2022 Award Eligibility Post

Wow! This was definitely my most productive year in terms of published stories!

I’d be most pleased if you’d consider these stories for any of the various SF and fantasy awards: Hugo, Nebula, etc.

Thanks for your time, and I hope you enjoy checking these out!

Short Stories and Flash

The Paleoneirologist’s Dreams“, Tree and Stone. (Science fantasy, 560 words).

Dreams persist in the bones.

Reenactment“, penumbric speculative fiction mag. (Paranormal, 3100 words)

“They’ll keep killing you until you stay dead.”

“How Do You Erase A Blank?”, Stranged Writing: A Literary Taxonomy (Literary fantasy, 240 words)

“That’s not…not…” I trailed off, eliciting a smirk.

Drabbles (exactly 100 words)

“Tell Me Your Story”, Planetside Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

One sun-seared ball of iron, one seething world wrapped in CO2 and sulfuric acid…

Fight Me“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

Static crackling around the multiverse portal stood my hair on end.

Mr. Giz“, Stupefying Stores (SF)

Three hundred pounds of robot plunked down, shaking the house.

This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

I had a hunch: “Overlay Earth’s position on my HUD.”

Fencepost“/”Tree“, Worlds of Possibilities Patreon/Anthology, Worlds of Possibility podcast (SF, Fantasy)

“A tree,” I muttered, “is not a fencepost.”

Daffodil Ghosts“, Sylvia. (Fantasy)

My wife’s life-worn face lights up.

Robot Coal“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

The iron jaw grates as it fashions a broken grin.

“Metallurgist”, Wyrms: An Anthology of Dragon Drabbles. (Fantasy)

The goggled and besmocked dragon metallurgist…

Human, Right?“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

“You’re safe.” Green skin, three hands–a hemsi medic

Falling In Love At Verona Rupes“, Martian, The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (SF)

The minister leaps, then the groom. The wedding party plummets after them…

There’s so much good writing out there nowadays, so I thank for giving these stories your consideration! Keep reading!

About Fight Me

My story, “Fight Me,” is up on the Martian Magazine website, and also appears in Martian’s Fall 2022 quarterly issue (#6).

This story came about as a reaction to “person encounters a version of themself from a parallel dimension” storylines. Frequently one or the other of these multi-dimensional twins are some kind of highly-trained, highly-competent expert, like a soldier or spy, or is filthy rich. While the other is often a hapless, or sometimes worse–on-the-skids–individual that gets taken under their wing after working some things out to establish a relationship.

That’s all fine, but what if it’s just two ordinary people, who for some reason or another find themselves seriously at odds with each other, but neither has any particular set of skills that would give one the advantage?

How’s that accountant fight going to play out?

About Mr. Giz

My 100-word story for the Stupefying Stories “Breakdown” contest, “Mr. Giz,” has been posted.

This was just a fun little story to write and I’m happy it found a place on the contest podium.

Coming up with the name “Mr. Giz ” was the part of it I worried over the most, since it had to do double duty 😸

About Reenactment

My story, Reenactment, about a very tired, burnt out “superhero” possessing an extremely specific superpower with limited utility and a high cost is up now at Penumbric Speculative Fiction.

What led to my writing Reenactment was that I’m pretty ‘meh’ on superhero movies and franchises like the MCU. I was thinking about this while walking down the hall at work one day and realized that I ought then to write a superhero story that interested me. One where the cost of exercising their power took a serious toll on the one blessed/cursed with it. The power in question then could not be one that is indiscriminately deployed–the high cost to the wielder would preclude that. So how high a cost? And how would that power and that cost manifest itself?

SPOILERS more or less from this point forward…

What if exercising their power put their life at risk? And let’s say it didn’t just “risk” their life, but one hundred percent guaranteed their death without medical intervention? And could I somehow make the certainty of death intrinsic to the nature of the superpower?

Yes.

And that’s how the Reenactment superpower, if you even want to call it that, came to be. It’s not a “fun” superpower, it’s not invisibility, or tremendous speed or strength, or moving things with your mind. It’s not shooting lasers from your eyeballs, or defying gravity, or being bulletproof (especially not being bulletproof!). Chrys literally reenacts the last few moments of a dead person’s life–not just the kinetic movements of their body, but also the fatal physical injuries that killed them. Chrys will die from these injuries, just as the person who originally suffered from them did. The only chance for survival is that by knowing in advance what the injuries are going to be–for example being shot or stabbed–a medical team can be prepped and ready to intervene the instant those injuries occur.

