Author Archives: Tim Chapman

Litbop #3 Baby!

We had a standing-room-only turnout at the launch party for the third issue of Litbop. Sold some copies and sold books by Libby Hellmann, Tracey Phillips, Kathleen Rooney, and yours truly. Thanks to The Book Cellar for hosting!

My Audiobook Experiment

Both my in-print novels, “A Trace of Gold” and “The Blue Silence,” are now available as audiobooks. I’m participating in Apple’s AI audiobook experiment. Yeah, I know. Believe me; if I could afford to hire a narrator, I would. FYI—I can’t. I’ve listened to the first few chapters of both books, and here’s what I can say: 1. The timbre of the digital voice is nice and fits with the tone of the novels. 2. There’s not a lot of inflection, and what there is sometimes misses the mark. For example, a question mark at the end of a sentence always elicits a rising tone that occasionally sounds silly. 3. The cadence is too even. Pause for effect is often missing. 4. Similarly, volume is too even. The reading lacks dynamics. In other words, I’d never be fooled into believing it was a human narrator. However, I don’t hate it. That doesn’t mean a whole lot considering I’ve read the novels many times in the course of writing them, and (don’t hate me for saying this) I like my own writing. It still excites me to see it in print or hear it being read. Since it’s Apple, the novels can only be listened to on an Apple device—iPhone, iPad, MacBook, etc. I’ve priced them reasonably, so if you don’t mind a robot telling you how forensic scientist Sean McKinney solves a crime and rescues the people he loves from various malefactors, get the Applebooks app and give them a listen.

The Gentle Grift

Twelve years ago the Chicago Reader (backwards R) printed one of my stories in their fiction issue. It’s one of the stories I started developing during a class with Tara Ison at Northwestern and finished several years later. Tara, by the way, has a great story in the latest issue of Litbop. litbop.com I love writing short stories, but I no longer spend that much time on them. Either I’ve improved or I’ve gotten lazy. Maybe both. Anyway, I like this story, so here it is. https://chicagoreader.com/arts-culture/fiction-issue-2012-the-gentle-grift/

