Culture

8 Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Writers on the Cutting Edge

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Where to go to load up on exciting fiction…

Editor’s Note: This is the second collection of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island. (See this first here.) Each weekend we’ll expand this compilation to include the authors featured during the week. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” 

1. Mike Baron: Swimming in Scrooge’s Money Bin With Ayn Rand and Andrew Klavan

2. Steve Poling: Is Cthulhu Tastier Fried or Barbecued?

3. Will Collier: What If the Soviets Had Succeeded in Capturing a Supernatural Creature?

4. Ray Zacek: The Secret Knowledge Vs. A Lethal Elvis Cult in North Florida

5. Keith Korman: ‘I Have No Friends: I Make My Mind My Friend.

6. Abbey Clarke: A Demon’s Heart: Can Evil Incarnate Ever Find Salvation?

7. Jamie Wilson: A Gen-X Gandalf Mom Casting Thomas Sowell Spells

8. Clay Waters: ‘You Obviously Feel This Ocean Mythos Deep In Your DNA…’

1. Mike Baron: Swimming in Scrooge’s Money Bin With Ayn Rand and Andrew Klavan

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Mike Baron is the creator of Nexus (with artist Steve Rude) and Badger, two of the longest lasting independent superhero comics. Nexus, about a cosmic avenger 500 years in the future, appears monthly in Dark Horse Presents. There are twelve hardbound volumes from Dark Horse. Badger, about a multiple personality, one of whom is an animal rights champion, will appear in 2014 from a resurgent First Comics. Baron has written The Punisher, Flash, Deadman and Star Wars among many other titles. He also writes novels. You can find them on Amazon.

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Uncle Scrooge, John D. MacDonald, Philip Jose Farmer.  You cannot imagine the impact LAWRENCE OF ARABIA had on me when I first saw it at age fourteen. Today I admire and try to emulate, at least in so far as moral fiction, David Mamet and Andrew Klavan. My mind is a fever swamp of monster movies, comic books and rock and roll.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Conservative with libertarian leanings.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Cicero, Epictetus, David Mamet, Thomas Sowell, Ayn Rand.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I am from the leftist sinkhole Madison, Wisconsin.  I live in Colorado.

5. What are your writing goals?

“You make ‘em laugh a little bit, you make ‘em cry a little bit, you scare the hell out of them and that’s entertainment!”

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

https://www.facebook.com/michael.a.baron.7

www.bloodyredbaron.net

7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

You now, it’s best I not discuss those.

Check out Mike Baron’s “On the Trail of the Loathsome Swine

They got some big wild hogs in Beauchamp County. The one that ‘et my sister weighed 998 pounds. Lord strike me if I’m lyin’. Rose Marie weighed 95. She was twelve when that hog ‘et her. She was out behind the shed planting violets when that hog charged out the brush like a runaway truck and snapped her neck and dragged her off.

Ma and Pa had gone to Morrisonville for seed and victuals, and my older brothers Ned and Ethan were helping Uncle Lamar shingle his barn. I was in the kitchen oiling my catcher’s mitt when I heard Rose Marie yip once and then what sounded like a roto-rooter. It was a bad sound filled with pops and rips. I ran back behind the shed just in time to see that hog drag little Rose Marie into the brush.

I stood there shakin’ and cryin’ for awhile. Then I went in the house and called everyone I could think of. I called Ma and Pa. I called Uncle Lamar. I called Sheriff Dougherty. They all come back at the same time and the sheriff come with lights flashin’. Ned and Ethan drove their 150s. Uncle Lamar drove his Jeep. Ma and Pa were in the Magnum. There was a lot of dust. Everybody was screaming and crying.

“This is a public safety issue,” Sheriff said. “I’m going to round up some good ol’ boys and find thet hog and string it up.”

Pa sidled up to Sheriff and poured quiet strength down on him. “We’ll take care of this killer hog, Simon. We got thet right.”

Those boys played gin rummy with each other every Saturday for the past twenty years. Sheriff looked away first. “I reckon that’s your right, Joe Lee. But you’d better hop right on it before thet hog decides to eat somebody else’s little girl.”

Lamar pulled his thirty-ought-six from the cab rack and fed it some cartridges. Ned and Ethan ran up to the house and came back with an SKS and an AK-47. Pa got his Smith & Wesson .357. And I got my Desert Eagle .50. My grandpa Jeb Lee got me thet gun for my fourteenth birthday and I could think of no more fitting use for it than killing the hog thet ‘et my sister. …

2. Steve Poling: Is Cthulhu Tastier Fried or Barbecued?

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Steve Poling was born, raised and lives in West Michigan with his wife and kids. He uses his training in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science as a C++/C# poet by day while writing Subversive Fiction by night. Steve has an abiding interest in philosophy and potato cannons. He writes SF, crime fiction, an occasional fractured fairy tale, and steampunk. His current writing project is a steampunk novel, Steamship to Kashmir–provided he isn’t distracted by something new & shiny.

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I think C. S. Lewis is probably one of my most significant intellectual influences. I fancy The Sixth Sense and any movie that pulls the rug out from you in the last scene. Jerry Pournelle’s “Exiles to Glory” helped me see that Science Fiction needn’t be all world governments run by socialists.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I am a small-l libertarian who’s seriously contemplating capitalization. I prefer democratic solutions to social problems. I loathe politicians who use unelected judges and bureaucrats to evade responsibility for their policy aims.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

In addition to C. S. Lewis, I found Francis Schaeffer, Jonathan Edwards, and John Bunyan quite helpful. As far as THIS century is concerned, I pay a lot of attention to Instapundit and Ace of Spades.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I grew up in western Michigan and after grad school and a short stint out east, I returned to Grand Rapids where I currently live.

5. What are your writing goals?

I want to maintain a sustainable rhythm of writing, finish my current novel, and dash off the odd short-story.

Steve Poling

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

You can find:

* my blog posts at http://diogenesclubarchives.blogspot.com/,

* my tweets @stevepoling, and

* day-to-day commentary at https://www.facebook.com/steve.poling

7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

I have several first-place trophies for Pinewood Derby and Awana Grand Prix cars. I also have a few potato cannons with which I enjoy launching spuds.

Check out Steve Poling’s “Southern Fried Cthulhu

It all started on a Wednesday night last month. I was in church with the missus. The preacher was teaching about the end of the world, the Beast, and the Antichrist. He was chock full of piss and vinegar, going on about the fearsome Day of the Lord.

