Friday, December 19, 2008

IGMS presents: "The Absence of Stars" by Greg Siewert


Notes on “The Absence of Stars”

I’m not sure if I remember having the initial idea for “The Absence of Stars.” I definitely remember being fascinated by Stephen Hawking’s notion of microscopic black holes and the idea that a black hole is a function of the density of matter, not its total mass. I was also interested in black holes because although they have properties that border on the fringes of known physics, they can also be viewed as simple, massive objects and therefore, they can move around and orbit just like any other planet or asteroid.

As a relatively new writer, I’ve been doing my own versions of some familiar sub-genres. I’ve got a “demon escapes from hell” story, a “futuristic war-scape” story, and “The Absence of Stars” was my version of the well-tread “big thing is heading toward the earth” story. I have a laymen’s interest in relativistic physics and this novelette allowed me to air out some of my pet opinions and theories (yeah, they’re probably wrong—I’m a winemaker). It also allowed me to create a version of this scenario without some of the irritating clichés that I always see presented in films. You know that part of the movie where humanity has to struggle with the weighty decision of who should be evacuated to create a new society and who should remain on Earth? I don’t know why, but I find that really irritating. I took great joy in sidestepping the issue completely.

Another thing that bothers me in such movies is how unrealistic the technology always is. The government always has seems to have some secret rocket program that nobody knew about. Although my story is set in the future, it’s meant to exist in roughly the present day from a technology standpoint. As a fan of the US space program in general, and the International Space Station in particular, I was really excited to set a story on the ISS. I think the station became a character of its own. Speaking of characters, it was also very satisfying to craft the personalities of the astronauts as serious-minded scientists, and not the cartoonish super-heroes that I see in the movies. I’m sure that someone more knowledgeable then myself could poke all sorts of holes in my depiction of the station and the events of the story, but I can assure you that I tried to make it accurate and plausible wherever I could.

Since I mentioned plausibility: The speed of light is infinitely fast. If you’re looking for a fistfight, say that in front of a physics student. Light has been measured many times traveling at 300,000 Km per second. Say you’re standing under the night sky and you turn on your flashlight at the same time you start a stopwatch. Your flashlight is pointed at a planet ten light years away, where the light bounces off a mirror and comes back to you 20 years later. You stop your stopwatch, get out your calculator and figure the speed to be 300,000 Km per second. What’s the problem? Well, here’s the thing: My understanding of relativity is that if you repeated this experiment with the stopwatch riding on the beam of light (go with me on this) and waited for it to come back to you 20 years later, the stopwatch would still say zero; special relativity, being what it is. If velocity is distance over time then if you travel 20 light years (or any other distance) in zero seconds then your speed is infinite. Right? So how fast does light travel? Is it 300,000 Km/sec or is it infinitely fast? I suppose it depends on your point of view. At least I think it does, one day maybe I’ll get a real physics education and know for sure.

Enjoy the story,

Greg Siewert


Part One of Greg's story, "The Absence of Stars," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now. Part Two will appear in issue 11, due out in February.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cue Twilight-Zone Music Here...

I don't know what dark forces are at work in the universe to cause things to work out this way, but about a year or two ago I realized that good things always happened to me in the publishing world right after bad things happened to my poor wife in the real world. It's uncanny.

In 2003 she got laid off from her job, and within mere days I sold my first short story. Then right after she found out she was going to get laid off a second time (in 2006), I had my first novel, Dreaming Creek, accepted for publication.

Well, as I was writing our family Christmas newsletter tonight, I realized it had happened again. This summer my poor, suffering wife had major reconstructive surgery on her shoulder -- they actually did two different procedures while they had her under anesthesia -- and in the space of fewer than of ninety days this autumn I had two books published.

It would appear that my wife is suffering for my art.

As I said, cue Twilight-Zone music here...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Revenge of the Penguins

A few months ago I did an interview where I admitted to having a taste for fire-roasted penguins (read the full monstrosity here), and that certain authors had had stories published in the IGMS anthology by virtue of having bribed me with said fire-roasted penguins.

The problem is that apparently people actually read that stupid interview, and now the whole penguin thing has taken on a life of its own. And it would appear that the penguins are having the last laugh, because the following list is only of the most recent cases of penguinalia (whatever the heck that means). In the space of about a week, I received:

1) a story submitted to the magazine wherein the author admitted in the cover letter that the scene in Antarctica with Satan kicking a bunch of penguins was written specifically because of the aforementioned interview,

2) an email from an author whose story I had just accepted, whose first words were not "Cool!" or even "Thanks," but "Where do I send the penguin?" and,

3) This, handed to me by writer just the other day:

Even now, from thousands of miles away, I can hear the penguins, laughing...


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"The Tile Setters" - by Ami Chopine

The Tiles Setters was born in a car dealership. I’d been given the assignment to go out and search: find ideas for stories. Learn about
something you’ve no interest in. Meet people. Observe.

I wandered into the dealership with my partner from the class, and we
decided to pretend to be interested in a car. The somewhat lecherous
salesman turned out to be uninteresting, except for the fact that he was the perfect representation of the cliché. So I looked around. The tile caught my attention. It wasn’t magnificent, being a simple cream and white ceramic with gray grout. But it started me off on a route I’ve found myself taking many times since.

How did this tile get here? Who laid it? What were their lives like? How was it made?

That last question lead to visions of clay being kneaded and rolled out and cut. I knew that clay sometimes benefits from different things being added. What would happen if this process were magic? What if the additives imbued some kind of power to the tile? I imagined that the magic artist might use snippits of themselves. Some of the things in those jars are dead skin cells and even dried blood, as well as other plant, animal, and mineral materials with certain properties.

Initially, my idea was that the tile makers worked for a prince of long ago. But someone suggested I bring it to the modern age. It was brilliant idea and I wish I remembered who it was to thank them. My husband had worked in an advertising agency. These places really do spend lots of money on their own image and their office décor.

I wrote the story in about seven hours. Then, I couldn’t get my laptop hooked up to a printer so I retyped it in an hour onto the school computer so I could print it out. Good times.


