Archive for December, 2009

December Links

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2009 by Jaym Gates

No new music this month, sadly. In lieu of that…writer’s links! Also in lieu of New Year’s resolutions. And year-end retrospectives. And everything else.

Have a reading to do? Here are 9 Tips for Successful Author Readings.

There’s more livable room on this planet than you might think. Never heard of the Goldilocks Zone? Now you have.

Baen Books is running a contest. Write a short SF story, be judged by the Baen team, maybe get paid and published!

The Top 13 Cult Movies of the Decade, aka, sex, gore, horror. I added several of these to my lists for 2010.

Coilhouse Magazine found 1986 Soviet Steampunk!

Agent Katie Grimm talks about what she wants to see, and why she accepts short-story submissions.

i09 brings you their 20 Best Science-Fiction Books of the Decade.

Rachel Swirsky shares how she chooses where to submit writing. (Originally attributed to Jeff. My bad!)

A controversial post on why bad credits won’t help you get published, also by Rachel Swirsky.

And, finally, the talented Cat Rambo weighs in on the Black Matrix furor, and how to find markets, over at her blog.

Farewell, MAP

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 30, 2009 by Jaym Gates

A few years ago, I was hired to work as a summer camp counselor up in the Greensboro area. The camp worked with chronic and terminally-ill kids. That job was part of the reason I moved to North Carolina in the first place.

Little of that is relevant to this, except for the last week. Our kids were AIDS/HIV afflicted children. My cabin had the youngest group: 8-10 year old girls.

We always had mini orientations every week before new kids came in. This got our weekly volunteers up to speed, refreshed us on HYPPA and served as a brainstorming session for us activity leaders. We also discussed the particular aspects of working with whichever group we had that week. Since we’d been dealing with everything from brain conditions to burn victims, we’d pretty much run the gauntlet. We’d changed diapers for 15 year-olds, spoon-fed a twelve year-old, dealt with young love, soothed fears of storms and tornadoes, and learned to use catheters.

The summer was drawing to a close, and the hardest weeks (physically speaking) were over. Of course, we were running a little ragged, despite the week-long break we’d had.

We gathered in the theater the morning before the kids got there. Assignments were handed out for registration, we covered the programming for the week, etc. We discussed the dangers to our kids’ health. After that, we went back to the cabins to rest up before registration started.

Our unit nurses gathered us together, and the head nurse came to each unit. (This camp had a full medical facility, complete with RNs, a doctor on call, MEDVAC on standbye, the National Guard and sheriff’s office keeping an eye out around the camp, etc. If there was trouble, it would be taken care of by the best of the best.)

The head nurse, a gruff older woman, sat us down and went over some of the things we’d already covered. Of course, we were a bit scared. We’d be giving these kids medications, exposing ourselves on a regular basis to one of the most frightening diseases we’d dealt with. More than that, the girls were so fragile. One miscalculation on our part could leave them deathly ill. That, at least, we’d already been through for the week with cancer.

She warned us that we were not to treat these kids any differently than any of our other kids. She gave us the odds of catching HIV from our girls–1 in a 1000, if I remember correctly–and said that we were safe as long as we followed basic precautions.

Then she paused, and with more passion than I’d ever seen her show, she leaned forward. “Don’t EVER let me see you deny one of these girls a hug, or treating them any differently, or holding them away from you. They are more sensitive to fear and denial, and they will pick up on it immediately.”

Not that she needed to warn us. Our eight girls came in like tiny little tornadoes. They attached themselves to us with greater abandon and joy than any other group. Little princesses, every one of them, who demanded the utmost, and gave it right back. I learned more about love, hope and strength from those children the first day than I had learned in a lifetime.

Leaving them hurt worse than anything I’d ever done, because I would happily have adopted every one of those holy little terrors!

Unfortunately, the camp experience ended on a bad note, and it wasn’t until about a year later that I took up volunteering again. One of my coworkers, a lovely 75 year old woman, was one of the East Coast’s most vocal and busy gay-rights activists, back during the 80’s and 90’s. Although she is straight, two of her children are not. Retired from campaigning and speaking, she still has an extended family of gay kids. She adopted me early on, and has become one of my most valued friends and mentors.

She invited–although invitations are best not refused from this wonderful lady!–me to volunteer for the AIDS walk in Charlotte. Her best friend was organizing it, and needed volunteers. My mother and I both volunteered. Talk about emotionally cathartic and draining!

Within two weeks, I had applied to MAP–Metrolina Aids Program–as a volunteer, and was accepted. At the orientation, my mother mentioned that I was a writer. By the time I walked out, I was a newsletter editor.

