Eligibility Post 2021

This one’s easy:

A Halloween Tale

My story, “Final Exam, Demonology” started out as a contest entry for 500-word stories.

It didn’t win, legitimately. I wasn’t able to create a believable world and enough characterization while staying within that limit. Once I opened things up to full flash length, the story felt complete. The editor at Wyldblood Press thought so as well.

Enjoy!

Heja Sverige

Today my story “Stones of Särdal” appears in Little Blue Marble, edited by one of my Canadian friends, Katrina Archer. (An earlier version of “Särdal” appeared on The Word Count Podcast as part of their “Humans of the Future” series.)

Little Blue Marble is a beautiful and fascinating publication that showcases fiction, poetry, and news related to climate change. I’ve wanted to place something with them for a while, and was thrilled that Katrina chose this reprint. Her minor tweaks and insightful questions brought the story into sharper focus and resolved some minor issues that I hadn’t noticed. Good editors are a blessing.

The story was inspired by my clan’s summer home (above) located on the west coast of Sweden. As a bonus, the story’s featured image is a sunset I captured from the Särdal beach this past August. (In a happy bit of synchronicity, the acceptance email for “Stones” showed up on my phone as I was clearing passport control on my way to Sweden.)

Enjoy!

Two weeks away and three cats (again)

First off, DECAF HAS RETURNED.

A few pounds lighter, a bit less fur, but all the attitude

As I noted in my previous post, the Buddhacat had slipped off into the night before our vacation, and two weeks later, we gave up. Told ourselves that he’d had a good life, offering us stolen gloves and found flowers, and that we would look into acquiring another kitten (a white one, perhaps) sometime in the fall.

We left the country on a much-delayed vacation. Our daughter stayed behind to work and watch the house. About a week into our absence, Decaf rolled into the house late one night as if nothing had happened, and where’s the food, please? Fortunately, his nearly month-long absence didn’t induce any major injuries, and I’m happy to report that Kleptocat is back to his old ways, arising at 4 or 5 am to demand a hearty breakfast, opening closed (unlocked) doors, and taking over couches and office chairs because, after all, it’s his house and all the furniture belongs to him.

Scandinavia

For our part, we took our first real vacation since 2017, when I last saw my Swedish family (along with a side trip to Helsinki for Worldcon). Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions (and our expiring flight credits), we ended up flying into Copenhagen, then taking the train into Halmstad, Sweden. My ever-reliable kusin Otto drove us out to the family summer house on the lovely coast of Särdal. (My flash fiction “Stones of Särdal” was inspired by this very property.)

Dandenell summer house (Viket)

Since our last visit, the locals had installed internet fiber, so we had reliable Wi-Fi throughout most of the property. That certainly made things easier for translations, currency conversions, and checking in with folks back home. Elizabeth even managed to proctor a therapist’s license exam over Zoom (and 9 hours’ time zone difference).

I had brought an abundance of books and writing notes & drafts, along with a catalog of online classes that I wanted to check out.

Well, I ended up not doing all that much. I read a novel, some short fiction, and hosted a special “Writing Check-in” Zoom call just to test the bandwidth (and share the late evening sunset).

That was okay. We had a fair number of walks, rode our old bikes into Halmstad, shopped for tea (and new bikes), cooked meals with the new Instant Pot, ate crayfish, and visited with as many relations as we could because that’s what you do there.

This trip was something of an experiment. We wanted to see if it were feasible to conduct our business remotely (definite yes for Elizabeth), and get a better sense of the responsibilities of being a shared owner of the property (still learning the ropes there).

I might (might) be able to convince my employer to let me work part-time / earlier in the day (Pacific Time), which would open up the possibility of off-season visits, when the house is mostly empty. We’ll see.

At the end of the day, I had to acknowledge that this wasn’t a typical vacation or even a typical family visit to Sweden. The pandemic has changed our daily lives so much that it took real effort to step away from the hyper-alert mind state and just sit. Sit with a pot of tea, a plate of home-baked cookies, and family, and enjoy the breeze.

Farewell, Buddhacat

When you get a kitten from the shelter, the animal’s date of birth is usually a best guess from the staff or the vet who examined the beast. There are exceptions, but unless someone witnessed the whelping, it’s an approximation.

Today is—we think—Decaf’s 4th birthday. We first encountered him at a pet supply store just before Valentine’s Day 2018, when he was a seven-month black kitten.

On his first night with us, Decaf almost escaped through an open front door. (Turns out he was hiding under the bed.) Eventually, he bonded to us and the house, and became quite a fixture in the neighborhood. He liked to walk us down to the corner, or around the block, doing his ninja routine behind parked cars and bushes.

At night, he often brought us offerings of gardening gloves (sorry, neighbors) and flowers, rather than dead animals, thus earning his nickname of Buddhacat.