Ami's story, "The Tile Setters," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Book Signing with Orson Scott Card, Edmund Schubert, Scott Roberts, and James Maxey

Last Friday (Dec. 5) we held a joint signing at the Barnes & Noble in Greensboro, NC to promote the InterGalactic Medicine Show anthology, as well as new novels by three of the four people involved in the anthology.

Orson Scott Card (far left) is, of course, the linchpin of the anthology, serving as the magazine's publisher, and contributing stories set in the Ender Universe to each issue.

The unimaginably handsome devil next to OSC is the editor of the magazine (that would be me, Ed Schubert).

Next in line is Scott Roberts, a Writer's of the Future winner and contributor to the magazine and the anthology, and at the far right is James Maxey, also a contributor to the magazine and anthology. James' most recent contribution, "Silent As Dust" was recently selected to appear in The Year's Best Fantasy 2009, edited by Rich Horton, so a big congratulations to him.

Orson was also signing his newest novel, Ender In Exile, while I was signing copies of Dreaming Creek, and James was signing copies of Dragonforge, which came out last August. We just about sold out of the IGMS anthology, and sold about three-quarters of the case of Dreaming Creek my publisher sent, so I was pleased with that. I have no idea how many of the other books were sold, but judging by the line in front of Orson (which lasted over ninety minutes after the rest of us were done), he had to have sold two or three hundred thousand copies.

I was very happy with my part of the sales, largely because the bookstore was happy. They said I could come back any time and do a solo signing, and they also asked me to autograph the remaining copies of Dreaming Creek and then they put them out in the store, not on a shelf, spine out, but on a table, face up, where everyone could see them. That was very gratifying.

So thanks to everyone who came out, and thanks to everyone who bought all of our books, whereever you may have purchased them.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Sweetly The Dragon Dreams" by Dave Farland (and a few tidbits)

A few notes: First -- Tomorrow I'm doing a joint book signing with Orson Scott Card, James Maxey, and Scott Roberts at the Barnes & Noble in Greensboro, NC. All four of us have the InterGalactic Medicine Show anthology in common, with OSC being the publisher, me being the editor, and James and Scott having stories in it. Plus James had a novel published a few months ago (DragonForge), OSC has his new Ender novel out (Ender In Exile), and of course I'm still flogging Dreaming Creek. So we're all going to be at Barnes & Noble, autographing our respective tomes. The event starts at 7 pm and runs until we run out of books or customers. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and say hello.

Second -- I did an interview with the fine folks at Novelists Inc., which is now posted on their website. Read and take notes; there will be a quiz next Tuesday.

And now for our regularly scheduled Story Behind The Stories:

"Sweetly The Dragon Dreams" by Dave Farland

When I was asked to write a story for this issue of IGMS, I immediately thought back to an early anthology of short stories that I read which was edited by Orson Scott Card called Dragons of Light. The anthology was published in 1980 and had a number of great writers in it—from Card himself to George R.R Martin and a dear friend, Val Lakey.

At the time that I read it, I was 23, had recently returned from being a missionary, and I was struggling to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I was in college studying medicine, but I’d always wanted to be a writer. Man, I wished that I had been able to write a story for that anthology!

So I wrote a long poem about dragons, and showed it to some family members. My brother-in-law liked it so much that he asked if he could frame a copy to put on his wall. I think that that gave me a good kick-start into writing. A line from the poem gave rise to the title of the story. The line goes, “But truth is the theme of the dragon’s dreams. . . .”

Somehow in the past 28 years, having written dozens of novels and short stories, I’ve never actually written anything with a dragon in it. After all, they’re pretty cliché. So I decided to write a dragon story for this magazine, though my dragons aren’t quite like the dragons you might find in other tales.

Yet this isn’t much of a dragon story. We never even really get to see one of them alive.

Beyond that, I’ve been hankering to write a science fiction story lately, and I realized recently that it has been twenty years since I’ve written a novella length tale. Originally, I thought about keeping this much shorter, but that subconscious desire to write something longer kept pulling at me.

So I wrote a long story, the beginning of a larger tale, similar in tone and style to my Golden Queen series. I don’t know if this will be the start of a novel yet, but probably not. Right now I have too many other stories that I want to write.

Best Wishes

David Farland


Dave's story, "Sweetly The Dragon Dreams," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"A Heretic By Degrees" - by Marie Brennan

Creating a Heretic

Driftwood is, hands-down, the weirdest setting I have ever invented. It started from the idea of borders: a place that is nothing but borders, where worlds come together so closely that you are constantly crossing from one to another. In other words, Driftwood started with the Shreds, the region Qoress traverses in his quest to heal his king. The Edge, where his world currently resides, came later -- when my subconscious told me that Driftwood is where worlds go to die.

So that established two things about the setting. The first is that it's kind of inherently nihilistic: everything comes to an end there, and there's nothing anybody can do to stop it. Your world has its apocalypse, its Ragnarok or whatever, and the last surviving fragments come to Driftwood to finish collapsing into nothingness. Cheerful, huh? This is the first story I've published in the setting, but I have others I'm playing around with, and it would be easy for them to all be grindingly depressing. But there's a whole wealth of stories to tell about how people choose to face that end: some despair, some adapt, some live in denial.

(And then there's Last. When I said everything comes to an end, I lied. You'll see more of him in future stories.)

The setting may be nihilistic, then, and all the stories in it will have to deal with that in one way or another. But really, it's just an exploration of entropy. I realized after I had created the setting that there were two concepts at the heart of Driftwood, those being liminality and entropy. Borders, and the eventual breakdown of any closed system. I'm glad I didn't think of that until after I had the world in mind -- if I had created it with that in mind, I'd probably have something much stiffer and less interesting -- but as an after-the-fact observation, it's one with near-endless potential for exploration.