That’s when we heard the screaming. The reasonable thing to do was stop and see what the fuss was about. But Pastor Kingsfield just kept preaching, only louder.

I got up to see what was happening and he shouted at me to sit back down and take heed of the word of the Lord. So I sat.

I heard gunshots and a car crash, but he kept on preaching and exhorting that none could withstand the wrath of God and his sure and just judgment. All the while he was watching to make sure I didn’t get up. I smelled smoke as if Hell itself had opened up and figured the Good Lord was coming back then and there. The preacher must have thought the same thing and wanted to make sure he was found doing right by his flock. He was shouting himself hoarse, warning us of sure and deadly destruction to be visited upon the unrighteous.

Being a deacon, I wanted to set a good example. So I was saying “Amen” a little louder than I had to.

Eventually, his voice gave out and we sang the closing hymn. Pastor gave an invitation and most of the congregation went forward to get saved again. We were sure the Lord was coming back, so we stood around waiting and sang a few verses of “Almost Persuaded.”

Brother Jubal said, “I don’t suppose it’d be a bad thing if we wait for the Rapture outside, do you?” I could tell he was in the need of a cigarette.

“I’ve never seen the apocalypse before and I confess I’m a little curious to see what one looks like,” I said. “Let’s go outside. Revelations paints some right scary pictures, but my imagination can’t quite fill the gaps.”

We went outside and the town was a mess. Cars were wrecked and houses were on fire.

“Will you look at that?” Jubal said, pointing.

There was the First Baptist Church, the new one they built last year, blazing from top to bottom. I had friends that went to that church and I only quit going after I got married and my wife pestered me to join Mount Pisgah Church of the Nazarene.

“You know, Jubal,” I said. “I don’t think that we were saved from this because we’re Christians.”

Read more at Liberty Island…

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image via lovecraft.wikia.com

3. Will Collier: What If the Soviets Had Succeeded in Capturing a Supernatural Creature?

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Image via Liberty Island / Mike Kilgore

Will Collier was one of the first bloggers on the internet, founding the “Will’s World” site in 1997, long before the word “blog” was coined. From 2004-2008, he was a major contributor to the high-traffic VodkaPundit.com blog, where his work was quoted by the BBC, CNN, and the Washington Post, among others. Will is the co-author of The Uncivil War (Rutledge Hill Press, 1995), became a featured college football columnist for Rivals.com in 2001, and maintains his own sports blog, FromTheBleachers.com. His work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Birmingham News, the Birmingham Post-Herald and National Review Online. He is currently a columnist for Rivals.com, contributor to PJ Media, and his “main” blog is WillCollier.com. Will earned degrees in aerospace engineering from Auburn University and the University of Texas, and lives in metro Atlanta with his wife and their spoiled bullmastiff.

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

As a writer I am very much one of “Heinlein’s Children” when it comes to fiction, with a heavy dollop of Clarke’s short stories added to my early development.  I remain in awe of Harlan Ellison as a fiction writer and essayist (for years and years I avoided his short fiction out of fear that I’d be unable to avoid the temptation to rip him off).  I am heavily indebted to the novelist Elly Welt, who was the writer-in-residence at Auburn University in the 1980’s; Elly generously took this engineering major under her wing my sophomore year, and remains both a dear friend and an invaluable inspiration and adviser to this day.  Having been an eight-year-old science fiction fan in the summer of 1977, I was as close to the ideal target audience for “Star Wars” as could be calculated.  More recently, I was consumed by the nautical novels of Patrick O’Brien, and dazzled by the ridiculous perfection of Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

In my “second life” as a sports writer, I was heavily influenced by newspaper columnists like Clyde Bolton and Phillip Marshall, and can’t help but be jealous of the ludicrously-talented Spencer Hall of “Every Day Should Be Saturday”–even if he is a Gator-loving weirdo.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m a Reagan/Buckley conservative who entertains increasingly libertarian tendencies with the addition or more grey hair.  A youthful visit to the rotting corpse of East Germany cured me of any latent tendencies towards statism in any of its forms.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I grew up reading National Review, devouring columns from Buckley and Will on a regular basis, then discovered P.J. O’Rourke and David Horowitz in college.  These days, like everybody else, I’m unable to pass a piece by Charles Krauthammer, Jonah Goldberg or Mark Steyn without reading the whole thing.  My discovery of Glenn Reynolds and the blogosphere in general over a decade ago led to a long collaboration with Steve Green (aka VodkaPundit) and continuing daily exposure to the vast array of smart, interesting, funny people who insist on writing well and cogently without having wasted four years of their lives in journalism classes.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’ve lived in metro Atlanta since 2001.

5.  What are your writing goals?

I lack the gene for plotting.  Coming up with original story ideas has never been easy for me, so I am not at all prolific when it comes to fiction. Having missed out on quantity, when I do manage to get fiction written, my goal is for it to be a good piece of writing first and foremost.  If it’s also good contemporary fiction or horror or science fiction or what have you, that’s an added bonus.  And of course, I want to finish (and publish) at least one of my slow-burning novels one of these years.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’m most active on Twitter these days, covering whatever comes across my path at @willcollier. Despite having been a blogger since 1997 (long before the word “blog” was coined), I have not updated either of my ‘current’ blogs much over the past year or so, but on the off-chance I do decide to opine at length, I can be found at willcollier.com and fromthebleachers.com (the latter site focusing on Auburn University and Southeastern Conference football).  I also write a regular Monday-morning column for Rivals’ AuburnSports.com during football season, and contribute occasional columns to PJ Media’s main site.

7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

As a true child of the 80’s, I remain mildly obsessed with the arcade video games from that era.  Much to my wife’s chagrin, I insist on housing, repairing and even occasionally playing with several full-sized models.  Speaking of which, if anybody has an operating Atari Tempest they need to unload for a bargain-basement price, please feel free to drop me a line.  Just don’t tell the aforementioned wife…

8. What was the impetus for “Comandante Eternal”?

A:  Several years ago, I took Elizabeth Kostova’s marvelous novel “The Historian” with me on vacation in Mexico.  One of Kostova’s subplots involved agents of 1950’s Soviet satellite security agencies discovering the existence of a rather famous supernatural being residing within their territory, and their failed attempt to capture that creature. The question popped into my mind, “What if they’d succeeded?”  That thought, combined with the sunny Caribbean beach I happened to be sitting on, gave me the germ of the story.

Check Out “Comandante Eternal” by Will Collier:

Jaime Fernandez didn’t look up when Famosa entered his ramshackle office. This was partly because Fernandez had delved deeply into his stack of paperwork, and partly because Famosa did not knock. Then again, Famosa never knocked.

