FLASH FICTION: “Feeding Gnarlybone”

Feeding Gnarlybone
By Alexandra Erin

First Publication: September 17th, 2005
Word Count: ~400


“Why do trolls live under bridges?”

“Well, properly speaking, trolls don’t live under bridges,” I said. “They’re highly magical creatures, you see, and they like to live in canyons and river beds, places where there’s a steady flow of energy for them to tap…”

“But then why does everyone act like they do? And what about old Gnarlybone? Is it just him?”

“You didn’t let me finish,” I said. “Trolls live in canyons and river beds, but those things don’t exactly come with roofs, do they? So the troll builds himself a little house out of stone… no one’s cunning with stone the way a troll is, and they anchor it on both sides of the pass, and what does that give you?”

“A bridge!”

“Something very like one, yes,” I said. “Close enough that they might as well do a little extra work to make it into one. Because the places where they like to live are natural channels for natural energy, but there is another kind of energy that’s created when folk travel on the same path in enough numbers for enough time. The flow of ideas, of thoughts, of words, of life… it creates a channel that intersects the one the troll taps.”

“So trolls don’t actually eat travelers?”

“Have you ever heard of old Gnarlybone eating anyone?”


“Have you ever known anyone who got eaten by Gnarlybone?”


“It would be accurate to say that trolls feed on travelers, or on travel, but so do humans and most other folk,” I said. “After all, we’d be in pretty sorry shape if we couldn’t get grain from the flatlands, wouldn’t we? But trolls can survive without that kind of commerce, as long as they can tap a powerful enough natural flow. The way I understand it is that it makes things better for them, like a bit of honey or spice might do. It’s a thing they can live without, but life is better when they have it.”

“So rivers are troll food, but roads are troll candy!”

“Yes,” I said. “I suppose that’s about right.”

“So we should probably go down into town tomorrow.”

“Oh?” I said. “Why do you say that? Are you in the mood for some candy yourself?”

“No! Because then we’ll be feeding Gnarlybone, and he won’t have to eat anyone.”

I laughed.

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said. “Anyway, we don’t need anything from town.”

“But we could buy some candy.”

“I thought you didn’t want any.”

“Yeah, but if it would help us feed Gnarlybone… I’d take some.”


Read more of my flash fiction at fantasyinminiature.com. If you enjoy my work, please consider leaving a tip, buying some e-books, or join me on Patreon.

STATUS: Thursday, September 17th

The Daily Report

Everything is going super awesome for me, except for one thing: the back of my brain is still super sold on the idea of Friday as posting day. I spent a lot of yesterday fighting to get the creative gears engaged, took a walk, blew some steam off on Twitter, moved around the house… and still couldn’t get out of the “mostly brainstorming TOMU” frame of mind. Just wasn’t happening.

After a super productive Monday and Tuesday, I got very little done yesterday (except for the walk, which was nice). Today I’ve had a bit more luck, but it’s not coming together into a finished chapter for me. So, I think I’m going to need to shift things around progressively. This week, I’ll post on Friday. Next week, I’ll aim for Thursday. Week after that, Wednesday.

Everything else is seriously super great for me, mentally and emotionally. I think it’s just a matter of having stressed so much out over the idea of Friday posting (while being unable to actually do it many weeks) that trying to turn the train around is harder than I imagined.

The State of the Me

Remember when I mentioned I took a walk yesterday? Well, the day before I had a slightly shorter walk as part of an errand. I walked about five minutes out and five minutes back. The next day, when I realized I was stuck, I took another walk, about twice the length… ten minutes out, ten minutes back. Today, I walked twenty minutes out and twenty minutes back. I made it about a mile out, as the Google Map flies, which puts my average speed at about 3 miles per hour.

When I worked outside the house, I actually used to walk to or from work quite a bit, a distance that was between five miles and eight miles, depending on where I worked at the time. Having this kind of endurance/range made a huge difference for me as someone who doesn’t drive, in terms of being independent and self-reliant.

I stopped walking so much when I wound up working from home, and then even less when I moved to a part of town that I knew less. Then I moved to Hagerstown, which I know even *less* and which I’ve never walked around. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve only gone to a store by myself twice… at least, not counting the small plaza across the street from the apartment we were in during the years I was bouncing back and forth.

I have two goals here. One is to get in good enough shape and town-knowledge that it’s not a big deal for me to pop out for an hour or two on my own from time to time. The other is to get so used to walking that I can incorporate it into my workday as part of a daily pre-work “commute”. My ideal is that every day I’ll go out of the house, walk for half an hour, then walk back. This will give me an hour to myself, away from the internet and alone with my thoughts, and a clear start point for my day. This was something that came up at last year’s WisCon, I think in a panel about self-employment (if that wasn’t the major topic, it was at least an ad hoc theme), and that I have yet to fully put into practice because I haven’t been comfortable enough walking around.

