Thursday, March 29, 2012

Writerly Joke for the Day

I don't often come up with good jokes so don't expect a lot of these but this one is just too funny, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary. Here goes:

Sage advice to aspiring writers. Don't tick people off. You never know who might be a slush reader.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

eReaders and the Future

Third generation Amazon Kindle.
I was reading a book the other day—a paperback from the library, no less—when I came across a word I didn't know. Instictively, I touched the word with my finger. Nothing happened. Oh, yeah, this is a paper book. I have to do this the old way: put in the bookmark, get the dictionary, thumb through to the correct page, read the definitiions associated with a couple pictures that catch my eye, finally read the definition of the word in question, make a mental note to add it to my vocabulary (I've since forgotten it), and then go back to reading. That's a lot to do and I won't lie and say I always look up every word.

I was never opposed to eReaders. I just never thought an eReader would appeal to me. After using one for a year I'm thinking differently. It's so convenient to look up words. I've become quite skilled at hitting the right word, too. It used to take several tries but now I hit the right word with my big thumb 90+% of the time. Along the way the eReader has probably decided that I'm stupid. How many times can you look up the definition for "the". And there are so many free and/or cheap books out there. And they don't take up any bookshelf space, which is at a premium in my house. And you can put twenty, thirty, (haven't reached the max yet) books in your pocket. And you can make notes as you're reading, a real boon if you want to do a review later.

Everyone says eBook sails are rocketing. I admit I'm more likely to take a chance on an eBook than a hard copy. So what's not to like?
  1. Those brick-and-mortar book stores usually have great brownies in their cafes. Be a shame to see those go. I suspect eBooks are a brick-and-mortar's worst nightmare.
  2. What do you do with eBooks when you're done reading them? I'm used to keeping a book if I like it or donating it to the library. Do I burn all the books I want to keep to CD? I paid for them. Shouldn't I get to keep something for my money? Just deleting a book seems weird. I guess I'll get over it.
  3. What will happen to used books?
  4. What will become of book collectors? Will the first downloaded copy be more valuable fifty years from now? And who's keeping track?
  5. What will become of book signings? Maybe authors will hold book signings in some sort of internet chat room and the author will send you a file that when uploaded will magically combine with your electronic copy and add a signature image to the front page. That sounds cool, right? I dunno.
Photo Credit: Attributed to NotFromUtrecht and used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Story Out and Other News

My story "Soul Thief" is out at Fear and Trembling. A young man's obsession with online gaming and neglect of his family encourages a sluagh—a creature from Irish mythology that steals abandoned souls—to pay a visit. All hell breaks loose. Many things are broken. Shots are fired.

In other news, this month's CSFF Blog Tour features Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos. I'm not taking part—too many other writerly things to do—but if you want to read what bloggers on the tour are saying, following the links below.

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Theresa Dunlap
Amber French
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner

Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Dave Wilson

Friday, March 23, 2012

Story of the Week: The Red Thread

Ephiny Gale's "The Red Thread" in the Winter 2012 issue of Silver Blade builds on the East Asian stories of the "red string of fate" or "red thread of destiny." According to the Chinese version of the myth, an invisible red string, tied around the ankles, connects people who are destined to become lovers and marry. The connected people are soul mates, and though the string may stretch and tangle, it never breaks.

Gale's version begins with the first memory of her protagonist.

His earliest memory is of Christmas morning. He has just turned three and sees a blood red thread tied around his right ankle. He stumbles to his feet. He follows it away from the Christmas tree, away from the lights, away from his mother with her golden heart necklace and his father with his calloused hands....

His mother chases after him and brings him back before he gets very far beyond the garden, but he will spend the rest of the story following his own thread and those of others. For some unexplained reason, he is blessed or cursed with the gift for seeing the invisible threads. Through observation, he learns what the threads mean. While chasing his thread down a street, he comes across a middle-aged couple who are holding hands.

[T]hey catch his attention because their strings don’t stretch out from their legs like the long red lines on a map. The taut thread starting at the woman’s leg finishes inches later around the man’s ankle. He stares. The thread is glowing.

