About Diamond Tear

Diamond Tear, a story about ice skimmer racing on Pluto, random tragedy, art, and recovery is now available on James Gunn’s Ad Astra website.

Source: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft

The genesis of this story came about a little differently from how I typically come up with one, and due to that approach even has two siblings. It went something like this:

I tried to write a story that took place in the outer solar system a few years ago. It dealt (or tried to) with joy, loss, and recovery set against a backdrop of interplanetary travel. The writing did not go well. I couldn’t rein it in, couldn’t come up with a good direction for it, so I finally just put it on the shelf. Thought that maybe I could revisit it after a while and something then might click–after all, doing just that did work for The Gardener of Ceres.

But nope, in this case it just wasn’t happening. However, there were some sections in it that I thought had some potential–not really vignettes that could be extracted and molded into a story, but seeds I could transplant that might sprout up into their own story.

The first story that grew from this scrapped story was a drabble, “Mercury’s Ice,” that was published in Martian Magazine. It captured the experience of just the loss that was present in the original.

The joy, then, appeared in another drabble, “Falling In Love At Verona Rupes,” also published in Martian Magazine.

Pluto had worked its way into the original story at the end, and from that grew a whole new story, Diamond Tear, that was simply set on Pluto, and that incorporated one of my science fictional hoped-for-someday activities: racing ice boats–skimmers–across that world’s frozen nitrogen ice sheet, Sputnik Planitia.

Diamond Tear ended up with all the joy, loss, and hope of the initial aborted attempt at a story. And after several productive back-and-forths with the Ad Astra editorial team, captured what I was going for in that original story way back when.

Along the way it ended up merging in the secret language that a heart-bonded couple can’t help but create, pineapple pizza, and a stunningly beautiful (and real!) piece of art glass.

Cherry LP Cyclone, by Stephen Rolf Powell

While the original story never itself saw the light of day–nor beta readers–it’s heritage lives on here in Diamond Tear and the two sibling drabbles.

PS: There’s more about Diamond Tear I’d like to talk about, but I’ll save that for another post.

About For An Additional Charge, Void Fossil, and Esprit des Lames

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:

Void Fossil

When a fragrance is more than a fragrance:

Esprits des Lames

Be revolted, disgusted, scared, and amused! Enjoy!

About Mandatory Donation

Mandatory Donation, out now at Martian Magazine, is the first story I’ve written as a direct response to an event.

When the right wing ideologues that hijacked the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022 and stripped women of the right to control their own bodies, I was infuriated. I added my voice to the outrage, and opened my wallet to those defending a woman’s right to choose.

Mandatory Donation is a small literary effort to express some of that outrage.

While not about abortion per se–as a man I don’t feel that I could incorporate that into a story without a great deal more research and care–it does address the growing cancer that too many in power think they have the right to control other’s–especially women’s–bodies. In many states this is already manifesting as the “criminalization of pregnancy” through the use of “fetal protection” laws. Alabama’s Attorney General recently asserted (and then subsequently backed away from) the position that women in the state could be prosecuted for taking legally prescribed abortion pills.

Mandatory Donation posits yet another step in taking away one’s control of their own body, not just asserting that one no longer has the right to control what one does with their organs, but that proper lifestyle “care” of them must be taken under penalty of law; reducing a person to little more than an organ bank.

Legislating that people do not have the right to control their own bodies is not just “un-American,” it’s an affront to humanity.

Click to donate to Planned Parenthood.

And here for Alabama’s Yellowhammer Fund, an organization dedicated to abortion advocacy and reproductive justice in the southern United States.

About The Gardener of Ceres

Galaxy’s Edge #60 has published my story, “The Gardner of Ceres,” in the January 2023 Issue.

This story was a long time coming.

Annotated image of Ceres feature names, highlighting those mentioned in The Gardener of Ceres
Ceres Surface Features. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The very first draft version of this story was created in December of 2016. Not terribly long before then–though I don’t know exactly when–I’d seen a photo of a surface taken from space that had used a vivid green to highlight areas of interest against an otherwise dark surface. Mostly likely it was Ceres, since I was following the Dawn asteroid exploration mission at the time (and I did then set the story on Ceres), but it might’ve been somewhere else. That image sparked an idea: “The gardens of Ceres.” Unfortunately I don’t recall the specifics of where I saw the image, or even actually what it was depicting. Anyhow, it really struck me as what I imagined the view would be like as one descended onto a terraformed asteroid during local night. With “grow lights” adhering to an Earth-based schedule, rather than the local day length, Ceres–courtesy of its nine hour days–would regularly have the gardens lit up at night.

I sat down and worked on a first draft, which for me takes several weeks. I really liked the way it opened with the initial descent into the spaceport, with everyone oohing and aahing over those illuminated gardens of Ceres. Of course you need more than a cool opening, so I plotted one out and eventually finished the first draft.

I read through it and considered the draft I’d just completed:

It was…not good.

This is not the first time this has happened. My first drafts are typically very rough, so now it was time for my favorite part of writing–editing! My very first story published in a pro-paying magazine also started poorly, and went through numerous edits and at least two nearly-complete rewrites. I have done this, I can do this.

This time it didn’t go so well. After reworking the story I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t getting any closer to being presentable. Not to a market, not to a beta reader, not to any writing groups. I pulled it out of my In-Work folder and put it in my In-Limbo one. Then I went on to something else.

Other stories were written, other sales were made. Every few months I’d peek in on this and other In-Limbo stories to see if anything might spark when giving them another read-through. Nope.

In late 2019 I ran into a sort-of writer’s block that persisted well into 2020. I just couldn’t think of a decent story idea to save my life. I decided to take another run through the In-Limbo stories. I read through the garbage draft of The Gardener of Ceres again–and I still loved the opening imagery. After that it got all meandery and dumb. It suddenly occurred to me that if I cut out the meandering–along with some silly, cutesy tech I’d come up–and initiated some conflict right off the bat, it should give the story a big boost of energy. So the story went back to the In-Work folder and I deleted pretty much everything after Xenia’s arrival at the farm transit station.

Credit: Wordless Tech

A few more weeks of writing and editing finally got the story into a condition I was willing to put out for peer critique.


Critiques came back, more edits were made. The hardest part of the story was making sure what was going on with the mind/body transfers was understandable…and plausibly constrained. Without constraints, allowing mind/body transfers to happen at will would pretty much eliminate the obstacles Xenia and Mayvonne would have to deal with. I realized I really had to thread a needle with this one, and finally got to a final version that was ready to submit to story markets.

So out it went! And in came the rejections. Mostly form rejections, but yeah, well, that’s the most common response to a story submission for most writers. In between rejections submissions I’d read through it again and maybe tweak a few sentences. After one rejection I took another hard look at the mind/body transfer descriptions and events and saw how it could be still further clarified. I took some time and worked on doing just that, and in the new revision concluded that it was now much clearer that what was in the version I’d been submitting. Though it was unfortunate that I’d now blown it with a bunch of markets. Oh well.

Off it went to Galaxy’s Edge. A few weeks later I received a glowing acceptance email. Absolutely chuffed that I finally found a home for this story!

One little tidbit for you if you’ve read this far: The “Sena” in “Sena reserve” stands for SouthEast North America. The flora and fauna that reside in that botanical area within the gardens of Ceres will be familiar with that namesake region on Earth–like where I live in North Alabama.

Up in my backyard on Cedar Gap Mtn, Alabama. (Or 23rd century Ceres.) Credit: Marc A. Criley


2022 Wraps Up

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!

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?


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.


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:

Art by Andrew Turok

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

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.