Rudolph and Me 2023

I was stretched out on the couch, watching my favorite Christmas movie (Come out to the coast. We’ll get together, have a few laughs.) and feeling sorry for myself, when Ellen shouted from the kitchen, “Your friend’s here. He’s in the backyard eating the last leaves off my redbud tree. There’s lettuce and, I think, a few apples in the crisper drawer.”
I pulled on my shoes, filled a big mixing bowl with greens, and went out to greet him. He was munching on a leaf and had a Jamaican knit tam pulled down over one antler. He finished chewing and grinned. “Ai king. Everyting kriss?”
“I take it you vacationed in Jamaica this year.”
“Yep. And it was great. I got to walk on beautiful white sand beaches unmolested by gawking humans. When I did go into town, I met a bunch of very chill people. We partied a little. Had a little smoke. They were vegetarians, so they always had good food.” He shook his antlers. “They gave me this hat.”
I set the bowl down on the patio table and pulled up a chair.
“It’s good to see you,” I said. “Are you going to make the run this year? Last year, you were convinced we humans are a pretty miserable species and not worth the effort.”
“Do you watch the news? Yeah, you humans are terrible, but I made the run last year, and I’m on my way to do it again. It’s not the children’s fault.”
The sun was shining, but the air was cold enough for me to see my breath. I excused myself and went in to get a coat and hat. Ellen was waiting for me in the kitchen.
“I made you guys some eggnog,” she said and handed me a pitcher, a glass, and a shallow bowl.
“Is there anything in it? I was going to grab a bottle of wine.”
“Two kinds of brandy and some rum. Think that’ll hold you?”
She tucked a bottle of nutmeg into my coat pocket and pushed me out the door. I fixed our drinks and settled back on the chair. Rudolph lapped up half his bowl, then bent his head down to nudge my shoulder with his muzzle.
“You don’t look so good,” he said. “You feeling all right?”
“Just having a rough day.”
He sniffed the air, lightly, then stuck his nose on my neck and took a deeper breath.
“Bullshit, bro. I can smell the sickness on you. What’s going on?”
I sighed. “I haven’t talked about it much. But I’ve spent the past year doing immunotherapy to try and get some cancer under control.”
His eyes got big, and the lines on his forehead deepened. Reindeer may not have an extensive range of expressions, but he definitely looked concerned.
“I’m sorry, man. Tell me about it.”
“Melanoma. I had surgery to remove the lump and a lymph node in my neck before Christmas last year. Since then, I’ve gone to the hospital every six weeks for infusions of a drug called pembrolizumab. It’s an antibody that’s supposed to help my immune system find and kill cancer cells. The drug has some pretty heavy side effects. Not as bad as regular chemo, but I’m always fatigued, my body’s covered with an itchy rash, and my intestines are a wreck. Every day, I have to spend hours on the crapper.”
I drained my glass and poured us both a refill.
“But hey, I recently had my first annual, full-body PETscan, and it came back clean. I’m in remission. Cancer no mo. I’m just tired of being so tired all the time.“ I smiled. “But I’m happy to see you. I don’t know if I’ve told you, but your visits mean a lot to me.”
“They mean a lot to me too. I wish I’d known about your cancer sooner. I would have stopped in before going to Jamaica. You got a lot of support from family and friends though, right?”
“I did. Ellen’s been great. Some family and friends have been more supportive than others, but that’s to be expected. And I didn’t exactly advertise it. I didn’t mention it on social media until I went into remission.”
I pulled my hat down over my ears and sipped my eggnog. Rudolph munched on his greens, but he kept looking at me over the bowl, like he expected me to say something else.
“What?” I asked.
“You sound a little resentful. No one can read your mind. If you want people to reach out, you have to let them know what’s going on.”
“I know. And I really didn’t want sympathy or attention. There seems to be an embrace of victimhood in society lately. People are scoring ‘likes’ for being part of a stigmatized group or experiencing a traumatic event. I’m trying to be a little more stoic. Like Epictetus said, ‘Amor fati.’ Love your fate. This year has been a learning experience. I’m trying to appreciate it.”
“You sound a little judgmental. Didn’t the Stoics also say to be hard on yourself but easy on others? Maybe the people ‘scoring likes’ just don’t want to feel alone. Maybe that’s part of what you’re feeling, too.”
“Maybe. How do you know about Stoic philosophy?”
“What? Because I’m not a human, I’m not educated? I learned to read in reindeer school. I’ve been to every country on the planet. I speak twelve different human languages and twenty-seven animal languages, including some bird languages, which are particularly difficult because they have two larynx. I—“
“Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”
He shook his head. “Humans. You know, you’re not as smart as you think you are.”
“Agreed. So, reindeer school, eh? Is that where the famous ‘reindeer games’ in the song comes from?”
“No. I don’t think most humans know what the games are. The song doesn’t explain it. The reindeer games are primarily designed to establish a hierarchy among the bucks. The does basically run things. They stick together, partying, taking care of the fawns, and making the rules for us bucks. That’s why Clarice doesn’t come along on my yearly getaways. She’s hanging with her BFFs. Anyway, the games are mostly a lot of posturing and head butting. It’s fun, but it’s mostly for the young bucks. Funny, but now that they want me to join in, I don’t feel the need to.”
“Reindeer society sounds a lot like Barbieland. Did you see the Barbie movie?”
He snorted. “Oh yeah. I have no trouble getting into movie theaters. No. I didn’t see it, but I’ve heard about it. Girl dolls vs bro culture, and one of them decides it’s worth all the mess and trouble to turn into a human.”
“Sort of. It’s a more complex story than that, but, yeah, you’ve got the gist.”
“I also heard that a lot of people hated it.”
“I saw it twice and loved it. Sure, it makes fun of bro culture, but it was hilarious. Hell, if you can’t laugh at yourself—”
I stopped and took a long pull on my drink. Ellen had, indeed, spiked the nog, and I was feeling it. Rudolph was looking at me with, what I assume is, the reindeer equivalent of a grin.
“What now?”
“You’re a little drunk, aren’t you bro.”
“Maybe,” I said. “You?”
“A little.”
“I just had a thought. A couple of friends I told about my cancer never once called or texted to ask how I was doing, but you know who reached out pretty often? My bros. Guys I get together with to talk about martial arts, and movies, and politics.” I laughed and took another slug of the nog. “And we butt heads and posture just like you bucks. Bro culture may be silly and insular, but I guess it’s the way men show they care about one another.”
Rudolph nodded toward his empty bowl, and I poured us each a little more.
“I had a thought, too,” he said. “You mentioned your affinity for Stoic philosophy. What about ‘memento mori?’”
“Remember death?”
“Yep. Cancer is a good teacher. Carry death on your shoulder, and it’ll help you appreciate the life you have left.” He looked up at the darkening sky. “Speaking of death, I probably ought to get a move on. We need to practice maneuvers if we’re going to fly through the war zones.”
I sat up straight, suddenly sober. I shivered, but not from the cold.
“You’re not going to Ukraine are you? Israel? Gaza?”
“And Yemen, Congo, the Sahel—thousands—tens of thousands of children have been killed or maimed this year. Stupid humans with your stupid fucking ridiculous wars!” He spat and pawed the ground, cracking a patio block with his hoof. “Anyway, Santa figures the surviving kids could use a little something. I wish we could deliver hope instead of toys, but—” He lowered his head and mumbled, “Don’t worry about me. We’ll shrink down. Fly under the radar. Magic dust, you know. We’ve been doing it for years.”
He shook his antlers and the Jamaican tam flipped off and landed in my lap.
“Hang on to this for me. I’ll come back for it next year.”
I stood up and wrapped my arms around his neck. He pulled me close with his muzzle. The glow from his nose washed over us and brightened our little corner of the yard. We stood like that for a minute, and then he pulled back and looked at me with his big reindeer eyes.
“I’ve gotta get going. Tell Ellen I said thanks for the snack. Remember, memento mori.”
“Be careful, brother,” I said. “Fly safe.”
I stood back to give him a little takeoff room. He took a short run and leapt into the air, easily sailing over the hedge. He made one circle over the alley and swooped low so I could hear his parting shout. This time, it sounded angry. Like he was talking to all the child killers around the world when he roared, “Yippee ki-yay, motherfuckers!”