Unfortunately, the threads of his parents do not connect like those of the couple. His parents are not soul mates. The knowledge depresses him as does his failure to trace his thread to his own soul mate. At a party, he sees two classmates with a connecting thread that is not glowing. He introduces them and their thread lights up when they shake hands. After finishing high school, he becomes a very successful and professional matchmaker boasting a moneyback guarantee. He finds his mother's soul mate and introduces them. His parents eventually divorce.

His efforts to find his own soul mate remain unfullfilled. He has relationships with other girls. He tells himself that he needs some experience. He travels to Canada, Greenland, and finally to England. Along the way, he falls in love and gets engaged but leaves the girl before marrying. He knows she is not his soul mate. He finds the end of his thread in "a small, isolated cottage in the English countryside," but when he enters to find the Christmas present for which he has been waiting twenty-nine years, it's not what he was hoping for. No, she's not an ugly troll or something like that. It's far worse.

Gale tells her story from a distance. We're not enmeshed in the details of time and place. Some might accuse her of telling rather than showing but her narrative strategy works in this case and when we do enter the action, she uses the occaision to make a strong point. And what is the point? Is not finding your soul mate as horrible as the protagonist fears? Is seeing the red threads a blessing or a curse?

To learn more about Ephiny Gale and her writing, visit her website at

Friday, March 16, 2012

Story of the Week: Neither Fish nor Foul

Walt Staples's "Neither Fish nor Foul" from the February 2010 issue of Residential Aliens is a humorous story about stretching the letter of the law to thwart someone's intentions. The end result is a law that sounds ridiculous but perfectly serves it purpose. Clever application defeats the charlatan.

The frame story concerns a military governor's efforts to understand the basis of a local law that forbids the shaving of beards from fish on Sunday. None of his staff know anything about native fish growing beards, so he calls in the village mayor to explain the local law. The Mayor explains that his people believe one should not do unnecessary work on the day of worship and that the matter of the fish goes back three generations.

The Mayor recounts a story about a constable named Toby Case who has to contend with a young man named Jasper Shanks who claims that the Lord has shown him a miracle, a fish that grows hair. According to Shanks the miracle can be celebrated every Sunday if the fish is shaved. Shanks also wants donations to build a place to reenact the miracle. Reverend Talbot and Constable Case figure the money will go into Shanks's efforts to convince a father to approve his daughter's marriage to Shanks. Talbot and Case debate the dangers in this sort of movement, dismissing various measures to curtail it.

Toby scratched his unshaven chin. Being the Sabbath, it was, of course, illegal to shave in the shire. He grinned slowly. “Reverend, I think maybe this might be a matter for the Mayor and the Council.”

At the conclusion of his tale, Popins explains that the law is of great importance to him and his family. The frame story is a bit lengthy for my taste relative to the interior narrative, but the charm of Constable Case's clever solution to Shanks's "religious movement" makes up for any structural flaws.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Story of the Week: Bone Music

Margaret Flint Suter's "Bone Music" in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree is a tale of murder and revenge accompanied by some creepy but beautiful illustrations from Crystal Ord. Suter's tale is short, only two pages in the magazine, but she packs in a lot of story. The frist-person narrator is Hollis, a young man who lives with his father and two sisters--Rachael and Eliza--in County Clair, a holler in the woods and mountains. (The setting is never defined precisely but I assume it's the Appalachians.) Hollis and his father make fiddles. Rachael has gone to the city to pursue her dream of becoming a violin virtuoso and Eliza has been missing for months, ever since the day she accompanied Rachael to the train station. Hollis relates that "[o]ur sister Rachael was very different than us. She was dark in looks and personality." Rachael and Eliza both loved Thomas, who chose to return Eliza's affections. Before she leaves, Rachael reminds Hollis of their deal.

"Remember, Hollis, we had a deal. I leave that weak, boring sister of ours and her precious Thomas alone and you help Pa produce me a violin that will set the music world on fire. That was our bargain, don't you even dream of backing out on it." I shook her off, shaking my head incredulously. "I gave my word. You will get exactly what you deserve."

Hollis has no idea at the time how prophetic his response will be.

