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Authors: Mike Resnick

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First Person Peculiar

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Table of Contents

Mike Resnick

Book Description

Some writing classes caution their students to avoid first-person stories—too traditional, too dated, too difficult to sell. We’ve convinced 5-time Hugo Award winner Mike Resnick to show you how it’s done with two dozen of his best first-person stories.

You want Hugo nominees? We got ’em.

Humor? Them, too.

Award winners and nominees? Yep.

Fantasy? But, of course.

Science fiction? Absolutely.

Sherlock Holmes? We’ve even got one of them.

Mike Resnick is, according to
Locus
magazine
,
the all-time leading award winner, living or dead, for short fiction.
First Person Peculiar
will explain why.

***

Smashwords Edition - 2014

WordFire Press
www.wordfire.com

ISBN: 978-1-61475-151-9

Entire contents copyright (c) 2014 Kirinyaga, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover design by Janet McDonald
and
Art Director Kevin J. Anderson

Book Design by RuneWright, LLC
www.RuneWright.com

Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Publishers

Published by
WordFire Press, an imprint of
WordFire, Inc.
PO Box 1840
Monument, CO 80132

***

First Person Peculiar
Copyright Data

Entire contents copyright © 2014 Kirinyaga, Inc.

Introduction
Copyright Gregory Benford 2014

The Wizard of West 34th Street
Copyright © 2012 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the December, 2012
Asimov’s

The Gefilte Fish Girl
Copyright © 1997 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the April, 1997
F&SF

The Revealed Truth
Copyright © 2013 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Dark Faith: Invocations

Me and My Shadow
Copyright © 1984 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Unauthorized Autobiographies

The Adventure of the Pearly Gates
Copyright © 1995 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Sherlock Holmes in Space

A Little Night Music
Copyright © 1991 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
The Ultimate Dracula

Down Memory Lane
Copyright © 2005 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the April, 2005
Asimov’s

Will the Last Person to Leave the Planet Please Shut off the Sun?
Copyright © 1992 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Will the Last Person to Leave the Planet Please Shut Off the Sun?

The Kemosabee
Copyright © 1994 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Tales of the Great Turtle

Old MacDonald Had a Farm
Copyright © 2001 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the September, 2001
Asimov’s

Mrs. Hood Unloads
Copyright © 1991 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
The Fantastic Robin Hood

Blue
Copyright © 1978 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in 1978
Hunting Dog Magazine

Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz
Copyright © 2009 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
The New Space Opera II

How I Wrote the New Testament, Brought Forth the Renaissance, and Birdied the 17th Hole at Pebble Beach
Copyright © 1990 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in June/July 1990
Aboriginal SF

The Sacred Tree
Copyright © 2012 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the March, 2012
Daily Science Fiction

The Evening Line
Copyright © 2013 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Rip-Off

Cobbling Together a Solution
Copyright © 2004 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the October, 2004
Amazing Stories

Beachcomber
Copyright © 1980 by Mike
Resnick First appeared in
Chrysalis 8

The Enhancement
Copyright © 2013 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Impossible Futures

Society’s Goy
Copyright © 2003 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Stars

Stalking the Zombie
Copyright ©2012 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
Stalking the Zombie

Me
Copyright © 2005 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in
I, Alien

Here’s Looking at You, Kid
Copyright © 2003 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the April, 2003
Asimov’s

A Princess of Earth
Copyright © 2004 by Mike Resnick
First appeared in the December, 2004
Asimov’s

***

Dedication

To Carol, as always

And to fellow members of the Old White Guys Club:

Robert Silverberg
Gregory Benford
Jack McDevitt
Barry N. Malzberg
David Brin
Eric Flint
Kevin J. Anderson
Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle
Gene Wolfe
Norman Spinrad
Jack Dann

***

Introduction

by Gregory Benford

First person seems the natural way to tell a story, but it has traps for the unwary. This collection shows how to avoid the snares and still use the assets of the big
I.

