theferrett: (Meazel)

The Drabblecast is a very well thought-of podcast, so when they commissioned me to write a story for Lovecraft week, I was all like, “Whoah, that’s an honor.”  And so, over the next five weeks in the Clarion Echo, I wrote a story from start to finish – first called “Minecraft,” then “Stonehewn,” then “Run Deeper,” then (and finally) “Hollow as the World.”  (If you paid your $5 to be a part of the Clarion Echo, you’ll see just how damned messy my process is.)  The story was about a kid exploring an alternate world on his computer, and the costs thereof – not strict Lovecraft per se (that’d be “Riding Atlas,” which unfortunately I’d already sold), but definitely Dreamlands territory.

It took four drafts, and quicker than I’ve ever written a story with that many drafts before, but I finally got to where I was happy with it – and thankfully, Norm accepted it. And three days later, it’s up at the Drabblecast, with some stellar artwork to go with it, and one hell of a gritty narration.

Here’s your obligatory excerpt:

One of the reasons Joshua loved Lydia as much as he did was all the secret rituals they’d devised.  Some days, the way Lydia sent Joshua into high titters with a raise of her pierced eyebrow was the only thing that kept Joshua from slitting his wrists.

And of the many traditions that bound them as friends, the most sacred was the second videogame bet.

You couldn’t have the second videogame bet without Lydia winning the first bet, of course.  That bet was, “Would Lydia beat this latest game before Joshua did?”  And she invariably beat it before Joshua, before everybody; Lydia mowed through the toughest levels without dying.  Sometimes, she completed the game on release day, then sold it back to Gamestop for nearly full credit.

Joshua’s online buddies private messaged him, angling for the secret to Lydia’s talent.  He never told them, though of course he did know.  He’d asked her, once, after she’d finished Portal 3 a full three hours before anyone else.  She’d squinted at him over candy-red glasses, deciding whether she could trust him.  Then she’d shrugged.

“I think like a designer,” she said.  “Every time I’m not sure what to do, I think: ‘If I’d designed this level, where would I want me to look next?’  It’s made the games… predictable.  Most days, I only beat them to see the end credits.”

“Really?  You watch the end credits?”  It was a slowball pitch.  She grinned, glad at the opportunity to razz him.

“I’d think end credits would bring you nothing but relief, Joshua.  They prove games are designed by people.  You do remember that, right?”

His groan was old, well-used.  “Now, Lydia, it’s been years since I’ve been afraid — ”

“ — but you were afraid, weren’t you?”  She leaned in, hazel eyes sparkling.  Joshua fantasized, for the ten billionth time, about calling in his marker and kissing her.

“Yes, I was afraid,” he recited.  “I thought the characters inside the videogame had lives when the machine was turned off, the television a window to another dimension, and I was afraid to play because they knew I was there.  I was six when that happened, Lydia.”

“I was six, too,” she replied loftily.  “Yet bizarrely, I never worried about that.  Nor did I build a whole videogame-playing technique around proving myself wrong.”

“You just wait for the second bet.”

“That day,” she proclaimed, hiding her smile behind a sip of Red Bull, “Will never come….”

If you liked this, remember: a $5 donation to the Clarion Write-A-Thon will get you entry to see the four drafts, along with about 10k in writers’ commentary (and three other completed stories). This tale mutated quite a bit, as it was very tricky to get a handle on, so I think it’s worthwhile if you’re struggling to fix your own drafts.

Otherwise?  Enjoy.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I wrote this story because I do not know how to play with children.

I was, however, spending time with my um-daughter Carolyn, so named because her parents are Jewish and don’t have a tradition of Godchildren, but we’re pretty much her Godparents.  And she was playing “Teacher” with me.

Carolyn is creative at the best of times, but at this stage in her life she was very big on broken bones and operations.  Every time we played, someone shattered a femur or was in a cast.  And Carolyn, like all children, gets a bit tyrannical when handed the power of teachers, and was barking orders at me of what I was to do, and the awful injuries that might occur if I didn’t obey.  And I wondered: is her school like this at all?  Is she making all of this up, or is this some weird reflection of a hideously overprotective class? 

Then: what would it be like if her school really was full of terror? 

And so I wrote Shadow Transit, a story devoted to how impenetrable the inner lives of children are… especially when they’re special children, tasked with saving the world from otherworldly forces.  Here’s your obligatory sample:

Last night’s blizzard had choked the roads, leaving the cabinet factory short-handed for the Friday shift. So Michelle’s boss had called to give her a choice: she could come in for an emergency shift today and keep her job, or she could keep the day off she’d requested to visit her daughter at Shadow Transit, in which case she’d get her ass fired.

“Thank you,” Michelle whispered, glad beyond belief. “I’ll come in. Just…call them for me? Please? I’ll give you the number; they won’t listen to me. Make sure they tell Elizabeth that Mommy’s sorry.”

Jackson made his apologies, saying how he was sure Lizzie was needed wherever she was, but he had quotas to meet. Michelle barely heard him. She felt the giddy relief of a kid hearing that school was cancelled. Her boss had made the choice for her; she didn’t have to play with Lizzie this month and pretend that everything was okay. No three-hour drive out to the Colander. No watching teenaged guards struggling to remember how to pronounce English words. No worrying about what Lizzie had meant for days afterwards. She was free for another month and hated herself only a little for it….

