Each year I set goals for the year to come and share them on my blog here. At the end of each year I assess how well I did in accomplishing my goals and set new ones. It’s an important thing for me, this setting and sharing of goals. Setting them and having them written down in concrete language really helps me regain my focus when I lose it (which is often), evaluate progress, get things done and also, look back over time and see a bigger picture of things I’ve accomplished. Sharing them on my blog here with you is equally important because it provides a sense of accountability which can be a huge motivation at times when I need it most.
Today I’m looking back at what I wanted to do in 2016 and evaluating how that all turned out. Goals I’m counting as achieved are in bold 😉
My Goals for 2016
Speed up my blog/website
So, largely I dealt with this by changing webhosts so it kinda feels like a cheat — but it DID speed up the website significantly. For a while last year it was painful just to try and load a page but now, with the new hosting plan, things go smoothly. Definitely a quality of life upgrade LOL
The book has been written, turned in, edited and copyedited. It’s all done and waiting for release which will be coming August of 2017. I’m super excited to see it go out in the world and I’d work with mark again in a heartbeat 🙂
Announce D is for… anthology and prepare it for an early 2017 release
D is for Dinosaur has been officially announced, edited, formatted and all that fun stuff and it’s scheduled for a February 2017 release. In fact, you can actually enter to win a copy if you were so inclined 🙂 This anthology is kind of a monster (well over 100,000 words) and might be the strongest volume in the Alphabet Anthology series to date 🙂
Release C is for Chimera on April 19th
Promote it sufficiently to break the sales numbers for A is for Apocalypse (based on the first three months after release)
C is for Chimera was released, as planned, on April 19th. Though A is for Apocalypse continues to be the bestselling volume in the series, C is for Chimera‘s reviews are pretty damned good, so I’m not going to complain. I think maybe apocalypses are just more popular than chimeras are LOL
Release Sirens (July?)
Promote it sufficiently to break the earn out its advance within the first year. Bonus points if it’s in the first six months.
Sirens went out into the world to rave reviews. It didn’t earn out its advance in the first six months but it’s on track to have done so before the year is up.
Attend the ‘Despite Excuses’ writing retreat in California this July
Done. I didn’t get a whole lot of writing done but I got to hang out with some awesome people in a beautiful setting so I’m still going to call it a win.
Take August off. With the exception of attending When Words Collide… which is work but also isn’t :-p
I mean… I may have worked a wee bit in August, but not a whole lot. Really.
Write the first draft of Deadmonton (My Winterknight Towers book), beginning in November and using NaNoWriMo as a springboard to get started
This didn’t happen. I did participate in NaNoWriMo but I didn’t have enough space in my brain to work on Deadmonton. I’m going to have to write this in 2017 though otherwise I’ll be running up against deadlines and I really don’t want this to be a last moment kind of thing.
Hire an editor for Shadows and prep it for release
Shadows is in the hands of an editor. I have no timeline for its release, but I’m progressing in the right direction, anyway LOL
Host a December blog tour to celebrate the holidays and benefit the food bank.
The Giftmas Blog Tour this year raised $521 for the Edmonton food bank, which is enough money to provide more than 1500 meals for hungry families. This was hugely important to me on a personal level and I am ridiculously proud of what we accomplished.
2016 was an emotionally difficult year for me (we lost my mother-in-law, our dog, some important celebrity voices and politics have been rough) but professionally it was good. I got a lot of things done, read a lot of books and lined up plenty of projects for 2017.
So there were plenty of bright spots in the darkness. I only had to look to see them.
If you are nominating for industry awards this year please consider the following works of mine which I published in 2016:
Sharper Than a Griffin’s Claw, Women in Practical Armor, March 2016
Where I come from they say there are a finite number of souls and after death each goes to a great repository to await another vessel to fill. By that reasoning, if one were to live forever, they would encounter the same souls over and over again…
Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.
