Wednesday, February 26, 2014

100 Rejections: A Goal

I haven't made a habit of submitting my work to paying markets. I've done it a few times, and gathered a measly collection of 24 23 rejections (I have one on submission - technically, that's not rejected yet).

From that I've read, that's nothing, especially for the short story market.

Once when I was attending a TurboKick class at the Rec Center, there was some time before the class started that the instructor decided to fill by having everyone say their name and favorite holiday. I didn’t really know what to say, but she started with the other side of the room so I had time to think. I considered Halloween, because I was born in October and I like the spookiness of the holiday. But it seemed so trite, and not something that I can really endorse as a favorite - not after the last few Halloween's I've had. When it was my turn, I chose New Year’s.

Not because I like resolutions, as the instructor immediately assumed. It’s simpler, geekier, than that. I like the date changing. I work with dates in my job, and I get a little happiness when I get to start typing or writing a new year.

I don't even like New Year's resolutions. Reserving just one time of the year for change is silly. It closes off the possibility of change during the rest of the year, which I think for some people is the point. And the reason that the success rate of New Year's resolutions tends to be low - most people have no practice changing.

I’ve tried to practice change in the last seven years or so, and I’ve gotten better at it. But some things have proved easier to change for me than others. Start liking exercise? Turns out, I think exercise is a ton of fun! Speak up in classes and meetings? Yeah, I can do that. Start being okay with rejection? Um, maybe I’ll just write for myself for a while until I’m actually good and then I’ll start submitting stories to professional markets again… But how will I know when I’m good enough?

Well.. One way is to keep writing and submit short stories to magazines. Selling something would certainly be an indicator of quality, right? And it doesn’t hurt anyone to try and sell stories.

Except me.

When I get rejected.

So, in the spirit of setting goals that I can realistically achieve, I’m going to increase the number of rejections on my spreadsheet to 100 in the next 6 months.

If 76 rejections in 6 months doesn’t inoculate me from the pain of rejection… then I’ll just have to keep going.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


The other day, I was walking to the gym when I tried to whistle for the first time in what I came to realize had been quite a long time. I couldn't do it. Weak little tones escaped my lips with air, but the sound was hardly audible and I knew that I used to be able to do more.

When I was young, it seemed like everyone could whistle except for me. My dad, my mom and my brother all could do it, and I felt left out. So I secretly practiced, but I just couldn't get the knack of whistling like they did.

Then I realized that the hawnk-shoo sound of faking a snore ended in a whistle. I could do that!

But it wasn't the same. My whistle was more bird-like and I couldn't control the tone as well as the rest of my family. So I kept working on it, and, eventually, I did it.

Along with playing the flute from 4th to 12th grade, I also whistled a lot. But in the last few years, I haven't been in the habit of making music, at least, not the way I used to.

So, when I'm not being the tiniest bit overwhelmed with homework, I'm going to be whistling more. I want to keep in practice, even if I can still get reactions from birds with my shrill tweeting.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Short Story


Velvet Umbrella
Boost Live Trial 7
Subject Minx Delta
Full Suited Aerial Mission 1

T-4 minutes

The drone is on autopilot, screaming along at 15,000 feet, just barely subsonic, and I and my suit a wart on its back, tucked aerodynamically in place. The separation will affect us both, but the drone will use speed to steady its course, assisted by thousands of computations a second in the redundant computers both on-board and back at the base. I’ll have approximately a tenth of a second to adjust the glider and the suit to the abrupt lack of forward thrust. It’s more than I’ll need. 

My display is dominated by a graph. I’m an arrow, heading toward a blue line, the point of no return, the best possible trajectory for my mission profile. Failure is not an option. Nah, that’s just what the engineers like to say. Failure would just mean I’d never get to do this again, whether I was dead or alive when it was over. 

My timer displays numbers out to four decimal places of a second, every place past the tenth is just a flicker, strobing regularly. 

Not for long. The speakers in the suit interrupt. 

“Boost 1 initiates in 10, 9, 8...” I’m anticipating it already, hungry for it, like they never thought I would be, or if they did they never told me, “...4, 3, 2...” yes “1.” 

