Archive for the ‘Anthologies’ Category

Toos of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

This will be my fourth consecutive Norwescon, and my third year coordinating the Horror track–one of the highlights of my year. I don’t have that busy of a convention this year, which is nice. I’m looking forward to being a fly on the wall for several panels (particularly Horror’s Role in Perpetuating Fear of the Other on Friday afternoon 1-2pm in Cascade 9 and the Fear of God(s) which will discuss religious themes in horror Saturday afternoon, 2-3 in Cascade 2&3). And much to my surprise there will be karaoke on Thursday night in the Evergreen room from 8-11, and I can’t miss that.

Ah, but for panels I’ll actual scheduled appearances, they are as follows:


Adult Comics vs. Mature Comics: 8-9pm in Cascade 10 with a great lineup of panelists and friends, so this should be a hoot.

Paranoia (Will Destroy Ya): 9-10pm in Cascade 5&6 will discuss the use of paranoia in horror fiction and how to write it.


The Kids Aren’t All Right: 6-7pm in Cascade 5&6 in which we discuss the trope of evil children in horror media.

The GameMaster’s Manifesto Podcast – GMing From the Hip: 7-8pm in Cascade 3&4 where I’ll be part of an expert panel/podcast about running a game with little preparation, something I know all too much about.


Autograph Session 1: 2-3pm in Grand Ballroom 2 where I’ll be holding down a table in a room full of peers. I’ll have a few books available, as well as inexpensive (and limited edition) chapbooks of “Hell is a Parade” available. Or bring your own copy of something for me to sign. Several tables in the dealer hall will have anthologies featuring my stories as well. I believe Selfies from the End of the World, That Ain’t Right, and By Faierie Light at the very least will be for sale around the convention, and all three are great anthologies.

Location, Location, Location: Horror’s Unsung Character: 9-10pm in Cascade 5&6 where we will tackle the real star of good horror fiction and how to write it well.


Get ‘Em While They’re Young – YA Horror: 1-2pm in Cascade 10, because every obsession starts somewhere.

In addition, I’ll try and post up in the bar for the un-official bar-con from time to time, but I’m really watching my budget this year. Looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and meeting some brand new ones this year!


The Dark of the Year

Posted: December 29, 2015 in Anthologies, Novels, Short Fiction

Time is never on our side.

It seems like it’s been a year since we’ve done this. It was, in point of fact, almost a year, since I sat here and looked back at the year that was and the year to come. The dark of the year provides a good opportunity for perspective, like standing on a high peak, the world spread out around you.

I had hoped we’d make progress as a nation in confronting systemic racism and a murderous (and unjust) criminal justice system. Instead, it appears to be getting even worse, black and brown men, women, children gunned down by police, arrested for no cause, left to die. Coupled with bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia digging in like a stubborn tick, 2015 has been a challenging, and for far too many, a deadly year.

America, get your shit together. You can do better. You NEED to.

Ok. I’m getting off the soap box. That’s not why y’all come here anyway. Let’s take stock of the personal and professional milestones of the year that was 2015.

I had planned on finishing Rooks and Ravens and publishing the latest Cobalt City novel both of which happened, though the title changed on the later project to Ties that Bind. But Rooks is not ready for submission yet, and though Ties sold a handful (literally, a handful, as in less than 5) of copies, I have no reason to believe anyone has read it. Not that I can blame them, really. I love the book, but the subject matter is bleak, and the desire for escapism in the bleak year that was 2015 makes a lot of sense. I did not touch the novella trilogy at all until a week ago, so I’m kind of beating myself up over that. I wrote only one new short story, “The Last Real Man” which was published in the fantastic Selfies from the End of the World anthology. And instead of writing a new Cobalt City book in November, I wrote my first full horror novel, the haunted house story The Lictonwood. Time will tell if anything will come of that.

The biggest writing news in the last year was that Ink Calls to Ink, which I was afraid I’d eventually have to self-publish, was picked up and published by CHBB Publishing in July to rave reviews. It has made for an interesting year in which I learned a lot about marketing and promotion. And people seem to love the book, so I feel vindicated there.

