Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fic: Midnight Swim


My short story, Midnight Swim, won the monthly challenge over at WerewolvesAtHeart. June's theme was "Escape the Heat!"

"Midnight Swim": In the basement of a safe house, Finn struggles to keep cool as summer temperatures rise outside. When the full moon comes and he decides to slip out for a late night stroll to a nearby beach for a swim, he finds that he might not have made the best decision, for his own personal hunter has found him, and she never goes anywhere without her weapon...

Werewolves, mild horror (at best), and naked ocean swimming ;)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Disney Mania


I thought I was a serious Disney fan. Turns out, I'm just a pixie duster with mildly naughty aspirations.

That's okay, though, especially since I landed in the world of warped Disney fic--that is, stories set around WDW, often involving rather adult themes, such as drug use, trespassing, physical violence, and assorted mayhem. My portal to the chaos was Leonard Kinsey's The Dark Side of Disney, a non-fiction, sort of Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole look at the World:





Now, I've been to WDW six or seven times in the last twenty years, and I must admit that while I love it, I do often wonder about what I'm not seeing, or not knowing, if you will. What other dimensions am I missing?

Apparently, a lot. Utilidors, ticket scams, the truth behind the cast members' (what Disney calls its employees) cheery, semi-permanent smiling faces. Aaaand more. Dark Side is essentially a tourist guide to WDW, though many of "tips" aren't for the vast majority of travelers, but for those seeking a... different perspective on the happiest place on earth.

Kinsey wrote Dark Side after having spent a good part of his misspent youth at WDW; he grew up nearby, and when other teens are sneaking into movie theaters, he was attempting to sneak into DisneyWorld. Kinsey can tell you the best rides to go on while stoned, where to attempt a furtive grope--and more--and how to save money on food. Yeah, how did I not know you could get groceries delivered to your frickin' room?

I loved it, not just the tips and advice, but the endlessly entertaining misadventures of Kinsey and his friends. He's got great "voice," as they say, but be forewarned: the man drops f-bombs like my neighbor's oak drops helicopters all over my lawn. Yo.

Wow, I did say I was a pixie duster with aspirations, right? Or maybe just one who likes to live vicariously through far more daring, and interesting, people, people like Leonard Kinsey.

Uh, it should go without saying that the entire book The Dark Side of Disney is NSFW. Language, subject matter, pics, you name it. And a couple of those included links, whew! I have been educated, yes, sir, I have.

*

After Dark Side, Kinsey wrote an entirely fictional book called Our Kingdom of Dust. Blaine McKinnon is disillusioned, depressed, and filthy rich. He decides to return to Walt Disney World, a place where his happiest childhood memories were made.

And here, I relate. Personal story: my entire childhood, I wanted to go to Walt Disney World, but my parents couldn't afford it. When I got my first job at age 14, washing dishes in a restaurant, I knew that I wanted to save up for a trip. At 18, newly graduated from high school, I was able to do just that.

And it was everything I expected and more. I fell in love, hard, and I will never forget that trip. It was 1990, the era of Horizons at WDW, and it spoke to me and filled my heart to bursting.

I've been back a number of times since, but I will say this: I will never recapture that initial overwhelming joy. Yes, it is my favorite place to vacation, and yes, I adore it as much as ever, but as they say...

You can never go home again.

Someone tell that to Blaine McKinnon.

Blaine sets up camp at one of the Epcot resorts in a swanky suite, and immediately makes a few acquaintances of dubious character. In fact, the book is filled with colorful characters, all of whom are making vastly poorer choices than Blaine. Not the least of those choices is their drug use, a designer drug called "Pixie Dust," which recreates the feeling of being in the parks, that incredible joy, when one cannot be there. He becomes intricately involved with this group, and very quickly, things reel out of hand.

OKOD is a fast read, and capitalizes on Kinsey's unique voice. Exciting, it never fails to hold the reader's attention. And of course, it's loaded with atmosphere--WDW is as much a character as any of the humans in this book.

I'm a bit on the fence with this one due to some editing issues, which honestly, seem like first-time author issues. It's stuff I can grant a pass on. Kinsey has talent and voice, and you can tell he's really learning to hone his craft.

