I looked at the nearby clock. It was just a bit after 3 a.m. I could hear Michael still awake up in the computer room. For a second I debated whether the phone had actually been ringing. Then it started buzzing again. I scrambled to my feet, grabbed the phone, and saw the name of his oldest sister. I knew it had to be bad news.
It was. There was a house fire not long after midnight at Michael’s mother’s house back in Oklahoma. The fire had completely engulfed the house. At that point, no one knew where his mom was, nor whether Michael’s youngest brother (who had moved back in with their mom a while back) had been home. Worse: one of our nieces (age 14) and one of our nephews (age 12), the children of Michael’s youngest sister, were supposed to be staying with their grandma for the weekend.
The firefighters were still trying to get the blaze under control so they could safely start looking for bodies.
A few hours later we got the news that all four of them had been home, and none of them had survived the fire.
Definitely bad news.
When you hear news like that, you want to be able to help. We feel like we should be able to do something. Everything we can do feels inadequate. We wonder how it could have been prevented. If we were directly involved in the lives of the people, we wonder what we did wrong. What we could have done differently.
I’m in a weird position on this. I never met any of the four people who died. I exchanged some messages with this brother-in-law on Facebook. I’ve had similar exchanges and a phone conversation or two with the mother of the niece and nephew. While I have met and love my husband’s other siblings and his father, the others have remained acquaintances—not helped by the fact that we’ve never gone back to visit. Just to be clear that it’s through no fault of theirs.
Except his mother… well, we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, so I’ll just say the one and only communication I ever received from her was enough to make me glad we live 2000 miles away. My husband’s family has a bit more dysfunction than most, to be honest. And every time that I assert my family is just as messed up, he always manages to come up with a story that is hard to top.
As my husband said to some friends offering condolences last night, to say that feelings are conflicted right now is putting it mildly.
It’s a sad situation. Powerless to avert all tragedies, the best we can do sometimes is love and support the survivors.
I really like this story about it: GAY GROUPS SEEK TO BUY NYC CHURCH KNOWN FOR HATEFUL MESSAGES because of the quotes from the neighbors of the church, including the lady who lives across the street who started fundraising for the Ali Forney’s bid as soon as she heard about it.
Meanwhile, just a few days after Donald Trump had vowed yet again to overturn the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling if elected, he’s suddenly claiming that he would be a champion of gay rights. Seriously. Not surprising, since New Hampshire republicans actually boo-ed Republican candidates at debates as far back as 2008 when they started making anti-gay statements. New Hampshire only had civil unions back then, but those had passed with overwhelming Republican and Democratic voter support. New Hampshire Republican voters have been far less anti-gay than Republicans elsewhere for a long time.
But Trump is not a gay ally. If you need a reminder, here’s a nice round up of The top ten worst comments Donald Trump has made about LGBTQ people.
I don’t know if he thinks the pro gay voters in New Hampshire are stupid enough to fall for it, not to mention how his current supporters will react to this sudden flip-flop. Maybe he just assumes that the majority of his angry hateful supporters won’t care? I don’t know.
I had an old friend from High School scold me this week for posting a link to a story critical of Trump. Not that he’s not critical of Trump; he was angry about the characterization that Trump is a Republican front-runner, because he believes that real Republicans aren’t fooled by Trump’s hatred.
Every single candidate that has been vying for the Republican nomination this cycle is supportive of all of the same things Trump is spouting off about. They just try to make it sound less blatantly hateful. Unless they’re talking about gays, of course, then they’re blatant: Rick Santorum attacks Scott Walker as not anti-gay enough, or Three Republican candidates speak at anti-gay pastor’s rally or Iowa conservatives target Cruz for not being anti-LGBT enough.
The bottom line, for me, is that it doesn’t matter which clown gets the Republican nomination: they’re all anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-poor… it will be a disaster if any of them when the White House.
In the movie, The Night Stalker, Darren McGavin plays Kolchak, a reporter working in Las Vegas, dating a showgirl, and covering typical news stories. Until he began being suspicious about a series of deaths that seemed very similar, but which the police insisted were unrelated. First Kolchak was convinced that it was simply a serial killer who was draining all the blood from his victims’ bodies because he was insane and believed he was a vampire. As Kolchak finds more and more evidence of similar crimes going back decades, he begins to worry that the killer really is a vampire.
