22 October 2013

The Mall Experience

Like most peo­ple, I spend about 99% of my life wrapped up in my own lit­tle world of prob­lems, unaware of what life is like for oth­ers out­side my imme­di­ate bub­ble in any­thing beyond an aca­d­e­mic sense. I live my life, I strug­gle with my prob­lems, and I let oth­ers go about their busi­ness, if not with lit­tle bits of kind­ness, then at least with­out any inter­fer­ence. But 1% of the time, I expe­ri­ence a lit­tle satori, a glimpse of what life is like for oth­ers, and it gives me a squirt of com­pas­sion. Like yesterday.

Yesterday, Sarah and I drove to Olathe to meet up with my brother and his wife for din­ner and to retrieve the lap­top I’d left at his house by mis­take on Sunday. This drive entailed dri­ving against the flow of traf­fic as peo­ple got off work and fled the city.

The first real­iza­tion was how many peo­ple must spend a good por­tion of their day dri­ving in this hell­ish traf­fic to get home. I’ve worked from home or lived in such small towns for so long that I’ve never really had any­thing that con­sti­tutes a com­mute. Seeing peo­ple who had one made me feel a lit­tle bit of sym­pa­thy for them, and more likely to let some­one squeeze in front of me, to for­give the lit­tle mis­takes. If I spent an hour a day in traf­fic like that, I would go mad. That they were han­dling it, day in and day out, was a clear sign that they were all bet­ter peo­ple than me.

We met up at my brother’s place of work; a lit­tle arcade in an upscale mall. I haven’t been inside a large Midwestern mall in many years, and I had for­got­ten how much Malls and Las Vegas remind me of each other. Both are these weird arti­fi­cial indoor expe­ri­ences with no nat­ural light, bad car­pet, and a weirdly com­mer­cial vibe to every­thing. What impressed me most about the mall was how few things there were that one would actu­ally NEED to sur­vive. Almost every­thing the mall sold, shop after shop, was need­less con­sumer goods–stuff that might be fun, but stuff you’d only buy if you had a lot more excess income than I’ve had in a long time. I tried to remem­ber if there was ever a time when we would just go to the mall to buy ran­dom crap, but I couldn’t think of one. Maybe, but not in recent memory.

I started to develop this men­tal model of what the inter­nal life of some­one who has a com­mute for a job in the city and shops fre­quently in the mall must be like. They must be used to a higher level of com­fort than me, sure. But are they happy? Do they find any solace in their RC heli­copters and skin care sup­plies pur­chased from pim­ply teens at kiosks? When we go to the mall, what are we really look­ing for? It sure as hell isn’t human con­tact. As we walked around, peo­ple almost uni­ver­sally make it a point to ignore the other shop­pers. They’re just ghosts in your world, minor incon­ve­niences between you and that next Hot Topic but­ton or whatever.

As I pon­dered these things, try­ing to nav­i­gate the mall to find my brother, I felt for a moment as if I were liv­ing a past life simul­ta­ne­ously with my own. I was George, 34, father of two, who worked in a mid­dle man­age­ment job in Kansas City and liked to blow off steam after a long day in the office by pur­chas­ing new shirts at the upscale bou­tiques at the mall. He has a secret pas­sion for the girl who works at the pret­zel store.

The feel­ing passed as quickly as it came. Then we ate at a a chain restau­rant Cheddar’s and I had spagsana — lasagna made with spaghetti noo­dles. It was okay.

Then we drove home. We watched some TV. And I went to bed.

14 October 2013


The Escape Artists Podcasts Need Your Help

News hit yes­ter­day that the Escape Artists fam­ily of pod­casts are three months away from hav­ing to close up shop unless they receive your donations.

Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod are some of the best places to hear pod­cast fic­tion on the web. There was a short period of time where I was the edi­tor for Escape Pod, and it gave me a strong appre­ci­a­tion for the hard work that goes into pro­duc­ing these pod­casts. They’ve also fea­tured many of my sto­ries on both Podcastle and Escape Pod (though not while I was staff).

If you’re a lis­tener, or even if you’re just a fan of pod­cast fic­tion, please con­sider vis­it­ing their site and set­ting up a reg­u­lar dona­tion via PayPal. The Escape Pod side­bar has a wid­get to do just that in the sidebar.