The second thing my idea established is that this is my world-building playground. I was trained as an anthropologist, and I try to build detailed, coherent worlds, where all the elements fit together. But you know, that's a lot of work, and sometimes you just have random wacky ideas that don't fit with much of anything. Driftwood lets me fling those around at will. It's a place of fragments; if I come up with some weird religious custom or clothing style or type of dance, I can toss it in there and not worry about what it means, or how it relates to anything else. I can't tell you anything about the magic of the place where Qoress meets Last except for the thing with the spit, and I don't have to; heck, that might be the only functional piece of magic they have left. Who knows?

Writing in this setting, I often feel like I'm getting to indulge much more than usual in one of the features of our genre: I can make up weird and colorful things, anything that sparks my sensawunda. (Or amuses me. Which is sometimes the same thing.)

As I said, this is the first Driftwood story I've published, but I have several others half-started, and I hope to do more. After all, there's always more worlds to destroy . . .


Marie's story, "A Heretic By Degrees," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Fort in Vermont" - by David Simons

During a work lunch some time ago, my co-workers and I were discussing the true value of wealth. No, this was not some sappy discussion of happiness versus bank accounts, family time versus promotions. We're lawyers. Rather, we were discussing what types of wealth would be most secure in the future.

Being the sole science fiction reader in the group, I suggested that if the proverbial subpoena ever hit the fan, bank accounts and stocks would become worthless, and the truly wealthy man would be the one who owned fenced land, canned goods, guns, and solar panels.

So I began constructing a story around a wealthy man who did plan for societal collapse--indeed, obsessed over it--diversifying accordingly. I gave him a past and a family, and decided to tell the story from the perspective of his teenage daughter, Rachel.

As I began writing though, it became Rachel's story. The father became less interesting to me than Rachel's own struggle to understand the risk of loss. So I went with that, and let the story take the tragic turns it needed to take.

For those interested in process, I wrote the first draft during a Clarion West workshop a couple years ago. I got some helpful feedback from classmates and that week's instructor (Nalo Hopkinson), and went through several revisions before reaching the version that Edmund bought. The biggest changes were switching from epistolary (journal) format to present tense, and eliminating several minor characters. Like most successful revisions, the story got shorter.

Thanks to all who read The Fort in Vermont. I'll have another (much lighter) story in IGMS sometime next year.


David's story, "The Fort In Vermont," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"The Robot Sorcerer" - by Eric James Stone


One day a few years ago, as I was driving home, I was thinking about the concept of titles that juxtaposed two things that do not seem to belong together. I decided to take something science-fictionish and match it with something fantasyish and came up with "The Robot Wizard." (Later I decided "Sorcerer" sounded better.)

So I had a title and nothing else. I let that title bang around in my brain for a year or two, and then -- while driving home again -- I thought, What if an exploratory robot with AI goes through a wormhole portal and ends up in a magical world? I recorded a voice memo on my PDA so I wouldn't forget that idea.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to go to the Odyssey Workshop (, an intensive six-week program focused on writing science fiction and fantasy. Since I would have several stories critiqued at the workshop, I decided to get a head start on writing a new story and that "The Robot Sorcerer" would be a good one to write. So, in the week before the workshop, I came up with the very basics of a plot and wrote 750 words to begin the story.

While at Odyssey, I met with Jeanne Cavelos, director of the program and writing teacher extraordinaire, to talk about trends in my writing she had noticed in my first few stories she had read. She suggested that I needed to focus more on developing characters who were integral to the plot, and that one way to do that was to figure out a character's greatest desire and greatest fear, and then have those two things in opposition at the climax of the story.

Until that discussion with Jean, I had never thought about the integration of plot and character in a systematic way. Generally, I came up with a plot and then came up with characters to plug into the plot. While I had written stories where the character and the plot fit together perfectly (such as "Tabloid Reporter to the Stars"), that was more accidental than purposeful.

In discussing what I planned to do with "The Robot Sorcerer," Jean told me I needed to figure out what the robot most desired and most feared. I realized that I would have to throw out the 750 words I had already written and start over. (If you want to see the original beginning, go here:

I decided what the robot feared most was losing its sentience. Because the robot's personhood was now a key component of the story, I decided I needed to tell the story in first person, rather than the omniscient narrator I had originally chosen. I also realized the story needed to start before the robot went through the wormhole and became sentient, in order to show the contrast. And that meant writing the first section in zeroth person -- from the point of view of an inanimate object that was not (yet) a person. (Yes, there actually is a zeroth person in some languages.)

I decided that the robot's greatest desire would be to save Bump. So I came up with a plot that would provide a climax in which the robot would have to choose between saving Bump and keeping its sentience. And then I wrote that story.

I want to give special thanks to Jeanne Cavelos, without whose advice the story would never have developed along the lines it did. I also want to thank Elizabeth Hand, an Odyssey guest lecturer who critiqued the first complete draft, and all my Odyssey classmates who gave me such great feedback on the story. And a final thank-you to my writing groups for their critiques.


Eric's story, "The Robot Sorcerer," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Eric's bio:

One of Eric James Stone's earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his life-long fascination with astronomy and space travel. His father's collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke.

Despite taking creative writing classes in the 1980s, Eric did not begin seriously writing fiction until 2002. In 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. Since then, he has sold stories to the Writers of the Future Contest, Analog, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Eric lives in Utah. His website can be found at

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Pi" - by Mette Ivie Harrison


In March of this year, I taught a workshop on revision with Orson Scott Card at Southern Virginia Univeristy (Edmund Schubert and Jacob Black were also there). I gave out a handout that had a list of “before” and “after” paragraphs from novels I had published. I was determined to show the embarrassing truth about how bad my first drafts are, and how an editor’s suggestions could make them better. I expected everyone to wince along with me when I read the first drafts and then to feel immense relief when I read the revised versions.

Strangely enough, there was occasionally argument about which of the two drafts was actually better. Scott stepped in at one point and insisted that he thought either draft could work; it was just a question of what effect the author (me) wanted on the reader. In fact, after reading one particular first draft paragraph, Scott suggested he would be glad to read any “first drafts” of stories I might write, for IGMS.