Which, of course, turns out to be the case. Kolchak witnesses a couple of attempts by the police to capture the killer. The second attempt is such an epic failure, with multiple cops killed and dozens of bullets striking the killer (played creepily by Barry Atwater) to no avail. This convinces at least one FBI agent that it is a vampire. Kolchak and his FBI buddy track down and kill the vampire.
Kolchak writes the full account of the vampire’s long career of murder and eventual destruction, proposes to his girlfriend, and prepares to move to New York City where he expects to be able to write his own ticket. Except the FBI and local police don’t want anyone to know about vampires. They kill the story (getting Kolchak’s boss fired, I believe). They substitute a more mundane tale of a serial killer with Kolchak’s byline. Then they inform him that his girlfriend has already been convinced to leave town, and tell him he’s no longer welcome in Vegas.
The story ends with Kolchak re-dictating the entire tale into his portable tape recorder while sitting alone in a sleazy motel room. He explains how all the evidence is destroyed, and that he’s exhausted his savings trying to find his fiancée, so far to no avail.
It was a sad and creepy end to a film.
The Night Stalker was a made-for-TV movie based on an unsold novel by Jeff Rice, originally titled The Kolchak Papers. Rice’s agent had more luck selling the novel idea to ABC as a movie idea than he’d had selling it to a book publisher. The movie was a surprise hit, drawing in unheard of ratings when it ran. It was so successful that the network commissioned Richard Matheson, who had adapted Rice’s book into script from, to write a sequel. A book publisher was suddenly interested in Rice’s novel, but only if they could also get a deal on the sequel. So Rice wrote a novelization of Matheson’s sequel script, and in 1973 two Kolchak books, along with the sequel TV movie, The Night Strangler were all released.
The Night Strangler came out almost exactly a year after the first movie. In it Kolchak had relocated to Seattle where he stumbled upon an immortal who was living in Underground Seattle2 who every 21 years has to kill several women in order to harvest their blood in a very specific fashion to manufacture his “elixer of life.” The sequel did well enough again that work began on a third movie. Until the network put that all aside and decided to turn Kolchak’s story into a regular weekly TV series, which debuted in September of 1974 and ran for one season.
McGavin returned to play Kolchak. In the series Kolchak, along with his editor from both movies (played by Simon Oakland), have been relocated to Chicago where they work for the Independent News Service. Each week Kolchak stumbles upon a new monster or mystery that winds up having a fantastic explanation. Unlike the original movie, Kolchak never has any credible witnesses survive to corroborate his stories, so no one ever believes.
After the two wildly successful TV movies, the network had high hopes, but the initial ratings weren’t terribly exciting. After four episodes of The Night Stalker had aired, the series went on hiatus for a bit over a month. It came back, re-titled Kolchak: the Night Stalker! with new theme music, though not any changes to the tone, setting, or cast.
Ratings continued a slow, steady decline, causing the network to pull the plug at episode 20, cutting short the original order of 26 episodes.
The series ran during my 7th grade year. We had moved by the Colorado, this time returning to the small town where I’d been born, and where one set of grandparents and one set of great-grandparents still lived. Puberty had hit the year before, and I suddenly knew exactly why I’d always felt out-of-place to the point of wondering if I was a changeling left in place of my parent’s real child by evil elves, or maybe an alien sent to study humans—I was gay. It was during this same period that I started fooling around regularly with one other gay classmate (while having a completely unrequited crush on a different classmate that as far as I know was straight). I lived in a constant state of fear of being found out, terrified of what family, friends, and the rest of the town would do if they had proof I was a fag.
I threw myself even more fervently into reading science fiction and fantasy, so of course I was a faithful viewer tuning in each week to see what Kolchak would uncover next. Kolchak was appealing in part because these incredible, usually awful, things kept happening around him, but no one ever believed him. He was in sort of a reverse closet. He wanted people to know the truth, but everyone else did everything they could to ignore, explain away, and ridicule that truth.
