i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] January Hot Takes

1. My flash fiction story "Human Resources" is now live at Fireside magazine! Here's a clip:

I used to be vain. I didn't want my body carved up, so when things got rough I auctioned off a small piece of my brain for a luxury condo and free food for a year. You'll never miss it, the broker said, and most of the time he's right. I can't focus too well anymore, and my memory is shot, but it's actually kind of nice sometimes. Like living in a dream.

Celia only got a car. The economy really is weak right now.

Economics and mutilation, a winning combination. The rest of the issue contains stories by AK Snyder, A. Merc Rustad, and Aidan Doyle, with gorgeous art from Galen Dara. And if you like what Fireside is doing, consider contributing to their Patreon!

2. You may have a word count tracker for your writing, but do you have the best word count tracker, the one that has colors to keep you motivated but which doesn't have all that crap you don't need? The word count tracker that's basically perfect in every way? Well, now you do. All credit to Christie Yant, creator of the best word count tracker.

3. I read a lot of single-author short fiction collections. Partially for learning, mostly for enjoyment. In 2013 I picked up an e-copy of Jennifer Pelland's Unwelcome Bodies based on a vague memory of reading and enjoying one of her stories in a defunct magazine called Helix. The notable thing about this collection is that every story was basically perfect. The collection closer "Brushstrokes" (a novella) was especially moving, a dark SF love story with extremely unique worldbuilding. Reading Unwelcome Bodies taught me a LOT about writing, and I can guarantee that if you like my stories you'll like this collection. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that it's only a dollar this month for Kindle so pick this sucker up now.
i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] Novel sale: STAY CRAZY to Apex Publications

It's on the publisher's blog, so it's official: I'm going to have a novel published. Here's the blurb:

Nineteen-year-old stock girl Emmeline Kalberg isn't surprised when voices start speaking to her through the RFID chips embedded in frozen food containers. Ever since she left college after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, voices have been a mainstay of her life, something to be ignored. But when Em's fellow employees at Savertown USA start dying around her, victims of a mysterious suicide plague, she decides to listen in. What she hears has the potential to tear apart the fabric of her small western Pennsylvania town -- and maybe the entire world.

The story of Stay Crazy began in 2006, when I wrote a novel called Entity that melded my experiences working for Walmart in that strange-ass year after I graduated college with my love of stories that question the nature of reality. Then a year later I quit writing for reasons that made a lot of sense at the time, and the novel was basically trunked along with the rest of my writing. But the story never left me, I always wished I had done something with the novel, and that wish especially grew stronger when I un-quit and my writing reached a whole new level. Some time last year, I pulled out the novel and well... I'm a much better writer than I used to be. So I rewrote it, line by painstaking line. I gave the story the writing it deserved.

And now... it's going to be published. My weirdo reality-bending category-bending novel with a mentally ill, working-class protagonist living in a shitty small town is going to be available for anyone to read, anytime, anywhere. I'm especially stoked to be published by Apex, since they've released a whole lot of books I've just loved.

Publication date is set for August 2016, so mark your calendars! In related news, I will be at WorldCon next year, so... book release party? Book release party, yes.

i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] I Bet Owning a Gun Is Awesome

Like everyone else, I'm somewhat shocked but mostly desensitized about the mass shootings in... you know what, I don't even have to name a city here, because there's just gonna be another one tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. I don't understand why people can't see that all of these shootings are connected to the fact that guns in the United States are plentiful and unregulated and that we have a culture that worships guns. I can't see why the right to own a gun should be more important than the right not to be shot by a gun.

However, I think there might be an aspect to this that I've been overlooking. Because, like a lot of people who criticize gun culture, I've never owned a gun.

I mean, what if owning a gun is literally the absolute best thing ever? What if the mere fact of owning an automatic weapon is like the greatest high that a human being can ever hope to experience, like snorting a bunch of coke and high-fiving the Pope while riding a golden unicorn? And what if the sensual pleasure of gun ownership intensifies every time you leave the ammunition in, or store it out of its safe, or let your children play in the same room as the gun?

