Category Archives: Jay Duret

Three Blind Mice

By Jay Duret

Three Blind Mice

“Charles, you’re late,” Krug said. “We were supposed to get going 20 minutes ago.” Krug was standing impatiently in the driveway in front of his large home. He was wearing a dark blue fleece vest with a Goldman Sachs logo on his breast.

Charles got out of the driver’s seat of the new Audi wagon and came forward with his hand outstretched in front of him like he was carrying a rolled up map. His smile was big and lop-sided, very close to goofy. He grabbed Krug’s hand and gave him a bro hug, whispering even before he left the clinch, “it was Joyce. Couldn’t get her moving. Ha Ha. You been there man, you know.” Charles smiled again as he separated, this time conspiratorially.

Joyce was now out of the Audi too. She was smiling and kissing, her blond ponytail hanging down the back of her puffy Patagonia jacket. She had a Starbucks in one hand and a dog leash with no dog attached curled in her other.

While she finished kissing Krug hello, Charles popped the hatch on the Audi and two Spingers bounded out and began rocketing around the driveway and yard.

“Damn,” Joyce said. She turned from Krug to Charles but he was deep in the back of the Audio, rummaging, rummaging, only his butt visible.

Joyce sighed and headed after the Springers, slightly twirling the leash she was carrying.

Charles backed out of the rear of the Audi and turned back to Krug, keeping his voice low. “Kruger. I need a little cover here. Make sure Joyce isn’t looking. Am I good?”

Krug said, “she’s trying to get your dogs on the leash. Probably take her a week.”

“Great.” Charles reached in the back of the Audi again and held up a gray steel box the size of a shoebox. “Gotta dispose of the evidence.” Another, even more lopsided, grin.

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s a trap. Have-A-Heart. For the mice.”

“What mice? Are there mice in there?”

“Uh-Huh.” “What are you doing with mice?”

“Shhhh. Don’t let Joyce hear you. She is scared of mice.”

“You’re kidding. Joyce is scared?”

“Don’t let her fool you. She can kick your ass but she is the original stand-on-a-chair type when it comes to mice.”

“So why are you driving them around?”

“That’s the point, Krug. That’s the exact point I am making…” Charles stopped the sentence there and completed it without using another word, just with his sheepish lopsided smile.

Krug didn’t seem to understand the point. “Charles.” Krug said. “Let’s start again. Why are there mice in a trap in my driveway?” Krug said.

“It’s Lorie’s fault.”

“Your nanny?”

“Yeah, we have been having a little mouse problem at the house. They are running around the kitchen in the morning when she is making tea and it freaks her out.”

“She doesn’t like to have breakfast with rodents? She must be a real downer.”

“Oh she is nice as shit but she is a Brit. She doesn’t like mice.”

“Neither does Joyce and she is no Brit.”

“Yeah the thing is Lorie sees them more than Joyce cause she gets up so early. They are everywhere in the morning – its like one of those Wild Kingdom videos down there when the sun first comes up. Anyway one morning she gets fed up and tells Joyce that she going back to Sheffield if we don’t get rid of the mice.”

“That sounds serious.” Krug nodded his head slowly.

“So Joyce calls the exterminator. Fortunately I get wind of it, and I cut that off at the nub.”

“Cause you like mice running around your kitchen?”

“Oh the mice don’t matter, I just don’t like exterminators, have you ever seen what they charge for walking around and shooting that shit into your baseboards? Its crazy. And a complete waste. I mean its just mice, Krug. They aren’t very hard to outwit. They are not exactly brain surgeons, you know what I mean?” Charles beamed a broad and happy smile, obviously delighted at the thought of the pitiful size of mice brains.

“So you bought a trap.”

“Hoollian’s Hardware. Fourteen dollars; two for $25. They are indestructible. I bait them with peanut butter.”

Joyce was across the yard and had managed to get one Springer on the leash, but the smaller one was continuing to elude her and his cavorting had encouraged the one she had captured to run in circles so the leash wrapped around her legs like a bolo.

“And so you caught them.” Krug said.

“I have been catching them no problem for weeks. I been getting one or two every night. I used up half a jar of peanut butter so far, Ha Ha.”

“What’d you do with them?”

“Got ‘em out of the house and let them loose down the street. You know over near the Hanford’s where they could run into the arboretum, but after a while I started to suspect that I was catching the same ones over and over again.”

“How did you figure that?”

“They still had peanut butter on their fur.”

“Not the only ones that aren’t brain surgeons. They were probably back in your kitchen before you were.”

“Yeah yeah, you sound like Joyce…”

“I doubt it.”

“…so I decided I should take them further from home.” Charles looked up at Krug’s quizzical expression, coughed slightly, and said, “you know, that way they won’t come back.”

“So you brought them here? What are you smoking?”

“You got the park behind your house.”

“You actually think you are going to let them loose in my backyard? You are frickin’ crazy. I don’t want mice any more than you do.”

“No no, Kruger. It’s not like that. They just know the way to my house. They won’t get in yours.”

“Forget it. Take them down to Valley Green if you want. Or better, just put them in your toilet and flush. Put them out of their misery.”

“You sound like Joyce. There is no reason to be vicious. They are just mice.” Charles lifted the trap to show off the mice and then his expression changed. “Shit!”

“What?”

“They aren’t in there. Shit!”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know. They must have gotten loose.”

“In the Audi?”

“Oh Shit!”

Across the yard, Joyce had extracted herself from the leash and tied up the other dog.  Now she was coming across the yard toward the car, the two Springers surging ahead of her, pulling the leash taut.

Charles opened the passenger door of the Audi and, as he did, a small gray mouse literally leapt off of the front seat and landed on the driveway directly in front of the two men. There was a short but timeless pause as they took each other’s measure but then the dogs saw the mouse and they began baying and charging forward, nearly yanking Joyce off her feet. The mouse scampered directly into Krug’s open garage.

“Jesus!” Krug screamed. “Charles, get that thing out of there.”

