Ghosts of Utah (Short Story)

May. 25th, 2016 12:00 pm
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For those just tuning in: every day left in May, I’m posting a short story of mine to highlight an aspect of my body of work. Why am I doing this? Because if you’re the sort of person who likes the sort of thing that I write, I’d like for you to support me on Patreon so I can pay my bills, keep living, and keep writing.

Today’s selection has an interesting provenance. It started its life as a John Constantine fan fic, but before I finished it I decided it worked better with an original character. I first set it in my own superhero fic universe, but it didn’t really fit there so I moved it into its own setting.

I’ve written a few other stories with the same character, mostly shorter or incomplete ones. This was the first Marnie story, though, and it’s still my favorite.


Ghosts of Utah

By Alexandra Erin


I made it to the site much later than I had intended. The sun had already set, though the last angry line of orange had yet to fade from the western sky when I reached the camp.

I had planned on arriving in the afternoon, and getting a good look at the excavations on my way in, as I assumed they had something to do with why I was there… but car troubles had stalled me in Moab, and I’d had to leave my prized Thunderbird to the questionable mercy of a local greasemonkey while I continued on in a rusted-out loaner.

My name is Marnie, by the way. Marnie Masterson. The “Marnie” is short for “Grand Marnier”. Mom says it’s what she was drinking when I was conceived.

Thanks, Mom.

My ultimate destination was an old fashioned tin-can camper, older than I was and very familiar to me. The British call such vehicles “caravans”, and though this particular model had never left the western United States, that was the name its Anglophile owner had affectionately called it: the Caravan. Capitalize it when you say it. Many years out in the salt flats of Utah had done its metal shell no favors, but he’d never heard a word about replacing it. It was a little piece of history, after all.

Worth preserving.

The door of the Caravan opened as I pulled up, spilling ugly yellow light into the desert night.

“I hope I’m not too late for visiting,” I called out to my hostess, hopping out of the car and hurrying forward as if to make up for my hours of tardiness in those few feet.

“Not at all,” she said, giving me a quick hug and the very phoniest of phony-baloney air-kisses on each cheek. “It’s so very good of you to come, Marnie… it’s been far too long.”

“Three years,” I said.

“You might have come to the funeral,” she said. “But… do come in.”

Amelia Conroy was the widowed wife of Professor Ethan Conroy, dead less than a year. Heart attack at fifty-seven. He’d been fairly well-known in his field, if controversial… but of course, the two often went hand in hand. One rarely made it into the papers for saying the same things that everybody else was saying. He attracted attention not so much for having proposed any radical new lines of scientific inquiry, but for stubbornly holding onto long held and established theories long after they’d fallen out of fashion.

As far as I could ever tell, Amelia hadn’t paid much attention to her husband’s work, other than to note how many journals he got his name in and how many times he got his picture in the paper. She had never been much of a serious academic. I think she only went to school at all to get her MRS… and because it took her so long to hook a man, she winded up with a doctorate. She wasn’t exactly stupid, but she also was not what you’d call a liberated woman.

She was pretty much a living fossil herself, a relic of the past… maybe that was what had attracted such a noted paleozoologist to her.

“I’m not much good at funerals,” I said, which was true. I left unspoken the fact that I wasn’t sure how welcome I would have been. Amelia Conroy and I had never exactly been bosom buddies, and depending upon what she’d heard or suspected about me, my presence may have ended up being painful for at least one of us.

“I think… I think Ethan would have liked for you to be there,” Amelia said. She gestured to one of the battered, overstuffed chairs which had occupied the Caravan for God knew how long, settling heavily into one herself. There was a glass half filled with scotch on the small round table beside it, which she clutched like a talisman as soon as she’d sat down. Amelia was in her forties… how far into them, I wasn’t sure… but in this moment, she looked far older.

“The Ethan that I knew would have said that funerals are for the living,” I said neutrally. Ethan had been a die-hard rationalist and card-carrying skeptic. It had been the one point of fierce contention between us that kept us friends.

“I thought so, too,” Amelia said. “Once.”

That single word and the pause which followed it were not just pregnant, they were practically carrying a litter. I knew many people, skeptics and atheists, who’d had similar changes of hearts after their dearest loved ones had passed on. Most of them had seemed to find some comfort in the idea that their parents/children/steady fucks would keep going in some form.

“Well, I’m here now,” I said. “I have to admit, I came out of curiosity more than anything else. Of course I’ll do anything for Professor Conroy’s widow… but I’ve got no idea what I can do. I’m no paleontologist.”

“And Ethan never forgave you for that, you know,” Amelia said. “Turning your back on your education, throwing away your future… you were his favorite student. You know, for a long time I thought for sure you were polishing his knob… nobody ever got full marks in his lectures. That was before I heard you were a lesbian, mind you.”

I wasn’t, but didn’t feel the need to correct her right that moment. I had played a few games on the home court, sure… college had been an interesting time for me. The point was, Amelia was a grieving widow… and possibly unstable. I still had no idea why she had invited me there.

Also, I felt a little bit guilty because no matter how many times Ethan swore otherwise, I still wasn’t sure I’d earned that grade solely for my academic rigor.

Some trace of that must have shown on my face, but Amelia in her blessed distraction misinterpreted it.

“Oh, don’t worry, I have no problems with lesbians,” she said. “To each their own and all that… I just… I think even after years apart, you knew Ethan better than anyone else. I can’t imagine who else I could ask for help.”

“I’m flattered, but surely there are others better suited…”

“I don’t need another paleontologist,” she said. She picked up the scotch glass with a visibly shaking hand. “I don’t need another damned expert, Marnie. What I need is a friend.”

“I can be that,” I said, with more certainty than I felt. “I think Ethan would have liked it.”

“Ethan… Ethan would have hated what’s going on these days… he hated the idea of feathered dinosaurs, warm-blooded dinosaurs,” she said. “He grew up on the big lumbering brutes, the ‘terrible lizards.’ I remember he used to say, ‘They may have been terrible lizards but they’d be even worse birds.'”

“He said that in class a lot,” I said, not knowing what else to say. “I never got the impression you paid much attention to his work.”

“I can’t pretend I understood it as well as he did,” she said. “Or you… but I was a good wife. I knew what was important to him. I supported him. And now that he’s… gone… I’m continuing his work. I thought that’s what he would have wanted.”

“Thought?” I prompted, wondering at her use of the past tense.

“Since we restarted the dig, there have been… accidents,” she said. “Equipment that breaks, or just stops working. Little things mostly. We have to replace the batteries in the walkie-talkies every day. Little things. Then people… one of the grad students got hurt. Most of them have left.”

“You think somebody’s sabotaging the dig?” I asked. I instinctively looked around. It was just the two of us, in a tiny little tin can with no room to hide in, but I did it all the same. Instinct’s funny, that way.

“I think… I think it’s Ethan,” she said, in a very small and very tired voice.

“Have you seen him?” I asked. I didn’t ask if she was feeling okay, or if she had seen a doctor, or any other kind of friendly euphemism for “Are you nuts?” I knew that such things as ghosts were very real.

She still could have been nuts, but she had asked me there as a friend and so I was trying to be one.

“No… I haven’t seen him. I’ve felt him, though… standing behind me when I go to the dig, hanging outside the Caravan when I’m in for the night… or waiting inside when I’m coming back. I’ve felt him, and I’ve smelled him. I’ve smelled those cigars,” she said. “Those damn cigars. He wore a smoking jacket, but that didn’t stop the smell from clinging, settling all over him. You know what they smelled like.”

“I do,” I said, smiling slightly at the memory. I’d always liked his cigars. I’d even picked up a bit of a habit from him… a habit for men with cigars, that is. I personally felt stupid every time I took one of them in my mouth.

Cigars, that is.

Amelia finished her scotch in silence. I let her pour a glass for me, as that gave her an excuse to pour herself another. I sipped mine a bit, and asked for a top-off when she had drained hers, and in that fashion she finished the bottle. We filled the spaces between the booze with chit chat, safe neutral memories of the dearly departed.

I drank just enough to give myself a little buzz, to make the sharp hard corners of reality just a little bit softer and rounder. I would need that for what I had planned.

Fortunately, she was as much of a lightweight as I remembered, so I didn’t have to think up an excuse for opening another bottle. She was snoring loudly in her easy chair not long after the first one was emptied. I went to the Caravan’s kitchenette and looked for a salt shaker. It turned out Amelia had a big old fashioned salt cellar, and luckily enough, it was full.

I went outside and sat down in front of the Caravan’s narrow metal steps, facing outward. I unscrewed the top of the cellar and poured some of the salt out into my right hand, feeling the weight of it. I moved my fingers up and down, letting some of it sift through. There was very little wind.

For what I had in mind, I needed to find a connection with the land in a primal, bugfuck insane sort of way and I hadn’t thought to bring anything suitably hallucinogenic to help get me there. The salt was going to have to do it. It wouldn’t have necessarily worked anywhere else, but here in Utah it just might do the trick.

Once, a great salt sea had covered this land. That sea had died, and now the land covered it in turn. The salt provided an unstable geological foundation, which was responsible for the rather stunning variations in topography found in the Arches National Park.

Salt had other properties, as well. I saw, superimposed over the desert vista, the Roman sack of Carthage… the buildings razed, the land salted so that nothing would grow there again. I saw a Haitian priestess filling the mouth of a corpse with coarse salt and sewing it shut, so it couldn’t rise again.

I poured some more of the salt into my hand and let it trickle between my fingers, thinking about that.

Salt had been more precious than gold in some ancient cultures… the word “salary” for money or wages had its roots in the Latin word for salt. It was a necessary substance to sustain the processes of life. It was the first preservative known to man, limiting dependence on fluctuating seasonal food supplies and allowing for travel and trade over greater distances. Salt could kill disease organisms.

In large enough doses, it could kill people.

I thought about Ethan’s white salt spray on my face, and let the white grains of salt fall between my fingers.

Hey… you want to know a secret?

I can do magic.

Not just tricks with sleight-of-hand and cards, but real honest-to-goodness magic. Not flashy stuff like you see in cartoons, with lightning bolts and balls of fire, but magic all the same.

I didn’t need to throw any fireballs or doing anything else quite that impressive right at that moment. There are two ways to settle a restless spirit. They’re both roughly analogous to handling a restless drunk: you either talk them through it until they come around and calm down, or you get tough with them.

I wasn’t planning on getting tough with Ethan, because I owed it to him for being a great teacher, and I owed it to Amelia, because I had been docking her husband’s cock.

I thought about that some more as I let the salt fall from my hands and watched it as it fell. The tiniest breeze, the smallest stirring of air, caught the falling grains and sent them swirling.

I took off my watch and set it down, alongside the Caravan but well to the side of the door.

I got up.

I walked.

Then I walked some more.

I don’t know for how long I walked, as I’d left my watch outside Amelia’s Caravan. I am a scientist and a mystic, and the only thing both sides agree on is that time is an illusion. Tonight I wasn’t interested in the illusion, but in the hyper-reality of between-time, the between-place. It’s easier for a camel to pass through the twat of a virgin than it would be for me to slip into the Dreamtime with a clunky wristwatch tick-tick-ticking away at my wrist, just daring me to look at it.

