In October, Once Again

A while back, I wrote a piece of flash fiction called “In September”, about a woman whose husband only existed in the few weeks between August and October. It’s a bittersweet story, as you might expect, long lonely stretches of summer and winter and spring. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but it doesn’t have a sad one either. The husband and wife go their own separate ways, without forgetting what they’d once had together.

A year ago, I went to Viable Paradise.

A year? Already?

What’s been real since then? Am I here, in my chair by the window at home; what part of me still exists, outside that one time-frozen week?

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The post-workshop blues are a real thing. For any workshop I’ve ever done, there’s a sense of energy, of power coming out of it afterward–having seen what’s wrong and been empowered to fix it.

But for me, with Viable Paradise more than ever, there’s a competing feeling of: what if I fix it wrong? What if I’ve been given this gift, and I misuse it, or squander it, or hide it under its proverbial bushel basket? Maybe someone else would made better use of it. Maybe I took up space in the workshop that could have benefited someone else more. Not someone teetering on an isolated peak, wondering how to get from there to the higher ranges; or someone who’d already their grip and started to tumble all the way back down. But somebody still climbing upward and who needed a hand on the way. Whose arm did I bat aside to grope for my next handhold?

It’s been a year. What have I changed? What have I done? What do I have to show that I was worthy? I want to be a true knight but I’m afraid I’ve been a false one all along. That if I’m invited to drink from the Grail I’ll choose wrongly, that I’ll spill it or drop it. Or worse yet, leave it somewhere the next person can’t find it.

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Rejections are trophies. I give myself rewards for accumulating them: Pokemon emails, gotta catch ’em all. The Clarkesworld and Asimov’s ones are as common as Rattatas, collect one once a week; you have to be a little more patient to snag one from Uncanny or Strange Horizons. Lightspeed is one of the legendary gets–can’t find one of those on any old street corner, you have to be an elite player to get within arm’s reach.

I used to hear “nice throw”, sometimes, when I tried to score one of those R’s–not so much anymore, and not because I’m trying less. Am I trying too hard, spiking the ball into the ground at my feet every time, aiming for a shot much too far beyond my reach? I hope so, but sometimes I’m not sure I’m not just running out of balls to toss, fumbling around my backpack groping for something, anything, to try. That’s not a ball, it’s a broken pen–throw it anyway and see how fast it comes hurtling back at your face.

You can rack up as many good throws as you want. You just can’t pile them up high enough to count as a catch.

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At the end of “In September”, the wife chooses to stay in May, without her husband but with the season that she needs to be happy and healthy and strong. I have 51 other weeks to choose from, some or any or all. Which one do I belong in? Is there one I could slide into so easily and feel like coming home?

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There is, of course, no finish line to cross on the way to being worthy. You keep earning it every day, by using it, by living it, by lowering the ladder to the next person reaching for it. If there’s no finish line, then there also can’t be any trophy. It would be too heavy to carry, anyway.

There is no “having something to show for it”, either. You can break your heart open to tell the stories inside. You can mine deep and dig up the gems that only you knew were buried there. You can do everything right and you still don’t deserve to have your stories told. Other people’s hearts have geodes inside, not just stained and cracked stone. Others dug up diamonds when all you found were agates. While you were forging chains, they poured hot iron to make keys and they unlocked the right gates at the right time.

You have to be worthy. You always have to be worthy. But you have to be lucky, too, and sometimes you find yourself with broken fingernails and a dry empty mine.

It’s not because you didn’t dig deep enough.

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It’s a cold October and when I call deeper into the cave, I hear echoes. It doesn’t sound like my voice anymore, stretched out and broken by the time it bounces back to me. I think it’s time to walk back out into the sun, for a while, before the winter comes. Deep underground, geological processes are at work, grinding and compressing the stone into something new. I’m not sure if it will be gems. Bedrock would be good, too.

I can’t leave October and I can’t live here either. So I’m walking forward, taking the longest strides I know how toward November. You might not see me much in online-land before then–if you need me or want to say hi, I answer emails fast, and I’m pretty good at typing while I walk and still watching where I’m going. There’s food and family waiting out there in November, friends too; there will be celebrations. The days will be getting shorter, too, and I’ll be watching for the first touch of snow then, if it doesn’t come early.

I’m a Wisconsin girl and if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to deal with the cold.

2017 Recommended Reading List

Short Stories

Monster Girls Don’t Cry, by Merc Rustad

The Light We Carried Home, by Kay Chronister

Prosthetic Daughter, by Nin Harris

With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips, by Beth Cato

Anabasis, by Amal El-Mohtar

O Stone, Be Not So, by José Iriarte

They Will Take You From You, by Brandon O’Brien

The Falling Game, by Ian Muneshwar

Sun, Moon, Dust, by Ursula Vernon

Queen of Dirt, by Nisi Shawl

The Sound of, by Charles Payseur

Carnival Nine, by Caroline Yoachim

Utopia, LOL?, by Jamie Wahls

The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped In a Prison You Make for Yourself, Matt Dovey

