10 Seemingly Polite (But Actually Racist As F*ck) Things You Need To Stop Saying To People You’ve Just Met

  1. Where are you from? Unless you’re prepared to respond to “I’m from Cleveland” with “You must be happy the Cavs got LeBron back”, do not ask this question of people you’ve just met. Why not? Because in America, the people who get asked that question are almost always people of color, and answering with the name of a US city usually gets “Ok, but where were you born?” as a response. The implication is that if you’re not white, you’re automatically not from here, you must be from somewhere else. The one exception to this is black people, who are usually assumed to be African-American (even if they’re not) because of course we know where they came from, right?
  2. Do you have an American name? If the person you are talking to was born in America or later became a citizen of the United States, their name is their American name. They are American. Even if they’re not, no one is issued an “American name” when they get their passport stamped at the airport on their way into the country. What you’re really saying here is “Do you have a more white-sounding name because I’m not going to bother to learn how to pronounce yours.”
  3. What ethnicity are you? Unless you’re taking a census poll, you do not need to know this when you meet someone. (As a white person, I have never, not once, in my life, been asked what my ethnicity is, even though pale-skinned people are not from the same hegemonious group somewhere in Europe.) If it’s relevant to the conversation, they’ll probably volunteer it. If they don’t, it’s either not relevant, or they may not want you to know.
  4. [greeting them in a foreign language] Unless you know for a fact the person’s ethnicity, place of birth, country they grew up in, and that they speak the language you’re attempting to use on them, AND THEY’VE TOLD YOU THEY ARE FINE WITH YOU SPEAKING TO THEM IN THIS WAY, do not do this. You’re most likely going to be wrong about either the language their ancestors spoke or that person’s ability to speak it, so you’re going to look like an idiot; worse, you’re starting off the conversation with proof you’ve both racially profiled and stereotyped that person, all at once.
  5. Who’s baby is this? when the infant in question is not the exact same skin tone as the adult you’re asking. Really want to be a jackass? Follow up them telling you, “Oh, she’s mine” with “Aww, is she adopted?”
  6. Your jacket/jewelry/outfit is so interesting/pretty/cool, is that from your home country? You know who rarely gets asked something they’re wearing is from their “home country”? White people. But, white people wear “ethnic looking” stuff all of the time. Mexican embroidery on peasant tops, Native American imagery on jewelry, Asiatic dragons on practically everything, and yet, few people ask about it with the idea that it’s somehow representing something specific to that white person. People of color get asked because they’re the other, they’re different, they’re foreign… even when they’re not. (Or do you just not ask white people about the origin of their clothes because you already know it’s appropriation?)
  7. Your hair is so complex/interesting/unusual — it must take a long time to do. Translation: you don’t have white people hair, your life must be hard. I’m so glad I have easy hair.
  8. Your hair is really pretty like that (when the person has a Western/American hairstyle that they don’t always wear). Translation: you made your hair look like white people hair, good job! You’re more acceptable to me now.
  9. What do your parents think of you being/working/living here? If you’re at a strip club, perhaps asking a dancer that question is reasonable — there’s a common misconception that erotic dancers are doing something immoral, and so, maybe their parents wouldn’t like their job. But it’s probably still the wrong thing to ask. When you’re asking it of a person of color, you’re signaling to them that you think it’s weird they’re there. You’re saying that you wouldn’t expect someone like them to have that job, or be in that place, and by phrasing it as a question about their parents, you’re trying to put a polite veneer on excluding them from what you think is “normal” for that place.
  10. Oh, do you know Bob Chu? He’s my neighbor/coworker/employee of a place that I go to. Pro tip: people of the same ethnicity do not automatically all know each other. Even people of the same ethnicity who are all in the same town, or all attending the same convention, do not know each other. By asking this, you’re letting the person know you aren’t going to remember anything about them except their ethnicity, and to you, all of those people are interchangeable and connected. Good job, jackass!

