Saturday, May 31, 2014

In tribute to Jay Lake

Jay Lake is in hospice care now, so it's probably only a matter of time before he leaves us. Back in 2007, when I published my on-line e-zine Sentinel Science Fiction, I bought and published a short story of his. I went and found the floppy disk it is backed up on and and I'm republishing it today. I don't know that it's available anywhere else, and my feeling is that the best way to remember Jay is to read his stuff.


So here's ...


---

Fire-Heart and Rose-Lips

by Jay Lake


 They're all crazy for stories here, even my maid Fuega.  She's my best friend, too, mostly 'cause I don't really know any other princesses.  Plus we're exactly the same age.

Ever since I was twelve, His Majesty Dad has made me wear these stupid gloves -- two layers of dragonscale with a silver and copper mesh between, crafted by some one-eyed dwarven smith, half mad and all drunk.  "They'll keep you safe from cuts," he'd said.

Gee, thanks Dad.

At least I can take the gloves off in the big copper tub in the Maiden Tower, but only with Fuega watching me and one of the upstairs maids, plus the girls with the water buckets and scrub brushes.  If Momma would let him, law or no law Dad would have two guards in the room to keep an eye on me, too.

Out of the gloves, my hands always look like withered prunes!  They'd be so pretty and, well, normal, if they ever saw the air and light.  No prince is ever going to marry me.

But Fuega says I don't need a prince since I have her.  She holds me most nights, and sometimes we practice kissing, but that's all.

Everyone's always scheming about me.  One of the worst was when that little toad Palancier came to court.

"Your majesté," he said in the fake little accent that drooled through his nasty mustache.  I swear, a whole hive of fairies could live for a year on the food crusted in that man's beard.  "I have ze proposal for your daughter's perm--, eh, how you say, durable?"

Only he pronounced that word like 'Pablo' instead of 'bubble.'  You get the idea.

So, he said, "To preserve your daughter's hand for le mariage."

Then he chuckled up half a gut at his own wit.  I looked mariage up later, too.  I don't think he was using the word right.  Fat old fraud.

Well, Palancier chuckled until His Majesty Dad was laughing too, up there on the Ivory Throne, so then all the courtiers were laughing.  You'd have thought Dog Pie our court fool had found a whole new way to pretend to be a woman.  Even the silks hanging from those fire-scarred oak beams were waving down like they thought it was funny too.

"I'll chuckle him," I whispered to Fuega.

She took my hand, stroking the palm of my heavy glove with her fingers.  "Hush, Rosita.  Let's hear what the man has to say."

"In my travails," Palancier was spouting, "I have zeen ze finest work of ze smiths of Copper Downs and Chalk Hill.  Zo I propose zat we chop," and he stabbed his porky little hands down like a pair of cleavers, "ze riskmost parts at the wristmost parts..."

He paused for a laugh, but His Majesty Dad had the look Fuega called 'lightning-strikes-the-tower,' so the court wasn't even cracking a smile now.  Even the silks above us were still.

"Eh, you take my meaning," Palancier continued with much less enthusiasm.  "Zen we replace zem wit' zese beautiful, tres cher bonne, silver hands from ze uttermost East, enchanté par les ascended masters in ze prime of zeir powers!"

I rubbed my wrists, which suddenly ached something fierce through the heavy gloves.

Dad leaned forward on the Ivory Throne, one hand propping his jaw.  He had a narrow beard that year.  He fancied it made him look like an epic hero, but mostly it made him look like a giant leprechaun.  Dad had the pommel of his old sword Megrim in his other hand, holding it like a cane.

Dog Pie says Megrim was forged from one of Coalheart the Undying's claws, but then I asked how the smith had got the claw off a live dragon, and Dog Pie had just looked at me funny.  Later Fuega told me to stop acting too smart.

Anyway, I don't know where Dad pulled Megrim from all by himself up there on the throne.  A minute earlier his hands were empty.  One of those king tricks my future husband will have to learn.

God, I hate being a girl.

Once he spotted the sword, Palancier looked nervous.  Dad just kind of grinned into his fingers.  Don't-speak-until-spoken-to got tangled up with self-preservation in the fat man's mouth, and his lips flapped like a carp tossed out of the pond.