“Where are the medics?” he gasped over the sudden roaring in my ears. “We have to wait! You’ll kill him!”

Imagine the toll this takes. Not just physically, where Chrys suffers all the pain of the injury and has to go through recovery and rehabilitation, but mentally as well. They are literally minutes (or seconds!) from death, and totally reliant on a significant medical intervention to save their life. And not all physical injuries, especially those that are normally fatal, can be completely healed. Pain builds up, it persists. Old “war wounds,” if you will, grind one down over the years. Until Chrys finally says, “No more.”

It’s sort of amazing that Chrys exercised their power at all–the circumstances where it can be exploited are extremely rare…and always traumatic. Two things have to happen in tandem: the “bad guy” has to be doing something critical that can be subsequently undone if only it’s known what they did (like entering a bomb’s arming code), and they have to die suddenly and quickly just after performing this mystery action.

Chrys primes reenactment by holding the dead person’s hand–and it’s a minute-per-minute priming. Want to reenact the last five minutes of that person’s life? Then Chrys has to hold onto them for five minutes. (One aspect of this “priming” I wanted to bring out was that there’s nothing special about it–as I mentioned above, Reenactment is not a “fun” superpower. When priming, there’s “[n]o power surge, no crackle of ‘life energy,’ no infusing warm flow nor breathtaking, bracing chill. Just me holding a dead man’s still warm, bloody hand.”)

Chrys lost three people in the neighborhood where they grew up to gunfire, and subsequently undergoes three near death experiences, before Edgar Marquez gets wind of these events and recognizes what Chrys is. He intervenes and saves the very confused Chrys’ from a premature death (by their own hand or another’s), and gives them a way out. But is it really a way out? Really?

How many times is one willing to reenact a (near) death out of patriotism, or loyalty, or gratitude?

Eventually even Edgar tells Chrys to get out. To get away from the monsters–if Chrys somehow gets that one last opportunity to do so…and sticks with it.


In my short stories I try to weave in resonant threads–bits of foreshadowing, or repeated dialog or imagery. It’s not necessarily noticeable at first read, but I think it helps to hold the story together, if perhaps only subconsciously. I just want to point out a couple of them in this story.

The first one literally opens it:

Incoming call–a hip hop ringtone, “Deja Vu”

Having read Reenactment by now, it’d be hard to be any more obvious! But the reader doesn’t know that when they pick up the story, so it’s there to quietly plant a seed they’re unlikely to notice at the time.

Also in the opening scene, when Chrys learns who was killed, there’s this:

A cold dead bullet passes through my heart.

Let me just ask: How is Edgar killed? What is the last thing Chrys is going to reenact?

I’m going to level with you. These and other embedded threads and references aren’t all planned out ahead of time, and rarely written into the first draft. My process is to write the first draft and then edit, edit, edit. Then do more editing, and more, and more, and more and more and more. (It’s not everyone’s process, but it works for me.) Sometimes during the countless revisions I notice a connection between different parts of the story, or something sorta resonates with another part. I’ll see that, and tease out a thread, revising and strengthening that connection.

There are more, but that’s all I’ll highlight. I will say, though, that just as the first line of Reenactment includes a forward reference, the final line harks back to an earlier scene, which I’ll leave for the reader to uncover 🔍

About Fencepost and Tree

Julia Rios has published my paired drabbles, Fencepost and Tree–as bookends of the August 2022 issue of Worlds of Possibility. Worlds is initially distributed to their Patreon subscribers and the stories will appear in a subsequent Worlds of Possibility anthology.

I’d like to take a moment here to talk a bit about the development of each of the stories.

Fencepost

The region where I live in North Alabama has been a mix of farms, pasture, hills, and woods for decades. The portion of my property where my house lies was a cleared pasture eighty years ago, then overgrown, then cleared again about forty years ago for pasture and the house built by the previous owner, and now is partly regrown since I bought it twenty years ago (the pasture is now the front yard).

Raising cattle around here requires clearing pasture land, and then fencing it in. Fence posts are driven into the ground and barbed wire run. With the ebb and flow between pasture and woods here over the years though, sometimes when an area is cleared for pasture the cattle farmer saves themselves the effort of putting in a fence post by attaching the barbed wire strands directly to an adjacent tree. While the cattle may eventually go away, the wire fences often remain.