While I did tune in faithfully each week, I have to confess that as the series went on, each episode was a little bit less satisfying. I can’t be certain why, having not re-watched it in years, but something about seeing Kolchak not be believed week after week was much less interesting than seeing it in two movies separated by a year. Maybe it was because Kolchak was seldom heroic. He had a determination to learn the truth, yes, but clearly he would have much rather interviewed people after the fight with the monster, rather than take on the creatures himself. He was always a bit rumbled and always seemed to stumble and fumble his way into a lot of the stories and events in the series, rather than get there through dogged determination. Maybe the series just didn’t know how to walk the tightrope between mystery/horror and comedy.
Some years later Chris Carter would have more success with The X-Files, a series he admitted was inspired by Kolchak. So the week-to-week mysteries the world doesn’t want to admit exist notion could be spun into a successful show. I don’t know what about the collective consciousness of 1974 made Kolchak less appealing than the audience of the 90s would find Scully and Mulder4.
I still look back on The Night Stalker with a lot of fondness. I empathized so much with they guy who knew and believed things no one else would credit. It wasn’t just the parallels to my own queer secret, though. I was also having an ever more difficult time reconciling my love of science and history with the fundamentalist evangelical beliefs of our church and the vast majority of our neighbors. I felt as if people were constantly belittling scientific facts and scientists, blatantly ignoring evidence right in front of them and insisting on a worldview that just didn’t square up with not just my lived experience, but theirs.
Kolchak kept chasing that truth, kept examining the evidence, never letting the naysayers or conventional wisdom stop him. And that was a role model I desperately needed.
1. I wound up completing the entirety of 5th and 6th grade, in addition to the half of 4th in that same school. This tied my previous record of Kindergarten, 1st, and part of 2nd in the Ft. Collins, Colorado school district. By contrast, 3rd grade was split between three schools, each in a different state (and if the brief sojourn in Kansas had begun a few weeks earlier than in did, 3rd grade would have been four schools in four states).
2. This movie makes the mistake of most pop culture representations of Underground Seattle do. It portrays it as if some sort of disaster buried part of the city in a single night and the survivors rebuilt on top. A dining room underground that still has dishes, silverware, and petrified food figures in the story, for instance. In actuality, Seattle decided it was tired of the routine flooding and sewer backups that happened in the part of downtown built on swamp land, and they razed a hill at the north end of town to redistribute the dirt to raise the streets in the south end. It took many months. During the transition some of the taller buildings had new doors built into the existing second or third floors at the new street level. Other buildings had additional stories built atop them. Spaces that had originally been ground floors became basements. In only a very small number of cases have any of those old spaces been kept in anything close to their original state3.
3. Many, many years ago a software company I worked for that had offices downtown rented storage space in the basement of the building next door. The basement had originally been a dance hall before the streets were raised. The solid wood dance floor was still there, and some of the fancy woodwork on the walls was still visible, but the building owners and subdivided the space into a bunch of 10 foot by 10 foot cubes with cheep plywood, and rented each out for storage. It wasn’t terribly exotic any longer. And you just walked down ordinary stairs to get to it.
4. A subject I’ll go into much more detail about next week, I think!
I have a few quibbles. At several points the original AFA press release and WND story conflate “religiously unaffiliated” with atheist. Even though other parts of the story make the distinction that only about 15% of of the nation’s population identifies as atheist. Conflating unaffiliated with atheist is simply wrong. I, for example, am not atheist—I’m taoist. But on a survey like this, depending on exactly how the question was phrased, I would almost certainly pick the religiously unaffiliated option because I don’t belong to any church or temple or similar organized religious institution.
I realize, since I’m:
- a big homo,
- have been a firm believer in the separation of church and state since at least the age of 10,
- believe in science,
- usually vote Democrat,
- support pro-choice candidates and policies,
…et cetera—that the AFA would of course classify me as godless. But I suspect they would classify my queer friends who regularly attend Christian churches (decidedly liberal ones) as godless, as well.
My point, however, is that there are people who believe in god, and even believe in the same god the AFA claims to believe in, who would describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated because people like the AFA have done everything in their power to redefine Christianity to mean hating gays and people who support them to the point that they’re driving people from their congregations.
