Claypot Dreamstance

Claypot Dreamstance first came to me almost six years ago when I was doing my Conditional Reality blog. Here’s a few samples of what he said to me then.

Since ending my old blog, Claypot’s voice kept coming back to me. He was a tough old guy who had been battered by life but not beaten. Gradually the details of his life came to me and I started a novel with Claypot as the hero. I finished it not too long ago and Green Snake Publishing published it today. Here’s the description from the back cover of the book:

Claypot Dreamstance has a beef with  the universe. Once a well-liked artist with a charmed existence, Claypot’s life cracks wide open when his young daughter dies in a drowning accident. Crippled by depression and grief, reckless, belligerent, and anti-social, he splits with his wife and spends his days executing chalk trompe l’oeil drawings on the sidewalks of his native Portland, Oregon, reaching for some meaning and beauty from out of the earth. He shuns his former associates and moves into a tent in Forest Park. He mooches cigarettes and art supplies from hapless admirers of his exquisitely made pictures, and nothing assuages his anger at the universe for taking his daughter away from him. He spirals into a fantasy land of false hope in which he believes he can pull his daughter back from death through one of his life-like trompe l’oeils. Claypot lives on the verge of madness, savagely rebuking anyone who even suggests his quest may be futile. Then one couple takes up the challenge of showing Claypot the beauty still in the world. Will Claypot listen, or will he stubbornly deploy his considerable gifts in a self-destructive orchestration of his own oblivion?

It’s available for the kindle and the nook and will shortly be available at all the usual ebook stores. Print edition also now available.

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Story Challenge #12 “Marble Angels”

This week’s story began with a picture that Kim took when we were at The Grotto in Portland, Oregon. While there, we saw a pair of beautiful marble angels on either side of a trail. Like a lot of marble sculpture, these angels had a luminous and life-like quality about them. The figures were bent down and they had their arms crossed in front of their chests. They both seemed to personify grace. Kim took some pictures and this morning, when I was ready to do my challenge story, I looked at that picture and wondered what would happen if one of those marble statues came to life. I tried to imagine what she might want. From there the story came out in about three hours writing time. It’s a little less than 3,000 words long and I hope you enjoy.

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Story Challenge #11: “The Kick”

Most of us get bumps and bruises in our lives and most of us get over them and go on with living. But what if a trauma decides to lodge in your body and never leave? This week’s story concerns the effects of a kick on a young boy and what it does to the rest of his days.

I began the story this morning with a strong image of a boy getting beaned in the head with a stirrup. From that image the rest of the story flowed out in about two hours total time. The story comes to about 2600 words. To read it, click the “Free” tab above. Enjoy.

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“Property Lines”

The March issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine is just out and it’s got a short story by me in it called “Property Lines” which concerns a couple of nice old ladies who find a way to hate each other over a dispute involving some fruit trees. No one is quite sure who owns them and their resolution to the issue is not pretty. This is my first appearance in AHHM and I’m pleased as punch to be a part of this venerable magazine.

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Story Challenge #10: “The Universe of Death”

Most likely no one will ever go to the stars, despite decades of science fiction stories that say we will. Also, we probably aren’t going to beat death. Immortality is a dream at best. And I don’t think we’ll ever have real working time machines. Just my opinion. And yet, there’s something fun and exciting about all those things. Even more fun to put them all together into one short story. That’s what I did with this week’s challenge story, “The Universe of Death.” And I packed all that fun into less than 3,000 words.

I started the story on Saturday morning and finished it a couple of hours later. I didn’t get a chance to publish until today, so here it is, my first challenge story of the new year. Enjoy.

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Story Challenge #9 “The Last Last Meal”

Not much to say about this week’s story. I’ve always been interested in the last meals that condemned prisoners ask for. This story is about someone who makes one of those last meals.

Started the piece around 9 this morning. Wrote it in four sessions and finished it about 1:30. It came to a little over 4,000 words.

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Story Challenge #8 “The Overtaker”

Most towns have people who live on the edge. They are poor, or have peculiar (to other people) ideas about how the world works, or are hermits, or don’t like most people, or, well, who knows. They’re just seen as different. For this week’s story I wanted to write about one such person. He thinks of himself as helping his town and his tribe, and so he does, even if it is in a way that most everyone else doesn’t understand.

