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Totally forgot to cross-post this from t'other blog:

Mike Allen has posted five stories from Clockwork Phoenix 5 online for free. Including my own contribution to the volume: "The Wind at His Back."

I've already talked about this story, so I'll keep things short. Set in what I've been calling the Tallverse - a weird western world where tall tales and folklore are real - this is the story of Benito Aguilar, small town sheriff and former tornado wrangler who just wants to live a simple, happy life with his husband Casey. It's a story about living with your past, about the strength of acceptance and community. It also has tween giants and snakes that put themselves back together and magic fruit trees and storms with souls.

And now, you can read it start to finish all for free. So if you've got a second, click on through and take a look.

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Cover art: Smoke in the water… by Cyril Rana
Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0) license
Image edits by Joy Crelin and Leland Spencer
As usual, extended nattering to be had in a day or so, but after a bit of fallow, I've a new story out in the wilds.

When I heard Joy Crelin was planning to put Betwixt on an indefinite hiatus, I knew I had to send something in. Joy published one of my first pieces ("At Her Fingertips" in issue #7), and it was a wonderful experience. Joy's fast, professional, and all around lives up to her name. Luckily, Joy liked what I sent her this time, as well.

"Taste of Birdsong" has migrating trees and senses that turn on and off for the season. It has skinspeak and pherospeak and signing. It might also be a story about self-worth and what it means to be beautiful if I did my job right. Plus monsters with multiple mouths because monsters make everything cooler.

Extra bonus points for this story being a first: evil twin Laura Price and I are finally sharing a table of contents! Our evil crazy weirdness has joined forces for Betwixt #11. Is that why “File 29520: Notes from Immediate Aftermath of Attack by New Villain, ‘The Daemon'” is a super-villain story? I won't tell because that would ruin the evil! Go! Witness our power!

(cross-posted from ye regular blog)

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I have a story live today over at Escape Pod! Huzzah!

My favorite part about skimming is that I’m not broken when I do it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have levels, that I’m on or off, because that’s how everything’s supposed to be when you’re in the hypernet. Even if I’m not supposed to be in the hypernet.

"Broken" is another story of The Rim. Like "Detritus" and "At Her Fingertips," this one stands on its own, though you'll likely begin seeing patterns if you've read the other two.

This is a slightly quieter story than the previous two, I think, though it's filled with its own kind of chaos. Sy is a young man possessed of extraordinary talents and equally extraordinary challenges. As usual, I'll likely have more to say in a few days, but for now, I'll boil it down like I did for ye newe Twitter: hacked genes, hacked code, hacked minds, and shredded hearts.

You can read it in text or listen to audio at the above link, or you can download to your favorite podcast app and listen to it that way.

(cross-posted from t'other blog).

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Cross posting from the bloggy-blog:

Today's the day. The Sockdolager is live with my story, "Hide Behind."

I'll have more to say later, but for now, the short version: "Hide Behind" is set in the same world as “Tall,” an American West where folklore is fact.

Meet Hayashi Yuna, a frontier doctor struggling to unlock the secrets of a preternatural tree alongside her research partner, Ruthie. When a local giant is murdered, the struggle to unravel buried secrets becomes far more immediate, and the potential consequences far deadlier.

You can read the story free online here. If you're inclined to buy a copy from the wonderful folks at The Sockdolager who took a chance on it (and why wouldn't you be?), here's links to a bunch of different options:

In that old fashioned print thingee

You can also subscribe to The Sockdolager over on their site. Today is the day of options, I tell you.

This story isn't a sequel. More of a meanwhile somewhere else. Having read "Tall" might make you more familiar with a world building element or two, but you absolutely don't need to have read "Tall" to understand "Hide Behind." (though if you'd like to, the collection it's in is still available).

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Cover art: The Woods by Boudewijn Berends
Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0) license
Image edits by Leland Spencer

Cross posting from the blog:
Ten fingers, ten toes. That’s the baseline for a healthy kid, right? You’d have thought I’d be a bonus, what with eighteen fingers. Guess they all have to function before you count them.

As Deficiencies go, mine’s not so bad. The Skew was a hell of a thing, and everyone on the Rim’s still feeling it. I knew a guy once had a fully formed jaw down around his nuts. I only wish I was kidding. On the upside, the hinge didn’t work, or it would’ve been a nightmare sitting down.

