Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Stories: Hawaiian gods, cigarette smoking, and werewolves


Another issue of 101 Fiction is out! This time, I've got one tiny tale in the black-and-white-themed issue, 'Aumakua. Hawaiian gods and troublesome little girls!

The other stories are really wonderful, especially W.M. Lewis's Celebrity. Gobsmacked by this one. Read it!

The Husband is posted at my DA account, since it's original home, The Corner Club Press, appears to be defunct. "The Husband": I took a nap, and when I woke up, the dog on my chest had become a husband. Speculative fiction about Sudoko, drumming, and, er, friendliness. ;)

Exclamation points and emoticons! Have I been body-snatched by a teenage pod alien?

And one more, if you're in the mood for a bit more reading today: the November issue of Bloodbond is out, with short stories and poetry about shape shifters, and it includes my story, "In the Northern Territories." Werewolves, my friends. Werewolves. They can be great neighbors, as long as you abide peacefully.

xx
RS

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Bloodbond" Now Out! Werewolves and vampires and shape shifters...




And shapeshifters, oh my! 

Alban Lake Publishing, home of Aoife's Kiss, a magazine of specfic, and publishers of stand-alone horror and SF novels, has just released "Bloodbond," an anthology of werewolf, vampire and shapeshifter fiction and poetry. Included is my short story, "In the Northern Territories":

Calvin Kilfoil shot the wolf that had been coming around his farm--but come morning, it is not a wolf, but his wife's body laid atop the kitchen table. Faila's father had never been fond of his daughter's husband, but is this murder? He watches Calvin--watches, and waits, along with the rest of the small, isolated town deep in the northern woods. Because blood will *always* tell...

GREAT selection of stories! I just finished reading, and I was really blown away by a couple of them. If you want some good, shiver-inducing fiction, and you want to support a small, independent press, there's no better way to do it than by buying a copy of Bloodbond today!




Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On Want



I'm trying to cultivate an awareness of privilege. It's like cultivating an attitude of gratitude, a very overused and trite phrase (or has it become trite due to overuse?). At any rate, it occurred to me recently how privileged I am. Sometimes, I think we associate that word with Beverly Hills housewives, or wealthy white men in suits looking down their old noses at us from the cover of Forbes. But really, if you look at the world in general, I have a very privileged life.

If I want to download a book to read on my ipad, click, I have it. I stopped working one day a week because it stressed me out, so now I work four days. I can turn up the thermostat if I want, although if B is home, he might complain about being too hot—but not about the money it costs to keep me cozy. I have a cabinet with three shelves, loaded with tea and coffee products. I have a table that has no use except to hold my seasonal decorations and—another sign of privilege—our Bose sound dock.

We have a brand new kitchen. And not a cheap one—it's got quartz countertops and a pull-down faucet and soft-close drawers and sliding drawers and a heavy-duty lazy Susan, which we use for all of our pots.

Still, I complain about what I haven't got, what I want and can't have right now, and about other things: I'm lucky to have a job, when so many don't, and yet the clients irritate the shit out of me. I adore my animals, but sometimes, I just don't want to deal with them. I have sneakers without holes in the bottom, but I want new ones.

Buddhism is letting go of "want." Maybe not at its core, but that's a tenet. In some ways, so is Christianity—let go of "want," and the Lord provides. A financial counselor on Oprah used to advise that we cultivate a mindset in which we already have everything we need. Which we do, on a fundamental level (many don't, I realize, but for the majority, and certainly myself, we do).

It seems small, this writing of things I have, and even smaller, the list of things I want. Not the lists themselves, for they are almost endless. But what do I really want? Would I like a childhood do-over, in which my mother never dies? Do I want my beloved grandparents, her parents, to still be here? It's only been a few years since losing them, and I think of them often, and miss them. Do I wish for my favorite dog back, the one creature so devoted to me that I found that I had never understood the word "devotion" before—and probably have already lost its meaning, lost to the tide of "want."

Our souls are so small. Some say they are vast, that they are the universe itself. I feel that that is correct, and yet, the universe is so small. Everything is so tiny, it fits in a marble in my hand—that's how it feels.

And perhaps this is depression talking now, reducing things, because joy and the largeness of that joy are its opposite.


