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Viewing Blog: The Other Aaron, Most Recent at Top
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The blog of writer Aaron Polson. His first novel, a young adult/horror mash-up is due out later this year. He writes fantasy and horror with (mostly) teenaged protagonists.
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1. Whispers and Rumors

Rumors of my demise have been slightly exaggerated.

(shhh... don't tell anyone)

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2. The Problem with Living Forever

The conversation started one late night (or very early morning) in the summer of 1994. I was unemployed, between my freshmen and sophomore year at Kansas State, stuck between art and English education. My best friend and I spent those long summer nights driving aimlessly through our small, sleepy hometown. We played amatuer philosopher during those drives, questioning God, the universe, everything.

"I don't want to live forever," I said.

"Neither do I. Not on Earth, anyway."

"No," I said, "I don't want to go to heaven either. I mean, that's just nuts. Forever is a long time."

My friend laughed. "It's not like heaven's just clouds and harps and shit. I don't think you understand what it would be like."

No, it's not like that at all. I've seen death in my life--death and a lot of change. I remember every one of my grandparents' funerals, my father's, my first wife's. I remember standing in the basement of the Warren-McElwain mortuary in Lawrence, KS deciding on a casket for my wife at age 37.

The funeral director, a relatively young woman herself, stopped in mid sales pitch/product description, and said, "You're too young for this."

Yes, and no. And maybe. 

Death is a part of life. Our mortality is what binds us together, and to rob anyone of death is to steal the very essence of what it means to be human. Death is not the worst thing to come for us. Death is our oldest friend. Death reminds us to live, to enjoy, to laugh and have fun, and to love well. Death taught me well from a young age. This is what is the end to which we all must go. This is what gives value and rarity to your life.

I've carried those lessons with me. I have no desire to live forever--and I fear immortality in world not built for it much more than my own death. Maybe heaven isn't harps and clouds and "shit." Maybe I can't comphrended immortality. I do know this: on Earth, I'm happy my time is limited.

It's much more valuable this way.

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3. Hello?

Time to clear some cobwebs and dust off this blog.

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4. On Bullying

I know I've written about bullying before, but recent events have hurt someone dear to me. Please forgive. I'm starting this at 4-something in the morning because I'm mad. In my neck of the woods, we sometimes say "pissed" when one is this mad. Not "pissed" drunk like our friends across the pond, but "pissed off."

I am.

I'm tried of bullies. I'm tired of them at my job as a middle school/high school guidance counselor and I'm tired of the unfortunate reality that bullies exist as adults, too. Once upon a time, I believed in some fairy tale version of adulthood in which all the bullies matured and shed their evil skin. Like all fairy tales, this one is fiction.

Bullies are everywhere and every age, and if they've shed any skin, it's only to grown a more insidious one in its place. 

The bullies at school are sneaky. A teacher turns away and one boy punches another. They wait until I pass during lunch duty, and call their target names. In many ways, the girls are worst. I could relate scores of personal examples from my job, and it wouldn't take much to do a simple Google search and find stacks of digital articles on the subject.

Females--girls and grown women--like to do their bullying in different ways than boys. They often ostracize and exclude. They post hideous untruths online and laugh when their target's life falls apart. They've found ways to belittle via social media I shudder to recall. The motives are varied, but one constant keeps surfacing: if one is the bully, it steers attention to someone else. In the bully's mind, as long as someone else is the target, it's not her.

It hurts me to watch the cruelty at my job and hurts me in my neighborhood. Yes, my neighborhood lives in the shadow of a bully and I'm tried of it. Just like the girls at school, adult bullies ostracize and exclude. They manipulate and maneuver to make sure the target is not them. Sometimes the cruelty wears the most subtle cloak--for example, repeatedly leaving someone's name off a mailing list about neighborhood activities.

I was the target of bullying in middle school. The ride from my school to the high school for band class in 7th grade was especially agonizing. We would load the unsupervised bus--because let's be honest about the driver's ability to both drive and make sure passengers weren't being douche bags--and take a five minute jaunt from one school to the other. I heard "fag" and "gay" more times than I could count during those five minutes. A group of boys a year or two older than me would hound me after school during an arduous walk home. The walk was only four blocks, but it felt like four hundred.

Sometimes I feel so powerless when confronted with bullying at my job. It's especially difficult as an adult in my own neighborhood. No one--not one living creature--has the right to make anyone else feel like those ass hats made me feel in middle school. It turns my stomach that so many continue their cruelty long after the bus engine has gone cold.

So what do we do? Talk about it... write about it. Stand up and be counted among those who will not tolerate such behavior. There are more victims than bullies, and like most forms of darkness, this one cannot stand the light.

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5. For My Future Granddaughter

I bought one of these on eBay a few weeks ago:

LEGO 21110 Research Institute

I paid a premium, quite a bit higher than retail. The set, rather small and originally retailing for just $19.95, has made quite a few Lego resellers fat stacks of profit as they scooped them by the cart load and flipped on eBay, Amazon, and other you-sell-it sites. I'll admit I do a little Lego "investing," too, but not on the scale as major resellers. I've held onto a few Star Wars sets and made a few bucks. Kim can tell you about the Monster Fighters Haunted House on a shelf out in the garage. (Or maybe she can't... it's packed neatly in an inconspicuous brown box.)

One of the big rules of Lego investing is one should enter at a low price. It's frighteningly like the stock market, at at web sites like Brickpicker.com, it's treated as such. Buy low and sell high. Hold for the long term or occasionally find one of those glorious penny stocks which appreciates rapidly and can be sold short term for huge profits. The cheapest Research Institute available on eBay US as of this writing will cost you $70.04 including shipping. Yes, more than triple the MSRP.

So why break such a cardinal rule to get my hands on this set? Do I see the price rising even higher?

Sure, maybe. But this one isn't for sale. I wanted to grab a RI for my granddaughter. (This is where the audience gasps, thinking something like, "Isn't your oldest kid like a freshmen in high school?")

Look, this isn't a family blog, per se, but no one here is pregnant.

I'm looking down the road here. Waaaaay down the road.  Lego's Research Institute made a huge splash largely because... look closely at the box... it features three female scientists. It garnered a lot of media attention last month, including this article from the New York Times, this op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, and an online petition to resurrect the set after its too-short life.