“Drop all that stuff and come with me,” Famosa said with no preamble. “Right now.”

Fernandez looked up, half-glasses slipping down his nose. “What is it? The Lopez woman?” Magalys Lopez was failing quickly. Uterine cancer was rarely treatable on the island, especially among elderly women.

Famosa rolled his eyes. “No. Not her. Come on, I mean it. Right now, and no questions.”

Right now and no questions rarely meant anything good. But long practice quickly squelched any visible reaction. Fernandez moved to stand as Famosa swiveled in the doorway, ordering, “Bring your bag.”

Fernandez nearly turned down the wrong corridor in pursuit. He’d assumed Famosa was leading him to the intensive care unit. Instead the hospital director made for the nearest exit. Fernandez almost opened his mouth to ask the obvious, then clamped his jaw carefully shut.

Outside, Fernandez automatically raised a hand to shade his eyes from the tropical sun. He would normally wear a hat, but he’d left it on the battered filing cabinet in his haste. Once again he almost missed Famosa, who had not turned towards the tiny row of parking for the hospital’s senior officials.

Instead, the director walked straight up to a new (new!?) Army truck, engine running, parked on the side of the cracked street and flanked by two blank-faced soldiers with slung machine guns.

Fernandez halted in his tracks.

“Oh, come on,” Famosa snorted. It’s not that. Would I be coming with you?”

At a loss for a response, Fernandez clambered into the back of the truck along with his boss. The canvas-domed truckbed was full of seated, armed soldiers, none of whom offered either doctor a hand, or moved to make room as they squeezed onto the crowded benches on either side.

The truck wound quickly through the decomposing maze of Centro Habana, rumbled its way east towards the bay, then turned north. Fernandez caught a glimpse of blue water through the flap in the rear tarp. Then, with a jerk, the nose of the truck sharply descended, and the late afternoon sunlight streaming in from above was extinguished.

Fernandez was rocked against Famosa on one side and the burly biceps of a soldier on the other as the vehicle descended a spiraling ramp. He could no longer make out the details of the walls or ceiling beyond the tailgate. The tunnel they were in contained no lights.

After a very few minutes, the truck decelerated sharply and came to a dead stop. Through the rear opening, Fernandez could see a reflection of headlights against a solid wall, but that light went out almost immediately. Then another small, crimson light appeared, flickering back and forth across the truck bed.

Andale, doctors. Come out, right now,” came a voice from behind the reddened flashlight.

Famosa dug an elbow into Fernandez’s ribs. “Come on, let’s go.” None of the soldiers moved. The two physicians clambered over the tailgate and out of the truck.

Fernandez felt hard rock beneath his shoes’ worn soles. They barely had time to touch the ground before the gruff voice barked, “This way, follow me. No talking!”

The lensed flashlight darted towards a steady red glow in the wall facing the silent truck. A single bare bulb painted the color of blood hung inside a steel cage, bolted to a rough stone wall. Below it stood a metal door, bound at the edges and across its center in heavy, riveted bands.

The colonel–for judging by his epaulets, that is what he was, if Fernandez’s fading memory of his own Army service was any guide–banged on the door with the butt of his flashlight.

Fernandez felt more than saw a slash of dim light, also red, as a slot barely three centimeters wide slid open at eye level. The colonel leaned in close and muttered a single, unintelligible word, then stepped back. The light behind the door blinked out, and the eye slit slammed shut.

With the sound of metal scraping against rock, the door squealed open. The doorway was wide–wide enough to allow at least three men to enter abreast. But the colonel held up a hand, then motioned first Famosa and then Fernandez to go in, calling out their names to the unseen presences beyond. Fernandez squared his shoulders and nodded in the near-darkness, as if acknowledging a long-awaited moment, and followed his superior into the gloom.

Continue reading at Liberty Island ….

*****

image via shutterstock / Malchev

4. Ray Zacek: The Secret Knowledge Vs. A Lethal Elvis Cult in North Florida

Ray Zacek is a retired fed, now a tax consultant authorized to practice before the IRS. He has also pursued, with indefatigable and stubborn persistence, an avocation as a writer which he now seeks to convert to a vocation, defined as that endeavor which brings in money and status. Born in Chicago, he has lived in California (back when cars had fins and tiny bungalows were reasonably priced), Colorado, North Carolina and Seattle, Washington, residing in Tampa, Florida since 1983. He has written short stories, novels, novellas, tweets, irate letters to the editor, precious bon mots, and plays, both long and short. His full-length play, Desperados, was produced by Stageworks at Gorilla Theater in 2004. He is currently at work on another play, The Devil Takes Care of His Own, about the notorious Tampa bootlegger and gambler Charlie Wall; and a darkly comic horror novel about a lethal north Florida Elvis cult, Don’t Be Cruel.

Zacek,-Ray

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Shakespeare, the secular saint, of course. And I continue to read Dante, in both Italian and the Hollander translation. Swift and the English Augustans; I received a lasting indoctrination in that literature in a class at Northern Illinois University taught by a renegade Irish monk named Shesgreen; he was a leftist, which I abjure, but he gave me perpetual safe passage through the excesses of Romanticism and for that I am grateful. American writers: Hemingway (The Killers, In Another Country and Che Ti Dice La Patria rank among my favorite short stories), David Mamet, Cormac McCarthy, Donald Barthelme, Dashiell Hammett. Poe, of course. And Melville: every few years I reread Bartleby (Billy Budd and Benito Cereno too). I grew up, in the Chicago suburbs, watching Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which may account for my predilection for the macabre, odd, droll and dark. As for movies, I never got over seeing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil during formative years.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

If I had to pin myself ideologically, let it be classical liberal (the trifecta: limited government, individual liberty, free markets).  I accept neither political party; political parties are highly oxygenated, rube goldbergian constructions by which politicians maintain themselves in power and manage the fractious coalitions that have, like carnival or revival crowds, flocked under the tent. Honest men in politics, it is said, are like virgins in a whorehouse; if they go there at all, they do not last long. Having worked 30 years for the federal government, for one of its most onerous agencies, the IRS (today even more onerous, thank you, Lois!), and now collecting its pension, I’d be a fool and hypocrite to be anti-government and anti-taxation. I believe in light regulation and lower taxes (I grew up in a frugal middle class household, immigrant grandparents from the Old Country, who firmly believed you ought to keep your money), and that government functions, and maintains the trust of its citizens, when it operates within limits, preferably constitutional, pitchforks and torches being too labor intensive.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Confessional: I was a Standard Liberal, brain dead and reflexively voting Democrat until Y2K. Then, late in life, I reassessed. I read Camille Paglia, an independent and outspoken liberal, thus shattering complacency. I started reading David Horowitz (I have an autographed copy of Radical Son) and listening to Rush Limbaugh. I will make no reference to Damascus or Pauline conversion, which would be pretentious as hell, but at that point in my life there was no turning back. I started reading Hayek, Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson, and David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

Nativity: Chicago, Little Company of Mary Hospital, Evergreen Park, Illinois. Grew up in Palos Hills on the outer edge of Cook County, at the time, way out there the busses didn’t run. That area of SW Cook County was, in legend, where you went when you were taken for a ride during the Capone era; bodies turned up there.  I have lived in, or have strong ties to and often visited, Texas, Arizona, California, Seattle, Denver, and North Carolina, living in Florida since 1983.