Plans For Today

I’ve been working on Tales of MU. I’m going to post a thing here in a bit. I’m working myself up to the idea of posting A Thing A Day. It won’t always be a long or meaningful thing like it was Tuesday, but it’ll always be a thing.

STATUS: Wednesday, August 16th

The Daily Report

Well, yesterday I said I’d be posting a short-short story, but I wound up unexpectedly finishing my 4k story “Walk Briskly” and posted that instead. I feel like it’s a good example of what I meant when I was talking about creative sorcery, as it was basically conceived and written in 24 hours. One of the comments on it said that it’s my best yet, and at least in terms of standalone short stories, I’m inclined to agree.

For a while, I’ve been thinking about getting into Teespring in order to bring out some new and gently refurbished t-shirt designs, as their pre-order model seems to allow for better pricing than true print-on-demand concerns. On a whim this past weekend I threw up my first design, something for the dirty-minded classicist that reads “Free The Catullus 16” on the front and has the opening line of the referenced poem on the back. You can see it at http://teespring.com/freecatullus.

First couple of days, I nabbed one order a day, which is the exact minimum rate of orders that would be needed for them to actually take the shirt live at the end of the campaign. It seems to have caught fire overnight, as there were three more orders between yesterday and today, putting us halfway there. If anybody’s been looking at it thinking that they might get on it but it seems like a long shot getting it to print, the odds are looking better and better. Note that this is zero-risk, as the orders only go through if the remaining necessary five shirts are ordered.

Assuming a positive experience with this, I’ll be putting out some other t-shirt designs… actually, even if this one somehow doesn’t make it to the finish line, I still probably will. Most of my other ideas either appeal to my existing fandom or just have a broader appeal than an infamous Latin poem.

The State of the Me

Feeling good. Feeling super good. Last few days have brought some much-needed perspective.

Plans For Today

Well, as of right now, I’m pretty solidly on track for getting my first Wednesday post up. I’m going to keep focusing on that in the afternoon.

SHORT STORY: Walk Briskly


By Alexandra Erin

First Publication: September 15th, 2015
Word Count: ~4,200


The funeral home is very old, old enough that it still has an old-style chapel. That’s where we’re holding what is still called the viewing.

The podium on which sits the now-traditional portfolio album is situated in the middle of a recessed nook that was obviously designed to hold something a bit larger than a person in repose, and which now holds something a bit smaller than the average end table.

I’m being a bit clinical about it all partly because I wish to remain detached from the scene, and partly because I am detached, whether I want to be or not.

The jungle of flowers flanking the photo display do nothing to disguise how small it is. They swallow it up.

From a certain angle, it looks like my mother’s unnaturally youthful face is peering at me from out of a monstrous hybrid rose bush. It is not a pleasant or comfortable idea, all things considered.

I turn away. It’s not easy to detach myself from that image.

My grandmother isn’t any happier with the state of things. She handled the arrangements. She picked the funeral home. It apparently has some history that I don’t remember with her side of our family.

I wonder how many times has she been here, before? How many times after? How long would it take a person to get used to a change of that magnitude? I don’t know. The world I live in is the only one I’ve ever known.

My uncles have been trying to keep my grandmother calm for a good twenty minutes. Their results have varied.

“But I just wish I had another chance to see her,” she is saying when I tune in. “Would that really be so much?”

“Ma, the law’s the law,” my Uncle Mike says.

“It wouldn’t be her anyway,” Uncle Jeff says. “You know a body’s just a body. Anyway, is that how you want to remember her? The pictures are better.”

“The pictures are pictures!” Grandmother yells. “She’s my only daughter!”

“Geez, quiet down, Ma,” Mike says. “People are gonna…”

“People know she’s grieving,” Jeff says. “That’s what this is. Grief. It’s okay. Ma, you know it would break her heart if she knew you took that kind of risk. You know how careful she was all the time.”

“You mean she was afraid all the time,” Mike says. “And she wasn’t happy if everyone else wasn’t.”

That’s when I turn away.

* * * * * * * * * *


This is what she’d yell whenever I was heading out the door. It didn’t matter where in the house she was, or whether I’d told her I was going out. She’d sense the front door opening, zip to the nearest doorway to the front hall, and yell out the reminder.

“I know,” I’d call back over my shoulder.

“Don’t run!”


I did know. Everybody knew. Just like, sometimes, everybody ran, because no matter how brave we all acted around the schoolyard, we still got scared a bit at a rustling in the ditches or saw something staring eyelessly out of a hedge.

There was no need to run. None of them could. Most of them could barely walk. But at the same time, there was no real reason not to run. The point was to get away, right? Running was safer than walking. As for the risks…

“That’s how you trip,” my mother would say.

“But I’m still faster even if I trip,” I said back to her, once. “If they’re not close enough to grab me when I start running, they’re not going to be any closer when I fall!”

