Spectrum Magazine

Writing in the age of zero tolerance

I’m pretty sure the first story I ever wrote would have gotten me arrested today.

When I was thirteen years old, we moved to Maplewood, NJ. There was nothing about the move that I liked. I knew I would once again be the new kid in school (for the third time in seven years), I didn’t want to leave my friends, and I liked where I lived. We were moving into a two-family house with relatives I was certain we wouldn’t get along with. (I was right.) And, well, I was thirteen, a very dramatic age for most girls.

Sometime that autumn, still wallowing in the misery of being in a school where I knew nobody and nobody knew me, I put my feelings into words and wrote a short story. It was titled “Killing Time,” and it was about a boy who hated his junior high school class, had no friends, and was disliked by his classmates. So he devised what to him was a brilliant scheme–he’d put some chemicals in the steam radiators that would turn into a poison gas when the radiators went on. That would get even with everyone. Of course, I added an O. Henry twist, thinking it was supremely original–he wound up trapped in the school with everyone else and died along with them. When I look at the story, I see its many shortcoming, but hey–I was thirteen.

I presented the story to my ninth grade English teacher, a lovely woman. Mrs. Edna Barr read it and then asked, “Do you have any more of these? I’d like to put it in the creative writing magazine.” Flush with success, I quickly wrote another story that was far less bloodthirsty but similar in theme. In that one, I woke up only to find everyone in the world had disappeared. Both appeared in the Spectrum. I still have my copy (see images).

Here’s the difference between then and now. Mrs. Barr recognized my story for what it was–a story of loneliness and alienation. She knew I was the new kid in class, knew that I had moved to a town where just about everyone had known each other since kindergarten, and that I was struggling to make friends. She realized that the story was simply my expression of that alienation.

I can’t imagine a student handing in a story like that these days. I’m pretty sure that today, the police would have been notified. That story would get me arrested today. Or at the very least, suspended.

But Edna Barr, bless her soul, didn’t think anything was wrong with the story. She recognized the nascent writer in me. She encouraged me to write more, not less. And she put that story into the school magazine and put me on my path toward becoming a writer.

One has to wonder how many writers and artists have been destroyed by the zero tolerance policies in today’s schools. They’re calling the police over “threatening drawings.”

Phoenix Police searched the school and did not find a credible threat.

It all started when an employee noticed the male student with “threatening pictures.” A school resource officer was alerted and the student was questioned. The student was detained for one count of “disruption of an educational institution.” Police did not say what the drawings depicted.

The school principal says teachers are reminding students of how important it is to report suspicious behavior. Parents we spoke with said they’re glad they were notified, even if it was a false alarm.

Yep. Pretty sure I’d have gone to jail for this one.

Here’s a jpeg of Killing Time. Click to enlarge. Or click on this link to read it in PDF.

Killing Time

L’Shana Tovah

A happy, sweet, and healthy new year to all of my Jewish readers.

Julie Dillon won the 2014 Hugo!

Congratulations to my spectactular cover artist on winning the Best Artist Hugo Award tonight. It’s about damned time, Hugo voters.

Book two, on sale now

The paperback is not yet available at Amazon, but it is via my CreateSpace store (you’ll have to pay for shipping). It should be on Amazon soon. Here’s where you can buy the book:
Update: The Amazon paperback link added to the top.

Darkness Ascendant: Book Two of The Catmage Chronicles (Volume 2)

Darkness Ascendant – trade paperback at CreateSpace store

Darkness Ascendant on Kindle

Darkness Ascendant – Nook version

Darkness Ascendant – Kobo version

Darkness Ascendant

Darkness Ascendant on sale soon

I spent many hours today tweaking and testing the electronic files of Darkness Ascendant. I’m waiting for the various publishing sites to okay the files. If all goes well, they should be available on Amazon, CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo either late tonight or tomorrow.

And ohmigod, I do not want to look at another book publishing screen for at least a week. Of course, I’ll be checking them all obsessively until the book goes on sale in all locations.

If you’re on the mailing list, expect an email soon.

Nearing the finish line

Just uploaded the second version of the cover for Darkness Ascendant. I knew the first one would fail, but I thought I would find out if it would fail for more than just an incorrect spine width. It did. So now both items are fixed–I hope–and I should wake up tomorrow morning and find out if it’s time to order the proofs.

Here’s hoping.

Monday, fun day!

(The title is a lie.)

The weekend went by far too quickly. And also with many swears. I was trying to put the finishing touches on the cover of Darkness Ascendant. I failed. I reached out to a couple people I know. I hope to have it done tomorrow, because the ebook is done now and I’m just waiting on the cover before I can get a proof and send the little fledgling out of the nest.

Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong. So I walked away from it.

The ebooks, both epub and mobi, look fine. Neil Clarke does them for me. If you like good SF, you should give Clarkesworld Magazine a try. Neil’s an old friend. He’s been advising me on the publishing end of things for a couple of years now.

And, wonder of wonders, I think I figured out how to fix the cover myself. I’m waiting to hear back from my Amazon review. I suspect the cover will fail, but I think I finally have the hang of what needs to be done. I should have a proof in my hands later this week. If that happens, book 2 will be on sale shortly thereafter.

Today’s pressing questions

The most crucial questions of the day, not counting anything involved with publishing book 2, were:

  • Where did I leave the banana peel?
  • Is there a Weinstein film in existence where one of the lovers does not die or get sent out of the country to prevent a wedding? (Miss Potter, if you’re interested.)
  • Where did Meimei hide Blue Stripey this time?

It was a brutal day.

A day after Caturday

Of course, every day is Caturday in my household. But here’s one of Meimei’s kitten pictures. It cheers me up.

Meimei as kitten

Busy lunch hour

Tonight is our annual hot dog and hamburger cookout at my synagogue. A couple of years ago, I volunteered my nifty Coleman gas grill because a) it’s kosher, b) it’s portable, and c) it’s gas. The grill was made for tailgating. The difference in warm-up time between a coal grill and a gas grill means a lot when you’re feeding 20 or 30 people.

My contribution (besides the grill) is a plate of oven-roasted potatoes. A friend of mine pointed me to the recipe on the box of Lipton Onion Soup mix when she was over for dinner one evening, and I was hooked. Except I forgot to buy it yesterday, so into the car, out on my lunch hour, back home, fix the potatoes, stick them in the oven, eat my own lunch, and back to work. (I telecommute four days a week, so work is upstairs in my office most days.)

The house smells delicious. I sampled the potatoes. They’re great. The grill is in my car, along with extra cans of gas. I’ll be out of here in a couple of hours and off to dinner and services. A good start to the weekend.