Featuring stories by Kelly Sandoval, Amanda Kespohl, L.S. Johnson, Pat Flewwelling, Gabriel F. Cuellar, Randall G. Arnold, Micheal Leonberger, V. F. LeSann, Tamsin Showbrook, Simon Kewin, Cat McDonald, Sandra Wickham, K.T. Ivanrest, Adam L. Bealby, Eliza Chan, and Tabitha Lord, these siren songs will both exemplify and defy your expectations.
This installment of Rhonda Parrish’s alphabet anthology series asks skilled storytellers to write around the theme of chimera. The resulting tales are part fable, part poem, part dream. But like any chimera, the parts make up a greater whole.
Blend reality with fantasy. Mesh science fiction with mystery. Mix history with what should have been. They are all chimera.
A shadow tells a tale of schoolyard bullies. A long-vanished monster returns from the cold dark. Make-up makes up a life. Alchemy, Atlantis, and apocalypse. These 26 tales bring both chaos and closure to dark and elusively fantastic geographies.
If you are qualified to nominate for awards (of any flavour) and you’d like a copy of any of these works in order to read and consider them, please email me. I will be more than happy to provide what I can.
I’m currently open to submissions of speculative stories about all things equine for Equus, the latest title in my Magical Menageries series. If you’re interested in submitting check out the call for submissions here, or find out what happens after you submit here.
But this is not about that 🙂
Not only is Equus the fifth title in my Magical Menageries series, it’s also meant to be the final book in that series. With the series coming to a close I wanted to come up with a way to mark and celebrate it because it is one hell of a collection.
So I’m going to produce a Magical Menageries colouring book!
The idea is that I will give it away as swag at conventions or sell it at the cost of shipping from my website for those who won’t be at the same conventions that I am. The only problem is I am *so* not an artist.
Which means I need to hire some.
I will be asking each participating artist to provide me with one colouring page to represent each book in the Magical Menageries collection, so five in all. Those books are:
Fae — fairies, forests, fairies, green men, fairies… you get the idea. Mostly fairies… but not so much of the Tinkerbell variety.
Corvidae — Magpies and ravens and jays, oh my!
Scarecrow — D’oh! I should have saved the Wizard of Oz reference for this description. Because yes. Scarecrows.
Sirens — Sirens from both the sea (mermaid type) and sky (winged type)
Equus — Horses, unicorns, Pegasus, centaurs…
If you’re not familiar with the books and find yourself stuck for subject matter I will be happy to provide a sample story to help inspire you.
I’m looking for colouring pages however you define that. It might be something as complex and detailed as this:
something simpler, like this:
Or even this:
I want a mixture of styles and detail levels and will be asking for the nonexclusive use to the images (which means you’ll be free to sell or use them elsewhere too).
I will offer a token payment per image (starting around $5-10) plus contributor copies.
If you are interested in contributing to the colouring book please contact me at email@example.com with a sample of your work or a link to your portfolio and a note about your expected rate of payment.
I’d like to have all the artists lined up by January so I’ll be open to receiving emails about this until December 15th, 2016.
When Words Collide was last weekend and it was amazing (as always). I can’t begin to contain all the awesome things that happened in one blog post, but here’s a very brief snapshot of my weekend:
This was the view out my car window as we drove down to Calgary for the convention. One of my favourite things about Alberta is our amazing skies. I lived in Norwich, England for a brief time and complained (probably the whole time >_<) about the absence of sky — it all felt very claustrophobic. I don’t think my boyfriend at the time understood at all what I was talking about until he came to visit and saw where I’d come from. I know Montana branded itself ‘Big Sky Country’ but really, it doesn’t get an exclusive claim to that 😉
My first panel was the early bird live action slush, which I really enjoyed. As I promised last year, I put a page of my own into the pile this time… and was stinkin’ tense the whole time my fellow panelists were giving it feedback. It was fun, when it was my turn to speak, to say, “That one was mine. Thank you.” but I heard from one member of the audience that they could tell it was mine from the moment Edward Willett began to read because I was so tense looking. Good to know! LOL
The mythology panel I was on was fantastic (S.G. Wong is an amazeballs moderator) and one con highlight for me came immediately after it when Athen, of Athen’s Book Picks, asked me to sign his copy of Sirens. Athen has a great blog where he reviews children’s, MG and YA Books and I had a lovely (but short) chat with him about that. It makes my heart glad to see young people not just caring about books but caring passionately about them.