I cannot understand the size of my want or the solidity of my soul, and I cannot tell sometimes sadness and grief from love and love and more love. So this is all I can do today: make a list of what I have, and try not to think of what I want and do not have. And I have two hands to write this, and a computer to write it on, and dogs snoring next to me, and hot tea (although, bleh, I bought it and this one's not so good—see how I go, all the time? with the complaining?). It's an exercise, much like just living every day is. And exercise. At which I will, apparently, never become proficient. I'll drown the want of my desire to be a great writer in another document, and today, in just this minute, I will try to be satisfied. And grateful.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Flash fic: Butter


Butter


The doors slid shut behind him, and the sounds of the casino—the jangling slot machines, the piped-in music of nineties superdivas—disappeared, muted by mahogany paneling and plush burgundy carpet.

The room was long, no chairs, with a desk at the end, tall and narrow. A woman stood behind it, black hair hanging down her back and catching the glow of the wall sconces.

She turned as he approached, and smiled. Jack paused, steps from the desk. She was two women. Or rather, one woman with two heads. No, that wasn't right either.

Each woman wore a blouse, ivory, sheer, with a lace collar and three tiny buttons, the blouses stitched together at the chest. The women faced each other, the distance of an eyelash between them. He could not see below the desk. He felt uncomfortable wanting to.

"Mr. Gray?" said one.

Jack nodded. So as not to stare, he watched their hands; each used a hand to rifle through a stack of unmarked envelopes, fingers dancing along white creases, plucking one from the rest. The one who had spoken used her left hand to open the envelope, and the other used her right hand to remove a key.

"Here you are," said the one on the right. "Good luck, Mr. Gray."

He took the key with unease.

She gestured to a door on the left; her twin echoed the gesture.

The door opened onto an elevator. Jack stepped inside, and an attendant dressed in livery, as if he were a chauffeur, smiled and nodded.

"Mr. Gray," said the man, tanned and wrinkled beneath a black cap.

The door shut on his last glimpse of the women.

"Beautiful," said Jack, not knowing what else to say.

"Beautiful, yes. But only one heart." The man shook his head. "Two people cannot have one heart."

The door opened.

"We're here?" said Jack. "I didn't feel it move."

The man smiled. "You have your key?"

Jack nodded.

"Good luck, Mr. Gray."

He stepped into a narrow hallway, with another attendant, this one dressed less elegantly: the bulge of guns beneath his cheap suit was excessive, comic.

"That's a lot of firepower, considering you can only fire one at a time," said Jack.

The man shook his head. "Two." He withdrew two of the pieces, both hands turning the guns simultaneously.

"Impressive," said Jack, and the man smiled, replacing his guns. Jack sniffed. "Is that... chocolate I smell?"

"Good luck, Mr. Gray," the man said, and opened the door.

*

Jack had possessed a terrible sweet tooth once.

Once. Now he'd much rather have a nice, medium-rare chateaubriand, steaming on the plate, meant for two but all to himself.

The sight of her, however, dressed in cream-colored silk behind a sleek, ebony desk, caused in him a pang, a longing for something warm, and soft, and sweet on his tongue.

A chef in a white coat stood beside a small cart, a glass bowl of chocolate before him. He unwrapped a stick of butter. She motioned to the chef, and before he dropped the butter into the chocolate, he presented it to her. She drew a finger across the top and tasted it.

The door shut behind him.

"Mr. Gray," said the woman. "Won't you sit?"

"You can call me Jack, Charlotte," he said, and took the chair in front of the desk. "I promise, I won't think you're anything but business."

"Why would you?" she said. Her gaze was cool; her hair, not nearly as black as the women's in the lobby but still dark, dark like the chocolate in the bowl, was tucked in a neat twist at the nape of her neck. There was a tattoo there, he knew, an ostrich feather.

As she twisted her head to pull a file from a drawer, he saw it then, except it wasn't a feather any longer, but two swords, one up, one down.

She drew a single sheet of paper from the file. Without looking at it, she said, "My. This is quite a bit of money you owe us."

He shrugged. "I'll pay it back soon. Tables have been bad, that's all."

"Are you saying that the casino has rigged tables? Or that they are somehow sub-standard?"

"No, of course not. It's just... things haven't exactly gone my way lately. But they will soon." They always do, he thought. The coin always flips. "Your father let me run a house tab."

"We've extended your tab eight times this month already. And my father no longer owns this casino."

Beside them, the chef lifted the spatula, inspecting the silky fall of chocolate. Satisfied, he removed the bowl from the flame.

"A little more time, Charlotte. That's all I'm asking. Things will change."