But I should warn you: this is one of those stories that builds.  It’s one of my best finishes, I think.  I’d get all the way to the end if I were you, and make sure your children aren’t too close when you’re done.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Last week, I told you about my tale in the upcoming fortune-teller anthology What Fates Impose, citing it as my favorite story I’ve written in the last year.  Today, to hopefully encourage you to contribute to the Kickstarter, I give you a slightly larger-than-normal excerpt to wet your whistle:

The crowd waiting below The Oracle’s bulletproof bay window is a mathematically predictable entity.  Still, the Oracle relishes any illusion of chaos – and so, every morning, just before she allows herself one single prayer, she sweeps open her curtains to gaze over the crowd.

Her supplicants look up from their shivered huddling as fluorescent light spills out from The Oracle’s bay window; poor women in smudged hoodies squat next to Armani-clad stockbrokers.  The Oracle’s hundreds of supplicants put up tents faster than the policemen can tear them down, burn garbage to ward off the Seine’s chill winds, buy gristled chicken hunks from illegal street vendors.  The wait can take weeks, so long that people fall in love and fuck and have violently dramatic breakups before The Oracle’s guards fish these poor souls from the crowd to escort them towards an answer made pure with data.

The Oracle’s tide of supplicants is so constant that, like any shantytown, it has developed its own economy… an economy which pulses perfectly in time with the rhythms The Oracle predicted.  She’d spent hours developing algorithms to anticipate the crowd you would get if you charged $25,000 for a single question, answers guaranteed (but not to please), in this geographic and demographic cluster.  She’d analyzed the local politicians, and the bribes she pays remain within .03% of initial estimates.  She’d tracked the movements of the most influential reporters, ascertaining they would pass by here 2.4 times a week, guaranteeing unending press for “The Statistic Mystic,” a name the Oracle loathes.  She even predicted the number of e. coli outbreaks from undercooked chicken.

Yet every morning, before The Oracle orders her guards to escort the first supplicant in, The Oracle kneels.  She above all people knows how irrational prayers are — multigenerational analyses of billions of lives has allowed The Oracle to thoroughly disprove the effects of prayers, bioharmonics, Zener cards, craniometry, reiki, feng shui, astral projection, the existence of God himself as an active entity, and those laundry balls they sell on late-night TV — but when the data models don’t support the desired results, sometimes all that’s left is hope.

Please, she begs, looking wearily out over the young lovers holding hands, the despairing businessmen, the fretting young mothers; transparent clichés, all.  Please let someone bring me the Black Swan Question.

There is, naturally, no answer.  So she grabs the microphone and slips on her persona, her voice booming out over the crowd.

“The Oracle will answer one boring question for $25,000!”  The Oracle talks about herself in the third person because studies have shown this makes the Oracle’s name stick in your mind.  “Yet The Oracle does not need your fucking money.  The Oracle did this to draw attention to the way commercial entities buy and sell your data, hoping you’d recognize how thoroughly businesses manipulate you.  Instead, The Oracle has made millions from extrapolating your futures based on publically-available data.  Now?  The Oracle finds you tedious.  So come to me with an interesting question, or I will release the hounds.”

The Oracle does not actually have hounds.  The Oracle finds it distressing that 76.4% of people don’t get the joke.  Yet the Oracle refuses, on principle, to have a FAQ….

If you’re interested, you can actually hear me read this story at the $15 pledge level.  I always think it’s neat to hear authors read their stories.  You get to hear the inflections they had in their minds, feel their own personal rhythm for the tales, all that.  And I’m gonna go full-on for drama here, given my love of old-time radio.

As an added bonus, one person who donates to the Kickstarter before this Thursday will receive this lovely artwork created by the editor, the talented Nayad Monroe:

Lots of good stuff in here, including a story by Keffy I’m really looking forward to seeing.  So donate, if you like, you know, stories.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I fricking love getting my stories read at Escape Pod – the narrators there are so good, the forums so full of awesome feedback, and there’s just something beautiful about hearing words I wrote become part of an old-time radio show.  So my singularity-as-horror tale “Dead Merchandise” is up – and the people at Escape Pod seem to be digging it, thus far.

In case you need a sample, it follows:

The ad-faeries danced around Sheryl, flickering cartoon holograms with fluoride-white smiles. They told her the gasoline that sloshed in the red plastic canister she held was high-octane, perfect for any vehicle, did she want to go for a drive?

She did not. That gasoline was for burning. Sheryl patted her pockets to make sure the matches were still there and kept moving forward, blinking away the videostreams. Her legs ached.

She squinted past a flurry of hair-coloring ads (“Sheryl, wash your gray away today!”), scanning the neon roads to find the breast-shaped marble dome of River Edge’s central collation unit. River’s Edge had been a sleepy Midwestern town when she was a girl, a place just big enough for a diner and a department store. Now River’s Edge had been given a mall-over like every other town — every wall lit up with billboards, colorful buildings topped with projectors to burn logos into the clouds. She was grateful for the dark patches that marked where garish shop-fronts had been bombed into ash-streaked metal tangles.