I’ll skim this part and just say that non-profit newsletters everywhere go through the same thing. Communication falls through the cracks because everyone has a REAL job, or family, or something. Articles get forgotten. They want it one way, you want it another, but neither party knows what the other wants until two days past the mailing date. The first articles don’t even show up in the inbox until a WEEK after the mailing date. Photos arrive to be captioned, but who the hell are these people? There’s not enough space. There’s too much space. We need more content. We need shorter content. We need all of these pictures in there, but don’t let it go over three pages long, even though we’ve got six pages just of pictures. Finally, it all boils down to: this HAS to be mailed on Monday. Well, when you just finally get all the pieces by Friday, and have to work AND housesit that weekend, this adds a new element of stress…especially since it has to go to the layout editor before it can be mailed.

Deadlines of a week or so look positively lovely anymore, let me tell you.

Anyways, the newsletter finally went out. It was only three weeks late, so hey! Chalk that one up as a success. The entire way, the staff stayed unfailingly sweet and polite.

MAP touched hundreds, maybe even thousands, of lives. They brought education to a school system that barely allowed the most basic of sex-ed. They focused on groups often overlooked in the war on AIDS, such as straight African American women. Housing aid, food, counseling, all provided whenever needed, usually by volunteers. They built a clinic. MAP struggled to find enough time, enough money, enough resources, and made the best of what they had.

They were a powerful force in the south, one of the leading defendants in the fights for equal care, for education and rights.

Yesterday, I received an email. MAP has closed its doors. My guess is that they just finally ran out of funds. At any rate, the community lost a powerful ally yesterday.

MAP changed lives, and handed people the tools to change other lives. What more can you ask for from any organization?

Banjo the Beagle

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Beagles have been running down on their luck recently, or so it seems. Last week, my boss found an older female in the road, shaking and thin. He took her home, but now he has to find a home for her. (Since the German Shepherd found a home, we’ll possibly take the Beagle, if no one else does.)

Tonight, a friend of mine was out in the parking lot, and a guy came to ask if my friend wanted a Beagle. My friend said he didn’t have the money. The guy said he was giving the Beagle, and 8 month old puppy, away because his new apartment wouldn’t allow animals.

The guy brought the puppy back after we closed. I left over an hour later. My friend was leading the puppy across the parking lot, a lot of leash between them. Apparently the puppy had gotten away and made a mad dash for freedom. An hour of chasing later, the puppy was cornered and retrieved.

But Banjo wasn’t real keen on humans. He shied away every time Mat put his hand out, and the distrust in his eyes was just heart-breaking from such a young boy. Sitting on the curb, I held the leash while Mat went to get food, and Banjo started circling closer.

Five minutes later, Banjo was leaning against my legs while I scratched his ears. Mat sat down next to me, and it was adorable to see an 19 year old boy earning the trust of a scared puppy. The kid has a great heart, and before long, Banjo was basking in the joy of having two people petting him. He’d definitely been abused by a man though, he acted like a dog that’s been kicked.

Mat finally took the leash and headed for his car. Banjo sat on my feet and looked at Mat. “He likes you!” said Mat, and immediately made me feel incredibly guilty! When I stood up and headed for the car, Banjo trotted right along behind. He balked at the car though, and looked like he might bite, which apparently he had tried to do earlier. So Mat held the door open and I hauled Banjo into my arms, where he cuddled right in. Silky, silky puppy ears!!! I’ve NEVER had a dog I could pick up. All my dogs have been over 90 lbs. Puppies are fun to cuddle.

Safely perched on the front seat, complete with muddy paws, Banjo started looking around and wagging his tail at Mat.

Banjo got lucky. Mat’s a southern boy. Banjo’s going to be a hunting dog. He’ll have a job, lots of exercise and play, and a new owner who will love him every day for the rest of his life. He’ll have a warm bed, and he’ll not have to worry about where his next meal is coming from.

Not all dogs are so lucky. The shelters and rescues are full to the brim. Too many people buy a puppy, only to find that it’s a lot more work than they thought, or their circumstances change.

All of my cats and horses have been rescues, as have several of my dogs. Sure, a lot of them have genuine, deep issues. Cyri, the massive male Rottweiler, started screaming when the leash got caught around his leg. Romeo, my beautiful Morab colt, came out of the trailer like a 4-month old hellion, kicking and biting. Big Man was blinded, starved, neglected. All of them turned into wonderful creatures.

All they needed was love, and a lucky day.

Family Traditions

Posted in Uncategorized on December 22, 2009 by Jaym Gates

So, I’ve been trying to explain to some people what makes my family so…special. It’s hard. Taken in little doses, it’s not so odd. One big dose? We’re the original candidates for the glass bubble. (Thankfully, my mom and part of my grandfather’s family are quite easy-going and lovely!)