The original article also asserts as one of the harms of all this godlessness the following: “religious groups, spiritual environmentalists, and secularists… sometimes must cooperate with each other to address the region’s pressing economic, environmental and social issues.”
Horrors! People must cooperate with other people who may not agree with them on some other things to get things done? Say it ain’t so! Too bad we have all this cooperation going on! If we didn’t, we might have the insanely high infant mortality rates, childhood poverty, and teen pregnancy rates like the more godly cities in the Bible belt have. You just gotta love that strong religious culture, right?
I’ve known plenty of misogynist, racist, and/or homophobic atheists, just as I know a lot of Christians who are feminist, pro-queer, pro-equality, and otherwise in favor of most of the things of which scolds like the AFA disapprove. So we can’t use religious affiliation to unerringly predict someone’s stance on public policy issues. And as I observed a couple weeks ago (Confesses of a recovering evangelical), most of the religious right isn’t terribly devout. They’re far more motivated by their conservatism, which manifests as a reactionary opposition to change. And they don’t really pay that much attention to anything that the Jesus actually said, as evidenced by their breathless enthusiasm for military intervention, condemnation of any unarmed people of color who have the audacity to get wrongfully killed by police, and so on.
It’s why Bill O’Reilly was able to say with a straight face that Jesus promoted charity, but not to the point of self-destruction. Except, of course, since Jesus’ whole reason for coming to earth was to get killed on the cross for the sake of imperfect humans, he was indeed promoting charity not just to self destruction, but to literal self sacrifice.
The World Net Daily story is also interesting in that the comment sections is overflowing with homophobic comments, because of course no place can be godless without us homos there egging the nonbelievers on, apparently. Just like Pastor Manning who is insisting today that the foreclosure auction ordered on his church building because of more than one million dollars in unpaid utility bills has nothing to do with money. No, he claims, it’s an illegal plot of the sodomites to silence him. (By the way, the Ali Forney Center has raised more than 58% of their goal to attempt to participate in that foreclosure auction. If you can donate to this opportunity to turn hate into love, please do!)
Amazingly, New York City doesn’t make it onto the AFA’s list of cities with a higher unaffiliated percentage than the national average of 22%. I guess “New York Values” aren’t completely unholy, after all. Equally amazing, Las Vegas barely exceeds the national average of godlessness! Who knew?
George R.R. Martin has a nice post up explaining why it is important for everyone to [n]ominate the stuff that you enjoyed best last year. Let your own individual voice be heard.
To nominate you need to have either an attending or supporting membership to last year’s WorldCon (Sasquan, in Spokane), to this year’s WorldCon (MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City), or to the 2017 WorldCon (to be held in Helsinki). If you already have one of those, your PIN is either coming in email, or will be included in your snail mailed Progress Report II (if you chose that for updates rather than email). Check your spam folders if you think you should have gotten it and it hasn’t arrived. They are still mailing them out, though, so don’t send a panicked message to them, just yet.
A lot of people are putting up their “oh, by the way, I had this stuff published this year that could be nominated, if you happened to have read it and enjoyed it.” I only had one short story published, and in an APAzine at that, last year. But I do blog about science fiction and fantasy here a bit, and I suppose that means technically I could be nominated in the fan writer category. *wink* Hey! A guy can dream, right?
More seriously, as I work on my nominations, I’ll try to put together a list of some things I think folks should check out.
In completely unrelated news: The Ali Forney Center, which provides support, nourishment, and shelter to homeless LGBT youth in New York City, is trying to raise money to purchase the church of anti-gay hate-spouting preacher, David Manning. The church has been ordered into foreclosure for non-payment of over a million dollars in utility bills (on top of other fines and debts). I forgot to mention when I posted this earlier, that Manning’s church has been officially designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Anyway, as of this morning, they had reached 49% of their goal in just three days. The foreclosure auction is later this month. If you can donate to this opportunity to turn hate into love, please do!
Remember Atlah Worldwide Church in Harlem? The church that wrote “Jesus Would Stone Homos” and other anti-LGBT messages on its marquee?
They have racked up over a million dollars in unpaid bills, and now the building is up for public auction. The Ali Forney Center, which houses about 107 homeless LGBT youth in New York City, is ready and willing to make an offer, buy the space and convert it into an LGBT homeless youth shelter – if we can help them come up with the money.
