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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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Tears came as I drove my four-year-old son home from preschool yesterday. I had been doing a good deal of processing since the heinous attack on an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning. Many voices have risen, and mine is perhaps the least important among the crowd. After hearing commentary from the Justin Torres of the Washington Post yesterday on All Things Considered as we drove home, the dam broke.
Mr. Torres uses the word "sacredness" to describe the club in his Post essay (In Praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club). On NPR he says "people talk about the gay bar like it is church."
Look, I'm a white, middle-aged straight man from Kansas. On the surface, I'm as far from Latin Night at Pulse as anyone in this country. But I've been there--different city, different club--and I've seen that sacredness first-hand on the face of some of my closest friends.
No, not friends. Family.
When you realize this attack was on us, our family, it changes everything. Those weren't "just" gays, or Latinos, or whatever-box-you-might-try-to-put-them-in-to-make-you-feel-safe. They were us. Our brothers and sisters and family.
My heart breaks when I hear of this tragic event bastardized into Islamophobia or a rallying cry for the gun-crazed Right and their "out of my cold, dead hands" mentality. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are family, too, and they've suffered at the hands of men who look a lot like me. I grew up in a small town in which everyone owned guns, hunting was a way of life, and shooting cans of Barbasol to watch them explode in a cloud of foam was just "something to do" on lazy Saturday afternoons. The sacredness of church, mosque, synagogue, or gay club does not stop at the second amendment.
I shed tears on the drive home yesterday for all of us--gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, Latino, black, white, whatever-you-are. I shed tears for the sanctity of life and how awfully easy it is to have that life stolen. I shed tears for all of us, our American family, and how God-awfully dysfunctional we can be.
I'll pick up my son again this afternoon. There will be more NPR coverage of Orlando. He will one day grow old enough to talk about such tragedies. I hope and pray I can help him understand what the word sacred means in exactly the context Mr. Torres used it. I hope and pray he will know the meaning of family, too.
***Listen to "'These Are My People': Writer Reflects on Orlando Attack in 'Washington Post'"Read "In Praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club
I'm going to own something publicly of which I am not proud.
Yesterday, my oldest son's soccer team played for their end of the year championship, something the local league calls the "classic cup." I love my son. I love watching him play. I work hard to be positive, cheer for the team, encourage them, and leave my passion on display.
There are certain lines I will not cross--and yesterday was no different. I will not yell at or berate the children on the field. I will not shout profanities. But my passion is on display. It always has been, and yesterday was no different.
The local league reminds us each year of general rules for parents. I've supported this league with thousands of dollars over the years so my children can play and learn the value of teamwork, hard work, and losing. The value of winning comes easily; it's losing which requires character. I am proud of my son and the character he displays regardless of any game's outcome.
A friend once told me there are three teams on a field during any sporting event--and no one is rooting for the third. The officials have a hard job and often face abuse from angry fans. I am human and as such fundamentally flawed. I am not above my passion bubbling over when officiating begins to affect the outcome of a game even though I try, with all my being, to teach my son that officials, for better or worse, are part of playing.
Maybe it was the goal scored from an offside position when the linesman was out of position to call the play (I generally watch from our team's defensive sideline). Maybe it was the foul called against one my son's teammates as he was shoved to the ground (if you are confused, so was I). Maybe it was the fact the head referee taunted the aforementioned player with a red card after he questioned the call. Maybe it was the several shots taken at my son while he carried the ball or other continued violent play without recourse. Maybe it was a combination of these miscues which bubbled over as another one of our players was ejected with a red card and my passion spilled over.
Again, I did not swear or curse or target a kid from the other team. I simply said the officiating was "bush league" and "sorry boys, looks like you're playing against two teams today."
I'm not proud of these things. Maybe part of my brain knew I wouldn't be because I certainly did not shout them at the top of my lungs. Another parent fired a few remarks in my direction after my comments, the kindest of which was "calm down."
I've grown tired of the world in which I must counsel young people through the insults they heap upon each other from a position of anonymity. Social media and the privilege of distance has eroded human decency. Spend a New York minute reading comments on most popular YouTube videos and you have a quick and dirty lesson. And yes, I recognize I flung comments onto the field with relative anonymity, too. I am not proud or innocent.
I walked over to the man for a face to face and asked if he had anything he would like to say to me. I was angry, seeing red, but by God, after forty-one years of life simply taking it, I was not going to take it any more. I am not proud--but a little conflicted because there reaches a point when we must own our actions.
I did not use profanity or insult any of the children. I simply wanted the opportunity to face someone who clearly had something he wanted to say about me if not to me. I am not proud it came to that opportunity. I am happy I walked away a moment later because anger rarely gives birth to anything positive.
My son's team lost the game 1-0. He is my role model for life, teaching me that winning and losing come in equal measure. I am proud of him and everything he has weathered in less than thirteen years on the planet. As I walked to the medal ceremony, a felt the sting of a few more comments aimed in my general direction. The moment of heat and passion gone, I continued walking. There will be more games and thankfully more opportunities for me to do it better.
We must do our best to recognize humanity in others. If we don't, no one will.
My son, Max, turns ten at the end of the month. In December 2011, only about a week and a half after his youngest brother, Elliot, was born, we rushed Max to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri because of blood in his stool, a positive test for malicious bacteria, and some joint pain. Five days, several blood tests, a colonoscopy, and sundry medications later, Max was discharged with a diagnosis of Crohn's disease.
He's had struggles over the last four years, little Crohn's/Colitis related things that anyone familiar with this monster will know well. Things took a nose dive this past December, and between mid-December and the end of January, Max spent five weeks in the hospital. The doctors tried new meds and more meds, but in the end, my almost ten-year-old had his colon removed on January 20th. All of it.