5. What are your writing goals?

Two hundred fifty to five hundred words a day, often simply exercises or tangents that I organize as Fragments; if a particular Fragment starts to cohere over time, it may graduate to a Work in Progress and a Work in Progress, after indefatigable effort, is sometimes Finished. Currently, I am at work on a darkly comic/horror novel, Don’t Be Cruel, about a north Florida Elvis cult, as well as short stories: one about a man covered with tats (of course, being a horror story, they are not tats), another a noir story about Jimmy from Algiers, a Louisiana hit man in love in Texas.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

Other than FB, Twitter and an amazon page I have no real presence on line.  Website TBD.

7. Hobbies?

Mi piacciono tutte cose italiano: especially, Beretta pistols (owning an M9 and a 3032 Tomcat); Nardini grappa, cedro ormandorla; and Monica Bellucci. The history of Rome, republican and empire, retains my interest, as it did the Founders. And I’ve always been crazy about Westerns and film noir.

An Excerpt from “Chrysalis” by Ray Zacek… 

Welcome to Leclerc USA, thought Coffman as he cruised down a potholed stretch of highway called Memorial Boulevard. Some of the potholes were real craters.

Leclerc County, its county seat the mid-sized city of the same name, was one of the poorest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the southeast United States. This had been abundantly evident to Coffman as he had driven from the airport past the abandoned storefronts, several of them burned out; derelict shopping malls and cheap by-the-month, by-the-week, by-the-hour motels. Pawnshops proliferated. Many of the billboard signs on the highway were blank or shredded, others peppered with holes that looked like small-arms fire.

I go where they send me, thought Coffman. Even here to Somalia on the Mississippi.

“This is highly irregular,” said Dr. Ahmad Jones after Coffman parked the flex-fuel Ford Fueron SUV outside the county morgue and got out.

The county’s Medical Examiner wore a charcoal gray wool suit and a tie despite the heat and humidity. Coffman thanked the ME for taking time to meet on such short notice, this banal and perfunctory statement being more or less obligatory, and offered him the folding plastic case that displayed Coffman’s federally issued ID.

“Is there a problem with my credentials?” Coffman asked, knowing there wasn’t. His credentials were in perfect form: impressive-looking, innocuous, and completely deceptive, a screen meant to conceal his actual function from petty local satraps like Doctor Ahmad Jones.

Don’t alarm the public was the basic tenet of the job. Don’t alarm the public, and get in and out quickly. And Coffman, who lived in a high-rise condo between D.C. and Baltimore, wanted to get out of Leclerc as soon as humanly possible.

“No, Mr. Coffman, there is no problem with your credentials,” Jones said, handing them back. The ME was agitated.

“Something else?”

“This investigation, I must say, is highly irregular. I want to go on record as saying.”

“Duly noted.”

“And you can’t park there. That’s a handicapped space.”

In the vast parking area, simmering in the heat, there were only three vehicles: the rental that Coffman had picked up at the airport; a late-model white Lexus in the space reserved for the ME; and a real piece of shit, a pond scum-green Buick with primer-gray fenders and a cracked windshield, its muffler hanging by a wire, in staff parking.

“Are you kidding me?”

Jones made a squeezed-lemon face. “No, Mr. Coffman, I am not a jocular man.”

“Jocular?”

“I do not indulge in humor or badinage.”

“I’m not moving the car,” said Coffman. He was a stocky, muscular man and he put on his no-nonsense, hard-as-concrete face. The ME was older and smaller–bantamweight.

“Hmph,” said Jones, frowning and peering at Coffman through red horn-rimmed glasses. “Very well then.”

Coffman gestured toward the building. “Shall we go in?”

The complex was housed in leased premises where a now-defunct computer superstore formerly operated. It was a snowfall white, cube-shaped edifice, modernist and bland, with a bright orange trim.

“One moment,” said Jones, “while I speak to my wife.” He strode to the Lexus and said a few hushed words to the young woman in a hijab sitting behind the wheel. Her face was the color of cocoa, her features soft and compliant. She nodded, started the Lexus, dropped it in gear and backed up, zigzagged, and pulled out. Doctor Jones watched her drive away. Then he strode back toward Coffman. “Let us proceed. This way, Mr. Coffman.”

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

5. Keith Korman: ‘I Have No Friends: I Make My Mind My Friend.’

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Keith Korman is an American literary agent and novelist. Over the years he has represented many nationally known clients through his family’s agency, Raines & Raines. The agency is most noted for representing the books: The Detective, Deliverance, Die Hard, Cruising, My Dog Skip, How to Eat Fried Worms and Forrest Gump. Korman’s novels include Secret Dreams, Banquo’s Ghosts (with Rich Lowry), and End Time (Tor/Macmillan, March 2015).

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

Authors, some you may not have heard of:

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Logan’s Run by Nolan & Johnson

Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

And some you have, Orwell, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Larry Niven, B Traven…

Korman,-Keith

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

In constant rebellion against the Thought Police  of the Mainstream Media — if the Conservative Creative gang of misfits ever becomes authoritarian — I’ll be in rebellion against them too.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

B Traven, literary agent/spy/novelist — God, what a role model!

The Treasure of The Sierra Madre by B. Traven  

Great thinkers and philosophers never penetrated my brain as deeply as lines from movies seem to have done, all of these to one degree or another show the war for Man’s Soul, an endless, eternal battle:

Lord Jim (movie)

Jack Hawkins as Marlow:

[Narrating] One hope kept Jim going – a hope common to most men. Rich or poor, strong or weak, who among us has not begged God for a second chance?