“The one you know about won’t be,” she said. “They hunt in packs, remember?”

“Mother!” I said. “There haven’t been packs for years!”

“There are occasional packs still,” she said. “It doesn’t even have to be a pack. It could just be two of them, the one you see and the one you don’t. Anyway, it really only takes one. What if you trip and twist your ankle? What if you break your leg?”

“I’ll still drag myself faster than it can,” I said.

“Oh? Have you ever had a broken leg? Remember when you broke your finger? You almost blacked out.”

“I could still trip if I’m walking.”

“But it’s all about odds,” she said. “It’s all about risk. When you’re running, you can’t keep your eyes on the ground. You don’t have as much time to react when something comes up. You can’t stop yourself if your foot snags on something. And what happens if you wind up running right into a dead end?”

“We don’t live in a labyrinth,” I said. It was a new word to me at that point, and I was very proud of it. Probably a bit too proud, or else I wouldn’t have dared to say that, as sure of myself as I was.

I don’t remember exactly what my mother said in response to that. I do remember I was less proud of my vocabulary afterwards.

I never argued with her about that again. I still didn’t think she was right about running. If it was about odds, then who was to say that it wasn’t riskier to spend more time in the area? If there might be more than one, then wouldn’t it be better to get out of there before they could surround me?

But even if I didn’t think running was as dangerous as she made it out to be, I recognized that there was a different kind of danger in pushing her too far.

In all honesty, the danger posed by the amblers was distant and abstract compared to the danger posed by pressing my mother’s buttons. I had no experience with being dragged down by an ambulatory corpse, but I had been grounded.

Anyway, the debate about running had only been a side point in an older, longer-running argument about the way to deal with things like amblers in the first place.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Hey there, Safety Tip,” my cousin Brian says.

“I’ve asked you not to call me that,” I say.

“Ah, hell,” he says. “I’ve been calling you that for years. Everybody in school did! What else am I supposed to call you?”

“My name. Anything else. Just don’t call me that today.”

“What’s so special about today?”

I stare at him. I know he’s making fun of me, but I can’t tell if this is part of the tease or not. I don’t know which would be crueler.

“My mother is dead,” I say. It’s all I can do to get the words out. I expect them to come tumbling from my mouth in a rising roar, but when I hear my voice, it is tiny, thin, and piercing. I want my words to push him away, but I can see on his face he doesn’t even feel it.

I turn and walk briskly away.

* * * * * * * * * *

My mother always did love her safety tips.

Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t go in the water for a half hour after eating. Stop, drop, and roll if you catch on fire. Stop, look, and listen when you get to the train tracks.

Her favorite, of course, was the famous WALK.

Every time she shouted “walk” to me as I was heading out the door, I knew she didn’t just mean “walk” but “WALK”. I knew this because for the longest time, she would give me the whole spiel before letting me go out alone:

Walk briskly, stay Alert, keep your eyes Low, and Know the area.

That’s what you did if you encountered an ambler. That’s what you were supposed to do, anyway. Don’t approach. Don’t engage. Don’t stop and watch it stumble around towards you. Don’t laugh at it, no matter how helpless and harmless it looks. Don’t stop and take a picture of it. Definitely don’t try to get a picture with it.

Almost everyone else in my class had a picture of themselves with an ambler in the background. Polaroids, mostly, because they didn’t have to be developed. The kids who had actual film photographs were the coolest kids with the coolest parents, the ones who would let them have everything and let them do anything.

Justin Peterson was one of those kids. He had a picture with his arm around one, though it was dead. I mean, it had been rendered inert again. He’d shot it between the eyes and then propped it up for a picture, which his dad took.

He’d been a hero to the whole school, once.

For a while, everyone had wanted to be him.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I’m told your mother died peacefully,” a blonde woman wearing a red pillbox hat with a veil of netting on it tells me. “And that she passed without incident.”

“Yeah,” I say.

I’ve been told that, too.

Everybody keeps telling me that. They clasp my hand in theirs, give me firm, unblinking eye contact, and tell me the news that I had been given long before them: my mother’s body went into the crematorium peacefully and still.

Why do they tell you this? Why do they think you need to know? Dead is dead, even now, or at least gone is gone. My mother is every bit as gone as if something had tried to beat and claw its way out of the box.

Anyway, what do they tell the people whose loved ones did turn unexpectedly? If it’s supposed to bring peace to know that it didn’t happen, what do they tell the family when it does happen? Nothing?

Then I know, with a certainty: they passed without incident. Like an angel. Like a sleeping angel.

Of course they do.

“What a blessing!” the pillbox lady says.

“Yeah,” I agree.

