A Very Sad Story About Something You’ve Never Heard Of

originally published December 1, 2013

First, I Fell in Love

I fell in love with Steampunk when a good friend opened the door to the 1800s, pushed me in and shut the door.

But, like so many affairs, it was short-lived. Steamy, mystifying, intense and then over.

steamyaffair

It all started when I met Lily Stargazer, Lord Byron’s lover, before her debut in Melanie Karsak’s Chasing the Star Garden

Melanie had contacted me not long after she self-published The Harvesting, a zombie apocalypse story with a strong heroine but a convenient plot. She asked me if I could read/edit a beta version of her new novel; she wanted it pristine before shopping it out to agents. She said it was “Steampunk.” I had no idea what that meant, but I said yes.

Four hours and a book later, I was as addicted to Lily Stargazer as Lily Stargazer was addicted to opium. (For those who know me, the fact that I was reading a book with heavy drug use – an “addiction story” – was in and of itself a complete miracle. I hate drugs in life and in fiction.)

This new “genre” – Steampunk – was giving me everything I’d been yearning for as a reader. Adventure. Historical information, both fiction and fact. Excellent characters who challenged my beliefs and made be believe in humanity. And so I was in love.

I loved Chasing the Star Garden. But did I love Steampunk?

I went looking for more Steampunk the next morning, but I wasn’t impressed. I read a few first chapters here and there from small presses and self-pubbed authors, and I found nothing equaling the little taste I’d gotten. Was this love affair over?

Empty Speech Bubble

I decided to ask some trusted readerly friends and trend connoisseurs I knew for their version of Steampunk. This is what I got:

“You think it’s up and coming? It’s actually outdated…”

“Yeah, it’s an old trend from the ‘90s,” my husband said. “You can see some of its influence in Firefly, but it never really went anywhere.”

From the 90s? Old trend? I thought it was a rising star. Apparently not.

“The cult following will annoy you.”

cult
“Oh god. My sister won’t stop talking about it. Add Hans Solo and goggles, and it makes a story ‘steampunk,’” my friend Michael ranted.

I quickly learned that some steampunkers are ex-gothers – the type always “committed to a cult.” As Michael’s comment suggested, I soon found the main audience for steampunk was a tad annoying to me.

“I’d never heard of it before, but here’s some awesome Steampunk jewelry I just found!”


“Nope, never heard of it. But funny you should bring it up,” my friend Vanessa said. “The open house at Oregon Kitchen this coming Thursday has a Steampunk jewelry artist coming in from Soho. She’s got some cool stuff.”

I went to Oregon Kitchen, a local consignment shop, and indeed found some cool jewelry. But no evidence of awesome literary Steampunk.

I kept looking

I kept researching, but I found no evidence of a viable Steampunk market at early glance. And the corners of the interwebs dedicated to Steampunk, to me, were cold and culty. I started to feel I’d been duped. The Stargazer series might be the only Steampunk I like.

And then this happened

I wasn’t sure how to talk to Melanie about this, but I soon after received from her more validation that I wasn’t the only one who’d never heard of Steampunk and who was confused by my first little taste.

A prominent – and very good – literary agent provided Melanie with a reader’s report after sadly delivering a rejection. It was a glowing report about how much the reader loved the story and how easily she fell into and devoured it because of excellent pacing and character development. But. Was it YA? Too much drugs and sex. Was it adult? Too fantastical. (How can she mash up a real historical character with fictional characters, and technologies that don’t belong in that time period? The report said.) Clearly, the reader had never heard of Steampunk either.

Bottom line of the reader’s report: the book doesn’t know what it wants to be and so doesn’t have a market. Reject.

I told Melanie the world just wasn’t ready for Lily’s story, that it was ahead of it’s time. She wrote back, sadly, she thought not. She said there was plenty of other stuff out there that was Steampunk and good. Since then, I’ve seen a few things come out that are promising, but they certainly weren’t available back in June.

Back then, I hadn’t found anything Steampunk that a) the general public knew about and b) I can truly say is as good of a story as Chasing the Star Garden. My experience working on this book with Melanie is what inspired me to start this blog. It’s meant to break down the silos that have naturally built in publishing (traditional and self) because we as readers needed genres to help define what we like. Well, maybe we don’t need genres anymore. We just need good stories. And who knows… maybe my love affair isn’t finished after all.