You want to know another secret? The thing about magic is that one-tenth of it is knowing what to pay attention to. The other nine-tenths is knowing what to ignore. If I’d stopped to consider how far I’d walked at the time, it would have all come crashing down around me as surely as poor Wile E. will drop the moment he realizes he’s walking on air.

The moon had risen, sort of, and now hung low over the horizon, big and brilliant and bloody… as alien as the landscape it illuminated, as up close and immediate as the world outside was far away.

When I left the Caravan, I had set out in the direction of the dig, and though I didn’t dare think on it, I knew I should have walked right into the tarp-covered pits long before I encountered anything interesting. I had walked right past where the dig should have been, up through the high desert into the Arches. It would have been a good twenty, thirty mile walk if I’d done it the long way.

Have you ever been to the Painted Desert in Arizona and been stoned out of your gourd?

Have you ever been to Mars?

That’s kind of what it’s like to be there in the middle of the Arches National Park, with a big red moon filling a quarter of the sky and that’s with it hanging so low that a good third of it is still below the horizon.

And there, in front of that impossible moon, clearly illuminated by the bloody red light that shines through it… there stood something that looked like it stepped out of an Aztec priest’s most disturbing wet dream.

It had big, vivid eyes like a bird of prey, which stared down the length of its distinctly beak-like snout. Its neck was relatively thin, but cord-like and powerful looking. Its forelimbs were tipped with grasping claws, though they were very clearly wings and not arms.

Even without the brilliantly colored feathers that covered the creature, you would have seen that they were wings.

Its hind legs had three toes, though it walked with the weight only on two of them. The middle toe of each foot was held off the ground, ending in a “now-that’s-a-knife” style claw. Though it looked stooped over, with its torso leaning forward and its tail sticking out ram-rod straight, the tip of its snout hung more than nine feet off the ground.

I knew as soon as I saw it that I was looking at a one hundred million year old ghost.

I was looking at a Utahraptor.

“Well, you’re sure as hell not Ethan Conroy,” I said. “Haven’t seen him by any chance, have you?”

Its long neck curved backward and down, bringing its head lower to the ground. It shifted its balance… the tail swinging in the opposite direction… and one of the hind legs came up. With its smaller claws, the raptor scratched at its chin in a decidedly cat-like manner, before settling back down on both legs and giving its forelimbs a couple of flaps. It gave a raspy, coughing cry. The sound was faint and weak, muffled and indistinct like an old recording that had been overplayed. It ruffled its feathers a few times, and then began ambling forward. Not quite towards me, but past me. I watched it go cautiously, wondering what I’d do if it attacked… assuming it could touch me.

I was starting to wonder if it it could even see me, when it turned its head around and looked right at me, giving another one of its coughing cries.

“What is it, Lassie?” I said aloud. I felt slightly giddy, almost drunk. I’ve often found that the edge of delirium is useful when dealing with this kind of surreal shit. “What is it, girl? Timmy’s down the well?”

I followed the bird—for while the scientific community could continue to argue about whether the raptors were true avians or not, Lassie’s appearance had made up my mind for me—back down towards the camp. Again, I didn’t focus on the time or distance traveled. It was easier this time, as I had something quite fascinating to focus my attention on.

The raptor was magnificent, not quite like anything on earth. It moved with fluid grace, slinkier than any cat that ever stalked the primeval jungle. Nothing sluggish about it… this was definitely no thunder lizard.

Eventually, we stopped… or it stopped, and I did. It turned around in place, looking me right in the eye to make sure it had my full and undivided attention… as if there could have been any doubt… and then it began scratching at the dirt. Quite ineffectually, I might add, as its toe-claws actually passed through the ground without actually making contact.

“What’s down there?” I asked, then realized the answer was obvious. “You?”

It continued to paw at the ground ineffectually with its clawed feet, even reaching down and snapping with its toothy beak. I had a sudden incongruous image of a chicken scratching for worms.

“Well, that means you haven’t been the one scaring people away on purpose,” I said. “You wouldn’t have lead me here if you didn’t want to be found.”

The great raptor stood and stared at me impassively while I reasoned it out.

“You want your bones out of the ground,” I guessed. “All the salt in the ground has got you trapped… you can’t move on as long as your remains are stuck in the earth.”

It gave a little croak as if in confirmation, and I felt a little thrill go through me as I realized the implication. Not every creature that lived and died left any fossil impression… most didn’t, in fact. Most that did left only a fragment of themselves. For Lassie’s spirit to be stuck here in unliving color so long after its death, it was likely that there was a complete and detailed specimen beneath the spot where the specter stood. As the minerals which filled in the gradually decaying animal skeleton had created a perfect permanent image of Lassie’s body, so had a permanent image of her spirit remained. Immortality, of a sort that would have made the Egyptian pharaohs cream their mummy wrappings.

With that realization, I knew who had been responsible for the accidents that had plagued the expedition. The Widow Conroy had been right after all.

“Come on out, Ethan,” I called out into the darkness. “You might as well show yourself… I know you’re here.”

And just like that, he was… fainter and more translucent than the Utahraptor, and even more quiet. Though Ethan Conroy had died in this area, his body was interred elsewhere.

“You’ve been sabotaging your own last dig,” I said matter-of-factly. “Because you don’t want anybody to see what you know is buried here.”

Ethan looked at me defiantly, arms crossed. The message was clear: I was right, but he didn’t care. Lassie gave another one of her choked cries and she and Ethan glared at each other. The great bird pawed the ground like a bull getting ready to charge, but neither made a move towards the other.

“Look,” I said to Ethan. “You’re a scientist. You know this is right… you can’t hold back a discovery like this. Science keeps marching onwards, and you have to move on, too.”

Ethan gave his shoulders a little shrug, as if he didn’t care.

“Even if you shut down this dig, there will be others,” I said. “Not just here. In China, in the Gobi Desert. They’re finding more evidence of avian dinosaurs every year. I know the image of big lumbering claymation-style dinosaurs is a fond memory for you, but that’s all it’s going to be: a memory.”

“Don’t give me that,” I said, though of course he hadn’t given me anything more than a dirty look. “I don’t owe you anything… well, that’s not true, but I don’t owe you enough to help you destroy a find of this importance. Look, I’m going to make this easy on you… if you don’t stop haunting the dig, I’ll get somebody else to dig up the Utahraptor fossil, and I will keep you away. You’d better believe me when I tell you that I can do that. The only thing you’ll have accomplished is upsetting your wife, who’s only thinking of your legacy. Think about that, Ethan.”

His mouth opened and closed, silently… though I think even if he could speak he still wouldn’t have had anything to say. His form faded slightly more. He looked at me imploringly, a “Now what?” kind of look on his face.

“Go back to your wife, Ethan,” I said. “You’ve been scaring her. Tell her you love her… tell her goodbye. Tell her anything to explain why you’ve been haunting her. She deserves some kind of explanation.”

He was gone then, at least from that immediate vicinity. Lassie and I looked at each other for a few long moments, and she gave a tiny nod of her head before she vanished, too. I knew her spirit was still around, though, and that it would be until the imprint of her body was exhumed from the earth.

It was funny… so many ghosts hung around for years because they wanted a decent burial for their remains. This one had lasted for epochs waiting for somebody to dig its remains up.

The reddish light was suddenly very pink. The sun was rising, and there was no sign of the moon, big and bloody or otherwise. Frozen time melted back to normal as I hiked back to the Caravan. Amelia met me at the door.

Or rather, the palm of her hand met the side of my face. I guess Ethan must have found enough of his voice to come clean to her. She spit… yet another spray of salt on my face. You couldn’t get away from the stuff, out here.

There’s a saying that “science proceeds from the death of scientists”… no matter what big, bold words scientists might spout about empiricism and skepticism and methodology, they were human in the end, and thus prey to human folly. They each had their own belief systems, their own pet theories, their own favored ideas that they just would not let go of, no matter how much evidence piled up against them.

I think the saying originally referred to the opponents of Louis Pasteur. His germ theory of disease revolutionized our understanding of illness and created the modern science of medicine. By extending the human life expectancy, Louis might have ultimately done more to hamper scientific progress than to help it.

Morbid thoughts.

I got back into my car, said a silent prayer to whoever was responsible for the souls of Utahraptors, and was on my way.


If you enjoyed this story, you can help me bring others like it to life (and keep myself alive) by supporting me on Patreon.

If you don’t have the cash to help, you can help by spreading awareness and joining my thunderclap, which will broadcast the link to these stories in a tweet-length message on the social media platform(s) of your choice on May 31st, two hours after the last story goes live.

This story along with two others in my patron preview line-up may also be found in The Lands of Passing Through, a short story collection available as a DRM-free ebook on Amazon Kindle, Nook, and as a multi-format bundle directly from the author.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

How To Reach Me

May. 25th, 2016 08:47 am
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[personal profile] alexandraerin

So, it’s no secret among those who’ve tried that I’ve been hard to get in touch with lately by anyone who didn’t already have a very direct line.

The whole story goes back to early 2015, when my twitter commentary and blogging about certain ~*controversies*~ put me on the radar of some nasty people who (among other things they tried) signed my public-facing email account up for a ton of subscriptions and spam.

Clearing this out took a lot of brain cycles I would otherwise have used to keep up with actual correspondence, and there’s still a lot of junk. The fact that this makes it possible to overlook real emails in the mix is only a small part of the problem. The bigger part is how the ever-increasing inbox numbers make even looking more imposing, when I go through a period where I’m already anxious and/or depressed or feeling phobic about communication, things that happen anyway and have only been exacerbated in a very vicious cycle.

Fast forward to today, where things have gotten so bad that there are over 2,500 unread emails going back I think to the summer of 2015. I am going to start going through them in batches after I get back from WisCon, but in order to make sure that you can reach me and in order to prevent this from happening again, I’m doing two things.

First, I’ve created a new email address: blueauthor (where’s it at?) alexandraerin (I’ve got two turntables and a dotrophone) com. It’s clean, it’s functional, you can send me messages there. I’m going to start shifting stuff over to that address, and eventually my now former public email address will just forward to it.

Second, I’m giving my partner Jack Ralls access to this, so he can act as my social secretary, deal with spam, and flag things for my attention. He’s offered this before, and I’ve always turned him down because I felt guilty, but lately I’ve been taking note of how other authors handle these things and I’ve noticed that having a significant other or trusted friend act as a buffer with the world is not at all uncommon for those who can’t afford a professional service or personal assistant. As Jack points out, even if I can’t pay him anything, I make more money when I’m a functional human being and when I have more time and energy for writing, so it’s a net gain for the household in exchange for him doing the kind of labor he’s good at and enjoys, and at which I am absolutely terrible.

