An excerpt from POSEIDON’S EYES

An excerpt from Poseidon’s Eyes, my short story forthcoming in Writers of the Future, Volume 31 on May 4th.

The illustration is by artist Megen Nelson. Stop by her website and check out her other work!

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Poseidon’s Eyes

Sometimes you can get to know a whole town by understanding just one man. In the seaside village of Summerland, that man was Peyton Jain. Peyton was in his 60s, as best I could tell. His face was craggy and weathered, with a beard like sea foam on rocks and eyes of Poseidon’s blue.

Illustration for “Poseidon’s Eyes,” by Megen Nelson

Some folks thought of Peyton as a nuisance to be reported or a vagrant to be run off, but I knew different because it was Peyton who put me right with Summerland’s spirits. The locals have joked about spirits as long as anyone can remember, but it took the murder of the Kelly children to remind us just how real—and how powerful—the spirits could be.

Summerland sits like the Pythia over a cleft in the rock, soaking up the vapors of prophecy along with the California sunshine. Spiritualists started a commune here over a century ago. Egalitarians at heart, they outlawed money and divvied the land into tent-sized plots.

Oil—oil money, really—edged the Spiritualists out. Derricks took over the beach, and the Spiritualists’ canvas utopia turned into a shantytown for oil workers. My house was made from two of those oil shanties sandwiched together. The shanties had been built before electricity, so the wiring came up through holes in the floor, and the doorbell was an old ship’s bell, corroded green with salt and time.

The house had no foundation, just posts and piers and seven jacks. When the floor sagged, Peyton crawled beneath to twist the jacks until everything was more or less level. That was a blessing to me because I couldn’t abide the narrow crawlspace with earth pressing in around me and voiceless whispers winding snakelike over my skin.

The county said the whispers were nothing to worry about. Radon gas. Natural seepage. Buy a detector and install a fan. But radon doesn’t creep up through the floorboards in silver ribbons until it pools in the corners, like living smoke. Radon doesn’t whisper in the darkness like waves on sand.

But spirits? That’s exactly what they do.

—————–

On Anger, Power and Displacement in the Hugos

On anger, power and displacement

Today I’d like to talk about anger, power and displacement. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term displacement, it’s the idea that when a person of lower power or status feels threatened by a person of higher power or status, the threatened one will often displace their anger onto a less dangerous target.

In primate terms, a lower status monkey aggressed upon by a higher status monkey will not challenge the aggressor, but will instead go beat up the omega. So if your boss gives you a hard time, you kick your desk, slam your chair, flip off another driver on the way home and snap at your partner and/or children. You’re not angry at the desk, the chair, the driver or your family, but they’re less risky outlets than directing your anger into a confrontation with your boss, which is where the anger belongs.

Right now, people are very, very angry at Vox Day. They are also afraid of Vox Day. Afraid of violence. Afraid of doxxing and online harassment. Afraid of him or his followers showing up at WorldCon in person.

I don’t see a lot of anger directed at, say, Jim Butcher, who is a high status monkey – er, individual. 😉 Or at Kevin J. Anderson, also a successful, high status person. No, Jim and Kevin wouldn’t make good targets for displacement. Displacement usually falls on a person of lesser status and lesser power, someone who is less of a threat to the person doing the displacing.

So, who are the omega monkeys in this scenario? Well, they’re people like relatively unknown (and queer or female) short story authors. And, of course, the stories themselves, who aren’t human and can’t fight back or have their feelings hurt – sort of like that desk in my earlier example.

So someone who’s displacing can safely vent all of that hurt and anger by shredding a story because the story functions as a symbolic proxy, as a stand in for Vox Day. “I can’t get back at VD, but I can destroy his symbol, this thing he allegedly loves.” So by shredding the stories and the most vulnerable authors, people are, metaphorically speaking, burning Vox Day in effigy.

There’s just one problem with that: We are not Vox Day.

On Vietnam and its relevance to the Hugos (i.e. more displacement)

In the popular mindset, Vietnam is considered to be one of the ugliest wars ever fought. For the first time, Americans saw what up-close war was like. Night after night, they watched as blood, dirt, death and civilian massacres were piped into their living rooms through the wonder of television. They saw Agent Orange, and burned, naked children fleeing in terror.

Americans hated the war, so when the soldiers returned home, they displaced their anger onto the soldiers, reviling them, spitting on them and calling them baby killers.

Then, over the course of the next few decades, we grew to understand that we’d made a terrible mistake. So when next group of soldiers came home from a war that many Americans didn’t support, we didn’t spit and we didn’t call names. We’d learned that it was wrong to displace our anger onto the easy target. We said “Thank you for your service” even if we disagreed with the war.

But I don’t think we’ve learned that in the SFF community yet because we’re displacing our anger all over some of the Hugo nominees.