Since I first drafted this post, I was most humbly honored and surprised to learn that Melanie dedicated Chasing the Star Garden to me. It’s beyond an honor to have a writer that I respect so much tie me to her book in such a way. I will forever be humbled and grateful.


Buy Chasing the Star Garden on Amazon.

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A Family of Three

Question Unanswered
“Mommy,” Jake said. “Why did you put gasoline in the watering can?” She shrugged. Later that night, her husband said, “Garden’s on fire,” and kept flipping papers.

No Response
“Why did you put gasoline in the Brita filter?” Jake asked. She shrugged. That evening from the den, she said, “Kitchen’s on fire” and kept clicking her needles.

After Dinner
Jake snuck out in the dark and found the garbage can filled with gas. His mother’s reading light glowed. His father’s office dimmed. He lit the match and walked away.

Waking Up Dead, By Margo Bond Collins

Chapter 1

(published with permission)

When I died, I expected to go to heaven.

Okay. Maybe hell. It’s not like I was perfect or anything. But I was sort of hoping for heaven.

Instead, I went to Alabama.

Yeah. I know. It’s weird.

I died in Dallas. I was killed, actually. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. I don’t like to remember them myself. Some jerk with a knife–and probably a Bad-Mommy complex. Believe me, if I knew where he was, I’d go haunt his ass.

At any rate, by the time death came, I was ready for it–ready to stop hurting, ready to let go. I didn’t even fight it.

And then I woke up dead in Alabama. Talk about pissed off.

You know, even reincarnation would have been fine with me–I could have started over, clean slate and all that. Human, cow, bug. Whatever. But no. I ended up haunting someplace I’d never even been.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, right? Ghosts are supposed to be the tortured spirits of those who cannot let go of their earthly existence. If they could be convinced to follow the light, they’d leave behind said earthly existence and quit scaring the bejesus out of the poor folks who run across them. That’s what all those “ghost hunter” shows on television tell us.

Let me tell you something. The living don’t know jack about the dead.

Not this dead chick, anyway.

It took me a while to figure out what had happened, of course. I came to, drifting along a downtown sidewalk in some strange little town. A full moon shone high above me, glinting off the windows of the closed stores. The only noise came from a little pub-like bar down a side street. I didn’t know where I was or how I’d gotten there. What better cure for that than a stiff shot?

Next thing I knew, I was inside the bar. Like I was having those fuges–the blackouts that people with multiple personalities claim to get.

Then I tried to order a drink. “Vodka martini, extra dirty. Lots of olives,” I said when the bartender glanced my way.

The bartender ignored me. I tried again. The bartender walked away.

That’s when I became Callie Taylor, Ghost Cliché.

I leaned over the dark oak bar and yelled after the bartender. “Hey! Down here! I want to order something.” I got kind of a funny feeling in my stomach–like a muscle cramp or something. When I looked down, I realized I was standing in the middle of the bar, drink glasses and all. That concerned me, so I stepped right through it and to the other side.

I won’t bore you with the rest of my moment of epiphany. Suffice to say, I figured out I could do lots of ghostly things–walk through walls, blow out candles just by passing over them, let people feel a chill when they moved through me. (I don’t recommend it; it’s kind of chilly on this side, too. Brrr.) But I can’t do much of the old live-person stuff. I can’t eat. I can’t drink. I can sort of smell food and drink, and that’s nice, but not nearly as nice as eating and drinking was. If I concentrate really hard, I can sometimes make things move just a little bit. Electronic stuff is easiest–I can make anything electric go haywire.  But I couldn’t talk to anyone.

I tried to. I used every ounce of concentration I had to make myself heard. I tried over and over again. I went all over town trying to get someone’s attention.

Sometimes, some poor schmuck caught a glimpse of me. One guy just about peed himself when I showed up in a mirror behind him, and that made me feel bad. So I pretty much quit trying to do that after a while.

And of course I tried to leave. If I had to be a ghost, I at least wanted to see how my family was doing back in Dallas. Find some way to let Mom and Dad and my brother know that I was okay, really.