The action opens when Hollis's dog Digger brings back a rotting piece of bone and flesh to chew on. Hollis makes a grisly discovery. The bone is from Eliza's skull. Digger leads him to a large tree in the bank of a creek where the rest of her remains have come to rest. Eliza's skeletal fingers still grasp a clump of ebony hair--Rachael's hair. Pa dies the day Hollis finds Eliza, but Hollis keeps the news from Rachael. He sets about making Rachael's fiddle, using some very fitting supplies at hand. (If you're familiar with The Red Violin, you'll have some idea of what those bits are.) Hollis presents Rachael with her fiddle, or violin as she calls it, and gets exactly what she deserves.

"Bone Music" is a great example of how much story can be packed into a short narrative. The characters are static but this story isn't about character development. Suter gives us just enough to understand the dominant traits of their personalities and their motivations. Rachael, for instance, is wicked all the way through. Her greed and ambition have consumed her and ultimately destroy her. "Bone Music" is akin to a very satisfying fairy tale.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Story of the Week: Brightmoor Confessions

Glass in the Church of
St Bartholomew in Vojnik-Slovenia.
Joel V. Kela's "Brightmoor Confessions" from Fear and Trembling Magazine is a creepy story that will make you angry at first and then terrified, but ends with catharsis so keep reading. It's the story of what happens to Father Loren one night when he's taking confessions in an empty church in a very bad neighborhood.

Loren has been in the confessional three hours longer than normal because Father Tim, a former gangbanger who has lived in the neighborhood all his life, has inexplicably failed to show up. The penitent begins with “Bless me, Father, for I have skinned.” Loren assumes he's heard the man wrong and proceeds with the standard questions, but there's something odd about this penitent. Loren hears a strange sound coming from "the other side of the booth, like someone snapping an empty nutcracker together. Click click click." He also smells something, not alcohol, but "something rich that carried over the scent of carpet glue and wood polish." The man admits to flaying small animals when he was young and says that he's still doing it. He sobs, suggesting he is truly sorry but cannot help himself. “I just have to see them underneath, Father. It’s no good when they’re dead. It’s in the blood—you know?” At this point, Loren realizes what the clicking sound is.

When he was a teenager his brother Mark had gone on a mission trip to the Philippines and came back with a butterfly knife. Mark practiced with the thing over and over—till he cut his knuckles and their mom took it away. This clicking was just like that. Unlock, flip, catch, lock. Unlock, flip, catch, lock.

The man asks about St. Bartholomew--who, according to one tradition of his martyrdom, was skinned alive--and then describes the screams of a dying rabbit. Loren becomes increasingly nervous as he senses how utterly alone he is in the church.

“And so I came here,” the man said through choking sobs. “I had to. Animals just didn’t cut it anymore—” The man laughed, a choking snicker that echoed like crickets in the dark.

Animals didn’t cut it any more? All the hairs on the back of Loren’s neck stood up. “What do you mean?” He shifted on his bench.

The laughter cut off. “I’m damn sorry, Father. Sorry to do this.” The wood floor creaked as the man stood up. “I knew I could get a priest alone. I had to. Forgive me.”

There's a lot of story left at this point and some terrifying moments in store for Father Loren. Kela's writing creates a palpable sense of place and terror. The narrative contains many wonderful metaphors that capture the sense of the neighborhood's decay such as this description of "graffiti that ran up and down the parking lot wall like leprosy." Kela isn't going for cheap thrills. The story focuses as much on community and isolation as it does on horror. Father Loren emerges a changed man and he's going to need the community more than ever.

To learn more about Joel V. Kela and his writing, stop by his blog at

Photo: Attributed to Urharec and used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Winterland Coming to a Soul Near You

WinterlandWhat do you get when you mix a bit of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and George MacDonald's Lilith together in southern California? If the proportions are just right, you'll get Mike Duran's Winterland: A Dark Fairy Tale, a novella detailing a woman's journey through the wreckage of her mother's soul. I'm not sure if the subtitle is wholly appropriate. The "Dark" part is certainly apropos but "Fairy Tale"? The protagonist enters another world, but it's not the world of faerie that most readers of fairy tales would expect. It's not a world of wonder but one of utter despair and desloation reminiscent of McCarthy's. Her guide describes it as "her world--the wreckage or, better yet, the ripening of everything she's chosen." He later clarifies, saying "this freeway--your mother's--is populated by her: her regrets and beliefs, her inner voices and imaginary friends; the things she's let grow." I think writers sometimes attach "Fairy Tale" to a title to put readers on notice that realism will soon be tossed out the window. Enough quibbling about the subtitle, on with the summary.