Vox Day spoke our names without our consent, and because of that we have been bullied in the news media and all over the internet. The women among us have been reviled as misogynist men, the minorities have been reviled as white racists, and the QUILTBAG authors and allies have been reviled as straight homophobes. We have been called assholes, bitches, mongrels, yapping curs, talentless hacks and so many more things that I can’t even name them all. I have seen at least one suggestion that all of us should be euthanized, a euphemism and allegedly funny word for murder.

There’s a trope made famous by Anita Sarkeesian that in the game of patriarchy, women aren’t the opposing team, they’re the ball. There’s a contingent that’s going to be upset that I’ve name checked Sarkeesian, but her comment is applicable to the Hugos, too. In the Hugo debate, the nominees aren’t the opposing team. We’re the ball.

We’re being kicked and bullied and savaged all over the internet.

And it hurts.

 

A gentle reminder: Comments are moderated.

Free mini eARC for #WOTF31! Who wants one?

Hi, all!

In the next day or so, I will have a mini eARC for volume 31 of Writers of the Future to distribute to anyone who is willing to leave an honest review on launch day (or thereabouts).

Here are the deets:

Writers of the Future, Vol. 31
  • The mini eARC (PDF) will only have three or four of the stories in it. If you want to read them all, look for the mini eARCs being offered by some of my co-authors. Gotta catch ’em all!
  • The launch is scheduled for May the 4th. May the Fourth be with you!  How awesome is that?
  • In your review, it’s fine to mention that you haven’t read all of the stories, and please do mention that you received a free sample copy.
  • If you want one, please say so in the comments. Once I’ve got the file, I’ll send it to the email address used for your comment. (In other words, don’t post your email in the comment itself. I can see it in the admin interface.)
  • If I get a lot of requests, please give me a day or two to get back to you.
  • If you buy the paper copy and we ever meet at a con or workshop (*ahem* Sasquan), I will be happy to sign it for you!
Oh, and here’s a plug for my story, POSEIDON’S EYES.
In a sleepy California beach town, spirits magnify both the good and the evil in human hearts.

Many thanks!

Kary

ETA: I’ve also got two 99 cent sales for you!  Mike Resnick’s Best of Galaxy’s Edge has 25 short stories in it, including my Hugo nominee, and Writers of the Future, Volume 29 (not the current volume) is also on sale. Grab them fast because I don’t know how long the sales will last.

Reminder: Comments are moderated, and may not appear in a timely fashion if I’m busy writing or away from my computer.

The Disavowal

There’s a call in certain corners of the internet for disavowals from people on the Sad Puppies slate.  Here’s mine:

I disavow racism wherever I find it.

Calling someone a half-savage because of race? I disavow it. Denying someone’s ethnicity and heritage because that makes it easier to stereotype them as  white oppressors? I disavow it. Calling a whole slate racist because of someone who’s not even on it or because some of the people are white? I disavow it.

My characters come from multiple races and ethnicities because they’re drawn from the vast diversity of the world around me. I write them as faithfully and authentically as I can. If I should stumble, my hope is that the world will correct me when needed and accept an apology when offered.

I disavow sexism.

My dyslexia went undiagnosed until college because my teachers attributed my struggles with math to my gender. “She doesn’t do well in math because she’s a girl. We don’t think she should take BASIC. She should try Home Ec instead.”

I write well-rounded, believable characters. Some of those characters are male. Some of those characters are female. Some are good; some are bad. Some are strong; some are weak. Giving the hot babe to a male character as a reward or a quest token? I disavow it. Making men into villains, in fiction or in the real world, simply because they’re men? I disavow it. #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen

I disavow homophobia.

I support gay rights and marriage equality. My body of work is small, but it includes positively written gay and lesbian characters. Some of that work isn’t out yet, but I put gay and lesbian characters in my work because they belong there and they deserve to be there. They’re part of this world. They’re part of my world, and they’re part of the worlds I create.

I disavow religious discrimination.

I support faith and non-faith. Marginalizing an author for his or her Islamic faith? I disavow it. Marginalizing an author for his or her Christian (including Mormon) faith? I disavow it.

I disavow political litmus tests.

I don’t care whether an author’s politics are right, left, center or upside down. If their work is good and suits my taste, I’ll buy it and read it. Shunning an author or a group of fans because their political views are different from my own? I disavow it.

I disavow judging a group based on the actions of a few.

I form my opinions of people and of creative works on an individual basis, based on the work itself or what the individual has said or done. Guilt by association? I disavow it.

I disavow vitriol and kerfuffles on the internet.

I loathe internet drama. I almost said no to Sad Puppies because I knew drama would follow. There is vitriol on both sides, and I disavow it. I will not take part in the vitriol, and I will do what I can to keep the kerfuffle to a minimum.