Pictured: a first-time gun owner.

Because that would explain it, right? If you take a group of rational humans and tell them that gun control will save hundreds of lives, if you tell them about Australia and some other stuff about Australia and also show them charts aplenty, then nearly everyone will be like "yeah, maybe we should get rid of some of these guns, because come on look at this shit." But maybe instead it's like telling a group of junkies about the dangers of heroin. Sure, they can rationally understand that heroin will kill them. Contrary to popular stereotypes, most addicts are not in denial about their preferred substances. They just can't stop.

And what if there's withdrawal symptoms? Maybe taking a gun owner's gun away is like going cold turkey on OxyContin. You get the shakes, you start hallucinating tiny European monarchs in your house taxing you without representation, shit like that. Man, I wouldn't want that to happen to me! Why do I gotta go through gun detox when I'd never shoot anyone? C'mon bud, just gimme one little Kalashnikov to get me through the end of the week. Maybe it's almost cruel to make gun owners give up their guns, although not as cruel as sitting around with our thumbs up our asses while hundreds of people die or anything.

In closing, based on no evidence whatsoever I believe that owning a gun must create a high so incredibly great that it makes you override your natural empathy and rationality to get a taste of that sweet, sweet steel. Therefore, I propose a new slogan for the gun control movement:

i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] My Stories for 2015

As I have no additional stories coming out in 2015, I guess it's high time for me to list the stuff I had published this year, as is the style of the time.

Anyway, I had eight stories published this year. Damn! Three of them are flash, five of them are not. Probably the most "important" one, the one you should read first, is "Loving Grace," which marked my return to Clarkesworld Magazine after a whole eight and a half years, which must be some kinda record. You can read story notes here, but basically it's about what happens when human minds (and governments) are too small to accept the gift of post-scarcity. This story was originally titled "Fables of Post-Capitalism" until I realized that title was extremely pretentious (I did keep the fables, however).

I also had a return to the pages of Shimmer with "States of Emergency," which is another story I really like because like life it's just a lot of insane stuff that happens for no reason. If "Loving Grace" is too political, maybe you'll like a story with a sin-eating shredder, I don't know.

In flash country, my Queers Destroy Science Fiction piece "Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind" got some buzz (the concept of buzz for one of my stories is new to me) and I'm happy that most people seemed to realize what I was doing (implication over action).

I don't know why I thought this was
the best photo to illustrate this post.

Additional stories published in 2015, some not available online:

"The Species of Least Concern" in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show: Genetic engineering! Disabled protagonist! I was reading a lot of Nancy Kress when I wrote this story and that's not a bad thing at all.

"Clarity" in Daily Science Fiction: May just be the most depressing story I have ever written.

"A Slow, Constant Path" in Cats in Space: Robot cats and cyborg girls on a doomed generation ship. It's cute!

"Dear Conqueror" and "Summer in Realtime" in Daily Science Fiction: More stories to enjoy, and only one of them is about death!

I also had quite a few reprints published this year, including my debut in Escape Pod ("The Silent Ones"), which was very exciting! Even if nobody on the message board understood the story (not that I ever know what my stories are about either).

Other things I did in 2015, writing-wise:

FINISHED MY GODDAMN NOVEL. No, seriously this time, it's been submitted and everything. The one thing I wanted out of 2015 was a completed novel and that's what I got. So that's pretty sweet.
Started another goddamn novel, the rough draft of which will probably be finished this year. Maybe I can not drag on the revision/abeyance stage as long as the last one?
Finished nine short stories (and counting?), which doesn't seem like a lot, but one of them is a friggin' novelette and that one took forever so I think it counts as like four stories. Most would disagree. All of these are either sold or on submission. Crossing fingers.
Started teaching occasional adult extension writing classes at Portland Community College. Want to take a class from me? You can! (Well, if you live in Portland.)
Did a lot of freelance editing and here's a link for that too.