The dogs raced after the mouse, pulling Joyce into the garage. Even from in there, she could be heard yelling, “CHARLES WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?”

“Oh shit,” Charles said,  “Kruger you gotta help me out here.”

“What do you mean, help you out? I have got your goddamn mouse in my house now.”

“No it’s just in your garage. That isn’t the problem.”

“That isn’t a problem? To me,” Krug said, “that is a problem. It’s a big stinking problem. Why isn’t that a problem?”

“Okay, Okay. It might be a problem. But it isn’t the big problem.” Charles stopped and looked at Krug. He wasn’t smiling now. “There’s two more. They might still be in the car. Joyce is going to flip out. You gotta help me here. Just keep her away from the car until I can get rid of them.”

Krug shook his head. He grumbled. He muttered. He shook his head again and he kept shaking it all the way into the garage.

Charles opened the driver’s door and he went around from door to door throwing the contents of the Audi onto the driveway.

Inside the garage, scrambling sounds. Overturning flower pots, falling shovels. Dogs yapping. Krug cursing. Joyce cursing.

After a few minutes Krug came out alone.

“Where is Joyce?”

“She went out the back door. She saw Lyle in the back and she wanted to tell her what you did.”

“A diversion. Great work, Krug.”

“I don’t think she was very happy, Chaz-Boy. You are in deep shit.”

“Yeah, at least she didn’t realize there might still be two in the car.”

“Jesus, Charles.”

“I know. I have looked all over. They are probably gone but I can’t be sure. If you can keep her occupied I will make sure. She is just dropping me off on the way to the mall. Can’t have a mouse pop out while she is at the wheel. This Audi is practically new.”

At that moment Joyce and the dogs came out from behind the garage. She was yelling even before she reached them. “I have seen some stupid things before but I have never seen anything so stupid as this. What are you thinking, Charlie?” She had wrapped the dog leash around her fist multiple times so the dogs were right at her feet and as she walked to Charles they barked and scratched as if they were part of an entourage. “You brought a mouse to the Krug’s? I mean seriously? Are you a moron? WHO DOES THAT?”

“Honey, honey…”

“Don’t you Honey, Honey me. What were you thinking of?”

“I was just going to get rid…”

“In the Krug’s garage?” Joyce focused for the first time on Krug. He was by the Audi, as frozen as the mouse when it jumped off the front seat. “Krug,” She said, “I am so sorry. This is all inexcusable. The moron here will get that mouse out of your garage if it takes him all night, won’t you Charles?”

Krug mumbled that it was all right. He would just leave the doors open and the mouse would let himself out. No big deal.

But Joyce had now noticed that the contents of the Audi were spread out on the driveway. She didn’t say anything. She looked at Charles and gestured to the items with her chin. She raised her eyebrows. She waited.

Charles filled the pause, “Honey, I was just making sure that the mice were all gone.”

“MICE? Are you kidding? There was more than one?”

“Three, but no worries. They are gone. Long gone.”

“You had three mice in the car? While we were driving here?”

“Long gone, Honey, long gone…”

“Did it occur to…” Joyce bit off her response. She gave Charles a murderous stare. She took a deep breath. “Krug would you give us a minute?”

Krug didn’t need any further prompting. He walked swiftly into the garage and then into the house. He slipped into the kitchen and then surreptitiously positioned himself by the side of the kitchen window so he could see into the driveway. From that angle he couldn’t hear but he could see Charles shuffling sheepishly from foot to foot as Joyce bellowed.

There was a Kleenex box on the driveway. Joyce kicked it like it was a football and it sailed up on the hood of the Audi and lingered for an instant in equipoise before sliding off onto the driveway again. Then she pulled out her cell phone and yelled into it for a few seconds and then she turned back and yelled at Charles again. After a few minutes of yelling Charles started to put the stuff on the driveway back into the car.

Krug watched the scene from the window for a few more minutes then another car drove up and Joyce got in and drove away. Charles continued to restore the contents of the Audi.

After a few minutes, Krug went back out to the driveway. Charles was closing the dogs in the hatchback. He gave Krug a sheepish, lopsided, smile. “Don’t even know why she was so pissed. She really went off the deep end.”

Krug was conciliatory. “Yeah.”

“It’ll blow over. I am not worried about it. She’ll get over it by the time she gets back to the house.”

“She was pretty steamed.”

“Oh yeah. I’ll say. Just hope the other mice aren’t still in the car.”

“I thought you said they all ran off.”

“Here is hoping. I can’t really tell. I tried to check everywhere but it’s hard to see under the seats. I guess they did. I mean why wouldn’t they? What a pain.” Charles looked up. “It’s all Lorie’s fault. Those mice weren’t harming anything. And it isn’t like I didn’t step up to the plate and deal with them.” Charles shook his head at the injustice of it all. “Well, Krug, sorry about it. Guess I better go home and make sure that the mice are gone.

“Yeah. No worries. We’ll catch up next week.”

*          *          *

Krug was in his driveway when Charles pulled up. Charles was driving a Toyota with a Budget Rent a Car license plate in the front. The door swung open and Charles started to get out.

“Not so fast.” Krug shouted, “you got any mice in there?”

“Ha Ha. Very funny.”

Krug hummed, “three blind mice, see how they run…”

“Give a rest, Kruger. I am a little sick of hearing about that whole mice business.”

“What, are you still in the doghouse?”

“Yeah ‘fraid so.”

“You are kidding. That had to be three weeks ago.”

“I know.”

“You can’t be in the doghouse that long over a stupid mouse. I mean it was my garage.”

“Yeah.”

“Shit, three weeks is a long time.”

Charles gave his sheepish smile. “There were some aggravating circumstances.”

“Like?”

“All the mice didn’t actually escape from the car.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah. I mean I was sure they did. I even got a flashlight and looked everywhere.”

“So how did you find out? Did a little bugger jump out while you were driving?”

“Naw. Worse.”

“How could it be worse than that?”

“Trust me.”

“Oh man, you gotta tell me.”