As usual, I started the story when I woke up Sunday morning, which was about 8. I wrote it in three or four sessions with short breaks between and finished it about 2. Did some cleaning up and had Kim read it, then published it to the ebook sites. It came to about 5100 words. Enjoy!

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Story Challenge #7: “To Make a Puppet of Me”

This one grew out of an image I found on Dreamstime. The picture of the puppet’s eye caught my attention and I sat down about noon today and started typing. I let whatever was in my brain come out on the page. I finished the story about 3. It came to about 3400 words. Later in the evening I published it here. This is a strange piece, just the way I like them.

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Story Challenge #6: The King’s Tale

This week’s story began with an article by Andrew Marantz in the current Harper’s which details the imminent demise of Tuvalu, an ultra low-altitude island nation in the Pacific that is slowly being drowned by rising sea levels. I read this article with great interest. I found all the details of how an island disappears to be fascinating. The saga gave me the idea for my story about a king whose nation is slipping into the sea. I wanted the story to straddle the real world and the allegorical realm. To that end, I gave the king a “palace” in the form of a double-wide trailer. I also treated the king with great respect as a character, but made it clear that his realm is a distinctly modest dominion.

Anyway, I don’t want to give away too much of the story. I started writing it at 7:30 on Sunday morning, and finished it about 10:30. Three total hours writing, about 3400 words long. I took another hour and a half to edit it and to make a cover and format it for publication and upload it to the ebook sites. Kim read it and said it was a very Mario story. Another half hour to put it up on my own website and to write this post. Total time from start to finish: about 5 hours.

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The Coma Monologues

The good folks at Green Snake Publishing just released my novel The Coma Monologues. I’m very fond of this book. In it, a man, Gary Hawken, gets smacked by a truck and falls into a coma. His doctor says he has little chance of recovery, but his wife, Melody, does not accept the doctor’s opinion. She decides she will bring her husband back by telling him stories. Specifically, she gets people from his life to come to his bedside and talk to him in a series of monologues. His high school chum comes and talks to him. As does a former teacher and camp counsellor. The hospital janitor puts in his two bits. Isaac Asimov also talks to him (even though he is dead). A centaur comes and delivers a monologue. Scheherazade, perhaps the most famous storyteller of all, talks to him. Also his house. And God. And Mother Nature. They’re all there to try to bring him back to the living. It was great fun as a writer to try all the different voices and as I was reading it over while getting ready to publish it, I felt like it would be a fun book to read. So here’s hoping I’m right.

Here’s an excerpt from the book, the beginning of the Scheherazade monologue:


I am told that my fame has outlived me. How can this be? You are not of my time and country. This place is foreign to me. What are these bare white walls and these contrivances surrounding you? I see boxes, shiny. And lights. The sighing of machinery, if machinery it is. Or is it magic in those boxes? Are there genii living in them?

I may not even be real. Am I the manifestation of some wizard’s imagination? Calling me up for his amusement? Indeed, are you such a one? Are you more cunning than you appear, inert and dumb on the bed before me. My king was such a man. So filled up with hate and revenge in his heart that he could not be moved. Not for many months, though I told him tales.

And why does my history still live on in this age? I come from a time and place when killing a woman, merely for being a woman, was not a crime. Indeed, it was common practice for a king who tired of his wife to dispatch her to the empty realm and no consequences befall him for such an action. Not just kings. Men of lower class, even the lowliest of the low, could indulge such murderous impulses with impunity.

But history changes things, does it not? My tale, one of desperation, one in which I concocted tales as a way to outwit a wicked king, has become a charming legend, when in truth, as I lived it, it was a terrifying and soul-slaying time.

You know that the king forced himself upon me? Your legends of me do not make that clear. He made three sons by me in this way. Finally, after I had exhausted my tales, after I had birthed for him three children, then and only then, did he consent to let me live.

Let me live.

In all my stories that I told to him, none was so fantastic, so incredible as my own tale, the tale of how I became a queen.

Your versions of my legend make it clear that I volunteered to be his consort. Oh, how the blind eye of history mocks my life. Why would I volunteer to put myself into such jeopardy? I did no such thing. I was snatched up from the streets by the king like a common dog and made to appear before him for his night of debauchery. Can you conceive of any sane person, any sane woman, putting herself into such a situation? If you can, you have a more expansive, a more profound imagination than I ever employed in my survival.