To be entirely honest, I also kind of wanted to see my own funeral. See who was there. I especially wanted to know if Preston Davis had shown up at my funeral. Preston was a database administrator for a local hospital and had been my on-again-off-again boyfriend for a while. I wanted to know if he cried at my funeral. And how–or if–he introduced himself to my family.

Yeah. Okay. So it’s petty of me. So what? I’d had a rough week. Cut me some slack.         But apparently I couldn’t get to Dallas to check these things out. I couldn’t even go outside of the city limits. I’d hit the edge of town, take one more step, and pop! I’d be right back in the middle of downtown. Don’t get me wrong. Abramsville, Alabama is a lovely little town. Cute little downtown square with an ornate, nineteenth-century courthouse and shops selling knickknacks and jewelry and plaques with clever sayings on them. There’s a college, a couple of bars, some beautiful old houses.

But it’s not my town.

And it gets lonely, being the only ghost in town.

I know, I know. My best bet would have been to find other ghosts to hang out with. I tried it all. I hung out in hospitals, cemeteries, nursing homes, everywhere I could think of that other ghosts might congregate. I was even in the hospital emergency room a couple of times when other people died. All I saw was just a shimmer in the air above them, a wispy movement like light on fog. And then it was gone.

But as far as full-on, hanging-out-in-town ghosts?

Nothing.

This went on for weeks. And in that time, you want to know what I learned about being dead?

It’s boring.

Bo-Ring.

Until, that is, the night I saw some creep chop up Molly McClatchey.


Margo Bond Collins is the author of Waking Up Dead, international bestselling paranormal mystery, Solstice Shadows Publishing, 2013;  and Legally Undead, Vampirarchy Series #1, forthcoming from World Weaver Press in 2014


Buy it on Amazon, Read it on Kindle

Good Morning to Good Night

Good Morning

Hot oil. Early in the morning. Sugar, butter. Sprinkles. Cream. Chocolate drips into the smell of coffee, and I open the windows to let the fragrance out, to lure you in.

I line the trays with jelly-filled, powdered sugared, glazed rings and holes. Custard peaks from golden frosted dough. My sugar white hair is tucked under my sugar white cap, and I mix the dough in a bowl the size of a tub.

The cash register curls out its totals in little blue numbers. Ready for the day, quarters in change wait for my fingers to slide them out and drop them in your hand.

Ring-a-ring

They come. Father and son. One barely sees, bleary eyed in the morning. The other barely talks, but smiles and points from his perch in Daddy’s arms.

“Which kind would you like?” The father says, arms around his boy. Sprinkles. No, maple. No, sprinkles. They take a half dozen. I pour the dad a coffee. He laughs and says “Yes, thank you!” and drinks a sip right away.

One by two, six by ten and a baker’s dozen leave on plates or in paper boxes, my little fried friends. They’ll never go stale or dry. I won’t let them.

I’m not your grandfather. I’m not your dad. I’m not your neighbor. I’m not your lawyer, your dentist now retired. That’s you, there, though. Yes, you, just over there. You’re a teacher, determined in your ways. A musician out the night before. A grandfather yourself. A friend. Your own best lover. You can’t say no. You shouldn’t say no. Eat your salad. Eat your beans. But on Saturday morning, celebrate the day, eat me, eat my cakes, made for your delight.

Good Evening

Old Greeko comes in the window in the late afternoon. He sits with me as I sip my tea. He scavenges my muffin, pecking at the crumbs.

“Why do you come here Greeko?” I say. He hops along the table’s edge and cocks his head. Sunlight glosses the fine black feathers across his breast.

“Caw-aaaww,” he says, leaving his beak ajar.

He hops a few steps and looks out toward the garden.

Jonathan was out fishing. I could see him, in my mind, his boat atop the bay, Jonathan looking down through the cold clear water to the bottom. Little fish swirling near the surface, larger fish coming up to glug them, whole or in pieces. Jonathan, the whale from outside the sea, his fingers his teeth.

We’d eat well for dinner that night.

“Come Greeko,” I say and reach out my forearm. He hops on and up to my shoulder. We walk through the kitchen, and I nudge his talons, lift him to the sill. His legs skip across the long pot of soil and herbs, and I watch him skewer, swallow a worm, fast and whole.

