While I await the results of a few short stories out on submission and in between working on this year’s Christmas short stories and before I go back to work on one of my novels-in-progress, I thought I’d update here about my recent goings-on:

–My short story, “Nehemiah’s Apparatus”, a Civil War zombie story, hit the cyber shelves this week as part of the Pill Hill Press anthology, Gone with the Dirt:  Undead Dixie.  You can order it here.

–My short story, “Santa’s Worst Stop”, is still available in the Fall issue of Ghostlight Magazine.  You can order it in print or download a digital copy here.

–I had my first interview as an author recently.  Tennessee Magnet, a local paper which covers nine counties in my little agrarian corner of the world, printed some very nice stuff about me and, as a bonus, a piece of flash fiction I did called, “Grandpa Rides the Wave”.  Thanks to Cindy and Chris for taking an interest in what I’m doing.

–My aforementioned annual Christmas stories are in the works and will hopefully be completed soon.  This will be a rough week for me after tomorrow–I’m working Thanksgiving Day and most of Black Friday, but my wife and children will be out of town the latter half of the week and, lacking offspring to yell at, I hope to use some of my alone time for finishing the last of the three and editing them all.  I also plan on re-posting a couple of my previous Christmas stories that are not currently out on submission.

–My fantasy football team, the Munchkinland Giants, after taking over sole possession of first place in my league last week, got smoked by the last place team, probably dropping me to 2nd or 3rd with the playoffs just around the corner.  Damn near everybody on my team had an off week, but hopefully they have them out of the way so they can perform well in the playoffs.

–As I mentioned before, I will be working this Thanksgiving, the first time I have done so since I left Wal-Mart eleven years ago.  My also-aforementioned wife and children will be out of town over the weekend, but we all plan on being home for Christmas this year, something that hasn’t happened the last three years while I’ve been working that holiday.

–My writing plans for the near future are as follows:  finish and post the Christmas stories, revise/rewrite a short story for a content due in February, and, when all my shorter work is floating about in search of a home, I plan on getting back to work on one of my novels, probably Project Supervillain.  I haven’t worked on this one in some time, but I think I’m about ready to start back on it.  I also plan on taking my newly-acquired publishing credits and testing the agent waters again.  While they are certainly not feature stories in Harper’s or Fantasy and Science Fiction, they are a start and I want to see if they affect my chances at all.

That’s about all for now.  I will start posting my Christmas stories somewhere around the first of December, so feel free to stop by and give them a look.  You’ll laugh.  You’ll cry.  You might even throw up a bit.  It’s okay.  I won’t be offended.  You, on the other hand . . . .

In a former life, I worked as a manager for a shoe store chain called Shoe Carnival.  Many of you in my half of the United States have probably heard of it, perhaps even shopped there.  They are built on the concept, as the name implies, of selling product in a "carnival-like" atmosphere.  This includes a barker-esque person who stands on a platform above the sales floor–the mic person–whose job it is to make announcements highlighting specific sales, run contests to give customers some kind of discount, and annoy any and all who try to leave empty-handed.

I, during my stay there, was among the most annoying.  Still, I could sell high heels to a lumberjack.  And during those times when there were no lumberjacks in the store, I had plenty of time to think of ways to parody the work I was doing and, before my bitter parting with the company, I began work on a musical tribute to the company.  I never completed it–having lost interest in it once I was working elsewhere–but I did complete the opening and lyrics to one song.  Based on Phantom of the Opera, it’s a funny look at what I did while I was there and, in way, how I did it.  I thought it was lost with my late CPU, but I found a copy the other day on a disk inside my briefcase.

And so, for your guffawing pleasure and with mild embarrassment, I give you the incomplete Phantom of the Carnival:

Phantom of the Carnival

A Musical

 

(The play opens at the front of a Shoe Carnival. The mic stand sits in center stage with a couple aisles of ladies shoes to stage right and a couple aisles of kids to stage left. Ben, a new associate, is waiting in front of the mic stand for Rick, the General Manager.)

 

Rick: (walking to Ben and shaking hands) Hi, Ben, I’m Rick, the General Manager here at store 500.

Ben: Nice to meet you.

Rick: Yeah, great to have you aboard. Now, I know you’ve done your orientation and all that, correct?

Ben: Yes.

Rick: Great, so today we’re gonna really kick off your experience here at Shoe Carnival. You’ve already toured the store, so you’re pretty comfortable with where everything is?

Ben: (pointing) Yeah, that’s kids, followed by mens, mens athletics, ladies athletics, and ladies dress and casual.

Rick: Good. Today, what I want you to do is stay right up front here and help our mic person. Here at Shoe Carnival, our mic person is the element that separates us from our competition and creates our fun atmosphere by promoting special deals, providing informational announcements, and just plain having fun with the customer.

Ben: Sounds great. What do I do?

Rick: Well, we’re going to be pretty busy today, so I want you to help greet customers, try to encourage anyone leaving without new shoes to go back to look again, and answer any questions that the customers may have about where things are in the store.

Ben: No problem.

Rick: You’ll also help Eric–he’s our mic person–with anything he might need.

Ben: Okay.

Rick: If you have any questions, I’ll be up in a little while to check on you.

(Rick turns to walk away, but stops and turns back to Ben.)

Rick: Oh, one more thing. Eric might seem a little bit eccentric. Maybe a little weird. But he’s a very effective mic person, so we just let him do his thing. In fact, were about to open, so he ought to be out any time now.

(Overture begins. Fog begins to roll out of the mic stand.)

Rick: There he is. Let me know if you need anything.

(Rick walks off stage.)

Ben: (calling after Rick) Hey . . . wait . . .I . . .

