Lost Signals, or how I wrote out of my comfort zone

Lost Signals

So here’s the story: Some time ago, Chuck Gannon, a fine writer and a very nice guy, asked me if I’d like to try to contribute a story to an anthology he was putting together that would take place in his Caine Riordan universe.

I had only read one of the novels in the series a year or two earlier, and had made the rather serious mistake of starting with Book 2 (Trial by Fire), which meant I really had very little idea of what was going on.  At first, while I liked the space opera vibe, I was a little confused by the action and why the characters were doing what they were doing, so I finally put it aside. But I really respect Chuck as a writer, and was very pleased by being asked to the party, so I said, “I’d like to give it a try. Let me start the series from the beginning, and try to come up with a story, and we’ll take it from there.”

That’s what I did. I read the first book in the series, enjoyed it, and found I was now able to appreciate the second, and the third. At that point, I came up with an idea for a character and a story that Chuck (thankfully) liked. The result: The story (“Blaming Caine”) is part of this really nifty anthology called Lost Signals of the Terran Empire, alongside some really talented writers. It’s now in the midst of copy editing and production; stay tuned for publication dates, etc.

One final note: Even if I hadn’t made it into the anthology (and I’m happy I did!), I found this an excellent opportunity to stretch my wings a bit. Writing in somebody else’s universe made me step out of my comfort zone in a way that I found rather difficult — and extremely worthwhile. So my thanks to Chuck for that as well.

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Kickstarter Kraziness

17e01f1d0bd5c9e20699d6e2524e2954_originalI honestly don’t know how they do it. Folks who do Kickstarters, I mean.

I’ve contributed to a few Kickstarters, and I’ve had friends and colleagues who have run them. I was very happy when they succeeded, and disappointed for them when they didn’t.

But this is one of the first times that I have a horse in what is turning out to be a close race, and now I honestly don’t know how people do this without going absolutely insane.

Okay, here’s the story: Two months ago, at the Readercon SF convention, I was invited by Crossed Genres’ Bart Leib to contribute to an anthology called Resist Fascism: A Call To Action. Crossed Genres is a small publishing concern run by Bart and co-founder Kay Holt that used to put out a magazine, and has published a few anthologies, including at least a couple I’ve had stories in.

The idea, Bart told me, was that this would be a fast-and-furious publication of several speculative fiction stories that could be released just before the mid-term elections. I said sure, what a great idea! I’d love to try.

I went home and, over the next couple of weeks, worked on the story when I could get away from my pay-the-rent freelance work. After several discarded tries, I actually got a story in by deadline. Which was, to my delight, accepted.

However, as I write this, the Kickstarter for this anthology, which I’m very much hoping will be a reality, is four days from deadline and about $2,000 away from its $6,000 goal. The result? I’m running out of fingernails to chew.

How the heck do they do it? Bart and Kay are both exceptionally nice, talented folks, and apparently can set up the Kickstarter, arrange for the contributor rewards, organize the anthology, and then spend hours on social media publicizing it, and watch the clock tick down to deadline, without completely losing it. I certainly would. Am. Might.

Phew! Okay, enough of that. I should take a breath, and go back to my writing — after I check what’s going on with the Kickstarter, of course….

 

Published: “Hard Times, Cotton Mill Girl”

ASM_71-Cover-e1528066901443After a long publication drought, I’m pleased to announced that my short story, entitled “Hard Times, Cotton Mill Girl,” is appearing in the latest issue of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, a long-running publication available here in PDF, ePub or Mobi versions.

The story has its beginnings in a day trip I took with some friends to Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell, Mass., a few Readercons ago. It was a fascinating visit; this is an old cotton mill that you could walk through along with a small museum that illustrated the lives of those who worked in it. (And the history of Lowell is, in fact, fascinating — it was an attempt by well-meaning people to create a relatively safe environment for young women doing factory work. If the subject interests you, I encourage you to check it out.)

One reason I was so interested in visiting the mill is this: I was brought up with a consciousness of labor history. And one of the books that I remember looking at over and over again when I was a child had a photo of a little girl in a factory looking wistfully out of a window; it was accompanied by a poem by Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn that I learned by heart:

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.

The memory of that photo and poem, along with the tour we took at the museum, sparked the story.

Lincoln_Cotton_Mills,_Evansville,_Ind._Girls_at_weaving_machines,_warpers._Evansville,_Ind._-_NARA_-_523100Finally, when I started writing, I looked for a picture of a girl who could be my protagonist. I found this one. It was taken by Lewis Hines in 1908 at the Lincoln Cotton Mills in Evansville, Ind., and is entitled Girls at Weaving Machine.

I don’t know the name of the girl in the photo, or if there is any way of finding out who she really was or what happened to her. Everything else in the story is, of course, imaginary. But this is the girl I saw in my mind when I wrote about Emilia.