The smoke gave her hope. Others were trying to bring it all down — and if they were succeeding, maybe no one was left to stop her.

Anyway, you can listen to it here.  It’s about thirty-five minutes.  And another great production, but I’d expect no less from the ‘Pods.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #57Shoebox Heaven” may be the most disturbing story I’ve ever written, and yet it’s strangely sweet. Even when it’s been rejected, I’ve had editors ask me, “So did that tale of the kid seeking his cat ever find a home?” It stuck with them.  (As contrary to popular belief, editors don’t always reject a story because it’s bad; sometimes they reject it because it doesn’t fit.)

And “Shoebox Heaven” is a weirdie – one where the whole universe has gone horribly wrong, and yet we’re all struggling along.  But enough sales pitch – here’s how it starts:

Andy found Oscar, his fur clotted with lint balls, behind the dryer.  Oscar’s body was still warm because he had curled up underneath the exhaust vent, but Momma told Andy that Oscar had been dead for hours — it was just old age, was all.  Andy wanted to pet Oscar, because Oscar’s head was still tucked underneath his paws.  It was like his cat was playing a game of hide and go seek.

Andy couldn’t understand why Momma was crying.  “Let’s go to the airport,” he said, “And fly to heaven, and get Oscar.”

So they did.

(I should add that the genesis of this story was started by my Godson Andy, who in fact precisely said that when he was four years old and his cat Oscar died.  This story’s dedicated to him, though even five years later he’s not quite ready to read this one.  But I wanted a better answer for Andy than the one his mother had to give.)

Anyway, I’m proud to announce that you can read my tale at Andromeda Spaceways InFlight Magazine, which previously published my story “The Backdated Romance.”  Andromeda is a great magazine, one of the best non-pro markets to sell to in my not-so-humble opinion, and the PDF/Epub/Mobi version of Issue #57 is a mere $4.99 - and you get tons of other cool stories to boot, as well as a poem from my Clarion Buddy Gillian Daniels.

Pick it up, if you like crazy trips to heaven with a cat in a glass shoebox.  I promise you the angels will scoff.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Unidentified Funny Objects!…well, if that’s not a zinger of a headline, I don’t know what is.

In any case, I wrote a humor tale for Alex Shvartsman’s “Unidentified Funny Objects” science fiction humor anthology, which is now available on Amazon in e-book and paper format.  I’ve read some of the tales there, and they’re funny – he’s got some damn good authors, from Mike Resnick to Ken Liu to Jake Kerr to Lavie Tidhar… and yet somehow, among all this talent, he made a mistake and included me!

Fortunately, my tale is suitably bizarre.  If you’ve enjoyed some of my crazy sex stories in the past, this one’s the looniest.  It’s called “One-Hand Tantra”  – and like all porn, first I have to give you a sample:

“The path of most wizards is solitary,” Loefwyn’s father had told him when his power had first manifested itself.  “Your path, my dearest and only child, is more solitary still.”

To this day, Loefwyn wished he had never become a masturbatician.

As his father had promised, Loefwyn’s singular sex magic had given him a decent living.  He’d just scraped up enough cash to build the obligatory wizard’s tower, a ribbed rock column jutting up to advertise his unique talents.  Masturbaticians were rare, effective ones even more so… and both Loefwyn and his spells were potent indeed.  Intrigued merchants dropped by to witness the town’s newest oddity — even as they hesitated to shake his hand.

Now, royalty — minor, vicious royalty, but royalty still — had hired him.  Enspell Griselda the One-Eyed, and Loefwyn’s success was all but guaranteed….

If you’d like a fair amount of funny for your holiday season, I’d recommend this book even if I wasn’t in it.  As I said, it’s available at Amazon for a mere $5.99, or you can cut the middleman and buy it directly from their site.  Either way, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Today’s freshly-published story is a tale with some serious history behind it.

Riding Atlas” was the story I submitted to the Viable Paradise writing workshop, because I knew it was flawed and needed some serious help.  What I didn’t realize is that the story would get passed around Viable Paradise, even to people who hadn’t read it, with people asking, “Have you read the story about the entwined circulatory systems?  It’s fucking creepy.”  I wound up in an unadvertised Creeper Face-Off with fellow VP-er George Galuschak, who had also written a deeply disturbing story.  So by the end, people came up to me and went, “You are sick.”

Which, really, is a triumph for any writer.

Then this tale was greatly improved by the aid of editor Teresa Nielsen-Hayden, who did a thing I think every writer should see: instead of critiquing it, she simply edited it.  I watched her as she went through my words, taking out about a third of them – and instead of weakening the tale, every deletion strengthened it.  It was Teresa who showed me just how flabby my prose was, and that’s why I credit Viable Paradise with my turnaround.  I used to be a pretty sad prose stylist; now I’m no master, but I can string together a good sentence.  (With the help of my trusty copy of The 10% Solution to pare down my words, of course.  For the record, this story used to be 6,500 words long; I added two scenes and now it’s 4,900.)

So what’s the story about?  Well, I think an excerpt will be of use:

They were naked, now, on a dirty mattress.

