I’ve always steered clear of anthologies, having heard stories of the difficulty writing for them. You write up a tale tailored to that particular one, they don’t take it, then what do you do with a story about a purple top-hatted steampunk kraken? Anyway, on top of this, whilst I was at an impressionable age as a writer – just a couple of years ago in other words – I watched someone I know can write a novel at the drop of a hat being forced to gut and rewrite a story, and struggling with it because the editor of the anthology wanted to make more room for someone else’s story but couldn’t expand the size of the whole book.
So I just did my own thing. There was an anthology edited by a friend (you can find the Kickstarter here) that looked like fun, but I couldn’t come up with a story idea that fit into the corporate world and involved Chthulhu in time for it. But around the time I was writing Snow, I checked in at one of my daily blogs, and was surprised to see a call for authors… And I immediately responded.
I’d read the kernel novella JL Curtis had written, that he now wanted to spin off into a collection of tales by different authors, and I liked the central idea, but what struck me was more than the big story, there would be a lot of small stories going on. And I write small stories. In this one, a boy becoming a man in a time of turmoil. It’s a tale as old as time, but worth telling again and again, for my son’s sake.
I have had the great pleasure of not only getting to know this editor and a gentleman online, but in person, so I knew I could trust him with my work. One thing about us Indies (or maybe it’s just me) we’re particular about where our babies go. Also, his guidelines for word count and content were clear and easy to work with. The whole process has been terrific, especially when I got to see the draft and realized what great company I was hanging out with.
So to sum up: clear guidelines, light editing touch (he didn’t do much, but it was very helpful), and frequent but not onerous communication. If I do take part in another venture like this, he’s set a high bar! I’ve enjoyed the whole process, although I suspect that it has been an enormous amount of work and investment on his part. Hopefully it hasn’t held up his writing on other series too much (you should check The Grey Man out if you haven’t already).
I’ve read the draft, and there are some wonderful stories, and mine least among them. But mine I can give you a sample of, to whet your appetites.
Ryan sat at the top of the stairs, and listened hard to the conversation below him. It felt faintly ridiculous – he was, after all, fifteen — nearly sixteen — and technically almost an adult, not a toddler to be sitting here while the adults discussed stuff he wasn’t supposed to know. But what he did know was that if he went downstairs, the conversation would shift, and they wouldn’t be talking about what they were.
It wasn’t the political. He could hardly escape knowing that he was no longer a resident of the Beaver State of Oregon. He was now residing in the bright shiny newness that was Jefferson, a product of the messy split of California from the United States of America. That tear had left ragged edges, like ripping a sheet of paper from a notebook, and the inhabitants of the southern part of what had been Oregon, and the northern part of California, had banded together against all others, and formed the territory. It wasn’t a state yet. According to his social studies teacher, it just had to be ratified into statehood by congress. But according to one of the lively conversations that took place below him in the big great room of his parent’s ranch house, being a territory meant more independence from the Feds, and that was a good thing. They might vote to pass on statehood.
Ryan wasn’t sure where he stood on the issue of independency, to use a word from his mother’s favorite movie. In theory, he liked it. He was looking forward to becoming an independent adult, unlike his friend Brynna whose family had stayed behind during Calexit, and who had just found out that driver’s licenses were no longer available to minors. She wouldn’t be getting hers for two more years, while he would have his in just two months. California had decided that kids could get hurt, driving too early, and it was part of the sweeping Nanny Laws they had passed following their leavetaking from the good ol’ USA. Ryan had been driving since his feet could reach the pedals while he could see out the windshield, on the ranch. The license was just a formality. He remained indignant on Brynna’s behalf, though. She’d been quite vocally unhappy in the group chat they both belonged to when she found out she was going to have to wait. She couldn’t get a job, either. Child labor…
But politics was not the central part of the low-voiced and urgent conversation under him. That, he’d have been down there for. No, this was far more disturbing, and he strained to make it all out.
“… the Wilman’s place was hit hard.” His father’s low voice was gravelly, and hard to hear.