No, it was only my quick-witted thinking, on the spot, that allowed me to propose to the king that I might tell a story before my death.

You know the rest, of course. I stopped my story before the end, feigning weariness. I told him I could not go on. The king granted me a day’s reprieve that I might finish the story the next night. Such a kind-hearted soul, no? Bah! He wanted to hear his stupid story, one I made up about a king and a genie and, oh for goodness sake, who knows? It was a ridiculous tale, born of desperation. My professed weariness did not prevent him from raping me that night. Nor the subsequent nights. But that bit of my tale is missing from your legends, is it not? Too awful, I suppose. The reality of what happened to me might spoil the charm of my tales, is that it?

On the next night I finished the first story and immediately launched into a second. I stopped before the end and the king indulged his desires upon my body again. And so our life together proceeded in this way, night after torturous night. I desperately wracked my brain for a new story every night. Sometimes I remembered old tales my mother had told me. Sometimes I made up new stories from my own imagination. Other times I told about my family. My kind sister, my timid brother. Everything I ever knew, all the people I had ever met, they all went into the ragbag jumble of my storytelling. It kept me alive, yes, but what a life. I thought of death. Longed for it. But life has different plans for us sometimes. Life can be stronger than our own impulse for a preferred existence.

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Story Challenge #5: The Corrosive Properties of Dream States

The title of this one came first. I thought it up as I was falling asleep Saturday night. I liked the sound of it and how it evoked an image of caustic dreams. Got up Sunday morning and just plunged into the story. I thought of time travel and a 12 year old girl and her relationship with her mother and deceased father somehow gurgled up from my sub conscious brain. I wrote steadily for four hours and finished the story about 11 in the morning. Broke for lunch and to do the dishes. Found a good picture on Dreamstime of the earth rusting away and put the cover together. I spell-checked the thing, read it over twice, gave it to Kim for her fixes and posted it in the afternoon. Total time, including writing, doing the cover, and publishing it to the ebook sites: about 6 hours. It came to a little over 5,000 words.

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Story Challenge #4: The Spirit in the Ink

Got up about 7 and spent the morning with Kim before she went to Portland for a workshop for the day. After she left I muddled around with some ideas, but nothing much was coming to me. I had no inspiration for a story at all. Nada. Zippo. I remember this from my poetry writing days. Some days it seems that there’s nothing with which to make a poem or a story. I suppose I could have just let the writing go for today, but I didn’t want to do that. I was committed to this challenge, so I was going to find a way. I browsed through looking for an illustration that might jump start me. Found one that struck my fancy, a profile of a person fading off into oblivion. Hmmm. Something there. Made me think of loss and illusion. Good themes for a story, right? Right. Then I looked through some story fragments I had lying around on my hard drive. Found a pretty good 500-word beginning about a tattoo artist in Portland. I read it over a couple of times, just to get the feel of the character and his milieu, and I was off. Spent the next three hours writing the story. Took a break every hour to walk around, drink some water, and get ready for the next hour. Finished the story about 1 p.m. Went outside for a walk and came back and read the story over, gave it a title, and printed it out for Kim to read. When she got home I finished making dinner and she read the story and gave her opinion. I fixed the booboos she found and published it. About 3600 words total, 3100 of them new today. Total time, including looking for inspiration, writing the story, proofing the story, formatting and publishing the story: about 6 hours. A good day.

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My challenge: write and publish a story a week for a year

This is a catch-up post on my challenge to myself. A few weeks ago I decided I would write and publish a short story a week for a year. I began on 9 October 2011 with the 3700 word short story “Killing Time.” I wrote and published it the same day. I make no claims as to its quality, either good or bad. The e-book revolution allows writers to put out their work quickly and easily for the whole world to discover but I’m not venturing an opinion as to whether or not that’s a good idea for literature, reading, society, or life in general. Time will tell; history will judge. I will say that it is a great feeling to have the freedom that indie publishing gives an author. I can publish what I want, at the length I want, with the covers and blurbs I want, and at the pace I want. So far I’m not seeing a down side.

My second story in the challenge was “They Taste Like Chicken” (4300 words). I wrote that one on 16 October. Total elapsed time between starting the story and getting it published  on the ebook sites was a little over 6 hours. I felt like I hit my stride with this one. The concept, story, cover, and title just all slotted together very nicely and I was pleased with the result.