“Neither of you have eaten or drunk anything for twenty-four hours?” Ryan asked, hauling equipment into the room: sloshing plastic buckets, packs of hypodermic needles, coils of tubing, straps. “And no drugs in your system? This is a pure trip. Just two bloods commingling. Any impurities will stop Atlas from getting inside you.”

Stewart didn’t answer. He was too distracted by all the naked couples. The attic floor was covered with bodies, lying belly to swollen belly on bedbug-blackened box springs. Their arms were thrust out above their heads, ears resting on their biceps; they clasped hands like lovers, each couple’s circulatory systems knitted into a single bloodstream.

Stewart felt his arms itch where the needles would be inserted, anticipation and fear churning into a sour mix in his gut. But Tina was ready, as she always was for things like this. She’d dragged him here, telling him they had to do this now, before they outlawed consanguination just like they’d outlawed LSD.

She stared up at Ryan with adoration as he strung the wiring above them with efficient motions. Her breath came in excited hitches.

Though his girlfriend was dry-humping Ryan with her eyes, Stewart took satisfaction in the way Ryan refused to look back. Ryan had wanted to take her to Atlas, but Tina had insisted her boyfriend should be her first time. And Stewart had gone along with it — because if he didn’t, Ryan would.

Once you’d exchanged the most vital bodily fluid, Stewart thought, sex was almost an afterthought. That must be why the consanguinated fucked so much. But Tina kept insisting this wasn’t about sex…

Go forth and read it, if you dare.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I was talking to Ted Chiang at World Fantasy, and we were discussing The Singularity – or, as I call it, the Nerd Rapture.

If you’re not familiar with The Singularity, it’s the point where computers become ZOMG SO POWERFUL that it ushers us into a new paradise, where super-powerful AIs will tend to our every whim.  Ted was skeptical of The Singularity, as was I, and I said, “When the Singularity comes, it’s going to be a fucking madhouse of advertisement-bots enslaving us to their whim.  Mark my words.  I even wrote a story about that.”

I felt a little bad about mentioning my story in front of Ted fucking Chiang, master of the sci-fi form – but I also thought it was a good story, and thankfully Kaleidotrope agreed.  So today, you can wander into the world of struggling Sheryl Winstead, as she fights for her sanity:

The ad-faeries danced around Sheryl, flickering cartoon holograms with fluoride-white smiles. They told her the gasoline that sloshed in the red plastic canister she held was high-octane, perfect for any vehicle, did she want to go for a drive?

She did not. That gasoline was for burning. Sheryl patted her pockets to make sure the matches were still there and kept moving forward, blinking away the videostreams. Her legs ached.

She squinted past a flurry of hair-coloring ads (“Sheryl, wash your gray away today!”), scanning the neon roads to find the breast-shaped marble dome of River Edge’s central collation unit. River’s Edge had been a sleepy Midwestern town when she was a girl, a place just big enough for a diner and a department store. Now River’s Edge had been given a mall-over like every other town — every wall lit up with billboards, colorful buildings topped with projectors to burn logos into the clouds. She was grateful for the dark patches that marked where garish shop-fronts had been bombed into ash-streaked metal tangles.

The smoke gave her hope. Others were trying to bring it all down — and if they were succeeding, maybe no one was left to stop her.

I also note that my critique-mate Mary Turzillo has a story in the same issue, “Someone Is Eating America’s Chess Masters,” which I intend to devour at lunch.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I’ve been pretty terrible at writer-marketing, because I don’t think I’ve told you that one of my favorite stories of all time is available for you to read. Plus another story that’s sillier and, er, flighty.

If you’ll recall, “‘Run,’ Bakri Says” – the tale of a girl attempting to rescue her time-travelling terrorist brother from prison – was one of two stories I’ve ever written where I finished the first draft and said, “Yeah, that’s getting published.”  And lo, Sheila Williams at Asimov’s agreed, and so it was published to generally good reviews.  It’s certainly one of the few stories I’ve gotten spontaneous fan mail on.

Escape Pod thought it was worth a podcast, and so you can now read (or listen to Mur Lafferty’s emotional reading) today!  Just so’s you recall the opening:

“I just want to know where my brother is,” Irena yells at the guards.  The English words are thick and slow on her tongue, like honey.  She holds her hands high in the air; the gun she’s tucked into the back of her pants jabs at her spine.

She doesn’t want to kill the soldiers on this iteration; she’s never killed anyone before, and doesn’t want to start.  But unless she can get poor, weak Sammi out of that prison in the next fifty/infinity minutes, they’ll start in on him with the rubber hoses and he’ll tell them what he’s done.  And though she loves her brother with all her heart, it would be a blessing then if the Americans beat him to death.

The guards are still at the far end of the street, just before the tangle of barbed wire that bars the prison entrance.  Irena stands still, lets them approach her, guns out.  One is a black man, the skin around his eyes creased with a habitual expression of distrust; a fringe of white hair and an unwavering aim marks him as a career man.  The other is a younger man, squinting nervously, his babyfat face the picture of every new American soldier.  Above them, a third soldier looks down from his wooden tower, reaching for the radio at his belt.

She hopes she won’t get to know them.  This will be easier if all they do is point guns and yell.  It’ll be just like Sammi’s stupid videogames.

