New Story Time: “On the Banks of the River of Heaven”

3rd Story CollectionThis has long been a favorite of mine. It was originally published back in April 2008 in Realms of Fantasy magazine and was the title story of my third collection, On the Banks of the River of Heaven (Prime Books, 2010).

The story is based on the Japanese Star Festival (Tanabata) of July 7th, which in turn was based on an older Chinese legend. Once a year, the Divine Weaver and the Divine Herdsman (Vega and Altair)  would meet across the Milky Way (the River of Heaven) to renew their love. The legend goes that their intense affection for each other caused them to neglect their duties, the Weaver to make clothes for the gods, the Herdsman to keep the Celestial Ox out of the gods’ gardens. So they were separated and only allowed to meet once a year after that.

Naturally, in my version things were a little more complicated. But nothing that couldn’t be sorted out with good will and a little help from friends in unlikely places.

Story Time.

 

 

Edited to Add: Note and Disclaimer: The Story Time link will always point to the current story, whatever it happens to be. As soon as a new one goes up, the previous one goes away. There is no archive, I’m afraid, so get them while they’re here.

Dark Wizards Need Love Too

The beauty of a blog is that you can write whatever you want. The drawback for both me and the reader is the same. Too many days this is just me rambling on about whatever bright or shadowy butterfly has my attention at the moment. Yet, now and again, I can dispense some actual information. About me, of course, but after all this is my blog and—trust me on this–usually it’s better to let my Ego run free rather than my Id.

Ahem. First item of news: the series (still un-named) that began with “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil” continues later this month with “On the Road to the Hell of Hungry Ghosts” in the Ninth Anniversary Double Issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which should be online toward the end of this month, so only a few weeks away. Pan Bao and the crew attempt a good deed, despite his better judgment. No telling what they’ll do next. Frankly, I can’t wait to find out myself. A podcast is also planned.

Now it’s time for the elephant in the room, or rather an explanation for the cover image above. A fan who had heard LeVar Burton’s podcast of “Empty Places” asked me why more of my work (and specifically those featuring Tymon the Black) wasn’t available on another platform, said platform I barely knew existed. So I checked it out and discovered that said platform currently wasn’t accepting new publisher accounts, so placing them there wasn’t possible for now. I also realized that, the two novels aside, the three shorter works starring Tymon had never been put together in one place for the time when it might be possible to make them available. So here they are, together for the first time in The Collected Tymon the Black: “A Time for Heroes,” the original novelette which later grew into The Long Look, “Empty Places,” (3rd episode of LeVar Burton Reads) and “The Devil of Details.” Two novelettes and a long short story, at about 25,000 words. I’ve made it available on the Kindle for now, though with luck it’ll be available Elsewhere later. At least if anyone is looking for Tymon the Black outside the novels, there’s a place to find him.

Yamada and Beyond

Audible Edition

Audible Edition

Surprise package in the mail last week, from my publisher’s agent—physical copies of the The Emperor in Shadow audiobook. Just the thing for those long drives in vehicles that still have those, what were they called? Oh, right. CD players. I’m sure there are a few around…other than mine.

I wonder if I should preface this next section with SPOILER ALERT, or some such, but for those who don’t know, The Emperor in Shadow is the concluding volume in the Yamada Monogatari series. I’m not going to say that I’ll never write another Yamada story, because I don’t know that (he also has another sister we still haven’t met), but the main story arc is completed, since the series always had an endpoint and my only uncertainty was if I’d get it there in a reasonable time frame. The answer turned out to be yes. The publisher plans an omnibus volume which will gather all the Yamada stories, plus three stories not yet collected, plus the three novels. That is likely not to be out until 2018. After that, well I plan to be doing something else. I hope some of you are willing to stick around for that. More details when there are any to share.