The third story in the challenge I wrote today, 23 October. “The Night Alex Almost Flew Over Old Lady Grayson’s Place” ended up being 4400 words long. I started it at 7:15, when I got up. I worked on it for a bit, then went downstairs and washed some sushi rice for the night’s dinner. I set the rice to drain and went back upstairs and wrote for another hour or so. I went back downstairs and put the rice on to soak. Back to my upstairs office and more writing. Kim made us both some breakfast. I took a break and we ate together and talked for a bit. Then I returned upstairs and finished the story some time before noon. I spell checked it and did a quick read through to see if it made sense. It seemed to, so I left it and Kim and I went out to the woods for a hike. We were gone about two and half to three hours. When we got back I printed out the story and Kim read it while I made us a quick lunch of soup and sandwiches and also put the rice on to cook and did the dishes. After lunch I went over the story and made the corrections that Kim suggested. Then I put the cover together and published the story to all the ebook sites. Total time working on the story and getting it published: About 7 hours. Not bad. A day’s work. After I published, I made the sushi and we ate it while flipping between the fourth game of the World Series and the Sixty Minutes piece on Steve Jobs. Maybe more information than you wanted to know about one day in the life of an indie writer, but there it is. The creative life interweaving with the everyday life. Or maybe making the everyday life a creative life. Either way, it felt like a really good day.

I’m making each challenge story free on this site until I write the next story.

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I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before that often the best way to learn to do something is to do it, even before you know how. That’s the way I learned to write poetry. I wrote a poem a day for three years. Practice practice practice. Or, as I’ve heard others put it: chop wood, carry water. So. In the spirit of daily practice, I’ve undertaken a new project: I’m going to write and publish a short story a week for a full year. First one is up now. Click on the “Free” tab at the top to read “Killing Time.”

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The Red Market by Scott Carney

The Red Market looks at the global market in human tissue. Carney uncovers a class system in which the products of poor human bodies migrate to the bodies of rich humans. From a section of the book in which he details the practice of hiring people to do clinical trials of drugs:

As with kidneys, eggs, and every other red market, the flesh of trial subjects can only move upward through the social hierarchy…. The poor and destitute bear the risk of testing drugs, but only the affluent receive their potential benefits.

This book was a real eye opener for me. Carney writes about a village in India in which almost all the women have sold their kidneys just to survive. He tells of the common practice of kidnapping young children to sell them to orphanages where affluent adoptee parents are duped into thinking the child they are about to adopt actually is an orphan. He explains how a temple takes in donated hair from pilgrims then sells the hair on the open market, a nearly billion dollar a year market. And he explains how grave robbers in India bleach bones to be sold to medical schools in England, the United States, and other countries. And that’s just for starters. There are chapters on professional lab rats, egg harvesters, and bone merchants. The red market is extensive and all-encompassing. Almost every country in the world is knee deep in it, as provider, recipient, or both.

I had no idea of the extent of this market. It is a global enterprise in which kidneys, bones, skin, blood, and anything else that can be sourced from a human body attracts a clandestine underground in which the recipients are generally ignorant of the source of the tissue they use. Medical schools, hospitals, doctors, and patients almost universally close their eyes and cover their ears when it comes to knowing exactly where the body parts they use comes from.

The Red Market is a thorough and sometimes harrowing work of reportage. I was transfixed and fascinated. Very highly recommended.

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Bewere the Night just published.

Ekaterina Sedia is a terrific writer and an accomplished editor and anthologist. She’s just published her anthology Bewere the Night: Tales of Shapeshifters and Werecreatures, which is brimming with marvelous stories about werewolves and suchlike creatures. It even includes one of mine: “An Unnatural History of Scarecrows.” You think scarecrows aren’t scary? You think scarecrows can’t shapeshift? So did I, until I started looking into the matter while researching my story. Be afraid.

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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I just finished this book after reading nothing else for the past three or four days. It’s riveting and spellbinding, an epic story about an epic disease. Mukherjee is an oncologist himself and his inside knowledge, not to mention his obviously astute research, brings a quiet authority to his tale.

My father died of cancer. So have some of my friends. I also know many survivors of cancer. Most people do, since the disease is so prevalent. This book describes the efforts of scientists and doctors who have struggled to understand and defeat cancer. It details moments of great triumph, and times when the principals displayed poor judgement and dangerous stubbornness. Today many cancers can be cured by medication which takes advantage of what has been learned of the genetic machinations of cancer cells. The Emperor of All Maladies traces the history of how we got to this point and how we might continue from here.