“My brother,” she repeats, her mouth dry; it hurts to raise her arms after the rough surgery Bakri’s done with an X-acto knife and some fishing line.  “His name is Sammi Daraghmeh.  You rounded him up last night, with many other men.  He is — “

Their gazes catch on the rough iron manacle dangling from her left wrist.  She looks up, remembers that Bakri installed a button on the tether so she could rewind, realizes the front of her cornflower-blue abayah is splotched with blood from her oozing stitches.

“Wait.” She backs away.  “I’m not — “

Want to read the rest?  Go, check it out.

And if you’re looking for some lighter fare, my comedy tale “In The Unlikely Event” – about some horrifically standardized preparations for space flight – is now available at Daily Science Fiction.  This one may make you laugh.  Or wince.  Or both.

The flight attendant speaks as though he will win an Olympic medal if he finishes this safety speech in record time.

“Today’s interstellar flight to the Taurean cluster will take approximately seventy years external-time, racking up six hours on your biological clocks. To avoid unnecessary amputations, please keep all hands, feet, and other protuberances within the boundaries of your personal cryogenics chamber….

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Some stories are just too damn personal.  When my stepfather Bruce died of Lou Gehrig’s disease and my grandmother went blind, then senile, then died in a sad nursing home, I had a lot of emotions churning about.

So I decided to write a story about love, and what happens when the person you adore is taken from you.

Being me, I made it science fiction, and I may have switched the protagonists to be an elderly gay couple, and I may have raised the subtext to, er, text, by infecting one of them with an identity-eating virus that consumes his personality.  But the emotions in this story are roiling and true, and it’s one of my stories that cuts so close to the bone that it’s hard for me to reread.

Thankfully, Escape Pod – the premiere science-fiction podcast - picked it up as an original story, and Dave Thompson gave it a gorgeously emotive reading (saying, quite kindly, that it was “brimming over with humanity and love“), and now it’s live!  Obligatory sample:

“I want some water,” Sergio says.  The bicycle chains clank as he strains to put his feet on the floor.

Sergio designed his own restraints.  He had at least fifteen plumbers on his payroll who could have installed the chains – but Sergio’s never trusted anything he didn’t build with his own hands.  So he deep-drilled gear mounts into our guest room’s floral wallpaper, leaving me to string greased roller chains through the cast-iron curlicues of the canopy bed.

“You’re doing well, Bruce,” he lied, trying to smile – but his lips were already desiccated, pulled too tight at the edges.  Not his lips at all.

I slowed him down; I had soft lawyer’s hands, more used to keyboards than Allen wrenches.  Yet we both knew it would be the last time we could touch each other.  So I asked for help I didn’t need, and he took my hands in his to guide the chains through what he referred to as “the marionette mounts.”

Then he sat on the bed and held out his wrists while I snapped the manacles on – the chamois lining was my idea – and we kissed.  It was a long, slow kiss that needed to summarize thirty-two years of marriage. And it should have been comforting, but his mouth was a betrayal.  His lips had resorbed from their lush plumpness.  His tongue had withdrawn to a stub.

His kiss still sent flutters down my spine.

I pressed my hands against his back, moving towards making love, but Sergio pushed me away.  ”We don’t know how transmissible this is,” he said.  Then he tugged on the chains to verify he could lie down and sit up, but not leave the bed.

I pressed the keys into his palm, trying to burn the feeling of his skin into mine forever.  He snipped the keys in half with a bolt-cutter, then flung it all into the corner.

“That’s that,” he said, and rolled away from me to cry.  My arms ached – still ache – from not being able to hold him.

Six days later, I’m still here.  And Sergio is still leaving.

Now, Dave’s reading is top-notch, but the #1 complaint I get with audio readings is that people want to read, not listen.  Which is why it’s nice to say that the entirety of the story is in written form at Escape Pod, if you are low on time.  Go over, check it out – and if you like it, please link to it, Tweet it, Facebook it.  As you should do for every story you love.  Each scrap of PR helps fledgling authors, remember.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You guys.  This is amazing.

As you may or may not know, “A Window, Clear As A Mirror” is the most personal story I’ve ever written – the story of a man whose wife leaves him to go through a magic portal, and what he does to try to cope with that loss.  And that story was blessed – it appeared in one of my favorite magazines, had artwork so beautiful I bought the originals and had them framed, got me my first “Recommended” review from Locus, and now?

Now it’s one of the most perfect audio productions I’ve heard.

Seriously, I’ve had audio productions done of my stories before, which I always adore – “As Below, So Above,” “Suicide Notes, Written By An Alien Mind,” “The Sound of Gears,” and “My Father’s Wounds” are all better read than I’ve had a right to have ‘em – but…

…look.  There’s a scene early on, when my heartbroken protagonist is sitting on a chair in his now-empty apartment, a magic mirror in his hand, trying to see the last of his wife.  And he says, “Who – who’s the fairest one of all?”  And Rish Outfield nailed it, the hitch in the voice, the hoarseness, the barely contained attempt to keep it together.  All in one sentence.  It was the voice in my head.  And it was beautiful, and sad, and everything I wanted.

They did a great job.  I hesitate to announce that this story’s also eligible for Hugos and Nebulas and what-have-you, but what do I care?  It’s the voice in my head, reading to you.  Go check it out.  Share it if you love it.