A few days after July 4 this year (with all the fucking explosions), Decaf took a lot of long, quiet naps. Normally, he spent the evenings on the couch, and his days in or near my office chair. But this seemed a bit different. On July 10, Decaf went out after dinner and did not return for breakfast. His best friend, Chai (our newest adopted kitten) prowled the house looking for him, then disappeared into the neighborhood.

Chai came home late but Decaf did not.

He missed dinner the next day. And the next.

We put up posters and filed reports with the local animal shelters and neighborhood websites. Someone called me to say they’d seen him, but it was a hard moment when I realized the caller was talking about our other black cat, Chai. (Chai wears a blue collar. Decaf’s is red.)

As much as I hate to admit it, the great glove thief is probably gone. Someone evil might have taken him. He might have left us to die in solitude, as cats are wont to do. We don’t know. And that hurts. I would have liked to have added his ashes to the yard he loved so much.

Farewell, Decaf. You weren’t with us for very long, and we will miss you. Even the early morning wake-up calls and weapons-grade farts.

May you find your way to the Pure Lands.

BYOB (Bring your own bag)

This week when I went to our local Trader Joes to get a few things for dinner, the very pleasant crew member asked me if I needed a bag. I had a little Japanese fabric bag rolled up in my pocket, so no, I didn’t. “Great,” they said, handing me my basket so I could go outside and bag my groceries on the “isolation” tables set up there. As I left, the crew member said that next week they would start bagging my groceries for me. With my own bag, if I had one.

Cool, I replied.

My city and county has been opening up public activities recently, like a slightly confused butterfly pulling itself out of its chrysalis. I’ve also had my vaccination, and though I still wear a mask inside when other people are present, the situation feels different. Not normal, not by a long shot, but heading in the right direction.

I’m flying to the Midwest soon to help my daughter move out of her college housing, and I’ll admit that the prospect of sitting in airports or crammed next to potentially infectious strangers isn’t causing me to lose sleep like it would have even a month ago. Sure, I’m worried about traffic and getting everything packed into storage and making sure our reservations are set. Regular, run-of-the-mill sort of concerns. What I’m not particularly worried about is contracting a virulent disease and facing the rest of my life with limited lung or cognitive capacity, or worse, ending up paying for my daughter’s education with my life insurance proceeds because the hospital ran out of ventilators.

I’m not foolhardy. No vaccine is perfect and viruses mutate. I’m traveling just enough to deal with family business and then it’s back to walks on the local beach with plenty of space around me, and working online. DayJob is talking about a “Flex” plan of office space without providing any real details and timeline for contractors, so I’m probably safe for the rest of 2021 at least. If COVID is going to get me, it’s going to have work for it.

When I think back to my first visit to Trader Joes at the beginning of the lockdown (excuse me, “shelter in place”), the difference is substantial. On that day, I got up early and stood in line an hour before the store opened. There was no shade because the mall never imagined people would ever queue up alongside the parking lot. I was wearing a homemade bandana over a paper mask. My hands were sweating under my latex gloves. My heart rate and blood pressure were elevated, and I was hunched over with the weight of my ignorance. How was the disease really transmitted? How long until we could get treatments? Would there ever be a vaccine? Everything was just damn scary.

So I waited in line, trying not to fall into recursive negative thoughts, and hoped that there would be a shipment of bread (maybe) and enough toilet paper (unlikely).

I gave up after that shopping trip, and instead spent hours online trying to snag one of rare delivery appointments from Whole Foods, or Safeway, or Nob Hill Foods. Anything to avoid the lines and the people and the rising panic in my brain.

Now I can walk down to the store and pick up a package of eggs, or butter, or fresh lettuce, and wait a minute or two to use the self checkout. Or maybe there’s no one there and I go to the checker and smile out of habit, even though they can’t see that part of me.

It’s not how things were, nor is it normal. Things are different now. They are, all things considered, not bad. And getting better.

Let’s hope we learn something from all this. I’m trying to appreciate small details. Like bringing my own bag.

Grief is a ninja

Today was tough.

I had serious issues on a financial website that absolutely didn’t want to work with my security software even though it was just freaking fine yesterday. Took me an hour to resolve the problem and download the docs I needed for my taxes — just to learn that I wouldn’t get the deduction.

Then I spent another 90 minutes, plus two phone calls, trying to get through a government site so I could get the appropriate ID number to submit paperwork to an insurance company for my wife’s corporation.

DayJob was… well, DayJob. Three reminders from the Powers That Be to submit our timesheets appropriately and please reply to this email by 3 PM saying you read and understood all the minutia contained therein.

So when the cold rains starting whipping the house I thought I would take a break and walk to the post office to drop off an important letter. Almost lost my umbrella. Dropped the letter (missed the puddle, though).