"When your luck changes?" She stared at the bowl. "Chocolate, sugar, butter. It's not just the ingredients, you know. It's timing and skill."

He swallowed, turning the key in his palm.

The chef cracked two eggs, and added a sprinkle of salt. He stirred and poured the batter into a silver pan. The bowl scraped clean, he set it down and took up the pan, presenting it to Jack.

"Your key," she said.

"We used to have crepes every morning, and scones. Lemon, blueberry... And your cakes... Caramel. Coconut..."

He implored her with his eyes, willing her to remember when they'd been young, willing to her to recall nights he'd come to her, flush with his winnings, and her apartment smelling like cinnamon, her skin tasting like vanilla.

The elevator attendant's words came to him: Two people cannot have one heart.

He dropped the key atop the batter. It sank, vanishing from view.

The chef took the pan with Jack's cake to a door that slid open, revealing a room with an oven at the center, and all around, on every wall, shelves, and those shelves laden with cakes.


"Seven days, Jack. The casino gets what's owed." She closed her eyes. "I can taste it already."




*

Well, that was strange.

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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Grimdark Voting! And review: Chris Beckett's Dark Eden

Only two days left to vote in the Grimdark challenge over at Fantasy Faction! Thirteen flashfic stories of the grimmest, darkest horrors around. One of those is my own entry, Chirp.

Grimdark Stories Thread

No mention of party cake in any of the stories, I might add. An oversight, which I'll try to correct in future grimdark stories.

*

Finished Chris Beckett's Dark Eden, which won the Arthur C. Clarke award last year. It was not what I expected, and in fact, was so different from anything I've ever read, that I'm still having muddled feelings about it.

John Redlantern is one of 532 people in the Family, who are all descended from Tommy and Angela. Approximately two hundred years ago, Tommy and Angela, along with three others, crashed their spaceship on a planet after having, presumably, crossed through a wormhole from our galaxy. This new planet is nothing at all like Earth, although it is capable of sustaining life, and when their ship is unable to return, they send the three others in another ship that is also damaged but may be able to make the journey back. Tommy and Angela procreate while waiting for someone to rescue them, they live and die, and the family continues on, intermingling, increasing their numbers, and holding on tight to the stories Tommy and Angela told of a place called Earth, where the Sun shines and there is technology they can't begin to understand.

The Family lives in one valley, where the ship originally crashed, and is divided into groups. They hunt and fish and have sex indiscriminately with one another. If their culture is beyond imagining, then so too is their world, which has no sun but receives red and blue and yellow light from the trees and creatures, which all have light-emitting globes.

Eventually, as it has to happen, one person wonders what is beyond their valley, and what if no one from Earth ever comes for them, and how will they survive as resources dwindle. John Redlantern is only fifteen, but he has ideas and a restlessness that makes others in the Family uncomfortable. When he decides to speak his mind and then act on it, the Family begins to fragment, and real violence comes to them for the first time in their two hundred years.

Despite being fast-paced and eventful, Dark Eden is also thoughtful and questioning. The secondary characters are fleshed out well, and Beckett seems to have considered a multitude of issues that would arise in such a particular situation.

Most of those who did not like Dark Eden seem to have had a problem with the language, which has, naturally, degraded over time from the English that Tommy and Angela spoke. In addition, the entire concept of five hundred people descended from only two, and the incest (and all the genetic problems that come from such inbreeding) make for a very, very strange experience. However, John and the others are so incredibly human, and the storytelling so vivid, that the book ceased to give me a headache by about a quarter way through -- yes, I found this book so strange at first, so difficult to comprehend, that I had a headache trying to understand it. But once I grasped it, I was along for the ride, and read it very quickly.

It's a challenging read in many aspects, and worthy of praise and awards. The ending was sort of a letdown, and that's my main criticism of it. I understand, I think, why Becket wrote it that way, but I'm not pleased.

I do highly recommend Dark Eden. You absolutely won't read anything like it.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Party Cake Mania

Pretty sure that before "party cake" flavoring arrived on the scene a few years ago, my life had a dreadful hole, a void of which I was unaware, and yet, I knew that something was missing. Something with buttercream and sprinkles.

Enter Turkey Hill's Party Cake ice cream, my introduction to the flavor and still the best use of the flavor anywhere:


TH's version has a soft vanilla ice cream with blue buttercream and colored cake chunks. I LOVE IT.