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There is a certain satisfaction that comes from selling the unsalable story.  Which is to say that when you write a 7,000-word erotica story dealing with the BDSM relationship between a girl and a brain in a jar, you’re pretty sure you’re not going to find a home for it.

(The brain is the Dom.)

…damn if I didn’t, though.  “Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex” just sold to GUD Magazine, which also published my girl-in-a-junkyard story “In The Garden of Rust and Salt.”  This puts GUD on my happy-list ratio of 100% submissions-to-acceptances, along with Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  (You don’t want to know what my Asimov’s ratio is, and my batting average with many other major markets is zero, just for perspective.)

The title may change, as they’re wondering whether it’s fitting, but the opening line won’t:

“The greatest tragedy of Lydia’s life was when she broke her boyfriend during sex.  Admittedly, he was a brain in a jar, but she’d been trying to make do….”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I figure you only have a week or two to purchase the latest Asimov’s before my story disappears from the shelves, so let’s go over the reviews for my time-travelling terrorism story “‘Run,’ Bakri Says”:

Aaron over at Fantastic Reviews Blog made it his “Story Recommendation of the Week,” saying this:

Authors have been writing stories inspired by video games since I first began reading science fiction in the 1970′s, and for far longer than that they’ve been writing fiction to illustrate the dehumanizing effects of war. Yet in “‘Run,’ Bakri Says,” Ferrett Steinmetz manages to do both in an original and powerful way….

Aaron also very kindly contacted me to ask whether he could read my story at work – he has a cool program where periodically, he reads good stories to his co-workers, and he was kind enough to choose mine.  But he won’t be reading it right away. Apparently some hack called “Connie Willis” has agreed to show up in person and read her story.

Hrmph. What does she know about writing?  Anyway….

SFRevu erroneously thinks that the time-travelling loop that Irena is caught in is a videogame, a problem my beta readers had at first, too.  (I though I’d massaged that out. Damn.) They still kindly say, “Don’t think of this just as a game story, it has a real chiller at the end. Steinmetz puts together a perfect little story.”

(And of course, there’s still my “Recommended” review from Lois Tilton, which I’m still geeked over.)

As for Sauerkraut Station,” my Little House On The Prairie in space novella (which you can read for free), Lois Tilton at Locus declined to give it a recommended review but said:

There are a lot of cold equations here, and hard choices: a Cautionary Tale about the idiocy of wars. But primarily it’s a coming-of-age story, and a positive one.

The phenomenal C.S.E. Cooney said, “It has that beautiful barbed quality. You like the protagonist so much you want to crawl right into her skin. And then stuff happens. And you can’t get out. And when the story ends, you emerge shaking…. Made my lunch afterward, muttering to myself, ‘Why do I even bother when there are such people writing?’” Which is funny, because I’ve said that about her. So yay for backscratching!

Asakiyume said, kindly, “This story feels so real, it’s hard to believe that Sauerkraut Station isn’t out there, somewhere. It’s a long story, but every moment is wonderful.”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The good news is, I sold the audio rights for my story “A Window, Clear As A Mirror” to PodCastle.  This is awesome, because a) if you’ll recall, it’s my favorite story ever, and b) PodCastle did such a great job on my story “As Below, So Above” I that I can’t wait to see what they do with the more-humorous-but-more-melancholy tone of “Window.”

But their choice of narrator threw me. I wanted a woman to read this; they said it should be a male.

Which is odd, because to me, “A Window” reads very clearly as a female story, even though the lead character is a male.  In fact, when I read it, I read it in a woman’s voice – I have a high voice to begin with, and I spent years working at a receptionist agency where the patients yelled less if you presented as female, so I have a very good female voice.  And both times I’ve read it, I find my vocal tones rising, me adopting a female slant.

Whereas Dave then told me that if I ever sold “‘Run,’ Bakri Says,” then that would need a female narrator.  And to me, “Bakri” reads so strongly as masculine that I can’t envision what it would sound like with a woman’s voice reading it… Even though the protagonist is a teenaged girl.

I dunno.  On the one hand, he has a point about readers expecting a male protagonist to be read by a male voice, and considering that he’s co-editing an insanely great podcast, I defer to his experience about creating an awesome production. Yet on the other hand, I think about how Neil Gaiman said that he wrote gendered stories; American Gods is a boy book, whereas Stardust is a girl book.  And to me, “Bakri” is a boy story, and “Window” is a girl story, and having opposite-gendered readers feels vaguely like indulging in transgenderism.  (Which is not a bad thing – as noted, I love dressing in high heels and stockings – but it is a little odd at first.)

Gini pointed out that perhaps I was being stereotypical – “Window” is a girl-story because the lead character is dissecting a broken romance, and “Bakri” is a military, “let’s-solve-this-problem” kinda tale.  And there’s an element of that in there, even as “Sauerkraut Station” – which is at least ostensibly about a war – is extremely feminine (though that could be because the inspiration that story is derived wholly from “Little House On The Prairie”).  “iTime,” a problem-solver story if ever there was one, is feminine, whereas “The Backdated Romance” is masculine.  “Camera Obscured” is feminine, “My Father’s Wounds” is masculine.