Anyway, that's 2015 for you. Not as productive as I should have/could have been, but isn't that always the case? Looking forward to what next year brings!
i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] OryCon Schedule!

Orycon 37 is next weekend (November 20-22) at its new location, the
Waterfront Marriott Hotel. Here are my panels:


2:00 - 3:00PM: Endings: Cuddling with the Reader - You've just blown your
reader's mind with your story's climax. Make sure they'll come back for
more--give them a good denouement! David D. Levine, Erica L. Satifka (M),
Anna Sheehan, Ann Gimpel, Grá Linnaea

3:00 - 4:00PM: Strong Characters in SF - What are the truly memorable
characters in SF and what makes them so? Is memorable the same as strong?
How do writers develop excellent characters that are integral to SF
settings? Esther Jones, Andrew S. Fuller, Erica L. Satifka, Clayton
Callahan (M), DongWon Song


7:00 - 8:00PM: Short Stories, Novelettes, Novellas, and The Markets Who
Love Them - Online markets for speculative short fiction have blossomed
since the 1990s. What are the ins and outs of the spec fic short fiction
markets in 2015? What are these markets publishing? What might the future
bring? Andrew S. Fuller (M), Erica L. Satifka, Wendy N. Wagner, Rob
McMonigal, James Patrick Kelly


12:00 - 1:00PM: Structurally Speaking - Stories have rhythm. Is there One
True Pattern, or can we mess with it? Are we really bound to the Hero's
Journey, or are there other models? Doug Odell, Leslie What, Grá Linnaea,
Erica L. Satifka, Anna Sheehan (M)

1:00 - 2:00PM: The Death of the Stand-Alone Book - Trilogies,
tetralogies--we're not even sure of the right names for five, six,
seven-book series! Where does the madness end? Is there no market any more
for non-series books? Mike Shepherd Moscoe, Fonda Lee (M), Erica L.
Satifka, Esther Jones, Doug Odell

2:00 - 2:30PM: Erica Satifka Reading - Erica Satifka reads from her works.
(Probably this one.)

See you there! Watch me defend the honor of the stand-alone novel!
i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] Some New Stories!

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I have two new-ish stories out:

"Summer in Realtime" in Daily Science Fiction is a little YA virtual reality story:

"What's it like down there?" asked the woman sitting next to her in the mess hall.
Tina closed her eyes, recalling the glory of the simulated Earth. "Well, you remember it. Don't you?"

"No. I've never been in the program."

"Oh," Tina said, feeling sympathy. "Well, it's bright and green all the time. Nobody ever gets sick. Nothing's ever broken down or rusted over. You get everything you want by pressing buttons in your hand." She held hers up, examining it. Tina felt the loss of her palmtroller like a phantom limb.

There's also a reprint of my flash story "Real Plastic Trees" up at Fantastic Stories of the Imagination this month, which is its first time on the web! So check it out.

Meanwhile, I'm a little over a third of the way through the first draft of my second novel that counts, and man that is a lot of prepositional clauses. Like my first novel that counts, it's an SF story set in the present day with a ton of paranoia, because I guess I run to type? This is going to have an incredibly long bake time and I don't even know for sure that it will "count," so I don't want to provide too many details. But that's mostly what's been happening.

I also might spend the rest of December after I finish the first draft working on a novella. Or not! It's wide open!
i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] "Loving Grace" Audio Version & Story Notes!

In case you missed it, the audio version of my story "Loving Grace" came out a little while ago on the Clarkesworld site. So if you like stories, but hate reading, give it a listen. Thanks to Kate Baker for the excellent narration!

While I think the story is fairly self-explanatory, notes seem to be the thing to do, so I figured I'd talk a little more about what inspired the story. It springs (sprang?) from one simple question: Why do we still have a forty-hour workweek?