Of Letters They Are Made, by Jonathan Edelstein

The Martian Obelisk, by Linda Nagata

The Stone Weta, by Octavia Cade

If a Bird Can Be a Ghost, by Allison Mills

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand, by Fran Wilde

These Constellations Will Be Yours, by Elaine Cuyegkeng

Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light, by Malon Edwards

The Sound of His Voice Like the Colour of Salt, by L Chan

The Heart Seed, by Joanne Rixon

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Bennett North

Hare’s Breath, by Maria Haskins

An Equal Share of the Bone, by Karen Osbourne

The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science, Octavia Cade

Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work, Tina Connolly

Novelettes

A Human Stain, by Kelly Robson

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, K.M. Szpara

Waiting on a Bright Moon, JY Yang

The Bridgegroom, Bo Balder

I Am Not I, by G.V. Anderson (F&SF)

The Birding: A Fairy Tale, by Natalia Theodoridou

Novellas

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang

The Red Threads of Fortune, by JY Yang

A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power, by Rose Lemberg (Part 1 and Part 2)

River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey

17776, by Jon Bois

Novels

Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng

The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donelly

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

City of Miracles, by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller

Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee

The Guns Above, by Robyn Bennis

Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz

 

 

 

It’s the most award-eligibility time of the year

Looking back on my career this year surprised me. There are so many long lonely lulls in writing life that it’s easy to spend twelve months feeling like nothing is going on. But I’m deeply proud of the body of work I’ve had the good fortune to have published in 2017.

All of my work this year falls under the Short Fiction metric of any award’s umbrella; you can check out the My Stories page linked at the top of the site for a full list, but here I’ve linked what I consider the highlights. This is also my second year of eligibility for the Campbell Award, and I’d be very grateful for your consideration on that front, too.

Seb Dreams of Reincarnation” (Escape Pod): Hopepunk science fiction, about the importance and difficulty of belonging to something bigger than yourself.

The Cold Lonely Waters” (Shimmer): Mermaid astronauts want to know if they’re alone in the universe.

Elena’s Angel” (Apex): A young artist seeks escape from the heavy obligations and expectations of having a muse.

When One Door Shuts” (Diabolical Plots): A woman whose family is obsessed with the loss of her dead twin sister gets what she wants … sort of.

Thanks for your kind consideration, and don’t forget to hop over here too for a list of my best and favorite reads of 2017!

Have a little melancholy sci-fi romance

My story “Fire Rode the Cold Wind” is up at The Sockdolager this week! The summer issue has fully eleven lovely stories in it, and I’m so pleased to have this little piece in such fine company.

The origin of this story was actually the Random Title Generator, which is one of my favorite ways to start a story without a lot of a baggage going into it about how I think it should turn out. The original title the generator spewed out was “Fire Rode the Cold Worlds” and the contrast between fire and cold immediately suggested to me the mismatch of culture and expectation that the story winds up being about, and from there it latched on to a pre-existing thought I’d scrawled down in my notes about a person having a secret name only ever shared between them and the most important people in their lives. What if the person you want to share your most intimate secret with doesn’t understand what you’re trying to give them?

 

Back pain, cold feet, a couple thousand words

My grandpa was a paratrooper during World War II. He never saw combat; the war ended when he was in a boat headed across the Pacific. But the parachuting practice did a number on his back, and he complained a lot of the loss of sensation in his feet. “How can they hurt and be numb at the same time?” he said sometimes. He didn’t talk about being overseas much. That was pretty much the most I remember hearing from him about it.

On most things, my grandpa–my whole family–and I don’t see eye to eye. We’re polar opposites on politics, religion, all the fun stuff that blows up at the Thanksgiving table, or would blow up, if we still lived in the same state. But I have always thought about that quiet complaint of his a lot: “how can they hurt and be numb at the same time?” And I wrote a story called “Seb Dreams of Reincarnation” about that.

The story is live at Escape Pod now, where you can give it a listen or a read–the narration by Matthew Hamblin is wonderful and made me a little weepy over my own words, especially at the very last line. I hope you enjoy it; this story means a lot to me.

New stories in August!

If you’re feeling crushed by August heat and humidity*, might I suggest a refreshing sip of fiction? Lean in close to the face of a frozen pond and see what it has to say, in my story titled (aptly enough) “The Pond” out in the current issue of GlitterShip! And take a plunge in a chilly snowmelt stream in “What He Offered the River” in August’s Deep Magic.

Content notes for the above: “The Pond” revolves around a child’s fairly recent death, and there’s an oblique reference to suicide in “What He Offered the River”.

*Apologies if you live in the Southern Hemisphere – would recommend a hot cup of cocoa or tea while you settle in with either of these.

MOAR STORY: “The Forty Gardens of Calliope Grey”

Beautiful narration by Dani Daly to bring my first-ever audio fiction to life: “The Forty Gardens of Calliope Grey” is up at Cast of Wonders!

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This story idea originated from the Random Title Generator, with some loving modification; it is a little more upbeat than a lot of the melancholia I like to write (which is not to say it’s melancholy-free, of course. I am what I am) and it should be suitable for any young readers you have on hand–there’s one “hell” but otherwise free of swears. Please give it a listen if you get a chance, or follow the link for a text-only version if you can’t do audio fiction. I hope you enjoy it!