Tuesday, October 20, 2015

In the Dark

There are (as has often been observed) two kinds of people in this world. What those two kinds are — well, that’s a matter of personal interpretation. Myself, I tend to divide the population into larks and owls.
To wit: Some of us, maybe most of us, live in the daylight — the early risers, the good people, who live in the daylight and greet the morning with a song. But there are some of us who burn the midnight lamp; the night hawks, who have prowled the infomercial wasteland of the TV graveyard shift, who know the eerie hush of 3:00 AM, who crawl the streets sleepless in the small hours, in the liminal zone between yesterday and tomorrow, moving through pools of lamplight when the pavements are strange and lonely in the dark. The Night People.

For the tribes of the night, Halloween is our Mardi Gras, our Christmas, and our Thanksgiving, all rolled into one. It’s our tourist season, when we natives of the interzone play host to the bright-eyed Day People giddily clutching their 12-hour passes. It’s party time, in other words — an opportunity to share our freaky glamour with our brothers and sisters from the sunny side. And it is an all-night affair, for the walls between this world and the next grow thin only with the coming of dusk.

Read the rest (and hear twelve hours of Halloween mixtapes!) at Popdose. This one was a labor of love.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Flash Forward

In lieu of a new story here this week, I'll direct you to a brand-new piece of mine in the new issue of KYSO Flash. It's called "In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle." Nine hundred words.

Over the last couple of months I've been conspiring with K-Flash's editor Clare MacQueen on some other stuff, including this review post. Clare is the real deal, friends, and she's been a joy to work with. There may be a couple of other things on the boil, so, as always, watch this space.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Bradbury Project, Week 6: 争上游

The story that resulted from the writing exercise below was eventually published online at Panoply under the title "Zheng Shangyou."

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

A Fool’s Wager

Hey, kid. Why the long face?

Oh, the usual. I want to write a new story. Something quick, and fearless, and maybe a little ridiculous.

So what’s stopping you?

I've got too much else to do! Revising and finishing something from my drafts folder means getting myself back into that specific mindset, and I just can't muster the concentration for it. If I could write something new, something fast and short... but I can't even find the time for that now.

Are you yanking my chain right now? Look, you’re headed into the can right now for five, ten minutes of uninterrupted privacy. 

And how does that help me, exactly?

Tell you what, genius: Instead of taking a magazine in with you, just grab your little digital recorder from the pile of junk on top of the dresser there, and freestyle a dramatic monologue. Problem solved.

Yeah, but what's it about?

Oh, please. Aren't you a little too old for this "Where do you get your ideas" stuff? Look around you. Improvise.

What — in the can? Come on. I need something to work with.

You're overthinking this. Just pick up the recorder and then, I dunno, grab something else at random out of the pile, look it over, and start riffing.


Yeah, okay. Thanks. You have some good ideas, sometimes.

Yeah — when you're not busy being your own worst enemy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


No story this week. No big sexy reason, either, except that I've pretty well cycled through all the good stuff in this last batch, with the exception of one really good story, which I just sold! for actual money! and to which I will link when it's published. 

I imagine I'll be posting new fiction again before too long — I'm still committed to the principles of the project, and I've got several that are in various stages of "nearly finished" — but I'm going to need a couple of weeks, at least, to clear the decks from a crush of other commitments.

See you soon. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Playing the Blues in Twelve Bars

I don’t have much to say about this week’s story, “Baby Grand,” except that it is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever written, and that I am exceedingly fond of it; that I felt the spirit of Ray Bradbury very much at my elbow as I wrote it; that three markets have rejected it, all taking their time to do so, as if they kind of wanted to run it but were ultimately put off by how unabashedly dopey it is; and that for a while it was called “Tuesday Night at the 88 Lounge,” as if a more respectable title could save it, but that eventually I just decided to drop the pretense and double down on the stupid. It’s about 4,000 words, and it will go live tomorrow at noon EDT.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

He Puts His Scary Trousers On One Leg at A Time Like Anybody Else

This week’s story is a Neil Gaiman story, essentially, and self-consciously so.

Part of the point of this project is to expand my range a little, and one way to break out of my own formulas is to borrow someone else’s. Something that Neil does brilliantly is to reinterpret traditional stories and fairy tales—things like “Snow, Glass, Apples,” or The Sleeper and the Spindle. That’s something that I haven’t done much at all (not in fiction, anyway; I have written a bunch of songs that riff on folk themes), and I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to break down the formula and reverse-engineer it. I’d been browsing through Gabriel’s Palace, an anthology of Jewish mystical tales collected and retold by Howard Schwartz, and I came across “The Angel’s Daughter,” a folk story originally told in the Central Asian region of Bukhara (now part of Uzbekistan), which lent itself to the treatment. That it was deep-cut Judaica only made it more Gaimanesque, which amused me.

I’ve also been consciously trying for more gender parity in my writing, trying to write more women characters, and to do so with more empathy and imagination. Along with Gabriel’s Palace, I’d been reading a lot of feminist commentary about negotiating the impossible standards and demands that patriarchy imposes on women, and Shulem Deen’s funny, rueful essays about living—and leaving—his Hasidic faith. As all of these things filtered into the story, it became (I think) something more than a goof or a pastiche. It made me angry as I wrote it, and it made me sad.

I still haven’t found a title that I’m entirely happy with, but in this draft it’s called “Bride of Quiet.” It will be another long one, about 5,000 words, and it will run in this space at noon EDT tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Being an introduction of sorts to this week’s story, which will run in this space tomorrow. With introductions, as with most things, I am of two minds: On the one hand, I firmly believe in letting the meaning of the work speak for itself; on the other, I am a huge fiending nerd for the procedural, and I love to know and talk about where things come from and how they come to be. So for some — though probably not all — of these stories, I imagine I’ll be writing one of these little forewords, the explanatory notes that would go in the collected edition that will never be published. I promise, in any case, to never pull a Harlan Ellison and write an introduction that’s longer than the story itself.