As the tree grows, it eventually grows over and envelopes the wire fence strands within itself. Once that’s happened, it’s going to stay there until the tree eventually dies. Trees can live for a long time like this–a constant reminder that it was once considered merely a convenient post for fencing in cattle.

Once it’s fully embedded, attempting to remove the wire will certainly do more harm than good. The best once can do is cut the strands to relieve a bit of the strain imposed on it by tautly drawn wire.

If only, I thought, something could burrow in and “feed” on that iron, breaking it down to rust. Carefully and professionally applied to just where it was needed so as not to get out of control. What a relief that would be for the trees that had to suffer this indignity! Keeping in mind that the crumbling of the strand would leave holes leading directly into the heartwood, leaving the tree vulnerable to insects or fungal infections. One should do more than just seal the holes, perhaps apply a healing salve to repair the damage? I think a tree would like that.

Shortly after submitting “Fencepost” to Julia Rios‘ call for submissions to their Worlds of Possibility project, it turned out that they liked this idea as well and accepted the story.

But that wasn’t all, as it turned out. Julia contacted me to ask if I’d consider writing a companion piece–from the tree’s point-of-view. Ohhhhh-kay. What is a tree’s POV? I thought about it for a couple days, kicked some ideas around, and then told them I’d take a crack at it.

Tree

The easy decision was that this story, another drabble, would mirror the narrative of Fencepost.

The less easy part is…how does one tell the story from a tree’s POV? How does a tree POV even manifest? One can go full–if very deliberate–sentience, like the Ents of Lord of the Rings. Or very detached, describing what’s happening to a tree from a wholly external perspective–but to me, that’s not really the POV of the tree. So I tried to find something in between. Deliberative and oblivious to the ‘fast-paced’ events happening beyond its bark; certainly not the least bit aware of technology, and also very likely unaware that something like people even exist.

One thing I wanted to try was have the visual structure, not just the narrative, of Tree also mirror that of Fencepost. So while the order of events is one-to-one, visual mirroring occurs when the oak experiences the cutting of the barbed wire strands:

Art by Andrew Turok

Snip, snap. Snip, snap.
Snip, snap. Snip, snap.
Again.
Again.

Four wire strands. Left side and right. The initial cut and the snap-off of each strand.

Then the oak undergoes experiencing the application of the FerroPhage™ nanobots and the bio-repair paste. An oak tree, as I envisioned its self-awareness, is not constituted to discern what is happening to it, it only knows what it feels within the context of…being a tree. While writing this I did some research about tree injuries, looking for additional opportunities for healing and restoration that the oak will experience, but which is not visible to us fast-paced individuals scurrying around it.

With only (and exactly) one hundred words to play with, every single word counts–typically meaning an inordinate amount of time is spent on getting exactly the right words in every sentence.

It took quite a while to get that final sentence right (all eight words of it), to be the internal complement of the externally manifested relief of the oak as it’s finally freed from sixty years of suffering.

I’m grateful to Julia Rios for their acceptance of the initially submitted drabble, Fencepost, into Worlds of Possibility and then for the suggestion to write a complementary, tree-centered, piece. It proved a nice pairing.

Also many thanks to Andrew Turok for the evocative illustrations.

Art by Andrew Turok

About This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel

My story, “This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel,” is up on the Martian Magazine website, and also appears in Martian’s Fall 2022 quarterly issue (#6).

SPOILERS from this point on! So go read the story first, it’ll take you all of thirty seconds.

Several years ago I read an article (and I regretfully do not recall its title, author, or where I read it–probably just something I stumbled across on the internet) suggesting that if we wanted to find artifacts and traces of a pre-human technological society we should look on the Moon.

Apollo 14 on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Absent the eroding forces of wind and water, the artifacts of a society sufficiently advanced to reach the Moon might still be there, especially if any were placed in a location at least somewhat sheltered from the sun and meteor impacts. Now the constant solar wind, day/night temperature extremes (250/-200F), and rain of dust and meteors will certainly degrade anything left on the surface. But absent a direct meteor strike, the process proceeds far more slowly than what earthbound structures experience from endless wind, rain, freezing, thawing, and in the longer term, glaciation and plate tectonics.