1.) No alcohol or cigarettes. Ok, not too odd…except that it’s a ‘you will go to hell if you do this’. Yes, there’s a significant hole in the pantry when family visits. I like fine wine on occasion, damned or not.

2.) No caffeine. Problematic, since I’ve been drinking coffee since I was 13, right under my grandmother’s nose on more than one occasion. You know how happy it makes a teenager to have a forbidden cup of coffee, in the car, on a road trip with her grandmother? Yeah, I did. Chocolate, however, has received a noticeable exemption…except when my grandmother gets all worked up about following the rules again.

3.) No meat. NO meat. On occasion, no dairy either. But, that depends on if she’s craving cheese or milk. My great aunt and uncle are religiously vegan, pretty close to being on a completely raw-foods diet. The results of creativity and raw foods? Blech. Whipped cream however, as we learned at Thanksgiving, is the occasional exception.

4.) No work on Saturday. No play. No mental exertion. This is because of the 4th commandment. But let me tell you, rest is an awful lot like work sometimes…For a while, we weren’t allowed to even shower on Sat., it had to be done Friday night.

5.) ‘Gays are responsible for the downfall of America. Or maybe the Mexicans. Or the Blacks. None of them should be allowed equal rites/being allowed to live’. No, seriously. This was the discussion that took place about three years ago on Thanksgiving. I can’t even describe the disgust. I had to leave the room, it made me so physically ill to hear the self-righteous tone. Also, I remember being six or seven, and my grandmother pointing out a woman in our small, hills town. “That’s what lesbians look like.” The homophobia and racial, religious and cultural prejudice in my grandmother’s side of the family is so much fun. Especially since I belong to a couple of the hated groups. Oops.

6.) Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Folklore and Mythology are ‘the Devil’s tools’. Um, yeah. It’s always fun to try to describe my writing, my degree choice, and my life-plans without a lecture. Oh, wait, I got the lecture. Eastern philosophy, Native American culture, Catholicism, it’s all evil. Symbols and foreign languages are also suspect. Any music but gospel or wordless classical is also forbidden. I once had to turn off Enya because ‘we can’t understand what she’s singing, it’s probably a Satanic spell’. My grandmother sees demons behind every rock, in every shadow.

7.) Conspiracy theories abound, from the Illuminati to ‘airplane contrails and high-voltage lines’. I’m not going to bother listing them here, if it’s been mentioned, it’s a conspiracy. I get to listen to Rush Limbaugh, my family voted for Bush and Palin both…Mmmm, yeah. Politics are a cue to bury my head in a book.

8.) Bonus: Jewelry, clothing, nail-polish, make-up. My great-aunt once told my cousin’s friend that she would go to hell because she pierced her ears. I must have clean, or colorless/light flesh-tone nail polish. Clothes must not be tight, show lower back, cleavage or anything above the knee. (For anyone who’s met me…that basically means a turtleneck and burlap bag!) Too much make-up is seen as a sign of too much pride.

That’s my family for you. Now, I’m off to take down the dragons, alcohol, books, music, movies and life from around my house. Later, all.

Nightmare Excerpt: 12/19

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2009 by Jaym Gates

(For the record, the title is looking more likely to be Haven. But Nightmare makes a good working title, so shall stay as such.)


Mask wiped the flour from her hands just as the big bell began tolling in the town square. Not the quiet, somber summoning bell. The furious warning bell. And it was ringing hard. Dropping the rolling pin, Mask swiped her hands on her apron and rushed outside. Her sons were out there. Silk, nine years old, was watching the twins and Cat.

Silk had already heard the bell and was herding the boys inside, dragging Cat, who wanted to see what was going on. Mask kissed Silk quickly on the forehead and snatched up Cat, who started kicking and screaming.

A cold breeze was blowing through the streets. A single touch left Mask’s teeth chattering and shocked the boys into silence.

“Inside, inside!” cried Mask, shoving the twins through the door.

The boys rushed inside. Mask bolted the door and rushed around the room, closing the windows and locking the back door too.

“Papa,” whimpered Cat, and Mask shushed him as she stepped into the closet. Bunches of rosemary, roses and cedar hung from the doors, blood marked the lintels.

A Memory was loose in the town, and there was nothing any of them could do.

The boys clustered around Mask, clutching her dress and whimpering. She found the food bag, dry supplies that always stayed in the closet, and gave each of them dried pieces of meat and fruit.

The cold deepened. Ice formed around the water bucket. The boys shivered, teeth chattering. Mask tucked a blanket around them and held them close. The Memory must be in town now, moving through the streets.
Mask sang them songs, quiet little ditties from the plains, songs her mother had sung to her.

