Category Archives: Stories

Polycarp on the Sea

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I still place the blame (or credit) on Gene Wolfe’s fiction for setting me on the literary track that led to the all classical pieces of writing that I should have read in high school, if not before. Until reading Wolfe, it had been possible to enjoy science fiction and fantasy and bluff my way through an understanding of the classical allusions writers made at times. With Wolfe’s writings though, this was no longer possible. I realized I needed at least a rudimentary basis of culture to catch what he was often laying out in his stories– or at least, to try to catch more of it.

So I read, among other things, Dickinson’s translation of the Aeneid. What particularly struck me was the story of Palinurus, the faithful but hapless navigator who was sacrificed at the conclusion of Book V to appease Neptune and allow the surviving Trojans safe passage to Italy. I wrote a story based on this episode, but in the strange evolution of ideas the character of Palinurus was replaced by St. Polycarp.

There are metaphors here, to be sure, and maybe I was even trying to make them: Polycarp at the helm of the early Church, perhaps. His journey toward Rome and martyrdom. Maybe it also had something to do with what other books I was reading at the time and the idea (surely misplaced) that could write about an early church father more easily than an early Latin hero.

In any case, I wrote a surrealist retelling of this episode from the Aeneid with Polycarp standing in for Palinurus. It was short, haunting, and (I thought) poignant–but it was also rather eclectic. Indeed, it wasn’t until Pulp Literature’s call went out for especially unique stories– I think the editors said something about “those stories that you’ve been hiding under your bed”– that it found a home and has now seen print.

And what lovely print it is. The folks who put together the print magazine Pulp Literature make it look easy and elegant. Their latest issue– Winter 2015— is now out and on sale, and if you pick up your copy, you’ll find my Polycarp bit, complete with illustrations.

Doooooo it. Support writers (like me). But more importantly, support the lovely people who collect stories and publish them with such love and care.

What the Elfmaid Brought

DSF

Last week my latest story, “What the Elfmaid Brought,” appeared in Daily Science Fiction. DSF is a professional-paying market that publishes a wide gamut of fantasy and science fiction, primarily very short stories and flash fiction. Each weekday their website features a new story that is also sent out via email to their (free) subscription base. “Elfmaid” was a Friday story, which meant it was visible on the main DSF page for the whole weekend as well.

Sometimes writing stories for me is like pulling teeth, but other times a certain phrase or image strikes me and the entire thing sort of tumbles together. This was the case with “Elfmaid.” The kernel was an idea a friend of mine gave me in a conversation. He offered– in a context I can’t recall– the thought that the elfmaid gives the narrator at the beginning of this story. I liked the idea, and I like books and elfmaids and magic libraries, so I put them all together in this piece. It’s the second short surrealist bit I’ve written about interesting characters walking into my office. The first was about me losing my bicycle. This is about loss too but also about new beginnings. Take a look and let me know what you think. It got some nice feedback on Daily Science Fiction’s Facebook page.

In other updates, the work proceeds apace on my science fiction thriller, First Fleet. The first third of the novel (which will be serialized by Retrofit Publishing) has been accepted by the publisher, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through a draft of part two. I’ve seen some concept artwork from the artist designing the covers, and I’m quite excited. It’s been a fun process but a challenge as well as I’ve never attempted an extended narrative of this length. Stay tuned for more on this project . . .

The Unborn God

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KayborGate_AlexRies_coverC2_bottom

I love to fly. When I get on a plane, I try to get the window seat, and then I spend a good portion of the flight with my nose pressed against the smudged glass studying the clouds. I took a weather course at some point, and I just read a book about the classification of clouds, but I can never remember all the different types or their physical explanations. They fascinate me though, especially the tumbling towers of cumulus that rear up and fall apart like temporary mountains. There’s an entire cartography up there that’s constantly changing and being re-written.

It was vistas like these I wanted to capture in a story I wrote called “The Wizard’s House” about a boy who lives under these skies and finds his way up into them. Then I wrote a sequel to that story called “The Unborn God” that talks about what the boy and the wizard have to do with their floating house. As these things sometimes work out, I sold the second story first, and it appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies (my fourth story in that publication) this week.