“I had nightmares about my Albert, before he went into the fire,” she continues. My eyes dart around the room looking for an escape, but I know I’ll find none. I came to this corner to escape. It seemed like the last safe place for me to stand. “They tell me that they can’t feel anything, that it’s not really them anymore, but what if they’re wrong? What if they’re wrong? They still don’t know why it happens, and I mean, people used to think cows don’t feel anything. We don’t really know anything, do we?”

“No, we don’t,” I agree.

* * * * * * * * * *

The first thing I asked for when my mother said I was old enough to go out by myself was a sword. Sherry Morgan had one that she said was Japanese. Her grandfather had brought it back from the war, she said, and now it was hers. Everybody thought it was the coolest.

I liked it because I thought its curved, single-edged blade would impress my mother. What could be safer than that?

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “What good is a sword for?”

“Sherry says it can cut right through bone and everything,” I said.

“What sounds safe about that?” she said.

“Mom, it’s not even sharp like a razor,” I said. “You have to, you know, swing it. Hard.”

“Then it’s not going to do you much good at your age, is it?” she said. “Anyway, you don’t have any reason to cut one up. All that’s good for is getting seven kinds of yuck on you, and it doesn’t even stop them.”

“I could cut off its arms and legs and then go for the head,” I said. “Sherry Morgan says she’s killed lots of them.”

“You don’t kill an ambler, sweetie,” my mother said. “They aren’t alive.”

“They’re kind of alive?” I said. “Mr. Grossman says they’re undead.”

“That is superstition,” she said. “They’re just… a thing that happens. Like a storm, or an avalanche, or a sickness. And speaking of sickness, the last thing you want to do is smack into them with a sword. Who knows what germs you’ll splatter yourself with?”

“Mom, you can’t catch it,” I said.

“That’s what they say, but no one knows what causes it,” she said. “And even if you can’t, you can catch other things. A rotting body is a perfect incubator for disease.”

“I’d be careful!” I said.

“Showing off with a sword is the opposite of careful,” she said. “I’ll get you something you can use to keep them off of you and get away. That’s the goal. Just get away.”

When she told me she’d get me a pike instead, I hadn’t known what she meant. Looking it up in the school library, I’d found pictures of wicked looking medieval weapons that looked like a spear had a baby with an axe. It wasn’t a shotgun. It wasn’t a handgun. It wasn’t a chainsaw. It wasn’t a sword. It wasn’t any of the things that I’d ever wished for, but I didn’t care. That just meant no one I knew had anything like it.

It meant that for once, I was going to be the cool kid.

When she actually brought it home, I was horrified. It was nothing like the pictures from the book. It reminded me of a whaler’s harpoon, or at least what I imagined one would look like, only the end of it wasn’t pointed or hooked at all. It was just a broad, flat metal thing, kind of like a boat oar. The patented safety tip, the package had called it.

My mother had loved her safety tips.

“If the goal’s to get away, why not just get me a sword?” I said. “At least then I could run away!”

I knew the words were a mistake as soon as I’d said them, but it was too late to take them back and I didn’t have the speed or eloquence needed to explain that I’d meant it in the sense of retreating, sensibly, at a safe speed.

“Don’t. You. Dare.”

I think I knew then and there that my fate was sealed, that I’d be stuck with the pike forever.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I said.

“You don’t run from them. If you see them, you walk away from them. Walk briskly. The pike is only when one gets in your way, when one lurches around a corner or sneaks up on you.”

“How are they going to sneak up on me? Everyone says they barely know we’re here anymore. You practically have to step on one to get bitten.”

“Those are the old ones,” she said. “New ones pop up all the time, and they’re still a bit quicker, and they have better senses.”

“They still can’t exactly sneak,” I protested. “They’re not smart like that.”

“No, but they’re very quiet and they’re very patient,” she said. “Anyway, if you’re so sure they can’t get close, then why do you care if you have a sword or pike? You shouldn’t need to use it very often.”

“Then can I just leave it at home?”

“You were the one who wanted a way to defend yourself.”

“I wanted a weapon!” I said. “I want to fight them!”

“There’s nothing to fight! They aren’t exciting. They aren’t enemies to defeat. They’re just something to avoid when we can, and deal with when we can’t. That’s what you have to do.”

* * * * * * * * * *

They call what happens next the remembrance, though I know I won’t remember any of it.

While her brothers and co-workers get up and talk about the kind of person they think she was, I’m looking at my mother’s face in the big round oval frame that dominates the display. The pictures were chosen from all times of her life.

The biggest one is the one that I guess people thought best represented her. It wouldn’t have been my choice, and not just because I have a hard time remembering when she ever looked that young. Her cheeks are too rosy. Her lipstick waxy-thick. I know she looks happy, but I also know what she looked like when she was happy.

I don’t know what a corpse looked like, lying in a coffin with its face made up by a mortician and fixed into the best approximation of a relaxed expression that can be wrung from a corpse. I’ve read old books, though, where people talk about how such faces are unfamiliar, artificial.