 

On WFC, and doing what you can when everyone thinks you’re wrong

Once again. the 2016 World Fantasy Convention is on the horizon, and it’s plagued by the same sorts of problems it’s had for at least the last several years. The big issue this time is the programming and the programming head, Darrell Schweitzer, who’s online in various places doubling down on the racist, sexist, ableist, old fashioned, and out of touch panel descriptions people have been arguing against since they were first announced. #SFWPro

Some people have pushed back against this, in various ways. The fabulous Ellen Datlow has stepped in to create a couple of new panels (2 YA, 1 MG, and one on contemporary Asian authors) but that’s all she can do, since she wasn’t on programming in the first place. Fran Wilde put herself in the bullseye, using her position as a well-liked and popularly-selling author to force a change in the worst panel descriptions by refusing to be on programming, and didn’t agree to be on one of Datlow’s panels until those changes were made public.

We had already bought our memberships, when they first went on sale in 2015 and we could get 2 for same price as 1 would be later — entirely because it was in Columbus, and my partner was from there. Wanted to show me around. We can’t afford to take the time/money for a “vacation” but combining it with a convention, where we could see friends and do some business… That made sense.

After talking it over with him, I publicly announced that we weren’t going to attend WFC 2017, and wouldn’t buy a membership to 2018 (or any other year) until we saw real change in the con. And then I went to work figuring out how to use my attendance this year to make the most difference.

Which is when I ran into the same problem I see time and time again: When issues arise in the genre community, there’s no right answer. For a lot of us, situations like the current WFC drama are unwinnable. Someone — that you care about, or work with, or need to not piss off because it affects your career or your personal life — will announce that you’re wrong no matter what you do.

For example, here’s my possible choices and what I’ve already been told about them:

  1. If I participate, I’m “committing to a terrible con”.
  2. If I don’t, I’m throwing away the money I paid to go, without it affecting the con runners in any way — I’m not important enough for them to care, and they already have my money.
  3. If I sell the membership, I’m giving up my spot to someone who wants to be there enough to buy a membership, so who probably won’t stand up for what’s right the way I am/would.
  4. If I don’t go, and make a big public point of why I’m not going, I get drama from people who like the con as it is, and that includes industry people, which affects my career.
  5. If I go, appear on a panel, and use that time to broaden the panel description, point out that the original was wrong and why, help enlighten the audience as to the bigger picture they may not be aware of, I’m “showing the programming head he was right to have that panel in the first place, by being on it”. I get drama from people who want the con to change overnight, exactly their way, and that includes industry people, which affects my career.

I want to do what’s right, make the con better, support my friends who are doing the same, and not let the bad parts slide. My decision was to:

Let everyone know we’re not attending 2017 and possible skipping future years too, unless there’s a concrete and visible improvement. Keep reminding programming that I suggested other ideas which were ignored, the panels don’t have a single 100% great topic/description, and they need improvement. Go this year (I have the memberships), be on one panel only, do item #5, and educate people as much as I can. Not buy new memberships until change happens. Keep talking about this issue. If there’s an opportunity to be more involved and fight for more change from the inside, I’ll take it.

And yet… that’s not good enough, or it’s too much, or I’m not being enough of an activist, or I’m causing trouble for no reason. I don’t mind causing trouble, good trouble, when I’m standing up and pushing for change. I can handle the people that don’t like my SJW ways; I am willing to risk my career over doing what I think is right.

But the folks who say they’re allies and activists and then get dismissive and rude because I’m not doing *enough* or “other writer” isn’t? You’re ignoring the emotional effort it takes to do this work in the first place. The people who hadn’t bought a ticket and weren’t going anyway but expect those who were to just drop out now? That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? You already weren’t invested.

The truth is that big, old fashioned, institutions like WFC can stand to lose a couple of dozen left-leaning people who don’t attend regularly; they can ignore the people who aren’t buying memberships. Readercon and Wiscon didn’t change because people stopped going — they changed because people who cared enough to GOT INVOLVED and made those cons better. We need bloggers and Twitter shouters and people who’ll stand up and say, “This is wrong and it needs to change,” but we also need the people who’ll draft the programming and be on accessibility committees and show up. The people who sit on those panels and bring something new to the audience, rather than the stale and repetitious same old.

To those who want to keep things rooted in the past, in some imaginary world where white men were the bestest most influential writers, and women and PoC and queer folk only had a few good books or stories so we don’t need to talk about them much: you’re missing out on unique, beautiful, entertaining and moving and memorable stories by those people you’re ignoring in favor of your long-dead heroes. You’re missing out on the way the genre community is changing now, growing and evolving and becoming something amazing to be a part of. If you insist on fighting against the tide, we’ll eventually drown you. I welcome you to get on the boats with us, though. Make a place for all of us, and we’ll ensure there’s still a place for you.