It’s a terrific read. It pulls no punches in relating the misery and death that cancer has wrought. But it also points to a hopeful future when cancer might become a frightening memory rather than a terrifying reality.

Very highly recommended.

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One Reason I Love Libraries

I was putting together a dish for a potluck, but I was away from my home library, and the book with the recipe for the potato salad I wanted, Recipes For a Small Planet, was not at any local bookstore, not in any local branch of the library, not on Google books, and not on Amazon’s Look Inside feature. So I went to this nifty site called Worldcat and found a library in Montana, the Swan Valley branch of the Missoula Public Library, which had the book on its shelf. I called them up and explained my situation and the woman who answered the phone plucked the book from the shelf and read me the recipe over the phone. And she was happy to do it. That’s why I LOVE libraries.

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The internet has changed the definition of a magazine. For example, Daily Science Fiction is an online magazine that delivers its content to subscribers by e-mail. Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, DSF sends out a short story to everyone on its subscription list. Last Monday, November 1st, they emailed my story “Faith.” Now they’ve put it up on their website for all the world to read.

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Goldie and the Three Bears by Diane Stanley

I sometimes do story time for preschool children at the library where I work. Often the books I choose to read leave the kids distinctly underwhelmed. I’m always on the look out for good stories that don’t bore them to distraction. Kids are a tough audience! I’m happy to report that I found an exceptional version of the Goldilocks story, Goldie and the Three Bears, written and illustrated by Diane Stanley. It’s the classic Goldilocks story, updated to a suburban setting. My audience of 3- and 4-year-olds were absolutely mesmerized by this book. Not one of them moved a muscle the whole time. I enjoyed it, too. The book has charm, smarts, a touch of danger and transgression, and a marvelously spirited central character, Goldie, who knows exactly what she likes, and when she finds it, she loves it with all her heart.

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I’ve jumped into the e-book revolution. Click on the stories tab at the top of the page and take a look at my first e-book short story. More coming soon.

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Breaking Waves Released

Breaking Waves, a benefit anthology to help people affected by the recent oil gusher disaster in the Gulf, has just been released. Official press release here:

Book View Café Publishes Benefit Anthology for Gulf Relief

Book View Café has launched their benefit anthology, BREAKING WAVES. All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Relief Fund of the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

The collection features over thirty stories by a wide range of best-selling and award-winning authors, including a previously-unpublished poem from Nebula and Hugo award-winner Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as a chapter from Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book The Sea Around Us. Authors contributing stories of environmental rescue and recovery include Vonda N. McIntyre, Judith Tarr, Deborah Ross, Sarah Monette, David D. Levine, David Gessner, and Lyda Morehouse among others. Tiffany Trent and Phyllis Irene Radford edited the collection.

The book is available in epub, pdf, mobi, and prc formats in the Book View Café bookstore and will be coming to the Kindle store soon.

So far the book is available only in electronic formats, but a print version is coming soon. My poem “Suicide Note” is in the anthology and I am very pleased to be part of this project. No contributor is making a dime from the book: we all donated our words for the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Relief Fund.

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FictionDaily posts links to three stories every day from around the web. Today they’re featuring my recent tale “28 Ways to Look at Illness.

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"28 Ways to Look at Illness"

Most of us at some point have to contend with failures in our health. It’s not a pleasant subject to contemplate, but unpleasant subjects are often doorways to literature. A while ago I explored the subject off illness and how it hurts people and relationships. The result was a story composed of short vignettes. Annalemma, a fine online and print magazine, liked it enough to feature it on their website. The story is called “28 Ways to Look at Illness” and you can read it here.

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My Latest Podcast

qarrtsiluni is a nifty little online magazine which has been very friendly to my work. They’ve published three of my pieces so far. The latest, which went live today, is “Moleskin,” part of the current theme, New Classics, which asked contributors to re-imagine classic works of art, classic objects, classic themes, classic anything. I chose to take a look at that funny little notebook with the elastic band on it that goes by the brand name “Moleskin.” Their ads always mention how their design is “classic.” Such chutzpah practically begged to be reinterpreted, and I could not resist the temptation.

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It's Official: I'm an Older Writer

I am very pleased to announce that the fine people at the Speculative Literature Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting literary quality in speculative fiction, has done me the honor of naming me this year’s recipient of their Older Writers Grant. I can’t pretend any longer: my prodigy days are definitely over!