I feel that way looking at the picture of my mother. I couldn’t guess the context from which the portrait was cropped. The background is an almost white sky. She’s smiling for the camera, with no idea that this forced, fixed expression is going to be her death mask.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Take your pike if you’re going out,” my mother said when she saw I was heading for the door without it.

“They just did a sweep yesterday,” I said.

“And they always miss one,” she said. “Watch the news and you’ll see. The day after a sweep is always when someone gets taken. Because it makes people careless, you see. Someone always dies after a sweep.”

“They do a sweep every month,” I said. “If someone died every time…”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, I don’t mean here. But somewhere. Anywhere. It could be here. Take your pike.”

I sighed and lifted the long, unwieldy pole off its wall mounting.

“If you want to keep me safe from amblers, you should have got me a gun,” I said. I thought my logic was foolproof. “It’s got a lot longer reach than a big, heavy stick.”

“Are you kidding?” she said. “A gun is way more dangerous than an ambler.”

“Isn’t that the point?” I said.

“Do you know how many people get shot every day by accident? Do you know how many people a day shoot themselves?”

Probably not even one, I thought. It couldn’t happen that often or people wouldn’t make guns. I did know that I was on a losing track.

“I don’t even know how I’m supposed to kill an ambler with this thing,” I said instead.

“You aren’t supposed to kill them,” she said. “First, they’re already dead. Second, that’s why we have patrols. You’re supposed to get away from them. If one’s in your way, you push it back or you knock it down. Sweep…”

“Sweep the knees!” I said. “I know!”

“You get it down, and then you…”

“Then I walk away.”

* * * * * * * * * *

My name is called. I remember being told that I should probably say something, and I remember that I had said in response that I would like that. I hadn’t given it any more thought. That’s just what you do when your mother dies, right?

It’s never happened to me before and it would never happen again, but even an hour ago I couldn’t imagine that I wouldn’t want to stand up in front of a room of mixed family and strangers, that I wouldn’t have anything inside me to say to them.

* * * * * * * * * *

Justin Peterson got his throat torn out when I was fourteen. He’d been hunting in the woods, supposedly for deer but probably not really.

He turned.

There’s no rule that says getting killed by one always turns you into one, if there are any rules at all. It seems to happen more often that way, though. Some people think there is just a correlation between dying violently and alone and turning, but other people say that’s just anecdotal. They say it seems that way because people who died in accidents in the middle of nowhere never get cremated.

I don’t know.

I do know that the thing that had been his body stumbled onto the field during an outdoor day in gym class, I was the last one to know it had been him. I turned, and I walked briskly towards the school, taking the long way around the big sloping hill up to the parking lot, because I might slip. I heard my classmates’ laughter turn to screams and resisted the urge both to look back and to run.

Most of them were okay, physically. They were screaming because they recognized who it had been. Some of the jocks tried to tackle it and bash its brains in. One of them got a bad bite on his arm. He needed stitches and antibiotics, but he lived. His reputation did a 180 overnight, though. No one ever quite believed that it wasn’t infectious. He went from being one of the coolest kids in school to a total pariah.

It wasn’t just that the other kids were afraid of him. He’d get knocked down in the hall, have things thrown at his head. People would shuffle past him, moaning in the way that amblers never moan but people always act like they do.

I didn’t understand it. I still don’t. Everyone acted like at any moment he might turn into a monster and kill us all, but they didn’t act like he was a threat. They acted like he was weak. I asked my mother about it, not because she’d understand but because I didn’t have anyone else to ask.

“Fear does that to people sometimes,” she said. “It brings out the worst in people. That’s part of why it’s so important not to be afraid.”

“You don’t act like that.”

“Sweetheart, that’s because I’m not afraid,” she said. “And I don’t want you to be afraid, either. I don’t want you to think you have to be afraid.”

“Then why do I have to carry a stupid pike around, if I’m not supposed to be afraid? Why do I have to know all the rules? And why are you always checking on me, always hassling me about them? Why all the stupid safety tips?”

“There are things we do when things are scary, so that we won’t be afraid,” she said. “It would be terrifying to go down the road at sixty miles an hour if there weren’t seat belts and brakes and signal lights and, and… safety features. We have all those things, and we have rules of the road, and because we can count on them to keep us safe, we don’t have to be afraid.”

“But people still die in car accidents, don’t they?”

“They do,” she said.

“And people still get killed by amblers.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, they do. They probably always will.”

“You are afraid!” I said. I’m not sure if I felt triumphant or terrified at catching her in this contradiction. “You said you’re not.”

“I don’t have to be,” she said. “Love, things—people—aren’t just one way or another. Sometimes I get scared when I’m driving, too! The important thing is that it doesn’t become all that I am, that the things I feel don’t overwhelm the things I know, like how to drive safely. The important thing is that you don’t panic.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“My mother,” I say, “always kept me safe.”