To those who care more about being able to say that they are right than actually doing right: You’re not just tearing down the institutions. You’re tearing down the people who are working to make bring those institutions into the 21st century. You’re making it harder for people to stand up; you’re wearing on us, just the same way the folks on the other side of the fight are. If you want real change, support everyone who’s making an effort, at least a little, and save the derision for the ones who stand in our way.

To those who are taking heat from both sides to make WFC — or any other part of the genre community — a better place: I love you, and I’m with you, and you’re going to make a difference. Don’t give up.

Even when it feels like everyone thinks you’re wrong.

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #4: Dachshunds from Mars

I recently asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts, and from those, I wrote five micro and flash fiction stories to share here on my site. The others are:

This story is courtesy of Bryan Thao Worra, who suggested “Dachshunds from Mars”, which of course I wrote. (Dachshunds are an easy sell to my brain, right up there with dinosaurs and robots.) Here is my 467-word interpretation of that prompt:

#SFWAPro

Dachshunds from Mars

“Cut!” the director yelled. A bell rang, and the set ground to a stop. On the other side of the camera, the buxom blond teen wearing the shimmery gold bikini and fishbowl astronaut helmet froze.

“I did it again, didn’t I?” she asked, her words muffled by the helmet.

“Candy, baby, if you can’t hit your mark, I’m gonna have to replace you,” the director said. He was a portly man in his late forties with a megaphone and a look of perpetual exhaustion. “You’re blocking the dogs.”

Candy glanced down, and jumped back a little. With her out of the way, the two stiff-backed dachshunds — still holding their positions (facing stage-right, heads held high so the overhead lights didn’t reflect off their miniature helmets) — were perched at the top of a mound of red-tinted sand. “Sorry, pups,” she said, her voice high pitched and contrite.

“Places!” the director called out. The larger of the dogs, a short-haired male with a black and brown dappled coat, immediately turned, walked down to the bottom of the dirt mound, and raised one paw in the air, ready to move forward. His co-star, a long-haired female (white, with large black spots), followed him, setting herself slightly in front of him, and a little behind, so the camera could clearly see them both.

She looked over at Candy for a moment, and shook her head slightly.

“What’s that?” the director asked of the dog trainer, who was sitting in the chair next to him. “Her helmet not on right?”

“Oh, no,” the man said, “Sadie’s just… picky about who she works with.”

“Yeah, well, she’s not in charge of our budget,” the director muttered, “or she’d understand why we hired the producer’s daughter.” Louder, he shouted, “All right, ready?” through the megaphone.

Candy quickly moved to position a few steps behind the dogs. “I’ll get it right this time!” she yelled back.

“I swear to God…” the director whispered, before yelling, “Action!”

Music swelled, the dogs walked forward, backs straight, head’s high, climbing the Martian hill toward the climactic final scene and —

Candy tripped, and fell, showering the dogs in a rain of red sand.

“Cut!” the director yelled. “What’s going on? Did she land on the dogs? Somebody check the damn dogs!”

The dust settled, and the two dachshunds strode purposefully, unhurt, to the front of the stage. Sadie put her head down and used one paw to take her helmet off. Beside her, Kauaʻi did the same. As one, they looked at Candy — who was shaking sand out of her bikini — looked back at the director, and walked off stage.

“I guess we’ll be in our trailer,” their trainer said, and hurried after them.

The director sighed. “Candy, baby…” he said, “we gotta talk.”

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #3: Getting To Know You

I recently asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts, and from those, I wrote five micro and flash fiction stories to share here on my site. The others are:

This story is courtesy of John Teehan, who suggested a “shape-changing battle a la SWORD IN THE STONE, but more contemporary.” Here is my 470-word interpretation of the moment when the fight is over:

#SFWAPro

Getting To Know You

Arthur lay on his side, panting heavily, his right arm still transforming back from fish to man. Across the room, Kyle was draped half across the couch, half on the floor, coughing up water.