The autograph signing had a bit of confusion and a shortage of tables. If we hadn’t all wanted to sit together we totally could have found spots at various tables around the room but we DID want to sit together so Jo and Cat suggested we snag some of the refreshment tables and improvise. It turned out we were totally punk enough to do that, and we set up a super signing assembly line of awesome. And coloured* in between selling and signing books — as you do.
The hotel gave out a different style of mug for this year’s convention. Seen here with a copy of Sirens for scale.
Sunday at noon I was the featured author at the EDGE booth in the dealers room. I ran into Cat on my way in and when she asked what I was doing I said I was being featured. “Oh, this I need to see,” said Cat, and came with me… and was promptly talked into being featured “like big shots” alongside me. Soon after that we also talked Sandra Wickham into being a big shot with us:
…which was even more fun than you can imagine and at one point involved squealing and happy jumping hugs. Because that’s how we roll.
After the EDGE booth party it was time for the Sirens launch. It was a lot of fun. We started off with Cat McDonald reading from “Notefisher” — her surreal story about getting stoned in the woods to forget that you want to kill yourself. Then it was V.F. LeSann’s turn to read from “Nautilus”. Megan Fennel and Leslie VanZwol are each one half of V.F. LeSann and they played rock, paper scissors to decide who was going to read. Leslie won/lost and gave a lovely reading.
Pat Flewwelling followed that up with a great reading of some of the darker parts of her story, “Moth to an Old Flame” and Sandra Wickham followed her with an engaging share of part of “Experience”. I felt a little bad for L.S. Johnson having to follow on Sandra’s heels… right up until L.S. knocked her reading of ‘We are Sirens’ out of the park and made me cry!
(Yes, I probably could have used the word ‘follow’ more in those last two paragraphs :-p)
The pitch sessions were a whirlwind of people telling me about their stories and blowing my mind, again and again, with creative ideas and plots. These pitches were five minutes each, and followed one right after the other. Many of the novels sound fantastic but the experience (it was my first time doing pitches) was rather dizzying and by the time it was over I was glad it had been my last session of the con because I really needed some quiet time to catch my breath LOL
And then it was time to go home. Have I mentioned how I feel about Alberta skies?
And then we were home!
Super big shout outs to Tyche Books for selling the Magical Menageries series at their table for me. Because of them we sold out of copies of Sirens and even sold a few of the older anthologies as well!
For me, the side effects of attending a convention include feeling recharged by seeing so many of my friends in the same place–many I don’t get to see in three dimensions anywhere else, inspired to get back to work by the conversation, panels and hearing people read… and a raging case of imposter syndrome. That last bit is compounded by a thing I’ve decided to call ‘Con Brain’. Are you nodding along already? Do you know what I’m about to say?
Example #1: I was at a party and you looked over to see Sandra Wickham, Sandra Kasturi and S.G. Wong (whose name is also Sandra) all sitting together. I tapped tap S.G. Wong on the shoulder, fully intending to say, “Sandra, Sandra and Sandra! It’s the Sandra club!” (because they probably haven’t already all heard that five times already) but what happened is I said, “Sandra, Sandra and–” and I looked at S.G. Wong’s name tag and for some reason, for just a moment, I was like, “Wait! Stop! Don’t say Sandra! Her name is Susan! Quick! Change gears!” so I said, “Sandra, Sandra and Susan! It’s the S club!”
Sandra was awesome about it. Because she’s awesome. But really? Really?
…have I mentioned that my mother’s name was Sandra? If I was gonna mess up a name…
Example #2: This one is funnier. At the Sirens launch I was like, “The publisher for this book is When Words Collide and…” eventually the audience (and Sirens) stopped laughing long enough to remind me that the convention is When Words Collide and my publisher is World Weaver Press. WWC / WWP. My defense is that they are only one letter apart.