His Majesty Dad finally took mercy.  "It would seem that you are suggesting that I have my daughter's hands removed so she cannot prick her finger on a spinning wheel."

"Exactly!" shouted Palancier, forgetting his accent.

Dad tapped Megrim a couple of times on the marble dais beneath the Ivory Throne.  He tugged his beard.  He looked up at the silks.  He winked at me and Fuega, though old Palancier was in too much of a twitchy swivet to see it.

Serves the dumpling right, I thought with my best nasty.  Cut off my hands, will you?

"M'sieur Palancier," Dad said.  "Your plan has merits."

Palancier bounced as if his feet had grown springs.

"Grant me a demonstration," Dad continued.  "Have the magicians chop off your own hands and replace them with these magic silver hands.  If I am fully satisfied with their performance on your wrists, you shall have your weight in gold for performing the same service for my lovely daughter."

Palancier hustled himself out of court so fast the guards had to run to catch up in order to thrash him.

Stuff like that is funny, except it's my life.  My hands.

#

Thing about stories is, they're almost always true.  Somehow, some way.  Maybe Megrim was forged from Coalheart the Undying's claw and maybe it wasn't.  But I've seen Dad use the sword in battle outside our castle walls against the Red Magician's Horde.  Megrim called lightning from a summer sky, I swear.  So if the stories about Megrim are true, sort of, couldn't the story about the Witch of Wearyall and the spinning wheel and me someday doomed to pricking my finger be true, too?

Could it?

"Don't be a baby," Fuega laughs as she scrubs my back.  "You're scared of some old bat no one's seen for almost sixteen years."

"It ain't you that's going to sleep until the end of time," I grumble, splashing her.

"It's a story.  A fairy story."  She laughs again.  "Besides, the real message is obvious.  Even you can get it.  Come on, Rosita."

I lower myself in the tub until just my nose and lips are above water and Fuega's voice echoes through the copper plating.  It makes her into a sort of burbling ogre that I can barely understand.

Sometimes that's for the best.

She tweaks my nose, bringing me up shouting and cursing words I'm not supposed to know, only how I can live in a castle full of men with swords and not know them?  If they don't have knives and swords, men just grab themselves all day long like the stableboys -- as Fuega tells me -- so they may as well play with weapons and shout bad words.

Which makes me feel funny about watching His Majesty Dad practicing in the sparring yard with Megrim.

"Listen," Fuega hisses.  She grabs my ear, but not hard like she really means it.  "It's all cock and bull.  The witch, the blood.  They're just scared spitless of what happens when you become a woman.  Once you get your courses, they just wish you'd sleep chaste and beautiful until the perfect man comes along, kisses you awake and takes you away.  No teenage woollie-woollies for their majesties.  No fooling around with the stableboys."

I get tired of her words in my ear like a boiling kettle, so I slap her hand away.  "Stories.  Everyone loves those stupid stories too much.  I've had my courses since I was twelve.  You've seen enough of those stupid bloody cloths to prove it.  The rest is horse poop."

"Sym-bol-ism," she says primly.  That's one of Dog Pie's words, when he thinks no one's listening but us.

"Symbol this," I say.  "My sixteenth birthday is tomorrow.  I'm tired of these stupid gloves.  There's not a spinning wheel within ten leagues of the Maiden Tower.  They were all burned years ago.  Plus Dad has archers and wizards on watch for the Witch of Wearyall.  I want out.  I'm done."

Fuega glances around the room, making sure none of the other maids are too near.  "Remember the plan," she hisses.

What does she know, anyway?  She's not any older than me, but Dog Pie and the soldiers tell Fuega everything, while I just sit around with my thick gloves and try to play the harp and do needlework and stupid stuff like that.

Fuega wasn't there for sake of the Witch of Wearyall's prophecy, anymore than I was.

Well, I was there for the prophecy, actually, but you know what I mean.

#

Fuega planned like she did everything else -- life's a story, life's a game, just puzzle out the rules and figure what you have to do.  We had secret passwords and signs and countersigns, all the game stuff that anyone plays at when they're kids.