Wind, as cold as a steppe winter, snatched at her hair, and she looked up through the open door. The Memory stood in her kitchen, turning slowly. A shimmering gray form, human-shaped but without eyes or nose, he stood taller than the average man. Thin streams floated through the air to curl around him, green, red, blue, gold, and Mask gasped as a stream of dark shadow stretched from her heart to him.

The Memory took it in his hands, wrapped the thread through his fingers and brought it to his lips. His head tilted towards her, as though he watched her. The thread tugged at something in her, and Mask moaned.

“Leave her alone!” cried Silk, springing to his feet. Mask caught at him, but he was out of her reach and facing off against the Memory. Chubby little-boy fists planted on his hips, he glared up at the creature. “Go away!”

The Memory bent, coiling in on himself somehow. His face level with Silk, a thin tongue whipped out and touched the boy’s face. Silk cringed, stood still. Tongue coiling back, the Memory huffed a little. His head tilted, and he poked at Silk with a long finger. Silk touched the Memory on the shoulder, took the creature’s hand and squeezed it.

In the closet, Mask’s breath stole away as she watched. The Memories were deadly. They came into isolated villages and drained the people of their souls. They didn’t commune in some strange, silent way with little boys.

The Memory stroked Silk’s hair and carefully coiled the boy’s black energy around long fingers. He tucked it back against Silk’s chest, and brought Mask’s back to her too. Petrified, Mask sat still. The Memory’s touch burned against her skin like frozen fire. The boys kept their faces buried against her skirts, wailing.

“Strong,” whispered the Memory, putting a hand on Silk’s shoulder. “I will answer him.”

Silk walked the nightmare to the door, hand in hand.

Main Characters: Male Psychopaths

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Yup, I have a history of writing the anti-hero with a strongly psychopathic twist. Aleshan, Alejandro, Taranis, Saaqur, Shedeur, Karamarog.

At the request of the Lady Mercedes Yardley, here are introductions to a few.


Aleshan, Demon-King, Dragon-Born, Avatar of Life

Predator crouched on the rocky outcropping and surveyed his surroundings. Somewhere behind him, hounds baying in eager anticipation of catching up to him, men would be whetting their weapons. His head turned on a motionless body and he bared his teeth in a snarl at his pursuers. His pace had been easy since he sensed them, coaxing them on farther and farther away from home. Their enchantments, weak enough against him anyways, would not work here in these quiet mountains stained with wardings as old as time, as old as his people. This was still wild land, land that would thrill to dragon-song.

So they found him when they burst onto the mountain path not long after dawn, waiting for them. A beautiful, contemptuous beast, gilded shining ivory in the morning sun. Bright green eyes sparkled as he observed them, casual and unworried by the cruel nets and weapons they carried, by the hounds with their venomed teeth or the hooked arrows. He waited. The hounds surged forward, caught his scent in full, and careened back, cowering against their masters and screaming. One man tried to restrain his hound, urge it forward, but the dog turned on the master and savaged him. The pack followed him into the valley, tails between their legs.

The rest of the men cast the still-screaming handler over the side of the mountain, and Predator’s mouth curled in contempt and admiration. Loyalty was important to him, but it always amused him to see mortals come to the same casual cruelty as the worst of his race. Humans had more limited tools than he did however, and less creativity.

“Surrender!” cried one of the men. Predator tilted his head, as bemused and insolent as a cat, and the hunter choked on bitter, scorching acid as it filled his mouth and airways. And, as quickly, it was gone, leaving him retching, clawing at ruined throat and lungs.

“Your voice grates against this beautiful morning. Be silent,” Hunter cautioned gently.

The other men moved forward warily. Fifteen men ought to have been enough, even now that two had been rendered useless already, but they had seen the cruelty of his power, and feared him.

A low hum shivered in the air, raking cold fingers down Predator’s spine, and he laughed softly, the sound arousing him a little from his lull. The men were trying to sing him to submission, to silence! He approved. Music made him happy, tugged at the fragments of soul that still fluttered in his body.

His lover had once played with him so, when he broke through her hatred to make her do lovely things. The memory of her inevitably led to a vicious slash of anger and hatred through his mind, as he remembered the things he had done, and what she had done to him.

Two of the humming men fell to the ground, clawing at their closed throats. “I said be silent.” Predator’s rough, sawing voice sent men reeling backwards in fear before they caught and mastered themselves. Dragon-song writhed at the back of his throat, wanting to be used, to be flaunted and gloried in.

Tired of his mocking, they threw themselves at him, mad with fear and desire to feed on the power they could feel from him. Their nets were forgotten in the fury of animal hunger.