Now, for much of the next week, we’re both going to be 1) busy and 2) at a place with a temporarily overburdened wifi infrastructure, so I’m setting up an auto-responder at that address for now to let folks know what the deal is, and we’ll be doing similarly in other situations where we’re both kind of AFK. Better communication all around, basically.

As a final note: if you’re reading this and you already have my not-public email address – please feel entirely free to keep using it. If we’re that level of close, that’s still the best way to reach it. The “contactme” address is the one being replaced by blueauthor.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

Welcome!

May. 25th, 2016 07:38 am
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[personal profile] alexandraerin

Hello! Thank you for visiting my website. If you’re here, you’ve probably got some idea who I am. If not: My name is Alexandra Erin and I’m an author, poet, blogger, and humorist. I am also, in no particular order: white, trans, female, and disabled.

I’m also a veteran crowdfunder, have been using micropatronage to pay my bills since before there were easy tools for it. After a few years in a personal and financial slump, I am trying to rebuild my career and my finances by taking better advantage of these tools. As I approach my 36th birthday next month, I’d really like to increase my audience and start making enough money to live on again.

Well, I’d say “like to”, but I mean “need to”, which means I need some help.

Here are a few things you can do to help me:

  1. This GoFundMe campaign will help me get to WorldCon this year. Many members of the WorldCon (and greater SF/F writing) community first heard my name in 2015, as I responded to the third iteration of the Sad Puppies temper tantrum with my characteristic humor and insight. Being at WorldCon would not only be a hoot and a source of potential material for more satire, it would be a great opportunity for me to network.
  2. Join me on Patreon to both financially support and gain free access to my writing. Any level of support will get you exclusive members-only access at least one new short story every month, plus an electric compilation of my writing (fiction and otherwise) produced each month. Supporting at the $10 or $25 will gain you access to my online seminars on such topics as writing by the seat of your pants, writing a story when you only know part of it, and writing when you feel like you can’t.
  3. Share this link, which is a category in which I’m posting one of my previously written short stories a day, every day, for the remainder of the month, to let readers know what I have to offer when I say I’ll give one new short story every month on my Patreon. This is my version of a PBS telethon.

Feel free to share that last link (and the other two!) in any place you wish, but if you really want to help get the word out, the best way to do that is to support my thunderclap by May 31st. Thunderclap is an app/site that allows us to coordinate a message across social media. You participate by clicking that link and then clicking the support buttons. The site will ask permission to post using your Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr account (as you choose). Do not be alarmed! This is how it works. It will only post the one message which I wrote (and which you can see and edit) when the thunderclap “goes off” on May 31st (after the last sample story is posted), as well as a message immediately to say you participated, in order to draw in more participants.

Some people wonder understandably why we would need an app to post the link, but the idea is basically to create a coordinated social media blitz, the kind of thing that normally takes a PR department and a huge marketing budget. By getting numerous people to share the link to my sample stories at the same time, the message is boosted to a larger audience. And larger audiences is what this is all about.

Also, if you’re more interested in buying stuff than crowdfunding… you can totally buy stuff from me.

  1. E-books on Amazon. (DRM free!)
  2. E-books for Nook. (DRM free!)
  3. E-books direct from the author. (DRM free!)
  4. My supplements for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. (DRM free!)
  5. Order a Make America Better t-shirt or sweatshirt. (Also, technically, DRM free!)
  6. Angels of the Meanwhile, an electronic anthology I edited that was put together to benefit the medical bills and related expenses of Elizabeth R. McClellan. Every penny earned by sales of this goes directly to her, but hey, that’s a good cause and it doesn’t hurt me any to have my work being in more hands, right? If PayPal doesn’t work for you, you can get it here instead. Oh, and… DRM free!

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

To-Do List For Tomorrow

May. 25th, 2016 12:42 am
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[personal profile] alexandraerin

…because if I write it out and post it, I’m not likely to forget it.

  1. Pack hair stuff.
  2. Pack toiletries.
  3. Pack electronics.
  4. Pack carry-on.
  5. Pack pills.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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[personal profile] ravenna_c_tan

That’s right, I’ll be at the 50th Balticon this coming weekend doing the following:

Friday
6:15pm-7:15pm Autographing
10pm-10:50pm Panel: Trends in Erotic Short Fiction, with Nobilis!
11pm-11:52pm Erotica Reading: with KM Sparza & Stephanie Burke

Saturday
11am-12:20pm Workshop: Web Serial Toolbox
11pm-12:20am Panel: Hot Hot Hot or Not?

Sunday
11am-11:50 Panel: Writing Series: Good Idea? W/RA McAvoy, Michael Swanwick, and Allen Steele
10:30pm – 12:20am Circlet Press Variety Show

Full details below the cut!

Read the rest of this entry »

Mirrored from blog.ceciliatan.com.

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cat in the hatTHE CAT IN THE HAT

Reviewed by John Z. Upjohn, USMC (Aspired)

This book is the classic tale of David vs. Goliath as in the modern gaming industry where nature’s greatest underdog, the multinational video game company, is forever at the mercy of powerful and ruthless game journalists who might at any moment decide to rate a game as low as 8.8 or even 8.7 for reasons that can only be described as “subjective”.

The protagonist of the book is a cat who develops games, games that are fun (like all games should be), and who wants nothing but to share them with children who are bored. Not so fast, cat! There is a game critic in the house, a fish who is clearly used to thinking of himself as a big fish in a small pond.

I almost threw this book across the room at one point, because the cat is playing a game and he is clearly having a lot of fun, but the fish says, “NO! THIS ISN’T FUN!” Imagine hating fun so much that you lie about what’s fun in order to ruin a game for everyone else. This is why we need Gamergate. Game critics like the fish have too much power and they’re willing to lie about games to uphold a social justice agenda that has nothing to do with what’s fun, which is the only thing that games should be about.

Throughout the book the fish acts as a literal gatekeeper trying to keep the cat out of the house and constantly trying to stop him and the children from having any fun. The boy, the main child, sadly succumbs to the propaganda onslaught. After forty-some pages of passively taking in the conflict between the game critic fish and the game developer cat, the boy starts parroting the fish’s party line, turning the house into an echo chamber. But notice how the fish needs the boy to do his dirty work? He can’t get his hands dirty.

This is the secret weakness of SJWs. They have no power except the “feelbads”. He convinced the boy that fun games were bad and wrong, so in order to signal his virtue the boy felt the need to join the fish’s hate mob against the cat and his friends who had done literally nothing wrong except try to relax and play games.

Unfortunately, Goliath wins this time. The cat’s friends are rounded up just like the social justice commissars want to round up everyone who disagrees with them, and he is forced to leave. Then, the fish, having basically established the house as his own tin-plated dictatorship, is not prepared to take responsibility for the state of the house, so complains and throws a tantrum until the cat comes back and fixes everything. Isn’t that typical? The ultrapowerful game media that the fish represents colludes to libel and defame gamers at every turn, then when their advertisers desert them in droves and their revenue drives up and their mom is coming home, they look up at gamers and say, “Save us!”

In a just world, this book would end with the cat looking down and whispering, “No.” but that book would never have been published. It’s not politically correct. Instead, in a twist that even Saul Alinsky would have found a ham-fisted bit of propaganda, the gamer cat cheerfully comes back and cleans up the mess that the fish made in order to disrupt his games.

I knew this book was bad news from the opening pages when the boy, the main child, wasn’t even given a name but his sister Sally, who never does anything, had her name. This is a sexist double standard. Most female characters are barely even characters and they still get more respect than the actual people in a story. And liberals say you can’t be sexist against men!

Two stars.


Editor’s Note: Mr. Upjohn will be attending WisCon in Madison, WI over Memorial Day Weekend and livetweeting what he finds there on behalf of his publisher, Hymenaeus House. Follow them on Twitter to watch the fireworks unfold. Mr. Upjohn has pledged to attend WorldCon and do the same if I somehow am allowed to attend, as he feels the need to balance my presence out. You can help both of us get there by throwing money in my WorldCon travel fund. For every $150 I get, I will publish another of Mr. Upjohn’s piece, or something of similar value and tone.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

Announcing new patron perks!

May. 24th, 2016 04:45 pm
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My plans were to announce this stuff in June since that’s when I’m doing it, but it just hit me that this wouldn’t give people much time to sign up. And also, with a monthly Patreon plan, people are basically paying for the next month’s perks; i.e., if you sign up in June, you’re basically not paying anything until July.

Anyway, here’s the deal:

People who pay $10 or $25 per month to me on Patreon will have access to a new online writing seminar I’ll be hosting in Google Hangouts. For $10, you’ll be able to read the transcripts. For $25, you’ll be able to participate. In these two hour sessions, I’m going to tell you the tips and tricks that really help me out, the things that I never see other writers talk about.

For example? June’s topic is “How do I write a whole story when I only know one single thing about it?” You know, you’ve got one character. Or one scene that’s really clear in your head. Or even one line. It’s a great line. Clearly it means something. But what?

I tell you, every writer’s been there. A lot of writers never get past there. Me? I live there. It’s my home. And I’m offering a guided tour.

You can see the official announcement on my Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/5524689

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

(no subject)

May. 24th, 2016 11:33 am
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[personal profile] copperbadge
Also! I almost forgot, I have a new PO Box number because I was tired of getting yelled at every time I checked my post office box. So the 15151 number is now a thing of the past; my shiny new address is:

Copperbadge
PO Box A3309
Chicago, IL 60690

ENJOY IT. I plan to!

WisCon Panels

May. 24th, 2016 12:14 pm
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It seems like every year, I meet someone at WisCon who has gone to other SF/F cons before but is a WisCon newbie. You can spot such a person because at the moment when we all pull out our handy-dandy pocket programs and/or schedule apps and start talking about what panels we want to go to, the seasoned newcomer says in a perfect Elle-Woods-on-first-day-of-law-school voice, “Who goes to panels at a con?”

I don’t point this out to shame the people who have done this, or the people who will do so this year. If you’re fortunate enough to witness this moment, feel blessed, because you are about to watch something beautiful happen, something as miraculous and wondrous and yet predictable as a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. You’re seeing the WisCon equivalent of one of xkcd’s “lucky 10,000” moments:

ten_thousand

In other words… yeah, they don’t know, but they’re about to learn, and it’s going to change their lives when they do.

Not only do people go to panels at WisCon, people go to WisCon for the panels. I haven’t been to a WisCon yet where I didn’t find myself wishing for a time-turner so I could go to more panels, including ones scheduled against each other.

I am participating in five panels this year.

My first one… in what I think is the first regular programming slot of the con… is called “We All Start Somewhere: Welcoming Social Justice Newbies”, at 4 PM on Friday.

Panel description:

Many people aren’t born into families that talk a lot about or value social justice. We come from all different backgrounds with all different kinds of experiences. When someone wants to gain a better understanding of and start practicing social justice, how do we, as a community, welcome them and offer opportunities for education? How do we deal with the same basic questions over and over again? What do we do well? What could we do better?

If this is your first WisCon, or you still feel like an outsider, I’d suggest coming to this one, as I have a feeling it’ll be a good icebreaker for the kind of discussions we have at WisCon. I for one intend to do my best to make everyone who shows up at this one feel welcome.