In the spirit of a challenge, I wrote up twelve short story ideas in the airport on the way home. I wrote only the first line at first, and then, as time stretched on and on, a couple of paragraphs. I was trying to figure out which ones would be appropriate to send to IGMS. In the end, I went home and that month wrote up 15 different short stories, most of them based around the premise of “12 Magical Apprentices,” for a possible book idea that I might one day sell to someone somewhere, because I write for YA and the whole idea of a magical apprentice seemed like one that might sell there.

I sent off the first of these stories, one that had been inspired by my twelve year old daughter’s obsessive memorization of digits of pi, to Edmund for IGMS. Some of the elements of this obsession include her printing out thousands of digits of pi and then hanging the printed papers in her bedroom, her volunteering to recite digits of pi to anyone who is willing to listen for several minutes, and having a “pi” party when my youngest son turned “pi” years old (my husband calculated this exactly) where we served, of course, pie: chocolate and coconut cream. My daughter is also very musically talented, and I once had a math teacher who was an incredible violinist and who claimed that the skills involved in making music were essentially the same as those in math: patterns repeated and twisted over and over again. I thought that this might become part of the story, but I was wrong.

After all the stories were written, I was surprised at myself, that I had been able to write so many coherent stories in what was essentially one draft. I did not plan out any of the stories in advance. For “Pi,” I knew that the magic would be about pi, and that there would be a young protagonist involved, and that perfect circles would be better than imperfect ones for magic. Other than that, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the shape of the story. It seemed to shape itself. Some of the others did the same; some did not and these last I am not sure that I know how to fix. Maybe more of this “cycle” of stories about magical apprentices will appear in IGMS in coming issues.

But I will admit that “Pi” was not sold on a first draft. In fact, it needed a good edit, which Edmund helped me to do. He pointed out a problem in the ending of the story, and when I reread it, I saw that I actually had to fix it by subtly changing the whole story, not just the ending. Then he bought it.


Mette's story, "Pi," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Mette Ivie Harrison is the author of several novels, including Mira Mirror, The Princess and The Hound, and the forthcoming sequel, The Princess and The Bear. She is also a new columnist for IGMS; her column, "Chopsticks" is chock full of great advice for writers.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

IGMS Issue 10 is Live

What more is there to say. Check it out...


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good News

Actually, two bits of good news:

1) The publisher of Dreaming Creek was already listing my novel on their website for $1 less than cover price ($14.95 instead of $15.95). Now they are also having a sale, with all books (e-book and print books) being offered during the month of November at 35% off. That makes DC only $9.72 + S&H! Details at the publisher's website.

2) We're just about ready to publish the next issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. That means I can start running essays by the authors in issue ten instead of running my mouth about my novel. The upcoming authors and their stories are:

Dave Farland - How Sweetly The Dragon Dreams

Mette Ivie Harrison - Pi

Ami Chopine - The Tile Setters

Marie Brennan - A Heretic by Degrees

Eric James Stone - The Robot Sorcerer

David Simons - The Fort In Vermont

and part one of Greg Siewert's novelette - The Absence of Stars

You'll also find new stories by David Lubar, and an interview with Harry Turtledove by Darrell Schweitzer

So tune in here soon for the Story Behind the Stories, and to InterGalactic Medicine Show for, well... the stories


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dreaming Creek Book Launch Party

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And a good time was had by all (especially me)... my first official reading and signing of Dreaming Creek.

Over 30 people showed up for my reading. No one fell asleep (despite my best efforts). Some of them even bought the book afterward.


I did my best to forge my own signature (is that possible?). Well, I did my best to make it legible, anyway...

My thanks to the fine folks at Givens Books in Lynchburg, VA, for their help making this great night possible. Also, many thanks to everyone who came out and made me feel like the king of the world (at least for a few hours).

And last but not least, a super-sized thanks to Dena Harris, who drove over two hours to help me with the workshop before the signing. They don't make friends much better than that...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Book Launch Party

I'm heading up to Lynchburg, VA tomorrow (Nov. 8th) for the launch party for my first novel. If you've come within a hundred miles of this blog in the past few weeks, you know that Dreaming Creek has recently been released. Now I'm having the official launch party; it's going to be at Givens Books (2236 LAKESIDE DR., LYNCHBURG, VA 24501). I'm doing a workshop with my good friend and fellow writer, Dena Harris, at 4:30 p.m., and then the party/reading/signing starts at 6 p.m. If you're anywhere near the area, please stop by. When I'm back on Monday I'll post some pics a brief party report.

In the mean time -- just to keep you entertained -- here are the two shortest stories I ever wrote, both exactly 69 words long. They were written for a now-defunct magazine called NFG, which used to have a contest every issue to see who could write the best story in exactly sixty-nine words. I wrote two, and they were published in August of 2004 and July of 2005 respectively.

A Mid-Winter's Hydro-Engineering Project

"By my calculations, the structural integrity of this thing has become seriously compromised," Billy said.

Freddie glanced at him. "Naturally. The cohesiveness of any crystalline-based structure with a mass-to-weight ratio like this is going to be suspect."

Watching from inside the house, their mother shook her head as the boy's four-foot snowball collapsed under its own weight.

She looked at her husband and sighed. "They grow up so fast."

The End

A Solid Deal

Constantino eyed the devil. "We're agreed?"

"Absolutely," said Lucifer. "I get my usual fee; you get this enchanted pouch of gemstones. As long as you hold it, it will never possess less than twenty perfect gems and I guarantee you'll hold it for over 2,000 years."

Constantino grinned, accepting Lucifer's handshake. "I'm going to be the richest man in Italy."

The devil smirked. "Or at least Pompeii."

Vesuvius rumbled.

The End

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

An Interview

David Coe is an award-winning fantasy author with Tor and, more importantly, a great friend who has used (but not abused) his position of power and influence to interview me and tell folks about the work I do. Though I give him grief whenever we cross paths at conventions (which is more than just a little bit (the grief and the conventions)), I am truly grateful that someone like David, who is considerably farther down the publishing path than I am, has taken the time to help me out.

The interview


A Day In The Life...

I have a group of friends who I keep up with on-line, and one of the things we do is track (albeit loosely) our writing productivity, usually in terms of total words written. I had an interesting writing day yesterday, and though I have no idea what the word total was, I thought I'd share the overall scope of what I worked on.