“You know what’s weird, at first I didn’t even think of the mouse. I thought it was my gym bag. I kept meaning to take it out of the car but I was really busy and I kept forgetting.  I could tell it was a little ripe, you know what I mean?”

Ripe?”

“Yeah at first. It was just that sort of smell. But then after 3 or 4 days it got a lot worse. Driving downtown in the morning, I started wondering if maybe I had hit a squirrel or something, but I couldn’t see anything. Then I was coming home one afternoon and it was really hot so I turned on the air conditioning and it was horrible. I mean I had to stop the car and get out…

“What the hell?”

“Yeah, I guess one of those mice crawled into a little duct or hose or something…”

“And died in there?”

“That’s what I am thinking…”

“Oh my god. You have a dead rotting mouse carcass in your air-conditioning?”

“Yeah. I mean, it was wretched. Like make-you-gag kind of wretched.”

Krug looked over at the Toyota. “Let me guess, you had to take the Audi in for a mouse-exhumation?”

“Yeah. It was really bad. Wouldn’t air out. I mean nasty.”

“Can they get it out?”

“They are saying yes, but it’s going to cost a shitload and I don’t know that I believe them. I sure hope so. That car is almost new.”

“Charles, Charles, Charles.” Krug shook his head at the wonder of it all.

“Yeah.” Charles agreed.

“But there is one thing I don’t get.” Krug said. “How come you are still in the doghouse?  Joyce must have felt that you got just what you deserved, having to drive around in your Audi full of dead mouse stink. Perfect punishment. She’s probably laughing her ass off.”

“One problem.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s her Audi.”

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. He blogs at www.jayduret.com. His comic novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press.

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Imagined Conversations, One Year Later

By: Jay Duret

A year ago I initiated a project called Imagined Conversations. Every day I would post a drawing of a face along with a snatch of related text or dialogue. Sometimes my drawings were cartoons or caricatures; other times I did my best to capture a likeness. In every case I created the face before thinking and inking the words that, at least in my imagination, went with the face. My conceit was that every face is different and therefore if I drew a new face, it would have something different to say than all the other faces I had drawn before.

ProposalThe Proposal

In my mind an Imagined Conversation was not limited to what passes between two or more speakers, but could include soliloquies or what might be found in a net dipped into the mental meta stream of internal monologue. Sometimes an Imagined Conversation was a sliver of words overheard in the gym or on the street or at a Starbucks. Other times, the words were nothing other than the words that were bouncing around inside the pinball arcade that is my head.

ForeheadMovie

I undertook the project as a sort of cross training from writing stories. I was tying to teach myself to draw and I knew the demands of a daily drawing would be a powerful incentive to learn. I liked the idea of a fixed daily regimen; a concrete and completable creative task that I would need to stick with regardless of the other claims on my time. Most of all, I wanted to explore this concept, though I wondered how far I could go before I ran out of ideas, of energy, of enjoyment. Could I do it for a year and if I did, at the end of the year would I be a runner at the end of the race, desperate to break the tape and collapse?

A year has now come and I can report that I posted a drawing every day, 366 in all, even though this was not a leap year. I snuck in an extra one on February 28th:

Leap Year IGLeap Year

Over the year I travelled to Iceland, to Belize, to Burning Man and still I never missed a day. I learned all about the tools available to time and schedule one’s posts, but by large measure I did not need to use them. With drawing materials, an iPhone to use as a scanner, a laptop, and an Internet connection, I could post a drawing every day no matter how distant I was from the studio/office where I work.

Some conclusions and observations about the series. First, I didn’t run out of ideas, either for the drawings or the text. In fact, I don’t feel as if I come close to finishing the exploration I started. On good days I think I have discovered a rich area between writing and drawing that is not quite the same as cartooning or illustrating. I hoped that my best pieces combined the sharp, quick insight found in six word stories (Hemingway’s classic: “Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.”) with the thousand words that a picture, well drawn, is worth. My worst pieces were as trite and unambitious as the tee shirt you might buy at a click clack souvenir shop on a beach town boardwalk in August (“I AM the man from Nantucket.”)

And while triteness was an enemy, the biggest risk was the problem of context. Because I rarely use props or locational references, sometimes the text is just the words that rattle inside my head, inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t been there. Like the bad writer who assumes the reader knows as much about a character as the writer does, I sometimes left words on the page, but did not tell a story. When that happened – and sadly it happened far too frequently – I would tell myself that the reader who worked would figure it out. But if there is one thing I have learned over the last year, it is that with this form of art, you do not get more than a millisecond to get your reader’s attention. My work is scrolled by, swiped past, clicked through in less than the time it takes you to read this sentence. If there isn’t something that instantaneously connects to the reader, the raging river of meta-consciousness will flow on.

And though that is undoubtedly true, midway through the year I began to create wordier pieces. I realized I was not limited to sloganeering and jingling. I could write whatever was on my mind. And so I didn’t pass over matters of religion and philosophy and politics:

Guns Guns copyGuns, Guns, Guns

 I could dispense my own brand of homespun wisdom, the kind you don’t get on a greeting card from Hallmark:

ComfortComfort

I could cover metaphysics:

Assembly LineAssembly Line

I could create puzzles. This one, for National Poetry Month, required some knowledge of T.S. Eliot:

Poetry MonthNational Poetry Month

And of course I could not skip over my lifelong painful attachment to The Philadelphia Eagles:

EaglesThe Eagles 

The DefenseThe Defense

In my writing, I often try to tell a story exclusively or almost exclusively through dialogue. During the year I realized that those stories, in their own way, were also Imagined Conversations and so on Sundays I began to post drawings that linked to short stories on my website. I wasn’t able to produce a short story quite every week but over the course of the year I linked more than twenty stories to Sunday drawings:

Stories

I don’t have a single favorite post, but I liked these a lot:

HatAll Hat

MatchMatch.com

But the one that most syncs with the reflective mood I have at the end of this year:

SunsetSunset

Thanks to the many old and new friends who have encouraged the Imagined Conversations project this year. Wishing you and yours a brilliant year in 2016. And for those who might enjoy it, you can get a daily post in the New Year on Instagram @joefaces or on my website.