This idea gave me the opportunity to write and publish my first dinosaurs in space story 🦖🌠

One could not expect a spacesuit and body to remain intact for sixty-five million years, but, perhaps it would still somewhat hold together after all that time. Particularly where this story is set…

That the view of the Earth is just above the horizon indicates this takes place near one of the Moon’s poles. Because the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth (it always shows the same face), the Earth doesn’t appreciably move from its position in the lunar sky. Though to be accurate, because the Moon’s tilt is slightly misaligned with regard to its orbit around the Earth, there is some movement, called the lunar libration, but the Earth essentially hovers at a fixed point in the sky. The lunar polar region makes sense for Moon exploration and settlement because the permanently shadowed craters–where the sun never shines–can became a collection point for water ice. If sunlight never reaches the base of the craters it won’t warm to those 250F temperatures. The ice that collects there, brought in from passing (or colliding!) comets over hundreds of millions of years can persist for eons.

An astronaut comes across an ancient, saurian predecessor resting against the base of a corroded lunar lander leg in one of these shadowed craters, where they’ve maintained a vigil for the last sixty-five million years. Presumably a marooned saurunaut would want the last thing they see to be their home world; yet in the astronaut’s present era it’s not visible through the gap in the crater wall.

The moon is slowly receding from the earth due to tidal friction at the rate of about 1.5″ (3.8 cm) per year. That’s not much, but it adds up over centuries, millennia, and millions of years. Earth and lunar day lengths have also shifted over time, which contributes to tiny misalignments between the Earth, a marooned saurunaut, and a gap in the wall of a lunar polar crater. Rewinding the clock to where the Earth would’ve appeared sixty-five million years ago from the bottom of a lunar crater is honestly perhaps a bit of a stretch–errors will add up in the estimations of how positions and velocities evolve over time.

But even if the estimate of the projected position of the Earth at the time of the Chicxulub asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs is off by a bit, it’s no stretch to expect a lunar explorer to keep a final vigil over the home to which they could never return.

About Daffodil Ghosts

Every early Spring in rural north Alabama (and many other places), the daffodils bloom that were planted by long-gone homesteaders, vibrant splotches of yellow dotting the late winter landscape.

Daffodils in a roadside ditch.
Photo credit: Rachael Sarah Williams

My 100-word story, “Daffodil Ghosts,” now up at Sylvia Magazine, takes place where one of these abandoned, often now demolished by time, homes once stood.

People once lived and worked, likely farmed, at these locations. Probably a husband, wife, some children. Especially in many-decades-ago rural Alabama it’s pretty much a given that those homesteaders worked long and hard to eke out a living.

Children grow up, move on. As one ages, working the farm gets harder and harder, until eventually the residents have no choice but to move on. Or a life of hard work simply overwhelms them, and they leave by other means.

But the daffodils remain. Persistent, showing up again year after year, refusing to get choked out by weeds and brush. A brilliant yellow memorial that this place was once a home.

Dogtrot style house in North Alabama, shortly after the daffodils have faded. Photo credit: Marc A. Criley

About Robot Coal

Robot Coal, now published on the Martian Magazine website (and previously available in the Martian Issue 5 anthology), is partly an homage to a writing friend that I never got to meet.

The iron jaw grates as it fashions a broken grin.

I first encountered Paul R. Hardy when he critiqued my story, Glory Whales, on the Critters writing forum. His critique was smart and insightful, and I came to look forward to his comments whenever I put up another story for critique. Paul himself was an excellent writer, and I eagerly anticipated reading the early versions of his stories, returning the favor of a critique.

We exchanged emails beyond just the critiques back and forth. When I needed a quick turnaround on a story I was readying for a submission window that was rapidly approaching, I reached out to him and another writer whose stories and critiques I’d also come to appreciate on Critters. They both stepped up for me, and The Consequential Effects of Practiced Penmanship eventually became my first story sale.

There was a lot of back and forth with him on a couple other stories, where he kept pushing me, asking hard questions and forcing me to make the story better. One of those, Shattered Hand, went on to become my first sale to a professional story market. (And the other, The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun, subsequently sold as well.)

I knew he had health problems, which sometimes played into his critiques. In Golden Rays the main character resists an extensive medical intervention. Paul kept at me to come up with a solidly believable reason for that reluctance, telling me that he’d have undergone the medical intervention of that character in a heartbeat.

Paul had left Critters and moved to the Codex writing forum once he got his first professional story sale. I followed a few months later. He continued posting his stories for critiques in that forum, and became a valued member of the community.

So it was with shock that I read in a Codex post that he had passed away in December 2020.

