“Shared Space”: Community of Magic Pens

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.

Cover art for Community of Magic Pens

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.

Anthology release day

Eighteen: Stories of Mischief and Mayhem is now officially available, in trade paperback and ebook formats, from the usual bookseller suspects. (The publisher’s page has links.) The book includes my story “Like Gold Upon Her Tongue.” I spent part of the afternoon curled up reading and enjoying other people’s stories, so if you are in the mood for something dark and strange I encourage you to check it out.

Cover of XVIII

Events have been canceled, but there is also transformation. In lieu of reading at the launch party, Wendy N. Wagner uploaded a recorded reading from the bumper sticker-inspired “When Only Bears Carry Arms, Only Weapons Will Be Born.” Instead of hosting an author event, A Good Book is offering the first volume, XIII, for free to people who buy XVIII. (And yes, I am switching between Roman numerals and writing out the number. For a book filled with stories that play with reality and perception, a mercurial title seems appropriate.)

Due to the pandemic, the book launch does not look much like originally planned. Aside from the sensible cancellation of events, it feels very strange to be promoting anything right now. (This particular conundrum must be especially tough for novelists, who have far more riding on the reception of their book than any individual author in an anthology, and the publishers and booksellers with their notoriously low margins.) But people need stories—all different kinds of stories—throughout their lives, and particularly during times of stress. So please consider this promotion a bit less “ooh ooh pick me” and more “hey, this is a thing that’s out in the world, maybe you’ll like it, or know someone else who might.”