First person has its advantages, all on display in these trademark Resnick stories. For example, the literary term for a dominant character is “first person major,” the character who tells the tale and is the principal actor. Think about Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s great noir novels. (Resnick echoes this very well, somewhat tongue in cheek.)

Since the narrator is within the story, he or she may not have knowledge of all the events. Since the piece is spoken directly in the character’s voice, it is automatically strong, allowing the reader to decide whether they can relate to the protagonist’s position or not. The style limits the ability for description, though.

A “first person minor” point of view stands at a distance from events, but is not the primary actor. The point of view voice gives us perspective, though limited to just his or hers. Try
The Great Gatsby
, an American classic narrated by a friend of Gatsby. A good rule: If you’re going to kill the lead character, best not make him the point of view. The story ends when he does, unless you’re taking the reader into the afterlife. (But you can do that, in fantasy. To show you how that works, see “The Adventure of the Pearly Gates” with its remarkable opening, “It was most disconcerting. One moment I was tumbling over the falls at Reichenbach, my arms locked around Professor Moriarty, and the next moment I seemed to be standing by myself in a bleak, gray, featureless landscape.” Now
that’s
an opening.)

Most of the time, the first person guarantees that at least the narrating
I
is telling us the truth as he/she sees it. But sometimes, not so.

Real people are unreliable narrators all the time, even if they try to be trustworthy. To my taste, though, that
I
should not lie to me; I get enough of that in real life, thank you.

Of course, that
I
could be a
we
instead—the first-person-plural point of view. This occurs rarely, but can be used effectively, sometimes as a means to increase the concentration on the character or characters the story is about. Example: Fred Pohl’s
Man Plus.
One well-known and convoluted example of a multi-level narrative structure, using various first person voices, is Joseph Conrad’s
Heart of Darkness.
Even within this nested story, we learn that another character, Kurtz, told Marlow a lengthy story. We don’t directly get told anything about its content. So we have an “I” narrator introducing a storyteller as “he” (Marlow), who talks about himself as “I” and introduces another storyteller as “he” (Kurtz), who in turn presumably told his story from the perspective of “I”. It has a double framework: an unidentified “I” (first person singular) narrator relates a boating trip during which another character, Marlow, tells in the first person the story that comprises the majority of the work. Confusing, if you stop to think about it. The genius of Conrad is that you don’t. The story sweeps you along.

Mike Resnick knows all this theory. This collection shows it. For fast dialog that must be in first person, look at “The Gefilte Fish Girl.” For sheer audacity, consult “How I Wrote The New Testament, Ushered In The Renaissance, And Birdied The 17th Hole At Pebble Beach”:

So how was I to know that after all the false Messiahs the Romans nailed up,
he
would turn out to be the real one?

Or dip into the simply titled “Me”:

In the beginning I created the heavens and the Earth.

Well, not really.

He leaves you with a deft comedy that wrenches your head around, though agreeably, in “Here’s Looking At You, Kid”:

“I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

I defy you to not read on, after that. Resnick knows what he’s doing. You don’t need to look into the gearbox, though. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

***

I wrote this because I heard a couple of kids talking about how great it would be to be the Wizard of Oz, and thinking that no job, no matter how interesting or powerful, is ever quite what it’s cracked up to be. Go ask George W. Bush or Barack Obama—or the Wizard of West 34
th
Street.

The Wizard of West 34th Street

I’m sitting at my desk, pretty much minding my own business and wondering how the Knicks will do when they go up against the Celtics in a few hours, when Milt Kaplan starts muttering into his phone about fifteen feet away from me. I try not to pay attention, but he gets louder and louder, and there is a desperate tone in his voice, and it becomes clear that he is being harassed for rent money or a credit card bill or a phone bill or (knowing Milt) probably a combination of all three.

Finally he slams the phone down and stares at the wall. For almost three minutes, which is a long time to stare at anything except a pretty girl. I am afraid he might be getting suicidal, so I figure a funny remark will bring him back to Earth, and I tell him that he can only stare at his half of the wall, if I see his eyes darting to the right I’m going to charge him the standard fee for staring at my half.