-- Wrote a blurb for a friend's book

-- Finished answering one set of questions that had been emailed to me for an interview

-- Started answering another set of questions for an interview

-- Traded several emails with Gavin Grant about IGMS stories for his half of the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (fantasy)

-- Traded several emails with Ellen Datlow about her half of the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (horror)

-- Traded several emails with Peter Beagle's agent about a story Peter is writing for IGMS

-- Started my Letter From The Editor for the next issue of IGMS (which will be out in about ten days)

There's no fiction-writing on that list, but I still did a lot of typing. It was kind of cool...

The first thing on today's to-do list? Voting. Check. Did that already. How about you?

Monday, November 03, 2008

About Time

Since I'm on a roll with sharing some of my older short stories, here is the second-shortest one I ever published, weighing it at right around 500 words. It was published on a website called From The Asylum and then reprinted in their Tales From The Asylum: Year 3 anthology. Fair warning -- it's a groaner...

About Time

Professor Maass flung the machine against the wall. “Enough,” he roared. “I quit! I quit, I quit, I quit!”

“But professor...” his assistant said, watching pieces of shattered electronics skitter across the room like luminous cockroaches, “you’ve proven that time travel is possible, at least theoretically. You can’t give up on building a working time machine now. You just can’t.”

“No, Oliver” replied Maass, shaking his head. “It’s just not meant to be. As if the whole project were cursed from the day I conceived it.”

Oliver’s eyes grew as wide and white as ping-pong balls. “I’ve spent twenty-five years working on this project -– devoted my entire career to you. Because I believed in you.” He took a step toward the professor. “You can’t do this to me -- ”

The professor pivoted away from Oliver and gesticulated wildly at the giant blackboard behind them. “Look, damn you. Look! Every time I think we’ve got the calculations right, we find a pair of numbers transposed, or an exponential notation off by a single digit.”

Suddenly sullen, Professor Maass knelt among the ruins of his time machine, picking up a tiny fragment. He cradled it like a clump of dirt he was about to throw into a freshly dug grave. “Every time I think we’ve got the wiring right, some connection works itself loose, or a chip goes in upside-down, or the laser’s lens gets a smudge on it.

“No, time travel may be theoretically possible, but it’s not practical. Mankind is just not capable of getting that many fine details perfectly aligned.”

The professor clenched his fist around the broken piece of his dream, squeezing it until it cut his palm. Blood dripped from his hand.

Ever so softly, he said, “I quit.”

“But -- ”

Screaming, Professor Maass turned on his assistant. “Didn’t you hear me?!” he howled. His bloody fist, still clutching the broken piece of hardware, pummeled Oliver’s head and shoulders. “I said it’s over. Over! Done!

The professor’s screaming and pounding continued relentlessly, until the blood wasn’t just coming from his cut hand anymore, it was coming from his assistant’s face and neck and scalp.

Done, done, done...

* * *

“You see,” said the first Timeguardian, pointing to the holographic display of Professor Maass’s breakdown. “This is why we had to intervene. They’re just not ready to handle time travel yet.”

"Too violent?" asked the second Guardian.

"Good grief, no," replied the first. "If you'd been jerked around for twenty-five years by people from the future, you'd have a breakdown and beat the hell out of somebody, too. The problem is that they’re technologically advanced enough, but don’t pay sufficient attention. You can't allow people to hop around the time continuum if they're not paying attention, and after all of this time, Maass really should have figured out what we were doing to him and his equipment…”

The End

Friday, October 31, 2008

Reality Check On Register Two

Here's another one of my early short stories. Definitely tongue-in-cheek, it's my homage to James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." I had a good time writing it, and was pleased when it ended up published by Pindeldyboz in 2004 and named to storySouth's list of Notable Stories that same year. It's not SF or fantasy (unless you count the one going on inside of the main character's head...), it's just meant to be fun. It's also only 1,200 words long; one of the shortest I've ever written.

Reality Check On Register Two

She walked through the bookstore’s door and ships set sail, angels sang, and Carl finally knew the true meaning of the phrase ‘to drink in her beauty.’

“Drink in her beauty?” he whispered to himself, “I could drown in it.”

He had heard the expression countless times, disregarding it as drivel for poets and dreamers. Appreciating her beauty was as complicated as a grain of sand on the beach getting wet under the crashing waves.

As she crossed the floor, her honey-colored hair waving to him, his next thought was, I have to meet her. I have to know her name.

He knew, however, that it was crucial that he approach her without appearing as frantic as he felt. He had never had trouble with women before, mainly because he knew to stick with the ones at his own level -– ground level. Basement even. But this Park Avenue penthouse goddess with the exquisite swan neck was too compelling to resist. He had never been able to resist a neck that was so fine. A neck that was so nibbleable.

If not for that neck, he could have been content to drool from afar...

As assistant manager of the bookstore, Carl had freedom when it came to approaching customers. Still, he would have to exercise caution; this was going to be a dangerous chess match. He had to plan each move carefully -- consider all the possibilities, her likely counter-moves, his response to her counters -- if he wanted the game to end in mate.

She appeared to be heading for the Romance section. Perfect.

...“Excuse me, miss. Can I help you find something?”

“Yes, thank you. A friend recommended
Savage Kiss. Do you know who wrote it?”

“Actually, my darling, I did,” Carl said. “Especially for you.”

Her blue eyes widened. “What is wrong with you?” she demanded, looking like she was trying to decide between slapping his face or storming out the door...

All righty then. Clearly that was not be the way to approach her. Something more subtle was required.

Besides, she strolled through the Romance section and stopped in Fantasy, picking up a special-edition volume of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Carl circled to the rear of the store. He wanted to appear to be strolling up from the back, not stalking her.

He had already gotten himself in trouble that way last month.


“Yes, miss. How can I help you?”

“I can’t find a price on this book. How much is it?”

Carl thought a moment. The price was on the inside flap in very small print; many people missed it. But simply giving her the information precluded any other conversation.