A Thanksgiving Fish Story

In a time long ago and far away, my father, Walter Chapman, contracted ALS. It devastated him. And my mother. The progression was fairly long, and it took him several years to die. During the height of his debilitation, my dear friend Dave Hosteland and I took Dad fishing. We didn’t catch anything, but we had a great trip—special, in different ways, to all three of us. After my father’s death, I wrote a piece of fiction to help me process the experience. The events are all true, but I invented the characters in order to add a little humor and atmosphere. Thinking today about events in my life for which I’m grateful, this popped into my mind. As the Stoics says, “amor fati.” Here’s the story— https://hekint.org/2017/03/04/fish-story/

Listen Up!

This bit originally appeared in the Blackbird Writers blog. The birds are a group of fiction fashioners whose books run the gamut from sweet to thrilling. Check ’em out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about dialog lately. The project I’m working on is very dialog heavy, and as I write, I’m saying the lines in my head with, what I imagine are, the accents and inflections the characters would use. Sometimes while writing, I’ll go back a few pages and read the dialog aloud. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that readers will hear the dialog the way I do, but it helps me hear when something’s off. My wife is used to hearing me read aloud, but our dog, Hendrix, still looks up to see if a treat or toy is involved. When none is forthcoming, he stalks off in disgust.

Vocalizing dialog always makes me think of audiobooks. Over the past three years, the audiobook market has exploded. Lots of folks are too busy to read, and listening to books and podcasts in the car or at the gym is a great way to multitask. You just have to be careful not to drive into a building or drop a weight on your foot. But with an audiobook, the text is only part of the experience. Having the right narrator is almost as important. A flat read (like an AI-generated voice) can kill a story, and an over-the-top read will make even the most serious passages sound silly and cartoonish. Two of my favorite narrators for detective/crime fiction are Peter Francis James and Scott Brick. Both actors are able to portray a story’s characters with subtle depth. My short story collection is the only one of my books currently available as an audiobook. I can’t recommend it. I did half of the narration myself, and believe me, I ain’t a good narrator.

Another thing that can kill a story is the misuse, or overuse, of colloquialisms. This is particularly evident when authors who are unfamiliar with a culture saturate dialog with phrases they think will sound authentic. Rather than verisimilitude, the result is a story that sounds phony. This is particularly evident when the words are being read aloud, y’all.

Back when I was teaching writing classes at Malcolm X College, I would occasionally assign an eavesdropping exercise. We’d all take our pads and pens to the cafeteria and sit near a table of students who were engaged in lunchtime conversations. I would explain the fine art of being sneaky beforehand, so we were only caught eavesdropping a couple of times. What we came away with was always fascinating. And frightening. I learned some new swear words, which surprised me because I’m not exactly an amateur in the field.

Book cover. Kiddieland and Other Misfortunes by Tim Chapman. Distressed merry go round horse.

The first thing you realize when trying to translate eavesdropped dialog into fictional dialog is that there’s a lot of extraneous verbiage to cut—er, um, etc., along with the boring bits, like greetings, that precede an actual exchange of ideas and information. One of my favorite overheard conversations went something like this—

Man 1: “I thought it would be a fun trip, but no. Nuh uh. Not.”

Man 2: “What happened?”

Man 1: “A lot of nothing. I thought it would be romantic to walk together on the beach. You know, holding hands and stuff.”

Man 2: “So?”

Man 1: “She’s afraid of birds. I had to stay ten feet ahead of her, shooing the birds away as we walked.”

Man 2: Shakes head.

Some day I’ll use this in a story. It’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

If you’re ever looking for dialog to attribute to a character who’s despicable, morally bankrupt, and cruel, look no further than social media. Not the posts. Scroll down to the comments. Intellectually small people with low self-esteem and poor reasoning skills populate the comments section, and they delight in the opportunity to be cruel from the safety of their keyboards. These “discussions” are a treasure trove for writers. Don’t linger there too long though, or you may come to the opinion that we should embrace global climate change as the earth’s way to cleanse itself of the pestilence of humanity. My wife can usually tell when I’ve spent too much time down the rabbit hole. Then she’ll repeat the lines of dialog I’ve come to cherish: “Put your phone down and get the dog’s leash and a tennis ball. We’re going to the park.”