Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Blue Winter High”

Seeing as only contributors received print editions of Writ in Water Issue 4, I’ve posted my story, “Blue Winter High,” in its entirety here.

Ms. Fountain parked her Camry before a cavalcade of snow, the glaze pushed by plows into mounds around faculty parking. She pulled her purse string over her shoulder, picked up her lunch bag, and nearly slipped on ice. The air was cold, the bone shiver kind. She strolled quickly over the pavement, only giving the mountains—purple beneath the sunrise—a glimpse in her periphery. She would appreciate their beauty on a warmer day.

Those early hours before school were devoted to Zero Hour, a psychological trick to add a class period. No one wanted periods one through nine. Zero through eight, however, was poetry. Fountain had to sneak soundlessly because classroom doors were open. Students reclined, their heads pointed at the ceiling, fingers playing invisible instruments. Each was engaged in a lesson, their eyes coated in degial plastic. The only movement was their hands. This was the latest trend in differentiated instruction. With pre-recorded lessons, students could pause or rewind with the twitch of a thumb. The teacher walked along the aisles, catching students when they leaned too far.

Ms. Fountain sped up in the English Hall, but it was no use. There was Mr. Tseng, standing by his door, greeting students as they sauntered by.

“Good morning,” Fountain said.

“I am fine. How are you?” Mr. Tseng replied so quickly it could have all been one word.

“Good,” Fountain said. She reached her door, opened it.

“Good, good,” Mr. Tseng repeated. His head was already scanning four boys down the hall. Possibly he was using facial recognition software to confirm their enrollment. Fountain eyed his hands anxiously. She knew he possessed the strength to rip her spine from her back.

65% of the teachers at Blue Winter High were automated. As machines emerged for nearly every task, teachers had hoped their profession was a bastion of human ingenuity. That human mentorship was necessary. Then Nagata Incorporated created an android that could teach more efficiently, if their research was to be trusted, than any person.

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Fantasy, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Rona of the Els”

Electric Spec picked up my short story, “Rona of the Els,” about a peasant witch who takes a noble girl on a tramp through the marsh.

“Quiet Reflections” by Yuri Magalhães (2020)

There’s an LGBT undercurrent here, as well as what I hoped was an interesting application of old fantasy tropes. This is meant to be a fun read, but maybe someone who’s looking at their future with a little less-than-hope might read “Rona” and feel inspired.

Electric Spec is a not-for-profit speculative magazine that publishes four times per year. “Rona of the Els” is featured in Volume 15, Issue 2, May 31, 2020, which also features a wonderful interview by Blogcritics Magazine editor Barbara Barnett.

Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Blue Winter High”

While a graduate student at Houston Baptist University, I created Writ in Water, an annual literary magazine focused on Literature & Life (unlike Rune Bear and the Weird & Wonderful). The stipulation was that all contributors had to be students or alumni of HBU. No outsiders and no professors. To sustain the magazine’s leadership, the editor-in-chief of Writ in Water would be the Writing Coordinator of the University’s Academic Success Center.

Although I’ve long left the magazine, moving north to teach in Denver, Writ in Water has flourished under a series of amazing editors, most currently Hannah Gentry. A few months back, Gentry contacted me about my process for gathering submissions and publication. She also invited me to send a story, so I thought, eh, sure, whatever, I’ll submit something. (Corruption at its finest, right?)

Today I’m excited to say “Blue Winter High” has been published in the 2020 issue of Writ in Water.

“Blue Winter High” takes place in a near-future where public education is mostly automated. A human teacher struggles to be as efficient as the robots around her. I was hoping to create the sense that human vitality might be threatened by the inhuman mechanical processes we keep implementing into our daily lives.

Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Carnaval de la Coccinelle”

The Were-Traveler published my speculative mystery fiction, “Carnaval de la Coccinelle.” For a long time I’ve wanted to write a locked-box style of detective fiction, specifically a story where the central mystery revolves around a cipher.

Meanwhile, the backdrop is the same universe as “Water Bees,” an alternate history where the world is populated by men and a menagerie of bugs. There are no squirrels, whales, or seagulls, and man is theorized to be some evolved form of worm.