Give it a look. I had a lot of fun writing it. After you read my piece, check out the other stories in this issue (which is a special double-size issue in honor of it being BCS’s 150th). Richard Parks has a sharp tale of demonic imprisonment and lost opportunities. “The Black Waters of Lethe” by Oliver Buckram is a brief, haunting vision of oblivion. I haven’t had a chance to read Adam Callaway’s piece yet, but his story “Jonah’s Daughter,” which appeared alongside mine in the Sword and Laser anthology, was one of the best and most pleasingly bizarre in that collection.

The prequel to “The Unborn God,” “The Wizard’s House,” is forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. It’s been a good summer for sales. I also have a story appearing soon in Daily Science Fiction entitled “What the Elfmaid Brought.” Lest you believe I’m getting too prolific though, here’s a list (in no particular order) of pieces I’m still trying to sell:

“Gold, Vine, and a Name”
“Flame is a Falling”
“The Gunsmith of Byzantium”
“Bone Orchard”
“When Cold Man Went to Hell”
“Drying Grass Moon”
“The Crow’s Word”
“Polycarp on the Sea”

Big news though, and more on which soon: I’ve signed a contract with Retrofit Films to write a novel based on a previously-published short story. The story (retitled and reworked a bit) will be released soon, and then the novel will be published as a series of three novelettes. I won’t say much about it now beyond that it’s a science fiction thriller we’re calling Dead Fleet.

In the meantime, you can read “The Unborn God” here.

Trees and Other Wonders

castle version

After I had published ten stories in various print and electronic magazines– at least one of which was published on another continent and many of which were quickly out of print– I figured I’d collect them all and try my hand at an anthology. Here they are. Ten of my published pieces from 2008 to 2013, along with two unpublished stories that I felt were worthy of inclusion. This was my experiment with electronic publishing. Currently the work is only available on Kindle, though Kindle as a platform can be downloaded for free on pretty much any operating system. A few people have asked me about getting a print copy. As of right now, I haven’t spent enough time on Createspace to get one worked up, and I haven’t been very pleased with the quality of the print-on-demand books I’ve seen. I did the cover myself and had fun creating an afterword explaining a bit about each piece. I haven’t gotten much feedback, though there are a few nice reviews on Amazon. The one print review I garnered was published in the Australian magazine Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I thought it said some pretty nice things, which I’ve quoted below: “There’s a richness of the imagination here, a calmly-measured pace, a solidity. . . . There’s a vivid quality to his writing, and an underlying ability to evoke wonderment at the worlds or tableaux pictured within these pages. There are echoes, too, of a Golden-Age-anything-is-possible kind of sensibility to many of these stories. . . . Case has produced a collection in which almost every story reads like a fable, the moral of which is a secret the reader may hope to discover before the end. There’s an easy acceptance of the fantastical, a hint of the impossible.” I like that. If you’re interested, you can get a copy here.

Driving East

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Well this is sort of a creepy guy, huh? He graced the cover of Lore, volume 2, issue 3, which was published back in April of 2013. Lore has an interesting flavor to it. It’s a sturdy, perfect-bound journal paying professional rates and publishing semi-regularly. The stories in it (or at least in this issue, I confess I have not read others) tend to be polished and subdued but also haunting and sometimes grotesque.

In this issue you’ll find a surrealist piece I wrote called “Driving East.” It’s about the commute I made weekly during the first couple years of graduate school. It’s also about (maybe) dying. I’d like to think the ending has something Wolfean to it, that it’s my attempt at his type of endings that are really just beginnings. It’s also the sort of story that makes my friends and family (the ones who read my work) pause and say slowly, “Well, that was interesting. But I didn’t really understand it.”

Neither did I. Sometimes they just need to be written.

To read “Driving East” you need to get your hands on a copy of this issue of Lore, which you can do here. You should do it. You’ll be supporting a smart magazine, and you’ll have that guy up there staring at you for a while.