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I Got Interviewed

Lidija Beatović, one of the editors at Art-Anima, a website devoted to Serbo-Croatian writers of the fantastic, saw my story in Interzone and liked it so much she asked to interview me. I agreed, and the result is here. She even translated it into Serbo-Croatian. Read that version, if you can (I can’t), here.

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"The Untied States of America"

That’s not a typo in the title. I really do have a story called “The Untied States of America” and it’s in the current issue of Interzone, the cool magazine that’s been the standard bearer of sf and fantasy short fiction in the U.K. for many years. I am seriously chuffed that they have published me. My story concerns what happens when the good ol’ U S of A literally breaks apart along state lines and all fifty states end up floating freely in the ocean. No, in fact, I don’t know where I get my crazy ideas.

I googled the title, looking for early reviews of my story, (yes, writers do that, even though we’re not supposed to) and, wow, I discovered that phrase must be one of the most common typos out there. I could not believe how many times people type “untied” when they mean to type “united.” Not exactly an earth shaking discovery, but still, kind of interesting.

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Seems I won a contest

The fine folks at ran a short story contest last year, and, hey, looks like I took first place with my speculation on the ramifications of getting yourself frozen for posterity.

The story is titled “Cold Comfort” and you can read it for free here.

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I was at the local grocery store, buying a new broom. As the checker scanned it she said: “Oh, a new car!” I said, “Yup, I’m driving it home right now.” She said, “I didn’t know they let guys do that.” I said: “They don’t, but some of us do it anyway.”

Ha. She laughed and laughed.

We have us some good times at the grocery store…

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"How the Owl Learned That Being Wise Isn't Everything."

My latest short story just appeared in Emerald Tales, a charming magazine dedicated to publishing short stories of all genres. The latest issue, (free pdf here opens in a new window) challenged each author to begin a story with the sentence “It was a bright and sunny day.” My contribution concerns a particular owl and the consternation she causes in her fellow forest creatures with her constant advice giving. It was a lot of fun trying my hand at a talking animal fairy tale, and I’m pleased Diana Lyles, the editor of ET, liked it enough to include it in her magazine.

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"Parallel Moons"

This is shaping up to be a good writing year for me. I just got my copy of the spring issue of Space and Time which has my latest short story, “Parallel Moons.” Space and Time published my very first short story back in 1984 so I have considerable affection for this venerable and scrappy journal which has published tales of fantasy, horror and science fiction since the sixties. Long live the small press! (They’re like the indie movies of literature.) My story is an entwining of three different tales, in each of which the moon disappears in one of three ways: linguistically, physically, and visually.

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Two Recent Publications

My short story “Will” appeared in the final issue (#7, Autumn/Winter 2009) of Ballista, a fine magazine from Flapjack Press. My story is an odd little thing about a celebrity author who happens to be an ape. It’s not online. If you want to read it, you’ll have to buy the dead tree version of the magazine, which also contains lots of other good stories.

And just last month, my short story “The Lost Day” appeared on Full of Crow, a quirky little online magazine. This one concerns Darwin and Noah and the curious connection linking them to each other. They’re both collectors of animals, see, and they both believe in God, and they both take a long sea voyage. Why, the parallels are uncanny. While you’re there, take a look around the site. Lots of good material for your reading pleasure.

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In Maps & Legends by Michael Jasper and Niki Smith

My pal Mike Jasper wrote a terrific comic that is now up here. If you like it and want to see more, it wouldn’t hurt to show some love by voting for it in the competition he has going on at the site.

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The Spare Room by Helen Garner

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. A woman dying of cancer visits her friend for three weeks while she gets treatment at a nearby clinic. Her friend is welcoming, at first, but the burden of caring for the woman, even for a short time, proves emotionally and physically too much for the friend, a fact she faces very reluctantly. The detail in this novel feels absolutely authentic and the emotions are real. The depiction of the pain for both parties is pitch perfect. The novel confronts real issues of love and commitment and never sidesteps any of them. The book is riveting and true. I really can’t say enough good things about it. This is my first encounter with Garner’s work. I will definitely seek out more of her books.

