Flash Fiction Challenge: Round 1

J.M. McDermott sent me an email a few weeks ago. “A thing I would like to do that might not be possible.”

Well, it’s possible! We’re running a flash-fiction challenge, rather like March Madness, but with better stories. Or maybe Thunderdome for writers. 8 authors enter, 1 author leaves…

We’ll be posting new fiction each Monday, and opening voting for 4 days. Please vote for your favorite story in each category by Thursday evening. Votes will be tallied Thursday night, and the 4 winners will move on into the next round of brackets, which will be posted next Monday.

The winner of the competition will get a prize from Joe. The fiction will be left online for a month, and then collected into an ebook. All proceeds from the ebook will be donated directly to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.

Spread the word, vote on your favorites, and leave a comment!

And now, without further ado, the contestants.

 

 

 

Bracket 1: Libby Cudmore (Child) vs Andrew Liptak (Parent)


Devil Gets the Kid
By Libby Cudmore

It’s pretty goddamn easy – die in your dreams, Devil gets your soul. Most times you wake up. Most times you get away. You go about your day with only a faint sense of ill-ease, might relate the tale to a coworker who’ll pretend to care. Yeah, I dreamed I was on a motorcycle with my ex-girlfriend Patty and I was late for work, so I was going faster and faster, and just when we were about to crash, I woke up gasping. Jerry in IT will nod politely, but no one except strip-mall psychics gives a shit about your dreams.

Kids are the hard part. Kids dream like David Lynch films, like acid trips. Their teacher, who’s a unicorn, melts and then the floor is lava but the worst part is that they have to go to a dentist with a thousand eyes. Kids squirm, they duck, they’re hard to find and grab onto between the lava and the unicorn and the dentist with a thousand eyes.
*
The elevator bank takes some getting used to. They’re not numbered in any particular order – it’s Hell, after all – so the first few days you wander around trying to figure out which door is yours. You show up late in the dream and miss your prime spot; the target’s already moved away from the tiger cage or talked down the assassin or woken up for a drink of water. So they start you off easy – drunks and ODs, the elderly and infirm. Easiest ones are men. Hardest ones are little girls.

Got to work late and out of breath. Superman saved the kid from falling. The rock slide was too far behind her daddy’s car to even notice. And then she was gone. But when I go to open my elevator, call it a night and go home, there was just a brick wall behind the door.
*
I chase the kid across dreams. That’s the bargain; if she gets back to her own, she lives. If I catch up with her – wherever I catch up with her – she goes down with me. In and out through elevators, across lover’s fields and cluttered desks. It’ll be a weird night for a lot of people; dreamed this little girl was running through my office and some broad in red satin tap pants was chasing her. She never realizes she’s in danger and when she relates these scraps of night to her parents, they’ll probably ban TV and stuff her full of pills. I give the kid credit. I savor the chase.

And as dawn creeps up like a champagne hangover, she hops on a My Little Pony and I watch her ride away. She looks back at me and waves. We’ll play again! she calls back. Sure we will, kid. Sure we will.

Mother

by Andrew Liptak

So, here’s the deal. I know this is your first run on my shuttle, but if you’re going to make it to ride number two, you’re going to have to learn a couple of things, and fast. I’m your new mother when you’re onboard this ship. You’ll act accordingly, or you’re done.

First thing, this is my shuttle. I don’t own it. Appalachia Holdings owns it, and they’re very particular about what happens to their equipment. I’m the one who flies it every day, and I get more of a say over them as to who’s riding shotgun. When you’re onboard, you’re working. No hanging out after hours, no bringing friends for a romantic evening, and no breaking into the medicinals for a quick high.

Second thing. When we’re in the air, you listen to everything I say. I know you’ve right out of flight school and all that jazz, but that means you know just about nothing, as far as I’m concerned. Sit down, shut up, and listen to me as though I’m your own mother. If I’m off the bridge and orders come down from Control, you listen to them as though they’re your own mother. Any and all orders, comm updates or any stories I pull out of my brain for an illustrative purpose, you listen. Your mother tells you to listen up, you listen up, yeah?

Third and last thing. When you’re flying with me, you’re completely, utterly 100% honest with me. You’re completely, utterly honest with Control. Every piece of data that they’ve got streaming up from our datalink is vital: without it, they can’t compute accurate trajectories, and once we get far enough away, the signal delay gets to where we’re on our own. I’m not smart enough to plot a trip back up on my own, even with the ship helping me. You’re certainly not. So, if they ask, you tell them. If something feels wrong about the ship when they ask you the question, you tell them. If I sprout fungal horns due to contamination and plead with you not to tell anyone, you tell them. If someone on the ship isn’t fit to be in the air and they ask? You tell them. Because otherwise, we’re lost in space and die a frozen death. Well, I’ll die a frozen death. You’ll die a quick one because if you lie to me or control, I’ll put you out the airlock myself.

Anyway, you wouldn’t lie to your own mother, would you? Good, I thought so. Let’s get into orbit. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.

Bracket 2: E. Catherine Tobler (Astronomy) vs Haralambi Markov (Astrology)

The Astronomer’s Daughter

by E. Catherine Tobler

A trail of nine freckles curls down the shadow of your spine, some so small they might not be counted as proper at all, but I count them, one by one by one, with fingers and lips and tongue.