It’s like ice in my veins, the rush of cold adrenalin, a whoosh of turbulence in my stomach as the flickering numbers slam to a halt. 




As fast as thought, the graph zooms in on my ideal trajectory, and the disturbingly slow rate at which I’m suddenly approaching it. I can see the exact moment, and I have all the time I need, more time than I could possibly use, to watch. 

This moment is already over for them, back at the base, watching me perform the aerobatics I’ve been training for in the now-distant future. I can rehearse it in my mind, ten, twenty times before I have to look at the display again and see I’ve got an entire half of my tenth of a second before I need to move. The grip release will pop my pod off the drone, I will flip and likely tumble for a moment before stabilizing, and that’s okay, that’s what I’ve trained for. 


I feel like I have to pee. This happens every time, not because of physiology but psychology they tell me, the waiting is the problem, the synthetic adrenalin composite they’ve taught my brain to make has nothing to do with it. Sure, something they’ve only studied in lab rats and three other people besides me, I’m sure they know everything there is to know. 

There. The time is … just about … Now. 

The suit answers to my thoughts and with a machine-quick - and machine-precise - response, pops the pod off the drone. I hear and feel the click through the suit gloves, the vibrations play a drum solo in my ear, so far apart, not a buzz but distinct and discrete tappings. Wind forces tear at the pod, pulling, pushing me away from the drone as it continues forward at a faster rate than my momentum can sustain. I seem to move backward from it, as my suit allows a normal field of vision to superimpose over the graph. It’s dark, but the moon glints off the sleek skin of the drone, and makes the edges of my suit that I can see glisten. 

I curl the pod over my head to shift the weight of the glider forward. The position needs to be perfect to achieve optimal stability, and I actually take a few thousandths of a second getting it just so as the drone eases out of view. I order the glider’s tail to extend and it snaps out with the speed of thought. 

So do I. 

“Boost 1 complete. T-3 minutes to Boost 2. Good job, Minx.”

By the time they’re done saying that Boost 1 has initiated, it’s already passed for them. I smile behind my visor, knowing the physios monitoring my every twitch will catch it, know what it means when those muscles follow those patterns. I think they’re scared of me. It’ll go into a file somewhere, but no one will complain about it. Just a smile, not a smirk, right? 

The glider is stable, and to perceptions outside of Boost, it doesn’t glisten or sparkle in the moonlight high above the Nevada desert. It’s time again to wait, almost as bad as the test runs, the ground trials that gave me nothing to do but watch them stand around like statues while my suit and I put together thousand piece puzzles in less time than it takes one of them to think about speaking. 

The graph has a new line, this one green, signal for the flip and land maneuver. I don’t have to pay attention to it. I’ll be Boosted before I get there, and if I’m not, then I’m dead. 

A tenth of a second is not enough real time to land this; that’s why they came up with the Boost. 

Except that isn’t the reason. Not really. 

“Boost 2 initiates in 10...” Julio had told me the real reason, “...6, 5...” the only physio who’d look me in the eye after the implant, “...2...” he’s gone now, “1.”

It’s as if the ice never left. The clock begins to crawl again and I finally pay attention to my surroundings. 40 feet above the desert floor. I rotate the glider into brake position, the wind catches and pulls me slow, over the next tiny fractions of a moment, and up again, but not too far, and then I have to count, to wait, for the next peak in optimal trajectory, to, just so, click the glider underneath me and ride it down, like a cloud to the ground. 

I hear every grain of sand as the glider plows into the ground, a pattering of tinks eating away at the friction resistant skin. 

“Boost 2 complete.”

My balance, so careful and exact and precise just a moment, less than a moment ago, collapses at the return to real time, to reality, my knees crumple and my vision goes red, the suit is screaming alerts in my ear and the base is already blaming me. 

“Can’t you put her back?” 

“There’s no more, it’s not our fault, her body ran out, it’s—“

I’m Boosting again, for the last time, but there’s no clock to count, just the faces of my past as memories whiz by in an instant before it’s all dark. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

You Might Be a Blackhawks Fan...

If you have an urge to scream and yell whenever you hear "The Star Spangled Banner" (that's the appropriate response, right?)...

