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 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 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 Falling In Love At Verona Rupes

Falling In Love At Verona Rupes is now up as the January 10, 2022 drabble at Martian magazine. (Subscribe!)

When I previously wrote About Mercury’s Ice I mentioned that I became a space nerd at a very young age, and in the decades since have become quite fond of the lesser known–but no less awesome–wonders of the solar system.

Verona Rupes, from NASA’s Voyager 2

Verona Rupes is another one of those wonders. Spotted during Voyager 2’s 1986 flyby of Uranus’ moon Miranda, it’s a candidate for the tallest cliff in the solar system, possibly reaching twenty kilometers (twelve miles) high. With Miranda’s low gravity, less than 1% of Earth’s, that 20 km fall is going to provide ample time for sightseeing on the way down, about eleven minutes.

And we humans seems to have an unquenchable thirst for doing things while falling. (As it turns out, skydive weddings are quite popular among the engaged-to-be-married skydiver population!)

So you just know, how is anybody going to resist having their wedding ceremony performed during the 11-minute freefall off the highest cliff in the solar system?

Base jumping Verona Rupes artist’s concept. Credit: Erik Wernquist

A few things to keep in mind: Miranda is an airless moon, so you’ll need spacesuits. Though the sun is a long ways away, it’ll still be pretty bright, so coordinate suit colors. Rehearse the ceremony a few times at ground level–you do have eleven minutes, so you don’t have to rush too much, but still, be diligent and watch the altimeter.

Finally, parachutes are useless on Miranda, so make sure everyone’s retros are in good working order and fully fueled. You’ll want to ensure everyone in the wedding party has a good time and a soft landing.