse, he’s in the cold, cold clutches of the Marchesa Isabella Ruggieri. In “Aix,” Ed bragged over stealing a haul from her. The haul, it turns out,

Categories
Crime, Mystery & Suspense Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

I Have No Idea if There Were Communist Go-Go Parties (or, Balancing Research with Creative License)

I have written Communist go-go dancers. Not in a comedy, either. Technically, they were recruits among honors-level university students, but they broke into go-go dancing as the Party’s party night deepened and the drinks mounted. The setting was early ’70s Budapest, and the Happiest Barracks in the Iron Curtain reveled in its post-crackdown decay.

Our POV Helena takes it from here:

For the next hour I danced with every man who asked and every man who cut in, a parade of faceless political officers with tobacco and vodka on their breaths. Some were bolder than others, but none too bold. When the folk music stopped and the newer records began, we changed to whatever fast dance went with the song. I twisted, I ponied, I did the loco-motion, I thrilled at the heat of it all, and when the men tired the other girls and I go-go danced for them.

It was after the go-go dancing that Typhon approached. He brought with him two coupes of sparkling wine.

“You must be thirsty,” he said over The Byrds. He reached out the wine as if completely certain of my accepting, kissed my offered hand, and said, “The Socialist Workers’ Party appreciates your contributions to dance.”

–“Sparks to the Bear’s Hide” (MWA’s Ice Cold, Grand Central, 2014)

Now, I have no idea if such recruiting events ever devolved into Marxist Laugh-In cutaways. Mine did. For good reason: