Soft Launch

Let me tell you a brief true story. In the fall of 2016, I had a story accepted by a long-running publication called AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. This was within a fortnight of “The Third Act” being taken up by Trigger Warning, so as you can imagine I was absolutely overwhelmed by a sense of artistic achievement.

But the world does not like too much joy in it. Thus, some grudge-bearing (I assume) terrestrial tetrapod did the hacking equivalent of putting a shotgun to the back  of the head of AE‘s online facility. The site went down so soon after I sent back the edits that I thought I might have been to blame for it, and they weren’t able to even explain to the world what happened for weeks. That explanation was the beginning of a very long road to getting back online.

The return has been accomplished– a soft launch, at the moment, which I assume means “Sound the trumpets! Release the doves!” major official re-launch is in the near future… but I can’t wait for that because I’ve been waiting almost two years to say aloud that I have had a story published by AE!

As I did with my last external publication, I’m going to put a link in the sidebar for… a while… to make sure it’s accessible. I will also, as with the Pseudopod announcement last spring, express how amazed I am to find myself one of such a company of writers. There’s some very good writing there, and I urge anyone who goes there from here to linger, to wander through the stacks, and examine some of the other work, because your time will be rewarded with enrichment.

For my part, I’m going to have a long lie-down. All this jumping up and down, squealing with unalloyed glee, is rather tiring.

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A Moment of Social Commentary

As many people do, I was looking at Twitter today, and I saw several people gaping in wonder at this article (in the virtual way one gapes on Twitter):

Screen Shot: I'M A CONSERVATIVE, AND I WENT TO AN ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ RALLY But then Ocasio-Cortez spoke... and I saw something truly terrifying. I saw how easy it would be... to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage. I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education. I saw how easy it would be... to accept the idea that a "living wage" was a human right. Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government's job to make sure that those things were provided.
I decline to link to the original article, because it’s in a horrid far-right screed to which I don’t wish to have any connections, however tenuous. Google if you’re curious.

I join in the gaping. Leaving aside the fact that I do actually accept these premises she’s troubled by, I’m trying to picture the sort of person who looks at their own children and says, “You’re going to have to earn your healthcare and education,” because in their mind this is the underpinning axiom of their nation’s origin.

Which in turn suggests that their nation was founded on the premise that the only good is the war of all against all, that the proverbial crab-bucket of continual mutually-opposed striving is a good place to live (rather than a kind of living hell), and that at best any interactions between humans, regardless of relationship, are transactions in which all parties are clutching for maximum advantage with piratical avidity.

I am very glad to not be living in that nation, but I have a little vignette of life there to share with you.  It came to me almost the moment I read that squib above.

Follow me in imagination now, to the end of a day in early winter, or perhaps late fall– a day which might be called a holiday, by those whose jobs are so bafflingly open-handed as to allow days off, one on which the roasting of a turkey is part of the traditional observance. The house into which we observers seep is following that tradition. Let us extend our senses so far as to enjoy the aroma of the bird, basted to perfection, as it rests on the carving board beside the oven.

There, standing guard by the bird, is dear old Dad. He holds the carving knife in one hand, and the other sits lightly on the warm breast of the turkey, as if without his intervention it might bound up and fly away. His eyes never rest: they track from Mom’s final preparation of the gravy to the dining room door, through which the kids’ moans of hunger can be heard, and back.

Mom, finished, pours the gravy into its silver boat. She glances at Dad, but he notices and tenses, ready for whatever she might try. She simply sets the gravy on the tray with the potatoes and stuffing, and carries it all into the dining room.  There, she stands against the wall, tray held up where the kids cannot reach, visible from the kitchen.  Dad, after contemplating the situation for a moment, nods.  He picks up the carving board and carries it in.  He does not notice when Mom surreptitiously sucks a mouthful out of the gravy.