Revisiting one’s past in fiction

A little while ago, I was looking at a story that was published recently in Mystic Delirium called “The Ladder-Back Chair.” It describes the experiences of a woman who tries to come to terms with her husband’s death by imagining the presence of a chair she associates with their life together. And then I checked my list of published fiction, and realized that a great deal of my fiction written over the past 15 or so years — more than I thought — has been heavily influenced by a single event in my life: The death of my father in the spring of 2001.

First, a short and very incomplete bio of Bernard Krasnoff — Bernie to his friends. He was born in 1923 to immigrant parents, and grew up in Brooklyn. His college education was interrupted by World War II; he served in the Army in Europe and helped to liberate at least one of the lesser known concentration camps (and kept in touch with two young women who, much later in life, met with him and my mother when they visited the U.S. from Israel). After the war, he studied history at Brooklyn College, where he met and eventually married my mother.

Bernie & Einstein, 1976
Bernie & Einstein (my cat) in 1976.

His life was, by all external measures, not extraordinary. He started as a salesman in the “rag trade,” dealing in wholesale women’s clothing. One of my early memories is of visiting his workplace, playing hide and seek among racks and racks of clothes and watching as tailors with pins in their mouths cut out garments amid the smells of machine oil, dust and glue.

Later, after a brief period of unemployment, he managed a mail-order concern for a high-end men’s clothing company. After he retired, he tried out a variety of trades just for the fun of it: He freelanced as a business consultant; worked as a salesman in the men’s department of a clothing store; and became a “meter maid” for the local traffic department (he most enjoyed giving out parking tickets to Cadillacs and other high-priced cars). And perhaps more that I don’t immediately remember.

Other random things I remember: He played the guitar (until my toddler brother sat on it); listened to Woody Guthrie, Alan Sherman, and Beverly Sills; edited a newsletter for the housing project we lived in; supported the Civil Rights movement, opposed the Vietnam War, and was active in local politics; and followed baseball (the Mets), along with other sports (he even watched golf, which for me was about as exciting as watching paint dry). When my family moved from an apartment to a small house in Long Island, he took a huge amount of pleasure in maintaining the house and the garden, and raised an American flag on a flagpole whenever the weather allowed. He supported, defended and loved his family.

I still miss him terribly.

The first story I published after 2001 was called “Lost Connections” (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, 2002) and was a time-travel story in which a woman visits both sets of grandparents in a useless effort to warn the children who would become her parents against their own futures. The next, “In the Loop” (Descant, 2003), was about a man who becomes lost in the nightmarish unreality of dealing with his father’s illness and death.

Interestingly, the one that I wrote just after my father’s death, “Cancer God” (Space and Time, 2009), wasn’t sold until eight years later. It’s about a smart-ass, aging salesman who is in the hospital and tries to fast-talk his way out of dying. “Waiting for Jakie” (Apex, 2009), was written later but sold the same year and is about the inner life of a Holocaust survivor obsessed with a young soldier she met briefly after liberation.

There are others that I never finished, or never sold (including a very angry revenge story about one of his doctors that I will probably never publish). But now, after “The Ladder-Back Chair,” and as fond as I am of the stories I’ve written over the last 15 years, perhaps I should experiment a bit — try to see if I still have the imagination and skill to work in a wider arena.

I’ll let you know if I succeed. Or, perhaps, you’ll let me know.

My 2017 Awards Eligibility Post

Because it’s that time of the year: One of my favorite and most personal stories, titled “The Ladder-Back Chair,” was published this year by Mythic Delirium, and so I thought I’d invite you to read it, if you’d like. (And as long as you’re at Mythic Delirium, look around — there’s some excellent stuff there.)

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t kept good track of some of the stories I’ve read and enjoyed this year; but I’ll be coming back sometime later with at least a few recommendations.

 

 

Now online: “The Ladder-Back Chair”

Mythic_Delirium_3_4_cove_webMy short story, “The Ladder-Back Chair,” which was published in the April-June print edition of Mythic Delirium, is now available online.

I’m especially pleased because it is appearing alongside a wonderful poem called “Grave Robber” by Jane Yolen. I had the honor of sitting next to her during the author autographing session at last month’s Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh, where she was Grand Master; she’s not only a great writer, but a lovely person.

The June online edition also features a poem “bn ʾdnbʿl bn ʾdrbʿl”by the talented writer Sonya Taafle.

So I hope you enjoy these, and the other now-online stories and poems in the issue.

 

A Nebula Nomination!

I am astounded (no, really) to announce that my story “Sabbath Wine,” which was published in the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5, has been nominated for a 2016 Nebula Award. I’m even more honored by the quality of the other short stories that have been nominated; they include:

  • “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, Brooke Bolander (Uncanny)
  • “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)
  • “Things With Beards”, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld)
  • “This Is Not a Wardrobe Door”, A. Merc Rustad (Fireside Magazine)
  • “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, Alyssa Wong (Tor.com)
  • “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station│Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed)

Congratulations to all the nominees — these and those in the other categories.

“Sabbath Wine,” was a real labor of love; I’m so glad that it has been enjoyed by those who read it.