The church owes more than one million dollars ($1,000,000) in various bills, mostly water and sewer bills. This is in addition to tens of thousands in fines the church has been assessed for various permit violations. While Pastor Manning personally has federal liens totaling $355,000 for non-payment of federal taxes on his personal income, plus $28,000 in back taxes to New York state, and about $30,000 in other collections. (Who would have ever predicted that someone who has spent time in prison in two different states for burglary, robbery, and larceny would, when he became a hate-spouting preacher, cheat on his taxes?)
The Ali Forney Center is a charity that provides shelter, support, education, and nourishment to homeless youth with an emphasis on providing safe spaces for queer homeless teens. You may remember that at least 40% of homeless teens are on the street because their families rejected them for being gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. The center happens to have one of its locations near the church, and the church has organized anti-gay rallies outside the center on more than one occasion.
They need to raise about $200,000 to be a serious contender in the foreclosure auction. They’ve raised about 20% of that since announcing this yesterday. If you can donate, please do!
In completely unrelated news: you’ve probably already read about a bunch of the Oregon Militia members being arrest this week: WTF Just Happened to the Oregon Militia, Explained. The federal charging indictment is very simple and conservative: they are simply charging them with conspiracy to interfere with a federal employee completing their duties, and the charge is full of public quotes from the militia members that make the case pretty open-and-shut.
Ursula Vernon did a very funny sum-up of the situation on Twitter, which someone has kindly storified so you can go read it in order. It is funny and worth the read: Here’s what I don’t understand about the Oregon militia, and because I’m me, I will use Star Wars as a metaphor…
The only quibble I have with her metaphor is this: the justification that the Oregon militia (and all the rest of the sovereign citizen crackpots) use for their actions is not the equivalent of referring to an ancient document from the Old Republic as if it were binding law on the Empire, it is more like referring to the some words that Jar-Jar Binks is rumored to have muttered in his sleep and claiming that those words are binding laws on the Empire.
I’m glad that this thing hasn’t turned into a massacre, and it’s sad that one of the idiots reached for his gun (it’s really clear in the video that’s what he did) while facing a bunch of feds who were trying to arrest him. Notice that no one else was shot. I hope once the grand jury is convened that they also charge this idiots for violating the native american archeological site and claiming on youtube they were going to sell the artifacts. That will get them some serious, and well-deserved prison time.
I hope the hold-outs give themselves up so that the refuge managers, the Audubon Society, local ranchers, and the Burns Paiute Tribe and other actual stakeholders in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to get back to work.
There’s a “story” on Breitbart entitled “SJWs Are Purging Politically Incorrect Sci-Fi Authors From Bookstores” that several people pointed me to that is so wrong and so laughable that I was going to include a do-not-link to it and do a little dissecting. But I don’t have to do most of the dissecting, because Jim C. Hines has done that part for me: Fact-Checking for Dummies. And Breitbart. The tl;dr summary: a “journalist” at Breitbart takes a single comment off of a post on the sci-fi blog File 770 and represents the comment as a news story claiming that bookstores in Toronto are removing books from their shelves written by Sad Puppies because of pressure for Social Justice Warriors.
It’s a comment, not an actual post. And even as a comment it is presented as an anecdote, “Last month someone told me…” Finally, others have gone to the bookstores in question and confirmed that books written by the specific authors mentioned in the comment are still on the shelves available for purchase. So, the entire premise of the op-ed piece on Breitbart is false.
But there’s more to it. The op-ed mentions specific authors who supposedly have been purged for making homophobic remarks, and then gets all upset claiming that several of those authors have done no such thing. Breitbart grudgingly admits the John C. Wright has made a statement about homosexuality being an aberration, but that barely qualifies! None of the others have said anything homophobic at all!