The Man Who Never Was:

The quote that opens and closes the movie, “Last night I dreamed a deadly dream, beyond the Isle of Sky, I saw a dead man win a fight, and I think that man was I” is from the song “The Battle of Otterburn,” Child Ballad #161 and appears in a manuscript dated circa 1550. The original reads, “But I hae (have) dreamed a dreary dream, Beyond the Isle of Skye; I saw a dead man win a fight, And I think that man was I.”

The Outer Limits — The Inheritors Part 1

Closing Narration: Man looks up at the stars, and dreams his futile dreams. Child of the universe, his toys are ignorance, his games, fantasy. Not even master of his own fate, it is the Devil’s Puppeteer who stretches his fingers to answer the question: What will happen next?

See on Wikipedia here.

The Outer Limits — The Inheritors Part 2:

Closing Narration: The Inheritors are on their way. In a universe of billions of stars, there are places of love and happiness. On this Earth, in this spot, magic settled for a moment. Wonder touched a few lives, and a few odd pieces fell smoothly into the jigsaw of Creation.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m a Manhattan refugee, got out during the crack epidemic of the Dinkins’ era, breathed the fresh air of Dutchess County, and never looked back. It used to be said of European Reformation Cities that, “Town Air is Free Air” — but that’s simply no longer true under the rise of Blue City States Uber Alles.

I live with my wife and two dogs and two horses in Millbrook, and sometimes sell my homegrown gladiolus in the local flower shop.

5. What are your writing goals?

My writing goals can be summed up by this anonymous Samurai poem from the 14th Century:

I have no parents: I make the heaven and earth my parents.

I have no home: I make awareness my home.

I have no life and death: I make the tides of breathing my life and death.

I have no divine powers: I make honesty my divine power.

I have no means: I make understanding my means.

I have no magic secrets: I make character my magic secret.

I have no body: I make endurance my body.

I have no eyes: I make the flash of lightning my eyes.

I have no ears: I make sensibility my ears.

I have no limbs: I make promptness my limbs.

I have no strategy: I make “unshadowed by thought” my strategy.

I have no design: I make “seizing opportunity by the forelock” my design.

I have no miracles: I make right action my miracle.

I have no principles: I make adaptability to all circumstances my principle.

I have no tactics: I make emptiness and fullness my tactics.

I have no talent: I make ready wit my talent.

I have no friends: I make my mind my friend.

I have no enemy: I make carelessness my enemy.

I have no armor: I make benevolence and righteousness my armor.

I have no castle: I make immovable mind my castle.

I have no sword: I make absence of self my sword.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

You can find me at Amazon, FB and Linkdin.

7. Hobbies and interests?

My hobbies boil down to a question of character: Some Day I will be the Man my Dogs think I am.

An Excerpt from Keith Korman’s “The Son of San Idro

I had wandered far into southern Mexico until the village of San Idro rose out of a hovering haze. A sleepy town in the hilly uplands of Oaxaca that the tourists never marked on their guidebooks and the drug cartels wouldn’t have bothered over, not even for free samples from the local talent. A post office but spotty cell service. A white stucco church with a bell tower. A decent cantina, and the only place with Wi-Fi, while Radio La Comadre out of Orizaba–pronounced O-reet-zaaaaaaaaah-ba–trickled from a speaker in the corner. Outside, stray goats wandered over small farms, and pecking chickens strutted in the street.

A good enough place to finish the book. My agent had gotten me a six month extension, God bless her, now halfway gone. If I couldn’t finish it here…

Perish the thought. No choice.

Even the town’s name wasn’t complete. San Idro. There were twenty places in Mexico named after San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers and day laborers–plenty of those south of the border. But San Idro couldn’t even afford the extra “si,” the secret “yes” inside Isidro to make the peasants sainted.

A typo of a town.

Rocky fields lay across a plain and a river below ended in the swampy delta of a muddy lake. The burros plodded sadly before my veranda, no tractors in the fields. I wrote, ignoring them. Ate at the cantina and listened to the radio in the background. Drank mescal and sucked on limes. Then just sugared lime juice on ice. In two months I was ready to leave.

It was then I met the crocodile.

Almost every day I went down to the shallow river, casting out a fishing line and bringing a few pages to polish as the cork bobbed. Near my shady tree slept the carved ruins of a temple. A huge stone face gazed with all-knowing calm over the slow water and into eternity, limestone torn from some forgotten mountain. The nameless god. You saw the same almond eyes and generous lips in the village today. Tangled vines crawled across the placid face making the seamless brow seem thoughtful.

As the afternoon grew old, a boy riding a burro lazily made his way along the far bank, not twenty yards off. He waved to me and I waved back. It was then that the crocodile raised its head out of a lush corner of the bank, where it had been basking in the sun–totally camouflaged in plain sight. The dragon was broad and slow and stupid. With red glass eyes which thought little and felt less.

The burro snorted as the boy dug in his heels and flicked his switch. But instead of trotting off, the burro turned towards the water. The crocodile nodded its leathery head this way and that as if pondering which one of us to take. The fool with the fishing pole or the kid on the donkey. Without any presence of mind, except for my own worthless skin, I scrambled up the ruined temple and clung to the stone face. Feet entwined in vines and my eyes sprang tears like a child clutching its mother’s throat. I had idiotically brought the fishing pole with me and threw it away in disgust.

This left only the boy on the burro across the stream. The crocodile smiled, made his decision and splashed into the water, paddled like mad and waddled with stunning speed up the bank. The boy’s face turned a sort of milky yellow. He frantically tried to spur the balky burro along. Useless as usual, I clung to my perch, gutlessly staring, wishing I could only close my eyes.

Read more at Liberty Island

*****

image illustration courtesy shutterstock / rudall30

6. Abbey Clarke: A Demon’s Heart: Can Evil Incarnate Ever Find Salvation?

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Image via Liberty Island

Abbey Clarke is Liberty Island’s own (and so far only) Editorial Assistant, as well as a frequent contributor to SparkNotes. A graduate of Kings College, she lives and works (for now) just outside of New York City.