He doesn’t crack a smile, but when he speaks his voice is soft and strained.

“I think I’m gonna have to see the Wiz,” he says.

“Of Oz?” I ask with a smile.

He shakes his head and doesn’t return the smile. “Not unless Oz has moved to the West Thirties.”

So now I figure he
has
gone off the deep end, he’s just being quiet about it.

He checks his watch. It’s a quarter to noon.

“What the hell,” he says. “They’re not gonna fire me for taking an early lunch. If he’s in the usual spot, I’ll be back by one. If not, cover for me.”

I don’t want to let him go walking through noontime traffic in this state of mind, so I get to my feet.

“Want a little company?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says. “It’s chilly out, and if there’s a line waiting to see him, it’ll be nice to have someone to talk with.”

We put our coats on, take the elevator down from the 27
th
floor, walk through the lobby, and out the main entrance.

“I hope the import/export business doesn’t grind to a halt because we left a little early,” I say,

“I was arranging for two gross of Bermuda shorts for what we call extra-large women,” he replies. “I think the country can survive an extra hour and a quarter without them.”

We walk south a few blocks, then turn right when we come to 34
th
Street.

“Six or seven cross-city blocks and we’re there,” he announces, heading off.

“We’re
where
?” I ask.

“Where we’re going,” he says.

“Is it a building, or a restaurant, or what?”

“That all depends.”

Now I know he’s crazy, because locations don’t change from one thing to another on a whim. It’s getting chilly, so I figure if I can get him to admit we’re on a wild goose chase, maybe we can stop at a coffee shop, warm up, and go back to work at a quarter to one, before anyone gets too mad at us. So I ask: “
What
does it all depend on?”

“Where he’s at, of course,” says Milt.

“Where
who’s
at?” I ask in exasperation.

“The Wiz,” he explains as if to a child. “Where the hell did you think we were going?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I say, because there is a story circulating around that whenever Milt Kaplan gets lost he can usually be found in Passaic with a blonde named Bernice. He doesn’t seem inclined to expand upon his answer, so finally I ask where we
are
going.

“West 34
th
, of course,” he answers. “Where else
would
we be going?”

“Beats the hell out of me,” I say. I’d shrug, but it’s too damned cold out.

“I mean,” Milt continues, “he
is
the Wizard of West 34
th
Street. Why would I look for him anywhere else?”

“The Wizard of West 34
th
Street?” I repeat. “I never heard of him.”

“He doesn’t advertise.”

“An understatement,” I say.

“My wife hates it when I go to him. She always thinks he’s going to want to be paid with my soul instead of with money.” He snorts. “As if anyone could find the damned thing.” He shakes his head. “I’ve got no choice. We could lose the apartment—and trying to get a place after you’ve been living a dozen years with rent control …” He lets his voice tail off.

“Tell me about this Wizard,” I say. “Does he wear a pointed hat and a robe with all the signs of the Zodiac?”

Milt shakes his head. “He dresses just like anyone else.” He pauses thoughtfully. “Maybe a little worse.” Another pause. “And he usually needs a shave.”

“Goes with having a long white beard,” I suggest.

“Nah,” says Milt. “Usually it’s just stubble. Kind of the way Clint Eastwood used to look in those spaghetti Westerns, only gray.”

“And this is a guy you think is a wizard?”

“I don’t think it, I
know
it,” replies Milt. “We
all
know it.”

“Who all knows it?” I ask.

“All the guys who use him.”

“Sound like he’s got a hell of a sweet racket going,” I say. “I’m surprised the cops haven’t busted him.”

“Why should they?” he shoots back. “There’s never been a complaint against him. Hell, sometimes the cops use him too.”

“I’ve got to see this wonder worker,” I say.

“You will,” he promises as we cross Sixth Avenue. “He’s usually somewhere between Eighth and Tenth.”