Here’s where my eye-rolling begins. Wright hasn’t merely said that homosexuality is unnatural. Wright has said, “I have never heard of a group of women descending on a lesbian couple and beating them to death with axhandles and tire-irons, but that is the instinctive reaction of men towards fags.” In fact, he’s said several variants of that: “…the natural reaction of real men confronted by fags is to beat them to death with axhandles and tire-irons.” For a while it was his go-to joke. Until midyear last year when he went through his blog and purged most of the occurrences of that particular phrase. He also rewrote a passage where he had said, “I feel no more personal animosity toward lesbians or other sodomites than I do to termites, but when they invade my house, it’s time to exterminate.” He changed it to instead compare the artist and the writer of The Legend of Korra to termites for the crime of representing two women in love in the final episode of the series, and that artists and writers who positively portray homosexual characters are the ones who deserve to be exterminated. And somehow he thinks that is less homophobic.
But Hines’ take-down of the Breitbart article falls short on a couple of points, so I want to deal with those.
The Breitbart op-ed, as I mentioned, claims that none of the other named “politically correct” authors have ever made any homophobic statements. That’s not true, at all. Brad Torgersen has said things such as: “we didn’t decide that homosexuality is wrong, God did”
No matter how sincerely held a religious belief is, it can still be bigotry. Bigotry is obstinately holding onto a belief in spite of evidence to the contrary. Medical science has concluded that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, it is an innate trait. That’s a fact. Sin has to be a matter of choice, that’s part of sin’s theological definition. Innate traits cannot be sins. Torgerson and Larry Correia (another author Breitbart insists isn’t homophobic, despite repeated statements that “homosexuality is a dangerous lifestyle choice”) and their friends are perfectly within their rights to insist—contrary to the facts—that homosexuality is a matter of choice, yes. But that they do so for religious reasons doesn’t change the truth that the belief is a bigoted one. They are anti-gay bigots.
And more importantly, straight people, like the author of the Breitbart piece, don’t get to decide what I or any other queer person feels offended about. We get to own our own feelings. As Irish drag queen and gay rights activist Panti Bliss said:
“I have been lectured to by heterosexual people about what homophobia is and about who is allowed to identify it. Straight people have lined up—ministers, senators, barristers, journalists—have lined up to tell me what homophobia is and what I am allowed to feel oppressed by. People who have never experienced homophobia in their lives, people who have never checked themselves at a pedestrian crossing, have told me that unless I am being thrown into prison or herded onto a cattle truck, it is not homophobia, and that feels oppressive.”
I could spend a little more time using Google and the Internet Wayback Machine and I would not be surprised if I could come up with similar statements about gay people for each of the other authors that Breitbart thinks have been purged from Toronto bookshelves. I say that because I vaguely recall reading statements from all of them along those lines. And I’m sure that it is a bit hypocritical of me, after lambasting Breitbart for failing to fact-check, not to finish the job.
But unlike Breitbart, I’m not being paid to report things. It took me only a few minutes on Google for each author to find two homophobic Torgerson quotes and four homophobic Wright quotes and a couple of Correia’s homophobic statements. It takes a little longer to track down old blog posts that some of those guys have deleted or revised after the Affair of the Melancholy Canines became big news last year. Frankly, it is exhausting having to constantly re-explain to people that there really are bigots out there still trying to silence, oppress, denigrate, or deny rights to queer people. They can make their off-handed, unproven attacks in seconds, and it takes us much more time to fact-check them and track down the evidence.
So I’m going to stop here and just roll my eyes once again at the straightsplaining and the false accusations and the bigot apologists. And frankly, even rolling my eyes is more effort than the haters deserve.
Edited to add: the original draft of this included a digression about the fact that stories like the Breitbart op-ed are intended, among other things, to stir up animosity toward queer people and our supporters. Just as all that talk about how sinful or unnatural homosexuality is—it is intended to stir up hatred, while claiming to be the opposite. That’s why I included the Stephen Fry quote and graphic originally. Haters want other people to agree with them and hate us, too.
Years ago a friend shared an article from Writer’s Digest that referenced the old Krazy Kat newspaper comic strip, which had a running gag involving one of the characters getting hit in the head with a brick. The article said that the place to begin your story is the moment your protagonist his hit in the head metaphorically by the problem or conflict or riddle which forms the basis of the plot. The moment when the character realizes this is a big problem. The moment when the character discovers that this isn’t just going to be another day in her life.