With the word going out that they need fund­ing, they will likely be okay. They have enor­mous num­ber of lis­ten­ers (over 30,000 down­loads per episode on Escape Pod I think). I hope that mov­ing for­ward, they’ll do more reg­u­lar, less-​​urgent calls for funds to keep the pod­casts alive for many years to come.

27 September 2013

I am still alive

I’m here, despite all attempts by the uni­verse to make it not so. I’m hard at work on a graphic novel called NIGHTFELL and I’m still build­ing web­sites every day. I apol­o­gize for the lack of blog. I think the uni­verse is also con­spir­ing to keep me from blog­ging. But don’t delete me from your feeds just yet, dear read­ers. There is more to come soon.

04 September 2013

WorldCon Remembrances 2013

I’m too tired (and pressed for time) for any­thing but a bul­leted list of the bestest mem­o­ries this year.

  • At din­ner with Hugh, John, and Des, as Hugh described a very fun week­end he was about to take: “Did you just have a stroke and start list­ing the names of famous people?”
  • Meeting Beth, who has great taste in the 90s car­toons (Gummi Bears, Pirates of Dark Water), and appre­ci­ates the screwed up manga Gantz.
  • Walking along the river­walk, men­tion­ing my fear of drop­ping my phone in water, see­ing every­one simul­ta­ne­ously putting phones away.
  • How many tourist bod­ies do you sup­pose they dredge out of this thing every win­ter?” “At least a couple.”
  • Ben’s story of drink­ing the river­walk water.
  • Getting to hold Jaime’s forth­com­ing book.
  • Coming up with the per­sua­sive the­ory that Neil and Sean are a total Fight Club sit­u­a­tion; never seen apart all week long, were they! But which is the imag­i­na­tion of which?
  • Finally meet­ing Norm, hear­ing Norm’s solid minute of jokes on whale-​​fucking (you had to be there).
  • Visiting the wax museum, and laugh­ing until I was dizzy as each and every one of our small group attempted to crack a fun­nier joke about the most ridicu­lous place.
  • Being accused of star­ing at the wax man­nequins’ crotches when I was really just inspect­ing the detail work on the hands; I swear.
  •  Tweeting the Hugos with Shaima and Stephanie until my bat­ter­ies ran out.
  • We Love You Jay.”
  • Unexpectedly see­ing John and Christie at the air­port on the early flight home.

I’m sure I’m for­get­ting even more awe­some. It was a year’s worth of liv­ing packed into four days. Oh it was so great.

But the best moment of all was:

  • Spending an hour depressed and wan­der­ing the con­ven­tion halls with­out see­ing any­one I knew, only to finally meet Sean, and then Chris K. Then shortly later the 50 minute trip across the hotel lobby with Chris as we pro­ceeded to run into every sin­gle writer on the planet on our way to the SFWA suite. I had tears of joy in my eyes. Nothing at all beats the plea­sure of old friends show­ing gen­uine plea­sure to see you again.

So many new friends to look for­ward to next time. This was the best WorldCon of all. I already miss you all.


27 August 2013

LoneStarCon 3!

I will be at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio from Thursday, August 29 through Sunday, September 1st. I don’t have a con­ven­tion agenda; I’ll be try­ing to meet with a few clients, going to a cou­ple of par­ties to which I’ve been invited, and gen­er­ally try­ing to meet a few friends. Clients are wel­come to track me down for a meal my treat; I’m not book­ing any­thing ahead of time. Consider your reward for play­ing the game Where’s Jeremy a free meal at one of San Antonio’s many lovely restaurants.

I’m look­ing for­ward to the clos­est thing I’ve had to a vaca­tion in quite some time! I hope to see you there.

04 August 2013

Mostly True Tales of Winona IX

I love my house, but there are some weird things about it crop­ping up as we get settled.

For instance, there’s a small shrine to a horse in the attic. It con­sists of an old and fad­ing pho­to­graph of a horse and a weird horse rid­ing crop/​whip thing hangs on the wall above it. There’s a woman in the photo, but her face is too blurry to make out with an aim towards iden­ti­fy­ing her. The shrine is set up in the far­thest, deep­est cor­ner away from the entrance. I don’t like to go up there. Looking at the pho­to­graph makes me really uneasy, but I don’t know why. And I think there’s dried blood on that whip thing. I’m not sure what dried blood looks like exactly, but I think it looks like that. Dark brown stains of a dubi­ous nature.