“Not off the top of my head,” he nodded slightly, “but if you’ll follow me.”

He took the book from her, careful to brush her fingers with his own before leading her to the cash register. If only he could find a way to touch that neck.

First, Carl needed to find out if there was a boyfriend. Forcing casualness, he asked, “Is this for you, or is it a gift?”

“For me. Just one of those things I’ve always meant to read, but never got around to.”

“I think you’ll enjoy it very much. I know I did.”

She smiled...

Yes, that was much better. A day-trip to Middle-Earth and an unimaginably beautiful woman; that was a fantasy he could work with.

Carl realized he wasn’t walking anymore; he had gotten so lost in his thoughts that he stopped in his tracks. If he didn’t move -- and soon -- she would ask someone else. As Carl cut through the children’s section, he saw her find the price inside the flap, shake her head, and return the volume to the shelf. No, Carl thought, no; that was going to go so well.

Suddenly Carl found himself frozen again.

She was looking at him.

Oh, God, he thought, she saw me following her. He turned as quickly as he dared and tried to bury himself in the gardening section.

...When Carl finally dared to look up again, his boss, Anne, and the woman were walking straight toward him.

“That’s the man,” she said, pointing directly at Carl’s cold-sweating brow.

Anne said through grit teeth, “Again, Carl?”

Carl’s eyes got wider and wider with each horrifying moment, stinging and burning because he couldn’t even make himself blink, much less speak. Say something, dammit, say something now, he ordered himself. Nary a word dared crawl out of his mouth.

“That’s it! You’re fired!” Anne barked loudly enough for the whole store to hear...

Carl blinked. Maybe if he went up to the checkout area. There were three cash registers open there; maybe he could get lost in the hustle and bustle.
Carl couldn’t think of anything else he could do. But he had to do something. Go somewhere. Anywhere.

Approaching one of the cashiers, he said, “Go ahead and take a break. I’ll fill in for you.”

But no sooner had he taken his place behind the counter than she appeared. Her. She clutched a thick book to her breast, the top edge of the book rubbing up against her perfect neck, and oh, how Carl wanted to be that book.

He snapped his eyes down. She was looking at him in a funny way. He liked working in this bookstore. He didn’t want to lose his job.

As she got closer to the front of the line, Carl slowed down, obviously annoying the customer he was supposed to be helping. The single line of customers only spread out to the individual registers and Carl was hoping she would end up with either of the other cashiers. And at precisely the moment she reached the front of the line, both of the other registers opened up. Perfect. He sighed, processed the credit card in his hand, and prepared to set his irritated customer free.

“Excuse me, can you tell me how much this is? I can’t find a price anywhere,” said a melodious voice as a special-edition volume of The Lord of the Rings appeared before Carl’s eyes.

He looked up. It was her.

What was she doing here? What did she want? Panic set in and Carl felt his head spin. He moved to take the book from her and she somehow managed to brush two silky fingertips over the back of his right hand.

She said, “My name is Rose.”.

Carl grabbed the walkie-talkie off his right hip.

“Anne,” he frantically said into the walkie-talkie, “I need a price check on register two. Price check on register two.” He retreated two steps from the woman and her book, which lay impotently on the counter between them. His walkie-talkie remained silent. Rose smiled.

“Aaaannne...,” Carl called into his unresponsive walkie-talkie. His eyes were locked wide open.

Rose pat the book with a firm hand and said, “You know what? Forget about it; I think I made a mistake.”

And she walked out of the store empty-handed.

Imagining that the book might still be warm after lingering next to her heart, Carl picked it up and opened it...

...and found her phone number, written on the title page in lipstick...

The End

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight

Interestingly (to me, anyway) I received two emails in the past few weeks about a story of mine that was originally published online four years ago on a website called Dark Energy SF. Both readers seemed to enjoy it (though one of them pointed out that under current NFL rules, the scenario I portrayed at the end of the game in the story isn't possible, and suggested I change the team from an NFL team to a college team, where it was possible).

Since the website where the story was originally published is on the verge of closing up shop forever (my best to the fine folks at Dark Energy SF, because obviously a few folks have still managed to find my story on their archive, even four years after the fact) (and since the story is pretty short (just under 2,500 words)), I thought I reprint it here for your entertainment.

(BTW, I didn't change the football team, mainly because I don't like the redskins and wanted to make them the losing team in this story. What's the point in being a writer if you can indiscriminately punish teams you don't like...?)

Fourth and Goal From the Forty Eight

The smoke smelled wrong. Not like cigarette smoke, Adam thought. Corrosive. Suffocating. Venomous.

Adam would rather have been a host of other places, but when that redhead with the devilish twinkle in her eye said to meet her at this bar, she'd been damned specific. So he waited. Tipped his bottle up and poured some more brew down. Since every vertical surface in the room was covered with mirrors, he could glance in any direction, checking the bar through the maddening maze of reflections. Of the redhead there was still no sign.

Drifting along with the smoke, Adam's attention went to the television. Engulfed in a miasma of silver and gray, the picture was nearly impossible to make out. He jumped when a phantom announcer's voice said, "A series of sacks and costly penalties have the Redskins looking at third and goal from their own forty-eight yard line with only twenty-one seconds on the clock. Kenny, have you ever seen anything like this?"

Adam had not. Intrigued, he slid as far to the right as there were open bar stools, hauling his precious leather jacket with him. He had to stop beside a man with a pipe, the obvious source of this writhing smog.

Kenny, up on the television, echoed Adam's thoughts. "Never, Jim. But that's what I love about this game; anything is possible."

The offensive smell grew, summoning Adam's attention, and the silver and gray cloud parted to reveal the man. But it was his pipe that caught Adam's attention. He peered closely at the glowing bowl. Sickly-yellow, like ancient, decaying ivory, the entire pipe was elaborately etched. On it, small figures cavorted around a bonfire, tribal warriors with spears and shields, naked but for their fearsome masks. Adam's mind swooned, pitching headlong into a nightmare world populated by beasts he suddenly realized were not warriors in masks, but creatures as horrible as---

"Smoke bother you?" said the man. "A personal blend. Some folks don't care for the smell."