Now Predator sang. A song of death, of blood, horror, of wrongful death.

Predator found their deaths disappointing. While they were unquestionably annoying to him, it had been far too quick, and too messy. A bit of amusement shot through him as he thought that She would certainly have
approved of such sentiments. His cruelty had never been as exquisite as Hers.

A near-silent call sawed through the air to the ears of the fleeing hounds, only an irritating whisper to a human, but trumpet clear to the dogs. They returned to his heels, and he sent them running before him to be his eyes in this new land.

No more humans hunted him. Disappointed, he jogged steadily north.

Alejandro, Moorish Vampire, Servant of God, Hand of the Angel of Death

“I will not need to argue that point,” Alejandro muttered, sitting in a chair. The old Moor hummed an ancient prayer-song to himself, using the time to organize his thoughts and contemplate whether he needed forgiveness for anything in particular today. His fingers brushed his mask, trailing over the cold jewels. Made for him by a master of mask-making in Venice, centuries ago, it was priceless now, both for memory and quality. Centuries of habit took hold, and he began slipping effortlessly through his daily rituals, feeling his fears and the whispering of the slain voices abate, settle into a semblance of rest.

The marks on his face burned as if newly inked, the fine tattoos creeping from under the edge of the mask hot to his touch, the magic in them still burning bright. “Forgive me Lord, forgive me these lives I have taken. Forgive me the suffering I have caused. Forgive me my own foolishness and failure. Forgive me each of these lives I have taken, each flame extinguished before its time. Forgive me…”

He began the recitation of names, his voice barely above a whisper. A long life of war and protection was bought at a harsh price, and it was his habit to keep the memory of these slain ones alive. More painful were the names of those he had slain in anger, or greed, or out of what he had finally understood to be misguided protection.

The hand of the Angel of Death let his fingertips linger on one last tattoo, a simple little flower directly on his jugular vein, and whispered the last name. “Nasmat. Sister of my heart, I will remember you always. For you I live.”

When he opened his eyes again, Fordon stood at the window, hands shoved deep in his pockets and his shoulders hunched. “I hate it when you do that, I swear I can feel the fucking ghosts, and they all want in my head.”

Taranis, Prince of the American Sidhe, demi-god (Crappy writing from first novel!)

“You shouldn’t always be thinking so much, you’ll get lines in your lovely face,” a feminine voice purred in his ear, as arms slid around his waist. Caught up in memories, Taranis had ignored the entrance of his lovely berserker-general, Blodhwynn. Irritation flashed through him at the thought that she was so comfortable with abusing his authority, and he seized her wrists and yanked her in front of him. Throwing her against the wall, his hand went to her throat and began pressing. With anyone else, she would have snapped, killing them. Taranis was her Master, and long training had destroyed any violent impulses she would have felt towards him.
Her lean body went rigid in his grasp as she struggled for breath. “Hold still,” he growled, tightening his hand. Her face showed her struggle clearly, the need for air and control, but she slowly subsided. When she was hanging limply against the wall, he pulled her away and flung her across the desk, his eyes narrowed in satisfaction as she struggled to drag air back into her lungs. A sovereign lord had the power to kill his subjects, and Taranis had plenty of his own power to kill. He let the darkness of that fill his eyes as he held her pinned with his expression only.
“In the future, you will come inside, and kneel in front of the desk. You will wait for my pleasure with your head lowered, and your hands behind your back. Do you understand?” He kept his tone quiet.


Bonus: Kasiris and Aleshan, possibly the most twisted, nasty romance out there.

“Master.” She says the word so coldly and cruelly that it weakens rather than offering power. Once he struggled to force her to say it. Still it tightens his throat and brings him the slightest flash of possessive pride. The dragon longs for her to say it more honestly, tenderly, the same way it longs to be called ‘mine’. It will not be, not today. The brutality in her eyes promises only more pain and more cruelty. So he kneels to her and spreads his hands and lowers his head, offering himself to her, the only penance he can make.
It is days before the marks fade.

Books ‘n Stuff

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Every time my grandparents come for a visit, there is a hurried cleansing of my house. Alcohol, magic, masks, certain music and movies, etc, all have to be hidden away. We gave up on hiding the coffee a long time ago. Some battles just are easier to fight and get over.

Unfortunately, the hardest part of the cleaning is the books. Now, coming from a family that considers FOLKLORE to be of the Devil, my f/sf/h library is not real family-friendly. The only upside of this is that I often find books I’d forgotten about.

So, here are some forgotten treasures, and a few new treasures as well.