“Carnaval” also follows the same protagonist as “Water Bees,” the gruff police inspector Henri Moreau, and the setting is yet again Arles, France, at the turn-of-the-19th-century.

The Were-Traveler is a fiction eZine that publishes speculative fiction in themed anthologies (my piece was published in a whacky carnival-&-circus anthology called SuperFreak: Freakpunk #2). The magazine is run by the delightful author, publisher, and editor, Maria (M.X. or Reo) Kelly.

Scifi, Writing Process

Naming a Therapy Robot

Art by Lucy Arnold

I needed a name for a therapy robot, so I turned to the Facebook masses. While I’ve decided on my character’s name without their help (Selor, short for Counselor), here are some of the best suggestions:

    • 6MUND
    • Sigmund Droid, Siggie for short
    • Counselor Troid
    • IKR-4U
    • RU-OK
    • OK2BU
    • ANX-13T (“anxi-i-e-tee”)
    • HAP-E (Humanlike Artificial Psychologist, Model E)
    • DAD (Disease Analytic Droid)
    • FRIEND (Fully Relational Interpersonal Emotional Nurturing Device)
Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Water Bees”

Flame Tree Publishing included my gothic horror story “Water Bees” in their Gothic Fantasy print anthology Detective Thrillers. The anthology of murder mysteries combines classic and contemporary writers, so my work is featured alongside G.K. Chesterton and Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Water Bees” follows an elderly police inspector named Henri Monreau as he hunts through Arles, France, in search of a missing entomologist. In case the city sounds familiar, it’s where Vincent Van Gogh painted some of his most famous works and then went mad. What makes this story unique, and a tad above the typical, is the world concept—Henri lives in an alternate universe where there are only bugs and humans. No squirrels, deer, fish, birds, just ants, beetles, spiders, and people, who are theorized to be an advanced form of worm.

Flame Tree Press is a London-based publishing company that’s generally interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, but also dabbles in artisan notebooks, illustrated calendars, cards, jigsaw puzzles, and other gift-friendly forms. Founded in 1992, the press’s self-described purpose, to quote Pablo Picasso, is to wash “the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Birdu Vanilla”

365 Tomorrow published my scifi microfiction “Birdu Vanilla.” The story is a reflection on senseless gaming but don’t confuse me for a ‘video games make you hurt people’ right-winger ignoring the rightful causes of gun violence. I’m more of a flightless bird who’s too fat to fly. You’ll notice the comments are more forgiving than my last piece on 365.

Justifiably so.

365 Tomorrows is an online journal that publishes speculative fiction every single fething day. The site is an excellent complement to your morning bowl of cereal and glass of Moloko Plus.

Life, Scifi, Writing Process

Failed — Mudball (The Animated Series)

Phil Kiner and I took one last crack at the concepts we created in GLADiators and Mudball. This time, I had a completely new setting and conflict for our ball-kicking, mud-rolling, tomboy protagonist:

Lord of the Flies… in space!

Essentially, the premise was this:

A cargo ship carrying children (refugees from a planetary invasion) crashes on an unknown desert planet. The ship’s automated servants (called meks) activate Emergency Protocols, which includes creating machine-emitting air-bubbles on the surface, but otherwise the ship does very little in terms of leadership or guidance. It’s up to the rally of children to stay alive, create a functional society, and plan for rescue.

Maebee (now Mae Bee) effectively stayed the same:

But she was joined by new allies.

Zettle would be an excitable girl with a ferocious curiosity for new things. She’d constantly hurtle herself into danger (or over cliffs), pursuing impulses and inquiries with physical abandon.

We wanted her to represent the poor working-class, so she wore colorful, discarded clothing with no particular order or schema. She had style—it was just not like anyone else’s.

Zettle was also blind—her family unable to afford, in this age of hyper-tech and planetary exploration, to buy her mechanical replacements. Naturally, this made her cliff-hurtling curiosity more dramatic (or hilarious) depending on the circumstance.

This is my depiction of her:

Maeb’s other companion would be a blond, sensitive, super-genius named Nord, who would function as the anxious, cautious, “I don’t know about this you guys” comic relief.

