Prepare for First Encounters

It’s been five months since my last blog. Instead of writing to you, my faithful half-dozen readers, I watched my dad desiccate like an autumn leaf. It’s easy for me to forget he’s gone. If I hear a good joke, I imagine sharing it with him in that brief moment before I realize I can’t. The ephemera of his life is a poor substitute for the strong man who raised me.

On a lighter note, I’m excited about the upcoming release of First Encounters, featuring my short story Jimmy’s Hat.

A production of the Speculative Fiction Writers critique group, First Encounters features ten tales of humanity landing on new planets, taking its first trip through time, and meeting spirits and supernatural beings. Hypnotic illustrations by artist Rose Kamma Morrison adorn the cover and bring each story to life.

The book should be available soon, and I’ll post here with a link so you can be the first to buy it.

Jimmy’s Hat

Retired union clerk Walter Koegel enjoys a quiet life in Hamtramck, Michigan, until he’s infected by ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a tropical fungus common in ants. He’s desperate to ask for help, but ophiocordyceps controls his every move. Soon, his head will explode and spread spores everywhere. Can any of the regulars at his neighborhood bar save him? If only Jimmy Hoffa were here. Jimmy would know what to do.

After several failed revisions, my ophiocordyceps story almost ended up in the wastebasket. But magic happened when I rewrote it with Walter based on my late father. The result, Jimmy’s Hat, appears in the upcoming First Encounters anthology, available soon.

The Reserved Word

Back in March, I attended an informational meeting for the Colorado Gold Rush Literary Awards. I left the meeting inspired to create my entry, optimistic about my chances for winning, and wondering if my Uber driver had COVID.

As fate would have it, my entry, The reserved Word, failed to place. To the winners of this contest, I salute your ability to concentrate on your writing through the most devastating global disease outbreak to strike humanity in 100 years. My brain was unable to match your focus and skill, as demonstrated by the editorial feedback I received.

In The Reserved Word, agent Marda Manifold uncovers a plot to destroy human language. She must find a way to stop it—without revealing her identity as an illegal clone.

According to Ray Kurzweil, language was first a tool for cultural identity, and only later served as a medium for the exchange of information. For The Reserved Word, I imagined a future in which language had begun to de-evolve; a world where words lacked definite meanings and served only as badges to identify allies and enemies. It wouldn’t be so different from today’s world, in which words like life, religion, and socialism serve more to divide than inform.

Losing the contest hasn’t killed The reserved Word, and I’ll continue to develop this intriguing world and its characters.

What I’m Reading

Nothing lasts forever. I cancelled my subscription to Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. I might subscribe to audible or another SF pulp such as Clarkesorld, but for now, I’m content to work through my extensive reading list. Here’s what I’ve read since my last update.

  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. A really quick overview of what we know about our universe and why we believe it’s true. Did you know that if you pry two quarks apart, the energy holding them together gets converted to new mass? Somehow that has to make it into one of my short stories.
  • City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte. An interesting take on time travel, in a great setting with memorable characters. This book will make you want to eat Beethoven’s toenails.
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. This 2020 Pulitzer finalist is the story of a brother and sister and their obsession with the house where they grew up. It dives deep into blended family issues and parent-child relationships.
  • Face It: A Memoir by DebbieHarry. The iconic singer and film star looks back on her days with Blondie and so much more. I recommend the audiobook, which was narrated by the author.
  • Flights By Olga Tokarczuk. An amazing collection of well-written vignettes, many of which revolve around the strangely complementary subjects of travel and human body preservation.
  • Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link. This 2016 Pulitzer-nominated collection of short fiction captivated my imagination in a way few books do. It’s modern speculative fiction at its finest. Recommended for ages 0 to 100. Read it.
  • How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil. This is the fourth non-fiction book on artificial intelligence by the renowned inventor and futurist. It focuses on practical approaches to modeling the brain with computer technology.
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursala K. Le Guin. A classic work of science fiction in which dreams come true—with unsettling consequences.
  • MASH by Richard Hooker. As a kid, my dad’s small collection of paperbacks fascinated me. To honor his passing, I’m reading a couple I remember, including this classic military comedy about the Korean War that inspired a movie and long-running TV sitcom.
  • The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo. Yum. A tasty novel set in 1930s Malaysia that’s part medical crime thriller, part love story, part psychodrama, and part surrealism. I must consume more by this author.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This magical story filled with fantastic imagery and flowing prose earned a Nobel prize in literature for the author, but I found the aimlessly wandering plot and multitude of characters difficult to follow.
  • Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. Fastidious Micah Mortimer finds a teenager on his doorstep who claims to be his son from an old girlfriend. The unexpected disruption helps Micah discover what he wants out of life.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. This best-selling non-fiction account of the history of our species is an insightful and informative read.
  • A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories by Ray Bradbury. A collection of Bradbury’s classic short stories, most of which I remember reading as a teenager.
  • Wild: Uncivilized Tales from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This incredible anthology bowled me over. What an honor that my first short story, The Re-Creation of Sahmik Ghee, was selected for inclusion.

I’m currently caught in the field of these magnetic books.

  • Accelerando by Charles Stross
  • How Long ’til Black Future Month by N. K. Jemisin
  • Replica by Jenna Black

I keep my endless reading list on a Möbius strip.

  • The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
  • The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
  • Planetfall by Emma Newman
  • Ultralearning by Scott Young

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