Where he's strongest, though, is in the unwritten lessons he's imparting, about learning to accept your past, and more than that, to accept each day as it is. Not all of them are going to be pixie dust. Some are going to be Tinkerbell's asshole after a Taco Bell run. And whether it's drugs or, in my case, yearning to be in DisneyWorld because that's "where I'm happiest," you need to realize that it's all in you. Nothing can fill that void.

My own reflections sometimes made this an uncomfortable read. So, hey, the guy swears a lot. And the writing is sometimes a tad rough. It's rare that a book really makes you think and feel. This one did.





Kinsey does have a new book out, Habst and the Disney Saboteurs. You can listen to the Creepy Kingdom podcast with guest, Leonard Kinsey, and hear him read some of it. I wanted to keep listening! Yes, I've got the book, so I'll be reading that soon. And Kinsey's a great guest; sometimes, podcasts make me cringe, and I have to turn them off, but this one was intelligent and interesting and, well, made me want to buy the guy a tequila some night and keep him talking.

By the way, there's a whole universe of "Dark Siders," as I call them. You start with Dark Side, and you're going down the rabbit hole too. See you there.







Friday, June 13, 2014

New fic: The Ranch--Werewolves!


Vampires are incredibly romantic to some. I get it, but I often find the werewolf more fascinating. I've got a werewolf short story in an anthology arriving this fall, and in the meantime, I've got "The Ranch," a short story posted now:

The Ranch

Five pups born to the werewolves in the last six weeks. Of course they should be returned to their mothers. They would have a better chance for survival. But then they would never learn to be human, and it is a great risk to have five more of the adult creatures, as ferocious as they are, in the compound. Efforts at rehabilitating adults, even juveniles, have been largely unsuccessful, to judge by Robertson's torn-out windpipe...

Enjoy!


Newborn werewolf pup by Were-pups on DeviantArt. Her whole gallery of handmade dolls is astounding! 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Here be Dragons! New fic, new issue of 101 Fiction!


Summer's come, and so have the dragons.

The Summer issue of 101 Fiction is out now. Two of mine are waiting for you to give them a nibble:

Jump--"They'll be jumping the broom this July, all those couples who survived the spring..."

and

Flight--Dragons, unicorns, and young men with blackened skulls, all in a hundred words.


The themes for this issue were dragons and/or summer.  Sixteen tiny stories, with sixteen takes on the themes. Bravo. I think this is the best issue yet of 101 Fiction.




The Trio escaping Gringott's on the dragon

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Prompt-based Flash Fiction Contest: Scribble!


I love prompt-based fiction exercises. Although I've sort of dropped many of the ones I used to do (such as Three Word Wednesday and the Friday Prediction) in the pursuit of hardcore writing a book*, that doesn't mean I don't still love them. What they can produce from a few simple words is amazing. And I typically go to One Word two or three times a week to get the juices flowing.

Recently, I spotted a "wacky prompt" flash fiction contest, hosted by Diantha Jones. Checked out the prompts, let them ferment for a few days, and started working on something, which I just submitted. Why don't you give a swing, too? $50 Amazon gift card for the winner, and if you don't win, it's still fun. I loved working on mine this week. Broke me out of a little rut.

Scribble

Let me know if you do enter! Er, the deadline's fairly close. So get on it.





*By "hardcore writing a book," I mean a couple thousand words a week and equal that in cups of tea and minutes spent staring out the back window at the lavender coming in. And writing notes for said book and petting the kitty who sits on the keyboard. And whining about it over beer at the Trolley Stop to my love, who suffers living with a writer with grace.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

Hannah and Becky are 6 and 7, respectively, when they go on a picnic with Hannah's parents in a rural area of Tasmania. A sudden storm causes the river to overflow, and the boat they rowed in on to capsize. Lost, half-drowned, and panicked, the girls are found on a riverbank by two Tasmanian tigers, who keep the girls safe and, ultimately, adopt them as if they were their own pups.