Except hers were for serious.

When we were nine, she showed me a hidden passage behind the hearth in the balneary of the Maiden Tower.

"How'd you know about this?" I asked.

"I have my ways."  She was a high-nosed snit even then.

Later, I figured out that Dog Pie had shown it to her.

Fuega wouldn't ever let me go down the passage.  "Just in case," she told me.

"In case of what?"

"I don't come back..."  Arch, conspiratorial.  She was everything I wanted to be.  Most of all, free.

"We can trust Gunther in the stables, and Red Jon, sort of, but never talk to Strawhead Steven about anything."  She glanced up from her crude map of the castle, drawn with water and fingertip on the stones beside the tub.  "Steven would lie about the time of day."

"What will we be running away from?" I finally asked one day in the west rose garden.

"Whatever comes," said Fuega.  "You're a princess.  Bad things sometimes happen."

Well, the worst was about to happen.  I was going to turn sixteen, go to my first ball as guest of honor, and wear these horrible gloves to protect me from spinning wheels that didn't exist.

If I couldn't get rid of the gloves for good, I was going to run away.

#

That night, before the party, His Majesty Dad comes into the Maiden Tower.

Now, it's death for a man to be in the Maiden Tower, so the castellan even keeps woman carpenters and stonemasons around.  Husky women with hairy lips, but Fuega gets along real well with them.  Since Dad's the law and the sword of the law in these parts, I guess if he wants to come to the Maiden Tower no one else is going to say much about it.

I'm up in my room reading Lives of the Saints, which is even less fun than you think.  Dog Pie made me learn to read.  It does help pass the evenings when Fuega is out and only the stupid upstairs maids are around fussing with my clothes.

Dad comes in and he's got Megrim with him.  I immediately think of Palancier, not to mention all the other hare-brained schemes that have come to court since I was old enough to toddle in there and listen, and get a chill ache in my wrists.

"Hey, Rosita," Dad says.  He's got a goofy smile, not an I've-come-to-cut-your-hands-off look.

"Hey."  I pretend to be real interested in St. Poikilo and the fishes.

"Tomorrow's the big day."

I wonder if ordinary girls have these stupid conversations with their parents.  I thumb the page of the book with my big heavy gloves, smearing an illustrated trout.  "Heard from the Witch of Wearyall?"

The snick of Megrim sliding from its manskin scabbard catches my complete attention.  I look up, my breath sharp and shallow, to see Dad kneeling before me with his naked sword.   He's got both hands on the blade, just past the pommel and there's already blood leaking between his fingers.

Oh, God, this is worse than that time with the Red Magician's Horde.  Where was Fuega?

"I swear," says Dad, and he's panting, "by the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins and the steel in my hand, that the Witch of Wearyall will not harm a single, perfect hair on your head, Rosita my daughter."

Oh, crap, I think.  Story time again, and he's deep into it.

#

You know what happened the next day.  It's a tale everyone tells their children in the cradle now.  That one about the witch and spinning wheel and the beautiful sleeping princess.  Stories, nothing but stories in this world, I swear, and even where they're right they still get it wrong.

Ask yourself how Dad got hold of a claw from Coalheart the Undying.  Why everyone was so afraid of me pricking my hands.  What the roses were supposed to guard around Dad's castle.  Did the Witch of Wearyall lay a curse?

Or a blessing?

Here, I'll help.  I'll tell you a story of my own.  Once upon a time a dragon went walking in the world clothed in human skin.  He was a handsome man, and clever besides, but a chink of fear had lodged in the heart of his new body, as it does in the hearts of all men.  He prised a claw from his sleeping true form and took it with him.  Over time, that claw won him a kingdom.  The kingdom won him love.  Love won him children.

But dragons always birth in pairs, so the queen had twins.  One of them was dusky as dirt and earthy besides, with fire in her heart.  Truly the dragon's daughter.  The other was pale as a summer rose, with lips like the spring dawn, her mother's image.  Truly a woman of the world.

