Behind the Scenes: Why I Spared the One Brave Soul Between Me and My Undead Army

Let heroes break themselves against my army for sending a child to do their work.

Read and/or listen at Cast of Wonders!

On some level this tale speaks to ongoing social justice issues. Each new wave of a movement picks up on the issues the previous wave either caused or ignored. It’s fantastic, and infuriating, when teens and pre-teens step up to be the courageous activists and put themselves on the line while the adults — who have all the power — sit there, complacent and obstructive. Beyond that, this story was inspired by a tumblr post. The song VESSEL, by Devilskin, fleshed out the rest.

I’ve written lots of stories about tough love from the student’s side, drawing on my own experiences, but this time I wanted to focus on an older character, and thus, the teacher’s side. Tough love is really difficult to convey because it skates so close to abuse. In writing this villain, an objectively bad person, the task was to find good reasons for bad behavior.

Layla and Regan are both responding to an unjust world, but the nature of their responses puts them on opposite sides. Neither of them were taken seriously by the powers that be, and despite this, they never wavered from their paths; each going as far as to invite the other to join their cause. None of this would have worked if evil Layla fell flat.

By the end of the story, Layla’s forty years old. She’s absolutely committed to rebuilding the world, and — blasphemy of blasphemies — she’s having a great time! So often, villainous women and femme fatales are there to be sexy first and adversarial second. There’s some weakness at their core — like a longing for love, or a hatred for their rapist — that the hero (and by extension, the reader) can exploit. While the villain is there to be crushed, the villainess tantalizes like so much forbidden fruit —  she’s there to be tasted, split open, and conquered; or to demonstrate moral fortitude by abstaining.

Layla is impervious to all of this, because she’s happy.

She’s not a sidekick or an ingénue, she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. She’ll cut down anyone who tries to stop her, and isn’t above betraying her teammates to advance her cause. Futhermore, she’s so settled in her power that she can recognize and lend aid to a kindred spirit, even if they wind up on opposite sides.

While Layla is driven by her cause, she’s not burdened by it. She was prepared to face down heroes at every moment, and it’s not her fault that no one showed until she was too big to stop. Similarly, no one took Regan’s warnings seriously, forcing her to face the threat herself and ultimately, that’s what got her the training she needed. By helping Regan become a viable threat, Layla gives Regan the respect that she herself feels entitled to; but she doesn’t sugar-coat what that means. She warns of the danger, and then lets Regan make her own choice. Both Layla and Regan position themselves to meet the enemy head-on, removing any question of the legitimacy of their victories. They take themselves, and each other, seriously.

I wanted to show the validating and enriching elements of an adversarial relationship. Men get that in fiction all the time. It’s someone else’s turn.

Finally, I realize (too late) that there are appropriative elements in the story — the most obvious being the Vessel of Mercy, a reference to kintsugi. The way I used the design has nothing to do with the art’s practice in our world, and the tale might have benefited from some in-world cynicism around the Vessel’s mythology, to draw attention to the ways in which conquerors and thieves steal history and context, as well as objects. For this, I apologize. I will be more considered in future.

If you liked this story, buy me a coffee!

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February Events at Left Bank Books

Left Bank Books and Archon continue their partnership to bring a kickass reading series to Saint Louis in 2019!

Charlie Jane Anders – The City in the Middle of the Night
Monday, February 18, 7pm
Mad Art Gallery
Preorder

Jasper Fforde – Early Riser
Wednesday, February 20, 7pm
Ethical Society of St. Louis
Preorder

Ann Leckie – The Raven Tower
Tuesday, February 26, 7pm
Left Bank Books
Preorder

For further details on Left Bank Books’ upcoming SF/STL events, here’s the official web site.

Behind the Scenes: Snapped Dry, Scraped Clean

It’s live! Woo!

Read it for free here!

This tale was inspired by two articles. The first was about a woman who was found dead in a hospital stairwell. The second was about the folks who clean up crime scenes after the investigation has concluded. The combination of care and neglect when we’re at our most vulnerable (in a hospital, at home, among family) percolated into this story. I wanted to look the ugly, unspoken thing in the face — like the limits of care, and what happens when we reach those limits and start to fail. Who cares for the caregiver, kind of thing.