"Into That Forest" by Louis Nowra is set in 1920/30s Tasmania, at a time when bounties on tiger hides were slowly causing the destruction of that species. Narrated by an elderly Hannah, the book has a strong sense of place and character, but it is the assimilation of Hannah and Becky into tiger culture (and their departure from human social "norms") that is incredibly fascinating. Hannah and Becky are two very different little girls; while Becky yearns for home and her father and doesn't want to lose her language or clothing, even memorizing the colors of the rainbow and counting as high as she can, Hannah adapts quickly, mimicking the tigers' vocalizations and body postures and pushing away thoughts of her parents' probable deaths.

Ultimately, in order to survive, both girls learn to hunt, eat and live with the tigers, becoming very nearly tigers themselves in the four years they spend in the wilderness.

Of course, they are eventually discovered, and their forced reintegration into human culture has inevitably tragic consequences.

Filled with thrilling moments and brilliant descriptions, "Into That Forest" could be just another tale of orphaned children growing up with animals--see the Jungle Book or the eastern European "wild" children raised by packs of dogs or any number of such tales--but it is so much more. There is a meditational quality, as there must be, not just on what it means to be human or animal, but also on our impact on species. The last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936.




Despite being a fairly fast read, do not underestimate the book's emotional punch. Keep tissue handy.

As a side note, some readers find Hannah's dialect to be off-putting. I thought it was easy to understand, and enriched to the narrative.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Grimdark: "Chirp"

Chirp


Chirp was down a bird. A sparrow, little gray-brown thing that looked like a hundred other gray-brown sparrows. Probably one of the squires, Chirp thought. They'd been fashioning thinner and shorter arrows, the better for taking out the small birds that clustered at Chirp's only window.

"You should all go away," he said to the line of birds jostling each other on the sill. "Don't ever come back. Ever, ever."

He said this in the chittering, whistling language that no one else understood. It was the reason they called him Chirp. He'd not spoken a single word in proper English his entire life; they said his mother had refused the babe her tit because all he would do was chirp at her. It was why he'd grown up stunted and pale, like string beans grown in shadow instead of the sun.

Not true: his mother had taught him the language. She was dead now, hanged and burned for witchcraft. She could speak six languages, including bird and deer, and heal the pox, but she had been a poor peasant woman.

Queens who could do the same were called sorceresses. One of them stood now at the single door to his cell.

"Honestly, I think it's nonsense. A made-up language, like a little child babbling to its dolly." She cocked her head. "Why, if I could speak to the birds, I'd rule the sky as well as the land."

Chirp didn't think that she didn't rule all the land; she had about a hundred miles in either direction from Morrowton. If anyone ruled the land, it was the worms and roaches. Not a king or sorceress yet had managed to evict them from where they crawled.

She stared at him, her hands clasped in front her and covered in the fine gold mesh gloves of royalty exposed to the pox.

Her magic was transformation, he'd heard. Changing one thing into another. He hadn't witnessed it, but it was clear she hadn't managed changing poxed flesh into healthy skin.

"All that talk," she said, "and you won't tell me what I want. I'm sure you can. If you can make all that other noise, then you can speak English just as well. Maybe you do already. It's not nice, you know, to keep secrets from your Queen."

Chirp watched the birds on the sill. They'd become silent when she'd arrived.

"It's time for a bit more encouragement."

Chirp looked down at his hands and feet, covered in "encouraging" streaks of red. He could barely walk, the soles of his feet were so flayed. He was starved and thirsty, having been in the cell for four days without food or water. Yet he would not tell her the cure for pox, nor make any signs.

Let her start on his back. The flesh there was unmarked. Or his abdomen. He did not care. In a week, the Queen would begin to smell of rot.

And when the Queen was well and truly rotted, maybe those outside the castle walls would at last be free. Maybe they would till fields for their own families, and not starve while handing over their harvest to those inside the castle. Maybe they would walk about without fear of random cruelty by minor royalty and the roaming guards. Perhaps a witch could tend to her orchard and brew her tisanes in peace, helping out her fellows.

"Derrick," she said, and her captain of the gaol moved out of the shadows, a box draped in brown cloth in his hands.

A new instrument of torture. Chirp tensed, took a breath, and willed himself to relax.

She drew the cloth from the box, and he saw that it was a barred cage. Within, the missing sparrow.

He sat straight up.

The bird trembled, and when she lifted the iron top just enough to slip in a gloved hand, it fluttered and crashed about the cage.

She snatched it and drew the frightened bird out, holding it in both hands.