 

Review: A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of Hell: Stories by Jeffrey Ford, Small Beer Press, 2016

 

It’s more than a bit awkward at this point, wanting to get on with the review and wondering if I should first introduce the author, Jeffrey Ford, knowing all the while I shouldn’t have to do anything of the sort. Ford is, no exaggeration, one of the finest writers working in the field he’s chosen to be associated with. Or the field that chose him, since in our culture the kind of thing he tends to do has no real framework outside that of the fabulist. If he’d been born in South America he’d probably be considered a magical realist instead. No matter. It’s all pigeonholes and ways of talking about a thing, rather than the thing itself.

Did I just say all that? My apologies. But that’s what Ford’s work tends to do—send the reader off on tangents of thought and realms hitherto unexplored. After the story ends, of course. Until that moment, the story pretty much has you where it wants you.

There are thirteen stories in this collection, and all of recent vintage. Here you will find modern fairy tales, metafictions where a character named Jeff Ford is part of the story, biting commentaries on modern politics and insanity—lately almost one and the same thing–, observations on wealth and class, and none of the above. What you will really find, excusing the short-hand descriptive phrases attempting to categorize them, are stories. That’s what they are, first and foremost. The words attempting to categorize them above are cheerful failures. The stories are not. Nor are they cheerful.

Seriously. With a title like “A Natural History of Hell,” you were expecting sweetness and light? Oh, you’ll get that, too, but sparingly. There’s a dark, unflinching heart at the center of these stories. It looks in humanity’s mirror and describes what it sees, with neither fear nor pity to hinder it. There’s “The Thyme Fiend,” where only a cup of tea brewed from the herb of the title keeps the horrors at bay, until the time comes when they simply must be let in. Or “Blood Drive,” when an insane premise is logically followed to its insane conclusion and the world turns merrily on. One of my personal favorites, “The Angel Seems,” where common sense humanity shows that it has learned the proper way to treat a god.

Quibbles? Okay, fine. One or two of the endings did not quite come together for me. I only mention this at all because those cases were one of the few times I was forced out of the story into a consideration of plot, which normally you don’t even notice in a Ford story, even though it’s always there. Whatever strangeness is going on, you just go with it. If, for an instant, you can’t, it is noticeable. Fortunately, it is also very rare.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do confess to being slightly put out by one story. We tend to get that way when we read a story someone else has written and sigh, “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” This happened in the centerpiece story, “A Terror,” where Emily Dickinson takes that famed carriage ride with Death. That line from HS English –“Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me” is all it takes to set it off. Not that my complaint matters. If I had written a story on this premise, it would not have been like this. Ford did it his own way, which now seems to me the only way, and he owns it.

He owns all of it. Thirteen stories only Jeffrey Ford could have written. Fortunately for us, he was around to do it. May he write many more.

 

Going, Going…I lied. Already Gone

3rd Story CollectionTo the left is the cover of my third story collection, issued in 2010,  On the Banks of the River of Heaven, which is the title cut. Not only was it the third collection in ten years, but it was my first hardcover collection. As of a week or so ago, it’s out of print. If you look on Amazon it will say that it’s “Temporarily Out of Stock,” but this isn’t so. There may or may not be a few stragglers with the publisher and a few more with me, some in the used market, but basically it’s gone. We’ve talked about that whole thing where publishing short stories is like “throwing rose petals in the Grand Canyon and listening for the thud.” It was definitely true here. I can’t complain too much, as the book sold well enough to finish out its run, which is something a lot of print books never do, but in five years it never got a single Amazon review. Things like that tend to make a writer feel unwanted. Whereas on GoodReads it had sixteen ratings and a score of 4.5 out of 5.0, and anyone on GoodReads knows what a tough crowd they are. It is a good book, and I’m not going to let the fact that I wrote it stop me from saying that, but its time on the physical plane is over. It will live on, possibly forever, in ebook form.

I have to keep it short today because I’m on deadline. I’ve almost never been on deadline in my entire writing life, but there are firsts for everything. Time to get back to Yamada, and today promises to be interesting. I have the strong feeling that an Imperial Princess is just about to tear Lord Yamada a new one. Is it wrong of me to say that I think I’m going to enjoy this?