I’m calling this ‘Con Brain’ because it seemed to get worse as the con went on. And I don’t think it was so much a case of just normal slips of the tongue so much as my brain saying, “Dude! We’re doing so much more adulting and peopling than we usually do! I’m burning out so I’m just gonna flip this switch for a while. You don’t need to word, right? Right? Good…”
Still, you can bet that I’ll be doing it all again next year because so far no one has held my oopses against me and man, I loves me some When Words Collide!
As suggested by the title right there *points up* and right there *points down”, this is an alternate opening for Cat McDonald’s Sirens story, “Notefisher” 🙂
Notefisher Alt Opening
Terra wiggled back into the rain-wet couch as the smells of wood smoke and palo santo incense whirled around her. When she felt her fingers penetrate her cup of cocoa like tree roots, winding through it and dragging its sweetness into her, she figured the C-Sharp she’d taken was kicking in, so she settled in to enjoy it.
Their timing was good. A chillstep act had taken the main stage while she and Jordan had been up getting cocoa, so she could just relax into the sound, wait for her guide, and find out where the bass intended to take her.
Jordan turned around to look up at her from his spot on the ground. He seemed to like sitting right against the earth; he settled in the grass every chance he got, like a preschooler or a true festival kid. He wasn’t, of course; he didn’t seem to know anyone, always looked a little confused when he heard a new music take the stage, and had worn a plain red t-shirt. It was obviously his first festival, so he needed a guide, and Terra’s campmate had abandoned her to pursue a DJ anyway, so they’d become friends.
Right now, all she knew about him was that he was new to this, that he liked drum and bass more than house, and that he couldn’t keep himself from staring at dancers.
“How are you doing?”
He stared at her for a moment or two, black-brown eyes shining in the reflected firelight, seeming to change shape as she struggled to keep a handle on her perceptions. The stage went red as a more traditional dubstep took the stage from her ambient chillstep.
“I’m fine,” she thought she heard him say as he turned back to face the fire, entranced by something only he could see. Terra followed his gaze as a ribbon of wood smoke wriggled between the stage’s lasers toward her.
The scent of incense reached out to caress her face, and when she glanced down she saw a transparent gray-blue hand cradling her. Red and orange stage lights flickered inside the hand and arm like lightning strikes, contained in the body of the muse she’d grown to love.
A pleasant humming in her ear skirted just under the music, in awkward, unpracticed harmony with the deep, booming music, and a smoky breeze tickled at her left ear. Terra turned to see a familiar smile rippling through the air, wavering but brilliant like treasure at the bottom of a clear pond. The embers of the fire glittered in the muse’s eyes, and when she opened her mouth to speak, Terra felt her ears tingle.
Behind the head and torso of a stately, dignified older woman, the body of a great rainbow-colored serpent glittered in twisted ribbons that bumped and writhed along the waveforms of the music like a fast-moving river. Every time Terra got a fix on one of her colors, the peerless aquamarine just behind her shoulder, it changed and the entire body had moved away on the wind to be discovered anew. Now, the journey could begin.
Rather than staring straight at Terra, her sparkling eyes stared down at the ground in front of the couch, where Jordan stared out into the distance after his own muse.
A high-pitched squeal in her ear pulled Terra’s focus back to the muse’s face, to the way her brows knit together, to the deep darkness that had settled in behind the sparks in her eyes. She brought her transparent hands together in front of her and cupped them in the air as if cradling something very delicate.
Terra reached out to take those hands, and felt nothing even though she saw them return her grasp.
“I understand. I’ll look out for him,” Terra said, and although the darkness never left the muse’s eyes, she smiled.
Then, as always, the world started to ripple around them as the muse pulled Terra forward into her dark, uncertain, watery world.
“I trust you,” Terra heard herself say out loud before falling forward to find out where the trip led next.