The second one is called “Women and Trans/Non-Binary People: The Pitfalls of Haphazard Inclusion”. It’s at 9 PM on Friday.

Panel Description:

Attempts to create calls for submissions/lists of authors with marginalized genders have come under criticism for asking for “women and non-binary” or “women and transgender people”. Adding trans and non-binary identities to “woman” often adds additional confusion for trans masculine people (are trans men included as “sort of women”, or excluded as “not a marginalized gender identity”?). Does inclusion of non-binary identities with women imply that those identities are necessarily “feminine”? Does the addition of “trans” as a separate category imply that trans women are not members of the group that is ALL women? How can we more effectively promote the inclusion of transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary authors?

Honestly, I feel like the description is soft-pedaling some aspects of the problem. I mean, I’ve seen calls for submissions and event invitations that say “women and trans women”.

My third panel is “Trans and Genderqueer People Talk RPGs”, which is the first one I’m really excited about rather than just feeling like I have things to contribute. It’s Saturday at 10:00 AM.

RPGs, whether tabletop or electronic, allow us to play characters different from our current real-life configurations. Playing RPGs can therefore be freeing for trans and genderqueer people. It can also be awkward or even triggering. What insights into ourselves or the world have we gained by playing RPGs (tabletop or electronic)? How have RPGs helped us gain catharsis? What messed up situations have we encountered?

My fourth panel is called “Trans Narratives: Pitiful and/or Powerful?”. It’s at 1:00 PM on Saturday, and goes something like this:

Some trans people experience a lot of marginalization for being trans, and some of us have quite wonderful lives. Do we have to portray ourselves as underdogs to get anywhere? Is the “pitiful trans person” narrative more destructive than it is constructive? Can we also make room to celebrate how far we’ve come in our own lives, personally and as a community?

Looking forward to this one, should be interesting.

My last panel is called “Trans Body Positivity”, and it’s one I’m moderating this year. I moderated a panel last year. I was not expecting to moderate a panel, and didn’t realize I was until the day of. Despite being the least moderate person I know, it went well, probably because I remembered the cardinal rule: always drink in moderation.

Body acceptance and positivity movements contain some very worthy goals. Living in a trans body can cause attaining those goals to be more complex and confusing, however. How a trans person feels about their body before, during, and after various stages of transition varies greatly. A trans person choosing not to transition at all (or who is unable to transition) may have to learn very different ways of accepting and loving their body. For nonbinary trans folk, there might be whole other issues to deal with. How do trans people engage with and contribute to body positive movements? What do we have to teach others from our own experiences?

This panel is at 10 AM on Sunday.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

A Matter of Appearances (Short Story)

May. 24th, 2016 12:00 pm
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Starting in June 2016, I’m going to be sharing one new short story per month with everyone who supports me on Patreon. I know the benefits I get from this, so for the rest of this month I’m going to be highlighting one of my previous short stories every day on this blog to show you what you get out of it. Today’s selection is a high fantasy story called “A Matter of Appearances”.


A Matter of Appearances

By Alexandra Erin


Most of the great cities of the south were blessed with a wizard tower. Many of them had in fact sprung up around the towers, and any spot on the map that was important enough to be settled for other reasons would eventually attract one.

The City of Stars alone had two. It was big enough to require more than one wizard, but having a double helping of magic was not necessarily a double blessing. Wizards were prickly and prideful creatures, prone to overweening vanity and destructive outbursts that were tolerated only because their services were too valuable to do without… and because no one was sure how to get rid of them, exactly. The two seemed to do everything in their power to try to destroy or expel the other, and if they had not yet managed it with magical might then it seemed foolish to hope that any mere mortal might accomplish such a feat.

Everyone in the City of Stars agreed that the worst place to stand was anywhere between the two towers, which was something of a grim joke. The tower of Bensalon the Gray stood just outside the town’s southern gate. The tower of Malevole the Red rose just within the north wall. Between them stood almost the entirety of the city.

At night sometimes lightning would dance around one or both of the towers. From time to time a dark shape would be seen streaking through the sky from one to the other, only to rebound and land hopefully in some barren and deserted stretch of land far from the city. Occasionally there would be some otherwise inexplicable eruption or disaster within the City of Stars that would be chalked up the wizards’ feud.

Rumors abounded about what each dire display portended, and what had caused it. Stories were told of the bound demons that Malevole sent to infiltrate Bensalon’s tower, of the hexes that Bensalon wove in retaliation. The red wizard was generally held to be the more aggressive of the two, though his partisans said instead that the grey wizard was the sneakier one.

If the conflict between the two had a source more particular than proximity, it was not known to any save the wizards themselves, and rarely questioned. The folk of the city accepted it, as their parents had.

Some felt that the city’s two wizards kept each other in check, that the need for them to be on guard against each other and to put on a better face for the public than the other kept them from descending to the level of the worst excesses of their distant colleagues.

Since every wizard was different and every city was different, it was hard to say for certain whether this was true. Others believed that the always-simmering conflict between them made things worse, though the two rarely resorted to open warfare as it was destructive and wasteful, and would leave them vulnerable to more subtle attacks from wizards in every city.

As a major port, the City of Stars received many visitors by ship. Those who came by land usually entered through the town’s southern gate, passing within a stone’s throw of the gray tower as they did so. On market days there was a steady stream of traffic, and the tower surrounded itself with a crackling aura of silvery fire that was perhaps specifically intended to dissuade the throwing of stones.

On this particular market day, a young woman in a brown cloak was among those who streamed past the glowing tower. She was alone in the crowd and traveling on foot. She scarcely looked at the tower. She scarcely looked at anyone or anything, save the bit of parchment in her hand. There were not enough lines on it to make much reading, just a name and some directions. It could have been memorized in a single pass, but still she read it over and over again, and gave the impression that she had done so many times before.

Once through the gate, she began to look around… not at the tower or the people, but at the buildings around her and their signs. She moved with the crowd for a short time, and then cut from it to go down a side street where she stopped to check her directions again. She set out again in a different direction, but did not make it far before she had to stop and check her parchment again.

“I know where you’re going,” a voice said from just in front of her.

She looked up and saw a young man, wild tufts of orange hair poking out from underneath his cap. His clothes were well-made but not ostentatiously so.

“I have…” she started to say as she held up the parchment.

“Don’t need those,” the young man said. He snatched it from her hand, crumpled it in his own, and released it in a flash of fire that consumed it completely. She gasped and drew back. Ignoring her distress, he smiled and pointed to the distant tower that loomed over the far end of town. “You can see your destination from here.”

All around the pair, the street was growing emptier. People who had been striding purposefully on a course that would have taken them past the young man were now moving just as purposefully away.

“Sir, I beg your pardon,” the young woman said. “I am to meet my uncle. He is a tailor.”

“That may have been true, but a more exciting opportunity has opened up,” he said. “I am called Winslas… you have heard of me?”

“I am afraid I have not,” she said, and a shadow passed across his face, though he shook it off and re-affixed his smile.

“Well, I am known throughout this city as the apprentice of the great red wizard, the First Wizard of the city, and he has sent me forth to find a replacement for the scullery maid.”

“Replacement?” she said.

“A new scullery maid, I mean,” he said. “And now I’ve found her. Oh, don’t worry. To be a servant in a wizard’s tower is better than being the lady of any house! That’s not to say that there won’t be work to be done,  of course, but there will be wonders to behold as well. Wonders, and great pleasures.”

“Sir, my uncle…”

“Will have no cause to complain for your absence,” he said. “What is your name, girl?”

“Mari,” she said. “Mariana Eskul. Sir, I do not wish to seem ungrateful…”

“Of course you don’t, but no worries. You will have ample opportunities to show me your gratitude at the end of your work day,” Winslas said. “Now, give me your hand… it is not good for servants of the red wizard to tarry so near the tower of the gray.”

“Scoundrel, that may be the first true thing you’ve uttered!” a voice boomed down from above them. There was a crack like thunder, and a man dressed in gray robes cinched with a silver-threaded waistcoat appeared between them.

The young man yelped like a kicked dog and took off running, losing his cap and a shoe and not looking back. The woman, Mari, fell backwards onto the cobblestones in her shock.

The gray wizard looked around, then closed his eyes and leaned on his walking stick for a moment. Nodding in satisfaction, he reached down and extended a hand to the woman.

“Lord Bensalon the Gray, my lady,” he said. “First Wizard of the City of Stars. I hope you have at least heard of me.”

“I had thought you would be older, my lord,” she said, accepting his help to her feet.

“One day I intend to be,” he said. “You mean you thought I would have a great big bushy gray beard and long gray hair to match, of course. But I have been a gray wizard all of my life, even when my hair had more brown to it than it does now. Gray is the color of my mind, of my temperament. Steely. Balanced. Subtle. Boring, to hear some tell it. Gray is the color of my magic.”

“And your wardrobe,” Mari observed, a twinkle in her eyes.

The wizard Bensalon laughed.

“So much of wizardry is a matter of appearances,” he said. “How would people know that I am Bensalon the Gray if I did not wear it plainly for all to see? Especially when I do not have the beard. But, come. We must get you off the street.”

He put his hand on the woman’s shoulder and began to draw her back towards the gate.

“I thank you for your intervention, my lord, but my uncle…”

“Will be in as much danger as you if you go to him now,” the wizard said. “The red wizard’s weasel will go skittering back to him to complain of your perceived insolence, which he will take personally. The only place that will be safe for you is within my tower.”

“So I am rescued from one wizard to become the captive of another?” Mari said.

“Not captive,” Bensalon said. “And you won’t be a servant, either. I will simply protect you until you can make arrangements to depart.”

“I can’t leave the city,” she said. “I came here because I have nowhere else to go. My uncle has a job for me.”

“There are other cities. One assumes they have positions for a young woman..”

“Not for a young woman who desires a life of her own,” she said. “I don’t want to sleep on a tatty straw mattress for a fulsome four hours of sleep and then work a loom the rest of the day. I don’t want to scrub floors and mind brats.”

“I take your meaning, but please, let us walk while we argue,” he said. He linked arms with her and set off at a brisk pace, which she matched.

“Why?” she asked him.

“We are too in the open here.”

“Can you not simply take us to your tower in the same manner in which you arrived?”

“I am,” he said. “To walk the streets cloaked in invisibility is no small thing. To bound the gap between the tower and the city in an instant is a different matter entirely.”

“Why were you walking the streets unseen?”

“I sensed mischief,” he said. “Meaning, of course, that wretch Winslas. I was following him. His master dares not venture so close to my tower unless he desires a confrontation, so he sends his apprentice when he desires something from the market… or when he has some scheme against me. I watched to see whether it was mischief or business that brought Winslas out… when I realized that his business was mischief, I intervened.”