The kids sit first, across from each other at the foot of the table.  Junior is on the left, because he is able so shove Sis away from the chair; he is older and slightly larger. Sis sits beside Mom on the right. She is very young, and sometimes the looks she bestows upon Mom, a desperate pleading in her great hollow eyes at each and every meal, are such that Mom almost gives in to the strange urge to give her child unearned food. Almost.

Mom has a strong faith. She is involved, and she is certain of her nation’s founding and history.

Dad sits last.  There is no setting in his place, and the turkey goes down right in front of him, out of easy reach of the others, well within the arc he can sweep with the carving knife– the scars on Mom’s and Junior’s arms attest to that.

There are two plates in front of Mom, the bottom one pink, the upper one blue, because in this family we are mindful of there being exactly two genders. Dad looks at the blue plate and says through clenched teeth, “May I have some potatoes, please?”

The bowls are perilously close to Junior, but the swollen knuckle he will have for the rest of his life reminds him how fast and hard Mom’s serving spoon can move.  He merely sits, watching, as she takes a single scoop of potatoes from the bowl– her bowl, brought into the marriage and her domain– and puts it on Dad’s plate.  He asks for stuffing and gravy as well, and as he does so, he moves the knife suggestively on the bird’s breast, away from the wing, toward the keel. At last, Mom pushes his plate over, keeping her hand on her side lest he think she is trying to get unearned meat.

Satisfied with the transaction, and mindful that she has contributed labour to the feast, Dad cuts a thick slice of breast. He reaches across, the meat impaled on the end of the knife, to drop it on Mom’s plate. A tear tracks its way down Sis’s pale cheek.

Now the kids have a chance, through recitation of chores completed, to prove they have earned some of the turkey.  Dad is generally unimpressed; the things these kids do are so simple, requiring neither skill nor strength.  In the end, he flips a wing toward Junior.  Sis gets a postcard of skin; not only does she do so much less than her older brother, but she has terrible diction. This is common among children under five, but Dad sees no reason to make exceptions to The Rules on that basis.

Mom also gives the kids some of the food in her keeping.  Dad sneers at how she coddles them– almost a whole scoop of potatoes split between them, and a brimming tablespoon of gravy a piece.

They say their prayers, because saying prayers is an important element of life in their nation. The words are all familiar, but the sentences convey no meaning to any member of the family.

Right hand still clutching the knife, Dad thrusts the fingers of his left hand into the uncut breast of the turkey which he bought using his money, tearing away a fat handful of the juicy fowl.  He never takes his eyes off the others as he crams the meat into his mouth. They never take their eyes off him as they begin to eat, except to dart a wary glance at the others.

Eventually, Dad is sated.  Let’s follow him as he pushes away from the table, taking the largely denuded carcase away with him. He has a padlocked fridge in his study, where he can save the leftovers.  He smiles at the sounds of covert struggle behind him.  The kids don’t fear the fork Mom holds as much as they do his knife, and they’ll make out just fine from the scraps on the floor.  Mom, of course, will claim whatever gobbets still lie on the table-top, as is her due.

All in all, it’s a feast that honours what they all understand is the founding precept of their nation:

I GOT MINE, JACK.

 

 

 

This is NOT an Anniversary Present

Today is my wedding anniversary (my wife’s as well, by happy coincidence!). It is purest chance that I’m putting forth a story today.  Especially one that takes the theme of vengeance as its seed-crystal, once again at the suggestion of this guy who writes somewhat more than I do.

No, the anniversary present involves going out to a nice sushi restaurant, son in tow, and eating until we’ve all got That Innsmouth Look. This because we like sushi, we don’t have use for any more china (which is what “tradition” has as appropriate for this year) and watching my son eat “exotic” food gives me strange joy. But while we’re off doing that, there’s no reason that people who aren’t us can’t enjoy a short story about revenge, which is precisely what Dig Two Graves is about.