1.) Jonathon Carrol is one of the weirdest, most exquisite storytellers I’ve ever encountered. Logical madness is the only way I can think of to describe his stories, and his prose is lovely. Do yourself a favor though, and start any of his books early in the evening. Trust me, you won’t be able to stop once you start. I recommend starting with The Wooden Sea.

2.) David Gemmell is possibly about as far from Jonathon Carroll in style and voice as I could get. Gemmell is the third fantasy author I ever read, and I enjoyed his works all through my teenage years. (Embarrassing, but I will admit to plotting a little bit of fan-fiction in his worlds…) Although he wrote classic Sword and Sorcery, and had a fairly predictable plot formula, he touched on some good themes and wasn’t afraid to hurt his characters badly. Start with either Legend or White Wolf. I started with Stormrider, and loved it, but its also in the middle of the series.

3.) The Dragon Quintet is a lovely collection of stories by the likes of Tanith Lee, Orson Scott Card and Mercedes Lackey. A stellar cast with stellar stories. I honestly cannot choose a favorite here!

4.) The Dark Glory War is a prequel to Michael Stackpole’s DragonCrown Cycle, and the best story of the four books, in my opinion. Told in first-person, and less lofty than the Cycle itself, the prequel is a great, classic High Fantasy. Also check out Talion: Revenant and Once a Hero.


1.) Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife. I picked this up at VanderMeer’s Chapel Hill reading as a prize for some forum-related contest. Skimming through it, I realized that I had to have a copy for myself. Well, let’s make that two copies, just in case I need to give another away. Besides that, having met Jeff, he’s a true gentleman with a great sense of humor, and the instant respect I developed for him makes the words that much better.

2.) Encyclopedia of Spirits and Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells. Ok, so these aren’t the light reading sort of thing. They are, however, exceptional reference books recommended to me by Paul Jessup. I spent about an hour chasing down some questions about the Morrigan last night in the Spirits book, and it is good. Just don’t drop either of them on your toes: both are over 1000 pages, and hardbound.

While you’re at it, check out Natania Barron’s excellent Aldersgate Cycle podcast, and Mur Lafferty’s new podcast on

Happy reading, all!

I’m As Beautiful As…

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15, 2009 by Jaym Gates

I’m as beautiful as an onion. That’s what everyone says. Grandma says the boys won’t marry me, because why marry an onion, when there’s a tulip? Dad says an onion is only good for cooking and cleaning. The girls at school say an onion is only good to make someone cry.

Guess I do lots of that. We’ve got big plans for the school, our teachers and students and even the janitor. We want to get funding! We want books and supplies and maybe even a computer. We’re all working hard. Got to get good grades. Got to show up the other schools in the district.

Mona got a scholarship to a big-city university. She’s always been smart, and she wrote this amazing essay on growing up poor. Course, she’s the richest kid in town. She’s off in the city now, and writes every week about the fast food and fast cars and fast boys. Fast fast fast, is that all? She writes that she needs money, because everyone else has cellphones and cars of their own and money to go out at night.

We don’t go out at night. We stay in and study, or sew, or tutor a younger sibling. There’s nowhere to go.

I’m a year away from being able to go to university. I want so badly to go. Mom and Dad want me to go too. I could give them a shot, I could make something of myself out of this ghost-town.

But what can I do? I’m as pretty as an onion.

A revivalist comes to town. He’s got a big tent and a Bible. The tent’s got holes in it, the Bible, he says, is missing pages. The revivalist is shabby around the edges too. Greasy, like he hasn’t taken a shower in a while. We all agree to take him in for a night, and a meal. It’s the best we can do. We’ve barely got enough food for ourselves.

Reverend Ford hops up on the tiny stage the men built for him and he waves and yells and prays. We watch him, and nod, and clap politely. We don’t agree with him, but it would be rude not to appreciate his enthusiasm. There’s not much enthusiasm in our town these days.

He says that God speaks through him, that God told him to spread his love all around the world. The world must be a pretty small place then, if he’s coming to our town. Even the buzzards don’t come to our town anymore.

He wants us to get down on our knees and pray, to cry, confess our sins, become the majestic things our God created us to be. He’s not our God. Our god is the dirt, the rain clouds that never rain, the misery that has become almost a living entity. Our god is a god of lost chances, forgotten hope, ennui. Majestic? We can’t afford to repair the car so that Dad can drive to work. Majesty is the last thing on our minds. We just want respectability, hope, and rain.

The silence drags on, the reverend waiting on the congregation to come and pray. When we don’t move, he raises his hands and prays anyways, begging God to soften our hard hearts and show us the meaning of piety and humility.

Then he passes the collection plate around, exhorting us to do our Christian duty. We throw him out of town, and the silence descends again.