Cat McDonald lives in an eighth-floor apartment in Edmonton with a baby tortoise and at least a dozen tarot decks. She’s studying Investigations at Macewan and Tarot at Northern Star college, and makes better choices now than she did five years ago. Eli is two years old and loves strawberries.
Four (and a half) Things I Learned Writing Threshold
Disclaimer: While some of these are things I discovered about myself as a writer, others are advice straight out of Writing 101. I’m sharing them anyway because they were “Oh!” moments, when knowing something in the abstract became seeing it work (or not work) on the page.
1. Character and conflict outweigh the “cool concept.”
I admit it: I suck at coming up with story ideas. My Twitter feed is full of writers lamenting that they have three billion stories just waiting to be written and, woe is them, wherever will they find the time? I’m not one of those writers. Going from “awesome idea” to “plot” is really hard for me. So even with the anthology theme to give me a starting point, followed by lots of brainstorming weird siren scenarios, I was struggling.
After abandoning my first idea (about sirens running a dating service), I ran across a writing prompt: “You’re a pirate of the skies, preying on merchant airships. The officer leading the hunt for you is your brother.” (From Faye Kirwin @Writerology)
Now, if you read Threshold, you’ll notice that it has nothing to do with pirates, or airships, or manhunts (sad, I know). What it does have, though, is sibling rivalry, and that was what jumped out at me from that prompt. When I read it, I’d all but given up trying to write a story for Sirens, but as soon as “brother vs. brother” entered my head, I was ready to give it another go. I still didn’t have a plot, but I had a character struggle, and that resonated with me more strongly than any of the “cool concepts” I’d been dwelling on up till then.
[Caption: Rokat vs. Navrin (Source: Pokémon: The First Movie)]
2. Give your character a concrete want.
Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” (Bagombo Snuff Box). My problem in Threshold’s early drafts was that my protagonist only wanted something abstract, something long term. This internal conflict was resolved by the end of the story, yes, but as my alpha reader (shout-out to Laura VanArendonk Baugh!) pointed out, any crisis situation could have led to the same resolution. It wasn’t a story about sirens, it just happened to include them because I needed a disaster and, well, the anthology theme was sirens! When it came time to give Navrin a more immediate want, I tied it directly to the sirens and other monsters in the story, and by doing so, I not only had a more interesting character, I also found a reason for my sirens to be there.
3. Fix one problem, create another – or solve them all?
Giving Navrin an immediate want didn’t just tighten the story, it solved at least three other problems as well. His new want resulted in a career change. That led to a setting change. That removed a crowd of people I didn’t need, a pack of “security guards” who should have prevented a disaster, and several instances of “this isn’t very logical, but maybe the reader won’t notice?”
I don’t know if this is something I learned so much as simply a success, but that moment of “Whoa, this all works now!” was exhilarating and bolstering. It helped me realize that there was, in fact, a story here—I’d just been surrounding it with the wrong details.
And speaking of details…
4. Keep worldbuilding to a minimum.
Another Writing 101 tip here, but man, was it hard. Threshold is set in a world I’ve been developing for a fantasy novel (series?), and in early drafts I was having a great time throwing in unnecessary details. Sky serpents. Names of countries and people we’d never actually see or meet. A whole description of my world’s equivalent of an airport, complete with the abovementioned security guards. I even gave the novel’s main character a cameo.
While some of it could have stayed (the airport was the original story setting, for instance), the rest was not only unnecessary but distracting. Fine for a novel, where names and places and foreign words become relevant later on, but not for a story of this length. Worldbuilding’s great for drawing your readers in, but too much and they’ll feel left out—or just plain lost—instead.
But! Since you’re here, have a fun fact that I didn’t get to share in Threshold: my world is modeled on a variety of Asian countries. Navrin’s family is from “China” (where the story is set), while Rokat’s is from “Vietnam.”
[Caption: My model for Eisa (Source: Pinterest)]
4.5 Research is a killjoy.
…okay, not really. But did you know that if you’re knocked out for more than a few minutes, it’s likely you’ve sustained permanent brain damage or other lasting effects? I didn’t. But now I do, and so do my characters, who got a new story ending—and no brain damage—thanks to this discovery.