It will change everything you say. Your back arches under my firm kiss on the fifth freckle, this near the curve of your waist. This freckle tastes like salt.

Yes, everything, I say, and slide lower. But maybe nothing, I add, your fingers moving through my loose hair, a fist and then fingers blossoming open when you can’t hold on, have to let go because you always let me go in the end.

Your mother–

I don’t want to talk about my mother.

Her blood is no longer on my hands, but some nights I feel it. Tonight, I don’t because you’re in my hands and I’m counting freckles and not potential planets. I can’t see my mother sprawled on the ground, her life’s blood spreading into the documents she killed for. The documents I also killed for.

Do you…

You trail off and I lift my head. I know what you’re going to ask, your eyes shining like eclipsed moons in the half-light that falls over the tangle of my bed.

Do I believe the information is genuine?

Yes.

My mother would not have killed if she didn’t believe in it–wouldn’t have killed to cover it up if she didn’t believe that life existed beyond this world we know. It terrified her, that life could do that–be something we couldn’t control, but how can you control anything–

Can you control the way you feel when my tongue slides past that not-so-insignificant ninth freckle?

Nine freckles like the nine smudges of light they pulled from the night skies; nine dreams, nine hopes. Maybe eight, they argued–one is so very small and distant and impossible. Only one lingers in the zone of habitability, only one gleams vaguely blue and green even at this vast distance. Oxygen and nitrogen and warmth and liquid water and maybe, maybe life.

They will know I killed her and they will know she killed the others; she smashed their telescopes, and meant to burn their research, but I couldn’t allow that. Could I?

I don’t have to ask you; we’ve had this conversation before, and you won’t stop me. You won’t stop me from walking out that door in the morning and telling our world what they found, what she tried to cover up, what I killed to reveal.

You won’t stop me. But sometimes, oh how I wish you would.

The Houses, The Workers, The Divine Code

by Haralambi Markov

The Twelve Houses groan, gurgle, crackle, pop, hiss and slurp as the mechanisms twirl. Gears dance into and out of each other; openings sucking in gristle from the workers who are too tired to man the millennial machinery. In the cosmic dark, the stars flick across the silhouettes of those workers tending the bodies with twinkling pearl tongues. Tools in hands, they revert all men and women to the components of their original Houses.

Blood and bile drains into tubes braided through the celestial nothing-that-is-everything, veins and urethras for the Houses of Water. Breath and fumes rise to the House of Air – behemoth lungs that dwarf all stars in creation; their inhales stronger than the pull of the eldest of black holes. Bones and skulls grind inside the Houses of Earth. Hair and skin burn for the Houses of Fire. The flesh and organs remain for the workers, raw and plump with disease.

Corpses spiral in from above. New bodies spiral out from below, molded from the workers’ feces – miniscule and pink, ready to receive the Houses’ blessings. The rotary spills out and fetuses align with Houses at even intervals, taking in the heavens’ schematics until the final line of divine code is laid in. Then the pink flesh drifts to the fringes where the Houses’ groans, gurgles, crackling, pops, hisses and slurps melt into the faintest of pulses.

Bracket 3:J.M McDermott (zombies) vs Steven Long (vampires) vs. Natania Barron (vampires):

Zombies Still Hunt

J.M. McDermott

If I see a vampire, I follow him. That’s what my uncle taught me. Vampires keep their lairs so clean and carefully constructed to mask a  into the archutecture. Only following one back to their lair will reveal it to the careful eye of the hunters.

I have found them.

I followed the last one into an abandoned restaurant. It was living under the building, in the crawlspace below the building. Homeless men came to trade blood for money and drugs. I watched, as if I wasn’t there at all.

Refined creatures of precision and careful survival only smell the living prey, not the dead. I just smell like a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant. I smelled homeless enough to pass among the corrupted flesh in the dark.

There were six men coming to him. Men who trade blood for drugs are not strong. They don’t put up a fight. They are accustomed to being cornered in the darkness.

“I look like I got a dime, tough guy?” said the first one, to me, after I had him in a corner.

You’re already a dead man walking, I wanted to say. Show me your arm. Show me the needle marks.

“Walk on, daddio. I got a real tough friend doesn’t take kindly.”

I stabbed him in the gut with my Uncle’s blade and pressed my hand over his mouth so no one would hear him scream. He bit at me, but it didn’t matter. My blood was what I was trying to feed him.

Before he was completely dead, I stuck my bleeding hand into his gut, so my blood could join with his, and infect him. I used to carry vials but I dont remember what happened to them. The movements are the same. It will work.

He was too weak to get help, and in too much pain. I stood back, then, and watched him die.

“What the hell I do to you?” he snarled, before I tore his shirt and  struggled to gag him. “Get help. Please, go get help. I don’t want to die. Why did you kill me?”

He bled and bled, with my hand inside of him, bleeding, too. When the bleeding stopped, he had such empty eyes. I stuffed his wound with cardboard and dirt. Then, I wrapped him in a hoodie.

Staggering to his feet, the dead man walked to what he needed most. His arms were all tracklines and old scars. His need was deeper in his brain than food. I waited in the dark at the edge of the streetlights, holding cigarettes and pretending to smoke.

The blood of the dead will weaken the creature that feeds on the blood of the living.