So I mentioned I'm looking down the road. Waaaaay down the road, but the RI isn't about "investing" in the traditional sense. I want to gift this to my future granddaughter because her world (hopefully) will be different than the one in which we live. I want to give it to her and let her know how happy I am she is able to do whatever she wants. I want her to know how happy I am she lives in a world in which a toy set featuring female scientists is no longer a big deal because everyone knows women can kick ass at anything they do.

That's the best investment I can imagine and a world in which I want everyone to live.

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6. On Being from Kansas

Here come the Wizard of Oz jokes...

And that's the first thing you need to know about being a Kansan. You and your home state are often the butt of jokes--stale, tired jokes which are told with impunity.

"Where's Toto?"

"Where's Auntie Em?"

"Where's [insert any Oz character name here]?

When I worked at a grocery store in high school, one "import" family would shop wearing matching "We're not in Kansas anymore" t-shirts. True story. They'd come in on a weeknight around 9 PM, an hour before close, and wander the aisles in those shirts.

(sic 'em, Toto)

It goes beyond Oz. I've known folks from more populous states/the coasts who really, truly seem to believe we still use Conestoga wagons for transport. Ha ha. Our state is flat as a pancake... a few years ago, one mathematician "proved" Kansas, relatively, was flatter than a pancake. And it's not as if our state government helps us much. We've suffered embarrassing State Board of Education fights over evolution and passed legislation requiring voter ID, because, as you know, massive amounts of illegal immigrants flock to Kansas so they can vote illegally. I hear they're bused in, in fact. "It's all those damn Democrats' doin'!" wails the old man with belly-length beard next to the spittoon.

I say "we," but I never voted for such a thing. Maybe our collective unconscious remembers a time when "illegal" voters did arrive in our fair state (before it was a state). But that, dear friends, was before the American Civil War... back when Kansas meant something progressive and on the edge. Bleeding Kansas. In the years leading to the most deadly conflict in United States history, the first shots were fired here. Legendary terrorists like John Brown murdered in the name of abolition and William Quantrill burned my adopted city, Lawrence, to the ground.

(A Painting Depicting Quantrill's raid from the LJ World)

Our state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera, reflects on the struggle to join the Union.

To the Stars Through Difficulty.

That's good stuff. That's why I'm proud to be a Kansan despite the jokes and hayseed assumptions. I'm proud to be a Kansan despite our own failings and weaknesses. This is a place where people understand suffering and sacrifice. This is a place of good, hearty people who tell the truth. Honesty is valued here and hard work, too.

Maybe it's because of our position as butt of so many national jokes that Kansans have become so patient. There's intolerance here--unfortunately more than I want to believe at times--but when you meet a Kansan one-on-one, the facades of bigotry often melt away. Not always, but often enough to know something good lies within. We know we have warts. We know we have scars. But, from my experience, we own them. Maybe not every individual... but a collective "we." One cannot have suffered repeated offenses without developing a degree of humility.

A Kansan knows it isn't very humble to speak of one's humility.  We know we are broken as much as anyone else, but we are also aware of our humanity. We want good, honest stories more than we need grand lectures from any pulpit--even a secular one.

I work as a guidance counselor in a small, Northeast Kansas high school. Every year, we receive at least one new student from some other portion of the country--California, Florida, Michigan in the last few years--and are charged with the care of this adolescent. We joke that we're supposed to "save" them because we are used to being the brunt of jokes."Send the boy to Kansas. They'll learn him right. And if not... there's nothing to do out there, anyway."

We take this "orphan" in an make him our own. We care for her and teach her how to be good to other people and that she matters. We build relationships. We listen. We try again when we fail because we know--thanks to lessons from our rough climate won by generations of farmers and ranchers--failure is coming.

But so is triumph, little victories of the most mundane, everyday variety.

Go on. Make fun of us. Ask about Toto (the dog not the band). Try and win us with golden tongues and well-formed words. Just be honest. Genuine. Flawed and human. If you are, you just might belong here:

The Flint Hills of Kansas seen from the air (Jim Richardson, National Geographic)
 (Flat as a what?)

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7. Why Readers, Scientifically, are People, Too

A few weeks ago my dear sister shared an article titled "Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With." Improper title capitalization rules and superfluous prepositions aside, I take issue with the article. What would one expect, coming from Elite Daily, a site, I must admit, I hadn't stumbled across before but calls itself "the voice of Generation Y." Isn't that a perfect title for a Gen Y site? Elite. Yes, yes you are. Maybe that's my problem. As a Gen Xer, I'm an old fart, skeptical of everything.

Even myself. And I'm also not all that special. I'm just a person with an opinion and about three pounds of neurons in my skull, but I do like to think.

I learned the habit of asking questions of EVERYTHING in undergrad at Kansas State University, probably even before that. Richard Fogg, if you're out there, your lab section of Psych 350: Experimental Methods in Psychology way back in the fall of 1995 was brilliant. Thanks for teaching me true inquiry, critical thinking, and objectivity--and the cool lesson about what happens to a person when they come to the emergency room on a heroin overdose from your days in LA. That was awesome.

But I digress. A little.

I don't believe, and never will, that reading makes a person more empathic. That would be a causal relationship, one the author of the article implies with lines like "readers are proven to be nicer and smarter than the average human, and maybe the only people worth falling in love with on this shallow hell on earth." Wow.

While readers may be smarter and nicer than the average human (14 + years in education make me question both of those claims), I do not believe for an instant, not one millisecond, reading makes a person smarter or, and here's the most important disbelief, nicer than anyone else. There's simply a correlation between reading and empathy, reading and intelligence, reading and "theory of mind"  (the ability to hold opinions, beliefs and interests apart from one's own). I've known plenty of kids who could strip a 1968 Chevy Camaro and rebuild it who couldn't read all that well. How, exactly, are we defining intelligence?

Perhaps empathic, intelligent, and "mindful" people simply are drawn to reading. Perhaps.