(On a side note, you know how awesome it is to have so many published stories that I can link to them like this? It’s totally awesome.)

I don’t know. In my head, there’s some trigger where a story is female or male, and it has little to do with the protagonist.  Nor is it necessarily that the story is about problem-solving or relationships, although it does stereotypically tilt slightly that way.  It’s just that to me, certain stories are boy stories and others are girl stories – neither better nor worse, but just flavored in a way that I’ve been drawing this distinction all along, and it only comes up now that I see my girl story putting on a mustache and Don Draper’s suit.

I dunno.  If you write, are your stories gendered at all?  If you read, or have at least read some of the stories here, do you think of them as boy or girl stories now that your attention is drawn to it?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I bet you’ve been wondering what it would be like if Ferrett wrote a version of “Little House on the Prairie” set in space. I wouldn’t blame you.  After all, I did, so much so that I actually had to write the story.

In any case, what emerged was a long-ass story, and I think it’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing what I’d call “comfort reading.”  Lizzie’s life out on Sauerkraut Station isn’t comfortable, but there’s something about the rhythm of her existence that just made me read this one over and over again.  I like it.  I hope you do, too.

“The sauerkraut is what makes us special,” Lizzie explained as she opened up the plastic door to show Themba the hydroponic units.  She scooped a pale green head of cabbage from the moist sand and placed it gently into Themba’s cupped hands.

She held her breath as Themba cradled it in his palm, hoping: Please.  Please don’t tell me that stuff grows everywhere at home.

Themba ran a dark brown finger along the cabbage’s veins, then let loose a sigh of wonder.  “That’s marvelous,” he said.

Lizzie puffed out her chest.  Themba had passed her final test.  At ten years old, Themba was two years younger, six inches shorter, and eight shades darker than Lizzie was, and she’d known him for a record three days and nine hours.  That made him her best friend ever.

It’s available at Giganotosaurus, and is not only available in regular web page format, but in ePub format for those of you who wish to download and devour at leisure later.  (And I wouldn’t blame you – as a novella, this story takes a while to digest.)

In any case, it’s a departure from my usual writings, if I can be said to have usual writings.  Go take a look, kick the tires, lemme know what you think.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

"Run," Bakri Says - My Latest Story's In Asimov's!I’ve only written two stories where I finished them and went, “I’m going to sell this.”  As a writer, you live for those moments – it must be what Babe Ruth felt like when he pointed to the bleachers and smashed the run.

One of them was “As Below, So Above,” which was picked up by Beneath Ceaseless Skies and was later made into a PodCastle audio production.  The other was this story: “‘Run,’ Bakri Says,” perhaps the most powerful story I’ve ever written.  It’s certainly the only story to get a “Recommended” from Lois Tilton over at Locus, a notably tough reviewer who’s slammed some of my previous work.  (Writing a tale that impressed her was one of my minor goals for this year, so I’m especially proud.)

This story is about a girl and her mad scientist, terrorist, time-travelling brother.  It starts like this:

“I just want to know where my brother is,” Irena yells at the guards.  The English words are thick and slow on her tongue, like honey.  She holds her hands high in the air; the gun she’s tucked into the back of her pants jabs at her spine.

She doesn’t want to kill the soldiers on this iteration; she’s never killed anyone before, and doesn’t want to start.  But unless she can get poor, weak Sammi out of that prison in the next fifty/infinity minutes, they’ll start in on him with the rubber hoses and he’ll tell them what he’s done.  And though she loves her brother with all her heart, it would be a blessing then if the Americans beat him to death.

The guards are still at the far end of the street, just before the tangle of barbed wire that bars the prison entrance.  Irena stands still, lets them approach her, guns out.  One is a black man, the skin around his eyes creased with a habitual expression of distrust; a fringe of white hair and an unwavering aim marks him as a career man.  The other is a younger man, squinting nervously, his babyfat face the picture of every new American soldier.  Above them, a third soldier looks down from his wooden tower, reaching for the radio at his belt.

She hopes she won’t get to know them.  This will be easier if all they do is point guns and yell.  It’ll be just like Sammi’s stupid videogames.

“My brother,” she repeats, her mouth dry; it hurts to raise her arms after the rough surgery Bakri’s done with an X-acto knife and some fishing line.  “His name is Sammi Daraghmeh.  You rounded him up last night, with many other men.  He is — “

Their gazes catch on the rough iron manacle dangling from her left wrist.  She looks up, remembers that Bakri installed a button on the tether so she could rewind, realizes the front of her cornflower-blue abayah is splotched with blood from her oozing stitches.

“Wait.” She backs away.  “I’m not — “

The younger soldier yells, “She’s got something!”  They open fire.  Something tugs at her neck, parting flesh; another crack, and she swallows her own teeth.  She tries to talk but her windpipe whistles; her body betrays her, refusing to move as she crumples to the ground, willing herself to keep going.  Nothing listens.

This is death, she thinks.  This is what it’s like to die.

This story is in the latest issue of Asimov’s, available at many fine bookstores – or, if you have no bookstore available, you can purchase the latest issue for your Kindle for a mere $2.99.

