Back from vacation with a new story

In some parts of the world, spring has sprung. In the Dominican Republic, where I visited last week, it even felt like summer, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). And while I was in the Caribbean, it was -30 degrees (-22 F) in Montreal, where I live. That’s quite the contrast! In fact, last month was officially the coldest February on record in Quebec. Lucky me, I thought, as I lay in a beach lounger last Friday, looking up at palm trees while sipping something called a Coco Loco. Then a bird pooped on me. This has happened to me once before (bizarrely, also on vacation; maybe I shouldn’t get out more) and this time I’m happy to say that it was a much smaller bird with a correspondingly smaller payload.

Breath Less cover

What does this have to do with writing? Sometimes unexpected things can fall from the sky and you’re left staring at them thinking, “Well, I guess I have to deal with this now.” When I geared up for the launch of Starley’s Rust in mid-January, I didn’t expect to embark on another work of fiction until I began the as-yet-unnamed conclusion of the Embodied trilogy. Then suddenly, plop! the idea for Breath Less came to me.

Breath Less is a short story for Young Adults. It’s set one sweltering summer sometime in the future, and I guess you’d call it a sci-fi romance. Talaya, a teenage girl, is trying desperately to revive a boy called Adam whom she met the day before and has now passed out in her backyard pool. But things aren’t what they seem…

I decided to publish Breath Less “live” in three sections on Wattpad, and now the last one is online. Maybe I’ll also make an ebook version at some point, but right now I’m keen to know what readers think of it, rather than attempting to sell it.

So if you’re interested to know why a girl who takes her books out for a drive is attracted to a boy who dives into a pool but can’t swim, click on the cover and log in to Wattpad.

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A busy week for the mailman

Following on from Tuesday’s delivery, today’s Amazon package contained the first book by my friend and near neighbour Mireille Silcoff, a short story collection entitled Chez l’arabe. It’s been getting amazing press since its release last month, so I’m very excited to dip into it.

Chez l'arabe by Mireille Silcoff

Luckily, it’s Thanksgiving weekend up here in Canada, so I’ll have plenty of time to read a couple of stories!

Hide No Seek

Flash fiction

It was never easy to get into the old house. A month or so after the authorities had repossessed it, Jake had swung by on the way home from school to check it out. He’d found it sealed like a tomb. The next day he’d returned with a claw hammer from his uncle’s garage. In back of the house was a small basement window with rusty bars over it. He’d jammed the claw between the frame and the brick and pushed it like a lever with his foot planted on the wall. This was the year he’d filled out. His newfound pecs and biceps did their job. The bars had creaked, then suddenly given way and he’d almost fallen over backward. The window itself wasn’t even locked. He’d crawled into the basement. The vague chemical  smell still lingered there, despite the best efforts of the realty company.

He’d come back a couple times that year, just to hang out. And as he grew bigger, it got harder to crawl through the window. But he could never leave through the front door. The last time was the last time. Ever.

Hide No Seek

Sometimes he lay on the floor of his lifeless old room and read. Once he posted a photo of the ceiling on Facebook. Another time he brought his iPhone dock and listened to music in the kitchen like his mom used to do. When he went upstairs to pee, he could still hear the music drifting up ethereally through the heating duct in the floor. That’s when the idea came to him to bring his little brother.

“I’ll pick Sam up from kindergarten tomorrow,” he said innocently over supper, and his uncle seemed proud at this show of responsibility.

The trees were leafless. The cold had snapped. As the kindergarten disappeared from view behind them, Sam chattered incessantly about the letter to Santa that their aunt had helped him write. Four years old was prime Santa territory.

Sam didn’t remember the house but Jake explained to him that they used to play hide and seek there. This visit was an adventure. In fact, it was a secret.

The claw hammer wasn’t needed anymore and Sam’s eyes widened as Jake pulled off the bars with his bare hands. Jake crawled through first. Sam trusted him completely and wriggled in too. Jake gave him a tour, describing each room from their former life in photographic detail. In the kitchen, Jake pulled out a Bugs Bunny Pez dispenser he’d bought at the gas station.

“Every time you find me, you get a candy.”

Sam beamed.

“And you can have one for free to start.”

He flipped open the head and Sam pulled out the purple rectangle with his grubby fingernails.

“Now don’t count too fast. It’s a big house.”

Sam nodded and crunched.

“Go stand in the corner and cover your eyes. Okay, now start counting.”

They played for a while. Jake knew that Sam would copy his hiding places. Eventually he hid behind the bathroom door, just as Jake had done. Jake made a big show of looking in the bathroom but missing him.

“I know! You’re in the… bathroom. Aw, man…”

Then he went back downstairs to the kitchen and kneeled down against the wall, lowering his face to the heater vent.

“Sam,” he boomed into the metal grille, using his best Santa voice. “Sam Kelly, this is Santa. I hear that you’ve been a good boy this year so I’m going to bring you the Star Wars Lego that you asked for in your letter. But make sure you keep being good. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Then he raced to the bottom of the staircase and shouted up, “I give up! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

When Sam appeared at the top of the stairs Jake knew the trick had worked.

“Where were you?” he asked.

“In the bathroom,” answered Sam.

“But I looked in there.”

“I heard Santa.”

“What?”

“Santa.”

“Really? What did he say?”

“To be a good boy.”

“And? Are you a good boy?”

“I guess.”

Jake pretended to look at his phone. “We should get going. You can eat the rest of the Pez on the way to Auntie’s.”

As they left the old house, Sam looked back at the upstairs windows, still in awe. Jake smiled. From now on, he would always smile when he thought about the old house. And he’d made sure that he’d never hidden in the closet where they’d found his father.

Photo credit: Jim Rees / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA (Photoshopped by John B. Dutton)

Disrupted Worlds – out a day early!