"At Her Fingertips," goes live today over at Betwixt magazine. This is another story set on the Rim -- the asteroid colonies / ghettos populated by victims of the genetic plague known as the Skew -- which first appeared in "Detritus." If you haven't read that first story, don't worry; this is a different asteroid, a different protagonist, and a story intended to stand on its own.1

Acaja is a skilled pilot, talented mechanic, and surly piece of business. She's also a dreamer and a romantic, but if you tell anyone, she might just beat you to a within an inch of your life. A lady has a reputation to keep.

Acaja wants off her asteroid colony, Rixzah, out of the literal garbage dump she works in, and into the arms of ... oh, but that would be spoilers.

Part caper, part romance, all complicated-and-surly protagonist, and totally free to read. Though, of course, if you enjoy it, consider buying the ebook or dead tree versions via the Betwixt site. And maybe think about picking up "Detritus" (link on my bibliography page) for more weird stuff from the Rim.

1. Folks who have read "Detritus" may recognize at least one character here, and pick up one or more other easter eggs, mind.

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Cross posting from the blog:

Cover art by Luke Spooner

I suppose it's appropriate for a folklore anthology to stumble through its own relatively twisty path to completion. But complete it finally is.

Twice Upon A Time: Fairytale, Folklore, & Myth. Reimagined & Remastered is a mouthful of a title, though given the number of books that come up when you type "Twice Upon a Time" into Amazon, I figured giving you the whole title here was a good idea.

Near the last week of last year, the anthology was up in e-book only on the Kindle store. Then it vanished like a fairie light. Whispers among the townfolk spoke of ogres and demons and arcane scrolls called "contracts." Only the archmage Joshua knows for certain.

Now, however, it's finally back, and in dead tree format, too. My story, "Tall," is part of the anthology. I have a more substantial post about that which should go up over the weekend or early next week, but the short version is, it involves a quest to claim Annie Oakley's gun in order to save a town from becoming yet more collateral damage in the feud between Paul Bunyan's giants and Pecos Bill's tornado wranglers. This is complicated in no small part due to personal history between Bill and the gun's current owner. Also, there is at least one monster, because there always is, right?

I'm proud of "Tall," and excited that it's out there for folks to read. And just in case, there's also a metric ton of other folks having their own demented turns at various stories you thought you knew, so there ought to be something in a flavor you enjoy.

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Cover art by Cat Leonard

Lately, I've been trying to get my solicitation game going again (as well as writing in general, but submissions in particular, because I have a few older things that I still think are worth having a home). Some of the payoff for that is now available.

"Detritus" is a short story with asteroid colonies, genetic plagues, a giant scientist, twisted relationships, and a justifiably cranky detective coping with all of them the best way she can. It's just gone live as part of the third issue of Sci Phi Journal.

I've been playing with the world of "Detritus" for a while now, but this story was the first, so I'm incredibly excited that it's finally out there.

Clicking the cover art to the right takes you to the Amazon page for the Kindle edition, but it's also available in EPUB format at Castalia House, and in both MOBI and EPUB over at Smashwords. No matter where you get it, the electronic version is a measly $3.99, so you don't have to burn all your Christmas money on giving it a try.

Issue #3 also marks the publisher's first stab at a dead tree version, so if you prefer yours in hard copy, that should be available via CreateSpace within the next day or so. Keep an eye on this link for those. Print copies will run $7.99.

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So I just tore my way through The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in less than a week, which for me is nothing short of impressive. I'm still not entirely sure why I found it quite so engrossing, but I don't know that I want to do a whole lot of looking in the gift horse's mouth.

It did get me thinking about my general assumptions vis-a-vis the "two impossible, deadly choices" trope, though. I mean, I can't remember the last time the central protagonist of a story was presented with an apparently no-win scenario, faced with two choices that both involve her or him dying, and I didn't immediately start looking for whatever the third option was going to be.

And yet, I don't always mind it, as this book would suggest. It's difficult, certainly, to make it work, for precisely the reason above. Having come across it so many times before, I'm nearly impossible to convince that your binary decision is exactly that. Indeed, if it turns out the decision your character's struggling with over a lengthy period of time actually is that simple, I wind up feeling cheated. Why the hell do I want to slog through all the interceding stuff if it doesn't go any further than what you handed me at the inciting incident? I'm mean that way.

I think it works best when you realize I won't buy what you're selling. It's sort the "laughing at / laughing with" difference. If I think you actually believe you've snowed me and I'm going to fret and wring my hands about this impending death, I'll just be annoyed. However, if you present the no-win, recognizing that I don't for one second believe there's not a trick involved, then tease me with the trick, I might just be willing to play along. Take me down one corridor and another, dangling the "maybe this is the secret way out" in front of me (and, of course, your character). Acknowledge that we all know you're withholding, that there's something twisty in the works, that this is a game you and I are playing, a mystery I'm trying to solve.