Working for change? I avow and affirm it.

I said yes to Sad Puppies this year because I saw the seeds of change. I saw an organizer who wanted to broaden the slate. Sad Puppies includes greater political variety, more women, more people of color and more non-het writers than it ever has before, and I wanted to support that growth.

Change comes in baby steps. Is Sad Puppies as diverse or inclusive as I’d like it to be? No, not yet, but I said yes in support of that first baby step. My view is that when someone makes a good faith effort to be more ecumenical, when someone reaches across the aisle and extends a hand to the other side, someone has to cross over. Insularity breeds more insularity. Brad made a gesture, and I wanted to support it.

Being the change you want to see in the world? I avow and affirm it.

 

*A note about comments: they’re moderated, which means this is a dictatorship. Whether or not it’s a benevolent dictatorship depends on the nature of the comment. 😉

Totaled: the story behind the story

ETA: Galaxy’s Edge has re-released TOTALED on their website.

A few years ago, my sister was in a serious car accident with her two boys in the car. It was raining, and she hydroplaned on standing water that had pooled in the low spot of a cloverleaf on-ramp.  Her Ford Explorer got tangled up in the gap between a truck and a trailer, then she skidded off the road into a tree. Nobody was injured, but the accident totaled her Explorer.

TotaledCover375x600
Totaled, by Kary English

The totaled car got me thinking. What if a person could be totaled? What if medical expenses could be reckoned against earning potential the way repair costs are weighed against the value of car? It’s a dystopian question about trying to determine the value of a human life in dollars and cents.

Then my writing mentor, David Farland, nearly lost his son in a longboarding accident. Ben’s recovery has been little short of miraculous, but the medical expenses almost bankrupted Dave. That brought me back to the essential tension between health insurance and the value of a human life. The story doesn’t answer the question; it engages the question.

But what about the speculative element? It’s not a sci-fi story without a speculative element! My geeky love of all things SF goes back to the Golden Era when brains in jars tottered around on spidery, metal legs. Huzzah! Spec element acquired! TOTALED would be a brain in a jar story.

Sonicated microparticle oxygenation (say it three times fast!) is a real thing that’s already saving lives, though I advanced the technology far beyond what’s possible today. I also know a thing or two about cognitive science and fMRIs, so it wasn’t too difficult to weave those things together. No, the difficult thing was something else entirely.

I’d been invited to submit a story to Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, and he’d given me a limit of 4,000 words. 4k? Ouch. My natural length for shorts is nearly double that, but I bit the bullet and wrote the story in exactly 4,000 words. Success? Nope. The story was flawed, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Frustrated, I shipped it off to Writers of the Future for a cooling off period. It earned an Honorable Mention, a low showing for me after a semi and two finalists, so while I’m not knocking HMs, mine confirmed for me that the story was broken. Fortunately, now I knew why. The story had to be longer, and Maggie’s decline needed to be more visible and more poignant.

Cackling like a mad scientist, I cracked the story open and added a thousand words to the second half. Writing Maggie’s decline was difficult and intricate, like placing tiles in a mosaic. Each word had to be exactly right or the technique I was using would look like a jumble of typos and bad grammar instead of a deliberate device. I’d say more, but I’m avoiding spoilers. Suffice it to say that Maggie’s decline is the most difficult thing I’ve ever written.

Satisfied with my work, I stitched the patient back up and sent it off to Mike, fervently hoping that I hadn’t earned myself an auto-reject by exceeding his wordcount. I got my answer in just a few days. Mike loved TOTALED, and he said such nice things about it at the V30 Writers of the Future reception that I had to excuse myself to go cry in the ladies’ room.

So there you have it, the story behind the story.

 

On discovering SFF and becoming a fan

Challenge accepted, Mr. Torgersen!

My very first crush was on Astro Boy, shortly followed by Speed Racer, shortly followed by Mr. Spock and Cmdr. Sulu. I should note that I was four when Astro Boy and Speed Racer stole my heart, and five when I discovered Star Trek.

By age six, my love of Star Trek got me into my first fannish fight. See, there were these boys in my first grade class who kept calling it “Star TRACK.” 😉 (Yes, I was *that* girl.)

The Wizard of Oz was another favorite, and my friends and I played elaborate WoO make-believe on the playground. We were all faeries, you see, like Glinda, in the service of Mother Nature. There were also Bad Faeries who served Bad Mother Nature, and the idea for both Mother Natures came from a margarine commercial.

We traveled in bubbles, of course, and the first rule of the game was that you had to describe your bubble, then your dress.  (This was before the Princessification of Everything, so Glinda was as close as we got.) After that, the Good Faeries set about foiling the schemes of the Bad Faeries, and someone usually pretended to be a kitten before the game was over, which totally worked because rescuing kittens was *totally* a Good Faerie thing to do.