“Are we done?” Arthur asked. Kyle, spitting out one last mouthful, nodded. “Oh, good,” Arthur said, “Your parking meter has probably expired already.”

Kyle groaned, forcing himself up into a seated position, and smoothed wet black hair out of his eyes. “You started it,” he said, not quite unkindly.

Arthur shrugged, remembered his bruised ribs, and asked, “How’s that?”

“You clicked on my profile first,” Kyle said.

“I did not. I saw that you’d been checking me out, and looked at your page. And you messaged me first.”

“You invited me over.”

“Yeah, okay,” Arthur admitted. “I did do that. But you turned me into squirrel while I was getting us a glass of wine.”

“You were cute as a squirrel,” Kyle said, managing a slight grin. “If you’d stayed a squirrel, we wouldn’t have made a mess.”

“I am not going to stay a squirrel. I am a much better fox.” Arthur felt around on the floor near him, locating his glasses, and putting them back on his face. He saw Kyle more clearly, and frowned. “Your eye is going to be black tomorrow.”

“I’ll fix it,” Kyle replied. “Or I could keep it and tell everyone you were mean to me on our first date.”

“What? You turned into a wolf and chased me around the livingroom!” Arthur gestured at the room. “Look at this mess?”

“Wolf paws are a little hard to maneuver on. They’re big,” Kyle replied. “You need a new couch anyway.”

“It was a gift.”

Kyle looked down, and then back at Arthur, catching his gaze and staring directly back. “It’s gold corduroy.”

“It’s vintage,” Arthur tried, not entirely sure whether it was or not. “Fine, it’s ugly. But you still can’t manage your paws.”

“I’ll practice that,” Kyle said back, grinning now, “If you put some serious time into your falcon. You hit every single one of these walls, flying like you didn’t know how physics works.” He leaned forward slightly, and added. “That orange and silver fish was pretty hot though. I liked that one.”

“It’s a koi,” Arthur said, blushing slightly.

“Do you want to come sit with me?” Kyle asked softly. Arthur nodded, got to his feet, and walked – carefully, stepping over bits of fabric and broken glass – to the couch, taking a seat a half foot away from his date. “I am sorry about your fish tank,” Kyle said. “My pacu form is kinda big.”

“I can get another tank,” Arthur said. “Maybe you can help me pick it out?”

“Great!” Kyle said happily. “I was just going to ask what you were doing tomorrow night.”

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #2: Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits

I recently asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts, and from those, I wrote five micro and flash fiction stories to share here on my site. The others are:

This story is courtesy of Leeman Kessler, who suggested the first line of the story. I wrote the rest, for a total of 1200 words — the longest “flash” story I wrote this week — posted below.

#SFWAPro

Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits

“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Mayor, but the rabbits are back.” At least Siobhan was kind enough to look sympathetic when she said it.

Evan Mikumba smiled slightly. “Thank you,” he said. “You may send them in.” She nodded and left.

Easy for her to feel sorry for me, he thought. She doesn’t have to find a way for us to live together. He shuffled random papers on his table, trying to put the thought out of his head. He didn’t have any proof that the rabbits could read his mind, but they had an uncanny ability to discern the mood of the humans around them. Evan didn’t want his city to end up like that village, Oswald, that collapsed a few miles away.

This group of rabbits had made contact with them, first.

Evan focused on his mental list: Easter bunnies, Beatrix Potter bunnies, Pat the Bunny… He took a deep breath, and forced himself to relax.

They padded in softly, the rabbit envoy and her brood-staff, on all fours. They moved with a jerky, jumping motion that Evan carefully avoided thinking of as a ‘hop’. It was only when he stood up that the rabbits, taking their places in the room, sat back on their heels.

Evan walked around the desk, putting his hand out. “Envoy,” he said as a greeting. She put out her paw, and he shook it, once. Her huge white muzzle came to just below his chin, but the tops of her stiff ears were over his head. She watched him with enormous orange eyes.

Velveteen Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You?

“What I can do for you?” he asked.

“We agree to dig our warrens deeper,”she replied, her voice so high-pitched it hurt his ears. “No more of your buildings will collapse.”

“Wonderful! Our engineers can help-”

“Not needed,” the Envoy said, cutting him off. “We know the earth.”

“Of course,” he said. “You’re right. Thank you.”