(You could apply psychoanalyze this. Zettle as the id, Nord as the superego, and Maebs as the pragmatic “can-do” ego in-between.)

I wrote a script and Phil put together an animated storyboard for Nickelodeon, hoping they might pick up the series.

Nickelodeon said no, and we put Mudball away, moving on to other projects. But I have already begun to transform this concept into a far more serious novel, returning to the savage intensity that Golding intended. As this draft comes along, I will put out updates about concepts and characters.

For now, I hope you enjoyed my trilogy of posts about a failed webcomic and cartoon. Feel free to contact me with your failures, and we’ll revel in our misfires together.

Life, Scifi, Writing Process

Failed — A Webcomic called Mudball

As a summer cleanse, I’m detailing some of my failed projects over the years. (Believe me, there are a lot of them.) One of these failures was GLADiatorsa webcomic about goofballs locked in deadly combat. This week, I will focus on a spin-off.

Having dropped Gladiators, Phil and I decided to create a shorter, more focused fairy tale that took cues from sci-fi and Peter Pan. We cut the Cloudiseum, dropped Roland and Coolio and our wacky cast of sword-whackers and whack-jobs, and tossed out the Battle Royale for something simpler but no less sinister.

Instead, the focus would be the conflict between two planets, and really, two ideologies.

We called the series Mudball.

In this cosmos, there was a planet called The City made up of freeways and skyscrapers. Only grown-ups lived in The City, where suits and ties were mandatory, and everyone possessed a white-collar, corporate job. The form of government was Bureaucratic Monarchy. Due to a string of filing mishaps, there was no king, just a council paralyzed by paperwork and parliamentary procedures no one could recall.

The City had a counter-planet (really a moon) called Mudball, a marsh world full of children. This is where the adults of The City grew up (literally from pea pods). On Mudball, the children grew wild and free, playing imaginative games and exploring. All of this was secretly (and actively) monitored by machines disguised as animals and plants.

Every winter, harvesting machines picked the oldest kids to become adults. The children were brought to The City, given suits, given jobs, and spent the rest of their lives in the unhappy humdrum of cubicles and cafeterias.

In-story, Maebee, our protagonist, has just turned 12 (the proper age for collection) but doesn’t want to leave her friends or freedom.

Maebee decides to trek across Mudball in search of some place to hide. This is her ‘Call to Adventure’—to seek an alternative to adulthood.

Her adventures lead to an adult living in the swamp, a stubbled, dirty-suit-wearing man named Patricks, who has never grown up, but lives a slouchy, unhappy life in a stolen reaper. Think Peter B. Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

The story would continue to The City, where Maebs joins a resistance group called The Jobless (blame this on the writer’s anti-establishment attitude), and seeks independence for Mudball.

The webcomic would have explored the conflict between our biological compulsion to grow up versus the unnatural but hegemonic cultural expectations of what that actually means.

However, like GLADiators, the project didn’t make it past a few pages, partially due to the influence of a mutual friend who advocated against our project without really understanding it, calling our scripts amateur and pointless.

Later I would discover that he was trying to convince Phil to work on his project—a Dune-like comic where one’s reputation is both a physical and psychic currency. Phil would go on to assist this friend for a while, but quit when the man turned out to be a frustrating micro-manager.

It didn’t help that I was seriously depressed at the time, living in a small town without nearby friends, working as a tutor and substitute while pursuing my teaching certification. Even my girlfriend (now wife) was three hours away. I put up little resistance when the project ended, taking my friend’s criticisms for truth. It wouldn’t be until 2016, two years later, that I would shake off self-pity, smack my inner demons, and begin writing again.

Today, I keep a wary vigilance of friends with ill intentions, although I’ve forgiven this particular intruder for his self-concern. There is a lust for celebrity that consumes people and hurts their ability to rationalize or promote the dignity of others. I understand that, and try not to fall prey to it myself.

And when it comes to Mudball, I hope to revisit this project someday as a short story or novel.

I guess what I’ve learned is this. Don’t fall with your failure. Just steal from the ruins.

All of this post’s art (except for my crayon drawing of Patricks) was created by Phil Kiner.