After the transactions were complete, the hollow men dissipated like rats into the walls and alleys, weakened by weeks of bloodloss and years of drugs.I was the cat that walked by himself, then, creeping into the darkness below the building where I had seen the vampire at the edge of morning twilight.

The zombie I had made that had stumbled in the dark to his addiction had gone through all the motions of life that mattered to him. That is what undead do, as their body begins to decay. After he shoots up, he will feast on anything meat. Tomorrow night he will come back here and wait for something that never returns until th rats and cats devour him whole. He went to his addiction. I followed him there.

There was a kind of room in the crawlspace, where the floor rose up into the building mysteriously, and a ledge was constructed off the ground. A person could almost stand up, and could sit upon the ledge like a meditating buddha, where incense burned and a small broom swept away the dust of the homeless men. There, the vampire kept his court, let the homeless men stand to be pierced in the veins, and patched up quickly with a first-aid kit. Just enough to fill the monster with vigor every night, not enough to kill the men completely. Like leeches draining blood, it would weaken the men. Worse still, a small percentage would turn. Predators cannot be permitted to live.

The creature, itself, was albino, bald, and pink-eyed. It was digesting its meal, with dead blood to sicken it still, and I was just another homeless bum come to beg for scraps and I stank worse than one.

It moved.

“Curious,” it said, with its hand on my throat faster than I could blink. “You smell more dead than the one you sent to me.”

He was too fresh to smell dead. It takes hours for the stench to sink in.

“You’re the hunter who tried to trick me with that sloppy trap?”

I said nothing.

“You?”

I stabbed out, but it was faster than me. It was much faster than me. It spun me around and ripped the blade from my hands. It bit into my neck. I held still and did not struggle. I had no strength to fight it.

In moments, the creature knew its mistake. It retched and trembled and spit my congealed, rancid blood.

I had enough coordination left to recover my blade and strike the weakened creature. Once through the heart, to still the deathless heart. The breastbone was old and weak and crumbled like limestone in my hacking jab. The neck was hard, but I hacked through the nerve, severing the brain.

Satiated of my particular addiction, my hunger rose in me. I chewed. I swallowed. I continued.

Fat with meat, I shambled away, to the corners and hidden places where I could stumble stained with  a  much brown, dried blood, invisible to the world. Homeless and cats always walk by themselves.

If you see a vampire, follow him. If you see one… I don’t remember how to speak. I don’t remember how to sleep. I dont know who is listening. I hunt because adrenaline was my drug, and I want it in what is left of me. I want my urge before the feast. Kill, eat, follow.

OVERSIGHT

by Steven S. Long

     “Could you repeat that, Doctor Romero?”

“I said I did it, sir. I found a way to turn a human into a vampire without the need for a vampire’s bite.”

“In the name of God, why?”

Think about it, General!” Romero said fervently, overlooking the warning tone in the general’s voice. “Who’d make a better spy or special forces soldier than a vampire? They can get anywhere as a mist or bat. They can hypnotize people. They can live for days without food and withstand injuries that would kill a rhinoceros. They’re the ultimate soldier!”

“And this… procedure of yours. Does it eliminate the drawbacks?”

“What do you mean, General?”

“Like not being able to go outside in the daytime, Doctor. Or needing to drink human blood.”

“Well… no, those are inherent in the vampiric condition. Science can’t remove them.”

“Doctor, I gave you a significant portion of the Section’s budget to find a way to fight these things better.” He gestured at the semi-circle of cells surrounding the lab. Airtight and overpressured so none of the bloodsuckers could escape, each one had a bulletproof glass front so Romero could observe them. One contained a hairless, flesh-colored horror, more beast than human; just looking at it made the general’s skin crawl, and he’d participated in some of the Section’s earliest, bloodiest ops. The other three vampires looked human. All four watched the humans closely.“We only have so many psychics and wizards to go around. We need a way for ordinary troops to kill these things quickly and safely. Where do we stand on that?

“This other line of research sidetracked that, sir. The possibilities were so amazing I couldn’t not work on it.”

“Are you sure one of these things hasn’t hypnotized you, Romero?”

“No, sir! The dampers built into their cells make that impossible.”

The general sighed. “All right. Who else knows about this breakthrough of yours?”

“No one, sir. Full security protocols have been maintained.”

“I might as well make whatever I can out of this dog’s breakfast. Have you prepared a full report for my review?”

“Yes, sir,” Romero said, turning to get it. He only took two steps before the general shot him in the head. Blood and brains splattered all over the front of the bestial vampire’s cage. As the echoes of the shot died away the creature leaped forward, pressing with all its inhuman strength against the glass, desperately trying to get at the blood it could never reach.

As his hearing returned, the general heard a sound:  one of the vampires was slow-clapping for him. “Bravo, sir, bravo!”

“Shut up. I’m terminating this project, effective immediately. You’ve got thirty minutes to pray to whatever gods you things worship before the self-destruct reduces you and everything in this facility to atoms.”

“Oh, I don’t think so, General.”

“And why’s that, you bloodsucking fuck?”

“Because you’ve overlooked something.”

“Enlighten me.”

“Bulletproof glass only works properly if it remains fully intact. If something damages it — a ricocheting bullet fired by an idiot who didn’t think about what he was doing, for example — it’s compromised. And if you don’t see the damage because of some splattered blood, and then something distracts you for a few seconds… it can get worse.”

The sound of the bestial vampire’s cagefront cracking seemed even louder than the gunshot.