I know these words are inadequate. I know I should be explaining, elaborating… saying something about how she knew it was a scary world, and she didn’t hide that from me, but she always made sure I had the tools to deal with it.

I should be saying that “safe” didn’t mean I wouldn’t die, though I didn’t. It didn’t mean she didn’t worry every time I went out the door, but that she could let me go out the door.

None of these words will come, though. They won’t form up into ranks inside my head and I can’t make them march out of my mouth.

“She wasn’t afraid,” I say. “She taught me not to be afraid. I love her, and I miss her… and I’ll always miss her… but I still know I don’t have to be afraid.”

People are looking at me like they’re not sure if I’m finished. Have I said enough?

“That’s all I have to say,” I say. “There isn’t anything else…”

There’s some awkward, scattered clapping, which weirds me out because I didn’t expect it. Were people clapping at the other speakers? I get out from behind the lectern and head down the aisle. I don’t go back to my seat. I need air, but more than that, I need to be somewhere else, anywhere else, just as fast as I can safely get there.

I fumble out the claim ticket for the coat check and thrust it with shaking hands to the attendant, who peers at the scribbled scrawl underneath the description.

“It’s the pike,” I say. “Seven and a half feet long, with a safety tip.”

“Right,” he says. “I saw that in the corner. Hang on. You know, I didn’t know anyone still carries these. Sure, you could brain a thing hard with it, but it’s so awkward to swing. There’s got to be easier ways to take out an ambler.”

“I’m sure there are,” I say. “But I don’t have to take them out. I just have to get away.”

“Well, the threat level for tonight is elevated, so if you’re not looking to fight, you’d best be ready to run. Can I call you a cab?”

“No, thank you,” I say, sniffling. “I’ll walk. Briskly.”

Alexandra Erin is a crowdfunded poet, tweeter, blogger, and author. If you enjoyed this or her other work, please join her on Patreon to keep the words coming.

STATUS: Tuesday, September 15th

The Daily Report

So, in the past couple days I’ve been blogging about what I might broadly call purpose and process and the purpose of process. I mentioned on Sunday how Friday had evolved into being the worst day for me to try to get anything important done, but I’d left it on my schedule as the capstone of my workweek.

On the other end of the week, Monday’s become the day where I am completely alone most of the day, giving me a muuuuuuch needed “recharge time” when I can float around the house without inhibition. Yesterday I came up with a new story and wrote 3,500 words of it, and also straightened my head out on a couple of important points.

Monday might seem like the logical day to pick as the day to Do All The Things, but I think it’s far more useful as a day to be a sort of day to clear my head and figure out what I’m doing with the rest of the week. I think taking it as a guilt-free “do whatever” day is likely to make the rest of the week that much better. And “do whatever” sometimes translates into “do nothing”, but sometimes my attempts to do something wind up doing whatever… and sometimes “do whatever” means exciting new story and the best writing day in a long time.

I still don’t have my actual schedule ironed out. I’m still mostly aiming at Wednesday for the main MU posting day.

The State of the Me

Feeling pretty good. It’s cool enough here, at least at night and in the morning, that I can sleep deeply and then enjoy fresh air and hot tea in the morning.

Plans For Today

Still figuring stuff out. I’m going to post a complete (albeit very short) story in the afternoon, for your entertainment and edification. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing it here, at my flash site, or on my Patreon feed, but it’ll at least be linked from here.

Poem: Observations from the Black Ball Line Between Deimos and Callistos

A poem of mine that I’m really fond of recently appeared in the anthology The Martian Wave 2015, now available in limited hard copies and multiple e-book formats. You’ll have to buy the anthology to read it the whole thing, but here’s how it opens:

Observations from the Black Ball Line Between Deimos and Callistos

By Alexandra Erin

There are no seasons in space,
they say, but they’ve never been.
Earth-bound poets project their own lack
of imagination onto the black,
say it has no romance, no rhythm.

The food is good,
the old joke says,
but it’s got no atmosphere.

They were telling that one on Earth
before the first foot fell on the first moon,
and they’re still telling it to this day.
Only the venue has changed.

They’re wrong on every count, including the food.
The food is usually indifferent, often terrible,
nothing special at its decadent best.
It’s not always freeze-dried,
not always vacuum-locked,
not always so loaded with stabilizers
it has more aftertaste than taste,
but it’s never fresh, neither.

You don’t go to space for the food.

You go for the atmosphere.

…and that’s how it starts. It’s a meditation on the difference between earth-bound expectation and space-found reality. As I said, I’m very fond of how it turned out. Get it here, along with other poems and stories on the theme of interplanetary exploration and expansion within our own star system.