An old lady with Second Sight saw through the fire-heart and the rose-lips and knew which daughter would someday take wing and wreak havoc as is the nature of her kind.  She placed a blessing on the girls, sealed with a blooming hawthorn branch, promising eternal sleep to the dragon's trueblood daughter in order to save the kingdom and the dragon's earthly love.

Just like in all the stories the blessing was misunderstood and the old woman driven forth with sticks and dung and threats.  Then came the fateful day when the blessing was broken.  The fire-heart fell asleep and the rose-lips took wing and flew.

They were all looking in the wrong direction.

My sword is sharp and I have deeds to do.  If I live as long as Dog Pie promised trueblood dragons can, some day I'll go back and set fire to the thorns and free my sleeping sister.  Maybe Palancier was right.  Too bad.  When I finally caught up to him, he tasted fine, roasted on the run.

Sometimes the stories come true, no matter how crazy they sound.

No matter how crazy they are.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Snazzy new mag

SciFi Max is a brand new science fiction e-zine showcasing original stories, artwork, comic previews and articles. It is an international collaboration. In addition to publishing my short story "Catching Up" in its first issue, it features the first paid promotional advertisement for the Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling (SASS). Hooray!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Sol Invictus"

"It was Friday morning when he noticed Thursday had disappeared."

This is how my latest story, "Sol Invictus", starts. I got the the line from a post I made on Facebook on a friend's wall. I used Dragon software to whip up the first draft today — coming in at 5500 words.

It's about a man who wakes up one morning and find out there's been a time slip and he is now in a world where Christianity never developed into a major world religion and is just one of many small religious cults. The MacGuffin here is the same POD as in my story "Damascus Interrupted".

He is a high school teacher, and the main piece of business in the story revolves around the fact that in an essentially pagan world schoolboy fights are allowed and indeed expected to be murderous. He tries to save a pair of teenagers caught in a bind.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Holiday weekend

Looking forward to spending some time this holiday weekend getting caught up on finishing some short stories in various degrees of completion. I still have to work Monday, but the business side of the newspaper will be closed, so it should be quiet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Taking stock

After sending off a couple of submissions last night and this morning, I see I have a 17 short stories in 18 various slush piles (yes, one story is in two places at the same time). I am still anticipating getting off on a start of a book-length work sometime this year, but there are still about a half-dozen short story ideas I want to work up first.

I suppose if I get maybe two dozen short stories written up and circulating, I can take a break from the short fiction to write something at novel length.

I have a couple of publications coming up that are in the space opera category, and I'm thinking I may be coming up in a year or so with a collection of space opera stories - not my most common variety, but after having written so much over the past 10 years I think I can rustle up at least a dozen with an outer space setting. It may depend, also, on a few potential acceptances.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good news

Got word today that one of my short stories has cleared the first round at a pro-level paying magazine, and is waiting for review by the publisher. As competitive as the short story market is — especially at the pro level — any kind of positive feedback is good.

Many years ago when I was trying to break in the short story market, and my first forays weren't getting anywhere, getting past the first round at Andromeda Spaceways was a major encouragement. Although that particular story didn't sell, I later sold them "The Cast Iron Dybbuk" which appeared, coincidentally, at the same time as "A Rocket for the Republic" in Asimov's during the summer of 2005.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

On being snubbed

The controversy this weekend with Robin Wayne Bailey, who traveled all the way from Kansas City to San Jose, California, to accept an honor on behalf of Frank M. Robinson at the SFWA Nebula awards, reminds me of what happened to me with one panel at the San Antonio Worldcon last summer

They forgot to put the award on the program, and forgot what Robin was there for. Needless to say, he was pissed. Within 24 hours the SFWA was issuing apologies for the obvious flub - which begs the question of how or why did it happen.

I don't think it was any sort of intentional slight. Perhaps what happened to me at WorldCon might shed some light (here I quote some from  my original post):

"There were three woman and me and as we started the panel, since everyone else seemed to hold back, I started off; I really didn't think I would have a lot to contribute, so I thought I say my main spiel at the start and then pipe down.

"Well, I guess the moderator thought I was long-winded and/or boring, because she cut me off in mid-sentence, and then for the next 15 minutes, the three ladies all talked among themselves. This is a phenomenon that has nothing to do with the con; it's an American social phenomenon. Middle-aged American men see it all the time, especially in the workplace. When a cluster of women start talking among themselves, they will pretty much ignore any males around.