The silence.

The silence.

The silence.

I’m as beautiful as an onion, and I’m failing my classes. I can’t think. I can’t breathe through the dust. Why bother? It’s all going nowhere. Mona came back. She doesn’t have enough money to live in the city. No one will hire her. And her dad’s paying back all the money she spent. Now she really can write about being the poorest person in the poorest town.

At least she’s a tulip.

Then, one day, the grocer gets some fresh produce. Doesn’t happen often, it’s too expensive even for him to buy. But he gives us all a couple of pieces. He gives Mom some beets and onions, some greens and an apple.

We all share the apple, little nibbles at our pieces. After a diet of rice and beans, tasteless bread because we can’t afford salt or yeast, the apple hurts our mouths. We lick every last drop of juice from our fingers, and Sarah gets to clean the core, her eyes shining in awe.

Mom makes soup out of the other vegetables. Rice and beans, a sprinkle of precious salt, beets chopped into it, and the onion roasted, set whole into the soup.

Brad jokes that I should get the onion. I hit him, and the mood of the moment is broken. No one wants to bite into the onion, which is whole, and tinging pink with the beet juice. It’s like the onion has taken the last little bit of will from us. We had forgotten what food tasted like, and now we can’t keep eating.

Mom, screaming, throws the onion out the door and tells me to start feeding the chickens.

The onion lies there, in the dirt, red and pearl-white, and the most lovely thing I’ve seen in years. Crusted with dirt, splayed, unwanted even in the hardest of times.

Kneeling beside it, I collect the scattered petals and begin arranging them, forming them into a rose, a peony, all the flowers that used to grow here. Some dam breaks, some hold on my heart, and I can’t stop. I sculpt the dirt, build houses of dried grass and twigs, make an angel out of discarded chicken feathers.

The onion, the red-tinged, cast-out onion, lies in the heart of it all, and the sun glows brightly on its stained petals. The magic-hour, when our town is beautiful again, painted with gold and red.

In my work, I see the magic of far-away places and adventures. I see myself, a girl as beautiful as an onion, and in a rush, I have forgotten my past.

That was then. This is now. Now I am an entertainer, a dancer, a sailor, a pirate. I drift from place to place, living on my wit and my wiles. I fight with the men and seduce them, and leave them crying. I have never regretted that day, nor turned back my head.

I visited once. Went back to my little town in a forgotten corner of a dead America. They were all still there. Sitting at the dinner tables, sitting in armchairs. Mona was reading her magazine in the bathtub, the water foul and gray around her white bones.

All dead. They’d just laid down and died. All the tulips, the apples, the ones who made people smile and were good for something other than cooking and cleaning.

Mom and Dad were in bed, and the children sitting around their dusty, ugly dolls. It had not rained in seventy years. Everything perfectly preserved, mummified.

In the yard, that cast-off onion glowed softly, surrounded by chicken corpses and feather angels. Moisture glinted in its thick skin, somehow untouched by the parched air.

I touched that onion, and cried.

I am as beautiful as an onion.

Author’s Note: Last night, I cooked an onion, beets, carrots and greens for soup stock. All the vegetables lost their color and became mushy, unlovely. Except for the onion. Deep red stained it, and the pieces seemed to be arranging themselves into petals. It seemed a fitting prompt.

Readings of Chapel Hill, or, An Evening of Awesomeness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 11, 2009 by Jaym Gates

I’ve never been to a reading before. No, not a palm-reading or a spirit-reading or what have you (actually, I haven’t been to those either, but that’s not the point), a book reading and signing. There haven’t been any local ones, and it’s a long drive to where they have been.

But when Natania Barron told me I should come to Chapel Hill to hear her read with Jeff VanderMeer and Mur Lafferty, I decided I’d give it a shot. I was supposed to work that day, so I figured that if I got it off, I’d go. I walk into work the next day, check my schedule, and one of my friends says she needs to change a shift. Voila. I was free Thursday.

Chapel Hill is about a 3 hour drive for me. Not bad for a day off. Well, bad if the directions are entered wrong, and Google says ‘that address doesn’t exist’. Natania, the sweetheart that she is, told me where to go, and endured a couple of ‘where the hell am I?!’ calls after that. 14 miles of unintentional retracing, 10 cop cars and a sore butt later, I arrived. Slightly embarrassing, but hey, I made it, right?

We carpooled over to Chapel Hill, to save losing me again, and went to dinner. And dinner was heavenly torture. I don’t get good, unique food around here. So the Mediterranean deli was a treat. Fresh pita, spanikopita, tabbouli…I’m spoiled.

Jeff VanderMeer is a dangerous man to eat near. He has a bad habit of making people laugh. So does Mur Lafferty’s sister.