And I feel so strongly about this story that I’ll do something I’ve done for only one other tale – if you buy this because you read the excerpt here and don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back.  That’s right; $2.99 in your pocket if you think it stinks.  I did that for “A Window, Clear As A Mirror” and had no takers, and I’m pretty sure this won’t disappoint anyone.

Anyway, take a look.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Accepting compliments on my work is, for me, the second hardest thing about being a writer – which is ironic, because I write to create an emotional reaction in people, then flip out whenever they have one.  But if you tell me that you like my work, I’ll just sort of stammer and say “thank you” and be grateful and then be utterly not sure what to say at all.

I try to thank everyone who leaves a kind comment in my story, but compliments are a very kind gift that I have trouble receiving.  So if you tell me you liked something of mine and I move to change the subject, it’s not you – I’m actually very flattered – but me.

Dysfunctional Ferrett is dysfunctional.

In other news, my Apple-invents-the-time-machine story iTime was given an inadvertent boost by Steve Jobs’ death – I’ve seen at least four links to it from people going, “Yeah, Steve’s dead, and here’s this cool story about a new Apple device!”  Which is a little odd, and ghoulish, but I guess it’s not like I planned it – and as Kaj Sotala noted, it’s also a clear reference to my essay on making money off of the recently deceased, “He’s Dead, Jim – Did We Stock Up In Time?

Life is odd and messy.  I guess that’s why it’s so compelling, like a slot machine that never quite pays off but sometimes does.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Ever wonder what happens when Macintosh develops the first personal time-travel device, and it lands in the hands of rich college kids?  Well, wonder no more, for my story iTime has finally been published at Redstone SF – and you can read it for free!

An excerpt:

I’d say that my roommate Rochelle had to have the latest in technology, but that would be incorrect.  Rochelle had to have the most expensive thing, and the trendiest thing, but it barely mattered what her accessories did so long as they didn’t clash with her cheerleader’s outfit.  When she got a personal biometric scanner, I wanted to use the data to generate a customized probiotic treatment to optimize the bacteria in her lower intestine; she used it to send scans of her boobs to cute boys.

As assigned dorm mates, all we had in common was our love of hardware.  That was why I was the first person who got to see her new iTime.  It was made of white enameled metal, shaped like an old stopwatch, smooth as an egg except for the plug-timer on top and the recessed nav-wheel on the front.

“You got one?” I asked.  “Isn’t there a waiting list?”

“Daddy paid four hundred thousand on eBay for an unbonded four-hour model,” she said, puffing out her chest.  “He said it was worth it to get me something that was guaranteed to bring up my grades.  I begged him for the eight-hour version, but he didn’t want to clean out my college savings.”

I reached out to touch it; it flickered away underneath my fingertips like a hologram.

“Oh, that’s the safety feature!” Rochelle squeed, clapping her hands in joy.  “The salesman said it was bonded to my personal timeline; it doesn’t really exist for anyone but me.  Otherwise, you could do all sorts of nasty things to me if you found it.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno.  He tried to explain, and I got bored.  But ask me that question tomorrow, and I can rewind time back four hours to before you asked me, and everything would happen again just the way it did before I rewound.  Except that this time, I’d read all the instruction manuals and stuff before I got here – so when we finally re-met and you asked me what things the iTime could do, I’d know…..”

The full tale is over here – and if you like it (and only if you like it), do me a favor and post a link to it on Twitter or Facebook or, I dunno, I hear LiveJournal’s still kicking around.  But hopefully you will like it.  Enjoy.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I am thrilled to announce the sale of “Devour” to the premier science fiction podcaster, Escape Pod.

“Devour” is the tale of an elderly gay married couple who are infected by a long-forgotten military bio-weapon – faithful and generous readers may remember me live-blogging a revision of this story during last year’s Clarion Echo effort, and I think it’s one of my most powerful stories ever.  (It’s based on watching my mother try to cope with my stepfather’s failing struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the love that emanated from them before Bruce finally passed on.)

Escape Pod always does good productions, so I can’t wait to see this one go live!  Plus, it’s paid at professional rates because Escape Pod is just that good.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My latest story is live at Beneath Ceaseless Skies – have a sample of the opening, why don’tcha?

Father carries the knife, because I asked him to—but he keeps turning to look at me, earnestly, as if he hopes I’ll take it back.

 It’s hard to believe he knows I’ll stab him with that knife. Even harder to believe he’s eager for me to do it. But that’s my father; he thinks the world of his precious daughter. He’s thin yet unbowed in his ascetic gray Blacksmith robes as he leads me up through a cold forest to the Anvil.

It doesn’t matter whether my father will live once I stab him. That’s not the point. The point is all the questions that no one thinks to ask after we’ve healed their fathers, their soldiers, their daughters. Nobody questions our magic, except for us, the loyal priests and priestesses of Aelana.

We can’t stop asking. We can’t sleep for asking.

The origins of this story are either mildly embarrassing or total nerd cred, depending on how you look at it, since it stemmed from a question I had about D&D – how do those first-level priests learn how to Cure Light Wounds, anyway? Do they just stab each other and hope for the best? And I wrote a story that wound up answering questions not only about that question, but as to why a cleric who can cure wounds can’t mend a country.

I really like the ending on this one.  I hope you will too.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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