The Envoy’s furry face was impossible to decipher. Her whiskers twitched.

“Your food offering is not acceptable,” she said. “We need more, to make peace.” One ear flicked, and from behind her, a slightly smaller, brown-haired rabbit stepped forward.

“We need food for fifty mouths more,” it said. Evan couldn’t guess at its gender. “We visit the amount again in one year.” He wondered at its color. Is this what ‘nut brown’ means? Out loud, he said, “I can get the council to agree to that, if you will fill in the tunnels by the end of the month. We have houses and businesses, whole blocks closed off. My people need to go home.”

“Yes. There is more.” The Envoy looked at him, unblinking, for a long moment. “We also needed the Elgin.”

Evan was startled. He took a step back. “What?”

“The Elgin man. We took him, to make peace.”

“I told you that Doctor Clark is an old man. We agreed that we weren’t going to turn him over. How did you get to him?”

“We took the house. From below.”

Evan jumped, startled. The largest rabbit in the back of the room, a monstrosity of muscle under black and white spotted fur, stepped forward, teeth bared.

“The Elgin, for peace,” the Envoy repeated without flinching. “You were given time to provide him. Decide now if you want peace to continue.” Without waiting for an answer, she flicked her ears, signaling the other rabbits, who dropped to all fours and filed out of Evan’s office.

Evan waited. Siobhan came in a minute later, and shut the door behind her. “They’re gone,” she said quietly. “What did they want?”

“Nothing much,” he lied. “Get Sheriff Lee and that professor from the university on the phone. Have them meet me up the quarry in 30 minutes.”

“Why do you need them, Mr. Mikumba?” Siobhan was obviously worried – her brows were furrowed and her pale blue eyes were tearing up. “My uncle was Oswald. Are we safe here?”

“It’s fine, Siobhan. We just need to organize the food for the rabbits, and we’re looking at the quarry for storage.” He moved closer to her, putting one hand firmly on each of her shoulders. “This is all going to work out.” He grabbed his coat from the back of his chair, and left.

At the quarry, Evan stood by the edge, looking down in the brackish water far below. Behind him, he heard cars approaching on the gravel road. The cars stopped; doors opened and shut.

I liked Bunnicula, Evan thought. I really did.

“What’s this about, Mikumba?” Sheriff Lee called out. Evan turned around. Lee wasn’t a big man, but his thick Texas accent and oversized swagger made him seem larger. Next to him, Dr. Kessler seemed too tall, too lanky, too pale for a man who’d lived a decade under the southern sun.

Evan explained his meeting. Lee swore at regular intervals, a colorful mix of Korean words and good ol’ boy phrases that Evan had asked him, more than once, not to use in public. Kessler was silent until Evan finished.

“I can tell you there’s no way to safely exterminate these animals,” Kessler said. “Clark tried, for decades. Explosives, electricity, fire. He was never been able to get them all.”

“What about chemicals?” Evan asked. Kessler shrugged.

“Hormones caused this in the first place. Clark kept experimenting on them, made them smaller, but accidentally made them a lot smarter, too. They evolved vocal chords. It’s, it’s…” he moved his hands in the air wildly. “It’s impossible, and yet, here they are. Creating a government and making demands.”

“I’ve been tellin’ ya it ain’t no accident they burrowed under the city,” Lee said. “They had a plan all along.”

“My studies would lead me to agree with the Sheriff,” Kessler said. “The seismic team hasn’t been able to radar every inch of the warren, so it likely extends far beyond what we’re estimating, as well. I’ve gotten reports that some of those tunnels come up higher under strategically placed targets. If we don’t comply…”

“The city falls down,” Lee finished for him. Kessler shrugged again.

“Exactly.”

“What about the National Guard?” Kessler asked. “I haven’t seen them since they rolled out last month.”

“They were recalled,” Lee told him. “President won’t send the Army against talking rabbits. He’s considering a ‘diplomatic solution’, he says. As if my 12 gauge ain’t diplomatic.”

“Didn’t some of your deputies already try that?”

“Well, I told ’em not to, but yeah, a couple of the stupid ones went off on their own. Didn’t none come back.”

“If we can’t fight them, we need to appeal to them,” Evan said. “We can’t allow them to just take man for whatever kind of justice rabbits come up with.”