“Would what he proposed have been so terrible?” Mari asked. “I am not saying that I’m not grateful, or that I would have wanted to go with him…”

“Exactly,” he said. “He would have taken you where you did not want to go. Is that not terrible enough? I have never seen inside Malevole’s tower, though I have my suspicions about how he uses his servants… and how his second does. In any case, it would have been terrible for a young woman who desires a life of her own.”

“I see your point,” Mari said, and she offered no further objections.

The silvery fire around the tower parted away from the arching set of double doors as the pair approached.

“Looks impressive, doesn’t it?” Bensalon said, waving his hand at the flames as they passed underneath them.

“What does the fire do?” Mari asked.

“Exactly what I said: it looks impressive.”

“But what would it do to one who touched it?” she asked.

“Disappoint briefly, and then relieve profoundly,” he said. “It looks impressive, though. As I said, much of wizardry is about appearances.”

“Why, is all of magic nothing more than an illusion?”

“No,” he said. “For instance, your uncle’s note really did burn. A small fire, completely natural, consuming such fuel as fire would favor…  that is not so hard to manage. A great big pillar of silver flames that dance around stone without consuming it? That is a different matter. But I must ask your pardon as I attend to the door.”

He touched the end of his walking stick to the door and closed his eyes. After a few seconds, both doors melted away.

“Was the door real?” Mari asked as they stepped inside. They only went a few strides into the dim corridor beyond when the door popped back into place, leaving them in darkness.

“Oh, in the sense that you mean it, yes,” he said. He waved his hand and torches lit themselves all along the stone corridor. “Else we could have simply walked through it. But it is not a real door. Rather, it’s part of the wall that must be removed to enter. This is a big thing, a difficult thing… but it is the only way in and out of my tower, and worth the effort to create and maintain.”

“Why not simply have a door?”

“It would not be as secure.”

“Then why make it look like a door?”

“So people… even wizards… will waste time trying to open it.” He pointed up at the high stone arch at the end of the corridor, which they were approaching. “That is the next stage of my defenses. It strips away all illusions.”

He gestured for her to pass through it first.

“Do I make you nervous, my lord?”

“Say instead that I am nervous and this will make me feel secure. One must be careful,” he said. “Naturally, I performed what divinations I could out in the street. Winslas was wrapped up in charms and glamours, as well a wizard’s apprentice might be when straying into hostile territory. I sensed nothing about you… but one cannot be too careful.”

“Fret not, First Wizard,” Mari said. She turned to face him and took a step backwards through the arch. “I am as I appear.”

“You are indeed,” he said. “But mind where you put your foot… the stairs are just behind you.”

Mari turned and looked behind her, letting out a small squeak of surprise when she saw how the floor dropped away into the darkness.

“Fear not,” he said. “There are stairs, though they are hidden. Take my arm and walk slowly.”

She complied, and they began to descend the invisible staircase.

“Why are we going down, when the tower is above us?”

“It is largely solid through and through,” he said. “More misdirection. The red wizard and my more distant rivals expend their energies trying to penetrate the wards built into the tower’s outer walls, and when they find naught but stone or darkness inside they think I have found some new means of obfuscating their sight. Or perhaps they see through it. Perhaps many of them have done the same. What I think of, another man may think of also. In any event, it may give them some pause.”

“Is all of a wizard’s time spent foiling the attacks of other wizards?”

“Much of it,” Bensalon said. “Understand, I feel little real rivalry, with Malevole or any other man… but I cannot control how my brethren feel about me, and if they believe I am a threat to their supremacy or might pose an impediment to their plans, they will strike at me as they can. Thus I must be on my guard.”

“And do you never act against them?”

“Well… from time to time, I must do something to ensure they remain occupied with other matters, or to show them that I will be no easy prey for their ambitions, or to prevent one of them from gaining enough power to make a decisive strike,” he said. “But I am a gray wizard, so it’s more a matter of maintaining the balance of power than trying to shift it in my favor.”

“Imagine if all wizards feel that way?” Mari asked. “What if none among you truly desires the struggle with the others? What if you each act against each other out of fear of what the others would do, unchecked?”

“It is a thought that has crossed my mind,” he said. “But if it is true, what of it? The situation is unaltered. Hold, here we must stop… the abyss is real, just ahead of us, but our destination is at hand.”

He turned and touched his hand to a section of the wall, and it swung inwards on a hinge.

“A door that looks like a wall,” Mari said.

“And not a drop of magic about it,” he said. “As hard to see with a wizard’s eyes as with anyone else’s.”

Just inside the door was a room of scant furnishings and modest proportions. There was a writing table with a chair, and a shelf with some books on it. Two doors of a more ordinary sort led out of it.

“My chambers are perhaps less impressive than you might have expected, but my needs are simple.”

“You live alone?”

“I have no need for servants,” he said. He leaned his walking stick in a corner. “Malevole the Red prefers to lead the life of a lord in fact, where I value my privacy too much to give it up for a little convenience.”

“I have noticed,” Mari said. “But have you no apprentice?”

“Not at the present time,” he said. “I have yet to find a candidate with the suitable qualities.”

“What qualities are those?”

“Among them are a keen mind and an inquisitive nature,” he said. “An uncommon reservoir of willpower, and the most elusive trait, at least in conjunction with the others: a certain amount of deference. Magic actually requires arrogance to work, but learning magic requires humility.”

“My lord, forgive what may be a lack of deference, but I find myself quite without prospects at the moment, and I believe myself to be somewhat keen and quite inquisitive,” Mari said.

“To be a wizard’s apprentice is a serious commitment,” he said.

“I have nowhere else to be,” she said. “I should like to get in touch with my uncle, but if it isn’t safe for me to be about the City of Stars without a wizard’s protection… well, this seems to answer a need, does it not?”

“A need for you, but what of me?”

“Do you not have better things you could be doing every time the red wizard’s pawn goes to market?”

“You do have a certain sharpness of wit,” Bensalon said. “And you may be quite bright… but no wizard has ever had a female apprentice.”

“Oh? You know what your brethren do in their towers?”

“Magic is about appearances,” Bensalon said. “And a girl for an apprentice… well, it wouldn’t look right, would it?”

“Is this what you think, or what you imagine they all think?”

“It comes to the same thing, mostly,” he said. “But… there is nothing in the nature of a woman that is necessarily incompatible with the practice of magic. There are seers and healers in every village and town across the southlands, after all. Perhaps a small test is in order, and depending upon what it reveals, there may be some things I can teach you.”

“My lord is generous,” Mari said.

“I am not agreeing to a full apprenticeship, you must understand,” he said. “Just some means by which you may better protect yourself against unwanted attention in the future.”

“Of course,” she said.

“Take up my walking stick.”

She went over to where he had left it. It was wood, though inlaid with silver and capped with a gray pearl the size of a cow’s eye. She touched it gingerly, then grasped it firmly and lifted it.

“Good,” he said. “Now, hold it level in front of you, outward from your body.”

She raised it slowly and pointed it out in front of her in no particular direction… but then turned sharply on her heel to aim it at Bensalon, a triumphant look on her face. That look vanished as the gray wizard did, too, and the stick in her hand turned into a snake, its fanged mouth quite near her hand.

She shrieked it and dropped it, jumping back… and bumping into the robed wizard, who clapped his hand on her shoulder.

“So this is what you really look like, ‘Winslas’,” he said. He spun her around. His stick was in his other hand.

“You were right, I’m afraid,” she said. “My Lord Malevole thought a female apprentice wouldn’t look right, though he agreed to take me on all the same.”

“I suppose that was the scullery maid that I chased off, then.”

“A stablehand,” she said. “His face was his own, by the way… the model for the one I wear when out in public, altered only to be somewhat more pleasingly symmetrical. So if you had stripped off his glamour, it would have revealed nothing. When did you know?”

“That you were his apprentice? When you tried to use my wand against me,” he said. “I suspected it before, as impossible as it seemed… but Malevole has tried more desperate tricks in his war against me, so I had to be certain. What you would do when you thought you held my wand was the test. If you had not tried to use it, I would still have assumed you were a spy or even an assassin, but I would have been on guard for hidden daggers rather than spells.”

“I could still become your apprentice.”

“Why would you betray your master, and how could I ever trust you if you did?”

“Because if you took me as your apprentice, as I am in truth, then I would be loyal to you in truth,” she said. “I’m loyal to Malevole because he has done for me what no other wizard would, but it is not what I want. I told you that I’m a young woman who wants a life of her own. My life, not the life I feign to suit him.”

“He could never let the insult go.”

“He could never acknowledge it,” Mari said. “If he were to accuse you of stealing his apprentice, he’d have to reveal that his had been a woman all along… and he couldn’t say a word about you having a woman for your apprentice, because he would know that you knew the truth about his.”

“That may be, but what you want can never be,” he said. “If you agreed to this desperate plan of your master’s in the hope of entering my service, then you have thrown your life away for nothing.”

“In truth, I did not have much hope that it would work,” she said. “Malevole was not the first wizard I approached, and you are not so different from the rest as you might like to imagine. I thought it was worth trying, that there was no harm in asking… but it would simply have been something of an unexpected bonus if you had agreed. Otherwise, I was prepared to fulfill the original plan I contrived for my master.”

“Foolish girl,” Bensalon said. “If that was your intention, you should have asked before you made the attempt because now you’ll never have another chance. I know you came in with neither staff nor wand… I would have seen either upon you quite plainly… and you’ll never wrest mine from my grip.”

“I don’t intend to,” she said.

Whatever reply the wizard would have made to this was lost as he stiffened and grimaced, then looked down. Mari’s fist was clenched around a handle that protruded from his vest.

“You should have kept guarding against knives, my lord,” she said. She twisted the knife. The stick clattered to the floor as he clutched at the wound. “So much of wizardry is, after all, a matter of appearances.”


Liked it? Join me on Patreon to help pay my bills, keep me alive, and keep stories like this one coming.

Note that this story along with two others in my patron preview line-up may also be found in The Lands of Passing Through, a short story collection available as a DRM-free ebook on Amazon Kindle, Nook, and as a multi-format bundle directly from the author.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

Hey, I’m going to be at WisCon!

May. 24th, 2016 11:47 am
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[personal profile] alexandraerin

If you read my blog, you probably already know that. If you’ve read it for years, you might already know most of what’s in it. Here’s what you should know about me:

  • There is no minimum level of acquaintance or friendship you need to come say hi to me, sit by me, etc. None! I go to the con to be bold and sociable.
  • I have a fairly strong case of prosopagnosia, or face blindness. I recognize people by context clues and what Moist von Lipwig calls “the furniture”; hair styles, glasses, etc. This doesn’t work very well for people I see on an annual basis or less. All of this is to say: don’t take it personally if I look at your name tag every single time I see you, and don’t feel awkward introducing yourself or others in your group even if we’ve met before.
  • Because of this, I like to make sure that I’m plenty recognizable to others. When I go to events, I like to have a flag, basically, that people who think they might be looking at me can use to confirm it. My rainbow hair actually started as this, before becoming a year round trademark. The thing is, though, this year I’m planning on switching my hair out, possibly on a daily basis. Sorry for that, but if you see someone with brightly colored hair in a bob cut who is wearing a skirt, a leather collar, and some sort of hat, it’s probably me!
  • I have a mitochondrial condition that primarily prevents as chronic fatigue with some features of a seizure disorder. There is a good chance that at least once before the con is over, I will look like death. I assure you, I’m okay. You might see me goofing around and dancing one day, and then hobbling on a cane the next day. It happens.
  • Related, but my face and I are only intermittently on speaking terms with each other. A lot of the time, I don’t know what it’s doing, and I don’t know why it’s doing it. Please don’t try to judge whether I’m having a good time or not by looking at my face. It’s really just my face. And if you think you see me pulling sour or angry faces at something, it’s probably a tic related to the previous bullet point.