The less sunny writing news from 2015 is that I spent a lot of time feeling like I was spinning my wheels as a writer. There were a lot of false starts, a lot of abandoned projects. I spent too many days in the last year feeling like a fraud–even a few where I contemplated giving up on writing entirely. It didn’t last. It never does. But it was a rough year. I had two novels and one novella that started off in a blaze of excitement die before they found their legs. I might be able to go back and resurrect one or two of them. I don’t know.

Other sad news was the untimely death of my favorite local karaoke bar. Though it was reborn newer, slicker, and cleaner (with better food), the community that had grown up there has largely scattered. The drinks are more expensive, the bar stools aren’t held together with duct tape, and the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” vibe is gone. I still do karaoke at the new location, but it’s been a rough transition. I miss my karaoke family.

Looking forward into 2016, I’m starting off the year driving my son back to Colorado before he flies to Florida for a great new job opportunity. Our schedules made it difficult for us to see each other when he was here, but I still loved having him in Seattle. It’s our loss, but it’s Florida’s, and his, gain.

Other hot-ticket calendar items include Norwescon 39 over Easter weekend. I put together the Horror track for them in 2015 and it went well enough that I was invited to come back and do it again. I’m thrilled with the lineup of panels and panelists. That weekend is going to be outstanding.

As for writing, I’m still doing it. Finishing something in November put a bit of a fire in me. I’m letting The Lictonwood sit for a few months before giving it a hard second draft. Then it’s off to beta readers and a third draft before I submit. At this point, at least, I think it’s an entirely marketable horror novel. I guess we’ll see what the beta readers think. While it sits and rests, I’m writing A Winter Lullaby, which is less urban fantasy than it is rock ‘n roll fable. I’m making good progress and hope to have the first draft done by end of February. I’ve also dug out the novella, the first part of the Shadows of Architecture. I think there’s life in it. I’m giving it one more edit pass and then sending it around. Time permitting, I’ll write the other two parts, and if no one bites on the novella, I will combine it all into a novel. Like motherfucking Voltron. I’m sure another novel lies in wait for next November, maybe even sooner. Time will tell what shape that takes.

I have no plans for short stories at the moment. But I do have four out making the rounds now. My short fiction has been hard to slot into a category or genre lately, so it’s been more difficult to sell. I’ll still write it if the story is there, but it’s taking up far less of my focus these days, and that’s okay.

Finally, the last new thing I’m writing is comedy. Yeah. You heard me right. I’ve been flirting with the idea of trying my hand at stand-up comedy since World Fantasy in Toronto a few years back. But I never followed through. Turns out one of my friends from karaoke also has the comedy bug, so we’re going to workshop a few things, put together a tight set, and try our hands at open mic somewhere in Seattle.

Because if we need anything in our lives right now, it might be a little bit of light, joy, and humor.

See you in 2016.

Authorial Essentials

Authorial Essentials

I suspect that most authors, at some point in their career, get asked who influenced them as a writer. The question came up again in a round-about way this afternoon with a writing cohort. And because of the way we got to the question, I realized I’ve been answering the question all wrong.

Maybe I’m not alone.

The instinct, at least for me, is to point to authors who shaped my style and voice. But those are things that are honed once you’re getting serious about writing. They’re conscious or semi-conscious attempts to emulate the things you like in the writing of authors.

Yes, I learned a lot about pacing from Tim Powers, and how to build and unveil a consistent magical system. And I learned a lot about dialogue from Joe Landsdale and Harlan Coben. I learned a lot about how to set the hook in short fiction from Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. Without a doubt, they had a huge influence on the kind of writer I turned out to be. And I’m still learning from other authors and adding in those skills and tricks. It’s a never ending process.

But who influenced me to become a writer is a sticky wicket. And it’s very telling in unexpected ways.

See, the friend I was talking with today doesn’t care for short fiction. As a result they’ve never been compelled to write it, but are now considering that path. And there are good reasons to write short fiction. Beyond polishing your craft, it’s a good chance to build a market and name recognition. And ultimately it’s easier to get short fiction published than it is to get someone to plunk down an advance on a novel. It’s just simple math.