But there's more. The author of "Why Readers...," Lauren Martin, cites another study which suggests kids who have more stories read to them have better theories of mind. I have no doubt--but using the word "prove" as in "results that prove the more stories children have read to them, the keener their [mindfulness]" really trips my critical analysis trigger. Maybe the interaction with people is the key, the common factors--good, healthy relationships with caregivers or other adults doing the reading--is the real seed of mindfulness and empathy. Show me a study suggesting a robot can read books to kids and those kids are more mindful than anyone else... well, I guess we're doing a whole lot of supposing without real results and a whole slew of ethical concerns. I haven't read the original studies, but these seem more correlative (collecting data and finding relationships) than causal (actual, controlled studies).

Are readers "the best people to fall in love with"? I don't know. But empathic people are nice. Mindful people are very nice. I'm in love with a woman who is empathic, mindful, and intelligent. She's nice. And while she reads ALL THE TIME I don't know that either of us have finished more than a book or two in the time we've known each other.

I believe reading is very important--Martin cites several other studies "proving" readers are the only worthwhile people on the planet--but it is not the only thing which creates a human. Reading is not the only factor which contributes to intelligence, empathy, and mindfulness.

And yes... this is coming from a guy who writes. And writers need readers. Did I just alienate all of you?


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8. I Planned to Discuss Perserverance, but I Gave Up

My kids give up too easily. I'm not sure if it's their generation's epidemic or anything, but I notice it with some of the kids at school, too. The district where I work even had a school improvement plan a year or so ago focused on trying to build perseverance in our students.

We gave up. I wonder what that says...

Seriously, though, kids raised on the world at the click of a mouse quit easily. For example (I'm always armed with them): my ten-year-old and video games. I can imagine the groans. "Video games? Really? I came here for a reasonable discussion about an important topic." Work with me. Video games have been a significant part of our modern tapestry, and love them or leave them, they aren't going anywhere. Owen loves to play games. He spends a quite possibly unreasonable amount of time in front of his computer, a television, or his 3DS. Yes, he plays plenty of games. Most modern games have built in learning curves to keep kids playing at a relatively simply level until they're really good. It's one of the major advances behind the scenes--face it, graphics and sound take all the glory, but a game's artificial intelligence has taken big strides.

Where Owen stumbles, however, is when he attempts anything with a lengthy quest or story or--Zeus forbid--a retro game. He wants to love The Legend of Zelda, but it's hard. He's started several games and given in when the going is tough from "start."

Okay, I'm being a bit harsh. I remember the hours Owen spent trying to conquer various shortcuts on Mario Kart Wii... the kid will stick with something, sometimes. But you go back a little further, Zelda, Mega Man, even Earthworm Jim or Ghouls and Ghosts for Sega Genesis, and he's done. And it isn't just Owen. I do see it at school, as both a teacher and a counselor. Kids give up when any task is too hard. Instead of trying again. And again. And again.

Maybe our tools, like the AI on those new video games, are just too powerful. Why work hard when a machine will do the heavy lifting? Why think and muddle through a problem when Google can probably cough up 10,000 solutions within a fraction of a second?

What I want here is good, old-fashioned stubbornness. I crave the kind of tenacity which kept me and my buddies up all night, stumbling through Hyrule's dark dungeons without the benefit of dozens of online walk-throughs and wikis. Anyone of my generation who played the original Metal Gear on NES will remember how damn hard it was just to get Snake to the first building without dying.

As a writer, perseverance has been my greatest ally. I set out to qualify for active status in the Horror Writers Association about seven years ago. It took a few years to sell my first professional rate piece, and this summer, I've been able to finally make that third qualifying sale. Seven years. Technology has made "success" as a writer far to easy to achieve. Someone turns down your story? Simply self-publish through the miracle of ebooks or the InterwebTM. But none of these quick fixes will ever help a writer hone his or her craft. Perseverance is priceless.

I want my kids to stick with difficult tasks. I want them to ask tough questions and solve challenging problems. I want them to never, ever quit. And I'll work all the rest of my days to make sure they know the value of perseverance. 

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9. The Quiet One

This is kinda-sorta an "author's notes" post but without the spoilers. After a few months of quiet, I have a flurry of writing news. Horror d'oeurves features my flash piece, "Slips of Yew," a title I lifted from Shakespeare's "Scottish play." Okay, Macbeth. I guess it isn't bad luck to reference Macbeth in writing, just theater. Or is it theatre?

When I used to teach Macbeth, I'd show the rather grim and bloody Roman Polanski version. Yes, some moments are silly (e.g., a sleepwalking (in the nude) Lady Macbeth). Thanks for that, executive producer Hugh Hefner. Like anyone slept in the buff in a drafty Scottish castle, but I digress (again). The third of three witches in the film was younger than the others and Polanski/his writers chose to make her mute and assign her lines to the other two. "Slips of Yew" was born as I imagined her voice.

Imagine the excitement when I warned a room full of high school seniors (mostly boys) that we'd see nudity when I showed them the "something wicked this way comes" scene. Now imagine the shock and revulsion when the nudity was a cave full of old hags. Awesome. Those were the days...

Anyway, "Slips of Yew" to Horror d'ouerves marks my third official professional sale (5 cents a word or better)--fourth overall if you count a contest I won a few years ago. Unfortunately, it, added to my other professional sales, runs 1,000 words short of the ascribed 7500 word count/3 pieces threshold to be an active member of the HWA. So be it. I'll keep writing. Thanks to editor Shane Staley for picking up my little bit of darkness.

There's more, too, like "Lucky Numbers" in Dark Moon Digest #16. What's the skinny behind "Lucky Numbers"? Let's just say it might not be a good idea to cast a mask of your recently deceased loved one (post burial, even). And because everyone loves cover art:

The issue isn't officially out yet, but will be soon. Speaking of soon... I'm up at Every Day Fiction again on Wednesday. More soon.

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10. Author's Notes: "The Summer I Fell in Love"

So... May has come and gone without a single blog post. Bad writer.

But June brings a few new publications, including "The Summer I Fell in Love" in Niteblade #28. I've had a few other stories in Niteblade in the past, including "Bait Worms" way back in Niteblade #6... nearly six years ago.

"The Summer I Fell in Love" is a personal favorite of mine, originally written for an anthology of southern zombie tales. Yes, I wrote the "z" word. Dirty, dirty "z" word. Only this story is different. (We--meaning writers--all say that, don't we?)

Spoilers ahead. Please Read "The Summer I Fell in Love" before moving forward (if you are so inclined).


Still here?