 

The Toad Man

 by Natania Barron

When they brought the Toad Man’s body to her, Shin the Embalmer was afraid.
She had never feared the dead before—the ritual of their cleansing was her livelihood—but the old wizard was still wrapped in rumors and swaddled in strips of old songs; his eyelids were weighed down with the force of nightmares.
Shin’s grandfather claimed to have embalmed and buried the Toad Man. But he had come back, anyway. The Toad Man had killed seventeen sheep, drank them dry, and the flayed the elder in the town before vanishing again for almost a century.
What a horrible creature, Shin thought. What was left of the Toad Man’s body was a withered husk, dry and useless and charred from all that fire.
Finding courage in that knowledge, Shin arranged her instruments and pressed at the ochre-colored flesh under the Toad Man’s collarbone, expecting dry resistance. Instead, her fingers sank through his skin, down to her knuckles. As she struggled to get free, the Toad Man’s chest pulsed and a viscous green gel slithered up her arm and down her back, pressing into the soft spaces between her bones and skin.
She could not scream. Her lips were sewn shut with fear. And she thought of her brother playing at the edge of the river, alone. Saw him through the Toad Man’s eyes: prey.
Shin helplessly watched through clouded eyes as the Toad Man’s thick-lipped mouth fell open, his gray tongue lolling out as the cave filled with the smell of loam and green, dark places. From his mouth came a roiling belch, and with it, a cloud of wriggling tadpoles streaked with blood in black and red.
The Toad Man spoke with his dry paper lips: “Child: My name is Xūyào. That is all I know. All I am. Be grateful to find your calling in my satisfaction. You have embalmed me with new life.”
She could see nothing more, for the writhing tadpoles rushed into her ears, slithered across her eyes, and streamed into her nose; they flooded the chasm of her mouth, passed crooked white teeth and choked down her throat to her lungs. They took all the blood in her, then spilled it out in tributaries and rivulets, returning sated to the Toad Man’s corpse, drawn to the scent of him and their inevitable place of rest.
Shin the Embalmer fell to the ground, a mess of mud and slick bones, and the Toad Man rose and smiled, his curved tongue reveling in the fresh wetness in his mouth and the spring of new life.

Bracket 4: Jaym Gates (Earth) vs Minerva Zimmerman (Mars)

Mars

by Minerva Zimmerman

Audio version!

“Esmeralda Nichols?”

Esme set aside the travel brochure for Olympus Mons and stood up.

“Mr. Thalmson will see you now.”

Esme walked past the red-skinned secretary and into the office. She kept her eyes on the plush dark green carpet, willing herself not to react before glancing up at the eight-foot leg-span of the sparkling purple spider.

“I-it’s nice to meet you,” Her voice nearly inaudible.

Mr. Thalmson opened his mouth wide, displaying diamond-iridescent fangs the size of Esme’s forearm. “Esmeralda Nichols, a pleasure. Is this your first trip to Mars?”

Esme nodded. “My father just told me about my uh… heritage.”

Mr. Thalmson scuttled out from behind the desk. Esme froze as giant amethyst legs wrapped around her, pulling her close. “Welcome home child of Mars!”

“Are you—hugging me?”

The spidery alien held her out at legs-length. “I’m pretty sure Earthlings hug just the same as Martians.”

Esme awkwardly opened her arms and patted Mr. Thalmson on the back of his surprisingly soft and furry abdomen as he hugged her again. She really hoped she hadn’t just groped him.

“It’s always wonderful to see hybrid children exploring their Martian side. What can I help you with? Resident-alien status? Maybe a tourist package?” Mr. Thalmson climbed back over the desk and gestured to a seat for bipeds next to Esme.

She sat on the edge of the chair. “I was hoping to get a student loan. I’m having trouble with traditional loans due to wanting to study film in Vancouver, Canada.”

“Ah film, a truly Martian art form. Many of Hollywood and Bollywood’s most famous directors have Martian heritage.”

Esme let out a breath. “My Dad mentioned a few names I recognized.”

Mr. Thalmson tapped the file on his desk. “You don’t have a lot of collateral.”

Esme took a red silica card out of her pocket. “My Martian passport. I can’t leave Earth without it.”

Mr. Thalmson’s fangs clacked together, making blue sparks. “I like you, Esmeralda—”

“Esme.”

“Esme. Let’s make a deal. The Organization will loan you all costs relating to your education, interest-free plus 10% gross of your first three films. Sound good?”

Esme grinned. “Sounds great!”

Mr. Thalmson shot silk across the room to retrieve a tablet. He tapped a few times and handed it to Esme for a fingerprint.

His leg slid the tablet and Esme’s passport off the desk and into a drawer.

“Hey! I’m supposed to visit my Martian grandparents.”

“You can come back to mars when you finish your schooling, pay back your loan, and we get our cut of your major distribution deals.”

Esme stared at him. “First 3 films. You didn’t say anything about distribution requirements.”

“Esme, this Organization doesn’t have a reputation for charity. Of course we meant major distribution. Study hard. Get famous.”

“But that could take decades!”

“The Organization has faith in you. We’ll be keeping our eyes on you.”

“How?”

“Oh Esme,” sighed Mr. Thalmson, “you didn’t think spiders came from Earth did you?”