Sword and Laser Anthology

Sword & Laser AnthologySword & Laser Anthology by Veronica Belmont

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please, judge this book by its cover. Because it is such a wicked cool one. And in this case, it’s a good indication of what you can find inside.

Sword and Laser is a “science fiction and fantasy-themed book club, video show, and podcast,” featuring Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont, the editors of this anthology. The anthology itself consists of twenty stories split between “sword” (fantasy) and “laser” (science fiction). It is, as a good anthology should be, a hodgepodge, rough-and-tumble collection of stories with as many polished faces as jagged edges, sparking with ideas and a lot of raw enthusiasm. Its aim is showcasing new voices in the science fiction and fantasy community.

The enthusiasm is indeed palpable and refreshing. I suppose that’s what happens with a choir of fresh, new voices. Not every story is fantastic, but many are. And the beauty of an anthology is that each reader will likely differ about which stories to put within each category. If you’re a science fiction and fantasy fan, you’ll feel like you’re in a room with a bunch of friends. And they’re telling their best stories.

The ones that stood out to me were by writers who obviously know how the genre works and can have fun with it. In this vein “Partly Petrified” by Auston Habershaw, “The Same International Orange” by Luke R. Pebler, and “Honeybun” by Austin Malone were fine examples. “Honeybun” in particular I thought was a good representation of a lot of this anthology: potential. The bones of some excellent ideas that, perhaps catalyzed by inclusion in this anthology, could spiral out into something deeper and bigger. In this respect, the cover of this work is truer than perhaps anticipated: like the shelved world-bubbles in the image, there are a lot of seeds planted here.

There are glimmers of deeper waters as well. Perhaps because I’m in the midst of stitching together the bones of my own deep space endeavor, my sympathies in this anthology leaned toward the “laser” end of the book. The concepts in “Jonah’s Daughter” by Adam Callaway, “False Lights” by Victoria Hooper, and the very strong finish to the volume, David Emery’s “Only Darkness,” sounded the depths of the weirdness and the wonder that makes great science fiction shimmer.

Then there was my piece, “How Fox Fixed the Sky,” nestled in the final half of the “sword” section. It’s a fablesque epilogue to the story of Chicken Little. What if Chicken had been right and the sky was really falling? What if Fox made a knife from a fallen fragment of sky? What if he climbed through the hole to see what was beyond? I’m probably borrowing tone from Miyazaki, but Fox’s character was put to paper before I ever saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox (though if Miyazaki were to animate this story, Clooney would be a great voice for Fox). It’s surrealist and fun, maybe even a bit haunting, and if you pick up this book I hope you like the bit I contributed.

As far as I know, the anthology isn’t yet available for general purchase. I think it’s gone out to the contributors and the folks who backed Sword and Laser’s next season via Kickstarter. Check back here for updates though, because as soon as I know how you can get your hungry mitts on a copy (besides coming over here and borrowing mine), I’ll let you know.

UPDATE: Sword and Laser Anthology is available for purchase (electronic or traditional format) here. Buy a copy! Support fledgling writers and good science fiction! If you buy a paper copy I’ll promise not to drive its value down by trying to sign it.

The Stone Oaks

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Frost Valley

“The Stone Oaks” was my third publication in Beneath Ceaseless Skies (issue #112, in January of 2013). My wife is a huge Robin McKinley fan, and she (my wife) keeps pushing me to write stronger female characters into my stories (and, truth be told, if fiction is supposed to reflect life, and if my fiction is supposed to reflect my life, then– yes– my stories should be filled with very strong female characters).

So this story has one. I like Claire. I also like trees, nuns, and knights. I put them all together (with one additional element) in “The Stone Oaks.” The trees are exaggerated versions of actual trees that filled a park we used to go to in Mississippi. A friend recently asked me what the trees in this story symbolized. I had to think about that, but if forced I’d probably say something like, “They represent any time we’re given a job we don’t understand but try to do obediently and well. And they represent the unexpected fruit such labors may bring.”

I’m “working on” a follow-up to this piece, but I’m also working on a dissertation, so we’ll see.

You can read about Claire and her trees here.