All of which is kind of an alien mindset for me. I write short fiction because I love short fiction. Because when some kids were playing ball or reading the classics, I was devouring anthologies, collections, and magazines like candy.

To put these influences in perspective, let’s consider when I first realized I wanted to be a writer. I was twelve when I tried to write my first novel. I’d been writing poetry for a year or so before that. Horrible, horrible poetry that I can trace to three very specific influences: Dr. Seuss, Edgar Allen Poe, and the two A.A. Milne collections, “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We are Six.” I’m sure some of those poems still exist somewhere, tucked away in a folder, forgotten at my mom’s house. They were probably illustrated, too. They were bad. And dark. And they rhymed. I’m honestly surprised my parents didn’t put me into therapy because of them.

But by 7th grade, I decided my project in Independent Study was going to be a novel.

Ambitious, I know. And a horrible idea. It was science/fantasy and sprung from a rudimentary reading of King Arthur stories. And honestly, I don’t really know where that idea came from because in 7th grade I was reading very little fantasy. I’d seen the Hobbit, but not read the book. By strange coincidence, there was this hippieish pizza place in town called Hobbit Hole Pizza, and I had a stronger association with it than with the worlds of Tolkien. I remember two fantasy novels from that year, Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip, and The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin.  I had probably read the Prydian Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander the year earlier, as well as the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Oh, and The Sword of Shanarra which I consumed in a week in 6th grade. That might have influenced a lot of what I thought of as “Fantasy” novels up to that point.

But I was a heavy reader. I had started reading the Hardy Boys books somewhere around 4th-5th grade, and blazed through them until I realized it was all a formula. I switched to Nancy Drew for a big chunk of time, and though I quickly realized it was the same formula, I liked the characters better. But I could also knock one of her books out in an afternoon. Then I switched to The Three Investigators which I consumed like a wildfire sweeping down on a tinder-dry KOA campground. Gods, but I loved mysteries. And there was a certain spookieness to the Three Investigator books that appealed to me.

This was due, in no small part to all the non-fiction I was reading in 6th grade. Mysteries of the Unexplained stuff. If there was a book on UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, the Bermuda Triangle, or crystal skulls in the Yucatan, I was all over that. If the library had it, I read it, both in the kids collection downstairs and then upstairs in the main library. I squeezed those shelves dry. I kept notes on famous hauntings and alien abductions on index cards. You know that weird kid who, at age 11, could talk your ear off about the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, or Betty and Barney Hill (first reported alien abduction, in 1961)? I was that kid.

Actually, that weird kid still lives inside me.

You never shake your early influences.

And I was already tainted by Edgar Allen Poe at that point. Both by Poe and by things with Alfred Hitchcock’s name attached, which led me to a beloved collection of horror stories I got at a tender age. Christmas, when I was 10, I believe. There are pictures of me holding up the book, happy as hell. That summer I made a little shelter in the side yard against the chain link fence so I had shade and a breeze, and read the whole damn thing cover to cover. And from there to every horror anthology I could find, notably the anthology series Whispers (I could swear that was the name of that series) and Shadows, edited by Charles L. Grant. Somewhere in there, I discovered Ray Bradbury, possibly thanks to my dad who brought a complete collection of his home from the college library for me.

By the time I hit 7th grade, I was a junkie for short fiction. Couldn’t get enough. It just stuck with me.

Sure, I read novels. Weirdly, a period of reading of Louis Lamour westerns hit sometimes that year and I read a good dozen or so of them, and several Destroyer novels picked up at garage sales for as little as a nickel each. Both reflected a love of pulpy action, despite the difference of subject matter. *Speaking of which, my parents were asleep at the switch in the whole child-rearing department. I suppose they were glad that I was reading, but the Destroyer novels were trashy. I mean, tremendous fun, and really well done for what they were, which was “Men’s Adventure Fiction.” But damn. Not reading material for young boys.*

So when you consider the influences question in context–not who influenced my style, but who influenced me to write–you get a much better feel for why I write what I do. I write short stories because I love short stories. Most of the ones that I read in my formative years were horror, which echoes my short fiction output now. I have a fondness for the supernatural, but also for mysteries and that rugged western feel, which factor heavily into the flavor of my Cobalt City stories (especially Gato Loco). I have a fondness for short, fast, pulp novels, and I’ve written a few. I’ve found NaNoWriMo to be perfect for that, actually.

