I don’t often write drabbles, but here is one I did write about climate change, Rosh Hashanah, and resilience.
Check out Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast 0614 to listen to “Kill Switch.” I always think it’s interesting to hear a reader’s choices: pauses, emphasis, etc. In this case I particularly wanted to hear the results because CB Droege is a man, and I had originally pictured my narrator as a woman. (I didn’t specify gender in the story; that was a detail I consciously jettisoned when I cut the piece down to flash length, after deciding a longer version wasn’t working.) I like the version he produced and generally get a kick out of hearing my stories read.
“Kill Switch” originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction, if you’d like to read along while you listen.
In 2017, I started writing-and-finishing things after a pretty long break (and, a couple years later, started submitting some of them). 2017 was a bad time for politics in the United States, and it just kept getting worse. (No, I did not think it would end with hundreds of thousands of excess pandemic deaths and an armed insurrection. In retrospect, I marvel at my optimism.) With all the talk of inhabiting the darkest timeline, my mind turned to time travel—and futility.
The story accidentally came out in play form (well, “play” or “90s Terry Bisson,” depending on your perspective). I decided I liked it, especially since that made it easy to obscure gender and skip physical descriptions. Depending on the combination of gender identity, presentation, race, accent, etc. of the characters, it reads differently. I felt like I’d accidentally performed a Stupid Author Trick. And now the story has a home, nestled among other time travel tales.
My micro story “Coffin Bell” is part of Suddenly Shocking Vol. 13, a bonus episode of The NoSleep Podcast. It’s available to Season 15 pass holders.
This story’s a reprint nobody read: I originally published it on my Patreon, back when I thought I might do something with Patreon. (I mostly posted pictures of flowers and my dog.) It’s neat to hear it produced, with the expected bell-ringing in the background. This is the first time I’ve had a story appear as part of a podcast.
The fourth annual Little Blue Marble anthology is out now. It collects stories published during 2020, including my own “Digital Pyre.” Proceeds help keep the webzine up, running, and paying pro rates. The print edition ships soon; the digital version is available almost instantaneously. Pick up a copy at Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble or Kobo. If you would like to curl up and read on this darkest night, in this darkest of years, in this darkest of timelines, you can find some hopeful words here.
I neglected to post last week, but my SF story “Purple Lizard Skin” was Wyldblood‘s Friday Flash and is free to read on the site. It’s the first time this byline’s appeared in a publication based outside of North America. That doesn’t much matter when so much of short fiction publishing is online, but is still a random fact that pleases me.
My short story “Changeling” is now available to read in Corvid Queen.
The concept of changelings is fertile ground for fiction. It’s a way to discuss loss, theft, disability, and deception, prompting characters to question their own perceptions or belonging. In my short tale, I wanted to bring in adoption (an emotionally fraught process even when all parties are mortal and consenting), and the constant anxiety of parenting.
Issue Three of Translunar Travelers Lounge went live on August 15. In addition to the free-to-read online format, it’s also available as an ebook from Amazon. My short story “5:37” is on the menu (one of four Jasmine Luna Blends, “subtle in scent and sweet in flavor”).
The story’s basic concept is a decades-old joke about The Ring and technological obsolescence. Its writing was strongly influenced by my having happened to think about John Landis and gotten mad all over again about terrible labor practices and preventable accidents and how The Twilight Zone is a piece of gruesome trivia rather than (minimally) a career-ender. Some people are allowed to fail over and over again, and fail up, and escape the reasonable consequences of their actions.
That’s part of the reason I wanted to make my characters women of color, and why I wanted to give them the opportunity to escape the unreasonable consequences of others’ actions.
I also wanted to play around a bit with professional practice. Archives have historically been a site of power. The people who are documented, remembered, mourned, and memorialized tend to be the same people who are allowed to fail (overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, rich white men).
There has been professional push-back against that historical reality, including efforts to document previously undocumented voices, collect and highlight material created by or relating to marginalized groups, and assist communities and individuals who wish to maintain their own archives outside of established institutions. (The degree and success of this push-back is a whole other question; but this is a blog post about a short story, not an article about the history of the field.) I wanted to put my archivist firmly in the midst of that conversation.