If you compare every other anthem singer to Jim Cornelison and find them sorely lacking (breaking glasses is a pretty neat trick, no?)...

If your go-to term when something is awesome is "Hawks win!" ("hey man, I just got a promotion." "That's freakin' Hawkswin!")...

If you find yourself in a sticky situation and wonder what would Jonathan Toews do (be serious?)...

If you find yourself in a party situation and wonder what would Patrick Kane do (unicorn mask?)...

If you think it's normal for the visiting team to have at least as many fans in the stands as the home team (as long as they aren't visiting the UC - how I love hearing "Let's go Hawks" when they're the visitors)...

If you you know which teams have former Blackhawks players on them and find yourself especially rooting for them (when they aren't playing the Hawks - I've got an especially soft spot for Winnipeg now that they've got Byfuglien and Frolik)...

If you you know which teams have former Blackhawks players on them and find yourself especially rooting against them (when they aren't playing the Hawks - not even a former Blackhawk could get me to root for the Canucks)...

If you find yourself more than a bit conflicted about the Olympics (U-S-A, all the way! Oh, wait, maybe Canada? But Sweden's got a sweet defensive pairing, and there's Slovakia, you can't rule them out with Hoss on board, and then there's the Czech Republic)...

If you get vaguely disappointed when no one points out when there are "tree minutes left in the tird period"...

If you find yourself celebrating those Hawkswin moments in your life by singing the beginning of "Chelsea Dagger"...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge: A Drink with a Story, a Story with a Drink

Ah, I haven't done one of these in a while, and I'd forgotten how much fun I can have when I let myself. 1481 words

"Level 3"

"You still like spicy stuff?"

I nodded. June grinned as she gestured for me to take a seat in the cramped wooden booth. No cushions on the seats. The place was dim and smoky. June said they'd been grandfathered to allow smoking, which was part of the reason I'd let her drag me here. If I'm going to get drunk with June, then I'm going to be smoking.

The seat of the booth was uneven, sloping me toward the wall. The wood was finished, but not very well, drips of urethane enshrined on the table and poking my back. I braced myself against the slope and pulled the pack of American Spirits I'd bought at the airport out. I offered one to June.

"Oh my gosh! I haven't smoked one of these in years. I haven't smoked in years, actually, but... because it's you." She took one and put it to her lips, waiting for me to light it, like I always did, back then.

Her eyes looked muddy in the lack of light, rather than the blue I remembered from so many lazy Sunday mornings when we'd ditched Mass with her family to engage in our own form of worship. Her skin wasn't as clear as it used to be, but her beauty had deepened, changed, not faded with the years since I'd seen her last.

I held her gaze while I lit my cigarette, perversely proud that I didn't cough at the first drag, both sweeter and more bitter than I remembered. I put my cherry to the tip of her coffin nail and she drew my fire in.

She gave a delicate cough, and shook her head, smiling.

A young man, looking hardly old enough to work, let along work in a bar, walked up to our table, or maybe danced is the better word for the maneuvers he had to execute to make his way through the awkwardly placed tables, chairs and bodies.

June turned on the charm, or maybe it was natural by now, a practice long since turned to habit. And she certainly had practiced a lot. I shut that thought down before it could sour my mood.

"What'll it be?" he asked.

"Chile shots," June answered. "She'll start with a Level 1. I'll take a 3."

The waiter crossed his arms. "No such thing as 3."

"Oh, come on now, is it Julio at the bar?" She half stood up and craned in the direction that I assumed the bar was hidden behind the clouds of smoke. She waved.

"Tell him it's Juney. He'll give you a 3 for me."


He headed back to the bar.

"Some service," I said.

"You've just forgotten what it's like here. He's not being rude, just, like, playing a part. We're the intruders here, you know."

My skin prickled as a swirling air current revealed a glimpse of the group in the corner booth. Withered skin, sickly pale, limbs and fingers just a little too long. I swallowed.

"You didn't tell me that they would be around."

Her mouth fell open for a moment before she took a drag for comfort.

"There's a lot of them around here. Maybe, more than when you were here, I guess. But it's always been like this, Kris. What's the big deal?"