The stairs to go up into the attic are in our mas­ter bed­room closet (it’s a pretty weird setup). My side of the bed is right next to the door. Sometimes when I wake up in the mid­dle of the night, I catch a whiff of some­thing that I haven’t been able to iden­tify, but I finally real­ized this morn­ing– it’s the smell of a wet horse blanket.

31 July 2013

Near Future Coffee Shop Conversations You Will Have #1 : What Do You Do?

So what do you do?” you ask reluc­tantly as the line creeps forward.

I just launched a news aggre­ga­tion site in the style of Pokemon text,” he says with the broad grin of youth that has yet to wake up with a back ache for no good rea­son. “We’re in one of the incu­ba­tors over in West Plaza North.”

Pokemon? That video game for kids with the lit­tle anime monsters?”

Well,” he says, shift­ing his weight uneasily, “Pokemon was for kids when we were kids. But a lot of peo­ple our age still play. It’s a very pop­u­lar franchise.”

How does that even work?” You very much really regret for­get­ting to charge your phone overnight.

Here.” He pulls a tablet out of his can­vas mes­sen­ger bag, flips up the black leather cover, and swipes to unlock. He hands you the tablet.

‘PALESTINE uses PEACE TALKS… it’s INEFFECTIVE!’” you read aloud. You scroll down the page. “Seems pretty limiting.”

Not at all. We’ve got the ‘X learns MOVE NAME’ for­mat to work with also. Pretty much any news can be phrased in a way our gen­er­a­tion just ‘gets,’ and it’s all about cater­ing to our needs now that the Boomers are in decline,” he says. “You should come by our office some time. We have every Pokemon game ever made, includ­ing some really rare imports.” You hand the tablet back to him and he puts it away.

Sure, some time,” you say in a tone that unmis­tak­ably means “no way in hell.” The line moves for­ward as another free­lancer places their order for a Starbucks-​​brand kopi luwak cold­press grande at $12.99. “How’s that work­ing out for you?”

Eh.” He shrugs. “It’s okay. We have three mil­lion daily read­ers, but I think we can hit ten once we start pub­lish­ing in English too.”

# # #

29 July 2013

New sales: “Wet Fur” to Asimov’s and “El Alma Perdida de Marguerite Espinoza” to Podcastle

I’ve been a bit lax on updat­ing the blog with sales news. The head­line says most every­thing you really need to know, but that would make for a poor blog post so here are more details.

When I got the email from Sheila Williams on Friday, I scanned it and thought it said she was reject­ing the story at first. When I read it a sec­ond time and real­ized that she said she wanted to take it pro­vided I rewrite the over-​​long first sen­tence, I let out an invol­un­tary shout that scared the cats and had my wife call­ing from upstairs to know what was wrong. Then I started hoot­ing and maybe danc­ing a lit­tle. It’s all a blur.

Selling a story to Asimov’s Magazine has been a dream of mine since I was 13. My father read Asimov’s reli­giously, so for me this sale is spe­cial. I’m very proud of the sales I have made to Lightspeed and Interzone, but it was Asimov’s that rep­re­sented “break­ing in” for me for so many years. My Dad would have been almost as excited as I am.

Equally awe­some, Podcastle con­tacted me about pod­cast­ing my fan­tasy story from Lightspeed last year, and of course I agreed. I’m really look­ing for­ward to hear­ing their pro­duc­tion of it, and their inter­est in it has reminded me that I need to some­how make time to write the sequels to that story that I have planned. A world where human souls are a com­mod­ity lends itself to a lot of world-​​building fun.

In other writ­ing news, I’ve received in invi­ta­tion to write a short story for an anthol­ogy called Wrecked Earth which is a series of sto­ries set in the world of CLUTCH by C.E.L. Welsh. This will include a short comic book adap­ta­tion of the story.

In longer form writ­ing news, work con­tin­ues apace on the NIGHTFELL graphic novel I’m work­ing on with Outland Entertainment’s lead/​colorist Jeremy Mohler and artist/​penciler Nicolàs Giancondino. This is going to be a longer form (150 pages or so) graphic novel that is kind of epic fan­tasy and kind of some­thing… else. I’m really excited about work­ing with the artists; col­lab­o­ra­tion on this scale is new to me, but if all goes well, I think this is going to be great fun to work on and read.