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I love Robin McKinley (The Blue Sword is my favorite of hers), Anne McCaffrey (but only the first two books of her Harper Hall trilogy), C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia and Till We Have Faces especially), Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Shannon Hale, Robert Heinlein, Tamora Pierce, and Brandon Sanderson. I also still like a lot of YA (appropriate, as I am both young and an adult), even those of dubious literary quality. I enjoyed The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, and am currently in the middle of The Lunar Chronicles, a series of books that reinvent fairy tales in a sci fi setting. Just imagine Cinderella as a cyborg. For movies, I am partial to rom-coms: 27 Dresses, Legally Blond, Clueless, etc. They are guilty pleasures, but pleasures nonetheless. I tend to gravitate more toward TV now, with favorites including Buffy, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Community, and New Girl. For intellectual influences, I’ll be cliched and claim the Bible.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I’m a Christian first, but my highest goal in writing is to craft a good story. Politically, I lean conservative.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I can’t think of a thinker who has shaped me politically. I’ve always hated talk radio–it hurts my ears, and I like stories more than news.

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m from a small town in Maine called Greene Village. It boasts one stoplight that it does not quite need.

5. Where they’re located physically?

New York City area, but relocating to Indiana very soon.

6.  What are your writing goals?

I am stewing on an idea for a novel that my story A Demon’s Heart (which you can read over at Liberty Island) serves as a sort of prequel or prelude to. One of my goals is to iron out the plot of that story before I dive into a full draft. Another goal is to write a small, sad, complicated little story that I have in my head about cryogenic sleep and a girl with wings.

7. Where can people find/follow you online?

They can follow me on Twitter at @abbeybookaholic.

Clarke,-Abbey

8. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

Probably playing Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, I play a character named Ciara (who is also on Twitter at @CiaraGoesStab) on a Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition podcast called Knife Errant. I tend to play Chaotic Neutral halfling rogues who just want to stab things. I have no idea where those violent thoughts come from.

I also enjoy mixing drinks and crocheting, though I haven’t tried doing both together.

An Excerpt from “A Demon’s Heart

It was nighttime when I first stepped through a portal onto the cold dewy grass of your world. I gazed up for my first look at the stars and a sliver of the waning moon, my eyes squinting in the weak light. Some of you call my world Hell, for it is both fiery and dark, and at that moment those were the brightest lights I had ever seen.

I found an isolated village nestled next to an old forest and settled in for some amusement. Every night for a couple of weeks I would slaughter a half-dozen livestock and their shepherds, and artfully arrange the remains in front of doorways, in the latrine pits, in the pails for drinking water, and in the town square. Sometimes I turned the bodies inside out, or made them as lifelike as anything until they were touched and their skin sloughed off, or pieced together bits of different animals into one. The villagers set up guards at night, so I worked the same artistry on the guards.

Most of them left the village after that. So I moved on to another village and did the same thing. I repeated this cycle a few times. I was eager to outdo all my brothers before me, and I became enamored of the terror I engendered.

One full-mooned night, some villagers had tied a young girl to a pole in the middle of the town square. The village was musty with the thick silence of humans awake and mute, lying in their beds quiet as they could, straining their ears to listen as I walked toward the girl, knife in hand.

She was wearing a white shift, and trembling slightly at the knees. She was young enough to still have spots, perhaps fourteen or fifteen years. Her eyes fixed on me as I approached, taking in my face that was almost human, staring at my blue-black skin and the small horns protruding from my hair. I smiled, revealing my sharp, unnaturally white teeth.

I came within a pace of her and stared down. She was a head and a half shorter than I was. I used my knife to flip a chunk of her hair off her shoulder.

She looked up at me and bared her teeth in a sneer. I cocked my head, noticed a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to look.

The girl pulled a wicked knife from behind her skirt and plunged it into my chest with a twist. “How like you that, devil?” she whispered. Surprised, I was unresisting when she savagely kicked my legs out from under me, thudding me to the ground on my back and knocking the wind from my lungs. She kept hold of the knife and came down on top of me, digging the blade deeper into my torso. I shrieked in pain and brought my hands up to throttle her.

Strong hands grasped my forearms. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a robed and tonsured monk struggling to hold my left arm, and I could feel his brother on my right. But they’d forgotten to close my mouth, so I stoked the fires in my belly and breathed a powerful blast of flame that burned the girl’s face and shoulder and knocked her off me. As I was still a young demon, this effort took much of my energies, and I slumped momentarily.

The men took advantage of that moment, and I was losing strength with the dagger still lodged next to my heart. Though I continued to struggle and bite, they hoisted me up on my knees and bound me with chains to the pole that the girl had been tied to. The first monk grabbed my black hair and pulled back my head.

“Death is too good for you, demon,” he said, and spat on my face. “That’s why we aren’t going to give it to you.”

The second monk jerked the knife down to cut a vertical slice across my chest. I hissed through my teeth and strained to spit a measly gust of flame at him. He turned his head to avoid it as if I were a mere nuisance.

The girl staggered to her feet and knelt in front of me, beside the second monk. “Let me do it,” she said. The monk looked ready to argue, but after taking in her badly burned, yet resolute face, he wordlessly handed her the knife.

The first monk pulled my head back up, so I could only feel, not see, the girl continuing to slice a circle in my chest. With horror, I realized what was being done to me, and I strained against my bonds. The girl deftly finished carving around my heart and reached into my chest, grasping the black, beating organ. My hand reached up as far as I could stretch my chains. The manacles were beginning to warp. In a few moments, my hand would have been free.

“By God, I damn you,” the girl whispered. She pulled, and my heart came out in her hand.

I felt weak, as fragile as a piece of straw. But I wasn’t dead. I wasn’t even bleeding much, though a few black bubbles popped and ran down my chest.

“It worked,” one of the men said in wonderment.

The girl suddenly slumped and was caught by the monk closer to her.

The other, his hand still grasping my hair, turned my face toward his.

“You’re a peculiar beast,” he said, peering down at me. “I know of no other animal who survives with its heart outside of its body. This, more than anything else, is what marks you as a creature of hell.” With his free hand, he crossed himself. “Christ be with us,” he said. Then he struck my head until my world went dark.

Continue Reading at Liberty Island 

7. Jamie Wilson: A Gen-X Gandalf Mom Casting Thomas Sowell Spells

Jamie Wilson was almost born the daughter of a white sharecropper in Kentucky. She was raised in a family of rogues, rednecks, and Reagan conservatives, all of whom were back-porch storytellers. She could never have been anything but a writer. Today, she owns the website conservativefiction.com and considers herself to be an activist for conservative writers and artists. You can often find her at the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance on Facebook. Jamie is happily married to a U.S. Navy sailor. When not writing or doing something writing-related, she’s usually caring for their five children.