Will I ever write a big door-stopper of an epic fantasy series?

Probably not. I don’t really READ them. Sure, a few in the last decade or so, but it was never my thing as a kid. It’s not a style I know intimately enough to work in. To date, my longest novel is Cobalt City Blues, which is only around 108,000 which makes it longer than the first three Harry Potter books. Barely, in the case of Prisoner of Azkaban which clocks in at 107k and change. Order of the Phoenix is 257k, while the first four books in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice average out to around 300k each. I can’t even imagine writing a book that long. No, I think I’m likely to stick to the 50-95k range which is where I’m most comfortable. It’s what I know. It’s what I like.

More importantly, it’s where the stories I like to tell tend to fall.

As to the unasked question of should you write short stories, my answer will always be the same. Write the story you want to write. Everything else is just marketing.


Two faces of Buddha.

Two faces of Buddha.

This amazing little anthology I was part of is now live, and Bitten By Books is hosting an open house where you can ask questions and interact with all the authors. All through the glory of the interwebs!

During and after the great depression Hobo Nickels were traded for food, sex, shelter, and power.

In Coins of Chaos, twenty seemingly ordinary nickles are carved with dark representations of world evils and imbued with magical powers that transform the deliciously macabre bits of lost art into carriers of death, destruction, and ill luck.

Where the hobo nickels go, so does the Carver’s will. Each cursed coin is filled with his malice and a desire for destruction.

And with each life ruined… the Carver’s life goes on…

My story in particular deals with the punk music scene in Minneapolis in the 80’s because that’s always been something I wanted to play with.

There’s even a raffle for a $50 Amazon gift card if you take part!

Stop by, say howdy, ask a question. We’d love to see you!

Taksara abides

Taksara abides

This week saw the release of Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror from the most excellent horror publisher Blood Bound Books (Available in both print and ebook format although I’ve only linked to the Kindle). This is not my first publication with them. No, that would be Rock ‘N’ Roll is Dead which I’ve written about previously.

When it came time to send something to them for consideration for the new anthology, I really didn’t know what to send. I had been trying to write something brand new, but it was stuck. Meanwhile, other recent horror stories had all sold to other markets. And that left me with an earlier story simply called “The Lake” which was…unsettling.

One approach for writing horror is to have the hero confront some sort of monster, some evil, some…thing! And since it’s horror and not fantasy, the hero suffers greatly in the process. In some horror, the result is that by confronting the monstrous, the hero themselves becomes a monster, becoming either an extension of the original horror or a different, perhaps greater monster than what they were facing. And for me, that tends to be more terrifying. An excellent example for me is the movie Straw Dogs. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a masterpiece and a movie that, once seen, I’ll never watch again. Brutal. Just brutal.)

It’s possible this kind of horror is all the more terrifying because we see it all the time in the real world.

I wrote the initial draft of “The Lake” when I was sifting through the crumbling remains of a marriage that had fallen apart. The story showed a couple that chose to try and move on from a personal tragedy rather than throw in the towel. Added to this, I had a powerful nightmare that involved swimming in a lake, and I couldn’t shake it for anything once I woke up. These elements combined to make for a story that was a bit too close to the bone for me. A story of loss, and false hopes, and something ancient and hungry hiding beneath the surface.

When I realized I didn’t have anything else to send, I went back to “The Lake” and tore it apart with the cold dispassion of having moved past the emotions that inspired the story. When I put it back together, it was less personal. It was something leaner. Meaner. And I almost didn’t send it in. The last time I had a story I was reluctant to submit, it was “Fishwives of Sean Brolly,” and there are some fascinating parallels to the story. Both involve a marriage in crisis and a dangerous, submerged temptation.