My story is more about a small town's hate and the irrational ends to which people will go in the face of horrible situations thank the "z" word. The narrator, a teenage girl, falls in love with another girl. Some of the details, lipstick tasting of soap, are fragments from my own memory. I dated a girl whose lipstick tasted like soap, but I was a teenage boy. My small town accepted such things (boys and girls together--not the soap-flavored lipstick). Fictional Connelly, somewhat modeled after my own as every other town I imagine, does not accept two girls falling in love.

When things turn sour, when the zombies show up, the town's angry voices need a target. Julie, the narrator's first love, is an outsider, not from "'round here" and therefore an easy mark. The memories and feelings of falling in love are there, even if the words and point of view aren't mine. The narrator's ache is my own.

This story earned one of my favorite titles--a title even more meaningful because the story is easily about the year of the zombie outbreak, the undead plague. But for the narrator, the real story was Julie--falling in love and Julie's sad fate at the hands of the real monsters. It will always be "the summer I fell in love."

I said there would be spoilers, didn't I?

Thanks for reading and thanks to editor Rhonda Parrish for another chance to have my words read. Please consider supporting Niteblade so they can continue to share fiction with the world. You'll find a "donate" button the right side of the site (scroll down a bit).

Have a beautiful summer.  I hope it brings you much love but none of the "z" word.

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11. Why All the Facelifting?

Some people out in the world wide web may have noticed some new clothes on old books, including a name change for my novel, Loathsome, Dark, and Deep. Yes, I took it to the courthouse, filled out the appropriate paperwork, and now it has a new name: The Forest of Ruined Men. Why? It's a bit more marketable. I think.


Okay. I'm not a marketing genius. I'm not even a writing genius, but I write. And revise. And write some more. And re--well, you gather the general idea. What I know is this: since coming back to writing, all my earnings are going to charity. I used to drop a fair bit in the community pot before, but now all of it--all my sales, Smashwords earnings, KDP sales, etc., goes to help the uninsured of Douglas County receive health care.

This reluctant salesman finds it a whole helluva lot easier to ask folks to spend money if I know that money is going to do something positive. The nickels and dimes for which I begged before mean little to me, but my chosen beneficiary, Health Care Access, can do so much good with my money. Why Health Care Access? Why health care for the uninsured? I thought everyone had insurance now?


Health Care Access does good work here at home. It's a cause in which I believe--and it makes it so much easier to spend time and energy selling books. My nickels and dimes can become diabetes treatment for someone without insurance or the resources to purchase it. My nickels and dimes mean early cancer detection so someone can qualify for state aid and treatment. I believe we have a duty to help everyone access quality health care, and I'm starting in my hometown.

So yes. This is what I'm doing.

And here's more of what I've done to help what I'm doing:



It's like they're a happy family now... a series even... and guess what? I'm laying groundwork for a third "Sons of Chaos" novella. It's going to be a cold one.

And you know what? I'd love it if you bought an ebook or read anything I've written--but sending some love to Health Care Access is beautiful, too, and you don't even need an e-reader.

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12. Author's Notes: "Saint Max"

What do I do with these silly stories I write?

Try to have them published, somewhere, so readers can see them. Why would I write silly stories and then sell them for the price of a beer (as I did with "Saint Max" to Phantasmacore)? Because, dear readers, the process of submission makes us all better. I could post this stuff on the blog, but no story will be it's best if it doesn't pass at least some publication muster.

Maybe that's what "Saint Max" is about. Becoming better. As always, there will be spoilers. Please read "Saint Max" if you'd like--it won't even cost you a beer--and head back for the story behind the story.



"Saint Max" started with a man digging holes in his backyard. He didn't know why. I didn't either when I started the story. He just dug. He did what he felt he needed to do. His son, Max, watches him. It's a strange thing which only grows stranger as every morning the yard looks normal.

Max grows in the story. He has to confront a bully named Caleb, and does so with violence. But nothing is solved for Max. His parents are dead when he goes home after confronting his bully. Why? You, dear reader, must decide. Maybe it was domestic violence (they do fight a lot). Maybe they just died. That's how death works. It simply happens.

And that's the hard part of this story. That's what might keep some readers at bay: sometimes life doesn't offer easy solutions. Sometimes bad stuff happens with no explanation. We want that explanation; we want to "know"--especially in fiction. But the real horror is not knowing. The real horror is the unknown, just like good ol' H.P. Lovecraft said. If a monster killed Max's parents, then the monster is the enemy. Max certainly believes in the monster, but it isn't a real thing. It isn't tangible.

I love this story and Max (both the fictional Max and my son), but it won't be accessible to everyone. Some people like the thrill of chase and death and everything else. But this is about Max surviving after his parents have died. This is about Max trying to figure out what to do with death. And... "A horror story cannot simply be about death."

Read "Saint Max" if you would--and if you do, please let me know what you think. Thanks to editor Jason Block for the future beer and giving my story a home.

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13. Sandcastles

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of Aimee's suicide.

Two years needs some perspective. For me, two years represents about 5% of my life.

For Elliot, age 2 years 3 1/2 months, it is the majority of his life.

For Max, almost 8 years, it is nearly 25% of his life.

Even for Owen, 10 1/2, those 2 years mark around 18% of his life.

I talk to the boys about Aimee from time to time, usually when they approach the subject. I am honest and direct when I do. Owen and I have had some challenging discussions about how she died and the nature of her illness. I know a day will come when Elliot needs to understand things I will not be able to make understandable. For now, he is a sometimes blissful, sometimes cranky toddler with personality and lust for life (i.e., desire to run up and down the sidewalk at full toddler speed).

I remember April 2, 2012 well. It was a Monday. Two sheriff's deputies banged on the door and woke me. The day swam quickly with trips to the junkyard, the funeral home, and the church to plan the funeral... I remember feeling like my dreams were over. My life was irrevocably changed.

True. True.

But here's what I know now. dreams are never meant to survive untouched. Dreams evolve. Dreams undergo constant and steady remodeling. Life's meaning isn't gifted to us when young, so we fight, childlike, against the tide which would wash away our dreams. Life's meaning is something forged through work, heartache, and a lifetime of living.