Two huge events happened in the summer of 1969, within weeks of each other — both game-changers, both with seismic impact on culture and industry: the moon shot and Woodstock. Both were first and foremost triumphs of logistics and technology, and as such were natural subjects of speculation for science fiction. For some reason, though, there’s been a lot of SF written about, and for, and in some cases by rocket scientists — but hardly any for audio engineers. The sound systems that (say) Meyer Labs crafted for the Grateful Dead in the 1970s represented a technological leap on a par with anything devised by NASA, but they haven’t been fodder for imaginative extrapolation the way that spacecraft have. And that’s both a shame and an unforgivable oversight. Innovation fuels imagination. And there’s always innovation happening somewhere, often in unfamiliar fields; and there are fresh stories there.

That’s the respectable origin story for tomorrow’s piece. The truth is considerably more stupid: I made this goofy audio mash-up on a whim and wanted to create an in-universe rationale for its existence. So I came up with the idea of a slipstream alt-history story about a big electric rock festival happening in 1937 or so, with a bunch of the American labor movement’s biggest figures on the bill — all of it, an elaborate justification so I could write about Aunt Molly Jackson singing over a Led Zeppelin riff.

And then I realized that maybe I had something here besides a bizarre conceptual gag, so I kept writing; it took a long time, because somewhere along the line the voice became an essential element of the story. When I realized I could write the riff out of the story altogether, I knew I was on the right track.

I am, as I’ve surely noted elsewhere, horrible with titles. The story started as “Red Dog Black Dog” and stayed that for a long time; it went through a couple of fleeting working titles before I started calling it “There Is Power In A Union.” That’s the title under which it will run in this space, tomorrow, at noon Eastern time. See you then.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Bradbury Project, Week 2: Van Helsing’s Hound

This story was not one that I ever submitted anywhere. It's a slight little thing, which came very quickly; I dictated it into my little digital recorder, pretty much as you read it here, while taking the dog for a long walk.

The killer of vampires put her hand to the door of the caretaker’s shed and, finding the lock broken, drew back to enter. The killer was neither a sun-kissed California cheerleader nor a gothic revenant, but a broad, athletic woman edging into middle age, built like a cage fighter, all in tactical gear. She looked, for want of a better word, professional.

She squared her shoulders like a beat cop responding to a domestic violence call, preparing in her heart for any ugliness imaginable. A high-powered lantern in one hand; and a stout silver crucifix in the other. She shifted the latch with her cross-hand and pushed through the doorway with one hip, flipping the crucifix right-way-up as she went. The killer of vampires was altogether silent as she entered and pulled the barn-style door shut behind her.

The shed was a single room. Windowless — much darker inside than out without the moon, with only two winking red lights in the blackness. The killer of vampires toggled on her lantern; raw white light sprang out like a sword unsheathed, and she heard a gasp. She swept the beam across the room. A desk, a chair, a corkboard. A rack of spades and rakes. A couple of lawnmowers. Electric trimmers, the tally lights on their charging cradles making the red eyes in the dark. And huddled in a corner, half-hidden behind a palette of grass seed, a lone figure, knees to chest, face turned away from the light.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Shakedown and Update

In January, as noted below, I took a lovely phone interview with Khrista Rypl of Studio 360. The idea was that as I wrote my 52 short stories this year I might share my progress with a national radio audience in a five-minute chat every six weeks or so.

Radio, of course, is a narrative medium, and as I talked to Khrista I could sense her trying to find a narrative frame for my Bradbury Project. What made you want to do this? What are you hoping to get out of it?

Now, I’ve written at some length in this space about my goals and motivations for this folly, and they’re admittedly a little… abstract. My main aim is to shake up my process, to jump-start my ideation; to work in different modes; to use deadlines to inspire velocity; to do the thing for its own sake. My goal, when deciding to write 52 short stories, was mostly just to write 52 short stories. Nothing more, nothing less. My end product would be 52 stories in my trunk and some incremental improvement in my writing. 

Explaining all this to Khrista, I began to realize how unsuited for radio this project really was. As I described it, it all seemed so nonlinear, so entirely process-oriented. There was no arc, no milestones along the way. It didn’t build to anything. It was just ticking off weeks on the calendar and piling up stories, one after another. 

When Studio 360 ultimately declined to include me in their ongoing coverage, I was disappointed but ultimately unsurprised. There was no proper language, no frame that could make the Bradbury Project compelling for radio, and that’s Khrista’s job: to make compelling radio. No harm, no foul.

I kept writing stories anyway. Not one a week, by any means — I should have 30+ in the can by now, and I’ve got nowhere near that — but stories. And any stories I wrote would be more than I wrote last year, so I was satisfied with my numbers. I just kept my head down and worked on thinking up ideas; I focused on the process and had not a worry in the world.

Then a funny thing happened; some of the stories, I thought, turned out pretty good.

This surprised me. When I decided on this exercise, quality never even entered into the equation. If I wrote anything good, it would be strictly by accident.

But I made my way through a batch of stories, and I caught myself thinking, I should pitch this somewhere.

And I’ve been doing just that. Over the last few months, I’ve pitched a number of new stories. They’ve all been dinged, so far. So barring a couple that are still outstanding, I’ve decided to retire this batch — most of which have been rejected by multiple markets — and present them here over the next few weeks, so that at least somebody gets a kick out of them.

First one runs tomorrow. See you then.