Life in gen­eral is very full, busy, and gen­er­ally awe­some. I’m keep­ing busy with all the writ­ing, free­lance web design, and unpack­ing our belong­ings in our brand new house here in Lawrence, Kansas. The only thing I need right now is a few friends over to play board games on our new din­ing room table. And that should hap­pen soon enough, I’m guessing…

25 June 2013

Personal Updates, Also; Why I Tweet More than I Blog

I don’t know if any­one reads this blog any­more that isn’t also friends with me on Twitter or Facebook. Despite my best efforts to switch back to more blog­ging, what I have found is that social net­works give a sense of more imme­di­ate feed­back and con­nec­tiv­ity than blog­ging does. You blog some­thing and it just seems to dis­ap­pear into the void that is the net.

With Twitter and Facebook, feed­back is near spon­ta­neous. Only prob­lem is, you can’t share as much. But then, we’re all pressed for time, with more things demand­ing our atten­tion than ever before, so maybe there’s a cer­tain arro­gance in expect­ing any­one to read a blog post that is more than 140 char­ac­ters in length. Better make it valu­able, then. Or at least short.

I’m going with short.

Personal life updates: we’re buy­ing a house next week. It’s a nice turn of the cen­tury num­ber with a lot of charm in a quiet lit­tle Lawrence, Kansas neigh­bor­hood. We’re really look­ing for­ward to restor­ing the orig­i­nal char­ac­ter to it and grow­ing a big veg­etable gar­den in the yard. We’re ner­vous about the added expense, but it seems time to put down roots again. Lawrence is a lovely lit­tle town full of inter­est­ing peo­ple. July is going to be a very hec­tic and scary month, I’m afraid, but it will be worth it.

Business has been great this year, and con­tin­ues to be good. I’ve got var­i­ous projects lin­ing up to take me through to the end of the sum­mer right now. If you’re look­ing to have me tackle a project for you, please con­tact me about it as soon as you can, as my cal­en­dar con­tin­ues to fill up quickly. /​shill

On the writ­ing front, I have even more good news. I sold a story, “In the Dying Light, We Saw A Shape,” to Lightspeed Magazine. I’ll be sure to post here when it comes out. I think you will enjoy it.

The story went through numer­ous drafts and was one of my work­shop pieces for the James Gunn short fic­tion work­shop run by Chris McKitterick and James Gunn, with guest instruc­tor Andy Duncan. Overall, I learned a lot from my two weeks in the work­shop. I highly rec­om­mend you attend if you’ve been con­sid­er­ing it.

It’s been a busy and pro­duc­tive sum­mer. I hope yours is going well.

08 June 2013

Why Do Henchmen Do What they Do?

I’ve always won­dered why hench-​​people are so will­ing to lay down their lives for clearly evil and unbal­anced mas­ter­minds, but I think I just fig­ured it out.

Henchmen and hench­women are recruited from the home­less pop­u­la­tion. People who have reached the bot­tom rung of soci­ety, slipped from it, and dropped into the abyss. Villains trawl for the lost souls and the give them food, a home, com­pan­ion­ship with other hench­men. A pur­pose. They’re trusted with responsibility.

So why do they line up to die in fights against “good guys?”

Gratitude. Henchmen do what they do out of gratitude.

Put your­selves in their posi­tion. Sure, the boss is insane. But you know insan­ity. You’ve wres­tled with it your­self, maybe, or you cer­tainly know peo­ple on the streets that strug­gle with it. And “evil?” What’s evil any­way? Oh, the boss wants to change the world, and how it would change might be unclear, but from your per­spec­tive, he or she has made your life 1000% better.

Villains do more for the home­less than any heroes. Supervillains build indus­try and pro­vide jobs to those who most des­per­ately need them. How many jobs does your aver­age super­hero cre­ate? Hell, they prob­a­bly puts police out of work if they’re ‘good’ at their jobs. Some hench­folk might even be for­mer cops who lost every­thing after yet another round of cuts, because hey, we have all these vol­un­teer heroes, why do we need another dozen police officers?

Giving some­one who has noth­ing even the small­est some­thing is the eas­i­est way directly to the core of them.

I am rethink­ing every super­hero comic I’ve ever read in this con­text now.