A number of fans have been upset about the finale of How I Met Your Mother. I am not one of them. Ted Mosby--while a fictional character--has made meaning of his life through the telling of his story. His romantic ideals have survived and evolved. In the end, he knows meaning comes in the making of it--just as he loved the mother so well while she was alive. It wasn't that they were "fated" to be together or "the one," but they made it work. The blue French horn in the end is not the same (metaphorically) he lifts at the beginning of the series; it is Ted's meaning, an all-in romantic ideal which he will chase all his life, even as life forces that ideal to take different shapes. And that, folks, is a beautiful note on which to end if an end must happen. It's the kind of end which doesn't really end.

Life, unfortunately must end--but in that inevitability, we find its greatest gift:

Life is for living now, loving now, forging meaning, now.

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14. Author's Notes: "Silas"

When I was a senior in high school, I dropped Physics at semester to take Forensics. No, not forensic science, but forensics: the art and study of argumentation and debate. This is also known as speech and drama competition, a place where kids recite poetry and prose, preform monologues, or deliver original speeches in front of a judge.

One of the requirements of the class involved attending at least two meets. My coach/teacher provided me with Robert Frost's "The Death of the Hired Man" to read in the oral interpretation of poetry division. I performed one time and tied for fourth (I lost the coin flip and received a fifth place medal--wah wah). It was my only performance of that poem and the only medal I received in forensics. I went on to coach for 12 years as a teacher.

Okay, what does this have to do with "Silas"? Well, the story is available in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of The Rampallian, and it is one of those odd, hard-to-place pieces. It is, in part, inspired by "The Death of the Hired Man" and features an old hired-hand named Silas, just like the poem. While horrrific in subject matter, it isn't "horror" in the commercial sense.

This is your spoiler alert. So please read "Silas" or continue with the spoilers. I'm afraid it is one of those tales you'll need to shell out a few bucks to buy the issue, but 50% of the issue's proceeds go to benefit Reading is Fundamental.


My story implies Silas has molested young Rose, the protagonist. I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle such challenging subject matter, but after reading Peter Straub's masterful "The Juniper Tree" I understood the power of challenging subject matter. (I almost put Straub's story down before finishing it--but it's so damn good in the end.) While "Silas" does not touch the hem of Straub's coat, it is born of "The Juniper Tree" and "The Death of the Hired Man" with a good deal of Aaron Polson imagery tossed in the mix. The original title: "The Hired Man is Made of Worms"--I'll let that conjure an image or two without explanation.

Rose is a brave girl in the face of a horrible, harsh reality. In the story, you'll find Silas is the least of her problems. Thanks to The Rampallian and editor Rebecca McKeown, I have the chance to tell her story.

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15. Author's Notes: "The Thing About Ray's Smile"

I often find myself writing a story without any idea where it will land.

(I really wanted to type "end up" but the dangling preposition really burns my eyes.)

"The Thing About Ray's Smile," recently published at Black Heart Magazine, is one of those stories. I had the idea for an image, a really cheeky teenager, and one of my favorite stories, T. Coraghessan Boyle's "Greasy Lake," blended together to tell the very short story of--

Okay, spoiler alert. Read "The Thing About Ray's Smile" first, please.


--a teenager who makes  a really dumb decision and it costs him his life. The bad decision? To throw an empty beer bottle at a boat full of what he thinks at the time are kids from the local junior college. That image--the bottle arcing through the air in slow motion--comes from a moment in high school when a buddy of mine tossed an empty glass bottle (only root beer in our case) against the side of a building as we cruised past a police car. I feared we'd be pulled over, but weren't. In Ray's case, the result was worse.

"The Thing About Ray's Smile" is unclassifiable. Yes, the end is horrific, but it isn't horror. It's not a crime story, either, even though a crime happens. Literary? Okay. Maybe. It's definitely dark and I enjoy the word play. It's the kind of story I enjoyed writing even without a clear landing in mind.

Thanks to Laura Roberts and Black Heart Magazine for given "Ray" life...


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16. Love Wins

Sometimes, a guy needs to stand up and be counted.

I love my state; I do not love nor do I agree with the bigots in charge.

I fully support the right of anyone to marry and enjoy the same legal protection afforded anyone else. More than that, I believe love is love and gay men and women deserve the same shot at the uphill battle of lifelong commitment and fidelity as any straight man or woman.

You may not agree with me, but your view on gay marriage does not matter to me.

You may not agree and say your faith informs you. Okay. Fine. As long as you're using Biblical support, have fun with your multiple wives, slaves, and stop eating ham, okay? And really, stay away from cotton and wool together (yes, that's banned, too). Thanks, Leviticus. You're full of fun. And there's that part about women being silent. (Timothy 2:11) And the stuff about wounded penises and testicles. (Yes, that's in there, too--Deuteronomy 23:1--but it evidently doesn't have anything to do with a botched circumcision... or does it?)  But I'm not the guy who's going to use all this Biblical mumbo-jumbo to pretend I'm going to sway your opinion about gay marriage or civil rights in general. You've already made up your mind. This is not a debate.

Let me repeat: your view on gay marriage does not matter to me. And I don't suspect that my view matters much to you. 

What does matter is right and wrong--civil rights and civil wrongs.

My state, Kansas, just did a big whopping wrong. Let me revise: the leaders of my state (at least the House of Representatives) did a big whopping wrong in passing House Bill 2453 (which explicitly protects religious individuals, groups and businesses that refuse services to same-sex couples, particularly those looking to tie the knot.) For more, CNN has a pretty good break-down of the law. Those crying "liberal media" can check out this Fox affiliate's take and realize it's the same press release from CNN.  Keep crying.

And our Governor, Mr. Hypocrite himself, told the Topeka Capital-Journal, "Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity."

Every human life? How about gays. They're human. Hell, any gay individual I know is pretty much more human than the legislators who voted "yes" to this piece of garbage.

I'm proud to be a member of an open and affirming congregation in Lawrence, KS.  (Love you, Plymouth Congregational Church.) I'm proud to know plenty of wonderful Kansans who think our legislators are morons.

I'm proud to call several gay men some of my closest friends--not because they happen to be gay, but because they are some of the most amazing people I know. Folks who have been there for me in tough times and good times. Family.

Don't mess with family. 