I retired in late 2019 and some international travel was on my agenda across the next few years. The UK was near the top of the list, where I looked forward to meeting Paul face-to-face (along with some other UK writers). Unfortunately COVID crashed down around us and all those plans were put (and still are, for me) on hold.

Paul was instrumental in making me a better writer, my journey to successfully writing and selling SF and fantasy short stories would have been much harder without him.

RIP Paul R. Hardy

About Human, Right?”

In “Human, Right?“, the March 14, 2022 drabble from Martian: The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles, one finds they can sometimes get what they need after a really bad day.

[SPOILERS from here on!]

When everything’s gone to pieces, who doesn’t need a little comfort food? “Chicken soup is good for the soul” and all that.

It’s good to know that when interstellar civilizations come together, compassion and care for all species will be a shared value, and that there will be those called to serve others.


In my stories I sometimes borrow from other stories I’ve written, some published, some as-yet-unpublished. It’s not that I’m building a coherent shared universe like the MCU or anything–the borrowed entities may be wholly different from one story to another. Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of sharing, but it’s not anything I’m going to go to great lengths to synchronize.

For instance, the “furry maratuses” are from a story I’ve got out on submission–with furry paws crossed that it finds a home; while the “chitin-clad arthropoids” are based on the Sen from Shattered Hand. The medic, along with some of the other patients, are hemsi, which is a shout-out to HEMSI, Huntsville Alabama’s ambulance service. Seemed appropriate for a medic, though I’ve not yet seen any green-tinged, three handed EMTs around here!

In these times especially, go treat yourself to a nice, hot bowl of soup!

About The Paleoneirologist’s Dreams

Dreams persist in the bones.

I’m proud that my story, The Paleoneirologist’s Dreams, was selected for publication in Tree and Stone’s inaugural issue. Tree and Stone is absolutely gorgeous and I hope it does well for its creator; as well as becoming a vibrant outlet for the fantasy and science fiction community.

I’ve been hooked on fossils ever since I was a child. That’s not particularly unusual, though I think most kids gravitate towards dinosaurs. And why not? Dinosaurs are awesome! The first fossil that I was enamored with, though? A trilobite! I can’t say for sure exactly how that happened, but I have some vague memory of a third grade teacher showing one to us in class.

Growing up in farmland Minnesota there wasn’t much to find in the way of fossils–we lived atop the detritus left after Ice Age glaciers retreated. I think the whole time I lived there I found one fossil. I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in Missouri, and just down the road from their house was a wide open rock cut. There I found a lot of fossils with my cousin, mostly crinoid rings, blastoids, and I think a snail. I still have a few of these stashed somewhere, I think–though I’ve lost track of the snail.

It wasn’t until I moved to North Alabama and bought property on the side of a Mississippian period limestone mountain (see the page header above!) that I finally found myself surrounded by fossils. All of them sea-dwelling creatures like horn corals, shells, and the ubiquitous crinoids. I also went on some field trips with friends and local organizations elsewhere in Alabama and collected leaf and bark prints, cephalopods, and more.

It was inevitable that a story would be written about fossils.

So how does one get from collecting fossils in my backyard to a story about an obsessed paleoneirologist?

Somewhere I learned that the study of dreams is called oneirology. And being very familiar with paleontology, it was a short step to slap paleo- onto oneirology and voilà! Paleoneirology, the scientific study of the Old Dreams.

[SPOILERS AHEAD!]

The idea of acquiring traits or experiences from consuming that which possess them is hardly new. In this story the paleoneirologist literally consumes fossils to dream the life of that creature whose fossil survived to the present day. Not merely participating as a passive observer–documentary style–but viscerally experiencing the life of the creature. Being utterly immersed, becoming it; forgetting their own humanity and living the alien experience of a prehistoric creature.

It’s addicting. It becomes an obsession.

Rapacious, meat-lust hunger. Frenzied slaughter, predator and prey, the snapping of bones and the flood of blood gorges full in the throat. Insatiable.


Credit: Kathleen Jennings

The final locale, the “paleontological cathedral of dreams,” was inspired by this photo Australian author and illustrator Kathleen Jennings posted from the Oxford Natural History Museum in the UK. (How else would you describe this place? It has definitely earned a spot on my bucket list!)

What better setting and opportunity for a paleoneirologist to make their most audacious attempt at experiencing the ultimate Old Dreams?