Kate wanted to be a cat or a horse when she grew up, but after failing to metamorphose into either, she began writing stories about them instead. Soon the horses became unicorns and the cats sprouted wings, and once the dragons arrived there was no turning back. When not writing, Kate can be found sewing, cosplaying, and drinking decaf coffee. She recently completed a PhD in Classical Studies, which will come in handy when aliens finally make contact and it turns out they speak Latin.
This is the seed: a class called “Integrated Liberal Studies” in my senior year of high school. We read Homer, we read snatches of Ovid and Virgil, and I felt myself falling down a grotesque rabbit hole: women chased and women abandoned, women thwarted and women kidnapped, women raped and maimed and murdered and no rhyme or reason to any of it, just the will of the gods folks nothing to see here move along.
Decades later, I’m forwarded the call for Sirens stories and at once I’m back in that hot autumn classroom, thinking about sneaking a cigarette on my break, or about going out to a club that weekend with my fake ID and dancing to a band and making out with strange men. My teacher drones on about Odysseus Odysseus and who cares? The whole book is basically about a guy cheating on his wife and getting away with it, while the women of the story—Circe and her swine, the Sirens singing in their field of rotting corpses, Penelope’s weaving tactics—are just “episodes” in the journey of this asshole guy.
But that was then, and this is now, and I’m a writer, damn it.
It’s some weeks later and I’m turning, turning the idea of Sirens over in my head, looking for a way in . . . and it’s Saturday night, and we’re watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, like you do. Episode 610, to be exact: The Violent Years.
There is nothing good about this movie, yet this time around I find it strangely enthralling. These women. These women with their anger and their pistols, their boy-clothes and their bandanna masks. I had forgotten about the rape scene, too—that rare spectacle, a woman raping a man—how she strips off her sweater with that wooden expression. Mike and the ‘bots giggle and crack wise, but this time around I feel angry: that these women are just puppets for Ed Wood’s straw man storyline; that they’re doomed, doomed, because the 1950s needed them to be doomed. Oh, that they could just keep on going, stealing petty cash and partying with bad boys and rolling around in that big old ’54 Cadillac.
They stay in my head, these women, lounging on the hood of their car, smoking and cleaning their weapons, waiting for me to do something about it.
I’ve seen a lot of girl gang movies, and there’s always something that feels off to me. Something about how the stories are framed; something about how the women’s choices unfold . . . as if they have no choice at all, as if whoever is plotting their lives needs them to be something very particular. Not a character but a trope, an idea.
Not a character but a myth.
My Sirens are a mashup of different Greek writings: a dollop of Homer, a line of Hyginus, all topped off with a few spoonfuls of Lycophron. Like so many figures in Greek mythology, Sirens are who their authors need them to be: an episode, an explanation, even a cautionary tale, but always without motivation or agency. Thus Hyginus:
“It was predicted that [the Sirens] would live only until someone who heard their singing would pass by. Ulysses proved fatal to them, for when by his cleverness he passed by the rocks where they dwelt, they threw themselves into the sea.”
I re-read these lines, and in my head five women look up from where they sprawl on the hood of their Cadillac, roll their eyes, and sing out in unison, “As if.”
Thus do stories begin.
L.S. Johnson was born in New York and now lives in Northern California, where she feeds her four cats by writing book indexes. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Interzone, Long Hidden, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and other venues, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and longlisted for the Tiptree Award. Her first collection, Vacui Magia: Stories, is now available. Find out more about her at http://traversingz.com/.
If novels are like great romances, then short stories are the equivalent of speed dating.
Fast. Flirty. Direct. If the encounter is good, it lingers in the mind long after the affair has ended.
Hopefully it leaves the reader wanting more.
Sirens, then, are the perfect subjects for short stories, creatures whose very existence are built around flash pangs of desire. Of course, far from being celebratory, these stories instill caution in their audience.