“Oh, I think Clark is gone already,” Kessler said. “Rabbits fight to the death, and eat the loser. It’s, uh, really quite violent.”

“Bunnies are supposed to be cute,” Lee said, shaking his head. “I had a pet bunny as a kid. Loved that thing.” He sighed.

Guess How Much I Love You? Evan thought.

“What choice do we have? I’ve decided: we work together,” he said aloud. “For peace.”

Flash Fiction Challenge #1: “Visitation of Irba”

I recently asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts, and from those, I wrote five micro and flash fiction stories to share here on my site. The others are:

This story is courtesy of Paul Michael Anderson, who suggested a story with an orphan and an old man, using the Christ story. All in a flash length piece of fiction. (No pressure, right?) That idea resulted in 1185 words — the top of what’s usually considered “flash” — posted below.

#SFWAPro

Visitation of Irba

“It’s hot,” Dominik said, pulling at the sweat-damp fabric of his shirt with his slender fingers. “I don’t like it out here.” The little boy sighed then, a long breath that seemed to pull his whole body down as he exhaled. “It’s been all day already,” he said.

“It’s my birthday,” he added hopefully, after a while.

“Of course it is, little bunny,” the old man replied. He was the only other person Dominik could see, in any direction. “That’s why we’re here.”

Dominik looked around. “The sun is setting, though.”

“I’m sorry,” the old man said. “I thought it would be sooner, but we need to wait for it to happen.” He opened a pocket on his faded grey jacket. “I have saved this for you,” he said as he handed over an orange lollipop, still in a wrapper. “It is the last one, so take your time.”

“The last one ever, Grandpa?”

“Maybe,” the man said. “I hope not. Orange is my favorite flavor.”

“Mine, too.” Dominik unwrapped it carefully, handing over the torn plastic. His grandfather tucked the wrapper into his pocket, hand trembling slightly.

“Tell me about that one,” Dominik said, pointing at his grandfather’s chest before plopping the candy into his mouth. A faint breeze kicked up dust at their feet.

“It’s when they made me a general.”

“And that one?” Dominik asked around a mouthful of lollipop, pointing at a different medal.

“That was for living.”

“You get a medal for living?”

“You do when you’re the only one,” his grandfather said quietly. After a moment of silence, he added, “It was for Volgograd. For the battles.”

“I remember that one. The smoke blacked out the sun.”

“Volgograd was lost before you were born. You’re thinking of when Leninsk fell.”

“Oh.”

The air stilled, hot and dry.

After a while, Dominik took the lollipop stick from his mouth, slightly chewed. He rolled it between his fingers, back and forth. The old man took a worn handkerchief from his pants pocket and dabbed at his brow, watching the child, but saying nothing. Eventually, Dominik put his hand out, holding the stick above the hardened dirt. He looked at his grandfather.

“Why does it matter if we drop our trash?” Dominik asked, not for the first time. He hadn’t let go of the stick, though.

“You know why.” Dominik didn’t speak. “Fine,” the man said, “you will hear it again. We’ve destroyed enough of this world. The cities are gone. Even villages like what used to be here, are gone. Your parents – my daughter Marya – all gone.” The man coughed, a tiny sound, quickly muffled when he put the handkerchief to his mouth.

When he took it away, Dominik could see spots of red on it. “I’m sorry, Grandfather,” he said. He put the lollipop stick into the pocket of his shorts, and made a show of patting his pocket. “There. It won’t fall out.” He smiled, the first time in hours.

“I need you to be a good boy,” the man said, “because I was not.” He picked up the bottle at his feet, and shook it. Only a little water remained, sloshing around the bottom.

Dominik looked at the bottle thirstily, but didn’t reach for it. Instead, he asked, “Will you tell me a story? From when you were my age?”

The man placed the bottle into Dominik’s hands, gently pushing it toward him. As the boy gulped down the last of the water, a distant rumble grew closer. The ground trembled beneath their feet, and then stopped. Dominik looked all around in a panic, but his grandfather put a hand on his shoulder.

“When I was exactly your age,” he said, “I lived in the village this used to be. We called it Irba. The stone we sit on used to be the wall of the church where I was baptized.” He coughed again – Dominik grabbed his arm, but his grandfather gently waved him off. “I am fine, little bunny. Everything will be good again soon.” But he looked older than he had that morning, and in the places where he wasn’t red from the sun, his skin was gray.

