The Shacklebound Books anthology, Dark Stars: Sci Fi Horror Drabbles, is now available at all fine book outlets for a small pittance. There are seventy-nine stories, so you’re talking pennies apiece, and if it helps, three of those seventy-nine are mine! (At the Amazon link, you can sample the first few drabbles, including one of mine.)
When an irrevocable decision is even more irrevocable than you realized:
For An Additional Charge
When a hole in the rock might be more than just a hole in the rock:
When a fragrance is more than a fragrance:
Esprits des Lames
Be revolted, disgusted, scared, and amused! Enjoy!
My drabble, Another Leg, is now up as one of Flash Point SF’s Drabble Contest winners (along with co-winner K.A. Honeywell’s “Companion”). This is the first writing contest I’ve ever won, so I’m a bit chuffed about it.
I want to take a moment to break down Another Leg, which means there’s going to be some pretty complete SPOILERS here, so take a half-minute to read the story first.
Another Leg jumps right into the action, into the midst of a full-on fantasy sword fight. As they clash, the combatants sneer their bravado, hissing to one another that this is to be their ultimate and final battle. They push off, set, and commence the final charge.
So far we’re following the script for climactic sword fight scenes…
And then, we’re not.
Puppet strings? Severed? Wait, these aren’t mortal enemies?? They’re puppets? Making a break for freedom?
Hey! What was that they hissed to one another when they grappled a few lines back? Was that not saying what it appeared to be saying?
No plan ever goes exactly as planned. A string was missed, and the puppeteer countered to stop the escape. But at least one now has a chance at freedom. Take it or stay?
In this situation, though…well, puppets have certain options regarding their limbs that they do not share with the flesh-and-blood among us.
Thanks again to the editors of Flash Point SF for selecting Another Leg as a winner, and congrats also to my co-winner in brevity, K.A. Honeywell.
UPDATE: I wanted to add a quick comment about Flast Point SF’s excellent illustration for the story, as created by Kevin Pabst. I thought the presence of the vertical white lines in the background was quite clever 😉 They appear merely decorative, to supply some visual interest, but as it turns out they’re quite literal!
I’m a slow writer. It takes me a long time to grind out a first draft. When that’s done, that’s when the fun–no, seriously, fun–starts for me: doing the editing to shape a garbage fire first draft into something that I’m first willing to show other people, and then start submitting to story markets.
Drabbles are a type of micro-fiction, i.e. very short stories. In the case of a drabble, a story that is told in exactly one hundred words. I wrote and sold my first one in 2018 to Martian Magazine. There are two characteristics of drabbles that really draw me to them. The first is…they’re short. Which means it takes me a lot less time to crank out that first draft than it does to write a short story. And second is that because they’re so short, every single word has to be carefully selected; so it’s editing nirvana for me!
I decided to spend some time this year focusing on drabbles, and ended up with about sixty. (A few started as drabbles, but the draft went so far past the hundred word limit that I opted to convert them to a flash story instead.) I may self-publish a collection at some point, but along the way I’d also submit them to story and anthology markets when I saw there was a good fit.
As a result of this prolific drabbling, fifteen of my stories–eleven drabbles and four original short stories–were published in 2022, far more than in any other year since I started writing. And there were some very nice reviews!
While Martian Magazine is the premier SF drabble publication and the majority appeared there and in anthologies produced by its publisher, Shacklebound Books, I was happy to place drabbles in other publications as well. These other markets included Sylvia, where one of my favorite drabbles, Daffodil Ghosts, appeared this last summer; and two in Julia Rios’ “Worlds of Possibility” project and podcast. I’d submitted a drabble, Fencepost, which Julia accepted, and they suggested I write a complementary story, which I was happy to do–noting also that it was my first-ever solicited story. Another favorite story, Robot Coal, is the subject of a painting I’ve commissioned by local Huntsville artist Chris Wade. I’ve seen the concept sketch, and am eager to see the completed work, hopefully early in the new year.
I was also quite delighted with the other stories of mine that appeared in 2022, some of which had been banging around for quite a while. You can check out my entire list of publications for 2022 (and prior years) on my Bibliography page.
I’m hoping everyone has a solid, successful (or at least less stressful) new year. And to the writers: Keep writing! Keep submitting!
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.
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.
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:
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.