"They're not human. Not anymore."

Her face shut down. She placed the cigarette in the ash tray and pushed it away. Shit. She hadn't changed at all.


The waiter thumped a tray down on the table between us. Two tall shot glasses, a salt shaker and a glass of what I assumed was milk. One of the shot glasses had a red swizzle in it. Both were almost filled with green liquid.

Before I could react, June passed the kid a twenty and he disappeared again. Her charm turned back on as she began to explain.

"This is the hottest shot you'll ever try - unless you go for a Level 2 or Level 3, of course. Green chiles, specially grown to a specific level of heat, and the rawest tequila you'll ever meet. The salt is for before shooting, just like a regular tequila shot. The milk is for when your mouth is on fire and you think you're going to die. Ready?"

Her smile probably fooled her clients into all manner of actions better for her than for them. I could practically taste how brittle it was. I took a long drag on my cigarette before putting it down.

We each licked and salted a patch of skin. There was a time when we'd have licked each other, but I knew now wasn't that time. Neither of us moved as we stared at each other.

"Come on, Kris, this is your first time. I want to watch the whole show!"

"Will you be putting on a show?"


"Then you go first."

She pouted, rolled her eyes and proceeded to lick her salt and slam her drink. Other than a long, almost orgasmic exhalation, she didn't react to what was supposedly too hot for just anyone to handle. She gave me a smile that made me yearn for those Sundays and took up her cigarette.

"Your turn."

I licked my salt. As I brought the shot up, the fumes hit my nose and I coughed. June giggled. I frowned and knocked it back.

Lava. Slimy green lava. Bite of tequila. Every nerve in my mouth, throat and nose burning, flaming. My face broke out in sweat and I grabbed the glass of milk, sloshing some down my face as I gulped half of it down.

"Fuck," I said between gasping in cooling gulps of air. Then I slammed my fists on the table and took hold of myself, looking murder at June. Everything still burned, but I was not going to be such a damn pussy in front of her, not now. I sucked hard on the cigarette. It burned too, but I embraced the pain and lit a new one on the butt of the last.

June raised her eyebrows.

"Why did you bring me here?" My voice came out harsh, but I didn't care anymore. She put on a pose of innocence, and I slammed an open hand on the table. "Don't fucking lie to me."

She sighed.

"Because of them."

A man slid into the booth next to her, putting an arm around her and giving her cheek a quick kiss. Friendly, familiar. She smiled, a real, warm smile that made my heart ache, because it wasn't for me.

"Julio, I was wondering when you'd make your way over. This is my old friend Kris."

"Not that old," I said.

Julio reached a hand across to shake and as soon as I touched him I knew. He was a wick. And June...

"How long...?"

"We're both on the new meds, Kris. They say it's not contagious that way."

I looked around the bar. Not everyone looked abnormal.


"Yeah. This is where we hang out."

We. I leaned back and stopped fighting the tilt of the bench. I felt better braced on the wall. There were so many things that I wanted to ask her. How? Why? When? But there were no answers. The best the medical community had was guesses. And I didn't really want to know June's answers, didn't want to hear her sweet voice telling me how and when and why...

Even with the best meds, that she probably couldn't afford, or wouldn't be able to for long, that voice would fade to a creak, that skin would crack and death would refuse to come. Eternal life, at least as far as we can tell. Just not in a way that anyone would want to live. Burning themselves to nothing, wicks without a candle, on and on and on... All because some rich guys didn't want to die.

June took another cigarette from my pack and Julio lit it at her lips. She took a drag and then handed it to him. They may as well have been alone together.

Would they stay together as the years turned, bound together by their common disease, or would they fight about her wasting her potential on sales when she could be doing something more meaningful with her life? Would they argue over whether his job prospects were worth a move to the coast or about whose turn it was to clean the shower?

I reached out and touched her cheek. It felt just like I remembered, soft and warm. But her face, when I touched it, was startled, even a little frightened. Of me.

"I've gotta go."

Julio held her, and I pretended I didn't see the tears spilling silently down her cheeks.

"I'll call you," I said.

"Sure," she said.

Lies. Just like last time. I guess some things never change.