Because when you think about it, we shouldn't. Advances in automation should have made our lives easier, but instead, people are working longer hours than ever. What makes it even worse is that so many of the jobs that we do are unmitigated bullshit. The job I have now is real, but I'm sure I'm not the only person who has had a job warming a desk for hours upon hours a day, not really doing much of anything at all. What is a "project manager"? Machines are taking our jobs, which is a good thing (as Marybeth says in the story, "machines can do things better than we ever could"), but we aren't seeing the benefits of automation, only a shift into jobs built on endless paperwork. Politicians talk about "job creation," which is another way to say "make work." Nobody is saying the obvious: that we need a Shift in the way we think about jobs and money, that we are closer to fully automated luxury communism than we know.

This could be us if we want it to be.

In the world of the story, luxury communism is within society's grasp. But because of the American work ethic, nobody is willing to just accept the fact that capitalism is transitory and enjoy this bountiful stage of advanced civilization. Or rather, they might accept it... except that the government has made it illegal to revel in your fully automated life. So in addition to the employment lottery, things are shoddier than they have to be. The characters could have real food, fine clothing, adequate transportation, but they haven't "earned" these things. Hell, setting up a draft and keeping everyone cowed is more work than just letting utopia reign, but living in luxury without "earning" it is obscene. Never mind that there is no actual way to earn it! The workers are psychologically invested in this racket as well (eg draft volunteers, Chase being anxious about the Shift instead of joyful, and so forth).

I believe in a basic income. I believe BI is the pathway to post-capitalist economic liberation, and that if we had one, scientific and artistic progress would skyrocket. But we'll never get there if people who stand to gain the most by a massive automation-fueled economic Shift remain obsessed with "welfare queens" and the concept of "earning" things we should have by rights.

So anyway, that's the story. Read or listen! Support basic income!
i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] "Loving Grace" up at Clarkesworld

So happy to announce that my story "Loving Grace" is live at Clarkesworld Magazine. Here's a sample:

When full automation made human employment superfluous, the first reaction was panic. Pink slips fell like confetti. Even Chase had protested against the coming of the machines at first, though Marybeth hadn't.

"It's a paradigm shift," she'd said. "Relax, Chase. It's the way things were meant to be. Machines can do things better than we ever could."

The early days of the Shift were a time of great upheaval, as people who'd spent their whole lives working suddenly found themselves without a job, a purpose. The solution was drastic: a complete social safety net, and a draft. Every day, a few people were called for employment, targeted by the drones that also swept the city clean, monitored crime, and performed chit drops. Stretches of employment varied from a few months to a few years.

You'll come back, the Employment Bureau said. Everyone will come back. We count on it. Chase knows nobody who has returned, but that doesn't prove anything.

This issue also features fiction by Robert Reed, Bao Shu, Elizabeth Bourne, and many others! I'm not going to break my usual pattern of not talking about my stories, but I will say that the article "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs" by David Graeber was a huge inspiration for this piece, and of course this poem by Richard Brautigan. Read it if you want to, and let me know what you think!
i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] Erica's Infrequent Book Reviews Presents: CHAFFS by Douglas P. Lathro

Every dystopia actually reveals the writer's anxiety about the present. In Chaffs, Douglas P. Lathrop follows the Tea Party movement to its natural conclusion: a fascistic nightmare state that slaughters people of color, tortures queer people in reeducation camps, and spies on its citizens, all for the glory of the "Fourth Great Awakening," headed by President Muldoon, a cult of personality leader whose framed picture hangs in every home.

The narrator, Tyler Treppenhouse, knows there's something odd about himself, that he doesn't quite fit into the rigid masculinity required of all males of his world. But it's not until he meets handsome skater boy Casey that he realizes the truth: he's gay, and in America after the Fourth Great Awakening, that means he might as well be dead. As their relationship develops, Tyler gradually learns that his world is built on horror upon horror, and he must make the ultimate sacrifice to save Casey's life: becoming a mole at a reorientation center. Yet, queer folks aren't the only ones who suffer under the Muldoonian regime, and during his mission Tyler learns that the resistance is bigger than he ever thought possible.