I reach out to the vine to pick a feast. The tomatoes are firm and blood red, and I pluck two that are perfect together. My thumb pierces the third; pulp flows to my wrist. My lips embrace the gaping wound and I suck; seeds and rich red leak at the corners of my mouth. Greeko turns away.

After dinner we would stroll under the moon, our memories our servants, our stomachs our slaves.

Yes, we’d eat well for dinner that night.

Good Night

The spider’s web swelled with midnight dew, and the orb weaver spread her legs. Bugs fingered her sticky candy thread, slick with water, until they could no longer move.

What would she see if she could see in a mirror? With one of her eight eyes and then the next? What would she see by looking down her slim polished leg, before she pulled close her prey?

I curled inward, tucking my head into my knees. One shoe fell and flopped on the ground. My eyes pressed against boney joints, and nails bored into my flesh. My right palm wrapped my shoe, waiting, fearing.

I could feel her hugeness next to me. I could feel her unwrapping me from her web, her teeth sinking in to drain me dry. She would come into my house. I could feel her coming into me. I exploded outward and smashed her with the force of a million enemies, ripping apart her sticky weave, and I smashed her again and again and again until I knew without question she was dead, and I was saved from being eaten.

 

2014 Pure Slush – A Symphony of Story

January 2014Matt Potter’s Pure Slush monthly anthology gives you a new story for each day of the month. Weaved together by the number of days. It’s truly unique.

Each story is a fully contained flash, but follow a day (example, Jan., Mar. Apr. 29) and you’ll see that each flash for that number builds a larger narrative.

The monthly anthologies are a great way to have stories sing around you in symphony and to meet new writers who are pushing the boundaries of narrative and writing on topics as varied as the days of a month.

Read on Kindle

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

Glass Animals, By Stephen V. Ramey

Story 1: Into the Woods

(published with permission)

Billy stood in the scrubland, shivering from the cold. He carried a backpack loaded with his favorite things, Teddy the Wonderbear, a book: Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss—Billy wished Tiger hadn’t shredded the cover, but he still liked the story fine—a peanut butter and tomato sandwich with the crust cut off. Ahead, tire tracks marked the ground into a tangle of scrubby trees. Beyond, the setting sun packed the horizon with shades of orange.

Daddy had driven his Jeep into the woods two days earlier. He hadn’t come back. Since Mom refused to talk about it, Billy had decided to find out for himself where the road led and why Daddy had gotten lost. It certainly did look like the sort of forest a person would get lost in. Billy found himself wishing he had saved pieces of crust to drop. That hadn’t worked too well for Hansel, but was better than nothing.

A crow cawed. Others answered until raucous laughter poured over the darkening ground. Billy’s gaze went to a tree taller than the others, its branch loaded with birds. The backpack dragged at his shoulder. He set it down, and knelt to pray.

“Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you God for everything. Amen.” He crossed himself and started to stand, but thought better. “Please let me find Daddy,” he whispered. Tears stung his eyes. “And don’t let those birds get me.”

Billy started walking. It seemed to take forever to cross the sandy soil. A crow launched and fell toward him. “Caw! Caw!” were the sounds in his ear, “Go away!” the words he heard.

“I’m going to find my Dad!” he shouted. The bird flapped past his head, and flew back to the tree. A shiver shook Billy so hard it nearly dislodged the backpack. He clung tightly to the strap.

He couldn’t see more than a few steps into the woods. He thought of the Mickey Mouse nightlight plugged by his bed. There was another in the hall in case he had to go to the bathroom. Daddy had told him he was big enough to do that on his own. He didn’t feel big enough now. He wanted to run back to the house and jump into Mom’s fleshy arms. He wanted to hear her voice. He couldn’t do that. He had to rescue his dad. Daddy would never leave them alone. Something had happened. He sniffed. The forest smelled of vegetation, a hint of pine sap. No trace of Daddy’s Old Spice, or the Jeep’s acrid exhaust.