Eunice Ames, a recovering meth addict, is driving west on the 210 near Los Angeles. She's going to see her mother, who is dying in a hospital from brain cancer. Mother and daughter are not on good terms and haven't been for a long time. An onyx crystal, a gift from her mother, hangs from the rearview mirror.

According to her mother, onyx helped one achieve emotional balance and build self-confidence. Mother was up on her onyx and convinced that her daughter required such alternative assistance.

Eunice thinks it "a bunch of hooey" but took the crystal as a sign of peace, a concession to her dying mother. Strange things begin to happen as Eunice approaches an overpass. A snowflake lands on her windshield and then a man that no one else sees runs out in front of her. Eunice slams on the brakes and spins out of control. She takes the twirling crystal with her when she exits her car, expecting to find the mangled remains of the man she hit. Instead she finds nothing except empty road in front of her and a massive logjam of cars behind her. A man from a Lexus stopped behind her offers assistance.

The vast concrete landscape silhouetted the Lexus man, as did the brume sunset, transforming him into a cardboard cutout against a movie screen. A drug-induced mirage could not have looked more surreal. Then, as Eunice stood staring at the man, the panorama behind him seemed to flutter--a slow-rolling spatial distortion that swept across her field of vision like a ripple on the surface of a glassy pool.

Eunice steps through that pool into a type of parallel world where "both the freeway and skyline were growing gray, becoming sepia replicas of themselves, a dreary world of ash and bone." As in his novel The Resurrection, Duran takes a few shots at New Age pagainism. Many Wiccans believe that souls go to a place called Summerland, a place of eternal summer, for rest and reflection. Eunice's mother calls the land of her soul Winterland. As soon as Eunice enters Winterland, she meets Joseph, a young man with a deformed skull and a limp. He tells her that they must reach her mother at the end of the road and collect a few fellow travellers along the way before her mother becomes stuck in Winterland. Eventually Eunice decides to follow Joseph across the desolate and highly symbolic landscape.

They first meet Mister Mordant, a disgusting hybrid of various species, who whines and complains about everything and insists that nothing is his fault. They next enter the "swamp of Mlaise" (love those names) where Eunice strays off course and finds her grandmother in a cottage. Granny Em had committed suicide. Duran provides a great depiction of the horrors of suicide for the surviving family. Eunice finds that whenever Granny Em turns around, her back is always facing Eunice. Her grandmother is the "Lady of the Perpetual Back." Eunice flees in terror from Granny Em's cottage. They next arrive on the Plains of Cinder and pick up a new fellow traveller named Reverend Ash, who inhabits the creaking Tower of Industry. Ash is consumed with rules and cleanliness and walks on stilts. He goes on and on about the Law and the futility of Eunice's quest. Towers are a common sight in fantasy landscapes. Consider Tolkien's The Two Towers. Duran's Tower brings to mind Rapunzel--it imprisons a single person--or the Twin Towers--it's on the verge of collapse. The third traveller is Sybil, who appears as a child and leads them through a maze into a veritable Garden of Eden enclosed under a ruined blimp. Sybil is adroit at telling lies. Sybil's taunts about the truth compel Joseph to explain precisely who their fellow travellers are.

Your mother has nurtured three spirits. Sybil's one of them. They're parasites, consuls of hell--all of them, concerned with only one thing: maintaining real estate. They've been passed down through your family for generations. Well, when you went to rehab, you interrupted the food chain. And they don't like you.

Eunice has one more creature to face, one more bridge to cross. And remember that onyx crystal? It shows up again too.

The landscape of Winterland is laden with symbol and imagery that come alive with Duran's vibrant descriptions. It will require multiple readings to make all the connections. The narrative lags at some points as the conversation of the characters seems to go over the same points at times but the story is compelling enough to hold most people's interest to the end. Just imagine Joseph telling you to keep reading as he's telling Eunice to keep moving forward.

For more about Mike Duran, see his blog at and my remarks on his novel The Resurrection here and here.