I promised yesterday that Disrupted Worlds, a novel-length short story collection that features my own effort, The Information Monster, plus five others, would be published tomorrow. Well, it turns out that those digital printing presses at Amazon have been running on overdrive because it’s already available as a Kindle ebook.

You can read a free preview of the first story-and-a-half by clicking on the cover image below. But since The Information Monster is the third story, I’ve decided to post a short excerpt from the beginning:

“The darkness is our friend,” whispered Sigi.

Coleoptera snuggled closer. She didn’t understand. Darkness had always meant death. It was in the books with paper, so it must be true. The books that held stories of children losing themselves in deep, dark forests where wolves prowled, trolls lurked and witches squatted in their hovels waiting to feast on plump cheeks. Darkness had always meant death.

“Why, daddy?”

He kissed her hair softly. Maybe he was a fool. Maybe there was nothing anyone could do to defeat it.

“You know how plants need light to grow?”

“Uh-huh.”

“So does the monster, and that’s why the darkness is our friend.”

“I’m scared.”

“We’re safe here. Sleep now, Beetle.”

“Tell me a story. From when you were little.”

“Okay, just one.”

“Thank you, daddy.”

She rubbed the fabric of his shirt sleeve between her thumb and forefinger. He wondered whether the tactile sensation of its silky NanoNylon was more soothing than her own bamboo thread nightshirt. His mind flashed through molecular configurations.

“Daddy!”

He clenched his teeth. It was so easy to slip. So easy to go down that path.

“Yes. Okay. When I was about your age, most of the books were paper.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh. And they never changed. A story was a story with words, and sometimes pictures, and it was written by a storyteller.”

“Like my fairy tales.”

“Yes, and they used to be my books. But the fairy tales changed from one book to the next because they had lots of storytellers.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sorry, Beetle, it’s complicated. And it doesn’t really matter for my story. What matters is that I had a book that was really special to me. It was about a bear who learned to read, and I loved it. Then one day my grandma took me for a walk and I brought the book along with me. But somehow it must have slipped out of my hand along the way because when we got home to my mommy and daddy’s house I didn’t have it anymore and I cried so much that my grandma walked all the way back along the route we’d taken to look for it. But she couldn’t find it.”

“Poor daddy!”

“Yes, I was really sad. But the next day when my mom came home from work she’d bought me another copy.”

He felt her tug a bit harder on his sleeve.

“The only thing was, I didn’t understand. I thought that the book I’d lost was the only one like it in the whole world. It was my favorite, and it was special. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t special because there was another one the same. And others in the store. Then when I grew up, things started to change. The books on screens took over. Soon nothing was special.”

“Why?”

“Because everything was a copy.” He kissed her hair again. “But now it’s time to sleep.”

“Why are we here, daddy?”

“Because we need to get away.”

“From mommy?”

He drew breath sharply. “No. From everything.”

“You’ll keep me safe, right?”

There was the slightest pause in his answer and he hoped she hadn’t noticed.

“Yes. That’s why we’re here.”

She squeezed his arm and let out a big yawn.

Once he was sure that she was sleeping soundly, Sigi carefully moved away from her sleeping bag so as not to disturb her. He rose and closed the door of the Correlator room. This was where they were “camping”. It was an adventure. That’s what he’d told her. She was lucky to be going on an adventure with her daddy – not a lot of five-year-olds got to do that.

Disrupted_12_fix

Cover reveal! Title reveal! Authors reveal!

I teased my dystopian sci-fi short story The Information Monster back in June, and now it’s time to cut out the teasing and open the kimono, as business/marketing/PR folk bizarrely sometimes say in otherwise very boring meetings. Actually, that’s not quite true, because opening the kimono would require cutting and pasting the entire contents of the ebook that my story will shortly be published in. So it’s more like I’m showing you the kimono, because here is the cover. And the title, which fortunately is hard to miss because it’s right there on the cover, along with my name and those of my five fellow authors, like an embroidered dragon on a kimono. (I think it’s time to stop with the kimono metaphor.)

Disrupted_12_fix

The name of the book neatly unites six disparate tales, some outrageously comic, some (like mine) sinisterly portentous.  And yes, I know that “sinisterly” isn’t a word, but it works just fine here, so please don’t give it a complex by looking it up in a dictionary. What bonds the authors is that double-edged label “indie”. It sounds cool if you’re a band.  But if you write books and deign to deliver them to readers via the newfangled medium of digital code uploaded without the help of an international megacorporation, “indie” is still sniffed at and frowned upon by old-school publishing types and snobs  Maybe we should call ourselves a “collective”? Or does that only work for visual artists? A “collective” is literally a collective noun. And a “literary collective” is literally a literary collective noun. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that fifth coffee this morning. Whatever we call ourselves, one thing’s for sure: these stories are as independent of any marketing masterplan or award angling as any fiction could be.

ALMA

The ALMA radio-telescope. Maybe it would be better if the truth wasn’t out there…

I’m sure my fellow Disrupted Words authors will be doing a super job of publicizing their own contributions to the collection, so I’ll stick to telling you a little more about my effort. The Information Monster takes place in Chile, 2053, partly at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA. This recently commissioned real-life radio-telescope isn’t only the largest on Earth, its Operations Support facility is housed in the world’s second-highest-altitude building, and its correlator is the most powerful supercomputer in the world. Who knows what it may find… or how its staff will behave in the thin air of the Atacama Desert?

Edited and published by Paul Little, Disrupted Worlds will be available at a special 99-cent  introductory price the day after tomorrow (Thursday, September 26) exclusively through Amazon as an ebook for Kindle. At that point you’ll be able to rip the kimono open for yourself. Okay, time for another coffee.

Photo credits: Source: ESO, Author: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)