Adam snapped out of his black trance, trying to blink the images away. "Uh, no, no. It's fine. I was just admiring the carvings. They're so..."

The man plucked the pipe from his lips. "Carved from bone, I'm told. You're welcome to examine it."

Adam left his hands safely on the beer bottle. "What kind of bone?"

The man caressed the stem of the pipe. "I don't believe my associate ever said."

Kenny interrupted. "Twenty-one seconds," he said. "But even if the Redskins get in range, a field goal does them no good. Down 21 – 15 to the New York Giants, the 'Skins have to have a touchdown. They've taken their final timeout; we'll be back after these messages."

"Can I tempt you with a friendly wager?" the man asked.

"Excuse me?"

The man smiled. It was a lipless, motionless, incomplete smile, revealing no teeth. "On the game. Make things interesting."

Adam slipped his hand into his pocket, fingering his last twenty-dollar bill. "What did you have in mind?"

The man conjured a hundred-dollar bill.

"I say the Redskins win this game."

Adam stared. Because he never denied himself anything, especially when it came to clothing, cash always got his attention. Ben Franklin never looked so seductive.

Then Adam remembered the twenty in his pocket and the beer in his hand. "I can't," he said. "No way the 'Skins win, but I don't have that kind of money."

"I'm not interested in your money." The man licked the corner of his mouth. "It's your soul I'm hungry for."

Adam's lips formed a small circle. 'What?' his mouth wanted to demand, but his brain refused to function.

"You heard right," the man said quietly. "I'll bet one hundred dollars against your soul that the Redskins win this game. Quite simple."

Adam tried to read the man's eyes. They were as blank as his smile. He checked the door. If only that redhead would show up, he'd have an excuse to get away. Finally Adam forced a laugh.

The man asked, "You think I'm kidding?"

Choking in the smoke, Adam's laughter died.

The man broke into a light laugh of his own. Amiably, he slapped Adam on the shoulder. "What's a soul worth anyway? Last week, a fellow tried to auction off his soul on e-Bay. Bidding was only up to forty-four dollars when e-Bay suspended the deal."

"You bid on it?"

The man shook his head. "Not my style. No sport." Then he tapped the green and white bill on the bar. "That's easy money, friend. Yours. Unless you believe the 'Skins can pull off a miracle."

Back from the commercial, Kenny and Jim were talking again. Adam ground his teeth together, watching the quarterback begin the snap count. Abruptly he shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Don't think you want my bet?" asked the man. "Or don't think they can do it? Quickly now, the offer ends the instant they snap that ball."

Adam forgot how to speak, how to breathe.

"...the ball is snapped. Serling drops back into the pocket. And... oh, my God, the Giant's defender tripped." Kenny was shouting now. "Serling's got a receiver wide open -- down the sideline. He heaves..."

Adam leaned toward the television.

"...and overthrows his man. Oh, what a wasted opportunity. His receiver was wide open. That was a one-in-a-million chance, and he blew it."

The man shook his head. "Truer words were never spoken."

Adam closed his eyes, shoulders drooped, head slumped.

Kenny said, "Fourth and goal from the forty-eight yard line. In the storied history of this game, I don't believe this has ever happened before."

Instead of picking his money up, the man placed another hundred on top of it. And another. Two more. All told, five one-hundred-dollar bills leered up at Adam from the stained surface of the bar.

"What say we make this really interesting?" The man's voice was a smoky whisper, the rhythm of his words spoken to the beat of tribal drums.

Heart pounding, throat tight, Adam scrutinized the man, an entirely unremarkable individual. Brown eyes, maybe a little darker than average, but not out of the ordinary. Hair neat, but still just hair. Cheeks showed no hint of stubble. Black turtleneck and black pants, obviously tailor cut to the man's trim body. But this only verified that the man had enough money to throw away $500 on an insane bar bet. To mess with his head.

There is nothing wrong with this guy, Adam insisted. Nothing. He wrapped his fingers around the stack of hundreds.

"You're on, sucker," he said. "Ain't no way the 'Skins go all the way in one shot."

The man smiled his lipless Count Dracula smile. It was all in the eyes. Adam instantly regretted his decision. He started to put the money back on the bar.

The center snapped the ball. But he snapped it too hard; it sailed over the quarterback's outstretched arms. Adam laughed, celebrating, pointing at the television as the loose ball danced among the players like a living thing. Then, from the rugby-like scrum, the quarterback emerged with the ball. His eyes locked onto the only figure not scrambling amongst the pack, a figure that wore the same blood-red jersey as the quarterback.

"Noooooo!" screamed Adam, reaching out in slow motion, leaning across the bar, trying to swat the ball from the air. "Noooooo!" Hundred dollar bills slipped through his fingers.

The throw went twenty yards, precisely the distance that separated the receiver from every other player on the field. He scampered into the endzone untouched. Teammates went wild. Jim and Kenny stood in the booth, shouting with them. Adam went numb. Gape-mouthed, he turned to find the man, eyes blazing, reaching for his throat. The rest of the room was black.

From the depths of Adam's terrified soul, a soul that might be his for only a few seconds longer, words crawled forth. "It's 21 – 21. Washington still has to kick the extra point for a win."

The man paused, considering Adam's point. As he settled back, the darkness slithered into the maze of mirrors, seething.

"True," the man said. He sipped from the clear liquid in his glass. "I can wait."

Adam's eyes snapped to the television. But in his mind he was preparing to fling himself from his stool and make a break for the exit, sprinting through that door and headlong down the street, never to look back. If only he could pry his fingers from the death grip they had on the bar. But he couldn't. He couldn't move. All he could do was stare at the TV as the Redskins prepared to seal his doom. The ball was snapped. The hold was good.

The kick was blocked. It was recovered by a Giant's defender, who took off running.