I read a lot of amateur fiction, fan fiction, and rough drafts of other people’s work. And I’ve noticed that lots of people don’t understand that. They start the story long before the brick. They may still start the story when something disruptive happens in the character’s life, but it’s more like a moment that they character stumbled on a door step, days or weeks or months before the brick.
The worst are stories that end with the brick. We meet a character who is in a difficult situation. We meet some of the other characters in the protagonist’s life. Things happen and the situation gets worse. We see the character struggle with the issue, trying to figure out what’s really happening. The character attempts to get out of the bad situation a few ways, and either fails entirely or achieves a temporary relief that leads to a worse situation. And then there’s a big dramatic, shocking moment… and the story just stops. We’ve finally reach a point where the story has gotten really interesting, and the writing snaps the book closed and snatches the story, metaphorically, from our hands.
I just finished a story like that, where the character suffers through a lot, persevering through an unjust imprisonment and enduring various indignities, making a teeny bit of headway with one of the other prisoners, and then finally learning a little bit about one (and only one) of the mysteries the writer had been teasing us with for the entire story, and then that was it—an previously unseen character whose existence had been hinted at appears, causes a lot of damage, rescues the other prisoner and leaves. We get a denouement in which the protagonist is released, receives an apology of sorts from some of the authorities and goes. We never know what happened to any of the specific people responsible for the imprisonment, we never learn why a lot of the things that happened to the character happened, et cetera.
That’s not an ending, that’s an abandonment!
I know that someone will defend the author’s decisions by saying that we don’t always get all the answers in real life, and that bad people don’t always get what we think they deserve, and so on. But this isn’t real life. It’s fiction. The difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has the make sense. The author is free to tell and omit what he or she wants, yes, but never forget that it is a sin to waste the reader’s time. You may not want to tell the story about the mysterious character who rescues one of the others in the end for whatever reason. But by structuring the rest of the story this way, the author has teased the reader. Worse than that, the author has misled the reader. The author has laid out a lot of intriguing questions, sprinkle in some enticing tidbits, clearly implying that those breadcrumbs would lead to something interesting. And then the author didn’t deliver.
It’s a bait and switch.
Don’t get me wrong: leaving some things open-ended for the reader to debate and wrestle with is all right. But the conflict introduced the beginning needs to be resolved (by the protagonist’s own actions) at the end. Not solved, necessarily, but resolved. I failure to solve the problem is a resolution, after all.
This particular “story” isn’t actually a story, it’s the backstory to a story the author didn’t write. At least the way it is structured. It’s like. Sci fi story I read a long time ago in which a journalist is approached by a crackpot claiming people are being replaced by robots. The journalist doesn’t believe the guy at first, then various things happen that make it seem there might be something sinister going on, then the crackpot suddenly changes his tune, insisting he was mistaken and off his meds. The story ends with the journalist laying in bed, unable to sleep, something makes him check his wife for a heartbeat. And the final line of the story is that he can’t hear a heart beat in her chest, just a mechanical whirring!
It might have even ended with more than one exclamation point.
That wasn’t an ending, that was a beginning. Because the interesting tale isn’t that people don’t believe dangerous things are happening around them. The most interesting conflict is: what do you do when you find out your loved one has been replaced by an android?
Go back to the brick. Crackpots spout nonsense at people all the time. You don’t have to be a journalist to have some stranger come up to you and make extraordinary claims. Just stand at a bus stop on a busy bus line for a few hours and it will happen a lot. If you are a journalist, it must be even more common place. So that wasn’t a brick, it wasn’t even a stumble. It was business as usual. The brick was finding out the crackpot was correct. The story scould have begun with, “Everything fell apart night John discovered his wife had no heart. He had been chuckling to himself just before hand. A crazy man had contacted him, insisting he had proof of a conspiracy. John had known it had to be a delusion, despite all the evidence and the strange incidents that happened with the cars with darkened windows and mysterious sounds behind closed doors. He had only checked as a joke. It would make a funny story to share at the next cocktail party. But then he put the stenthoscope to her sleeping chest…”
And then you go from there. You don’t need all the back story. You can fill in details later, if needed. Fit the facts the reader needs to understand in dialog, that sort of thing.
Find the brick. Hit your character in the head. And then show us what she does about it!