And, of course, death and horror.

The location for what became “Cold Comfort of Silver Lake” is in many ways inspired by growing up in Colorado’s silver country. With quaint old mining towns like Ouray, Telluride, Silverton, and Creede now turning into expensive and quiet places to retire, they aren’t the kind of locations you would expect to inspire horror. We weren’t all lucky enough to grow up in Maine. I grew up in a town like that, perched on the apron between mountain and high desert. It was a town built around a smelter for the mines higher in the mountains–silver at first, then uranium as the industry changed. When I was in high school, the smelter was demolished, and the giant hill of radioactive tailings next to it–and next to the river–was shipped off and buried somewhere. Somehow, I grew up in a town where a giant radioactive hill cast a shadow over downtown for most of my childhood without thinking about it. That same radioactive dirt had been used as fill for foundations all over town…even under the public swimming pool.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had pets that died of cancer. I don’t know how common that is. Growing up, we lost three pets to it. Maybe it was a fluke. Or maybe there was a hidden darkness in that town…something you just didn’t talk about, hoping that it wouldn’t hear you and pass by for someone further down the line.

That’s horror. The buried darkness. The hidden danger, lurking there, waiting.

Like a little personal tragedy between a married couple that they can’t put behind them but won’t talk about.

Like whatever is waiting in the bottom of Silver Lake.

I encourage you to take a look for yourself. Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror includes 23 deliciously dark stories by Brian Lumley, Joe McKinney, Lisa Morton, Daniel O’Connor, Jeff Strand, John McNee, K. Trap Jones, Maria Alexander, Ed Kurtz, and many others. And it’s available wherever books are sold. (Really! Go special order it from your favorite small bookstore!)

Courtesy of Post SecretIt’s the end of year and it seems everyone is putting together a year-end retrospective. And why not? I suppose the end of the year is as good a time as any to reflect on what has come before and where things are headed now.

I had anticipated the year to be focused on the business side of novel work–the editing, rewriting, shopping it around. While that took a big chunk of my head-space this year, I’ll admit, I was unprepared how much waiting was involved in the process. So much waiting. 2012 has taught me patience, and how to distract myself with projects I can make progress on instead of obsessing over things I cannot control.

As a small publisher, I got to see the culmination of some long-in-works projects: the Cobalt City Double Feature and the Cobalt City Rookies e-books featuring five authors deserving of a much larger readership. I love all five of the novellas that we published, as have everyone I know who has read them. 2012 has taught me that publishing great stories isn’t enough, and that successful marketing is everything. (Hey, they’re available on Kindle and Nook also at the appropriate stores! Stock up your e-reader now!)

Carefully managing my queue of short fiction looking for a good home, I started actively sending out submissions again. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my friend and fellow author Dawn Vogel who cracked the whip on submissions, because I doubt I would have placed quite so many stories this year without her. Halfway through the year, I was averaging a story a month, which for me felt kind of huge. It slowed down, mind you. Stories got picked up and I wasn’t writing enough new ones, and even most of those that I did finish in 2012 were placed. Unless my math fails me, I found homes for seven stories. This includes a few somewhat darker, stranger, pieces that I had almost given up hope on. My India-flavored fantasy piece, in fact, my only pure fantasy piece of the year came out in November in Sword & Sorceress 27, and my moody story of a crumbling marriage and an unusual lake comes out in just under a month in Blood Rites. And then I culled the list, retiring anything over five years old to the drawer. 2012 taught me that if you keep working at it, you get better at it, and while the ideas of half-decade-ago might still be good, some stories should be redone from scratch rather than “brushed up.”

It has also been a good year for personal growth. I’m more at peace with my place in the world. I’m better able to find my Zen and work through problems. I’m a better diplomat, both at the day job and in my personal life. I’ve taken more time to enjoy the quiet moments of honest, quiet, one-on-one connection with close friends and that’s brought me a lot of peace. I’ve gotten better at separating my “needs” from my “wants” and have made smarter choices as a result. Despite a year that has included no small share of hardships and setbacks, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The last year has had so many moments that are nothing short of magical that I couldn’t list them if I tried. 2012 taught me that the more skin you put in the game, the greater the risks and the greater the reward.