Lately, party cake has seen a proliferation of uses, beyond ice cream, and in the interest of science, I tried a few of them. Research, my friends. Research. (or, as Jesse Pinkman says, SCIENCE, bitch)

First up, M&Ms birthday cake:



Supposed to taste like chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. Tastes like your basic M&Ms with a slight vanilla addition. Not worth it, IMO.

Next, DQ announced its confetti cake ice cream, which can be served in a waffle cone. I about had a heart attack when I saw that on t.v. Waffle cones, yes yes yes. So off to DQ we went. Over ten dollars later, we had two of these abominations:



First, where's the icing? I want to taste some buttercream frosting in there, not just the basic DQ vanilla soft serve. Second, the chunks of cake were few and far between, unlike the goodies packed into TH's ice cream. Last, and the death note on this one, the confetti/sprinkles are itty-bitty pebbles of astounding hardness. Like crunching gravel in my soft serve. 

Bleh. Save your money on that one. (my sister tells me that the strawberry cheesequake, however, is well worth every penny)

The final experiment was Party Cake Peeps, which also sent me into a tailspin when I saw them in CVS. Had to have them on the spot:


PCP (heh) are a rather frightening shade of bright blue on the outside, yellow on the inside, with bits of colored flecks that are, I gather, supposed to resemble sprinkles. How do they taste? LET ME TELL YOU. 

I will eat them forever. I didn't think anything could be better than a regular peep (those chocolate covered ones, blech), but these are WONDERFUL. As you can see from the pic, people are already using them to top all kinds of baked desserts. In this case, it was funfetti cake cupcakes. Funfetti is itself an entire category, and useful in making all sorts of things, not the least of which is funfetti waffles, which are every bit as delightful as you might think:



So here's the deal: Turkey Hill party cake ice cream and Party Cake Peeps, big thumbs up. So far, everything else... meh. 

This is an on-going experiment. I shall endeavor to try any and all versions of birthday cake/party cake/confetti/funfetti foodstuffs as I find. Because SCIENCE, bitch.





Friday, April 4, 2014

Fic Rec: Little Faces by Vonda McIntyre; Free Books from Angry Robot


The "little faces" of Vonda McIntyre's story are "companions," ostensibly parasites that exist within the body of a race of female humans (humanoids?). Each one is valued and loved by its host, as they contain the memories and genetic code of past lovers.

There's some strange sex going on in McIntyre's story, and that's the tip of the iceberg. McIntyre has creatively envisioned a universe in which people exist in partnership with organic "ships," which provide them with their individual homes and everything a person could want, from furnishings to sustenance to clothing. A fairly solitary existence, which may span many, many millenia, they do form friendships with others, take lovers, have social gatherings, etc. It is the morning after one such coupling, and Yalnis has awoken to blood: her primary companion has been slain while she slept, by the companion of one who she took into her bed.

Little Faces never loses its sense of oddness, of a totally foreign place, and the immersive details continue to ripple outward as the story progresses, until the reader is so entrenched in this place, that it's difficult to imagine that it doesn't exist, after all.

The story could be a metaphor for women's social interactions in the present time, or it could simply be a brilliant SF tale unlike any you've read before. I'll go with the latter.

*

Angry Robots, in conjunction with SFX Magazine, is offering two free books this month: Lauren Beuke's Zoo City and Adam Christopher's Empire State. As I've already read ZC, I picked up the e-pub version of ES, which came out last May and has been on my wishlist ever since. If you haven't read ZC, it's pretty damn cool.

You can find out how to get them here.

As a sidenote, SFX Magazine has Jon Snow and Dany on the cover (well, the actors...), and I've just picked up HBO again and have been catching up on my rewatch of GoT, and it's hard to concentrate on anything else when OMG GAME OF THRONES IS BACK ON SUNDAY!


Monday, March 31, 2014

Fic Rec: Turnover by Jo Walton

Jo Walton has a short story in the new issue of Lightspeed Magazine, Turnover. Set on a spaceship almost halfway to the New World, a group of friends meets at a lunch club in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Speranza and discusses when--and if--they will ever reach their destination, and more importantly, if they even want to arrive.

Nearly a million people live aboard the ship, in a carefully controlled environment that keeps the population steady but diverse: scientists, chefs, poets, engineers and dancers, such as Fedra, who cannot fathom a world in which there is no Ballette, a form of zero-gravity ballet performed to music on the high spans above the glittering city. When they reach the New World, it's assumed they--or rather, their descendants, for the ship's journey will take 250 years--will become farmers, and have to carve a new home out of the planet. With the upcoming Turnover in sight, Fedra realizes she doesn't want the ship to land, that she wishes to live on Speranza forever, and her children, too. In their group, some feel the same, and some are excited by the prospect of their genes living on in their grandchildren, and starting a new life.