Caution against quick detours. Against mischievous dead-ends. Against anything that detract from the long, overarching novel narrative of ones life.
What’s apparent to anyone living it is that life isn’t structured anything like a novel. Life is more non-sequitor and coincidence than we’d like to admit, which goes at least part of the way towards explaining the resilience of short stories.
Sometimes, the story the old scabby throated fossil tells around the campfire lives in the mind long after the balanced and thoughtful prose of a novel. Part of the power lies in the brevity. In the open-endedness. In the gray stuff left open to interpretation. For the camp fire story, it’s the shadows outside of the fire. Those terrific and endless swathes of black, where the imagination lives on long after the story teller has done his work.
It’s the same with the quick romances in life. The surging passions, the darting glances, the apprehensions, the stolen kisses — but beyond that, it’s the imagining. The gifts that you only get when you don’t know. The agonizing but stupidly pleasing process of lying in bed, wondering about your object of desire, filling in the blanks, fantasizing.
Writing isn’t such a dissimilar preoccupation. Neither is reading.
Constructing narratives, weird solipsistic successions of dreams becoming nightmares, and back again, and in this area, short stories have the edge because even the best short stories end. Upon re-reading enough, their mysteries and pleasures usually become routine. Usually.
But some crushes, even long extinct, can still come shrink-wrapped in soft, nostalgic ellipses. Some of these can shred even the best of us to pieces.
The story I wrote for Sirens is about such a situation — worse, because the main character is a married father, seemingly helpless to the infatuation he feels for a young woman. I think, morally and emotionally, he is maybe the weakest character I’ve ever written. Which means I trust him a great deal.
The great thing about horror stories (or fairy tales, fantasy, and any genre that deals with caution and consequence) is they are a great platform for us to examine ourselves at our worst. To see what we might be like if our scabs were to break open.
I think, for this character, the scab gets peeled all the way back, and what we might find in that blood is that endless black shadows aren’t exclusive to the edges of a campfire.
No, they live somewhere inside of us, where the loneliness is indefatigable. We can hurl things at them- crushes, desires, the constructing and consuming of fiction — but sometimes those yawning black chasms are impossible to fill.
The Siren stories, then, aren’t about the corruptibility of man, or his susceptibility to turpitude. They are about exploiting the human need for companionship.
The horror here isn’t about being whisked away, drowned, or eaten alive. It isn’t even the horror of unfaithfulness, or infidelity.
It’s the horror of being alone.
“Michael Leonberger is a writer, a filmmaker, and a horror movie enthusiast. A graduate of the VCUarts Cinema Department, he is responsible for the short film “Hair Grows In Funny Places” (the tragicomic love story between a werewolf and a dominatrix) and the feature length romantic comedy “Goodish” (a movie he co-directed that premiered at the 2014 Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, VA). He recently published his first book, Halloween Sweets, about a teenage girl who can raise the dead, and has since published several short stories. He also writes a column for the website Digital America.”
Today’s contribution to the Sirens blog tour is a piece of flash fiction from Tamsin Showbrook. Enjoy!
LISTEN AND REPEAT
by Tamsin Showbrook
It was okay in the beginning.
I first heard the song on YouTube. There were a few versions with different names, but I liked the one called Kanagawa Waves ’cos that was the smoothest. It didn’t have an actual video, just that picture – the one everyone knows but they never know its name? Where the boats look like they’re getting swallowed by the sea. Like there’s nothing the people on them can do to stop it.
I listened to it all the time and I shared it with my mates. Everyone could download it for free. I went to the original source – that blog by Netu-1. They – no one knows whether Netu-1 is a man or a woman – they said they heard it at the beach one day. Not close by, more like it was coming from out at sea, but somehow their phone’s mic picked it up. They cleaned it up and posted it, and after a week they had over 200,000 followers and then… Well, you know.
There’s no way of describing it. Everyone says different things when I ask them. For me, it’s like someone sorted out that shitty whale music for meditation, so it makes sense and there’s proper notes and… Yeah.