Spiritually (yes, I went there), I’ve reaffirmed the value of certain core principles in my life: honesty, empathy, clear communication, compassion, and the value of a simple task done well. 2012 helped teach me how by to improve my own inner life and in turn make the lives of those around me a little better as well.

I look forward to what 2013 will bring. My current agenda already has a few things piling up: I need to start paying attention to the agent hunt again. I have a novel I started in November that I need to finish, and one from a few years back to edit. I have a few short stories I want to write, a few to polish and submit, and more ideas come to me all the time. I need to look at what we’re doing as a publisher this year–audio books are likely, more back catalog on e-book are all but certain, and more marketing is essential. I’m planning on a trip to Thailand sometime before my birthday to visit one of my best friends who will be there teaching, and who knows what kind of story ideas that will inspire. And finding out that three of my top five posts of this year were about candy, I guess I should really keep up on the Fringe Candy posting. Maybe even a new one to start out the year.

Bring it, 2013. I’m ready to eat you alive.

Reinventing Thor

Posted: July 12, 2012 in Anthologies, Short Fiction

What if Thor was a Blaxploitation character in the mid-70’s?

My brain asks these questions some times.

Oftentimes, they turn into stories.

In this case, I was contemplating the Cobalt City Timeslip anthology Timid Pirate Publishing was putting together. We had stories ranging from the early pre-history of the area up to modern, but no one had tackled the Silver Age. Or, as I like to think of it, the period of Weird Heroes. This was the era where you got a lot of strange comic books, including favorite characters like Ragman, Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, Daimon Hellstrom the Son of Satan, Brother Voodoo, or Satana, Ghost Rider, and of course Dracula from Tomb of Dracula. You were starting to see superhero books that flirted with the mystical and certainly the weird. You were also seeing a decade of new, prominent black characters–you could tell because most of them had “Black” in the name: Black Lightning, Black Panther, Black Goliath, and then Power Man, and the Falcon (debuting in 1969 as the first character of African descent not to have “Black” in his name).

The mid-seventies in comics was just way too cool for someone to pass up.

So I started thinking about what was going on in the mid-seventies that excited me. Part of it was that whole post-Age of Aquarius vibe of magic and the old gods returning. Toss in movies like Shaft and Superfly. Then there was the music! Soul was starting to give way to disco. These were chaotic times.

The mid-seventies were tumultuous. Watergate was still fresh on the mind, as was the specter of the Vietnam War. That was some very fertile ground in which to plant seeds.

So I thought about one of the most iconic god-heroes of comic books–the golden haired, hammer-swinging God of Thunder. I mean, he’s public domain. No one owns the Nordic gods. And in fact, the more you distance your vision of Thor from an established interpretation, the more freedom you get. So what if Thor wasn’t a person so much as a title–an Avatar or the concept of the God of Thunder? What if Thor was like a Voodun Loa, a powerful spirit that rode a mortal host, a horse/mount as it were? Well then…Thor could really be anyone then, couldn’t he?

For instance, the mantle of Thor could be passed from one person to another on the field of battle, from a dreamy eyed Norwegian-American soldier to his platoon-mate, a hardened African-American from a poor neighborhood of Cobalt City. He’s not really Thor. He’s just the current embodiment of Thor.

This is how Cole Washington was born–an amalgam of influences culminating in my story “The War at Home” which is now available to read for free on Timid Pirate’s site.

But here’s where the story gets interesting.

It seems my friend and fellow author Minerva Zimmerman is a HUGE fan of Nordic mythology. And my story sparked all kinds of ideas in her brilliantly twisted mind. The end result of that is her novella “The Place Between,” in which Cole’s daughter begins to navigate her own destiny and her own relationship with the God of Thunder. Rich with humor, humanity, a clear love of Nordic mythology, and a hearty dose of action, this is the Thor for the NEXT generation. It’s currently available in Cobalt City Double Features, either directly from Timid Pirate in a 3-format bundle, or straight to your Kindle from Amazon. It will be available from the Barnes & Noble site soon directly to your Nook.