“I was a happy child,” the man continued. “I loved being here with my mother. Her name was Marya, too.”

Dominik made a face. “I don’t remember her.”

“My mother died before you were born.”

“No,” Dominik said quietly. “I don’t remember my mother. Maybe, but I’m not sure.”

The old man took the child into his arms then, holding him stiffly, without saying anything for several minutes. When he spoke, his voice cracked.

“My father died before I was born, so all of my early happiness was due to my mother. She was a saint, and she loved me. But when she married my step-father, Josef, all of my days were joy. He loved us both, and made certain we knew it.”

Something black streaked overhead, falling impossibly fast at the earth before them, trailing smoke. It crashed, throwing up debris and noise and a hot wind that rushed through the scraggly trees and blew dust into their faces. Dominik cried out, and buried his face in his grandfather’s jacket.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” the man said softly. “It’s far away. Now listen, quick, listen – the day is almost over, so it’s going to happen soon, the reason we’re here.” He coughed, hard, then continued. “When I was exactly your age, an angel came to me. An angel, Dominik! It was glorious.”

The boy looked up, tears making his dirty face. “Here?”

“Yes, right here. This exact spot. It came to me and offered me a path to heaven. A chance to be righteous and good, to heal the world.” The old man, older now, older than Dominik had ever seen him, his eyes wet, stared directly out in front of them. “I was foolish, though. I wanted to be a carpenter like my step-father. I didn’t want my mother to see me as anything but her little boy. I said no.

“I said no, and the world died.”

Dominik jumped up suddenly, pointing at a distant figure at the edge of the treeline, too far away to make out. “Who is that?”

His grandfather squinted. “I do not know. It doesn’t matter, the sun is setting, look!” Dominik could see the sky had become orange, the color of dusk, the color of candy. “It will be any moment now, Dominik, please!” The old man grabbed the child by the shoulders, turning him around.

In the distance, the one figure had become many.

“You can say yes. You can be better than I was.”

“I don’t want to leave you.”

“You won’t. You won’t! I will always be with you. But you can fix all of this. You can save us.”

The boy was crying hard now. Far away, the figures could be heard shouting, indistinguishable sounds growing closer.

“The angel will come. Don’t be scared. Any moment now, the angel will come.”

Dominik nodded. “Because it’s my birthday, right grandfather?”

The old man hugged him tight.

Fred Coppersmith’s Favorite Stories of 2016 (includes my @apexmag tale!)

Over on Twitter, author and publisher Fred Coppersmith has been tweeting about stories he likes all through the year. He starts off with my Apex Magazine story, “That Lucky Old Sun“. Thanks, Fred!

He’s curated the whole list on Storify, which I’ve embedded below:

#SFWApro

Updates and News (July 2016 edition)

#SFWAPro

In July:

DSC_0018

Abutilon (Flowering Maple) after the rain, Ithaca, New York

I started taking photographs again. Not many, yet, but I’m trying to get back into it, when I have the time. The idea that I can share a beautiful moment without having to be front and center, letting the image speak for me, is very comforting. In a way, I can be social and introverted at the same time, which suits me best.

I wrote, too, a little bit. A poem about being frustrated at the inevitable whiteness of public grief when the media covers dead and injured people of color. More words on the new stories for my Mythos collection. (You can still get it for yourself by pre-ordering it via PayPal for $2, or donating to the fundraiser in exchange for rewards like podcasts and beta reads and art.)

DSC_0022

Landlocked, Canadice Lake, New York

I took a day for myself — who does that? So novel! — to drive out to the middle of nowhere to meet Mercedes, and it was lovely.

I had sales and publications, too:

Sold a reprint of my flash story “Call Center Blues” to Luna Station Quarterly.

kblj-issue-3-cover

Issue 1.3 of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal came out, and it includes my weird SF story, “One Echo Of An August Morning”. I blogged about it here.

I updated my Amazon wish list with some things that will help my life, if you like me enough to support me that way. You can also support me through my Patreon, which gets you poetry and microfiction at the moment, and will host longer stories when more people sign up.