Now, a couple more things I’m adding.

I am a woman. My pronouns are she/her, and they’re likely to be on my name tag. You might think WisCon is a sanctuary for me, and in some ways it is, but it’s also the place where I get misgendered the most out of the entire year. Every year.

I think there are multiple reasons why this is so, but a big one is a thing that happens in liberal spaces where cis or mostly-cis guys feel comfortable playing with gender and doing things like wearing skirts and make-up: while they get praised for bravery, the trans women at best get lumped in with them. Cis people who are the first and loudest to say “Trans women are women!” still wind up treating us as men in dresses in the presence of actual men in dresses. I guess it’s the male default taking over. Most people I interact with in my day-to-day life never dream I’m trans, because absent some kind of prior knowledge or context, they see no reason to speculate otherwise. But WisCon is awash in that kind of context.

Someone can watch me on a panel where I introduce myself, refer to myself as female, and then point to me and say, “He had a lot to say about self-publishing.” People can be staring right at my name tag, with my name (Alexandra) and my pronouns (she/her) on it and then say, “I’m sorry, are you a boy? I can’t tell. Working with the GLBT youth taught me I should look for an Adam’s apple, but you’re wearing a choker.” My hand to gosh, I’ve had a person at WisCon ask me if I was a drag queen, and when I said no, I’m a trans woman, she said, “Oh, okay, because I know that drag queens like to be called ‘she’ and ‘her’ when they’re in drag.” and then she proceeded to try to refer to me by male pronouns.

And people like to say things like, “Well, people don’t know!” and “They don’t mean any harm!” And I’m sure they’re right. I am confident, 100% confident, that both of the people I quoted in the last paragraph were trying to show me how progressive, supportive, and open-minded they were.

But why is their “right” to try to impress a stranger more important than the stranger’s health, safety, and comfort?

This kind of thing always happens more and more as the con wears on and my voice wears down. People who interacted with me as a woman and referred to me correctly at the start of the con apparently hear my increasingly hoarse voice and decide it’s my “real” voice reflecting my “real” self and take it as permission to start misgendering me.

In the past? I’ve swallowed this kind of rudeness and ignorance out of a desire to not make waves. This year? Lolnope. You’re looking at my name tag. You will respect what you read there, or I will shut you down and walk away.

There are people I deal with every year at the con, whom I tell every year, “I’m a woman,” and they apologize in the hurt way that is meant to make you feel the need to reassure or apologize to them, and say, “It’s hard!” It’s not hard. I’m a woman. You don’t have to solve a math problem. You don’t have to do some complicated lateral thinking. You don’t have to memorize dozens of arcane rules. You don’t have to know anything about my body or my history or my thought processes or my life to figure out what to do.

Woman.

The same thing happens in reverse to my partner Jack. He’s a man. He is at the start of the con. He is at the end of the con. He is when we go back to our hotel room or leave the hotel to eat.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

STATUS: Tuesday, May 24th

May. 24th, 2016 10:51 am
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[personal profile] alexandraerin

The Daily Report

Well, my WorldCon travel fund is going well. Almost halfway there, and more than enough for plane tickets. Just waiting on the money to hit my bank account, and then I’ll set the travel arrangements. At that point, my plans are made.

So, yesterday I was selecting stories and queuing them up to go live on this blog at noon each day through the end of May. I made some kind of error in the planning phase when I was counting how many stories I would need, though. I think I got distracted in the middle and accidentally subtracted Monday’s story (which went live as soon as it was chosen instead of being queued) twice. However it happened, I spent a good portion of the day picking eight stories and then found a day left over when I added them to the queue.

The upshot is I have one more story to pick than I was counting on, and from moment to moment I vacillate between not being able to choose between several stories or completely drawing a blank as to what could fill the slot. After some consideration, though, I’ve decided to bend the rules a bit and instead of one short story, putting a couple of shorter stories (longer flash fiction pieces that straddle the line between flash and short, basically) and one poem that tells a story. While I’m offering one full-length short story each month as part of my revamped and revitalized Patreon, it’s not all I have to offer, and I figure my preview should reflect that.

The State of the Me

Doing well.

Plans For Today

Well, I’m putting some finishing touches on the queue for the rest of the month, and also kicking around ideas for a Sad Puppies Review Books. It’s not a guarantee that something will come to me before I start closing things down for the trip, but if something does, it’ll go up in this space like normal.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

(no subject)

May. 24th, 2016 08:10 am
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[personal profile] copperbadge
(Originally posted this to tumblr, then realised I should share it here too...)

I went running a little later than usual on Sunday, which means I caught the sunrise; sunrises are nice and all, but sunrise is way cooler reflected in the faces of the buildings on Michigan Avenue.

And then I punched a pigeon in the face. Possibly to death. I’m not feeling good about it.

I was on the return leg, near the CSO, and there was a homeless dude to my right and some pigeons to my left up ahead. I was just running along, mostly thinking unflattering thoughts about Coldplay and why they had to make Viva la Vida so very long, when I startled the pigeons and they took off.

And you know, sometimes when you startle a bird they fly straight towards you.

So I startled too and ducked right, but as I ducked right, my left foot came forward and both my hands came up to block. And because my left foot was forward, right arm was blocking, and my left arm was already raised, I just like….instinctively threw what I have to admit was a frankly amazing left hook.

I didn’t mean to. It just happened. It’s probably the most beautiful punch of my life (not difficult, I haven’t punched much) and I socked that pigeon right in its poor tiny face.

Feathers went everywhere (including up my nose, oh my god) and I stopped and did like a weird hop-turn thing to slow my momentum, and what I saw was just freaked out birds and a cloud of feathers and homeless dude losing his shit laughing.

And I didn’t know what to do, I don’t know what one does when you’ve just punched a bird probably to death. I couldn’t even see a body. Did I vaporize the bird?

So I looked at the settling feathers and I looked at the homeless dude, who started laughing all over again, and I turned around and legged it (Viva la Vida was still playing).

So IDK if I can trust any pace I set that morning, because man is inherently destructive and eternally at odds with nature.

But I did 1.93 in 26:37 for a pace of 13.47 which is slower than my average and likely does account for the bird punching.

I am almost definitely going to hell.

My Wiscon panel schedule

May. 23rd, 2016 10:38 pm
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
[personal profile] firecat
Will you be coming to Wiscon?

We All Start Somewhere: Welcoming Social Justice Newbies
Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm
Conference 4
Moderator: Jacquelyn Gill.
Many people aren't born into families that talk a lot about or value social justice. We come from all different backgrounds with all different kinds of experiences. When someone wants to gain a better understanding of and start practicing social justice, how do we, as a community, welcome them and offer opportunities for education? How do we deal with the same basic questions over and over again? What do we do well? What could we do better?

Privilege in the Kitchen: Food Snobbery and Culinary Condescension
Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm Caucus
Foodieism is all the rage these days and while there's nothing wrong with making and enjoying good food, it seems to go hand in hand with a sense of condescension when it comes to cheap, simple fare; fattening foods (except for bacon, of course); and "poor food," the kind of thing prepared with a packet of this and a couple cans of that. Let us discuss economics, classism, racism, sizeism, and ableism in the ways we prepare, present, and talk about food.

Okay, so…

May. 23rd, 2016 07:40 pm
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[personal profile] alexandraerin

I have spent most of today sorting and collating stories to try to come up with a tentative “best of” list, with things of short story length that can stand on their own. These will be posted from this blog’s queue at noon each day from now until the end of the month, as “I Do Not Fight Monsters” was posted today.

I wound up with eight of the required nine, inclusive of today’s. It was challenging in part because the largest single body of my work is serial stories, and while there are some excellent standalone stories in my serial universes, I did not want them to dominate things. So there will be two, maybe three stories from the Tales of MU universe (or MUniverse), though not ones that require knowledge or investment of the main ongoing story.

Interesting thing about how it shook out: while a few of the selections defy such easy categorization, it was about half modern supernatural/horror and half high fantasy.

The point of this exercise, again, is to give prospective patrons a clear idea of what I have to offer, fiction-wise. I’ve been getting a lot of note for my wit and my insight; not so much for my storytelling, and that’s going to change. I’m still shaping up my Patreon presentation to reflect this, but starting in June I’m going to be writing and sharing (under a patron-only lock, at least initially) a new short story every month. This is not going to be the extent of my writing activities, but I do think it’ll be a draw.

I chose today’s selection because it was my first full-length story I submitted for publication anywhere as an adult, and it was accepted on the first try. It also has another bit of “historical” significance: my now-boyfriend Jack read it aloud in one of his college classes, years ago, before we had ever even met in person. Surprisingly (or maybe not, as I actually am kind of a big deal), his professor was already familiar with me.

Anyway, if you want to see what I have on tap, just bookmark http://www.alexandraerin.com/category/patron-preview and check it every day in May. A new story goes up at noon, Eastern time.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

rachelmanija: (Books: old)
[personal profile] rachelmanija
A novelette set in the Chalion world, in which Gods and demons are real, though powerful and supernatural forces rather than representatives of the concepts of good and evil. (People do generally think that Gods are good and demons are bad, but it’s more complicated than that.) It’s set about a hundred years before The Curse of Chalion. (This isn’t obvious in the text, or at least it wasn’t obvious to me; I think I found it in the author’s afterword.) You can start the series here; it’s unrelated to the other books, and a complete story.

A young man on a mission finds both his task and his entire life unexpectedly diverted when he becomes possessed by a demon. In this case, demon possession means having another personality sharing your mind and talking to you, not having your own personality displaced. In the process of learning about his demon in the hope of divesting himself of it, he learns a lot about himself, his world, and what he really wants from life.

The characters and story are likable and engaging, and the magic system and cosmology, which I enjoyed in the other books in the series, continue to be interesting. It’s a pleasant story with a cozy feeling, but a little slight, especially compared to the novels set in the same world. I was unreasonably distracted by a major character having a name that I have previously only encountered in a Shakespeare play, in a world which seems to have no relationship to ours, but this may not bother anyone other than me.

But if you like small-scale fantasy about well-meaning people, in a world in which altruism is neither stupid nor the sign of an approaching cement truck, you will probably like this. It reminded me a bit of The Goblin Emperor, though with a much more down to earth and informal tone. Bujold's Sharing Knives books also have something of this cozy, domestic feel, though they are romances and this is not.