And here I must apologize for some artistic decisions that may be difficult for archivists to accept. The fictional article abstract is rather over-expansive. A case study would stand as an article of its own. I should also point out that using “Tai Soo-jin (Spirit)” in the finding aid is something of an anachronism. When I entered the field, Describing Archives: A Content Standard included guidance on spirit communication along with various other name forms, but that chapter was removed from DACS in 2013. I am not sure what the current standard for spirit communication may be, but I always wanted to make use of that particular technical guideline. I hope readers are willing to suspend their disbelief.
“Digital Pyre” is online at Little Blue Marble.
I used to be an archivist; some of my work involved digitizing materials. There are constant sighs (or screams) within the field at the assumption that archivists should digitize everything. Professionally speaking, throwing things away is an important function. We’re living in an era of ubiquitous information. Not everything can be saved; not everything should be saved.
The energy devoted to data centers is a real concern. While this isn’t something only archivists need to think about, it is discussed within the field. There are professional affinity groups dedicated to climate issues. And archivists, who among other things are memory workers, are also concerned with the trauma of the Anthropocene.
Patrons of Little Blue Marble had the chance to read “Digital Pyre” earlier this week. Sneak peeks are among the goodies available through the website’s Patreon. So if you’re interested in cli-fi sci-fi and being First, that’s something to keep in mind when deciding which creative projects to support.
Many thanks are due to Katrina Archer, whose editorial nips and tucks made the story stronger. And more Canadian.
Today is the official publication date of Community of Magic Pens. You can find the anthology at various retailers—Amazon, Bookshop, Kobo, etc.—or buy direct from the publisher, Atthis Arts.
This project has been a delight. I was charmed when I saw the Kickstarter. A lot of the stories kicking around in my head have trended dark, lately, and this was a nice break. The editorial back-and-forth was great—I don’t think I’ve ever had a story edited so thoroughly or thoughtfully (note that I’m not just counting the short list of fiction under this byline). At some point, I told Emily that the anthology and production experience felt like the indie press equivalent of Bob Ross. Just contemplating it made me feel warm and fuzzy. (Admit it, you felt the same way when you read the name “Bob Ross.”) Some days, we all need happy little trees.
In 2020, we could use a forest.
That brings me around to my story, “Shared Space.” Set in a cube farm, it’s about cubicle life. All the little ways that people negotiate fitting into corporate culture without sacrificing their individuality, all the tiny ways they find satisfaction, all the small soul-sucking realities, and the surprising ways that community can sneak up on you.
I began writing the story at the end of last year, shortly after I started a new job. (The bio in the book states that I currently work in a cubicle. That was true when the book went into production, though I was subsequently among the millions of folks laid off.) While less than fulfilling, in the manner of many jobs, I still kind of liked it. People were friendly, the cube farm wasn’t bad for a cube farm, my executive function largely executed, and there was sufficient flexibility and personal interactions that I could work there without constantly being confronted by my status as cog. As has been noted, we are steeped in capitalism no less thoroughly than the divine right of kings. Finding a not-uncomfortable niche within that system relieves some of its stresses, and writing the story was kind of a way of saying “this is fine.”
“Shared Space” has now become historical fiction. The idea of routine work in a cube farm no longer computes. Maybe in a year, after a vaccine and widespread testing and contact tracing, the old normal might be somewhat conceivable. But none of those things are in the offing in the United States, though other countries are dealing with the pandemic more successfully. Aside from the practical barrier, there is also the emotional landscape: will people accept working at close quarters after this, or be forced to do so—or will this be a catalyst for positive systemic change? Either way, there is likely to be fear, and masks, and (as always) disproportionate suffering of marginalized groups.
Some events make for a bright-line “before” and “after,” and a pandemic most surely counts as one of those events. We can’t be certain how this moment will be remembered, but we know that it will cast a shadow. Plagues can make themselves felt through silences and absences, no less than detailed data and vivid accounts.
And so at least for me, one minuscule piece of remembering this time will be to see how rapidly a story I wrote changed from a picture of banal drudgery to one of a happier past. Memory, like community, has a way of sneaking up on you.