I still loved Star Trek, but I hadn’t yet discovered readable SFF. Maybe we didn’t have any in my small school library? Or I guess I had, since I’d read the Narnia and Wizard of Oz books, but I hadn’t mentally separated SFF from the folk tales and fairy tales that formed the bulk of my reading.

That all changed when we moved in the 4th grade. New school, new library. I was ahead of my new classmates in a couple of subjects, so the teacher excused me to the library. I knew I liked big fat books, so I made most of my selections by the width of the spine. Witch of the Glens was awesome. So was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Then I found this odd book called The Hobbit. What the heck was a Hobbit?

After that, my SFF reading exploded. My mother was a jr. high English teacher, and she added Podkayne of Mars and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong to the likes of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and When the Legends Die. I stole her teacher copies and read them under my covers at night with a flashlight. Then I read everything else by those authors I could get my hands on.

At 16, I went to Brazil for a year, and my luggage limits only permitted me a few books. I took Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster of Hed series and about four Xanth books. I was deep in the interior, so books in English were rare as hen’s teeth, but I found Out of the Silent Planet in the private library of some American Benedectine nuns. About six months in, I could read well enough to buy Portuguese books, so I read Clifford Simak’s Irmandade do Talisman (Fellowship of the Talisman) and Heinlein’s Friday in Portuguese.

I’d started writing by then, too. Star Wars fan fiction, though it wasn’t called fanfic back then. See, I’d just seen Empire, and there was no way I was going to wait a WHOLE YEAR for the next movie, so I wrote an entire sequel, longhand, in pencil, in a spiral notebook. (I still have it, btw.) I also wrote lots of prologues. The best books had them, so clearly if I wanted to be a writer, I had to master the art of the prologue, right? Right?!?

The first writer I ever tried to imitate was Roger Zelazny, because Amber.

tl:dr?  I was hooked on Star Trek by the age of 5, then discovered Big, Fat Fantasy (TM) thanks to Tolkien in 4th grade.

 

Winning Writers of the Future – It’s kind of head asplodey

Winning Writers of the Future – It’s kind of head asplodey

Sometime back in July, I got a phone call from Joni Labaqui letting me know that not only had I won Writers of the Future, I’d won first place for Q2 of V31. Yes, winning WOTF is a major squeegasm, but it’s more complicated than that, too. In addition to doing the Tom Cruise sock dance in the middle of my kitchen, I also got hit with a healthy dose of impostor anxiety, survivor guilt and a weird, disoriented “Well now what do I do?” feeling.

See, I sent in my first WOTF entry as a dreamy-eyed teen back when Reagan was president and the Berlin Wall was still standing. At that time, my twin goals as an aspiring writer were to A) win WOTF, and B) join SFWA.

In March of 2014, I joined SFWA as an Active Member, and by then I’d accepted the idea that I’d probably pro out of WOTF before I won. I guess I should have heard the Universe laughing. Then July rolled around and boom-boom, major life goal accomplished – now what? I felt a little lost. I guess I’m a person who needs goals.

Then someone said I’d make a great Dread Pirate Roberts. Er, no wait, someone showed me Christie Yant’s awesome, customizable career bingo sheet, and ZOMG!  I WILL DO ALL THE THINGS!!

Anyhow, so while I was rolling around with my head all asploded, I neglected to post that I’d won. Then it was time for the Q3 finalists / winners to be announced, and I didn’t want to steal their fire. Ditto for Q4, and now here I am, feeling like a goofball and finally blogging about it almost seven months after the fact.

So, um, hey – I won Writers of the Future!!!11!1!

Writers of the Future: Oops, I did it again!

Writers of the Future: Oops, I did it again!

If you know me from any of my online hangouts, what I’m about to tell you is old news. I’m a Writers of the Future finalist for the second quarter (Q2) of Volume 31. Yayyy, me!

 

I’m excited, but it’s my third time riding this bus, so I’m well aware that it usually lets me off at right back at the same stop where I got on.  Something is different this time, though. As the news started to trickle out, I realized I wasn’t alone. My friend and editor Josh Essoe also got a finalist nod, so then there were two of us.

Party of two? No way!  My friend and fellow former finalist Holly Heisey also got a call. So did forum friend and fellow Codexian Samantha Murray, and my friend and workshop buddy Scott Parkin, who shared the finalist hot seat with me in Q4 of Volume 29.  Yeah, out of eight possible spots, five us know each other. Now that’s a party!

 

To be fair, there are three more finalists who I’ve yet to meet. Only three of us can win, but with so many friends on the list, I’ll be delighted no matter what happens.