It doesn't take much to imagine a world in which I couldn't marry someone I loved. Kim and I are in our second marriage--and our union would not have found favor with Biblical law at one point in history. Hell, we'd probably be stoned to death or something asinine like that. It sounds ridiculous now, but the slope is steep and quite slippery when a modern political entity in a democratic nation can start to write bills promising discrimination and promoting bigotry. 

I've tried to keep this as positive as I can. It is Valentine's Day and love wins. Love always wins in the end. Your view on gay marriage does not matter to me, but in promoting a law like House Bill 2453, Kansas made this a civil rights issue. Kansas is poised to make history--on the wrong side of history.


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17. Dollar Signs

 Money kills creativity. Money breeds censorship. Money destroys art. Money breeds derivative, "safe" art. 

Once money enters the equation, creativity suffers. Yes, it can offer powerful inspiration, but think about what Rod Serling has to say about "pre-censorship" in this clip:

If a writer is thinking about what is and is not acceptable even before a piece is written, it kills the creative process. Damon Knight offers a very important piece of advice in his seminal Creating Short Fiction. To paraphrase, a writer should never say "no" to his/her subconscious in the creative process. It seems Serling's mention of "pre-censorship" is just that. It hacks creativity at the roots.

And here's a little something from Ira Glass about the time involved to make your art what you want it to be:

Did you catch the part about time (Mr. Glass talks about "years")? It takes time for a creative individual's ability to catch up with her/his taste. It takes time for creativity to really bloom. Money kills that time. Money makes everything urgent. If you need the money, you will do whatever it takes--even cutting corners in a process that just can't be rushed.

Wait, you say. What are you saying? Are you saying writers should write "for the love"? That's an insult, Aaron. Writers should be paid. Didn't you post that video from Harlan Ellison ranting about paying writers? Have you changed your  mind?

No. Absolutely not. But--and this is the important moment, the epiphany--if a creative type does his/her work solely for money, that work is robbed of its potential.  For example, if I write a story solely to try and publish at a specific market because said market pays well, I'm no longer thinking about the story. I'm thinking of the market and of dollar signs, and I might just make some (conscious or unconscious) decisions based on the potential pay day. It's why I have a hard time writing stories to target for specific anthologies. I'd rather write the stories I need to write and then find them homes. It's how I work.

And there's another, more insidious cancer growing here... self-publishing. If it takes time for ability to catch up with taste, it will take time before work is ready for the public. I know mine did--and even upon my earliest publications, some of my stories were not all that good. Read the first page or two of a self-published novel from someone with no other experience or "time" at the craft. Rarely will you find anything I'd call literature. And yes, speculative fiction is literature--it can still be art. It takes time. You can't rush it.

I'm still working. I'm also blessed that now, at this point in my life, I don't need to make money with my creative endeavors. I'm free to let them be the best they can--even if it takes the rest of my life for them to be where I want them to be.

Neil Peart explains in Beyond the Lighted Stage that upon the creation of 2112, Rush decided to do it their way or go home. If the record company pulled out the rug, so be it. They would remain true to their vision.  One of the greatest rock drummers of all time was willing to go work at his family's tractor dealership rather than compromise on his art. I hope all creative types have the time and financial resolve to be so uncompromising.

Hell yes I do.

(And did you see how I worked three of my heroes into one blog post? Well played, Aaron. Well played.)

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18. How Video Games Saved My Life

Some of my earliest memories start with video games. When I was five, the family received an Intellivision II from Santa Claus. We spent hours playing Burgertime and Astrosmash. I wore callouses on my fingers on the black disc and burned holes through the keypad. My brother, twelve years older than me, and I played marathon sessions and bonded over strategy and high scores.

Yes kids, video game consoles used to look like this. No WiFi, either.
Soon enough, my brother graduated from high school and moved to college. I grew up and so did the gaming systems. There was a brief affair with Atari 7800. The family purchased our first home computer when I was in middle school, a Laser 128 (Apple IIe knockoff). Gaming continued with Conan and Montezuma's Revenge played from floppy disks.

Conan was a helluva lot more difficult than it looks.
Video games were my friends--not my only friends--but good buddies during some trying times. My father developed a brain tumor when I was in kindergarten. He and Mom were gone most of the year and part of the next. Once my sister (ten years older than me) left for college, I was left at home with an ailing father and overworked mother. Games were an outlet, a way to manage and control something in a life where so much seemed out of control. When things were really bad at home, when my father resembled a man thirty years his senior with dementia, I met the Nintendo Entertainment System. Three of my buddies spent the night with a rented NES and The Legend of Zelda on my birthday in 7th grade. I mowed lawns that summer with my brother to earn enough money for my own NES. I played it into the ground.

Hooray! A golden triangle!
I grew older... Sega Genesis... SNES... N64... my friends and I played too many seasons of Super Tecmo Bowl to count. We lost countless hours in basements with Mario Kart and Goldeneye 007. A few Madden Football tournaments earned me one of two Cs in college. (Why go to Survey of Art History on Friday afternoon when I was making history on a virtual football field?) Capcom's Resident Evil 2 and Konami's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night got me through a rough student teaching semester. Video games have always been an escape, a way to let off steam. When I found myself dumped and alone in a new town during the fall of 1998, Metal Gear Solid and Bushido Blade were there.

Yes, games have been with me a long time. When my thirteen-year-old stepson found me playing an emulated copy of Symphony of the Night the other day, he told Kim, "you've got a good man there, Mom."
Awwww shucks... I'm just a fan boy.
I hope so. I hope so. 

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19. Friday Flashback: Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Today's flashback features one of my favorites from the Genesis/Mega Drive era, a rather challenging port of an arcade classic: Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Ghouls 'n Ghosts had great legs and a lot of lasting value. It was straight-up arcade action/platformer but without the cute plumbers. (Instead, it featured a knight who was occasionally caught with his armor down.) For the time, the music was brilliant, the sound effects solid, the game play uber-challenging, the graphics colorful and vibrant, and the concept fun. In today's world of super-realistic first person shooters and mindless touch screen nonsense, I miss those button-mashing days...

(Let's just not discuss the hours I wasted spent playing my Genesis back in the day.)

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20. 2013 Taught Me These Things

Hello, 2014. You've been around for a little over a week now, and I wanted to give you a proper greeting. So, hi. You're going to be a good year. I know it.