His mother’s voice was higher, and clearer. “I offered Vi and the girls a place, but they are going up to her aunt’s in Portland. There’s a hospital there, although she did finally give in and let the SANE nurse collect samples from them at Medford General.”
Ryan knew Pat – she purely hated Patty – Wilman. He went to school with her. She was a good kid, not girly at all. He was worried about her; he had texted her earlier and no reply yet.
“It was an atrocity.” And that voice, cutting through the murmurs, was Doña Marguerite. She wasn’t formally a Doña, but everyone called her that. Ryan thought he understood. She was regal, a real Lady.
She kept talking. “These Brownshirts are a plague on our land. They think they can come in, and take, and the Law matters not at all to them. My great-great-grandfather would have hunted them down and shot them. Or perhaps strung them up on the routes out of town. He did have a flair for the dramatic. He was also a law-abiding man, and would be horrified to see his race represented so.” She snorted. “La Raza, indeed.”
Ryan still felt a little cognitive dissonance – he rolled the word around in his mind, liking how it sounded – at hearing the tiny Hispanic lady talk about the formerly illegal immigrants who now made up the majority of the California Border Patrol.
“It’s not just the Brownshirts, although I think Don Miguel would indeed be rolling in his grave. It’s the carpetbaggers.” His mother was very close to Doña Marguerite, and Ryan thought it was weird both of them referred to a long-dead Mexican-Californian Don like he was still alive and in the room. He guessed that was what came of having a historian for a mother.
The next morning, Ryan seized the opportunity when he was alone with her. “Mom?”
She looked up from the tortilla dough she was kneading like it had done something to her. “What, Ryan? Is this about riding out on the south fence? Because both your father and I have told you that you cannot do that one alone already.”
Ryan felt a twinge. “I’m not a baby, Mom.” He was taller than she was by half a head, and still growing, she said.
“You’re always going to be my baby.” She looked up at him, her hands stilling and her face softening. “I know you’re near a man grown. But we want everyone to be riding in at least pairs, for now.”
“That’s not what I wanted to ask. What’s a carpetbagger?” He grabbed a piece of the dough, and she made like she was going to swat him.
“You haven’t heard that before? Oh, your school. Bleah.” She sighed, and he could tell she was about to go into the rant he’d heard before.
Ryan held up his hand to stop her. “I know, I know, I’m getting a very watered-down biased view of history and they don’t even call it history any more, it’s social studies…”
She laughed. “I guess I’ve said that too many times. A carpetbagger is a term for people who descended on the South after the Civil War. They preyed on folks who had lost everything, and they forced them off their farms, because they’d been on the losing side. They were like a cuckoo’s egg.”
“What?” Ryan was confused.
“The cuckoo lays their eggs in other bird’s nests, and when they hatch, they push the other nestlings or eggs out, until they have the parents feeding them and only them.”
“So what does that have to do with carpet bags, and farms?”
She covered the dough so it could rest. “Well, the South had spent a lot of money during the War. They weren’t material rich like the North was, so after the war ended, there were a lot of people who were flat broke. It wasn’t about slaves – we’ve discussed that before – it was sheer economic disruption.”
“Ok. What does that have to do with Jefferson? And cuckoos?”
She came and sat next to him at the table. “You overheard us last night.”
“A little. Not all of it.” He was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to have heard any of it.
She sighed sadly. “Jefferson isn’t very rich, yet. We’re trying to abide by regulations put in place when we split off from the FedGov, but they will be ending soon. We had a three-year restriction on mining and five on logging, for instance. Once we can tap into our own resources, then we’ll be able to defend ourselves.”
“From the Brownies?” Ryan used the slang term for the Border Patrol, who weren’t as upright as their title made them out to be.
“And from people who are coming in, offering pennies on the dollar to buy ranches and farms, and desperate folks are taking them up on it. The cuckoo is pushing them out of their nests. But if the rancher doesn’t take the offer…” She shrugged. “Something bad happens.”
“Like their house burns down.”
“Oh, baby…” She put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, but that’s the least of it.”