A small semi-spoiler of a note to go with it, which I will go down a couple of lines to reveal:

 

Almost…

 

OK. Here it is:

 

I am not specific about the offense at the bottom of the vendetta. I was intending to be less so, to the point that I chose the name “Felix” as being reasonably close in meaning to “Fortunato” without actually lifting from Poe. That I then give a sense that there is some actual reason behind the plot beyond a possibly-imaginary “thousand injuries” is probably a tacit admission that I’m perhaps not quite as good at this writing wheeze as was Poe… but you may also ponder just how culpable Felix is

It’s in the Trees!

That’s a line from Night of the Demon, the excellent 1957 film adaptation of M.R. James’s “Casting the Runes” and I seriously recommend giving an evening over to watching it.

But that has nothing to do with this post.  I ran into something on Twitter that gave me a spasm of creativity, and I thought I might as well preserve it here, for my own future amusement at least. First of all, here’s the triggering image:

Twitter screen capture: Unusual 65ft-tall beech tree found in the Balkan mountains (photo: Deyan Kossev) over a photo of a tree which has somehow come to look like human with arms upraised.

And here’s what fell out of my head:

Twitter screen capture: The mad old woman had gold, as they had said. It jingled in his pouch as be ran from her cabin. When he got back to town, he would buy all the lads at the tavern a drink. He would embellish the story, of course. Something about a vast guardian demon...

Twitter screen capture: Suddenly, she was in front of him. Too surprised to shove her aside, he threw his arms up to hold his balance as he skidded to a stop. They stayed up. He felt the blood going cold and thin inside him, felt the inverse of pain as roots drove down out of his feet.

Twitter screen capture: She looked into his remaining eye, sinking into its socket of wood. "The theft," she said, "I might have forgiven; there is always more gold. But to do that to a harmless old cat... for that, you may stand there and lament your fate until the woodsmen come for you."

Twitter screen capture: For long ages, he felt insects and birds at work on his flesh. As he grew to join their canopy, he learned the language of the trees; they insulted him daily. Once, a person stopped in front of him and took a picture. He could not call out the them, his mouth long grown over.

Exploring the Shallows of Space

I’m pursuing another of the fiction prompts thrown out by Chuck Wendig, and for purposes of editorial comment, I’ll quote some if his entry here:

It’s May the Fourth, c’mon.

So obviously the only choice of what to write is:

SPACE OPERA

SPACE OPERA

SPAAAAAACE

OPERAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaa

So, get on that. Whatever it means, it means.

Length: ~1500 words

Which is neat… but there’s also a small contradiction.  Space opera, after all, is big. Huge, sweeping works, filling thick books… and frequently more than one.

This is very hard to manage with 1500 words or less.

So, I’m not entirely convinced that Seeds of Empire qualifies.  I’m also trying hard to convince myself that it’s not just a prologue for something that does.

Because I’ve got enough backlog in the Stuff I Want to Write folder without adding in a proper Space Opera.  You hear me, brain? You drop that notion right now!

Oh, Me of Little Faith

Yesterday, I was concerned for having gotten people all stirred up about my upcoming story at Pseudopod, as there was apparently a delay.

It turns out the delay could have been, from the time of my posting, measured in minutes without being inconvenient to the measurer.

This morning, then, I sit in a state of radiant giddiness, having just listened to Free Balloons for All Good Children read by a rather good narrator, Rish Outfield.  Not only that, host Alasdair Stuart said some things in the following notes which brought such a state of happiness to me that I can hardly breathe at the mere memory of them.  The words “Lovecraft with all his ridiculous toxic nonsense stripped away” said in conjunction with something I’m responsible for…

Sorry.  Had to go lie down for a moment. I suspect this state I’m in, feet well clear of the floor, will persist for some time.

This also brings about a rather unusual state of affairs in the sidebar; two Current Stories.  I don’t think this will persist beyond the time that “Free Balloons for All Good Children” is the top of Pseudopod’s roll, because even as swollen as it currently is, my ego is still governable.  But, for now, my Current Story is a two-headed freak.

And I love it, in all it’s alien wrongness.