As I say hello to 2014, it's only fitting to say one last goodbye to 2013. It was a very good year--and one which taught me a few things:

1. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And by Santa Claus I mean a woman with whom I am madly in love. We married in July and care for a half-dozen kids in our home. And--AND I am very happy. Yes, it can happen like this. It does every day.

2. I can still write. I've had to shake away some rust (some of my work hasn't been my best), but the desire is there--not the feverish drive it once was, but that came from managing demons as much as desire to tell stories. Now, I have the desire, but the demons are not snapping at my heals. This is a better seat from which to write.

You can read the first published piece I penned after my hiatus at Weirdyear. It's a bit of flash I call "Doubt"--and I'd be thrilled it you'd give it a read. 

3. Even while I spent more than a year on hiatus, books and stories continued to sell via Smashwords and Amazon. Upon returning, I've found Amazon a much more crowded landscape than ever. My sales through Smashwords and its affiliates were roughly flat. Considering I spent zero time promoting my writing for the majority of 2013, I find that quite interesting. I actually broke down my numbers (which weren't record breaking in any way), and found a few interesting tidbits. My top five paid sellers* were as follows:

A Feast of Flesh: Tales of Zombies, Monsters, and Demons 141
Violent Ends: Horror Stories 120
Thirteen Shadows: Ghost Stories 76
The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories 74
Write Hard: Prompts, Prods, and Pep-Talks for Writers 26

Some books sold very litte--only 4 copies of The House Eaters for example. Was it the presence of words like "horror stories" or "ghost stories" or the goldmine "zombies" in the titles of the others? Was it price? None of these numbers will break records, but I like to think about data. Freebies "sold" many more copies, but I didn't include them here. For those keeping score at home, Write Hard was my bestseller for Kindle via Amazon.com, but not all of my books were available for Kindle during 2013. 

4. I missed shouting at the universe via this blog, Twitter, and the InterwebTM in general.

5. I have much more to say before I take the big dirt nap. Years and years of stories to tell. Will you listen?

My 2014 goals are forthcoming. Really.

I promise.

*for the past two years, I've donated every dime of my net Smashwords earnings to local and international charities. No writer's work is paid what it is "worth" but I can make my work worth more in terms of education, food, and healthcare in the right hands.  Heifer International and Health Care Access are two of my favorites.

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21. The Care and Feeding of a Story

Let me tell a story about caring for and feeding your writing. 

"Wanting It" is one of my favorite stories to date. Like Ramsey Campbell, what keeps me going is the idea that I haven't yet written my best story, but "Wanting It" makes me a proud papa. I'm working with a student who struggles with writing because he wants it to be "perfect" the first time. It never is.

"Wanting It" began life as a feeling more than an idea. I wrote it during spring, 2010--several hundred thousand words and more than three years after beginning my writing journey. My heart ached. I was missing something, but I couldn't put my hands around "what" was missing. "Wanting It" began with longing, and there were tears when I wrote the story. It's biographical without telling details from my life--other than the protagonist's first name. Thanks, Tim O'Brien, for that trick.

I edited and polished and sent the story to Ken Wood at Shock Totem on April 26, 2010. I'd come to a place in my writing where I knew stories needed to start at the top no matter the odds. I found a rewrite request in my inbox on June 17. I read Ken's email several times. I looked at my story. I tried to find the "confident writer" he described hearing in the last few pages. I did what I could to tighten the story, had three friends read it and provide feedback, and sent it back.

The good people at Shock Totem liked it, but liked parts of my first version better. Ken and I began a back and forth discussion about what to change, where to change, how much or how little to change, keep, crop, blend... We exchanged several messages about what to call a guy's butt--not because we didn't know, but what would the narrator say? Ass? Rump? Buttocks? Yes, we had that conversation.

After months of writes and re-writes, Shock Totem #3 came out with "Wanting It" in the line up.

But "Wanting It"'s story wasn't over. It still isn't. The story garnered some nice reviews, including this one from Joshua Jabcuga (Bookgasm):

"I was genuinely moved by Polson’s entry, one about nostalgia and memories, and as some of us know, these ghosts of what-was or what-can-never-be-again can create the most haunting experiences of our lives, the kind that no amount of beer can drown, no pill can numb, and the type where no amount of distance or time will help us escape from it... horror at its finest."

Horror at its finest? Thanks, Joshua. Thanks Ken and the Shock Totem crew. "Wanting It" went on to land an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year volume 4 (my name was even mentioned in the year in review--this small town kid is humbled). Yes, hundreds of stories receive honorable mentions each year, but the four I've garnered mean so much to me. They're my own little black ribbons.

So what do I tell this student?

Keep writing. Nothing is ever finished. Ever.

(And if you've never read a page of Shock Totem, start now.)

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22. My Favorite Yeast Bread Recipe

This really is a bread recipe, not some hack or spam post. Enough folks have asked for this recipe, I thought I'd share--especially now, during the cold winter holiday season when the smell of baking bread is the only thing that keeps me going some days. This is my favorite yeast bread (maybe my favorite thing to bake, hands down).

Grandma Joy's Refrigerator Roll Dough

Start with:
1/2 cup warm water
1 package yeast (I always use rapid rise)
1 tablespoon white sugar

Stir yeast and sugar in the water to dissolve. Let this react for about 5-10 minutes until the yeast foams. While you are waiting...


2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup melted and cooled butter (or margarine; I prefer butter)
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Add the yeast mixture. Then mix in 6-8 cups of flour. You want to use a majority of white flour because whole wheat flour will not rise the same as white flour. I usually use 8 full cups with 7 being white flour and one whole wheat for good measure. I always use unbleached/enriched flour.

Knead for 5-7 minutes until smooth and elastic. Kneading can be a real cardiovascular workout. Here's some good technique to try:

Let the dough rise for about an hour in a lightly floured bowl. Make sure to cover with plastic wrap and a towel. When doubled, punch down and divide into two lumps. I always place them in lightly floured gallon freezer bags and send to the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the dough, you can make all sorts of goodies--from dinner rolls to donuts. One of my favorites, of course, is the good old fashioned cinnamon roll. Shape, cut, etc., and let rise for a while (the longer you wait, the more puffy/air-filled the dough will become, but you run the risk of it falling or drying out). Bake for 15-20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. If you like soft crust, brush with butter before removing from your pan to cool on a rack.