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

I started reading early, at the age of four. My fifth-grade teacher introduced me to The Hobbit when she realized I’d read the entire children’s section at our small public library. By sixth grade, I had read The Lord of the Rings nine times. Later I discovered Tolkien’s marvelous philosophical writings, most outstandingly “On Fairy Stories.” In my opinion, there has never been a better summation of what fantasy stories ought to be.

The most influential storyteller in my life, however, was my great-grandfather, William Jennings Bryan Eldridge, known as Windy by his friends because he was always ready to tell a story.

My ‘papaw’ was a well-known scamp and scoundrel as well as a gifted raconteur. He had run moonshine back in Prohibition and was friends with Pretty Boy Floyd. Age did not diminish his penchant for roguishness. He used to take me to Port Royal, Kentucky (a tiny, sleepy community and the model for Wendell Berry’s Port William) where he got his monthly haircut. Afterwards he’d take me to the little general store, where the old men gathered to play checkers and gossip, and he’d commence to brag about how I could read anything you put in front of me “just like a growed-up person.” Inevitably, someone would bite. Papaw would place a $20 bet, someone got the well-thumbed Bible down from its shelf, and the fool who would soon be parted from his money chose a passage. Papaw won his bet every time.

As for movies, I am a child of Generation X, which means I grew up on science fiction television and movies. My parents watched Star Trek reruns religiously when I was a child – every Sunday at noon. Of course we saw Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies – all delightful examples of real storytelling ability. In college, my favorite writing professor introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s ideas about mythology and I realized that the reason I loved all these tales was that they all drew from the Story, the great pattern all humans instinctively recognize.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

I am a fiscal conservative and a tolerant social conservative, by which I mean I am very conservative in my own life and believe that is the best choice but think others should be as free as possible to make their own choices. Fiscal and social conservatism, however, are of necessity conjoined. Social liberalism cannot survive without the irresponsible fiscal practices our country has engaged in for the last fifty or so years. If the financial support of the government is removed from libertine habits, people will of necessity become more conservative socially. Every time there’s an economic downturn, the divorce rate drops, rebounding when there’s an improvement in the economy. If we decreased welfare spending, I think we’d see more people getting jobs, often the jobs Americans supposedly won’t do.

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

I’d have to go first with Dr. Thomas Sowell, who is one of our best minds in economics and social commentary, and then with Walter Williams. The one person who most opened my mind politically was probably Jonah Goldberg with his groundbreaking book Liberal Fascism. I also love reading anything by Ben Shapiro, Ann Coulter, and John Stossel; they all do amazing research and turn up information the mainstream media prefers to ignore. I am also a huge fan of Greg Gutfeld; he was the first genuinely funny conservative I was ever exposed to (Dennis Miller is really a libertarian in practice).

4. Where are you from/currently reside?

I’m originally from the tobacco farming regions northeast of Louisville, Kentucky. My family can trace our lineage back to the people who came with Daniel Boone and to the Cherokee who lived in Kentucky prior to that. My culture is nearly all Appalachian. If you’ve seen Justified, that is very much the sort of culture I grew up around, though without so many drugs and explosives used only for non-criminal purposes. I’m a military wife now, so we’ve lived all over. Currently we are looking at transitioning from Augusta, Georgia to Norfolk, Virginia.

5.  What are your writing goals?

Above everything else, I want to promote conservative and libertarian writers who create stories from that point of view. To that end, I own the website conservativefiction.com and participate in several forums to help conservative/libertarian writers network with others of the same political bent and improve their skills over time. We have been isolated for a very long time; traditional writing programs do not welcome us and we don’t have any writing programs of our own. As for my personal goals, in addition to writing short stories, I have three novels I’m trying to finish — a historical, a contemporary supernatural fantasy, and a straight-up high fantasy. I would love to have two of these completed by the end of the year.

6. Where can people find/follow you online?

I’m on Twitter at @jamiekwil, and at Facebook under www.facebook.com/kywrite. I also own conservativefiction.com and conservativefeminism.com. Facebook is overall the best place to find me right now.

7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

I have five children; I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies! I do, however, like dressing up at science fiction and fantasy conventions. I play Dungeons and Dragons with my family; my current character is a blue birdlike Jedi (Omwati, for those who know the Star Wars universe) who sort of fell through a black hole into the D&D universe. Otherwise, I read a heck of a lot of books and go all Gollum over my Kindle and iPad and iPhone — they are my Preciouses, yesss.

Excerpt From “The Biscuit Boy“:

Helen had just finished the dishes and was wiping her hands on her faded apron when she heard the whine of an unfamiliar car making its way up her mountain. Right on time, she thought. It had been in her tea leaves earlier that day: a stranger in trouble. She cocked her head to listen as she moved toward the door, stepping over Pete to pull on her galoshes. Pete’s tail thumped once against the pine wood floor.

“Good dog,” she said absently. It wasn’t a local car; she knew the rattle and skip of every engine down in Ramsdell. This car ran quiet, humming rather than growling. “Must be one of those new-fangled electric cars.”

The rented Prius glided out of the trees, bumping slowly across the exposed stones and dirt of the mountain road. Its smooth angles were somehow alien to the heavy pine boughs and Queen Anne’s lace that closed around it, brushing the pearly green metallic finish. A skinny girl gripped the wheel, focused on inching forward. She looked vaguely familiar.

She had been crying. Helen could see the silvery residue of tears on her face, where the girl had just smudged them away. Helen thought–now who was she? Memories unfolded–a girl from Helen’s class, pregnant, moving away from the shame, never coming back…

“She’s Ida Jean’s daughter,” Helen murmured to herself. “Looks just like her daddy.”

The Prius stopped, and the girl emerged unsteadily. She wore a pink and beige suit, her tan pumps completely inappropriate for the soft loam of Helen’s front yard. She opened the screen door and waited, arms folded. Closer, it was clear that the girl was a grown woman. Still skinny, though. The fragrance of expensive perfume, sparingly applied, wafted from her silk scarf.

The young woman blinked at her. “Miz…Highwater?”

“I believe you need some tea.”

She smiled unsteadily. “That would be welcome, yes.”

Helen nodded. “You just get your son out of the car there and come inside.”

The woman’s smile crumpled, and the tears welled up again. “I’m…alone.”

Helen looked more closely at the car. “I see. Well, you best come in then.”

Read more at Liberty Island

Also check out Jamie’s “Murder at CPAC” story here

8. Clay Waters: ‘You Obviously Feel This Ocean Mythos Deep In Your DNA…’

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image illustration via shutterstock / EpicStockMedia

Clay Waters has had short stories published in The Santa Barbara Review, Liquid Ohio, Abyss & Apex, and Three-Lobe Burning Eye, and poetry in Poet Lore, River Oak Review, and Tribeca Poetry Review. For ten years he ran Times Watch, a division of the Media Research Center focused on the liberal bias of The New York Times. He lives in New Jersey by way of Mississippi.