People have tried to copy it, haven’t they? But no one can, and no one’s heard ‘the real thing’ since, or if they have, they’ve not hit record quick enough.
I got the same effect as everyone: made me feel dead chilled out while I listened and then when I turned it off just… buzzing. Like I could do anything. Anything. The stuff I’ve done, I mean… Yeah.
I saw things more clearly too, y’know? And I lost weight. Didn’t feel like I needed to eat anymore; had to think about it. And I got this… healthy glow. I know now there’s nothing inside though; I’ve seen the reports.
I didn’t go home for a couple of months after I started listening, but then I lost my job and, yeah…
Mum cried when she opened her door. She hugged me, kept saying, “Oh, my poor baby!”
But I was fine.
I am fine.
Now I’m in here, I’ll be fine.
The riots and the collapse didn’t surprise me. I mean, there’s that many people like me now, stuck in these places, not contributing. Because of what we did while we were listening. I still can’t believe what I did to that guy. And there’ve been all those people who just let themselves fade to nothing…
I know the world governments teamed up to delete the file, even though some people still think it was planted by one of them in the first place. But you can’t tell me it’s not still out there. Have you got it on your phone? I won’t tell, honest. Just give me the overture. Go on. I’m alright.
I don’t need much.
Just a few bars.
Like in the beginning.
Tamsin lives in Manchester, UK, where she taught English in secondary schools until she had her two kids. Now she tutors part-time and writes a variety of stuff into the depths of night most days. She loves reading – can’t get enough Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman or David Mitchell – as well as hiking and running. Her best ideas do tend to come to her while she’s exercising, which means she has to make frequent scribble-stops and will never achieve marathon-level fitness, but she’s okay with that.
As a writer, creating characters is one of my favorite things. Often a character will appear in my mind, complete with a personality, career, and name, but without a story. If I’m working on something else when this happens, I’ll file them away and tell them to wait their turn! Other times, the story I’m working on will demand a new character, and the context and circumstances will help to form them. But once in a while, I’m interested in a character that already exists.
My degree is in Classics. As a student I read the Odyssey many times, even translating portions of it from ancient Greek (my superpower). It was Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, who always fascinated me. Left behind when Odysseus was called to fight in the Trojan War, we encounter Penelope at the very beginning of the poem and then again at the end. She’s portrayed as clever, loyal, and faithful to Odysseus in his absence. But this woman raised a son and ran the family estate in Ithaca for twenty years while her husband was away. There had to be more to her story!
When World Weaver Press announced a new installment in their Magical Menageries anthology series titled Sirens, I thought about Penelope again. It was, after all, the famous Siren Kalypso who held Odysseus captive for seven years, delaying his return to Penelope. Was there a story here about both these women? One a Siren, and one a loyal wife?
As soon as I posed the question, the ladies spoke! Penelope was stronger and shrewder than I first imagined her. She even demanded her own magic. Kalypso displayed a madness that was both innocent and terrifying, and while her voice felt more distant, it was no less interesting. Other minor characters emerged and shared their personalities. Penelope’s loyal servant, Eurykleia, and the treacherous housemaid, Melantho, both sought their place in the story and helped illuminate the politics and intrigue of the household. It seemed as if these characters were simply waiting for me to tell their tale!
The threads of this story wove together in ways I hadn’t predicted. And like Penelope with her tapestry, I unwound and restrung them numerous times. The end result (I hope!) is a unique, feminine, and imaginative retelling of arguably the most famous homecoming in classical mythology.
Tabitha currently lives in Rhode Island. She is married, has four great kids, a spoiled cat, and lovable lab mix. She holds a degree in Classics from College of the Holy Cross and taught Latin for years at an independent Waldorf school. She also worked in the admissions office there for over a decade before turning her attention to full-time writing. You can visit her author website at www.tabithalordauthor.com, and follow her on www.bookclubbabble.com where she posts author interviews, reviews, and more. Horizon, her first novel, was released December 2015, and she is currently at work on the sequel.