And just how does one roll out cinnamon rolls?

Much better than that crap from a can or impotent frozen rolls. Just my humble opinion. Enjoy!

*I didn't make the videos, but I did make this:

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23. Aaron Polson is Dead, Long Live Aaron Polson

Remember when Garth Brooks pulled that stupid Chris Gaines stunt?

If you don't, don't worry. In the days of my youth, when I was trying like hell to figure out what it means to be a man, Garth Brooks dominated popular music. I was never a fan, but no high school dance was complete without "Low Places" being played. This is a snapshot of a moment in time, part of my generation, and part of something I'm not sure future generations will have the chance to experience.

Insomnia and I have been wrestling a bit of late, and last night, while watching one of the more horrid (and not in a good way) episodes of Hammer House of Horror on DVD, I started thinking about the fleeting nature of fame in the 21st century. Andy Warhol is my prophet.

Garth Brooks had a solid decade of serious, multi-million-selling fame. Me? Never a fan, but plenty of people loved the guy. He became so famous he could have a bizarro out-of-body experience and pretend to be someone else (Chris Gaines) and the dude still sold billions of albums and won a shit-ton of awards.

This isn't all about Brooks. This is about now, the 21st century, and the lightning strike of fame. Fame is nothing of which I want a part. I do not write for fame, I do not tell stories to become famous, I have no desire to attach "best-seller" to anything I do. I am a writer, I am a story-teller, and I do like to create the best I can.

But fame? Never heard of it. And, like the old grey mare, she ain't what she used to be--at least I suspect she ain't--er, isn't. Remember the guy who wrote the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mash-up? I don't. But hey... I could Google him*. How about the band which had that song which was popular a year ago? No idea who we're talking about.

Maybe fame has always bounced around, leaving us only with the big names which last for time immemorial. Maybe fame has always worked this way. Maybe I'm just a crabby, sleep-deprived, middle-aged hack. Maybe.

But fame does distort reality. Fame makes a guy like Garth Brooks, king of the popular music world (in the U.S. at least) in the 1990s, think Chris Gaines was a good idea.

I pray I'm never famous.

*Okay, so I looked him up. I guess he wrote the screenplay to the recent Dark Shadows movie. That sucked, too.

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24. Author's Notes: "13 Pieces, Also the Dark"

Friday was one of those strange days in which two stories of mine were made available on the same day after months of nothing. If you missed "13 Pieces, Also the Dark," don't be surprised. I pimped "Digging Deep" with more gusto because it was the featured story at Every Day Fiction.

Today, I want to tell you about "13 Pieces, Also the Dark" which is available to read as a free PDF download from Black Frost Media. Please read it--it costs you nothing more than a few minutes of your time, and I am forever grateful for each reader.

And now, the obligatory spoiler alert...


The title of this piece, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, is an un-abashed knock-off of Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss". Please know the story, other than an experiment in style and the titular hack, has nothing to do with Johnson's. I like to experiment, and that's how this piece started.

The narrator is a voyeur, at first describing the slow death of his neighbor and the comings and goings of said neighbor's children. If any of you dear readers remember Gary Sump, you'll note this isn't the first time I've written from the POV of a voyeuristic narrator. As the story progresses, however, the reader learns the narrator's past and what he suspects happened in the house across the street.

As a guidance counselor (and English teacher when I wrote "13 Pieces, Also the Dark"), I see into the lives of my students--tiny little peeks--and construct their realities from these fragments. Maybe that's what bubbled to the surface with this story; the "pieces" are the bits from which one can fashion a whole life story.

Of course, in my tale, the pieces are also, quite literaly, the parts of the dying man our narrator helps carry away in the end.

I wrote this one before my self-imposed hiatus, and upon re-reading it a year+ later, still felt a good amount of discomfort. More maybe than "a good amount". And that, dear readers, is what indicates, to me, a fine story.

Please give "13 Pieces, Also the Dark" a read if you have the chance. I'd love to hear what you think.

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25. My Notes on "Digging Deep"

"Digging Deep" is up at Every Day Fiction today. I think they're switching servers tomorrow, so it's only appropriate the last story before blackout is about death. Sort of.

Let me tell you about "Digging Deep". 

Here be spoilers.

Read the story first, if you would.


I wrote "Digging Deep" shortly before Aimee died and submitted it one time before my hiatus and return to writing. It is a story about death as I mentioned above, but more. It is a horror story, but not a Horror story. "Digging Deep" talks about Truth like I hope most of my work does. Although I've capitalized it, this Truth is human-truth, not God-truth. I'll leave that for the theologians.

I want readers to understand what moves the narrator. This is a story of big revelation rather than big events. It's not about what happened to the mummified remains the narrator helps to exhume or the horrors which might lurk on the English countryside near his home. No, it's about real horror--horror any of us can feel.

On one level, there's the horror of losing a child (or any loved one). You see, the narrator feels the connection between his daughter, Ellen, and the awful things they dig from under the standing stones. The braided hair sets him off.  My grandmother buried both of her children--my Aunt Norma Jean (who I never met because she died at 21, decades before my birth) and my father (brain cancer shortened his life). I look at my own kids, those with whom I share genes and my stepchildren, and can't imagine--don't want to imagine--such terrible ends for them. I fiercely love Kim, and the thought of anything, anything happening to her abhors me. Anyone who loves so fiercely can feel the inevitable pang of death. So yes, death stalks the narrator as it does all of us.

But that, dear readers, is only a bit of the story--even for a tale just shy of 1,000 words, there's more.

"Digging Deep" is also about the horror which comes when people become little more than objects. The mummified bodies, once living, breathing people (again, the braids), are now objects for the university men. Waxy broadens the theme when he talks about the barmaid, saying, "Wouldn't mind a roll with that one," making her little more than a sexual object. For the poor narrator, Ellen becomes a thing--both an object for the "university men" and, by extension, a sexual object for men like Waxy--as he connects the dots between the three. In the end, especially in the end, death leaves each of us nothing more than objects.

Yes, that latter bit is implied. It's what the story means to me, now, nearly two years after originally writing it. But the truth--and the truth of all fiction--is that any reader's reality is just as valid as mine.

I've written the story and now it's time to share.

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