"Goooooo!" Adam suddenly found himself free, bounding and screaming, cheering for the player who had scooped up his life in the form of an oblong piece of pigskin. Blocks were thrown. Gargantuan men collided. The Giant with the ball stopped abruptly, spinning out of the arms of one defender and slashing off in new direction, right into the arms of another. On the verge of being tackled he paused, moving as if to lateral the ball. The defender went for the fake, committing prematurely to the wrong man, and the player raced past, reaching the endzone just as the clock expired.

New York Giants 27 – Washington 21.

"Yes!" Adam threw his arms into the air; Kenny yelled "Touchdown!"

And Adam did his first jig. Requiring no music, he performed the dance to the tune of pure joy. Then he noticed the money, still on the floor, and fell to his knees, greedily snatching it up note by note. Jumping up again, he was still shouting, still ecstatic, still out of his mind with the thrill of victory.

"I beat you." He waved the money in the man's face, shouting to all six of his reflections, "I beat the devil!"

Silence. Thunderous, crashing, numbing silence.

Adam surveyed the bar. Everyone was frozen. Staring at him. The man stood and turned to the silent mass, arms spread wide. And they all began to laugh.

The man laughed. The bartender laughed. Everyone laughed. The room was buried under an avalanche of laughter. It rippled and tittered; it flowed around the room. Convulsing, the man smacked the bar, repeatedly striking it with such force that Adam feared it might crack in two, howling so relentlessly that Adam could see deep into his throat. With each laughing second, Adam felt more and more like a fool.

When the man finally paused for a breath, he looked up and asked, "What ever gave you the idea that I was the devil?"

Adam looked around. The room was still in hysterics. "But you said---"

"All I said was let's make this interesting. And you have to admit, it was interesting."

Adam glanced at the five one-hundred-dollar bills in his fist. His. Suddenly that was the least important thing in the world. Jabbing a finger two inches from the man's nose he shouted, "You tricked me!"

Bursting into another fit of laughter, the man spurted out, "Isn't that what the devil does?" The rest of the room hadn't stopped roaring.

Adam couldn't take anymore; he ran from the bar. Once outside, on the street, once in the sharp, smokeless air, it seemed so ridiculous. The devil? What had he been thinking? He took a deep breath.

And realized he'd left his jacket on the stool.

No way was he going back again – not even for his favorite leather jacket. Not after that humiliation. He would rather buy a new one.

Great, he thought, now I've lost my best jacket. Probably cost me every dollar I just won to replace it. Adam trudged down the street, money clenched in his fist, cursing the absent redhead.

# # #

Back inside, the bartender turned to the man and said, "By the diabolical hordes of Niflhel and Acheron, what pride you have -- what an ego."

The man glowered at him, daring the bartender to continue.

"I mean, really. God help the poor soul who loses one of your bets. Then the brimstone oozes out of your ears and your eyes turn into little orbs of fire. Don't get me wrong, it's a thing of beauty to watch their faces when you tell them it's impossible to remove a soul from a living body.

"But if you lose, you play the innocent, making your victim feel like an imbecile when you're the one who lost. It's pathetic. In a million years, I've never seen an ego like---"

The man tossed his drink into the demon bartender's face, his expression unchanging as the clear liquid sizzled through the other's flesh, melting him to the floor in sublime agony.

As the hissing vestiges of bartender disappeared through the cracks in the floor, the man said, "Of course I have pride, idiot. If it weren't for pride, I'd be sitting at the Right Hand of God, instead of hanging around this dump. If it weren't for pride, I'd be singing with angels, instead of laughing at losers who slink out of here without their leather jackets." He spit on the spot where the bartender had melted away and a small fire sprang up.

"If it weren't for pride, I'd be the number two man up there," he said, "instead of number one down here."

The End

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dreaming Creek available on Amazon

My novel, Dreaming Creek, is now available on Gift wrapping is available, so get one for a friend... ;-)


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dreaming Creek - A Novel

Now available at the publisher's website for pre-orders, shipping in approximately two weeks.

High school teacher Danny Wakeman has spent sixteen years believing that his childhood friend, Marcus Gaines, saved his life after an accident. But Danny's perspective on the world gets turned inside-out when he and the woman he wants to marry, Sara McBride, drink from the mystical waters of Dreaming Creek, trade bodies, and get stuck that way...

Trapped in each others' bodies, struggling to fit in to each others' lives, Danny and Sara will have to pull together to overcome a perplexing lawsuit, a plot to defraud Danny out of his recently deceased parent's farm, and an attempted rape—all of which ultimately prove to bear Marcus's sinister fingerprints. And before it's over, Danny will discover that this pattern of treachery and violence goes all the way back to his supposed accident, which Marcus designed to cover up an even blacker secret...

CapClave 2008 -

I'm off to CapClave tomorrow (Hilton Washington DC/Rockville, Executive Meeting Center,
1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852).

From their website:

"Capclave, the Washington, D.C. area science fiction literary convention, offers a relaxed atmosphere in which notable authors, editors, critics, artists, and fans explore the creation and enjoyment of fantasy and science fiction. Capclave focuses on short stories, but also gives lots of attention to novels, movies, and TV. Because we're small, we're friendly and fun, not frantic."

My schedule is:

Saturday 12:00pm

Is the Face of Short Fiction Changing?

As the traditional digest magazines shrink in both size and audience, what are some of the new vehicles for short stories? What new roles are being played by the small press, web magazines, and corporate supported sites? Anthologies? What can be done to save short fiction?

Kathryn Cramer (m), Neil Clarke, Edmund Schubert, Sean Wallace, Hildy Silverman

Saturday 2:00pm

Workshop – Writing

Allen Wold with Edmund Schubert, Davey Beauchamp, and Jeri Smith-Ready. Bring paper and a writing implement. All else will be explained at the beginning of the session.

Allen Wold, Davey Beauchamp, Edmund Schubert, Jeri Smith-Ready

Saturday 3:00pm

Workshop - Writing (cont)

Saturday 7:00pm

What Editors Want

Editors discuss what they are looking for in a manuscript and what authors can do to increase their chances of selling a story or book. What is within the author's control? How does the editor make the decision, how quickly, and on what basis?

Edmund Schubert (m), Neil Clarke, Moshe Feder, George Scithers, Christopher Cevasco