Walton does a fantastic job of setting the scene and describing the city, and I must admit that I had thoughts of wanting to stay on Speranza, too. Be a ballet dancer, or walk behind a plow on dusty earth? But it's not that clear, and in a short story, Walton manages to raise a number of issues. If those issues aren't precisely resolved (we do not see another 125 years into the future of Speranza), they're not meant to be.

Were our ancestors who got onto Speranza going to the New World? Were their parents who died on Earth? Were theirs who never even heard of the Starship Project? How about my ancestors dragged across the Atlantic from Africa in the hold of a slaver, were they on their way to the stars?

Beautiful imagery in a very philosophical story. Well worth your time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

FF's Monthly Contest: Grimdark

Fantasy Faction's monthly contests are fun and casual, and the results intriguingly varied. For this month's theme, they chose "grimdark."

I've heard grimdark bandied about in the twittersphere, but never gave the term much thought. It sounds relentlessly oppressive, doesn't it? So I read the discussion thread on FF and did a bit of research, and gave it a go. It was tough not to insert a bit of humor, and honestly, I'm still not sure I've got a good grasp on grimdark. Humorless, dark atmosphere? Mounting casualties? Visceral images of the bloody and beheaded kind? Sad endings?

Maybe. I'll have to do more research. I was careful not to read too much of it in one day, as I didn't want it to influence my own story.

My stab at grimdark is Chirp. A witch's son, a pox-ridden queen, and the language of birds... and arrows.

I suggest if you read the entries that you especially pay attention to ACSmyth's A Deadly Game. Initially thrown off by the somewhat cliche title, man, I got drawn in and was appropriately shocked. Great tale, well told.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Days of Madness: The Embalmer



The Days of Madness are upon us. Don't shut your eyes, or you'll miss the best part--the unburdening. It happens so quickly, like the flash of an especially sharp knife!

The Embalmer is my entry into Chris Allinotte's Days of Madness. Gustav is an embalmer, and goodness knows, those poor people don't make enough money. If he takes just a bit here and there, isn't it his due? After all, a man needs a pint at the end of a hard day's work. What a pity that the newest corpse in his care just doesn't seem to want to give up its share. But don't worry, Gustav is determined and talented...

The Days are a full ten this year, darlings. I recommend you start at the beginning, with Angel Zapata's gritty, poignant, The Arrow Arrives Ahead of the Hunter (love love love). And check out the illustrations--Niall Parkinson did one to accompany each story, and I am THRILLED by what he did for The Embalmer. Niall's work is graphic and fluid and a real discovery for me. So, so happy.

Each day's story has been a unique interpretation of the Days' theme this year, "Hidden Horrors." And what a fabulous line-up. Ten great stories--last one's tomorrow, so get caught up!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Kathe Koja's The Cipher

Read Kathe Koja's The Cipher yesterday, which won the Bram Stoker in '91, among other awards, and was nominated for the Philip K. Dick. I mention the awards first because it will give you a clue as to the nature of the novel: intense, horrifying speculative fiction. Young Nicholas and his sometimes-girlfriend, Nakota, discover a black hole in the janitorial closet of his apartment building one night. Not too large, square-shaped, and black beyond black. Nakota is instantly fascinated, and while her fascination turns to obsession and becomes--extremely quickly--darker by degree, Nicholas is more or less along for the ride.

Until he accidentally touches it.

You're pulled into the story right away, dropped right into awful happenings, and Koja lets you know you're in for a roller coaster of terror. And then she makes good on it. Because of course, someone has to put things in it, someone must touch it, and the mystery and tension and horror can only grow, spiraling into sick, twisted desperation.

Ultimately, it's not about a black hole--it's about loneliness, about marginalization, about outsider culture, and about the darkness inside all of us. But except for the last couple of pages, you're never hit over the head with it. The Cipher could easily sit beside Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

If I've got a quibble, it's that I don't care for Koja's writing style. I previously read Under the Poppy, an alt-historical fiction that has some of these same themes, and I honestly hated it. But let me state that Koja has many fans, who adore her style, and find it "lush," "evocative," etc.

And be aware, it's a mindfuck. Big time. Made me have weird, weird dreams last night.