One of the most important things I did was…

I got set up to once again teach my favorite online workshop: Better Writing Through Brevity: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash! And I blogged about why you should take this class from me, here. It’s entirely online, it’s less expensive than similar workshops offered anywhere else, and it’s starting in a month, so please, check it out, and tell your friends.

I also wrestled, mostly quietly and to myself, about my work as a freelancer. Most of you know that I went back to editing and content creation full-time because it’s the only job I can work around my son’s special needs, at least until I can finish college and have a real degree to back up my decades of experience (which should let me find a better paying dayjob where I have some seniority and flexibility). I love editing, I love writing, but freelancing is more than those things, and when it’s your only income, it’s frightening.

(Need an editor? I’m available!)

July was my best month as a freelancer so far this year — I got more done, on time! and secured some new work, got paid, too — but it’s still not enough to even cover the rent. I’m very glad to be recovering (recovered?) from being sick for so long; I feel good, I’m getting things done, and I feel confident going forward that I can do more and more. I’ve been chasing new kinds of work: in addition to editing, I did a lot of writing on spec, and at least some of that should pay off eventually. After not having the brain to do a workshop all year, I’m finally ready to do a new one, and a few people have signed up so far, which helped my July income. 

On the other hand, it’s tough to work 40+ hours a week, pull a couple of all nighters, chase every opportunity I can think of — on top of parenting my child — to bring in less than I need to give my landlord this week. Much less the other unpaid bills. It’s disheartening, is what it is.

I admit that I struggle, sometimes, to get up every day and do it again. I hope August is better.

(The list of what I did in June is here.)

New Workshop: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash (and why you should take it)

#SFWAPro

I’m once again teaching my favorite online workshop: Better Writing Through Brevity: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash!

In this class, you will read, write, critique, and edit short fiction of various lengths, including 140 characters, 1 sentence, 100 words, six sentences, under 500 words, and under 1000. Previous students of this class have sold their final pieces to semi- and pro-rate SFF markets. They’ve made friends and contacts — many of them still keep in touch. Most importantly, they’ve been able to take the lessons learned here and apply it to longer stories, and even novels. Once you know how to write well while writing small, you’ll find the benefits across every piece of writing you do.

Why take this workshop from me?

  • I’ve taught it several times before; I know how to present the information so you get the most out if it, on a schedule that works around whatever else you need to prioritize in your life (day job, family, school) and can be accessed by people of different skill levels, online, in different time zones, all over the world.
  • It’s a community, for 4 weeks (and sometimes beyond). I still hang out with many of the writers who’ve taken the workshop. If you’re looking to meet new people who understand the joys and struggles of writing, this could help you.
  • I’ve edited hundreds of short pieces of fiction, both as a freelance editor, and as the head of Lakeside Circus, a magazine devoted to work under 2500 words, so I know what works.
  • As an author, I’ve published microfiction and flash fiction for years. Some of my favorite pieces are:

CLASS BEGINS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 2, 2016.

THIS IS A GUARANTEED START DATE, SO SIGN UP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

You can read more about the workshop and sign up here (link goes to my freelance editing website).

“One Echo Of An August Morning” Now Live at Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal

kblj-issue-3-cover

Issue 1.3 of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal is out now, and it includes my weird SF story, “One Echo Of An August Morning”. It’s about math and time and the sound of silence…

I close my eyes to shut out the sight of it but with my face flushed and the blood rumbling in my ears I feel trapped inside my own head. Opening them again, I see the light remains the same as it did at 10:46 am on August the 11th, when I opened the back door onto a new dimension and found only my own deck. If I’d been half the scientist I thought I was, I wouldn’t have let the door shut behind me when I wandered a few steps, looking for a sign that I was somewhere different. I would have realized the sounds of my own footsteps were too loud in my ears, that it was not just a very quiet morning in my little university town. If I had told someone else what I was doing, if I wasn’t trying to prove a theory the doctoral committee had already dismissed, if I hadn’t been alone when the lights blinked green and the gate came online –

I can chase that rabbit down the hole forever without ever getting to Wonderland. I was a grad student with insomnia, 400 feet of 12 gauge copper wire, and 3 notebooks full of equations. I shouldn’t have discovered anything at all.

View the issue online here!

#SFWAPro