I do not like to live in fear. Show me the monster, and I will meet it head-on. Now that Max has had a very necessary surgery, he's living with a "temporary" colostomy bag. Temporary in quotes? Yes. He's had one subsequent surgery to resection/restructure his small bowl, and we should have another to "reconnect" his "parts" down the road. Here's the fear and frustration part: his GI specialist and surgeon disagree as to the timing of this final surgery. The GI doctor is full of "what ifs" and "possible problems." Talking to him is a lesson in bodily horror, something with which I struggle, both as a writer and a human. Yes, there are possible problems if we reconnect. The surgeon is more optimistic. Neither agree--neither have even spoken to each other as of this writing--but we are faced with a decision: When to do the final surgery.
I do not like to live in fear.
I've learned all too well that life will bring tragedy regardless of what we do. I lost my father to brain cancer, my first wife to postpartum psychosis, and Max has this awful disease. None of them "asked" for it with dangerous living. This isn't another story of someone "getting what he deserves." I cannot and will not believe in a prosperity gospel when two good, caring adults and one innocent child face such monsters. Bad things happen to everyone, and we are defined by how we respond.
So what to do about Max? In two hours, I'll listen to his surgeon make a case for re-connection. Max has expressed his lack of love for the bag--something that if things do not go well after re-connection, he may have to live with, anyway. I've always been one to steer into the storm rather than trying to run. The storm is coming either way, and when we lie to ourselves about having control... well, that's a fast track to fear.
I will not live in fear.
My oldest son competed in his first middle school track meet last night. When I was in high school, we called various members of the team hogs, dogs, and frogs--throwers, runners, and jumpers. Owen decided to try a little bit of everything: shot put, long jump, and the 200 meter dash. So I guess he was a hog-dog-frog... the image is a little terrifying.
This happened during the 200:
Yes, that's my son on the ground. He's fast on the soccer field, but a straight sprint might not be his thing. After the race, he was worried I'd be upset because he didn't perform well. Think about it for a minute, especially those of you who are parents. Would you be upset?
My answer--which came in the form of a question as my answers often do**: What did you do after you fell?
Owen: I got up.
Me: And then?
Owen: I finished the race.
That's all that mattered to me. I felt for him. Going down hard in front of a stand full of parents and your peers is tough, especially in 7th grade. Maybe I broke some parenting rule when I shared this photo, but no, I don't think so. I'm much prouder of a boy who crashes hard and still finishes than one who wins all the time. No one--anywhere/anyone--wins all the time.
Life is more about what you do when the bad shit happens.
*I really, really despise the word "get," but here it feels somehow appropriate. Forgive my lazy verb choice.
**I wonder if it's difficult to have me as a father?
So you may have noticed... I stopped writing for a while.
Stories. Books. This blog.
I completely stopped writing everything except for day-job-related minutia and a few other important bits.*
When I started my writing journey during the summer of 2007--yes, almost nine years ago now--I had big dreams. I thought I would be able to conquer the world and find some kind of fame as an author. I was trying to escape some very sour realities at the time. The first year or so after my second son, Max, was born challenged me like nothing else had in life. If you need details, they're all here in the archives of this blog.
I had started writing with big dreams, and reality intervened. I played the agent game with my first book and garnered more rejections than I care to count. It wasn't a very good book and my query letters sucked, too. I started writing short fiction and found I had a taste for it. Goals evolved. Someday, maybe, I would qualify for a writers' group. I set my sights on the HWA and became an affiliate member.
And I wrote another book or two, played the agent game again and even came just a little closer.
What if I could become an active member of the HWA? It would only take three professional sales...
I published more stories than I should have, some of them mildly embarrassing in hindsight, but they are all my progeny, ugly or not. The rejections piled up, but so did my little black ribbons--those publications I chased and chased and finally caught. Some of them are defunct now, Nossa Morte, Necrotic Tissue... I finally made the pages of Shimmer. I sold my first two professional rate stories to Shock Totem and the HWA's Blood Lite II anthology.
And then my third son was born and my wife committed suicide. My writing sputtered to a stop. It's all here if you want to dig. It's all here to read and process--right in the archives of this blog.
But what you will not find is how I lost my writing way. Chasing publication in honored magazines and anthologies made me a better writer. I cared, once. My first wife's death didn't end my writing career. I did.
You see, once upon a time, there was a gold rush. Ebooks happened in a big way. Self-publishing happened. Money sang a siren song not unlike that which led a deluded young writer during my first year. I no longer wrote for the right reasons.
Here's a hint: it's not about money. It never has been, and if organizations like the HWA expect professional pay to be a gatekeeper in the active society, it isn't because that pay means more than the commitment to achieve that pay. Members should care that much about their craft. The writing--the stories--are everything.
I've written a little since then. I've dabbled. I published a few stories a year or so back and sold my third professional rate piece. I could be an active HWA member, but I'm not. I've always needed a goal in front of me, not behind. I need that distant shore, something to chase, something to make me better again.
And I found it. The stories are there. I just need to tell them, right.
My son asked if I still blogged. Here's your answer--and I don't even know if blogging is something one does anymore.
*you can ask Kim about the asterisk
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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Rumors of my demise have been slightly exaggerated.
(shhh... don't tell anyone)
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.
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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Time to clear some cobwebs and dust off this blog.
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'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.
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.
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 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?)
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?
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.
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
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).
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.
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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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?
No.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.
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.
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.
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.
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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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...
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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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.
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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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.)
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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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
|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
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.
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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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
spent playing my Genesis back in the day.)
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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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.
*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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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.