For all the talk about diversity, there really doesn't seem to be that many gay protagonists in YA fiction, and very few in YA science fiction*. Actually, I can't think of any right now, though I'm definitely not as well-read in YA as some folks. The love story which drives the plot feels raw and true, and Tyler's gayness isn't a tacked-on identity. Nor is it the kind of gay love story that's written to be titillating to straight women; there is a lot of sex, but it's all necessary to the plot, and in a world where either of the main characters could die at any moment because of their love for each other, the sex carries a lot of emotional weight.

The setting of Chaffs also hits much closer to home than most dystopias, there is the real sense that this could be our world (and if you don't think that, then you must have not been around in the 2000s). One interesting quirk is that aside from weaponry and surveillance, technology has been pushed backwards, so there's no Internet, no smartphones. Much like North Korea, the Muldoonian government tries to stifle revolution by isolating people from one another. Queer people who came of age before the Internet might also find this especially true to life. Tyler's isolation from any sort of queer community, his feeling like he's the only gay person in the world, was something that really resounded with me. LGBT rights are mainstream now, and even in the most rural areas gay teens can find some kind of community. But twenty years ago this wasn't true at all, especially in small towns, and the confusion of not knowing what you are and the fear of being found out all felt very honest to me. Even if I never had to deal with fascist shock troops, I still grew up at the tail end of a period where queerness just wasn't discussed except as a slur. It Got Better, but if you came out (if only to yourself) before the turn of the century, you don't forget what it was like back then. As a gay man a generation older than me, Lathrop was clearly mining some personal experience here.

Lathrop was an excellent writer, with a knack for believable dialogue, well-detailed description, and tightly-paced plotting. Sadly, this is his only novel, as he died last year. A truly great loss, as I think Chaffs was only the beginning to a great career. It's available from Amazon now, and I'm guessing there will be an electronic version as well. Whether you're queer or straight, an adult or a young person, this is a book that wins both on its politics and on being a fast-paced adventure into the heart of a sinister alternate America that could have been... and could still be, if we're not careful.

*Or adult science fiction, honestly. Especially gay males. I know there are exceptions, and I know things are changing rapidly, but... publishers still gotta cash in on that straight male nerd demographic. But that is an article for another time!
i don't know! leave me alone!

[The Garden of Sporking Paths] "States of Emergency" Is Live!

My insane short story "States of Emergency" is live on Shimmer! Here's an excerpt:


The house always wins. So does the Autonomic SmarTrak DwellingUnit 3.0.

Step inside. Allow the polished servo-mechanisms to lift you up, float you through the air like a luck-kissed cherub. Spin the wheel. Roll the dice. Make merry. Have another scotch. Ante. Raise. Call.

Later, when the lights go dark and the thrill of winning is gone, sink into the luxurious honeycomb of the fully furnished basement. Order some room service. It's on the house.

I spend a lot of time in the shower thinking about stories, which I found out is actually a pretty common thing. This story, though, was a first in that it was inspired by the shower, or more specifically the new curtain we bought at Fred Meyer when we moved to Portland.

For a couple of months, I amused myself by imagining all the terrible, personalized fates that could befall residents of the fifty states. Then I wrote them down, because why not? And from there, a story was born. It's fragmented on purpose, can be read in almost any order, and is pretty wacky. Hope you enjoy!

Also, I haven't mentioned it yet because this blog is severely neglected, but I'll have a short story out soon in Clarkesworld. Yes, after an eight-year gap, I'm finally going to be in Clarkesworld again. It's an unabashedly political story about drones and full luxury communism, and I can't wait to share it with the part of the world that reads short stories.