Earth: Offering

by Jaym Gates

Pull back. There you go. See that? The glimmering, glistening caul of your mother? See her dewed breasts, the rich black folds of her belly? See her glittering tears? Isn’t she beautiful?

Now zoom in. Closer. Closer. Come on, don’t be afraid. Closer. Look, there, in the dirt. That pale, mewling worm.

Pay attention, there’s about to be a war.

Dreams are the strangest things. One minute, you’re in space, getting a hard on over the Earth Mother’s breasts, the next, you’re…in bed?

This isn’t bed.

Why am I soaking wet?

My legs don’t work.

Are those wolves?

Get up. Get UP!

Something’s shouting in my head, something old and dark and maybe female, but now all I can hear is crows and the clash of swords.

GET. UP. You must get up.

My feet are under me. I’m running, my heart thundering, white scintillations crowding my vision. Wet vines tangle my feet, branches slap my face, catch in my…horns? I reach up to check, but my legs are cracking, breaking. I fall to my hands, but my fingers are gone. My head is heavy. I look down, past a long nose, and there are my hooves, sharp-cloven and caked with mud, my legs furred silver and white.

Run, you idiot.

Mad, furious glee fills my heart. Adrenaline thrusts through my veins, throwing me forward. The woods open to my eyes and nostrils, revealing hidden paths and traps, my antlers tear through tender foliage, the red moon glittering on my silver coat. And always, around me, the blood-curdling hunting cries of wolves.

Not wolves. Bigger. Darker. Hungrier. The shadows are hunting me, the nightmares of childhood, the fears of adulthood.

Red eyes flash through the trees, as high as my shoulders. One, two, three…they’re all around me, and I can hear the laughter in their voices, feel the promise of their teeth sinking into my flesh.

A shudder runs through me, hot and wet, a knife-edge of arousal. This game isn’t over. I can still win. My new muscles bunch in determination, and fire-filled eyes fall behind me, the forest falls away, everything falls away, and I am running through a field of stars, white fire clinging to my hooves, but now the hunters come too, and the stars turn red where they have trod. The red is all around me, spreading, stinking of fear and death in my nostrils.

Fight.

The moon is behind my shoulders when I turn, I am bigger than the wolves, bigger than the Earth, and I bugle my defiance, starstuff bursting in my nostrils like a million tiny bubbles, and the wolves come. They, too, have grown, the shadows of primeval night limned in primordial fire.

Can you see? She has chosen her champion. Her sword. The darkness seeks to swallow her, but this creature of starlight and dream stands against her nightmares.

Moonlight crowns me, and the first teeth rip into my flesh, turning the stars to blood.

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Strong Female Characters Aren’t Always Armored

There’s been a lot of discussion in SF about strong female characters, clothing, and armor, and I agree with a lot of the points being made, BUT. There’s a big thing being missed. Armor seems to have become the cheap tack to portray a strong, independent person, much like a mouthy, rebellious woman is the only way to have a strong female character (see, for instance, the dismissal of Pacific Rim’s Mako Mori as a strong character).

Armor does not make a strong person. Lack of armor does not make a weak person. Defying authority does not make a strong, independent person. Being a mouthy ass does not make a strong person.

During the Crusades, the Crusaders, on their massive horses (the forerunners of today’s Shires, Clydesdales, and Percherons), in heavy chain armor, had their asses BEAT by mostly unarmored Arabic warriors on light, small, fast horses. It was the same logic that made Alexander’s cavalry so effective against elephants: maneuverability, speed, minimal reaction time.

In fact, MANY of the primarily horse-based nomadic cultures wore little to no armor–Native Americans, for instance, were deadly mounted warriors. Hell, the American cavalry didn’t wear armor. The warriors of the Middle Eastern steppes? Minimal to no armor. Some of them wore heavy felt coats as their main armor.

And no, this doesn’t excuse the chainmail bikinis, because those are still stupid, impractical, and beyond purposeless. (Sure, they’re iconic to some people, some people like looking at them, yay! Go for it. Just stop trying to pretend that there’s any damn use for them beyond ‘TITS! IN ARMOR!’.)

And all this boils down to a criticism about a piece of art, which shows a warrior woman based on thousands of years of rich, nomadic culture, riding a horse based on a breed the Chinese coveted and praised as ‘the horses of heaven’. But she’s not wearing armor, so clearly she’s just a helpless virgin waiting for the prince to save her.

Fantasy doesn’t mean ‘absolutely no reality gets to happen here’, or ‘we don’t have to actually think about multicultural things’. It isn’t all based on knights and maidens, on Joan of Arc and massive steeds with hooves the size of dinner plates.

Sometimes the warrior is dressed in silk. Sometimes her sword is sheathed. Sometimes strength isn’t in your face arrogance and violence. Sometimes it’s the quiet, respectful word of a girl harnessing her hatred for someone she respects, or the steel-jawed determination to ride through anything that comes without raising a hand in anger.

And that, honestly, is damn well something that we, as writers, should be paying attention to, and attempting to understand.