"Ugly," she said. "Not like the peacocks in my garden. Have you seen them? I have a white one. It's quite beautiful. I wonder if you could talk to it."

She nodded, and Derrick took out a knife from his belt.

"No," said Chirp, but it came out like a squeak.

The captain sliced off the little bird's legs. It shrilled and peeped, thrashing within her hands. She tossed it through the bars of Chirp's cell, where it landed amidst dust and dirt and stones.

He stared up at her, wide-eyed and shaking.

"So many birds," she said, holding up a hand and looking at it. Tiny rivulets of blood spattered the gold mesh. "Why, there must be millions."

She walked away, and Derrick peered into the cell.

"Idiot," he said. "I told her you can't talk nothin' but that rubbish. But if I was you, I'd learn, real quick."

*

Thankfully, birds died fast from shock. He'd crawled over to it, held its body in his lap until, in a minute, it stopped shaking.

Cradling the dead sparrow, he'd closed his eyes, imagining himself flying in the air high above the castle, away from it, among the clouds. Gradually, he'd calmed.

The birds on the sill twittered their anxiousness, fretting and flapping.

"Go away," he whispered. "Go. Go."

But the next day, they were there again, as were the Queen and her captain of the gaol.

And the cage.

Another sparrow, this one young, only months old.

A wing this time, tossed into the cell. Then the dying bird.

Its mother came to the window, flew away, and he wished he could go with her.

Still he would not tell her of the cure for pox.

The third day, there was a gold mesh collar around her throat, draped over her chest. Soon, he thought.

The birds in the cage started coming every hour.

Finches maimed, sparrows mutilated, beaks and wings and legs thrown into his cell, followed by little bodies.

They lined up the birds shot through with the squires' special arrows, the birds' legs curled up into their bodies.

So many eyes, open and black and perfectly round, staring at him.

A jay from his mother's orchard. They'd sheathed its beak so it could not peck them bloody, and the princess pulled feathers from its writhing, shrieking body, letting them float in a gentle, blue-gray shower into the cell.

Another day, he told himself.

Another hour, another bird.

He wept, apologizing to the birds on the sill, who kept coming, kept coming, despite the obvious danger.

"I'm sorry," he sobbed. "Go away."

On the sixth day, she came alone. He was too weak to stand when she entered his cell, the hem of her rose-pink gown trailing across dozens of small, feathered bodies. She stood in front of him.

Her bald head was covered in a gold mesh cap. He could smell her.

He almost smiled. So much death and horror, but it would be over soon. With her demise, the kingdom would be free. His mother would be proud.

"We found another witch," she said. "She speaks to rabbits. More useful, she can cure pox. And she has two sons, who are more important to her than, I assume, your birds are to you. So we don't require your services any longer."

Chirp froze. He looked up, to see if she was lying.

"You wished for my death. Well, here is something you need to understand." She leaned down and caressed his cheek. "Just as there are other witches, there are other queens, and those hoping to be queen. Your foolish holdout was for naught. When we are both long dead, there will still be those in power, and those without any power at all."

He bit the edge of his tongue, trying not to cry.

"I may die soon after all, Chirp, but before I do, there is one more thing. I thought it sad that my magic was no help to me, but here, suddenly, I find it will give me a little happiness." She stroked the side of his face. "Have you heard what I can do? It's true, Chirp."

She smiled, breath fetid.

His heart stuttered. Was it true? Could she transform humans into the creature of her choice?

But of course she would not—

No, he already felt it. Growing smaller. Smaller still. The uncomfortable prickling of – of feathers! Feathers growing from his skin!

He opened his mouth, and out came the familiar chirps, but this time, they were real! He peeped and chirped, and fluttered in her hands when she gathered him up.

She stood, and held him up to the sill.

"Fly away, little bird."

He did not look back. He spread his wings and darted into the sunlight, into the open air.

And from far below, a squire's arrow flew, straight and fast and perfectly aimed at the bright, red bird.



***

Originally written for the Fantasy Faction monthly flashfiction contest. The theme was grimdark. Congratulations to pornokitsch, grimdarkest of them all. And I can reveal now that I voted for AC Smyth's The Deadly Game, which was clever and tense. Read all the entries here.