“He must be freezing his ass off.”

Milt chuckles. “We’ll find him in a bar, or perhaps a sandwich shop, either on 34
th
itself or maybe two or three buildings north or south on one of the cross streets. He doesn’t like being outside except in the summer.”

So we walk, and I try to guess which brownstone Rex Stout pretended that Nero Wolfe lived in, and we peek into the windows of a couple of bars, but Milt shakes his head after a moment and we keep on, and finally come to a deli.

“Yeah, there he is,” says Milt without much enthusiasm. “Damn, I hate this!”

“So let’s turn around and go back to the office,” I say.

“I can’t,” he responds unhappily. “I need the money.”

“What is he really?” I ask. “Some kind of loan shark?”

He shakes his head again. “You coming in with me?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I say, falling into step behind him as he enters the place. We make a beeline for a table where this middle-aged guy is sitting. His clothes clearly came off the bargain rack to begin with, and have all seen better days and better years, and the shoes have probably seen better decades. He’s got a bowtie beneath his unbuttoned collar, but it’s just hanging down, and I get the feeling that the next time he ties it into a bow will be the first time. There’s a patch on his jacket’s elbow, and he could use a haircut or, failing that, at least a comb.

“Ah, Milton!” he says, looking up from his meal, which seems to consist entirely of chopped liver and rye bread, plus a couple of cheese blintzes. “How nice to see you again! Sit down. Have a knosh.”

“‘Have a knosh?’” I repeat. “What kind of language is that for a wizard?”

He stares at me. “How many wizards do you talk to on a daily basis?” he asks at last.

“This is my friend Jacob,” says Milt hastily. “Can he join us?”

“Got no room at this table for Jacobs,” says the Wizard. He turns to me. “You want to sit at an informal table like this, you got to be Jake.”

“Okay, I’m Jake,” I say, sitting down.

“You look like you are,” he says. I frown, trying to figure out what the hell he’s talking about. “Forget it,” he adds. “It’s an old expression I found lying on the floor.”

“Have
you
got a name?” I ask.

“You couldn’t pronounce it,” he replies. “Just call me Wiz.”

The waiter comes up and hands the Wiz a folded note. He opens it, reads it, and shakes his head. “It’s gonna rain Tuesday morning, and this horse can’t stand up in the mud, let alone run six furlongs on it. Tell him No.”

“I heard the forecast just before I left the house this morning,” I say. “It calls for clear weather all week.”

“Amazing how these guys can stay in business when they’re wrong so often,” comments the Wiz, pouring some cinnamon sugar on his blintzes. “So, my friend Milton, what can I do for you today?”

“I’ve got a bit of a cash flow problem,” says Milt.

The Wiz closes his eyes for a few seconds, and he frowns like he’s concentrating on something. “You don’t have to sugar-coat it, Milton, not with
me
. You’re in deep shit.”

Milt nods uncomfortably.

“Could be worse,” says the Wiz. “You could live in some town where you needed a car, because if you did they’d sure as hell have repossessed it if you’d waited this long to see me.”

“I kept waiting for the market to turn,” answers Milt miserably. “My broker kept saying it would happen any day.”

The Wiz makes a face.
“Brokers!”
he snorts contemptuously. “They’re almost as bad as weathermen.” He pauses and stares at Milt. “How much do you need?”

“Don’t you know?” asks Milt, surprised.

“My mistake,” amends the Wiz. “How much do you
want
? We both know how much you need.”

“Twelve, thirteen grand?” says Milt, though it comes out more as a question.

“How soon?”

“By Friday.”

“Too bad,” says the Wiz. “There’s a really nice filly who’ll be running for a big price on Saturday.” I must have made a face, because he turns to me. “You don’t think she’ll win?”

“I don’t even know who the hell she is,” I say. “But somehow I thought a wizard was more than a racetrack tout.”

“I’m not a racetrack tout,” he replies. “I haven’t been to Belmont or Aqueduct in years.”

“You know what I mean,” I say.