**Edit** As was pointed out to me on Twitter, Crusaders weren’t wearing full plate armor. However, they were still heavily armored and getting trounced by the lighter cavalry. Then again, they were doing a good job of trouncing themselves on a regular basis. But this post isn’t about how awesome Salah ad-Din and Richard the Lionheart were. At any rate, as a former hobbyist of all things Plantagenet/Crusades/Middle Ages, I am rather embarrassed. Too many movies/fantasy recently! BUT THE REST OF MY POINTS STILL STAND. :P

Military Science Fiction: Podcasts and Anthology Updates

I’ll be doing a pair of podcasts for SFSignal in March, on the subject of Military Science Fiction. Keep an eye on my Twitter account for posting dates. So far, we have a great list of participants: Jay Posey, Karin Lowachee, Richard Dansky, Kameron Hurley, Jack Campbell, Myke Cole, Karen Lord, and Chuck Gannon, who was just nominated for a Nebula for best novel.

War Stories is progressing beautifully. All but one story and contract are ready to go, Galen will be turning in the final art soon, and then it’s just the bits and pieces of constructing the actual manuscript after that. We’re really looking forward to showing people.

And I never announced it here, for various reasons, but I was the Production Editor for the revamped SFWA Bulletin. That just went to the printer, and there will be a big announcement on the SFWA blog about it tomorrow. Really excited for that to hit peoples’ mailboxes…and inboxes. First time in digital edition, man!

Status

Slowly clawing my way out of the debris of a summer of bouncing around the country, and getting back into operation.

I am currently available for consultations, and may have some room for a new client, as summer projects wind up. Query me at jaymgatespr (at) gmail.com for more details, or see my ‘Pricing’ page.

Also! The Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters anthology that I’m in has blown through all of its stretch goals on Kickstarter, so keep your eyes peeled for a new story from me. Alternate 1950s America, Nuclear Age Blood Pits monster fighting and revolution.

I should also have some big announcements here in the near future!

Dragon Con 2013

Schedules are in! I’ll be manning a table for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at Dragon Con. We did this last year, and it was a great success.

The table will be in the Hyatt, near the Comics and Artists Alley, same place we were last year. We’ll have someone there from 2-7 on Friday, and 10-7 Saturday and Sunday. Come by and see us, because Chizine, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and others have provided books for us to give away.

There are too many SFWA authors as guests and panelists to list, but be sure to take a look at the schedule to see where they can be found this weekend.

If you’re looking for me, here’s my schedule.

Panels

High Concept
Friday, 1pm, Embassy A-B, Hyatt
Gene Wolfe, Eugie Foster and I discuss the question of high-concept science fiction. More probably, Eugie and Gene discuss it while I sit in awe.

Podcasting Roundtable
Saturday, 10am, Hilton 203
We’ll be discussing podcasting. I’ll be nursing coffee and trying not to fall asleep under the table.

Z*Con: A Crowd-Funded Zombie Film for Charity
Sunday, 11:30am, Vinings 1-2, Westin
I’ve volunteered to help Mike with this again. Last year was a ton of fun, and audience members even got to contribute to the film’s audio track!

Table
I’ll be at it more often than not, but I’ve specifically scheduled myself for the following times. (I didn’t schedule myself lunch breaks last year, and ended up in pretty bad shape by the end of the weekend.)

Friday: 2-5. 6-7
Saturday: noon-2, 5-7
Sunday: 1-3, 5-7
Monday: noon-2

Dragon Con site: http://www.dragoncon.org/
Dragon Con Schedule: http://advertising.dragoncon.org/publications/pocket-program/
Dragon Con Guests: http://www.dragoncon.org/?q=featured_list

Gen Con 2013

Gen Con was, once again, amazing, cementing itself as my favorite convention. I got to see tons of friends and colleagues, some amazing new products, and the enthusiasm of the fans for the things we work on. I went in with the vague plan that I needed to pick up some more creative work, and left with an embarrassment of riches to choose from. (As well as a 30 lb bag of RPG books, only 2 of which are not research for projects!)

The entire five days was a whirlwind of meetings, panels, events, catching up, plotting, resolving, pitching, brainstorming, drinking (coffee or alcohol!), and enjoying. Anastacia Visneski summed up our schedules the best: “The only way to tell if there’s another person in the hotel room is that the food stores go down, and the swag pile goes up.”

Unfortunately, I went in with a voice wrecked by the Purgatory show, destroyed what little remained at the Diana Jones Awards, and by Friday morning, was mainlining cough drops. By Friday night, I was being mocked by my ‘friends’ for squeaking and occasionally just failing to make any sound at all, despite my best efforts. Here’s to actually being able to talk in something other than a Marlene Deitrich voice next year.

The Writer’s Symposium was not only fun to do, but is proving its worth as a workshop worth making the effort to attend. Marc Tassin is doing a phenomenal job, and it’s worth attending the con just for the Symposium. I had a chance to talk to Marc on Sunday, and while I can’t mention specifics, I CAN say that next year will not only be even more useful for the newbie writer, but it will be worth paying attention to for developers, business owners, and creatives who write things other than books or short stories.

If you’re an author or creative professional, consider volunteering for next year’s program, too. Marc is great to work with, and the attendees are excited, cool, and eager to learn. Plus, there are fun events almost every night, just for the people leading panels and workshops.