Biting his lip, Billy stepped into darkness. A chill settled over him, dense like a blanket, only cold. He stepped again. If he stayed between tire ruts he should be all right, but what if crows were not the only thing inhabiting these woods? He unzipped the backpack with trembling fingers, and took out his sandwich. It was a sloppy mess, the bread soggy. He tore at an edge. No. Scattering bread wouldn’t work; the crows would eat it.

What about tomato? Some of the chill left him. He tore apart a tomato slice and dropped a piece at his feet. His fingers slimed with peanut butter. He licked them clean, relishing the sweet smell of Mom’s pantry. The feeling that went through him was like opening his eyes to the nightlight after a bad dream. Emboldened, he took another step, dropped another tomato bit.

Sometime later, he held the final sliver of tomato on his palm. “Well, I can’t give up now,” he said. Hearing his own voice scared him a little. He fought down his fear. “I’m going to find my dad no matter what.”

“Who?” an owl hooted. Eyes glistened.

“My dad,” Billy said, puffing his chest. He dropped the tomato, and continued. It seemed like hours that he walked and, still, the woods went on. The sky dimmed, then darkened. He could barely see his feet now. At least the moon was almost full. It watched over him through the canopy of twisting branches.

The cold seeped into his toes and fingers. He stomped and flexed, but it did little good. Soon, the chill had seeped into his mind too, and even his heart shivered with every beat. In a way, it was good, though, because when something rustled beside the path, he was able to ignore it and keep walking. The only warmth inside him now came from the flame of his purpose. He would find Daddy, no matter what.

He barely noticed the sky brighten. All of a sudden the moon was gone, and blue sky filled the voids between branches. He had walked all night. He should eat breakfast. He opened the backpack, and found the sandwich gone. He must have eaten it while he walked.

Weird. It felt like he had lost something else overnight too, something important. But maybe he had gained something too. He was no longer afraid of the woods, no longer afraid of the dark. A grin overtook him. Dad would say that was part of becoming a big boy. He could hardly wait to hear it from Dad’s lips. His strides lengthened.

It was midmorning when he reached the forest’s end. He stepped into sunshine, the warmth of it soaking his skin. The numbing cold released. He had done it! He ripped the backpack from his shoulder, and whipped it into the underbrush. He no longer needed it, was glad to be free of its clinging weight.

The road continued as far as he could see. No jeep, no Dad, no sign of habitation. Another woods smudged the distance, another woods like the one he had crossed. It was too much. Fatigue flooded over him, knocked him to his knees.

“Daddy!” he screamed. “Daddy, where are you?” Tears ran down his cheeks. Snot sagged from his nose. He brought his palms to his face, and leaned into them.

Fingers gripped his shoulder. He shrieked. The hand pulled him around until he looked into Mom’s sad eyes. Her other hand held his backpack. It carried a few dead leaves, but was otherwise intact. Billy took it. It was heavier than he remembered.

“Daddy’s gone,” he said.

“I know, sweetie, I know.” She drew Billy to his feet. In the distance, a crow screamed, then another.

Without a word, Mom led him back along the tire track path. He clung to her skirt. She smelled of apples and cinnamon, of buns rising behind the oven door glass. But there was something more complicated too, some hidden scent Billy could not grasp.


Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania, once the tin mill capital of the world. His work has appeared in many places, from Microliterature and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, to Strange Horizons and Daily Science Fiction. He is the editor for the Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink and for the speculative twitterzine, trapeze. Find him at www.stephenvramey.com


Buy Glass Animals on Amazon or for Kindle

Steampunk – A Genre or a Style?

An acquaintance of mine very eloquently described Steampunk to me as a style not a genre. And he’s right. Steampunk style rocks. (Here’s what the NYT had to say about it in the fashion world in 2008.) Here are just a few places I’ve seen it used as a style recently:

Game of Thrones opening theme: Game of Thrones is more fantasy than sci-fi, but the opening theme no doubt has some awesome tinker-y gear action:

Disney’s Festival of Fantasy Parade, Spring 2014. An early look I caught of Mickey and Minnie’s Hot Air Balloon looks air-ship-y to me. Here’s an image from Hong Kong’s float in 2012. And look. Goggles!

Oprah wearing a bright full gown and a top hat. Victorian and then some.

Are you new to Steampunk? This is the book that made me fall in love with it. It might engulf you, too..