"After ten minutes I realized they had forgotten I was there, and I would have dozed off except for the noise."

There was an interruption when someone realized the room for the panel had been messed up, and we all followed a convention officer to a second room where one panelist had been all the time

"Now, while I was sitting on the dais in the first room, I was getting so bored, I thought about going down and being comfortable in the audience. This room change was a great opportunity, then, and when I got to the other room. I sat in the first row and left the ladies to join the young male author on the dais.

"They started right back up a didn't even notice me in the audience, until someone pointed me out, but I told them to carry on, they were doing fine without me."

The other panelists didn't miss me, and just went off on their own world. Some people in the audience obviously thought they were being a bunch of douchebags, and a few guys buttonholed me afterwards and asked me questions they would have if I had been allowed to participate in the panel. We all had a nice visit, and some of the other panelists, when they saw people talking to me, must have realized bad how they looked. All I got were some catty remarks on their exit.

My point is that, when you get a bunch of egotistical artistic types together, they get tunnel vision and end up forgetting there other people out there outside their own tight-knit social circle. SFWA is a badly socially inbred outfit and they probably just forgot Robin was there.

It's wasn't intentional, but it also wasn't right.




Happy anniversary!

Thursday was the 15th anniversary for Patricia and I. We took a day trip to Shreveport Saturday — which is over hundred miles away — to do some dining and shopping. we had lunch at Cheddars and dessert later at a local restaurant called Strawn's. Patricia shopped at Talbert's and Coldwater Creek, and also visited a J. Jill  store. We also stopped at the local Barnes & Noble, where I started the process of possibly having a book signing.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yet more silence

I haven't posted at all this week in an attempt to give my carpal tunnel syndrome a break. This is the worst outbreak I've had so far this year. I'm using Dragon software to dictate this right now.

Things seem to be getting better, however, I hope to be hosting more regularly soon, and also writing.

Not that I don't have a few stories circulating at the time. I have about 16 out right now. One adjective that has been applied to me a few times over the years is "prolific".

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Another good review

Andrew Andrews, the editor and publisher of True Reviews, has reviewed "The Clock Struck None".

---

This collection by Lou Antonelli is marketed as a “collection of alternate and secret history short stories.”

I think these read well:

“The Great White Ship.” A tall tale of a huge and devastating East Texas thunderstorm and the arrival, at a small airport, of a huge white Airship (a dirigible) from an alternate time in America when the Hindenburg never blew up and World War II didn’t end with an atomic bomb.

“Meet Me at the Grassy Knoll.” A junket through time for a multimillionaire sends him to Dallas, Texas, in 1963 – and to examine the mystery of the two men in the grassy knoll. Why do some insist that separate shots were fired? What about the Lone Gunman Theory? And a lesson about how preventing a tragedy can sometimes CAUSE it.

“After Image.” It has been many long years since a major nuclear war transformed a great deal of the planet. One man is recruited to finally stage a scenario to break Texas free of the union – but at what cost in human lives in agony and sorrow?

“Double Exposure.” One of the 1970s-era Kodak photo developing booths appears to a man, Jake DeRidder, desperate to exit his failed life. But the photos he will pick up show him an alternate life that he could have had.

“The Relic.” What was simply a wheel to mount a garden hose is under scrutiny by archeologists thousands of years later, who speculate about its possible religious significance. They really don’t know what to make of a wheel mounted on a wall.

“Damascus Interrupted.” In this alternate history, Christianity is a small, struggling religion in modern times, overtaken by pagan rituals, adapted for the politically stranger world which has evolved from the Roman empire.

“Twilight on the Finger Lakes.” As a young boy, Rod Serling meets up with “Old Henry,” the (very) short story writer William Sydney Porter, who offers sage advice to the admiring young man. This is a book in which Rod lives to convey his own sage wisdom to Paulina, who speaks with the multiple-award-winning scriptwriter and then transfers her knowledge and respect for him down through the ages.