Jay Duret

***

Jay is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His first novel, Nine Digits, is available from Indigo Sea Press. Jay blogs at www.jayduret.com

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The Technology of Literary Fiction

By Jay Duret

Literary Fiction

When I moved to San Francisco everyone I met told me that I had to get my brand out there. I couldn’t just wait to be discovered. I had to disrupt things. I had to blow things up.

I wasn’t really sure how to go about disrupting things, but I began to search for venues where I might submit my work. I had written stories most of my life but hadn’t tried to publish them. I found an online publication called that had a section where it gathered “Calls for Submissions.” I started to scan that page to see if there were any journals calling for short stories like I wrote. I quickly learned that there were hundreds—maybe thousands—of journals in the literary marketplace, though the concept that it was a “marketplace” was euphemistic, for 90% of the journals did not actually pay for stories. Rather it was a kind of marketplace where the farmers brought their crops to a central location in order to give them away, sometimes paying a fee for the privilege.

I also learned that there were categories of writing that I had never heard of before: slipstream, speculative, bizzaro, flash, micro, etc. I couldn’t even tell whether my stories would qualify.  Worse still were the explications of what the editors were looking to find.

The Kudzu Review asked me to “inspire and give hope.” I wasn’t sure that was what my writing was about, nor actually what most writing is about, but I guess if you had a journal that wanted to inspire and give hope, that was a fair ask. There was a magazine called TOSKA that wanted micro essays that made “their souls ache.” I wondered how many of their souls there were. Did they all have to ache or was it enough that some of their souls ached?

Pithead Review—great name, for sure—wanted stories that would leave abrilliant bruise. The Storm Cellar said that it was looking for writing and art “to be read during a catastrophe.” That surprised me. I assumed that during a catastrophe most people would be reading texts or tweets. I hadn’t known that they would be actually clamoring for writing that was “sublime and profane, stylized and unpretentious, formally innovative and ideally classical, perfect and perfectly flawed, surreal and cathartic, consistent and contradictory, childlike and world-weary, inevitable and surprising.” I could definitely see smooth sailing and catastrophe there.

I was also finding that the world of literary fiction was a lot more hardass than I had thought. Sundog wanted my “earth-scorching lit.” They wanted “stuff that gets under fingernails, stuff that lingers like the aftertaste of a great whiskey.” That was hardcase for sure, but not as intense as the editors at Colony Collapse who begged for writing “that stands yeti-like & backlit on a riverside cliff shotgunning a pabst and/or burns under your skin well after you’ve dug the stinger out and/or ghostrides the whip with the kid still in the car seat…” I would have ignored the implorings of Colony Collapse except for those “and/ors.” I loved those and/ors. My writing didn’t have to ghostride the whip and burn after the stinger was gone. One or the other, not necessarily both. Read right, it was a very inclusive call for submission. I definitely would have to submit there.

Some of the journals were outright sadistic. The Boston Review called for sentences so sharp they “cut the eye.” Sanity Not Guaranteed asked me to submit fiction that “cuts to the heart of the holes we are built out of.” Lest that demand be thought incoherent, the editors explained that they wanted fiction that “kicks us in the nads, grabs us by the throat, and makes us listen.” I thought that might be a tall order, but it paled before the Promethean task they set for poets. I was so glad I wasn’t a poet. If a poem “doesn’t make our emphysemic souls whistle, we won’t have it…” That was a vivid image. I could see a broken down chain-smoking ancient mariner of indeterminate sex shuffling down a never-ending corridor lined with crusty but literary books, his or her labored breathing collapsed into one long whistle of exertion. But really? Why were their souls emphysemic? Did theyache? Maybe they should moonlight at TOSKA.

I was beginning to wonder whether I was of stern enough stuff to make it in the world of Literary Fiction. I can work up a good size sense of indignation and I have been told that my rants are considered biting. I was not sure, however, if my work “rages well beyond when the reader has left the page.” And even if I were angry enough to publish in these big leagues, could I goall the way and disrupt them?

And that wasn’t the only problem. What if my prose was angry enough, but not good enough? I mean, I knew that it would be challenging to break into print; there are talented writers everywhere. Daunting for sure. I had some confidence in my typing skills, but could I really say that my stories met Apex Magazine’s requirement that every story emit “sheer unvarnished awesomeness”? Awesome, for sure, but unvarnished awesomeness. A heavy lift.

I confess that I got a bad case of the blues after reading Apex’s call for awesomeness, but I bounced back after reading their editor’s injunction that I must always “keep in mind that the search for awesome stories is as difficult as writing them.” I didn’t know this editor from a pat of butter, but hearing this I couldn’t help but discount his or her opinions. I am pretty sure that there is no universe where searching for awesome stories is as hard as actually writing them, and then getting all the varnish off.

***

I was so hard at work looking to market my stories in the world of literary fiction that I was not able to attend my son Ajax’s baseball game. His team—the Red Sox—had a Little League face-off against the Pirates. I felt guilty for not going—awesomeness, it appears, does not come quickly for me—and I was anxious to find out how the game had gone. I was delighted to get an email—it arrived even before he returned home—from an outfit called GameChangers that reported that Ajax’s team had won the game 11-10. I opened the email and found that I could actually get a box score from the game. I had to click and download, but next thing I knew I actually had the Red Sox roster laid out on my iPad like the table of baseball statistics you see in the paper.

I wondered how Ajax did. I found his name and looked across the fields—this was really cool—and saw that he got to the plate 4 times. I looked to see how he did in his at bats, but there were question marks under the hits and runs columns. Aw too bad, they don’t really have the detail. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they actually kept track of hits and runs and batting averages? But it is Little League after all, pretty cool at least that they can give you an email with the results virtually minutes after the game is over.