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"Winding Broomcorn"

My latest short story, “Winding Broomcorn,” has just been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’ve been published there before, but this is the first time I got my name on the cover, which is pretty cool. Yes, F&SF is one of those old fashioned print magazines (although you can get an electronic version here) with a long history of publishing excellent short fiction. I’m very happy to be part of it. You should be able to find it at your local newstand, (if you still have such a thing in your neighborhood) or you could support an excellent magazine and subscribe. Just saying.

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Church of the Old Mermaids

Kim Antieau is a remarkable writer of amazing range and skill. She creates characters and stories that live beyond the page, and there is nothing else one can ask of any writer. Her latest novel is Church of the Old Mermaids. That’s all you really need to know. Buy the book. You will not be disappointed.

Okay, if that’s not enough for you, find out more about the Old Mermaids here. Then buy the book. Okay, okay, if that still isn’t enough to convince you, then explore the COTOM blog here. You still won’t be disappointed. I promise.

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Third Eye

We expected to see the sun that morning, and we were right. It rose muted and ruddy exactly when it was supposed to, climbing out of the ground like a slow waking bear. We examined the sun through binoculars. It had spots. Not like a leopard (the sunspots kept changing) but definitely pretty. When we looked away we saw spots in front of our eyes. They slid against the air, followed a stately downward arc, then accelerated into the ground. Ghosts found the spots and put them on their earlobes. Sunspot bling. Some ghosts put the spots on their foreheads.

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Best Joke I've Heard in a Long Time

A guy is driving down the road with five penguins in the backseat. He gets stopped by a cop. “Sir,” says the cop, “you can’t be driving around town with penguins in your car. You get those birds to a zoo, and I mean now.”

“Yes officer,” says the guy, and drives away.

A week later the same guy is driving down the same road. He has the same five penguins in the backseat, but this time they’re all wearing sunglasses. The same cop stops him. “Sir,” says the cop, “I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo.”

“I did officer,” says the guy. “And today I’m taking them to the beach.”

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Mythic Arts

The final issue of the Journal of Mythic Arts is now online. Editors Terri Windling and Midori Snyder have done their usual fine job in assembling a terrific mix of art, prose, and poetry. Oh, and they even reprinted one of my poems, “Lunar Fate.” Go take a look.

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Pulling Strings

The good people at qarrtsiluni have posted my latest tale: “Pulling Strings: A Quantum Story Cycle.” Click on the player at the top of the post and you can hear me reading the story. Also, do take a look at some of the other posts. Lots of good stuff for your amusement and enlightenment.

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A Friend of a Friend Said She Overheard a Guy Telling Someone Else That He Heard This From Another Person's Friend

My barber’s wife’s realtor’s brother’s dog’s veterinarian’s accountant’s brother-in-law’s astrologer’s aunt’s gardener’s mother’s pulmonologist’s son’s teacher’s sister’s chiropractor’s cousin’s contractor’s girlfriend’s grandfather’s nurse’s landlord’s cook’s roommate’s boss’s plumber’s parrot says the whole six degrees of separation thing that people like to go on and on about is largely untrue.

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Suicide Note

The amazing Michael Swanwick, who I have mentioned here before, has seen fit to post one of my poems on his blog Poem du jour. I’m not telling you this only to brag on myself. The blog is a collection of interesting poems with comments by Michael, originally intended for his son Sean and some of his friends. I’ve had a good time reading through it and thought you might as well.

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qarrtsiluni Just Posted My Latest Story

It’s called “Red Shift” and you can find it here, along with an MP3 of me reading it. While you’re there, take a look at the rest of the issue and the rest of the site. A lot of good and interesting material by a wide range of writers and visual artists.

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Deflecting an Awkward Situation

If someone asks to read my stuff I gladly provide them with some of my stories or poems. But first I tell them I will never ask them if they liked the work or even if they read it. Why? Because it avoids embarrassment. There is nothing more awkward, for both parties, than having to tell an author you didn’t like their story or poem or novel.

So I get that issue out of the way right from the get go. Read my stuff. I hope you like it, but if you don’t I will never put you in the position of having to say so to my face.