“Tell Gilgamesh I’m Sorry.” Omar Peshtigo is an old man. Really old. He knew, personally, Gilgamesh of Uruk, and in the epochs since, is living as a recluse in East Texas after the Crash. One boy risks it all to visit the legend, but has to come to grips with his own fate – which transforms (in the end) Omar’s history, perhaps for another hundred years. I wish Antonelli would write a novel with Omar alone – it would be fascinating, as this is one of the many rare memorable story characters ever brought to life.

“Black Hats and Blackberrys.” Time and the present can be altered forever by even one text message sent via smartphone – to the past, that is.

You can only postpone, for a time, inevitable history in “Mak Siccar.”

“The Amerikaan Way.” In this alternate timeline, U.S. and South Africa switch places – and circumstances – over Apartheid.

“Wet and Wild.” Speedboat races in the Florida Keys have a new twist in this tale.

---

For a link to the web site, click here:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On collections

"The Clock Struck None" is my third collection in five years; "Fantastic Texas" was published in 2009 and "Texas and Other Planets"in 2010. "Clock" seems to be getting the best reviews of the three so far; the positive review in the Reference Library of Analog is very gratifying.

I picked up two tricks over the years from various writers that have contributed to all these collections. First, I learned from Jay Lake that — while learning of one's craft — it doesn't hurt to submit often and everywhere. There are some authors who only submit to pro publications or publications of a certain level. But I saw a long time ago that Jay Lake was willing to submit to any publication which — in the phrase used by a fellow author once on a panel — "has a pulse". Jay is certainly an accomplished author, and I have to say that I think the constant writing has helped me improve my craft; 82 stories published in 11 years is a testament to that.

I learned from Joe Lansdale that developing a large body of published short stories gives you the ability to assemble a collection whenever needed. Joe has had hundreds of stories published over the years and he can pull together a collection with any theme whenever asked.

Fantastic Texas was obviously a collection of Texas-themed stories. "The Clock Struck None" is all alternate or secret history. Eventually I suppose I will be able to assemble a collection of space opera or time travel stories, too.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Praise for "The Clock Struck None"

The Reference Library column by Don Sakers in the upcoming July-August double issue of Analog focuses on short fiction, specifically collections and anthologies, and he has high praise for "The Clock Struck None":

"It’s possible that you haven’t run into the stories of Lou Antonelli. Since 2003, he’s been publishing delightful short tales of alternate history all over the nooks and crannies of the SF world. Thanks to Fantastic Books, we now have 28 of these little gems in one place.

"Many of Antonelli’s stories have an unexpected twist ending. And many of them are what he calls “secret history” stories, which aren’t exactly alternate history—they’re set in our familiar history, but there’s always some element that contemporary observers missed. For example, take the time travelers in “Meet Me at the Grassy Knoll.”

"As for alternate history, well, one of the included stories, “Great White Ship,” was a finalist for the 2013 Sidewise Award, which is given for outstanding works in the field of alternate history. In “Pirates of the Ozarks” the New Madrid earthquake of 1812 turned the Great Plains into a new sea. “The Starship Theodora” posits a universe in which a Christianized Roman Empire conquered the stars."

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Ouch and double ouch

I'm having my first flareup of carpal tunnel syndrome this year, and it's kept me from doing any writing this week. I hadn't used Dragon software for a few weeks, but I'm back to using it now; that's what I'm using for this post.

I suspect a busy pace at work is responsible for the stress on my hands. May is always the busiest month of the year at a community newspaper, as the school year winds down and there are a myriad of activities. I've been in this business a long time and so I know and expect this, but it's still hard to get it all done and not have your hands ache at the end of the day.

I've started taking Aleeve again, and if need be I can always wear a cold wrap. This too shall pass.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Yikes! I'm not dead!

Jeepers, one of the most common pieces of advice is that you need to post on a regular basis if your blog is to have any value for self-promotion, then I forget and don't post a jot and/or tittle for over a week.

I haven't written anything during this period, but after that burst of writing a half dozen stories after I bought Dragon voice recognition software, I don't think that is all that surprising. I still have 16 stories in various slushpiles, I've only gotten two back in two weeks.

Coming soon!

This is one of my best ever alternate histories.