I would have left it there and gone back to searching for markets that might deign to read my stories but I noticed a button that said “Go Premium!” Something in the way it was positioned suggested that the question marks in the scorer’s table might go away if I got the Premium version. I clicked around a bit more and was given the opportunity to buy the Premium version for $7.33 a month or $34.99 for the year. I signed up and oh my god I was bedazzled by what came next. There were over 50 statistical categories maintained for each kid. Of course the standards: Games Played, Plate Appearances, At Bats, RBI, Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage. But that just was the surface. You could go deeper, much deeper. There was a group of statistics arrayed under the Category of “Patience, Speed and Power.” Here I could see how my 12-year had fared with respect to BB/K, PA/BB, GITP, and BA/RSP, among many others.

I played baseball; I love baseball; I know baseball, but I admit I had to look at the key to determine that these acronyms were Walks per Strikeout, Plate Appearances per Walk, Hit into Triple Play (really? They maintained a statistic for hitting into triple plays?), and Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position.

Under the caption of “Quality at Bats and Team Impact,” I found I could determine Ajax’s “Pitches Seen Per Plate Appearance” and his “Two Out RBIs.” I could determine the number of times he had 2 strikes against him but nevertheless saw three or more additional pitches. There was a computation that showed the percentage of plate appearances where Ajax had seen 6 or more pitches. The stats went on and on, and this was just for batting. There was a whole separate area for pitching.

Ajax hadn’t pitched much but he had pitched some. I thought he had done pretty well. But now I knew the numbers. He had hurled 2.1 innings with 3 strikeouts and 1 base-on-balls. He had thrown a total of 25 pitches: 17 strikes and 8 balls. He had two Lead Off Outs, and two 1-2-3 Innings. He threw three or less pitches to 75% of the batters he faced.

I didn’t think there was anything left to amaze me on this webpage, but then I noticed a little button called “Spray Chart” where an astounding graphic plotted every ball Ajax hit this season in lines of different colors laid out visually on a brilliant green diamond. The colors showed which hits had been liners and grounders and flies. Notations showed whether the ball was caught for an out or fell in for a hit. There is no other way to say this: the Spray Chart was gorgeous.

The functionality went on and on. I could not only see the stats on Ajax but also on every other player in his league. I could set an alert to follow the bat-by-bat exploits of any of them. I could invite friends and family to become fans and follow Ajax’s adventures through real time tweets, email messages or Facebook postings.

But as good as everything so far—as amazing as what I had already seen—the piece de resistance was that there was actually a news story about the game that had just been played. Turns out Ajax had had captured the attention of the pundits:

Duret leads the SF Red Sox Majors to 11-10 victory
Ajax Duret carried the SF Red Sox Majors to an 11-10 victory over the Giants on Monday at TI3 with a strong game at the plate and on the mound. Duret was hot from the plate for the SF Red Sox Majors. Duret went 3-4 and scored two runs. He doubled in the third inning and singled in the fourth and sixth innings.
Duret put together a nice outing. Duret held the Giants hitless over 1 1/3 innings, allowed no earned runs, walked one and struck out three.
Each team blasted the other’s pitching, and there were 21 total runs and 21 hits during the game. Managers of the two teams seemingly emptied their bullpens in search of the win, as there were seven pitchers used in the game.

At the bottom of the story there was some fine print. I pulled up. It said:

“Powered by Narrative Science and GameChanger. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.” Any reuse or republication of this story must include the preceding attribution.

I tried to figure out who wrote the feed. It must have been posted minutes after the game. Ajax was still en route home. Who would write it? This was 11 and 12 year little league baseball; there weren’t scribes at the games. Was this some new weirdness like the weirdness with the Yelp people? A real head-scratcher.

The mystery was cleared up that night. We got an email from Ajax’s coach telling us about the GameChanger app and explaining:

What is really great is for stats freaks you can see how your son/daughter is performing statistically …. A great tool for analysis (for example, I can show Nick that when he gets strike one on the first pitch that he’ll get the batter out 68% of the time or I can show him that he is only seeing 2.7 pitches per at bat and needs to maybe be more patient at the plate).

At the close of his email he noted:

PS— You might see narratives of each game. I do NOT write them. They are auto-generated so all those great comments about a particular kid are by a non-partisan computer.

Wow. The computer looks at a bunch of numbers and has somehow figured out how to put it into the prose of passable news feed. Auto-generated. I thought of the passage from East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets, where Eliot laments the time he has spent

Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

Little did Eliot know, one day it would all be done by an app…

***

Even though I was intimidated by the Calls for Submission, I continued my quest to get my writing to a broader audience. I found a website with the awkward name Duotrope that collected information about thousands of online and print journals. Duotrope categorized the venues and collated key information about preferences and predilections. It was easy to browse Duotrope to find magazines that published different types of fiction. You could easily find which journals were reading electronic submissions in search a novelette of erotica or an 880-word bit of bizzaro.

Duotrope also collected key statistics for each of the journals it covered, including how long on average the journal took to respond to a submission, what percent of its rejection letters were “personal.” There I learned thatApex, the journal that demanded unvarnished awesomeness, accepted only .27% of stories submitted. Not 27%, not 2.7%, .27%. It was 40 times easier to get into Harvard than Apex.

Those statistics were interesting, if discouraging, but I was struck by how much Duotrope could learn from GameChanger, the software that had collected the statistics about Ajax’s prowess as a 12 year old baseball player. If Duotrope had its act together, it wouldn’t just be publishing averages and generalized reports on the magazines, it would be publishing key metrics from each of its writer members. If GameChanger ran things in the world of Literary Fiction, it would be reporting that Jay Duret, an aspiring writer from San Francisco, ordinarily had a .210 PA (Publishing Average) but, when writing in the category of Humor, his PA climbed to nearly .300. I couldn’t understand why the information wasn’t being put out there. There was important analytic work to be done and how could it be done if the stats weren’t collected and shared?