Making Magic: On Sorcery vs. Wizardry

Years ago—before there was such a thing as Patreon or Kindle Desktop Publishing, or even such a thing as the Kindle—I made the decision to experiment with self-publishing. I had done extensive research into traditional publishing and decided that it just didn’t suit me.

I encountered a lot of resistance, whenever I spoke of or publicized my plans. This only emboldened me. It took a number of years before anything I did really caught fire, but when it did, it did in a big way… big enough that I was able to quit my day job.

There have been ups and downs since then, but one important thing is: I made my point. It works. I can do things my way.

Still, having done things my own way left me feeling like an outsider and intruder when I made my first in-roads into professional writing circles. Most writers (less so each year, but still most) who have a career in writing also in some way have a career in traditional publishing, even if it’s a definition of “traditional” that includes the short story e-zine model.

I’ll stress that in these changing times, it wasn’t that anyone made me feel like an intruder. Some people over the years have tried to, but as noted before, they just make me more determined. The people I bother to care about have been earnest and sincere in their welcome. If they care at all how I do what I do, they’re impressed at what I’ve managed.

It was just a feeling I had, a manifestation of Impostor Syndrome that fixated on the fact that I had no metric to measure my progress against the people with which I interact. That, of course, was my first mistake: measuring myself against others.

So basically over the years I’ve been going to WisCon, I have been shifting more and more of my focus to developing things for more traditional publication. I felt like that was the next logical step, the next thing I needed to do. I’d proven I could do things my way. Wasn’t it time to prove I could do it the other way?

And I’ve floundered. I’ve started writing novels and then lost all momentum on them, with their bulk dragging the rest of me down. I’ve finished short stories and poems such, but they take much longer because I can’t seem to let go of them when I send them out. There’s no “fire and forget” mechanism when I’m waiting on a reply. To me, a story’s not done until it’s published. It’s not done with me, and I’m not done with it. I’ve been submitting pretty regularly over the course of the last year and this hasn’t gotten better with time.

It’s not the project of rejection. My rejection rate has been much, much, much lower than what I’m given to expect is the norm. My first poem was published on the first try. About 50% of my subsequent submissions were, also. I have received enough rejections to know they don’t bother me. They just extend the period of time that a piece has a hold over me.

It hit me the other night, as I was twittering about the internets on the topic of the impostor syndrome, that my problem isn’t just comparing myself to other writers, it’s that I’m comparing apples and oranges. As I put it on Twitter, I’m a sorcerer surrounded by wizards. If you play or are familiar the right roleplaying games, then I probably don’t need to explain this any further. If you don’t, then it’s probably completely mystifying.

In D&D and derived media, a wizard is a magician whose power comes from books. You can expect a wizard to do copious research and study to learn magic. Wizards surround themselves with books and papers filled with notes. A wizard’s spells must be committed to paper and require elaborate preparations to put into effect.

A sorcerer is a magician whose power from within, from sheer force of personality. They waggle their fingers and magic comes out. It’s often a bit messier, a bit wilder, and a good deal less disciplined than what a wizard can do, but also more flexible.

And that’s pretty much how I write. I don’t do a lot of formal research or elaborate preparations. I don’t outline. Trying to write the story out before I’ve written it flips a switch in my brain saying that it’s been written, and then the drive is gone. I don’t often write character sketches or notes, because I often don’t even know who my characters are until I start writing. I don’t do a lot of drafts… but I’ve been told my first drafts are cleaner than a lot of people’s final ones.

As a writer, I’ve been trying to cast spells like a wizard for years now, trying to behave like a wizard.  Not only does this not work well, and not only does it take time and energy away from my sorcerous doings, but in a very pernicious fashion it causes to devalue the things I am good at.

Now, I’m not disparaging anyone who is a wizard. Truth be told, though I’m speaking in terms of dichotomy here, I suspect no one is all wizard or all sorcerer. It’s actually a rather untidy continuum between the two.

The truth is, my greatest strength has always been speed, and bogging myself down in a submissions process just gets in the way of that. Even if I was better at playing the waiting game, the number of suitable venues I am aware of and that are accepting submissions at any one time is small enough to act as a bottleneck when I’m at my best.

And in this day and age, self-publication through a blog or Patreon most affirmatively does count as publication for most awards I’d be interested in.

There is the problem of getting eyes on your work when you’re working on your own, but… I’ve got eyes on me. I know how to get more.

I’ve been trying to use my Patreon page as a place to develop the stories and poems that I’ll then sell, but that doesn’t really work with my sorcery style. From here on out, it’s going to primarily be a publication channel of its own.

I have a couple of very small stories in the hopper right now that I’ve been shopping around and/or looking for a home for. I have a longer story I’m very excited about that’s about 75-80% finished as of yesterday. (Also started, as of yesterday). I’m going to start doling them out in public, either here and publicized on my Patreon feed, or vice-versa. I dunno, maybe both.