Here’s the thing: Just because you are friends with someone does not necessarily mean you are going to like their writing. Same goes for your relatives, your spouse, your co-workers, your clients, and your neighbors. All of these people can love, adore, and respect you, and still hate your work. Or be indifferent to it. Or be put to sleep by it.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

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The Natives Here Are so Quaint and Friendly

I’m sitting on a bench outside a restaurant in the little town where I live, soaking up the shade while waiting for my friend. We’re going to have lunch together. A guy I’ve seen around town, but don’t know, walks by. He’s showing his grandfather the sights. “Over here,” he says, “is the town ice cream parlor. And just down here is this restaurant that used to be a brothel back in the twenties. And right there—” he points to me “—is the guy who works at the library.”

Yup. I’m one of the local tourist attractions. And I am a happy people.

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The Secret

At the library where I work, people often find out that I’m a published author. The first thing they do after their discovery is not to ask me where they can read some of my work. No. What they want to know is how they can get published too. I think the reasoning goes something like this: Well, heck, if this schmuck can do it, then I should be able to do it too.

Nothing wrong with that. I’m just a guy with a computer and some postage, like most writers, so, actually, they can do it too. Just about anyone can. Except they don’t really want to know how it’s done. What they want is The Secret.

I tell them the secret to getting published is writing something, then sending it to an editor who might buy it.

This usually gets blank stares. They want to know the secret handshake that gets them into the club. They want to know who they have to know to get their stuff into print.

So I tell them again. I became a published poet by writing a ton of poems, then mailing them to editors. Every one of those hundreds of editors, except for a couple, were complete strangers to me. Most of the poems came back. About 95% of them came back with flat rejections. But the other five percent? Editors liked them enough to put them in their magazines and anthologies. That’s it. That’s the secret. Write. Mail. Repeat. Over and over.

Of course I didn’t write the same poem over and over. I studied poetry. Tried dozens of different forms. Wrote against my natural style. Tried subjects unfamiliar to me. Wrote from my heart. Wrote from my brain. Wrote about my life. Wrote about other people’s lives. Wrote about this world. Wrote about imagined worlds. And so on. In other words, I kept learning while I was doing those thousands of poems. I made a lot of mistakes, wrote some terrible poems, but I just kept doing it, stretching my craft, until I got some success.

I’m not saying that’s the only way, or even the best way. I don’t know what the best way is. All I’m saying is that’s the way I did it and anyone else can do it too. It works.

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Beginner's Mind

I’m a full time short story writer again. I’m writing and submitting a short story every week. I’m on my fifth week and I’m learning a lot just by doing the practice.

For example, on this week’s story I was having trouble making a character fit into the plot. I thought she needed to be there, but she just didn’t want to be, and I couldn’t understand why. For one thing, she was crucial to the ending. So I gave her more to do. I had her confront the hero of the story. I did her back story. I raised her stakes in the story. All of these can be effective strategies, but she still stubbornly refused to come alive in any way. She just wasn’t connected to anything else in the story.

Oh, yeah. Seems I forgot to do that. Oops.

So I gave her a relationship with another character in the story. I made her the hero’s friend’s daughter, and wow, everything just clicked into place.

It was obvious, but only obvious after I had tried just about everything else.

So I’m learning. Keeping my beginner’s mind and being open to the process.

I’ll let you know how it’s going.

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Formula Fiction

It’s usually a pejorative term, said with an implied or even audible sneer, but why should it be? After all, formal poetry is generally accorded respect.

Both formula fiction and formal poetry employ a template for their construction. In the case of poetry, the template is often very strict. Writing a proper sonnet involves a specific number of lines, each with a set number of syllables, deployed in a strict meter with a specific rhyming scheme. How formulaic can you get?

Formula fiction is usually considered formulaic because of its plot. Certain events are supposed to occur in a certain sequence with certain consequences and a prescribed ending. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like a set of rules for creating a story, kind of like the sonnet has a set of rules for creating poetry.

In both cases, fiction and poetry, the form or the formula is not the point of the writing. Forms and formulae are stages upon which writers work their magic. They are ritualized ways of telling a story or making a poem.

In fact, maybe we should be calling it “ritual fiction” instead. I’m ready if you are.

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I'm Not There

Wow. Cate Blanchett is Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, the somewhat unconventional bio pic of possibly the premier chameleon of his era. Director Todd Haynes employs six different actors to play the singer at different times in his life. Even if Bob Dylan does nothing for you, the movie is worth watching just to see Blanchett inhabit Dylan’s psyche like she was born in it. Don’t miss her as him, dancing under a crucifix with David Cross as Allen Ginsberg, and asking the marble Jesus: “Why don’t you do more of your early stuff?” Priceless.

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