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it seemed to me that Literary Fiction wasn’t going to get where it needed to be without this critical information. Without data, how could a publisher decide what to publish? Without data, there couldn’t be a data-driven process for acceptances. My God, without the statistics, the process couldn’t even be automated. Some actual person would have to read each and every submission. And make a decision based on soft and squishy criteria like whether—just on the basis of reading it—the story seemed “well-written” or “thought-provoking.” They would be stuck with the burden of forming judgments on such wiggly matters as whether the writer was “taking risks” and “digging deep.” How much better to have the statistics at hand. Things like FPPS: Followers Per Posted Story; TL—Total Likes; PMPP—Private Messages Per Post. A publisher needed to know these important facts about the writer.

But that was just the beginning. With time and big computers, the data could be mined to find IPPP—Insights Per Published Paragraph; SPA—Submissions Per Acceptance; and the vital AIR—Acceptance after Initial Rejection. A literary magazine wouldn’t be worth its salt if it didn’t know the stats concerning a writer’s acceptances after being initially rejected—you had to know that—AIR was a key measure of persistence—and, without it, well, how would one know whether the writer had the stuff to survive a hard life on the literary stump? It would all be random and arbitrary without the stats. It would all just come down to what one individual person thought about a story. I mean, literally, just one person’s thinking. Unfathomable.

The literary world would be a better place if GameChanger was in charge, for sure. Not only would there be better decisions, but word of them would get out there. I longed for the day when GameChanger’s algorithm would be auto-cranking out press releases for me and my Brand:

Duret Scores Again; Bags Three Journals in One Month

Jay Duret, San Francisco based writer and blogger, continued a blazing hot June on the literary circuit, lighting up three online journals. Duret scored again last night with a two-day acceptance by The Squamish Review of his story “SlideCar.”

Duret has been having a brilliant season with league leading statistics in Total Asterisks, and Words Published by a Californian. James Blingy of The Squamish Review released a statement saying: “Jay Duret is one of our most exciting new writers, we at TSR are devoted to bringing fresh voices like his to our readers.”

With that type of information coursing through the world of Literary Fiction, pretty soon the money would follow. Ad revenues. Endorsements. There would be product placements. The buyer’s world would tilt slightly toward the seller. There might even come a day—hard to imagine—when literary journals would pay actual money for good stories. Maybe not every one, but at least for those where the writing was so sharp it cut the eye and/or the story so awesome it made the soul ache. Maybe, maybe, maybe, but it could happen. If GameChanger were in charge, there might actually be a marketplace for Literary Fiction.

Now that would be a disruption.

***

The Technology of Literary Fiction first appeared in The Lowestoft Chronicle

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Imagined Conversations

2014_10_05_06_47_50By: Jay Duret

These pages are frequently home to matters of writing craft; today let me describe a writing therapy.

This Spring I am going to get back to work writing a novel. As all writers know, it takes a considerable toll to turn out pages at a quantity, and with a quality, that will make the end product worthwhile. The effort reminds me of training for a marathon. Every day the need to log miles on the laptop. And not bursts – or not just bursts – but the steady, painful, foot by foot, slog forward. Day after day. Relentless. I have done it before; I know the daily efforts will come to a conclusion, but there is no denying that it is hard, hard, lonely work. To keep my spirits up, this time I have decided to cross train. I won’t just run a marathon; I am taking up a new sport, one with a very different training regimen.  Something to counter-balance the inwardness and the determined grinding of writing a long piece of fiction.

With this in mind, at the first of the year I began a project I am calling Imagined Conversations. Each day I create and post on my website a drawing and a few lines of imaginary conversation. Sometimes the words of text are created from whole cloth; sometimes I post the fruits of the eavesdropping I do in San Francisco where I live.

As I said, I began the project on January 1, 2015 and as I write this post on February 28th, I have created 59 illustrations. I began with a New Year’s message:

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

which captured my mood at the time. I followed it the next day with a cheery vision:

Love

Love

I do not try to for stylistic or narrative consistency; I post whatever moves me at the moment. Some days my prompt is an event on the world stage, as this one from the days just after the Paris killings:

Mourning Cartoon

Mourning Cartoon

Other days I travel where whimsy takes me:

Blither

Blither

I don’t have recurring characters and my message is never the same.

Some days I take a literary slant:

Prufrock

Prufrock

At other times I chase lines from scripture:

Clap

Clap

or from the streets of San Francisco:

Memories

Memories

I am counting on the discipline of posting a new drawing every day to be helpful to the discipline of writing my next novel, but I confess an ulterior motive. I also hope to create a bigger following for my blog, particularly followers who will be interested in reading my stories as well as viewing the drawings in the Imagined Conversations project. (You can help by following me at www.jayduret.com/illustrations/facecards or on Instagram @JoeFaces.)

But the most important part of this effort is the therapeutic part. The part of the brain I exercise when I draw is a different part than the one I punish when I write. I can wind myself in knots struggling to get words on paper but turn around and sketch for an hour completely relaxed. In fact, I can feel the writing tightness in my shoulders bleed away as I draw. I am one of those sad suckers who believes in home-spun therapies, and at least for the minute, this one is working for me.

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco-based writer. Second Wind recently published Jay’s first novel, Nine Digits. See the trailer here

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Fractions

2014_10_05_06_47_50By Jay Duret

“Want to hear a realization?” I said.

My wife Marty and I were driving to New Haven from Philadelphia and the traffic had come to a dead stop on I-95. She was trying to read a thick Power Point presentation in the front seat.

“Huh?”

“I have had an insight.”

“Jay. Not again. I thought you were giving up insights.”

“I am serious.”

“I am in the middle of this presentation…”

“Give it a rest for a minute. This could change your life.”

“I doubt it.” Marty sighed and put down the papers, “What is it?”

“Boys are fractions.”

“Oh God.”

“Seriously. They are fractions from the time they are 8 until they get to be 18 or so. Depends on the kid, but they are all fractions. Some are ¾’s, others ½, some are 7/8ths. All fractions, though.”

“Where are you going with this?”

“So when there is a task that needs doing, a boy brings his fraction to the task and either the fraction is a large enough fraction to get the task accomplished or it isn’t.”

“Powerful insight, Jay. Riveting.”