I even got in two games this year! I had about five scheduled, but Gen Con happened. Dungeon World was fun, wacky, and worth playing even in a ‘can-I-take-a-nap-under-the-table-when-you-don’t-need-me’ state of exhaustion. I was trying hard not to buy any more RPG books, but I may have to go to DriveThru RPG or IPR to grab that. 13th Age is GORGEOUS, and I also need that. And there are a couple of card games, and and and…

I also got to play the newest World of Darkness game, Mummy. I backed this on Kickstarter a while back, but got invited to play in a game run by the line dev. The game itself was great fun, but I have NEVER rolled so poorly. Unfortunately, no one else could roll for shit, either, so the entire thing turned into a comedy of errors. At one point, Ari rolled about 20 dice…with no successes. At that point, we just gave up success and started glorying in failure.

There were, as well, some downsides, but those were far outweighed by the good, and therefore will not be mentioned. (Except for the voice issues. Those, I will probably still be whining about next Gen Con.)

It was a particularly interesting year for me to be there. I’ve been in crisis mode since April, dealing with the Nebulas, BEA, a friend’s death, and the Bulletin/Beale issues, meaning I went in with a bit of tunnel vision and disconnect. I lamented to Lucian on Friday that I hadn’t gotten to schedule much of anything, and felt I was wasting the con a little by my lack of preparedness. In classic ‘be careful what you wish for’, the next two days were nothing but meetings, pitches, and offers.

One of the things I struggle with is a lack of feedback on my own position within the industry. Marketing and PR are the redheaded step-children of most industries as it is, and I often end up feeling as if I’m working in a vacuum. The last couple of weeks have been eye-opening on what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong, and what I’m just not doing.

Most telling was when someone said “I wish you would start doing RPG writing”, and I shamefacedly said “Well, actually, I’ve been clearing my schedule of some things so I could take on some projects”. Often, in my push to get others noticed, I forget to communicate my own availability, interests, and direction. That’s something I’ll be working on changing the next year or so.

I give myself some leeway because the SFWA issues have been consuming ALL of my bandwidth the past few months. I just haven’t known when that would taper off and allow me time to deal with things. As it is, I’ve got five places that want to see my portfolio, which tells me that I may be doing things right for other people, but I’m leaving a lot of money and opportunities on the table. Bad publicist. Do what I say, not what I do.

And now, I have just over one week to Dragon Con, which is usually less busy, but more nuts. SFWA will have a table there this year, which I will be running, with books and information from SFWA and its members. I also know plenty of people who will be there, so my social calendar is already overbooked. Between now and then, I have a trip to Ashville with my mom, a 1920s-themed swing class (apparently I’m going to be learning to dance, now…), clients to get caught up on, chiropractor and massage appointments, Gen Con follow-up, moving plans, several pitches to write, and a Kickstarter to plan for, as well as the usual maintenance work.

I can do all that in a week, right? Oh, and I can’t talk, because being voiceless at Gen Con is one thing, but being voiceless at Dragon Con is just stupid.

See? Will still be whining about it at Gen Con next year.

Times I met Matt Forbeck on a deserted street, after midnight, coming back from the Embassy: One. (Last year was…three?)

Notable Quotes:

“She’s rules-lawyering me over a cherry stem.” (I won, AND I got the cherry.)

“The tomatoes of misogyny.”

“Look, there was no half-assing that failure. I have STANDARDS about my failure.” (Also: tagline for Mummy game, I think.)

“Oh, look, he shape-shifted into a dead guy!”

“You have to tell us about these things!”
“You wrote this section!”
“That was more than a week ago!”

“Wait. When did I become the Stripper Whisperer?”

“We can’t operate a forklift. How are we going to operate a crane?”
“I hate to say it, but this Mummy needs new cultists.”
“But we’re very loyal! We’re like mentally-challenged puppies!”

“He’s sitting there, burning.”
“Courteous of you. Wait, I don’t think I like the idea of him burning to death willingly. Shoot him, will you?”
“Put yourself out so we can kill you properly!”
“I don’t trust the burning-to-death guy!”
“This is going to sound crazy, but can I intimidate the burning guy?”
“We can get popcorn!”
“And cook it on you!”

“That sounds weird.” ~beat~ “Wait, I wrote that, didn’t I?”

30 Pound Bag-of-Death (aka, RPG books and swag):

Ptolus (Monte Cook)
Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow (Kickstarter Rewards from Robin Laws/Pelgrane Press)
Mummy core book (thank-you gift for Jacob playing minion all week, which saved me a lot of time and stress)
Hunter: the Vigil
Monte Cook’s World of Darkness
Scion: Ragnarok, and Hero (Onyx Path)
Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved
Carolina Death Crawl (DtRPG card game from Bully Pulpit)
The God-Machine Chronicle (WoD, Onyx Path)
The Book of Nod (WoD, Onyx Path)
Scion: Yazata, the Persian Gods (This looks AMAZING, and sold me on Scion, a game I was unfamiliar with, immediately.)

Time to next convention: 8 days.

Gen Con!

So, I leave tomorrow for Gen Con. Besides being wildly behind on everything, I’m really looking forward to it. And, if you’re there, here’s where you can find me!

Wednesday
I’ll be at the DJAs, so if you’re there too, stop and say hi!

Thursday
Nothing but business meetings, so probably not a good time to find me.

Friday

The great and terrible day of panels! I’m leading a full publicity workshop, come by and maybe learn a thing or three.

10am: Online Presence. Come learn how to conduct yourself well online.
11am: Promotions, Sales, Publicity, and Public Relations. Pretty self-explanatory.