Small Consolation

Well… it appears that I should have reserved the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT until Pseudopod updated.  The schedule I was shown does, after all, have the word “tentative” in it.  Even if it did agree very well with the past couple of months’ worth of released up to Episode 590, I accept that stuff beyond human intervention will throw itself in the way.

So, we wait until the events predicted in BA come to pass.  It’s a delay, not (so far as I know, he said with a cringe and a glance toward a comforting contract) a cancellation.  In the meantime, here’s a little flash fiction I ran up, once again at the prompting of a famous profession writer guy— the theme is heroism’s consequences, and the story is The Savior.

I place it under speculative fiction because the setting is, purposefully, obscure, all the way down to which end of the political spectrum is involved.

I Promise You, It’s True

All right, it’s time for that BIG ANNOUNCEMENT, so I hope you’re all either sitting comfortably or have a firm grip on your hat and/or wig.  I should also suggest monocles be safely stowed elsewhere for a moment.

One week from today, a story of mine called “Free Balloons for All Good Children” will be released by Pseudopod.

…which is amazing to me.  Not only is it a sale at professional pay rates, which means I can start pretending to be a professional author… in fact, “not only” is too strong, because sweet jumping catfish, have you seen the sort of company this thrusts me into?  Honestly, use that link and flip through the amazing bunch of talented folks they’ve presented over the years.  I can feel myself glowing from the mere inclusion on such a list.  The money is nice, but it’s very much secondary.  Imposter Syndrome is in what I hope will be a long period of remission.

What you won’t find there, currently, is any mention of my story, yet. So why am I announcing it now?  Because I want to make sure everyone has time to get their Eyetunes or other etheric transmission interceptors set to the correct co-ordinates to listen in. Also, there’s more than a decade of other stories that you might want to hear or read as well, if you’ve somehow been missing out on the dark splendour of it all.  So turn your selectors to Pseudopod, and stand by for emanation!

Fallout of Friday the 13th

This is not the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT I said would be coming this week.  It is still coming.  Never fear.

This is an announcement of merely average dimensions, to let you know that a new story has been added to the heap here.  Lucky Day is an outcome of yet another of the Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Friday challenges, and since it fell on the 13th last week, the challenge was something to do with luck.

Luck was with me, and I finished briskly, so there will be the two announcements this week.  Hopefully, you will feel that this is also a stroke of luck (“Oh, boy!  Extra words, and all of them free!).

The challenge was not concerned with what flavour of luck was involved.  I decided, because the world needs more of it, to go with good luck.  Of course, me being me, there’s a particular slant to the interpretation of “good luck.”

Outright Theft

Something that troubled me in my tender years, when idea of writing as something I might do first surfaced, can be articulated thus: All the good titles have been used. Back then, I thought that the title was sacrosanct, and since H.G. Wells had used The Star then neither I nor any other person could title a story with those two words.

I then went back to pushing a small plastic Luke Skywalker around the floor in a Kenner-made Landspeeder while enjoying Saturday morning cartoons.  My view of the world was a little naive for a very good reason.

I now know that this is not the case, and that the same title can grace diverse works of literature, and even films!  Still, childhood notions are sticky, so I sometimes baulk at a title that I know hangs on something else.  I’m hoping the latest flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig has burnt some of that idea out of me, because he’s instructed people to take a title from a Stephen King novel– just grab it and use it!

And so I have.  My little tiny Bag of Bones has nothing whatever to do with King’s fat bundle of words, bar the fact that it has the same three words stuck to the front.  I’ve slightly exceeded the word limit for flash, but since I’m on very good terms with the editor here, I’m not getting in trouble for it.

And while I’m here, I’m going to tease– stand by for a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT next week!  I’m so giddy about it I could burst, but I’m also quite good at keeping secrets.  See you then, I hope.

…ALSO also, I’ll also point out the newly-minted donation button, for those who incline that way, in the left side-bar, which looks rather like this one:
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