“Stay with me.”

“I am a bit of a captive audience.”

“Excellent. I love a captive audience.”

“Just carry on.”

“So when two boys get together they are now two fractions.”

“Mercy!”

“Could you stop with the mockery?”

“Just keep up the pace.”

“I would go a lot faster if you weren’t already japing at my theory.”

Japing? Is that what I am doing?”

“You are japing at my hypothesis.”

“So that is what it is now, a hypothesis. I had it more as….”

“Quiet, or you’ll miss the insight…”

“… a rambling rumination.”

“So when two boys get together and they have a task to confront you’d imagine that what I would say is…”

“…actually I can’t imagine what you are going to say…”

“…that you’d take each of their factions and add them together and then the combination would either be bigger than the task or not. That’s what you thought I would say, but that would be wrong.”

“On so many levels.”

“That would be how it would be if it was two girls, assuming girls were fractions at all.”

“But you are going to say that with boys, its not.”

“Correcto. Muy bien, mi esposa bonita. It is multiplication. That’s the mathematics of it.

“Not addition.”

“Multiplication.”

“Because?”

“Cause when you add things you get more, but with boys you get less.”

“And I am sure you are going to explain that…”

“So it’s just like if you are multiplying fractions, you always get less than you start with. Like a ½ times a ¼ is an 1/8th. It’s always less. And what’s so beautiful about the math is that it works with any number of boys. It just keeps getting less as you get more of them. You take a ½ and a ¼ and then a third boy shows up and he could be a ¾’s on his own, but when you multiply him into a full three boy equation, you no longer even have an 1/8th – you have got yourself ¾’s of an 1/8th which is … which is … less than an 1/8th.”

“Did you actually say ‘a full three boy equation’.”

“I did indeed.”

“It takes the breath away. It is flat out amazing, Jay, how you can take a modest insight and turn it into, well, a really small insight.”

“Jealousy doesn’t become you, my dear. I believe I nailed that one.”

“I will erect a statue.”

“That would be fine. Just don’t get boys to build it.”

– Jay Duret

jayduret@yahoo.com

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. Second Wind published his first novel, Nine Digits, in December. To view the book trailer, click here

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Morning Music

Morning Music

Morning Music

By Jay Duret

When I open the windows of my study in the first light of morning the sound of birds spills in, a full musical program, like I have fired up a playlist of classical music or jazz. Usually I just soak the sounds without conscious thought while I write, but because I have been away for a long time, today I listen into the music like I make my children listen into the radio to identify the instruments as we drive to school. I hear chirps and chips and clucks and long cooing calls. I hear cheka-checka-checka and a dry rattling like dice shaking in a cup made from bone. I hear one bird chiding the others – tsk, tsk, tsk – in a long combined piece of advice: tsktsktsktsktsk.

One call starts on the same plane as the others but then warbles higher, loops around – a rollercoaster on one of those fantastic tracks that twists and inverts and loop-de-loops as it rackets forward – climbing higher, louder, more insistent, until it stands fully free from the other chatter. I don’t know which bird this call comes from. We don’t have much exotica here – mostly sparrows and robins and starlings, occasional blue jays, cardinals, a hummingbird or two – but this one comes from a bird that I don’t know about. For a minute, I consider doing some research. In today’s world of instant knowledge I have no doubt that if I try I will find audio recordings of the different species and with patience, diligence and determination I could probably identify which specie is emitting that fantastic arching call.

Yes, if I went at it, if I applied in this area the analytic talent that I have applied in other areas – including many far less consequential – I believe I would be able to say which bird is crying out above all the rest. And if I were to bear down on that research question I would learn much more. The sounds outside my window aren’t the sounds of gleeful pandemonium that rise from a school playground at recess. The birds below my window are making those noises for a reason. Or many reasons. Those birds are calling and shushing and and clucking and tskking for a purpose. They are hunting and mating. Mommas are schooling their chicks. Territory is being marked; alerts are being given. There are cries for help. This is a city and the birds are full of all those same urges and needs to communicate that people in my city are full of – at least this is what I bet research would tell me – and this is what I hear from my window on a summer morning listening deep into their music.

It would be, it must be, a worthwhile effort to undertake – that is why I make my children identify the instruments that combine to play Kind of Blue or The Brandenburg Concertos – but I decide not to pursue that line of inquiry today. I have been away and have come home wearied from the beating I have taken on the road. Today I don’t feel it matters if it is the thrush or the robin that looses that high topping call, the one that startles me with its insistence and glory. It does not matter if that call is a cry for help or sex or a warning to family. Today, it is the insistence – it is the glory – that I want to soak in, not the explication. Tomorrow I will bear down. Tomorrow I will follow questions to their conclusion. Tomorrow I will seeketh understanding. But today – this morning – I will let the morning music wash over me and soak down to that place in my bones where the healing begins.

****

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at http://www.jayduret.com. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in dozens of print and online journals, including Narrative Magazine, Gargoyle, Painted Bride Quarterly, December and The Blue Lake Review. Second Wind Publishing will publish Jay’s first novel, Nine Digits, later this year. For more information, see www.ninedigits.com.

Read Jay’s prior posts on this blog:

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing (“The. Worst. Fundraiser. Ever.” She said.)

 

Arc of Truth

Arc of Truth

Arc of Truth (“I am a liar. I write fiction, that’s the job.”)

 

Nom de Plume

Nom de Plume

Nom de Plume (“The best decision I ever made was to adopt a pen name…”)

 

Queen For A Day

Queen For A Day

Queen for a Day (“The winner was chosen, I swear to God, by an Applause-O-Meter…)

 

Bridalplasty

Bridalplasty

Bridalplasty (“Twelve young woman and a celebrity-style, dream wedding…”)

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Arc of Truth

Jay DuretBy Jay Duret

 

I am a liar.

I write fiction, that’s the job description.