1pm: Networking, Not Name-Dropping. It’s a fine line. Do you know how not to be That Person?
2pm: Pitches, Proposals and Promises. We’ll talk about creating a perfect book pitch, and how to create a publicity plan that will catch a publisher’s eye.
3pm: Signings, Podcasts, and More. All about events as an author!

5pm: Religion in Gaming

Saturday

3pm: A panel with Geek’s Dream Girl on dating. No, really.

Sunday

VIP panels and critique sessions.

So, that’s my week! I’m going to be really busy, and running all over the con, so please don’t be offended if I wave at you while I run past. Long conversations aren’t likely this week.

Where’s Jaym?

Sometimes my life feels like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ game, except with somewhat better fashion sense and much more interesting locales.

Anyways, I’m getting back on the road again soon. In less than a week, to be specific. This time, it’s a 6-week round of mayhem.

First off to Portland, where the Cascade Writer’s Workshop has me teaching a publicity class, and participating on a panel about LGBTQ characters. I’ll be staying with the lovely Lee and Venetia again, and catching up with Ken Scholes and Wendy Wagner. (Looking at those names, I wonder what is in the water, as those are four of the most excellent people I know.) I intend for there to be at LEAST one visit to the acupuncturist while I’m there. This is essential.

From thence, to Seattle, for a couple of days with Ana, then, due to the vaguaries of airlines, back to Portland to fly out to Charlotte early the next day. The day after I get to Charlotte, it’s off to Raleigh for 2 days, then back to Charlotte for 5 days of full-speed preparation for Purgatory. Show prep and giving the company a stable system to support expansion should keep me plenty busy.

3 days after Purgatory, it’s off to Indianapolis for Gen Con. This, so far, is my busiest convention of the season. I have a full Publicity workshop on Friday–10am to 4pm! There’s also a panel on religion in gaming at 5pm, and then the Ennies, and a party invitation. Who needs food? Final official thing is a 3pm panel on geeky dating. Alas, I’m not allowed to bring props or example cases, so I’ll have to settle for toting a copy of Geek Love. I think I’ll leave Rigor Amortis at home, however.

And then, it’s 1.5 weeks in Charlotte, before heading to Dragon Con. I…have no idea what my schedule is there, so that will be exciting.

On the publication front, I can now announce the sale of “Under the Dream of the Gods, We All Weep”, to Broken Eye Books, for their Dark Fey anthology. The main character of “Dream” is a character I first wrote about several years ago. She’s a holy warrior in a setting heavily inspired by the Middle East, who gets in trouble by trusting family. This is her origin story, but there are a bunch more stories that can be told about her.

I’ve also sent in a reprint of one of the first stories I wrote, “Lord of Heaven and Earth”, to the Writers For Relief anthology. This is the story that spawned the Iron Gods world, and since I seem to be working on the first novel in that series, I figured I’d brush this up and get it reprinted.

And! The War Stories anthology is officially signed with Apex! Andrew and I are working on the Kickstarter now, and we’re getting so much interest in it that it just keeps getting more exciting.

Other than that…I’ll be accepting a couple of new clients for autumn, and I’m always open for consultations, so please feel free to get in touch with me.

Wish me travel luck!

Panels and Prose

So, first, the publication news!

I’ve sold several pieces of work recently.

1.) An introspective nonfiction piece on how gaming taught me to take the reins of my life, which will appear in Mad Norwegian Press’s Chicks Dig Gaming, edited by Jean Rabe and Jennifer Brozek. That’s supposed to be out sometime in November, and the TOC is amazing and humbling, and a bit squee-inducing.

2.) Origins Game Fair produces a souvenir anthology featuring the panelists from the Writers Track. My story–a blend of weird, post-apocalyptic, mythological, epic American fantasy–will be appearing in that. Really excited to get this story into print, not least because it was written and edited in 6 days, and STILL turned out halfways decent!

3.) I can’t announce it yet, but I sold another epic fantasy story to a dark fantasy anthology. It’s the origin story for one of my favorite characters, and I’m really excited to finally see her debut. I first wrote about her almost five years ago.

4.) I’ll be contributing to another charity anthology, too. More details on that later. Right now, I have to figure out if I have a story I can send in! Suddenly, I’ve gone from an embarrassment of inventory to some pretty empty shelves.

Panels!

The Origins schedule! When I’m not in one of these places, I’ll probably be in the bar. I remember this convention center with great fondness, as I attended my first World Fantasy here. My, how things have changed.

The Cascade Writers Workshop list of speakers, which I am on. I don’t know if I can post my schedule yet though.

The Gen Con Writers Symposium schedule! I’ll be on at least one other panel as well, but those details are still up in the air.

Updates and Appearances

The publications page is finally loaded! With excerpts! And links!

Also, I’m waiting for permission to announce some things, but I will be making some form of professional appearance at the following conventions.

April

Purgatory: 10 Year Anniversary, April 13, Charlotte
NC Speculative Fiction Night, hosted by Bull Spec Magazine, April 23, Raleigh
East Coast Game Convention, April 24-25, Raleigh

May

Nebula Award Weekend, May 16-19, San Jose
BookExpoAmerica, May 30-June 1, New York

June

Origins Game Fair, June 12-16, Columbus

July

Cascade Writers Workshop, July 25-28, Portland

August

GenCon, August 15-18, Indianapolis
Dragon*Con, August 29-September 2, Atlanta