When we all know the game, it's a whole lot more fun.

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I'm sick of shit depressing me and / or pissing me off of late, so last night was comfort food: grilled cheese (coming soon to SyFy).

Anyway, since David claims I make the most perfect grilled cheese, and since I feel a need to share my comfort, and since I'm trying to post more in general, and since why the hell do I need a reason to put ridiculousness on the Internet that's what it's for, my points on making awesome grilled cheese:

Medium low heat (a tad more medium than low). The bitch of getting grilled cheese right is managing to time the cooking so your cheese is nice and melty as your bread gets golden-brown crunchy. If your burner is too hot, the bread toasts before you get melty cheese. If it's not hot enough, it takes seven bajillion years to make it, and no one wants grilled cheese in the time it takes to bake a potato.

Light buttering. So, you need butter to get the aforementioned golden-brown crunchiness (which is henceforth GBC, because I'm tired of typing it out) on the outside. But if you use too much butter, you just wind up with soggy grilled cheese. No one wants that but the French, who call it croque-monsieur. I do enjoy a good croque-monsieur, but it's not grilled cheese, and anyone who tells you different is a damn liar. In any case, my general method is this: I glop a whole bunch of butter on the face of the bread to start, and spread it all over. Then I use the knife to scrape off the excess, so there's just a nice, even-but-thin coating of butter on the outside.

Velveeta. I don't want to be a corporate shill, but seriously, Velveeta is the molten melty goodness of grilled cheese heaven. Secondary tip: that 2% milk nonsense isn't Velveeta. You're making grilled cheese, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Stop pretending it's healthy and enjoy the nuclear orange-yellow not found in nature.

Give your cheese room. Unlike butter, melty cheese crisps up super quick, and goes to a burned, nasty mess even quicker if it gets on your pan. I know you want to make sure there is melty cheese deliciousness in every bite, but you need to remember that melty cheese oozes. Come on, that's part of what you love about a good grilled cheese, but you have to make allowances for it. So, make sure you don't put cheese all the way to your edges of your sandwich. I try to leave about a quarter of an inch of un-cheesed bread to start. That's usually enough to let the melted cheese spread out for the yum, but not so close to the edge that it spills over into a horrifying natural disaster of cheese burned and wasted due to my Western excess. You're already getting grilled cheese. Don't be greedy about it or you'll pay the price in nasty smells and smoke detector horrors.

Cover your pan for part one. This serves a couple of purposes, one of which I'll get to in a second. But mostly, it helps encourage the cheese to melt by keeping the heat in. Importantly, however, you want to uncover the pan after you flip the sandwich. Otherwise, you risk soggying up your sandwich. See previous aspersions cast upon the lovely and cultured French.

When to flip. This one can get you in trouble. You need the cheese to have at least started its melt, since otherwise there's nothing to hold your poor sandwich together, and grilled cheese falling apart over your hot skillet is a tragedy I do not wish anyone. Seriously, the cheese melts onto the pan, so even if you wanted to make a new, clean sandwich, you're hosed by the burnt and ruined cheesy goodness all over the surface. You also want the bottom to have crisped up, because trying to spatula up wet bread is also likely to end in heartache.

This is the other reason you want to cover the pan when cooking the first side. If you buttered the bread right, one of the better indicators is the top of the sandwich. Right when the butter has melted into the top piece (so it's all a uniform yellow), you should be good. Hopefully, when you flip now, not only is the cheese melted enough to hold the sandwich together, but that bottom piece is already in GBC mode.

Listen to the sizzle. From here, there aren't as many "you have destroyed the delicious awesomeness and should be condemned" pitfalls left, but there is still that horrible risk of burning the bread, which is nearly as awful as soggy grilled cheese. Plus, it doesn't have the benefit of letting you pretend you were really making foreign cuisine, unless you convince yourself that you have invented the new German culinary dish Schadenkase.

Your second side is probably the side at most risk for the burning, since my Crazy Symmetry Needs always want me to take as long cooking both sides. Possibly I'm the only one who has that cognitive dissonance, but what the heck, it's my journal, so we're pretending I'm not alone. You already melted the butter on that top side of the sandwich, so you need less time to develop GBC here. My indicator has always been the sizzle. Flip your sandwich and you'll hear it. Now pay attention for when you don't hear it any more. Give it a couple of seconds after that, then check that bottom side. If it isn't GBC yet, it's probably close. Check it every 5-10 seconds because it won't take long.