It even includes a smashing new Erik Scott de Bie novella featuring Stardust and Lady Vengeance which is not to be missed.

It’s a good summer to be a superhero fan!


I’ve been a bit radio-silent for a while, and for that I apologize. Just like I do every time I go radio silent, I suppose. This writing thing, I’m telling you people. It is not for the weak of heart or the lazy. It just isn’t. Between some tight writing deadlines, some pretty rigid (but self-imposed) editing deadlines, and two conventions (to say nothing of the day-jobbery), I’ve been a bit busy. The upside of all this is that I have all kinds of fun stuff to talk about. Today’s installment: what’s been going on in my world of short fiction.

In a recent flurry of submissions, I got six stories out—two which are now picked up, and four which are in the waiting period. The two that got picked up were both written in the last month, and other than that, are about as different as you could get. One was the high-octane sci-fi story “By Gods Damned and Bounty Blessed” which will be appearing in the upcoming Bulldogs! Anthology. I encourage you to go toss some money at the anthology so they can add even more amazing authors to the book before it’s too late. My story involves a tough-as-nails bounty hunter on a quest for revenge. The other story is called “Bethlehem Glen” and is atmospheric horror set in the early 80’s in the wilderness of central California. I can’t tell you where it’s going to appear—that much is a closely guarded secret for now—or too much about certain elements. But I can tell you that it features a trio of hapless bank robbers and their prisoner.

And I can also tell you that, despite no deliberate planning on my part and having them set galaxies apart, both stories found an unexpected intersection on the theme of religion.

In my sci-fi story, a bounty hunter goes to collect a conman passing himself off as a messiah in a small mining community. She quickly learns that her partner, a new recruit on the ship where she is assigned, is a priest of a small, possibly heretical sect.

In the horror, I got to play with the concept of cults and communes that seemed to be everywhere in the seventies—especially in California.

Two stories, three religious traditions, no waiting.

And it was interesting to me how that theme played out differently across the two genres.

When dealing with matters of fantasy/horror, there is a certain automatic acceptance of things of a supernatural nature. So when you bring religion/spirituality into a story of this nature, there’s a certain amount of baggage. A person of faith can either make a huge impact, or his lack of impact can be seen as a critique on how religion is a sham, or even how his faith is lacking. But to the best of my (admittedly limited memory) it’s rarely there just as a meaningless background element.

But in much sci-fi, it’s either a bit of characterization (like hair color or accent), or absent entirely. I know I’m setting myself up for a barrage of people citing exceptions. I’d actually kind of welcome that. But I still maintain that religion in sci-fi is largely a matter of individuality, or a political overlay. I can’t think of a single instance of someone calling on their Gods and actually have them listen.

Compared to fantasy novels (or horror, where the Gods are less than friendly), where something might actually happen, it’s a huge difference.

Does this mean that effective religion, with divine powers and worship that has real effects automatically kick fiction out of sci-fi territory? Is there room in sci-fi for a devout character of faith who maintains that faith despite all scientific evidence to the contrary? And does this devotion make him noble or a fool?

I’m honestly not sure of the answers to that myself. But it does make me want to explore it more.
I touch on it in “By Gods Damned and Bounty Blessed,” where one character is a priest of The Gun Saint.
I guess in the future, it’s all about who you worship that gets you the results you want.

Again, I encourage you to check out the Bulldogs! Kickstarter. The kind folks at Galileo Games have put up a short preview of my story there. It only gets more insane from there. Like, fist-fight with a God insane. (Ed. Now you can read the whole story, as it’s just been launched! Go pick up the entire anthology!)

And when I can announce where the horror story is appearing, I heartily recommend you pick that up too. I can say without fear of contradiction, it’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever committed to paper. And for me, that’s saying a lot.

Pink Elephant

I’m feeling all writerly today, possibly due to a few day stretch where I was unable to get any writing or editing done. (As a related aside, drivers, pay attention when you’re on the road. A car is just a slow-moving half-ton bullet. Corollary: my daughter is doing fine after getting flipped up onto the hood of a moving vehicle and thrown, limply into an intersection. They build ’em tough in Colorado!)