Dinner over, we trucked back down the sidewalk to the comic book shop. This was bringing back fond memories of Dragon*Con, in the way that memories of Hell always seem happy with the fuzz of time and emotional trauma laid over them.

Chapel Hill Comics is a lovely shop. Bright yellow and blue walls, an excellent selection, great staff, and a stage to throw the sacrifices…er, authors…on. A crowd of about 40 people ended up showing, including a couple of Outer Alliance members, Clockwork Cabaret, and fellow Aether Age devotee Sam.

Jeff introduced his fellow readers, pulling out salacious facts that he claimed to have gleaned from the internet. Such things included Natania’s master of oil-rig puppet shows, and Mur’s prison sentences. Super-heroes, Weird West and Fungi-punk followed, and then the improv.

Oh lord almighty, the improve. “Give us a setting!” We gave them ‘Dark side of the Moon’. “Well, that’s a short story,” says Mur, clutching her throat. “Gurgle!”

“There’s a dome on the dark side of the moon!”

“Oh, we get to breathe, yay!” general authorial relief. “Give us a character!”

“A bear!”



“Is it a talking bear?”

“Is it a man with a bear totem, a man who wears bear clothing…” asks Mur, fishing for help. The crowd is merciless.

“Give us another character!” This, because our brave authors might either be A.) slow to catch the twisted evil that is this crowd, or B.) clutching desperately at some silly hope of redemption.

“A squid!”

Oh dear. The authors are now giggling AND speechless.

“Another character!”

“A bitter cosmonaut!”

Oh. At this point, they give up, and start the story. The story is somewhat a collection of hysterical laughter, the sound of authors being thrown under the bus, and debates about the miracle squid. And kids, those authors, they’ve got this self-preservation thing DOWN! There was more passing of this story than a hot potato.

Finally, it was revealed that the talking bear was stuffed, the squid was preserved in formaldehyde, and the bitter cosmonaut was slowly pickling himself on the dark side of the Moon. Having depressed Mur, Jeff called it signing and beer time.

But that, kids, is a story for tomorrow!

Review: ‘Scar Night’ by Alan Campbell

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Suddenly, I’m finishing up a lot of books at the same time. A few more to come, too.

When the last batch of books came, I picked up Scar Night first. After everything I’d heard about it, it beckoned quite intriguingly.

It certainly did not disappoint. It took a while to finish because it is what I call ‘thick’ reading: Not heavy/dull, but so rich with concept, imagination and imagery that it can be a little overwhelming if I’m too tired. Scar Night is very thick.

The book is 547 pages long. The plot itself is fairly simple and straight-forward, a fairly classic descent into Hell, battle the Big Bad, resolve some childhood trauma. Usually, a plot like this is too flat, but the characterization completely redeems it.

The story starts out in the city of Deepgate, a city suspended over an abyss. Only chains hold the city together, and the city itself is starting to fall into disrepair. Entire sections simply crumble and fall away. From the first chapter, this city is mapped out in beautiful, gruesome detail. It is not a lovely city. It is maybe majestic, awe-inspiring, but the sense of decay bleeds through every word.

Dill, a teenaged angel who collects snails, can’t fly, and is afraid of the dark, is the only remnant of the Archons, the mighty angels who once rebelled against Heaven. Carnival, her skin a web of self-inflicted scars, is an outcast, an angel who leeches the soul of a victim every Scar Night. Rachel is the human caught between them, protecting Dill, hunting and being hunted by Carnival. Devon, master of the Poison Kitchens, in desperate search for angelwine. Nettle just wants his daughter’s soul back, and revenge against the man who took it.

Each has their own battle, internal wars which Campbell does a good job of exploring. Towards the end of the book, the battles switch from internal and political, to external and physical as the God of Chains threatens to bring his dead to rule the world.

This story drips with description and visualization. Deepgate has all the depth of London or New York, the good and the bad. Campbell did his research, and sets a magnificent dark fantasy into play.

But the ending is a little weak. A full half of the book is slow, building the world and showing the characters’ struggles. At times, it bogs down. More often, it is entrancing. Towards the end, the plot rushes and doesn’t always slow down to make sense of itself. The interaction between Ulcis and Carnival left several questions that need answers. The motivations of several characters are unclear. It isn’t the sort that can really be addressed in a later book either, the sort of questions that lead to a disconnection from the characters. This is a good book that would be great, if it could only find its heart.

Overall, this is a book I would highly recommend. If nothing else, it is a spectacular case of world-building. The story is unique, Dill and Carnival are massively different and unique takes on the cliche angel. The story is good, and I look forward to the next one.