Penric's Demon

I Do Not Fight Monsters (Short Story)

May. 23rd, 2016 12:17 pm
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[personal profile] alexandraerin

Hi, all! I’m Alexandra Erin, author, humorist, blogger, and poet. Like most people you know, I need food, shelter, and other products and services to live. Traditional publishing for authors is such a crapshoot when it comes to actually making a living that even most big name successful authors give advice like “have a second job” or “marry someone rich” when asked the best way to do it. I recognized this years ago, and so resolved to forge my own path.

I was not just crowdfunding before it was cool, I was crowdfunding before there was a name for it, or convenient tools that automate the model. I’ve had a number of successes over the years doing things my own way. Now I’m focusing my efforts on Patreon in a big way, and I’m asking you to join me.

As blessed as I have been, the authors who do best in crowdfunding are usually those who have the exposure that comes from a successful career in traditional publishing. They have a following. They have a reputation for quality. They have a large fanbase ready to leap at the ability to pay them directly for their work instead of filtering their gratitude through a large and somewhat inefficient machine.

I’ve already made a name for myself as a social media commentator, blogger, and satirist. Starting today, I’m going to be making a name for myself as an author. Here, on my blog, I’m going to be sharing one previously published short story a day, every day, until the end of the month. If you support me on Patreon, you will get to read a brand new story like these each month, most months (allowing for the vicissitudes of life). The money you pay will support me in being able to continue writing the fiction, satire, and commentary that you enjoy.

Today’s selection is the first full-length story I ever submitted for publication, to a zine called The Edge of Propinquity, which published it in April 2007. This now-defunct zine was the original home of Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road, a variation on the phantom hitchhiker story. If you enjoy it, please consider showing your gratitude either by pledging support for further writing, chucking something in the tip jar, or even just spreading the word. Share the link, tell people you enjoyed the story, review it on your blog.


I Do Not Fight Monsters

By Alexandra Erin


My name is Gemma Saunders, and tonight, I’m putting a vampire to rest.

To be clear, I’m not a hero. I don’t have special powers. I don’t fight the monsters. I’m just a grief counselor. My training is in helping people say good-bye when the ones they love are gone.

How did I come to be standing in a graveyard at sundown, about to confront the undead with a priest and a sheriff for backup? It sounds like something out of an action movie, or at least someone else’s life. The answer’s surprisingly mundane. That doesn’t stop me from asking myself the question, though. This doesn’t seem like a job for someone like me.

It started in the second year of my practice, when I first became aware that the world is not entirely as advertised. One of my clients, Mr. Applethwaite, seemed to be having an extremely difficult time letting go of his departed wife, to the point where he wasn’t sure that she was entirely departed. I agreed to meet him at his house, thinking I could show him how his imagination was running away from him. But if it was, then it was running away from me, too.

So, it turned out there really was such a thing as ghosts. Who knew?

After a relatively brief and dignified period of screaming, I realized I could still help. What was a ghost, after all, but somebody who had unresolved issues with death, problems letting go? So, I helped the late Mrs. Applethwaite through her grieving process and poof!

Gone with the wind.

Every ghost wants something. Sometimes they want attention. Sometimes they just want someone to listen. Sometimes they need somebody to tell them that everything’s going to be fine and they should just head for the light.

I never feel comfortable telling somebody that. How do I know it’s true?

But I do have the numbers of a few very understanding priests in my Rolodex. They have no problem saying so.

I don’t do enough “spooky business” that I can quit my regular practice. How do you let potential clients find you without the rest of the world thinking you’re nuts? The internet’s been a real blessing in that department. I’ve found that if you don’t intentionally list your website anywhere, and don’t take out any advertising, then the only people who find you are the people who think to look for you.

Most of the people who find my site are looking for an exorcist, but I provide a more humane alternative. I’ve learned it is possible to force a spirit out or even “dissolve it” (whatever that means) through rituals and strength of faith or what could only be called magic. But that seems like a harsh way of dealing with somebody’s wife or mother, doesn’t it? It’s hell on the survivors, too.

Also, I charge less than a professional exorcist. More than my usual hourly rate, of course. But it’s specialized work.

So, how did this unorthodox but effective ghost busting business lead me to be standing in a rural cemetery at sunset, accompanied by a cop, a priest, and a wailing middle-aged woman? Well, after learning that ghosts are real, it should have come as no great surprise that certain other “things that go bump in the night” have a verifiable physical presence in our world, too.

Yeah. It should have, but it didn’t. My first demon caught me by surprise. So did my first vampire. Turns out, it’s easier to mistake those things for ghosts than you might think.

If a body is interred in holy ground, it cannot rise as a vampire. For a mythological being, that’s pretty simple mytho-logic.

But that doesn’t mean the dead body won’t become a vampire. Just that it can’t rise.

Instead, it spends the day trapped in unimaginable agony, and at night, its spirit (or whatever vampires have that make them a vampire) rises up out of the ground all mist-like as a specter.

The specter is bound to the vicinity of its grave, though as it kills and feeds, it gains strength. And range. And eventually it’ll either be able to enthrall some poor sap and get its grave dug up, or it’ll grow strong enough to break out of the ground itself. That’s especially likely if the land’s not particularly consecrated in the first place.

Municipal graveyards are the worst in this respect. Private family plots and Catholic cemeteries tend to be the best. The Catholics love them some ritual.

I don’t know all this from personal experience, by the way. As I said, I don’t fight the monsters and my usual plan for dealing with vampires is to avoid them. But once I first dipped my toe in to the occult, I started noticing other things, and weird people with even more hidden knowledge kept coming my way. Kind of like how when you learn a word for the first time, and then it seems like you see it everywhere.

Anyway, I plan to avoid the issue of graves entirely by having my body cremated. I think it would be mandatory, except then the people in charge would have to tell everybody else what they know.

So, the upshot is that a specter isn’t quite as dangerous as a full-fledged vampire, especially if it’s never managed to lure somebody close enough to feed. At that point, the thing’s almost literally stuck with “one foot in the grave”. As far as I knew, the specter of Mrs. Annabelle Murray hadn’t gotten to anybody, but I was playing it safe. We showed up before the sun set and Father Mike, my bona fide priest, immediately made a circle of consecrated host around the grave and then set his stuff up a good fifteen yards back from that. Just close enough that we could be sure the specter would manifest. The rest of us were behind him.

Holy water would have worked just as well, and with less protestation from the padre, but I like a line that everybody could clearly see. A line I could point to and say, “Do not cross.” It wasn’t my idea to have anybody here but me and the priest. Well, I would have preferred it was just him, but I was collecting for the job so I had to make sure it was done right.

The situation was this: a vampire had run amok in the small town of Fabersville a short time ago, and while somebody had eventually dealt with it, one of its first victims had gone unnoticed and was buried without any of the prescribed “treatments”. Because the experience left the whole town a little wary of graveyards, nobody immediately noticed the specter of a 73-year-old grandmother. It was her daughter, Mrs. Anne Murray Schneider, who made the discovery.

Rather than having her saintly mother’s body dug up, decapitated, and burnt. And sparking a panic in the process, she sought out an alternative solution, and found me. I had a cleaner, friendlier solution: have a priest repeat the funeral mass in the specter’s presence. The mystic types believe that it’s some spiritual component of the prayers that forces the unholy presence out. Maybe it’s my professional bias, but I believe this just reminds the human component that it’s supposed to be dead and so it lays down quietly. Either way, it seems to work, especially when the subject was known to be devout in life, as Mrs. Murray was.

The only wrinkle was that Mrs. Schneider insisted on being there. She was the one signing my paycheck, so I couldn’t refuse her. I wasn’t too thrilled when she showed up with Sheriff Henry Hascomb at her side, either.

“It only seemed right to let the authorities know,” had been her explanation. Me, I had a hard time thinking of a county sheriff as the authorities. The authorities were grim, efficient men with matching suits, sunglasses, and personalities. If a supernatural problem was bad enough that they had to intervene, they’d come in and clean the situation up, and next year Rand-McNally would be selling a map with one less dot on it and nobody would ask why.

But the sheriff had been the one responsible for dealing with the vampire that caused the present situation, so I wasn’t entirely against his presence. I wasn’t entirely for it. Father Mike I could trust not to do anything fatally stupid. The daughter of the person whose face the specter was using, though? I have to admit, I was a little less sure about her. The sheriff’s simply an x-factor to me. Who knew how he’d react if things took an unexpected turn?

And that brings us up to the here and now.

“You sure this’ll work?” the sheriff asks me dubiously. The sun is fast sinking from sight.

“The ceremony or the circle?” I ask.

“Both.”

“The circle, definitely. If the ceremony doesn’t, nothing will stop you from coming back in the morning and doing the usual thing,” I say. I don’t elaborate, but Mrs. Schneider wails louder, anyway. “It won’t be able to cross the ring of hosts, and as long as nobody gets within arm’s length of that line we’ll all be safe as houses.”

“So it can reach across?” he asks me.

“I’m not sure,” I admit.

“Seems like it would be a good thing to know.”

“I’ve never been curious enough to find out,” I tell him.

Father Mike is watching the skyline. “Should I begin?” he asks when the last sliver of the red disk disappears.

“Let’s wait until our guest of honor makes her presence known,” I say. If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering if it’s because the specter showed up halfway through the prayers. I don’t say that out loud, of course.

We don’t have long to wait. The cemetery is on a hill, and the fog which settled on the surrounding land starts to creep upwards, settling around us. It’s eerie as hell, but it’s just set-dressing.

The real show begins when fog of a thicker sort begins rising from the bare, hard earth in front of Mrs. Murray’s tombstone. The grass doesn’t always wither and die over a vampire’s grave, by the way, but it’s still a decent warning sign. I’ve seen exactly four specters before. One of them made its entrance with a fully formed ghostly hand rising up out of the earth followed by an arm and the rest of it. Very theatrical. The other three rose vaporously and then coalesced into a human-like form. Mrs. Murray’s specter did that, as well.

I watch her rise, but I try not to look too closely at the image that forms. She looks, appropriately enough, like somebody’s grandmother.

It, I mean. Not she. The specter is not a person.

I signal to Father Mike, who lights his censer and then begins reading. We’d talked about this before and decided it was best to just plow through it. The more time Mrs. Schneider had to spend in the presence of the specter, the worse it was likely to be for her. And the more dangerous for the rest of us. She could grieve later.

The specter of Mrs. Murray shows delight at seeing us arrayed all around us, but the kindly old woman’s face twists into a mask of inarticulate rage when it encounters the barrier presented by the circle. It claws at it like it’s a physical wall, pain and want etched over its increasingly inhuman features.

Henry undoes the snap on his holster.

Father Mike begins chanting louder and faster.

Mrs. Schneider makes a weird strangled sort of cry.

“That’s not your mother,” I tell her as firmly as I can, but she doesn’t look convinced.

“You have to be strong, Anne,” Henry tells her. “Your mother would want you to be strong. We’re doing this for her.”