So in the interest of talking writing, let’s dredge out the old chestnut of scene descriptions. Specifically, let’s talk about something that’s real easy to overlook because we’re so used to seeing it, but that can be used to really sell the realism of a scene. Take a look at that picture, the glowing pink neon of the Elephant Car Wash. That sign is a landmark in Seattle. Most cities have something like that–several, in fact–roadside beacons designed to get butts in the door or sell product. Sure, anyone can toss in the Space Needle to show their story takes place in Seattle. But that doesn’t necessarily make it feel more real. Throw in the slowly-spinning Pink Elephant sign and you achieve two things–you’ve sold locals with your insider savvy, and for those who don’t know the sign, you’ve added a concrete detail that makes the place feel more real.

This works for Sci-fi and fantasy (though to a lesser degree, or at least different degree in primarily illiterate cultures). My story “Odd Jobs” in the Space Tramps anthology took place entirely upon a space station. Even so, there were commercial districts, and at one point, our protagonist books a hotel room. The name had changed since the last time he had been there, the old name painted over in color that was a close–but not exact–match to the surrounding walls, with the new hotel name in neon above it. Was any of this important to the story? Not really. But it was important in setting the sense of place.

Signs say a lot–not just their design, but their condition. Old brick buildings used to have signs painted on the sides, and many of these are now long out of date. A mention gives a place a sense of history–the faded name of a hotel that’s no longer there, the space now turned over to offices or apartments, a 24-hr coffee shop that’s been gone for decades and is now a small bar or boutique shop.

Different communities have exhaustive rules for what kind of signage is allowed, so give that a thought because it says a lot about the place. Are the signs lit from behind or carved or painted on? Are the list signs brightly colored or more muted? Huge and gaudy or small and tasteful. To you have the Bavarian-themed signs of Leavenworth, or Seattle neon?

Placement is important, too. Seattle has this huge Pepsi sign that’s somewhat of a landmark on Aurora. Thing is, it was built back when Aurora was known primarily as U.S. Route 99, the chief means of travel up the coast until the 60’s. Filled with neon tubing, it was a sight to behold. Though it’s still there, I don’t recall the last time the sign was lit up. It’s a poignant reminder of how people move on and patterns shift when big interstates connected the country.

For homework, I want you to look up next time you’re out and about. Pick out three distinctive signs/landmarks in your town. And for extra credit, what is one thing that the sign implies other than the name of the business or product?

Class dismissed.

Space Tramps: Full Throttle Space Tals #5

Featuring "Odd Jobs"

My sci-fi noir story “Odd Jobs” leads off Space Tramps: Full-Throttle Space Tales #5 which goes on sale today. I’ve already read it, and it is a fun celebration of space opera fiction. Mine is a classic tale of fringe characters with uncertain motives, deals too good to be true, revenge, and a sex bot with a heart of gold. So I’m giving you a taste to whet your appetite. Here, have a few hundred words. On the house.

The bartender returned the smile. He left the bills on the bar. With a steady hand, he poured a pair of shots for the two of them. “Folks call me Chet. You got a name?”

Roscoe pursed his lips, wondering how much Iron Mike might have told this bartender. Considering the nature of his newfound employment was still very much undecided, he chose to play it close to the chest. “Haven’t you heard? Hull rats like me don’t have names anymore.”

It could hardly be further from the truth, of course. When a person had nothing, like most of the stowaways and drifters who scavenged for a meager existence in the bowels of the Django’s hull, a name was one of the few things they truly owned. He wasn’t surprised when Chet accepted the casual lie. The bartender would never understand what it was to live like vermin in the near perpetual darkness of the lower decks.

Chet lifted his glass, more focused on it than on Roscoe. “I got a tourist in here the other day, member of a delegation negotiating an embargo. He booked time with a consort bot I run. Like a sucker, I take cash. He went to town on my girl, and I have no way to collect on damages.”