“Yes, and I want you to remember that I didn’t take offense at it.” He turns to Milt. “Give me a pen.” Milt supplies one, and he begins scribbling on a paper napkin. “You still have a little over seventeen hundred dollars in your bank account. Take it out—”

“All of it?” interrupts Milt, his voice shaking a little.

“Take it out,” repeats the Wiz firmly. “Give it to your broker, and tell him to go to the commodities market and invest it all on what I just wrote down.” He looks up at Milt. “Now, this is important, Milton, so pay attention. He has to buy between noon and 1:00 PM on Wednesday, and he has to sell it between 10:00 and 11:00 AM on Friday morning. If one or the other of you fucks up either end of it, don’t come running to me.”

“And that’ll give me thirteen grand?” asks Milt.

“After my fee,” says the Wiz.

“Oh, of course,” agrees Milt promptly. “Thank you, Wiz.”

The Wiz shrugs. “It’s my job.”

“Your job?” I say. “Who do you work for?”

“I’m a freelancer.”

“Are there any other wizards in Manhattan?” I ask.

“Not to my knowledge.” A brief pause. “I sure as hell hope not.”

“Don’t want any competition, eh?” I say with a smile.

He stares at me with suddenly sad eyes that have seen too many things. “If you say so, Jake,” he says at last.

Milt gets to his feet. “I owe you big time, Wiz,” he says.

“I’ll collect, never fear,” the Wiz assures him. He sighs, suddenly deflated. “I always collect.” It sounds like anything but a brag.

“You won’t be offended if I leave?” continues Milt. “I want to get by the bank before I go back to the office.”

“Not a problem,” says the Wiz. He nods toward a woman who is wearing a dress that just doesn’t belong in a cheap deli, along with furs and diamonds that would be ostentatious even fifty blocks north of where we are. “I have someone else waiting to see me.”

“Nice meeting you,” I say, getting up and trying not to sound too insincere.

“May I offer you a suggestion, Jake?” he says, and then adds: “Freely given.”

“Sure, why not?” I say in bored tones, waiting for him to tell me what horse or boxer to put some money on.

“I have a feeling that you were planning on having dinner at Rosario’s tonight.”

“Now, how the hell did you know that?” I ask, surprised.

“Just a guess.”

“Damned good guess,” I admit. I turn to follow Milt to the door.

“My suggestion?” he says, and I stop and turn back to him.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t eat there this evening,” says the Wiz.

Before I can answer, he signals the bejeweled lady to come to the table, and I join Milt in the street.

I don’t go to Rosario’s Ristorante that night. I don’t know why. Maybe I just have a taste for Greek food instead. I really don’t think what the Wiz said has anything to do with it.

But the next morning, as I am getting dressed, I hear on the news that Rosario’s has burned down to the ground, and that six diners have died in the blaze.

* * *

I am back at the deli at noon, but he’s not there. I walk up and down 34
th
Street, peeking in windows, and I finally see him in a bar that looks even grubbier than the deli. He is sitting in a booth, smoking a bent cigarette and talking to someone who looks like a male version of the lady in the furs and diamonds. I don’t want to interrupt him, but I am damned if I’m going to just turn around and go back to the office, so I enter the place and sit down on a bar stool in the corner, right below photos of Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Willis Reed, Secretariat, and Tuffy Bresheen, a lady Roller Derby star from before I was born.

I nurse a beer for about ten minutes. Then the well-dressed guy gets up and leaves, but before I can even climb off my stool a tiny man—in the dim lighting I can’t tell if he’s a dwarf or a midget—climbs onto the booth opposite the Wiz, asks a single question, looks damned pleased with the answer, and walks right back out.

“Ah, it’s the Real Jake,” says the Wiz. “I appreciate your patience. Come join me. Bring your beer.”

I walk over and sit down, placing my beer on the stained tabletop.

“What can I do for you, Jake?” he asks.

“How the hell did you know Rosario’s would burn down?” I demand.

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