Waters,-Clay

1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?

The first book that really got to me, at the age of 10, was Moby Dick, that timeless allegory on the limits of human knowledge and the delusion of fate… no, actually it was Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the movie Alien. Great stuff, seriously. The one piece of art I know a little of by heart. Also, Watership Down – the one about the rabbits? – the greatest adventure novel I know of. And the movie is almost as good.

2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?

Libertarianish

3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?

Jonah Goldberg

4. What was the impulse for this story?

I’ve always wanted to write something short, simple, and sinister, that uses narrative misdirection to turn a reader’s assumptions 180 degrees at the end. “Wrath” combines the puzzling fascination that I, a Mississippi-raised, non-surfer, and non-sunbather, have with California, the ocean, and quiet, blissful college campuses, which exist in my head mostly as archetypes. I tried to imbue it with 1960’s-era California decadence, as I’m a big fan of setting things in specific, real-world times and places, no matter how fanciful the actual plot. Probably some trace elements of R.E.M.’s “I Remember California” in there as well. I aimed for a sense of hidden danger, of manicured menace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8H0xopW3wk

5. Where are you from/currently reside?

From Mississippi, now in New Jersey

6.  What are your writing goals?

To get my “cozy” mystery novel published. It’s about a blind girl in 1920s England who is pushed down the stairs, hits her head, regains her sight, but doesn’t tell anyone, as she tries to figure out who in the house is trying to kill her. Sounds neat, huh?

7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?

I play trivia at my local bar every Tuesday night. Not seeing a VH-1bio in my future.

An Excerpt from  Clay Waters’, “The Wrath of Okeanos”:

Two short stories lay atop the desk of the creative writing professor. One was cleanly typed and covered with the white frosting of a title page. The other consisted of three or four stiff, wrinkled sheets of blocky handwriting on clean butcher’s paper. The neat manuscript on the left belonged to the neat girl on Professor Keene’s left; the grimy hobo foolscap was tagged to the deep-eyed big blonde boy across the table, wafting of sand and surf, whom the professor now addressed.

“First off, Joseph, let me tell you what I like about ‘The Wrath of Okeanos.’ You obviously feel this ocean mythos deep in your DNA. But one needs some irony, some possibility of an outside perspective.”

Professor Keene’s tone was the type you employed with a rattlesnake when you have a rock tucked behind your back. “What I don’t like as much, besides the handwriting,” he added tolerantly, “is the relative brevity and lack of character development. You clearly grasp the need to show and not tell, but we don’t know enough about the inner life of your protagonist.”

“Protagonist?” Joseph’s voice was drowsy, like someone deeply ensconced in a bed, or a bathtub.

“Your hero, um, Okeanos. You need to fill us in on him, because while these characters–archetypes, almost–could be interesting, we need an entry point, a way to join the conversation. How did they get this way?”

“They were always that way.”

Keene looked over his glasses at Joseph. Actually, the professor wasn’t totally sure about the “Joseph”–the first symbol of the boy’s signature on the class card resembled a fishhook more than it did the tenth letter of the Roman alphabet. “And as for the victory of Okeanos over the resulka in his rescue of the oceanid–”

“The rusalka.”

“Sorry, rusalka, I’m not up on my Russian ocean mythology–it did not feel sufficiently hard-won to me.” He cleared his throat and read. “‘The long-armed Okeanos glided easily through the choppy waves and captured the betraying rusalka, with claws that could open a raw sea bass for supper.‘ And the ending is too easy. The rusalka simply says, “I go willingly,” and she dies a merciful death. The End. It’s what we in the biz call an anticlimax.”

The professor knew he should cool it with the subtle ridicule, but my God the boy had actually written the words “tenth son to a god.” Aquaman was a Shakespearean hero by comparison.

Still the story would earn Joseph an A. Keene stamped A’s on every story that crossed his desk because that was how it was done in the Year of our Lord 1969 at this wave-of-the-future, study-what-you-feel-college. And because Joseph or Hoseph had a blank face and a big frame and a certain dead-seaweed look in his eyes that Keene could imagine scoped to the business end of a rifle if he ever woke up. A good thing the college was under-budgeted for a clock-tower.

“But that’s what happened to Okeanos ages ago. When the land was empty and the sea was full.”

Oh boy. Keene had endured this same talk at the boy’s last student conference. It had given him ample food for thought. It had even enabled him to work out a plot of his own.

“Joseph, this is Sarah Maloney. She’s in the other section.”

Sarah extended a lotioned hand. “Charmed.” She brushed the bangs out of her eyes, tossing back her head in a lioness sweep.

“So, Sarah, let’s talk about ‘The Night He Died.’ Your story is corrosive and dramatic. An abused girl thirsting for vengeance against her brutal military father. But perhaps crafting an appeal to straight melodrama would have been preferable to this unconvincing attempt at day-to-day realism.” The grin became sly. “And what’s with the slumming? Do you think you have the chops to convincingly capture a middle-class family? Don’t forget that reactionary cliche, write what you know.”

An attuned observer would have discerned a second conversation flowing below the actual one. Joseph, blinking steadily at something beyond the wall, was not that observer.

“The story, to be blunt, is a little boring,” Keene said into the languid afternoon. “And after all her brooding, daughter pushing father down the stairs is anti-climactic. Why not buy a gun from a pawn shop? Better yet…concoct some mysterious third character who can be persuaded to do your dirty work for you. I’m giving this a provisional A, but it needs more work.”

After the session Sarah fiddled with her makeup mirror until Joseph had lumbered across the room and retrieved his sea-green canvas bag, so that they ended up walking out together.

“Mr. Keene’s quite a character, isn’t he? He knows his stuff, though,” she said.

“I like my story the way it is.”

The bright, well-trimmed April afternoon was a crinkly blanket of blankness, green with potentiality: anything could happen because nothing had happened. It had to be said that Pacific Park College was far from the worst place to tuck oneself away from the world’s confusion (and, oh yes, the military draft) and learn ancient Greek, or integral calculus, or all about the local mangrove trees. As for Sarah–she’d spent her three semesters waiting. She would know it when she saw it. Now, she was blinking.

Read the Rest at Liberty Island

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image courtesy shutterstock / EpicStockMedia