That’s when the whole thing goes downhill faster than urine flows down a pant leg (and I swear that metaphor came out of nowhere.) None of the specters I’ve dealt with have been able to speak. I’ve never heard of one that could before it tasted blood. Somehow, this one finds its voice.

“They’re hurting me,” it croaks in a very small and faraway voice that somehow carries all the way to us.

Everybody freezes. Wouldn’t you know it; it’s Mrs. Schneider who snaps out of it first. She darts past us, shoves Father Mike I watch him fall backwards over his little tripod censer. I see his head hit a tombstone with a meaty thwack. I watch Mrs. Schneider running towards the waiting, eager arms of the specter, crying “Mommy!” all the while.

I unfreeze.

“Shoot her!” I yell at Henry, who already has his gun in his hand. I scream it; in fact, in the embarrassing scream-yourself-hoarse-before-you-even-start-screaming voice most of never use after the time when we’re twelve and we tell our parents we hate them. “Shoot her! Shoot her!”

The stupid ass shoots the specter. The specter! He empties his clip uselessly into the swirling fog. I don’t count the shots. I don’t even know how many a gun like that would hold. I don’t fight monsters. I only know it’s empty because he keeps pulling the trigger and nothing else comes out.

As Mrs. Schneider kicks up gravel and leaves with every footfall, it’s pointless to hope she’ll somehow neatly step across the outside of the circle. No, she plows a big hole in the line of little white disks, which is all the specter needs to leave its grave and come after us. That, and a little blood.

There’s a theory I’ve heard that new vampires go after their own family members first because blood that is of their own blood gives them more power. Once again, I don’t know for sure and I’m not feeling experimental. After it has its initial taste, it’s got a choice between two victims who are already down and not going anywhere, and two that still have the potential to get away.

When Henry sees me take off running, he comes to his senses and takes off himself. He’s a little bit faster than me. Then I catch the toe of my boot on one of those stupid marble plaques that everybody uses now, and he becomes a lot faster than me.

“Wait!” I yell. “Wait!”

He stops and turns back, a sheepish look on his face. I limp-stagger-run up to him. He offers me his arm.

Survival Rule #23: When you and a friend are running from a ravenous beastie, you don’t have to outrun the beastie. You just have to outrun the friend.

Henry Hascomb isn’t even my friend.

I kick him in the groin and shove him aside, then hobble as fast as I can down the hill. He screams at me, and then, he’s just screaming, but it’s okay because I’m at my car. For one stupid moment I slap my pockets to find my keys before I realize they’re already jangling in my hand. It’s all a blur after that. I just drive.

I drive until the sun comes up, then I stop at the side of the country highway and sit there, shaking. I have no idea where I am. The gas light is on and I have no idea when I last passed a gas station or where one will be coming up. My brain can’t convince my hands to let go of the wheel. I’m going to have to call somebody, I know. I’m going to have to find somebody who can deal with the thing, now loose in the cemetery. And the bodies it will have hidden away as safely as it can; the bodies that will soon be corporeal vampires.

Did it get enough power from three victims to break out of the ground itself?

Or will it have to wait until the others rise to help it?

I don’t know. Somebody will have to find out, though.

For now, I think I’m just going to pass out.

I’m not a hero. I don’t have special powers.

I do not fight monsters.


This story along with two others in my patron preview line-up may also be found in The Lands of Passing Through, a short story collection available as a DRM-free ebook on Amazon Kindle, Nook, and as a multi-format bundle directly from the author.

If you enjoy this story, your sponsorship could help produce more like it.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

raanve: Tony Millionaire's Drinky Crow (Default)
[personal profile] raanve
Sooooo WisCon is this week! I've been dealing with this impending reality by simultaneously doing concom-related stuff and being in total denial that WisCon is happening this week. BUT ALSO - I am pretty excited for WisCon!

If you're attending, this post is to provide you with useful information about Jess At WisCon. If you're not, I suppose you could read it anyway. I mean. It's really up to you. (Many -- most? -- of you know me pretty well already, and indeed have spent time with me at WisCons prior. If that's the case, the info here is useful to you if you want to meet up at some point during the con.)

This is a revised edition of last year's post, and several years' past posts, back into time immemorial whenever I started doing this. ;) If there is something you are wondering about or would like to ask me that I don't cover here, please ask in comments and I'll do my best to answer.

This got long so I tried to organize it using cut tags.

..about me.. )

..seeing or hanging out with me at WisCon.. )

Are you attending WisCon? Will I see you there? Is this not the best con? COMMENT BELOW! \o/

* I pretty much stole my title from this Mr. Show sketch: "The Return of the Curse of the Creature's Ghost". This is actually a really good example of the kind of stuff I carry around in my brain all the time and occasionally reference without cause -- comedy sketches from a decade ago (or more - heck, the Associative Brain Quote & Reference File goes all the way back to SNL of the 70s). Fair warning.

On Gratitude

May. 23rd, 2016 11:28 am
alexandraerin: (Default)
[personal profile] alexandraerin

I’d really like to thank a couple (I think, it seemed to be more than one but not by much) of anonymous/pseudonymous individuals who sent me disparaging messages over the weekend, trying to… well, actually I don’t know what they were trying to do. Disparage me, discourage me, stir up drama… some combination of all of the above? But I kept getting nasty messages referring to other authors running fundraisers or starting up Patreons right now, in a goading “Look how much better they’re doing than you are.” way. Some of them were encouraging me to give up, some were basically telling me I shouldn’t be “putting up with” or letting others “get away with” their success, whatever that means.

The thing is, I don’t find the success of other authors discouraging. I find it hugely empowering. N.K. Jemisin, a successful traditionally published author who I believe has been nominated for just about every major fantasy award, launched a Patreon campaign on Friday-ish in order to help her quit her day job and focus on writing.

This kid of thing happens because “successful author” does not necessarily mean “making enough money to live on”, no matter what your publishing model is. That discourages me. That makes me feel somewhere between defeated and fighting mad. But an author figuring out a better way to do things? That makes me happy. I mean, heck, it was knowing about this reality that led me down the road I chose in the first place.

Now, I know N.K. Jemisin personally, if not closely. We’re mutuals on multiple social media sites. We’ve met in person. It’s possible we’ve even shared a meal together, although I think it would have been a “push three or four tables together” kind of meal, which is part of why I’m not sure if we have or not. I don’t know if she’d call me a friend, but we’ve had nothing but friendly interactions. I admire her as a person and while I have bounced off some of her books, I love the ones that I got into and I recognize the quality of the ones that I didn’t.

So how could anyone be so petty as to imagine that I’d react to her great achievement with anything but, “Well, good for her!”?

I mean, I’m not just going “Good for her.” I’m taking notes about what she’s doing, and sharing my experience with the platform when she asks. To the extent that our paths overlap, we have a lot to learn from each other. I find her example inspiring not just because of her success, but because I’m watching someone succeed while making some of the same decisions that I’ve struggled with. So it’s like getting a vote of confidence by proxy. Yes, one short story in a month is plenty of short stories. Yes, relatively clean drafts are a fine standard for this sort of thing. Stuff like that.

I have a hard time convincing myself that any amount of work or effort is truly enough to show my value to the world, which makes it hard to muster the energy for any amount of work or effort. So seeing where other people set their benchmarks… well, you can’t live your life living up to other people’s examples, and you shouldn’t try. But it can be a good way to quiet down the doubts.

I think I’m supposed to be jealous because I’m re-jiggering my Patreon at the same time she’s launching, but as far as I’m concerned, we both had really successful weekends. My goal for the weekend was to get enough money to fly two people to WorldCon, and you know what? Mission accomplished. Now, I do also need to make more money on a regular basis, and I have plans to do so, but it’s a “one thing at a time” kind of deal. The plane tickets was a “money right now” situation. Patreon is a longer game, and now that the plane tickets are taken care of, it’s where my focus is going.

It’s no secret that I’m struggling financially, but it shouldn’t be a secret that my financial struggles have spun out of personal/emotional struggles that I’m now putting behind me. Another author’s success didn’t cause my troubles and another author’s success isn’t going to prolong them. I’m ready to start making real money again. And yes, the key word there is “again”.

All the anons who tried to discourage me by pointing to other authors living the dream did is remind me that eight years ago, I managed to get enough recurring income to quit my day job and focus on my writing, and I did it without Patreon. I did it before Patreon. I pioneered the kind of direct micropatronage for authors that Patreon enables, and if I didn’t get a lot of recognition for this… well, that’s partly because I’m an awkward self-promoter, but at the end of the day, I didn’t do it for recognition, I did it for money to live on, and I got that.

You know what the biggest amount of money I crowdfunded for my writing over a couple days was? I don’t know to the dollar and cent, off the top of my head, but it was… as they say dans la belle internet… over 9000. U.S. dollars, that is. Now, that was basically meant to cover several months’ worth of expenses projected backwards over time, but still. I did that. Me. Almost a decade ago. There was no Kickstarter. There was no IndieGoGo. There was no GoFundMe. There was just me rattling a cup, reminding people that I was doing work and that my work had value, and that I had expenses that needed to be covered for me to keep living and doing my work.

Back in the day, my example inspired Catherynne M. Valente to take a chance on crowdfunding and web-publishing her first …Fairyland… novel, which also became her first New York Times bestseller and is now a much-loved series. Before the web response proved that people would read it, it would have been a hard sell: a young adult novel written in a style emulating books for younger readers that is actually a spin-off of a very adult novel? Who would read that? The answer, it turns out, is everybody. The books are a legit phenomenon, an all-ages hit.

The other individual that my anonymous correspondents have tried to pit me against is Rachel Swirsky, who’s launching her Patreon with a fundraiser drive for Lyon-Martin health services through the one-two punch of offering a parody of what is possibly her own most famous work as an incentive for participation, and donating the first month’s proceeds to LM. I think it’s a great way to get people in the door, where they can see what she has to offer. I predict she’s going to get a lot of long-term patrons out of this short-term campaign, and even if she doesn’t… well, it’s a great cause, isn’t it?

The thing is, Rachel actually reached out to me for advice on this before she did it, though I was not in a place where I could offering any. I’m helping her out how I can now. At her invitation, I’m pitching in with one of her incentives, which seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone involved. I’m in a time crunch, but I have a sketch of a blog post I’ll be making about what she’s doing and why it’s important.

All of this is to say: (a small number of) people are trying to be jerks about crowdfunding, probably because they don’t like it when artists and creators they disapprove of find ways to make a living that they have no power to interdict. This is not new, any more than patronage itself is new.

And I’m a little grateful to the jerks because they forcibly reminded me that however I feel right now, I am not a failure. I have achieved great successes in the past, and there’s no reason to believe that I cannot achieve greater successes in the future.

Even more so, I’m grateful to the readers who have supported me over the years, those who circulated links and spread the word, those who pitched in their dollars and cents and the few individuals who have personally invested hundreds or even thousands of dollars in my life and career, and I am grateful to the writers and artists who have shared the bonds of respect, admiration, and friendship with me.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

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