On the way home, umbrella folded, rain soaking my pandemic mask, I was struck by a craving for an overly sweet Hot Butter Rum. Like my Dad sometimes made for me when I was sick. It probably wasn’t very good (made from a grainy batter in a jar, I recall) but in that moment, all I wanted was a fire, and a hot drink.

And my father.

The grief darted out from its hiding place and punched me in the solar plexus, then disappeared into the gray. I had almost forgotten it was there.

So I’m calling it a night. Going to make chicken soup, read a good book, and stare into the fire. I don’t have any rum but I have my spouse and several warm kitties.

Be good to each other.

Writing year in review – 2020

In spite of *everything* I published some fiction. And poetry. Considering where I was in 2019, this is pretty impressive.

The reality is that only one writing project was new. The others were either rewrites or waiting their turn in the publisher’s queue. Still, they made it out of the trunk, fought their way up the slush pile, and saw the light of readers’ eyes.

Started off with “The Carpetbaggers Ball” (Stupefying Stories Showcase – Book 1) – Feb 2020 – I was very happy to be included in this new imprint from the folks at Rampant Loon. One of my early cyberpunk efforts, given a new coat of paint.

Seven Cups of Landfall” (Dreams & Nightmares Vol. 115) – May 2020 – My first SF poem!

The Stones of Särdal (The Word Podcast) – Episode 100, Season 10 – Nov 2020 (story begins at 14:30) – I committed to contributing a flash story for this editor, and tried to do the whole thing in one go.

Sullied Flesh” (Speculative North, Issue 3) – Yes, I wrote a Hamlet story – Dec 2020 – My first publication in a Canadian magazine.

So my total is 3 stories and 1 poem, with another story going through final edits for a January 2021 release.

If you downloaded, purchased, or reviewed any of these publications/podcasts, THANK YOU!

This would be a lot less fun without readers.

The Artistic Tradition of Theft

My story “Sullied Flesh” is out.

Given that Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest writers in the English canon and Hamlet is one of his most-quoted works, it was inevitable that I would borrow liberally (or steal entire passages) from that play at some point in my career.

Here we are.

I sketched the bones of the story years ago. I think my brain said, “What if the only way you could get a theater acting job was to be a meat puppet for a famous actor’s performance?” Not an interpretation, or homage, or imitation, but the closest possible clone of that performance? You know, like having it plugged into your brain?

Of course, as a former English major I had to choose Shakespeare, which meant Hamlet. When I was a lad, the Big Three roles were Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. But you can only do the Danish Prince when you’re relatively young, so it’s the place to really boost your career. That’s where I put my main character, Girard.

My own experience trodding the boards is limited to some high school hijinks, and a few spear carrier roles in The Merchant of Venice. Still, I’ve spent enough time behind the scenes to see the potential for er, drama, and thus was born “Sullied Flesh.”

The story had a long, long road to publication. It was too long, the conflicts weren’t well presented, and as one editor noted, it required “an in-depth knowledge of Shakespeare to appreciate.”

I’ve had worse critiques.

Fortunately for me (and you), the lovely folks at Speculative North took the time to give me some on-the-nose feedback and several strong suggestions for a revision. Despite all the challenges thrown at us by Mundane Reality 2020 Edition, everything came together. “Sullied Flesh” escaped the trunk.

The whole issue (Vol #3) is free to download TODAY (Dec 19, 2020), so hurry yourselves on over and get some new words.

Enjoy.

November musings

For a lot of writers, November is National Novel Writing Month. The timing is challenging, to say the least. Hello, Thanksgiving? This year, we also had the twin delights of Pandemic Brain and The Election That Never Ends.

I had other plans for the month, which were sadly derailed. Back in the before days, I had contracts for two short stories to be published at this time. Unfortunately, the other human beings involved had their own schedules and travails, so Mundane Reality™ decided I would have only a podcast this month rather than new print stories. Those would have to wait until December.

My month, then, was focused on writing. Not a novel (that’s another conversation) but writing. Specifically, writing every day. And I did it! I even managed to crawl over the 10K finish line, which is my best stretch ever.

Because of various life events this past orbit (child going to college, pandemic, father’s death, work stupidity), I had a fairly large number of open files in my WIP folder. I decided that I would tackle as many of those as I could (with a target of 4 Complete Things).

I finished Four Things, too. Three of the stories had been languishing in the WIP folder, and the fourth was a completely new idea that occurred during the month.

Special bonus: On December 1, after I declared my self-defined victory, I gave myself permission to take the night off. So what did I do? I wrote a brand-new flash story that was pretty darn good. It’s sitting in the submission queue of a magazine, along with three November’s stories. The fourth — the longest — needs some moderate editing. I was throwing down words hard and fast at the end and I suspect that several key scenes will be removed or replaced.

Bottom line: I managed to complete Five Things in 31 days. Not sure if they’ll find Forever Homes but at least they’re not sitting around here, eating my snacks and messing up my Netflix queue.

New fiction is coming soon. Really.