When I first drafted this story in 2015, I was also thinking about sensory overwhelm and emotional burnout on the part of the caretakers. Hrisa had always been sensitive to sound, and moved from the role of surgeon to death cleaner because she couldn’t handle it anymore. In the original version, she had an assistant named Gurna. A childhood accident had left Gurna without a nose, so while both Hrisa and Gurna had trouble being part of society, they found work that suited them. Hrisa was meant to make Gurna tougher, and Gurna pushed back when Hrisa’s desire to protect herself soured into actual cruelty.

The discussion about the veil, and whether to hide one’s face, is a remnant of that relationship, and the ways in which we normalize or reject shame.

I was just beginning with short fiction in those days, and this was the first story where I relaxed my grip a little and spent more time with the environment and the feelings of the characters. The wordcount was far too high to sell as a result, and that’s when Gurna was cut. It gave the other characters more presence and agency.

Fun fact, it turns out that the guy in the article about cleaners is a friend of a friend from the days I lived in New York. I’m kicking myself for not knowing this connection earlier. I would have liked to ask about materials and process.

This story was written while listening to “Save Me From Myself” by Sirenia. You can follow them on their website or on YouTube.

Thanks also to Nick Mamatas’s Fabulist Fiction class, for helping me streamline this piece into something publishable.

P.S., I now have a ko-fi! If you’d like to leave a dollar in the tip jar, please do so here.

Bye Facebook. Hello Pillowfort

The plan for 2019:
-No conventions
-No drinking
-20 pushups per day (pact with Derek Künsken)
-Learn Twine & Unity (pact with Ghost Cat)

Along with these changes, I’ve made some adjustments to my online presence. Facebook is out, Pillowfort and Ko-Fi are in — which will help me focus while I’m learning how to write RPGs. The reason I picked Pillowfort is because I’ve never had a tumblr, and it seemed like as good a time as any to branch out and see what’s going on in that part of the internet.

In addition to Pillowfort, I have started a Ko-Fi! Patreon works well for PodCastle and the Escape Artists, but I wanted something of my own. Ko-Fi will be a huge help toward covering the time spent bringing you posts, stories, and twine games — and maybe, one day, I’ll be able to upgrade the audio gear I use for host spots and fiction narration.

The next item I have my eye on is a Stedman PS101 pop filter (more solid protection against P-B-T sounds, and it’s smaller than my current one, which will make it easier to read the script behind it).

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Here’s to a fruitful and prosperous new year!

October Events – Archon and Left Bank Books

During WorldCon in San Jose, I got to catch up with many of the friends I left behind in California. Between 3-4 local conventions per year and Borderlands Books serving as hubs of activity, the community there is as strong as ever. In Saint Louis, that community orbits around Archon and Left Bank Books. If you’re interested in getting to know some of the other pros, fans, and creative types at all levels, come hang out this October!

SF/STL! Wednesday, October 24, 7pm

Left Bank Books and Archon are proud to present SF/STL! A reading series for SFF authors and readers alike. I met Marina J. Lostetter at WorldCon, and I’m happy to say she’ll be joining us to celebrate her book, Noumenon Infinity!

Archon 42! October 12 – 14, 2018

Friday

  • Science and Fantasy: Where the Magic Lies
    17:00 – 18:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
    Why do science fiction and fantasy get so often placed in opposition? Are there fundamental differences between scientific and magical worldviews, in fiction and beyond? Or are these just different sources of wonder?
    Joey Froehlich (M), Christine Amsden, Setsu Uzume, Kasey Mackenzie, Charlie Jane Anders

Saturday

  • What is Your Process?
    10:00 – 11:00, St. Clair A & B (DoubleTree – Collinsville)
    Pen and paper, room completely silent, 20 year old notes? What is the best way for you to create your stories? Do you ever change it up?
    Donna J. W. Munro (M), Eddie Wilson, Setsu Uzume, Kathleen Collins, Dr. Mike Phoenix
  • I Have a Great Idea!: How to Submit and Run a Panel at Archon
    13:00 – 14:00, Illini A (Gateway Center)
    Interested in running a panel, but unsure how to get started or what to do? Panel veterans to the rescue!
    Setsu Uzume (M), Mr. Vito Pandolfo, Erin McFadden, Donald Price
  • Religion and its Place in Science Fiction and Fantasy
    15:00 – 16:00, Madison C & D (DoubleTree – Collinsville)
    Plenty of our favorite worlds have their own religion, or have a mix of real world religions. How do they stem from what we know in the real world?
    Setsu Uzume (M), David Benem, Benjamin C. Kinney, Ms Judi Cook

Sunday

  • The Hero Quest
    10:00 – 11:00, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
    The original story. How to use it within your writing and make it yours.
    Mr Brian Trent (M), Setsu Uzume, Jimmy D. Gillentine, Mrs. E Susan Baugh, Donna J.W. Munro

Forthcoming: They Keep Killing Glenn

Just sold “For Whom the Bell LOLs,” a short story about a social media algorithm that makes friends with a Russian missile satellite. The anthology will be available in July 2018 from Peter David and Crazy 8 Press.