Apocrypha. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes you have to adjust. If your first side of the sandwich didn't get quite as much GBC as you like, just flip the sandwich back over. There's no easy indicators at this point, but it also shouldn't take very long to get crisped up. Just keep a close eye on it and all should be good.

The set-up. Now you're ready to gobble down the gooey cheesy awesome, right? If you answered "yes," you're terrible at recognizing a trick question. If you bust into your grilled cheese now, you will fall victim to Velveeta lava spilling all over you and / or your plate. Spock wouldn't have even had a chance to save the Enterprise if he'd had to walk into a room full of this stuff, and they'd have no body to shoot onto a planet, and we wouldn't have Star Trek With Whales, so hold your horses, hater.

No, after you plate your grilled cheese, you have to let it sit for a minute or so. You're afraid the sandwich will get cold, but I'm writing this thing and I'm telling you you're wrong (in addition to telling you your fears, which may make me psychic, but don't ask me to read your palm. I know what you were doing with that thing and I'm not touching it). Remember how we compared the cheese to lava? It's not far off. If you wait a couple of minutes, until the top of the sandwich doesn't really feel very warm, you're in much better shape. Now when you cut your sandwich in half--because you're not a heathen and you don't just mutilate your grilled cheese--you'll still probably have a little meltiness coming out, but you shouldn't lose the insides in a cheese-lava spill that leaves you bereft and the wildlife on your plate in need of rescue teams armed with Dawn. Even better, you won't burn off your taste buds, so you can actually enjoy the yum.

You know, I didn't realize until I started writing this how much cooking grilled cheese was like Goldilocks. There's a whole lot of "not too much, not too little" going on up there, isn't there? Huh. I guess you can never learn enough life lessons from childhood tales of breaking and entering.

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So, I got into a discussion about higher education this morning, spurred in part by a radio mention about all this student loan nonsense. We went all over the place, really, and writing about everything we bounced around to would make for something so unfocused as to be unreadable. If I'm feeling super-ambitious, I might manage to write multiple entries on some of the other topics, but for now I'm going to try to focus on what seems to be the standout pseudo-epiphany I had.

Every other day I see some link online to an article about "The best degrees" or "Dead-end degrees to avoid" or something similar. And every single one of those articles boils down "best" with a straight up dollars-earned comparison. Dead-end degrees are those that don't make you money. They're "bad returns on your investment."

I'm not sure if I can say it's The Thing That's Wrong, but certainly one of the things about the "education debate" that always rankles me is the continued insistence that a degree is a financial commodity. As far as I'm concerned, a degree is just a piece of paper. Okay, maybe it's a symbol. Fine: definitely it's a symbol. If you think it's a symbol of your potential fiscal success, however, I think you're buying into a fallacy.

The thing about symbols is, they can represent a lot of different things. From my perspective, a degree is a symbol of what you learned. That can be any of a number of things: you could learn an ungodly amount of trivia for which you can find no practical application; you could learn a diverse set of skills which you can put to use in just as diverse a set of ways; you could learn nothing more than how to bullshit your way through life, netting a position which grossly overpays you given your actual contributions to the world. Just so we're clear, though, each of those is not a specific kind of degree (chemistry, literature, business). Instead, it's every kind of degree. The difference, I'd contend, winds up being a combination of the learning experience and the individual in question.

And that's where I think higher education has its work cut out for it. Too many people (including, sadly, administrators at institutions of higher learning) have bought into the Capitalist / Social Darwinist narrative. It insists that anything that doesn't show direct profit via simplistic formulae doesn't serve society, and either needs to change to generate profit, or die a withering death. So colleges figure out how to maximize profits, and students put together spreadsheets based on the aforementioned internet articles, and we get more and more people whose degrees aren't symbols of much of anything, because the only thing anyone involved was interested in was the piece of paper itself, and everything it's meant to represent winds up falling to the side.

I am admittedly a horribly leftist dope on social issues, and, hey, I have one of those "worthless" degrees, so clearly I'm biased in all sorts of ways, but I just feel like one of the biggest hurdles we need to get over in the education debate is talking about it like it's pork bellies. Once we recognize the actual primary goals of education, then I think we're in a place where we can start looking at how to restructure it in a way that's fair and useful.

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