(Ben turns toward the mic stand. Overture still playing. Fog continues to roll.)

Ben: (looking off stage) Uh . . . Rick?

(Ben turns back to the mic stand and stares motionlessly as Eric rises slowly in the center of the mic stand.    Eric is wearing a mic person shirt, a cape, and a Phantom of the Opera mask.)

(Overture fades.)

Eric: (booming down at Ben) Who are you?

Ben: (voice shaking) I . . . I’m . . . Ben.

Eric: (booming) Are you with the Opera?

Ben: The . . . Opera? No, I . . .

Eric: (loudly) Then be gone! Join the audience like everyone else.

Ben: But Rick told me . . .

Eric: Ahhh, Rick . . . the theatre manager. Very well, if Rick deems you worthy, you may stay. But you must not interfere with my work, or a disaster beyond imagination willl occur!

Ben: O-okay.

(A lady customer walks by the mic stand.)

Ben: Hi, ma’am, how are . . .

Eric: (interrupting loudly) Good morning, fairest maiden.

(The customer jumps at Eric’s greeting and watches him warily as she goes down a ladies aisle.)

Rick: (peering out from just offstage by the ladies department) Hey, Eric, we have some ladies over here that want a special.

Ben: (to Eric, who is bending over out of sight) Now, let me see if I have this right: Attention, Location, Product, Price, Time, and repeat. Right? . . . Eric?

("Music of the Night" music begins.)

Eric: (singing) Listen, ladies,

Can you here me calling

In aisle X now

Prices will be falling

I have the magic pen

So now let the deals begin

And get ladies clearance shoes for just half price

For I control the music of the mic

 

Dress shoes, sandals

All will be included

That aisle looks like it has just been looted

I’ll only mark ten pair

So get on over there

And ladies please don’t push and please don’t fight

Just listen to the music of the mic

 

Aisle X is the place

To pick up half-price shoes

Bring them here

And I’ll gladly mark them down

Pick them out

and you’ll save some extra cash

On clearance shoes,

The price we will now slash.

 

Slip-ons, lace ups

We have a wide selection

These great deals are

Sure to pass inspection

But we only have 10 pair

To mark down from over there

So pick them out, as many as you like

And save now with the music of the mic.

 

Lady Customer: (running to the mic stand with 10 pair in her hands) Me-me-me-me-me!

 

(Eric marks the shoes as Ben looks on.)

 

Ben: Wow! That was amazing! She got 10 pair–

Eric: Insolent boy! Do not speak to me!

Ben: (throwing hands up) Okay . . . sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the downsides of working in retail is that you never really get to enjoy Christmas. For the most part, the holiday season is a manic blur that begins roughly near the beginning of October and concludes–fizzles out, really–about now. By the time it is all over, I’m too tired to remember what happened and whether or not there was anything to enjoy about it.

That makes me sad. I really enjoy Christmas–I think–and it always depresses me about how quickly it passes. It’s like watching your children grow up every year–it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s gone. Most of all, I miss the sense of peace and happiness that other people in different lines of work seem to enjoy. Spare me the horror stories of family get-togethers and bad gifts and the like. Consider yourself lucky that you have time to create those stories. I had to work all day Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and would have loved to have had the time to spend with my family. You only get so many Christmas mornings with your children and each one I work is one wasted.

This is part of the reason I wanted to write a set of Christmas short stories–to hold onto a little bit of the season before it was gone again. I think another part is that retail tends to take all the meaning out of the season. Everything is about putting up sales figures and reducing inventory rather than looking back on the year. I’m too busy listening to customers and employees complain to hear carols or bells. I’m too busy building displays at my store to decorate my own house. I’m too busy selling gifts to other people to worry about buying some myself. I’m too busy, simply, to enjoy any of it.

Someday, I would love to be in a position where I could take off a couple of weeks this time of year to just enjoy it and not worry about sales figures or inventory levels. I would love to travel and see friends and family during these few weeks. Moreover, I would love to celebrate my wedding anniversary–New Year’s Day–without being exhausted from the week before.

Yes, Christmas has come and gone, and I missed it again. Maybe next year.

I have now completed my latest stretch of seven consecutive work days and I’m a bit tired. Working so many days in a row is one thing, but doing them in the peak of the holiday shopping season during a patch of bad weather has left my thoughts feeling like the air outside my window–foggy and still.

Thankfully, I have two days off tomorrow and Friday, then I work the weekend, before having off Monday, my last day off until the day after Christmas. My boss was complaining today that he doesn’t get another day off until Christmas Day and I thought, for a moment, to ask him if he had a novel to edit in his few spare moments away from work. Then, I realized that he can barely read, much less write, so the question would probably not be taken very well. So, I instead called him a whiny crybaby. Yes sir, I am the epitome of poor professionalism. If I wasn’t so good at my job, I’d probably be in serious trouble most of the time.

In writing news, I submitted another short story two nights ago and should hear something on it in about a month or so. I’m rather hopeful about the chances this one has to be published, if not by the magazine I sent it to, then by another. I believe I did a really good job overcoming my short story phobia and turned out a pretty good yarn at about 3900 words. I’m still looking for that first publishing credit, so it would be great to start the new year off with that out of the way so I can focus on finding an agent.

I’ll be posting my Christmas short story probably on Monday, so if anyone is actually reading this, please tune in then. It is the sole survivor of my plan to produce a dozen holiday shorts, a plan that has been delayed for a year due to circumstances at least partially beyond my control. It’s a pretty good story, I think, and I hope my mostly non-existent audience agrees.

I’m also planning on posting some pics of a few houses near mine where Christmas decorating is taken to brilliant extremes. But first, I have to find my digital camera, so that may take a few days. Wish me luck!