The submission call was a result of joke at a convention panel, when someone suggested they take all the ideas for how to kill Glenn and turn them into an anthology. The audience responded with, “I’d read that.” Glenn Hauman graciously agreed, and here we are.

Many thanks to Peter David and Crazy 8 Press. Thanks also to Joe Gergis, who helped me with the technical language.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction
They Keep Killing Me: A Foreword of Last Words
The Killing Croak by David Gerrold
The Look on Your Face by David Mack
Revenge of the Clipper Kin by Joe Corallo
“Is it You?” by Bob Greenberger
The Hardwicke Files: The Case of Hauman’s Comet by Russ Colchamiro
House Hunting by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Patient Zero by Dean Scott
Buried in Books by Mary Fan
The Case of the Industrial Revolution by Kathleen O’Shea David
For Whom the Bell LOLs by Setsu Uzume
Too Damn Tall by Lorraine J. Anderson
DuckBob: All In by Aaron Rosenberg
R is for Roadster by Blair Learn
The Long and the Short of It by Brett Hudgins
Marathon by S. Brady Calhoun
For Cockeysville by Michael Jan Friedman
Rhino by Amy Lewanski
Waking Things by Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg
The Day of Killing Endlessly by Paul Kupperberg
That’s All, Folks by Peter David

 

Here’s how the sausage was made:

When I sent in the manuscript, the editor’s response was, “what did you send me? Is this the right file? Glenn’s name doesn’t seem to be in it.” In keeping with the story’s tone, Glenn is referred to by his Facebook account number.

Glenn also frequently posts/shares articles about the egregious misuse of guns with the comment, “Today in Responsible Gun Ownership, [person A] [uses a gun] and [it goes poorly].”

The other story I pitched, about a cursed hovercat out for blood, has yet to be written.

Narration Stuff – Audacity Shortcuts and 30 Seconds of Room Tone

A collection of stuff so I can find it later.

Room Tone file and Noise Reduction

  • Room tone is solely the sound of your environment once you’ve cleared all the elements you can control (like buzzing lights, fans, vents, etc.).
  • Make all the recording adjustments (recording level, gain, etc.) you plan to use for your recording.
  • Make a 35-second recording.
  • Trim beginning and end so you don’t include the clicks and movements associated with starting/stopping the recording.
  • Final recording should be somewhere between 10 and 30 seconds.
  • Re-record whenever you enter a new recording environment, or if you move your mic.

Noise is anything beyond what you’re trying to capture — like the sound of a laptop while trying to record your voice. Make sure the room tone file is free of bumps, stomach gurgles, and any other evidence of your presence.  Using this “blank” file, you’ll be able to create a noise profile you can use for cleaning up the sound in later recordings.

Caveat: I’m not sure if a long average (30 seconds of room noise) is more or less reliable for noise reduction than 5 seconds before and after the recording done that day. For example, there’s ambient birdsong in April that wouldn’t add to the noise profile for a December recording. This will be an ongoing experiment.

Audacity Keyboard Shortcuts

Recording Shortcuts Function
 P Pause
 R Record
 Spacebar Play/Stop (toggle)
 B Play from Cursor to Selection
 1 1 second preview
Navigation Shortcuts Function
 CTRL + 1  Zoom In
 CTRL + 2  Zoom Normal
 CTRL + 3  Zoom Out
 CTRL + E  Zoom To Selection
 CTRL + F  Fit In Window
 CTRL + Shift + F  Fit Vertically
 CTRL + R  Repeat Last Effect
Save/File Shortcuts Function
 CTRL + I  Import Audio
 CTRL + N  New Project
 CTRL + O  Open Project
 CTRL + S  Save Project
 CTRL + W  Close Project
 CTRL + P (CMD + ,)  Audacity Preferences
Editing Shortcuts Function
 F1  Selection Tool
 F2  Envelope Tool
 F3  Draw Tool
 F4  Zoom Tool
 F5  Time Shift Tool
 F6  Multi-Tool Mode
 D  Next Tool
 A  Previous Tool