I am fine with the undeniable fact that I will go to my grave as a liar, but I have noticed that some of my colleagues squirm under the label. They don’t want to lie for a living; they get queasy when describing what they write as “fiction”, the very word a declaration of mendaciousness. They believe, as I do, that lying can be a way to truth, sometimes the only way. But they want that idea to be more than just a line in a graduate student’s paper or an aphorism attributed to Hemingway. (“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” “You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true.”)

Because we live in an age where each of us can create our own narrative, some writers have cast off from the fiction pier and are floating into waters closer to the shore that has been called, forever, by the bad name “non-fiction”. The problem is, despite its bad label, non-fiction is a real thing. There is an underlying school of craft – we call it journalism – that has rules and boundaries. A fiction writer can’t simply declare that he or she has landed on the shores of non-fiction and proceed to take up shop there; doing that would subject the writer to the rules and regulations governing the craft of non-fiction, a weighty commitment, particularly for those who love fiction precisely for the freedom it offers from overbearing regulation.

But that doesn’t end the matter. For those floating in the waters between fiction and non-fiction, new possibilities are arising, and I do not mean Creative Non Fiction. CNF, according to Lee Gutkind editor of the magazine Creative Non-Fiction, is subject to the same rules of reporting that govern journalism. The “creative” in CNF does not mean creating facts; it means telling the story with some of the tools of fiction – pacing, suspense, flashbacks, etc. A good piece of CNF is no less required to be grounded in actuality than a piece of straight up reporting. As Gutkind puts it:

“Creative” doesn’t mean … that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

When writers ignore Gutkind’s maxim, disaster can follow. Truth in labeling is the way of American commerce, why should it be different in writing than in, say, soup packaging? I like this quote about the writer of A Million Little Pieces, an Oprah Book Club Selection that became a best seller before The Smoking Gun outed the book’s many fabrications:

James Frey wants us to believe that he is a tough but sensitive bad-boy writer with a drug problem. The truth is, he’s a sensitive but boyish bad writer with a truth problem[1].

No, calling fiction CNF will not solve the writer’s dilemma. Fortunately in this, as in so many things, writers can borrow from another art form: movies. With the bigger budgets and the legions of people involved in making a movie – they have producers, best boys, gaffers! They have lawyers on the creative team! – no wonder motion pictures have fished these waters better than solitary writers tapping their keyboards in lonely scows and leaky rowboats. The movie industry has created a finely gauged explanation of the territory between fiction and non-fiction and that can serve as an excellent guide for writers.

The foundation of movies – perhaps other than documentaries – is to have  extremely good looking actors and actresses pleasingly stand in for the sad sacks whose stories are being related (All the President’s Men – I mean, really, Robert Redford is a beat reporter?). Given that foundation, it is hard to say that any movie is actually “true” – but a movie will frequently self identify as A True Story. That’s a wonderful phrase and frankly might be just the perfect oxymoron to serve any writer in need of a forgiving description of their work. Yet if the body of CNF proves anything, it is that non-fiction can be told as a story and therefore A True Story may not be quite as oxymoronic as one might have supposed. No, further nuance is needed.

Based on a True Story – here is a category that gives a writer some freedom! Nothing in it says that lying is involved – the writer is telling truth! – it is just that the truth the writer is telling is devolved from an underlying truth;  it is an expression of that truth, just not exactly the literal truth that might be found in the Palace of Truth and Justice. True, but not true in the pedestrian sense a member of the public might have otherwise expected. Understood properly, BTS is a branch of metaphysics.

So much of fiction is BTS that the category – by itself – solves the problem for most writers. But for writers that paddle even further from the banks of non-fiction, the movie industry offers an even more flexible concept: Inspired by a True Story. This one is a winner. Short of flat out fantasy, what fiction doesn’t fall under the category of ITS? And how could any reader complain if that little bit of disclosure were to be appended to the description of a book marketed as fiction? How could the writer be called out? As far as I can see, the best approach for one bent on attacking the description would be to say that a dreary work was not inspired. That would seem easier to prove in a court of law or public opinion than the proposition that somewhere – anywhere – there wasn’t some true story that the writer’s tale sprang from. Yes, Inspired By A True Story does the job: it will lend almost any piece of fiction a fine patina of truthfulness.

As good as ITS is, it doesn’t quite work for me. I write many stories that are all or mostly dialogue. I have come to believe – for better or worse – that you can tell the reader all they need to know about the characters by what they say and they way they say it. Many of my stories have come to me by eavesdropping – one of those things, like lying, that are essential parts of a fiction writer’s trade. Often I will hear a conversation and later on, after I have played it through in my head a dozen times, I will put it down on paper and find that I have a story that – at least to my own taste – is of interest.

Yet this is where I run into trouble. An editor will read my piece and ask if I am submitting the story as Fiction or Non Fiction or CNF. (Indeed, Submittable usually requires a commitment to one of those categories right from the start.) I could cover myself with a judicious use of the key phrase Inspired By A True Story but that disclosure – broad as it may be – needs some adaptation to apply to my type of writing. For when you start with an eavesdropped conversation, you never know whether the event that is being discussed is actually true or not. You may have happened upon two bullshitters – whose conversation you may be reporting truthfully – but there is no true story beneath it. I needed a way to capture that nuance.

At first I tried to explain it – but many of my editors did not possess the forgiving span of attention that the nuance inherent in this thing requires. And then I had an inspiration. Why not handle it with a picture, a diagram, an illustration? That would save me explaining the details to editors too busy  to focus. And that is how I came to memorialize the Arc of Truth.

I am not much of an illustrator but I like the way the arrow on the dial moves between black and white with shades of grey in between. Not fifty of them, alas, but enough for these purposes:

Arc of Truth3

 

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, will be published by Second Wind Publishing this year. Visit the website: www.ninedigits.com. Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com. Read his prior posts on the Second Wind blog:

Nom De Plume

Nom De Plume

Bridalplasty

Bridalplasty

Queen For A Day

Queen For A Day

Last Man Standing

Last Man Standing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://listverse.com/2010/03/06/top-10-infamous-fake-memoirs (retrieved July 23, 2014).

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