I know there are still people—people whose opinions I respect on most matters, even—who will say things like, “Any story that’s good is good enough to find a publisher eventually.” Sure. But eventually is not my style. I don’t have time for eventually. I don’t have a need for eventually. What I crave—what I breathe, as a writer—is immediacy. I don’t do time and distance. I do up close and personal.

This isn’t to say I’m abandoning the idea of ever answering another call for submissions, or sending a poem off when I have one in me and I know a place that might like it. There are still a couple of sites where I would be very happy to see my name someday, but in my fixation on getting there I’ve spent a lot of time trying to shape stories I’m not feeling in preference to ones I don’t think they would feel, but which are definitely in me.

What I’m abandoning is the idea that this needs to be my career, that this is the next step, that this is something I have to do or something I need to prove.

I need things to prove.

I absolutely do.

But when one sets out to prove a thing, it helps if it’s true.

STATUS: Week In Review

Okay, so, honesty time: the Friday update schedule was not a good idea.

It was a pretty decent idea when I <em>had</em> it, but my situation has changed and I have not acknowledged that. Friday is the one day of the week when everyone in the house is <em>in the house</em>. Monday through Thursday, Jack and Sarah both get out of the house and go to work. On Friday, they have the day off and telecommute, respectively. I have gotten used to working in a full house before, but it wasn’t ideal… and it’s hard to set a routine for something that only happens once a week, at the end of the week.

There haven’t been a lot of “ideal weeks” lately and there aren’t likely to be in the near future. Rather than trying to set a schedule arbitrarily, I’m going to be trying a couple of different things out and seeing what works. My first experiment is going to be with Wednesday updates.

This is not the only work/process-related revelation I’ve come to recently. I aim to be a lot more active at work in the coming week then I have been, and I’ll be talking more about them.

STATUS: Friday, September 4th

The Daily Report

Okay, so… the moisture situation in my bedroom is resolving itself pretty well. I think the airing-out process might be completed this weekend. I’m hoping so, because as previously described, it is making it hard to use my office. This is not as big a deal the rest of the week as it is Friday, as on Friday everybody in the house is home during the day.

On that note, Tales of MU is going to be coming up late tonight rather than early evening. I’ve had a hard time resolving a central conflict about the chapter, and the heat’s not helping. I thought getting out of the house for a bit would help, and it did… insofar as it gave me the idea to wait until the sun goes down and things cool off rather than beating my head against the wall of frustration.

The State of the Me

Sleep continues to be weird but decent?

Miscellaneous Plans For The Near Future

Again, the moisture problem seems to be mostly gone. This weekend I’m going to start a deep clean process on my bedroom, taking advantage of the fact that I’m not currently living in it in order to whip it into a shape it hasn’t ever been in the whole time I’ve been living here. The circumstances of the house when I moved in meant that I had to basically cram everything I own into a single room, and while things have improved, my actual living/sleeping space never fully recovered from never having a chance to be put in any kind of proper order. That definitely contributed to not noticing the A/C leak sooner than I did, and can’t have been doing wonders for my psychological health.

Since I have another place to sleep and a reason to deep-clean the bedroom, I’m basically going to take the chance to give myself a “do-over” on the move on.

I doubt I’ll get it done during a single weekend, even if I’m able to close the windows and run the A/C again, but it’s not going to be taking over my life since I don’t have a deadline. It might be something I spend some time on during the week as a “needed to walk away from the computer and think for a bit” thing.

STATUS: Thursday, September 3rd

The Daily Report

So, my bedroom is still drying/airing out. This has implications for my ability to keep my office ventilated. Monday and part of Tuesday I was trying to work in my office anyway, but without the ability to use the adjoining room to cool it down this is probably the hottest room in the house, given its exposure.  It’s tolerable in the early morning, but starts to get uncomfortable around 10 (my start time) and uninhabitable in the afternoon.

That’s why things have been a bit catch-as-catch-can this week. I’ve worked in the downstairs office when it’s available, with my laptop at the kitchen table, and even sitting in an empty bathtub.

The last of which I have to say is surprisingly comfortable. I mean, I like to be reclining a bit when I work and the tub is already perfectly pitched. The room is already fairly cool and cooling it further is much more energy efficient compared to the larger and more exposed rooms. The tray I use for books and drinks can support my lapdesk and laptop. Plus, the bath has always been one of my favorite places to write or brainstorm. The only downside is that it feels a bit silly, but I have yet to notice any particular material benefit to avoiding silliness.

The State of the Me

Sleeping in a different place makes my sleep different. It’s taking me much longer to fall asleep than has been the case for a while, but I suspect I’m sleeping muuuuch deeper than I have been lately because I’m remembering a lot more dreams and waking up feeling more refreshed on less total sleep.

Plans For Today

Today is a write, write, write day. I have the opportunity to get out of the house today much like I did last Friday and I’m going to take advantage of it.