Santa’s Little SweatshopTM has been open since late October, and isn’t done yet. Today I’m making pecan pie truffles and stuffed gnomes, and perhaps some kind of cookie, too. The dog is snoring contentedly on the upholstered chair in my office, the one that keeps me in his sight (he’d prefer my lap, but I’ve got things to get up for, over and over again.)
In light of that, my post today is short. I wish each of you a happy holiday season, regardless which version of the winter holidays you may celebrate. I wish the world itself a better 2023, and peace worldwide. To every person, healing, health, contentment, and community. And here’s my gift to you: this amazing poem, which honestly I’ve forgotten how/where I found:
So yeah, you might have heard of Hurricane Ian? It passed nearly overtop of us. Fortunately, not as a hurricane, but “only” as tropical storm.
We got incredibly lucky. We lost an old grapefruit tree laden with nearly-ripe fruit, and a banana tree with a bloom-spike covered with our first banana harvest, and had sticks, branches and such everywhere. But that was all. We didn’t flood, though for some few hours we were confined to our subdivision by deep water at the entrance–not an issue as the rain and winds were still more than I wanted to go driving through. Somehow, amazingly, we didn’t even lose power.
After prepping for the storm, then clean-up, then putting things back where they normally are (and removing hurricane shutters), we’ve gotten back to what our definition of “normal” is. Even Dasher is happy, now that we’re done being stressed. Especially since his sunshine is back for daily sunbathing, which is his second most favorite thing, right after peanut butter.
On Monday, I completed the edit of my novel draft. I honestly can’t believe it. The Mastery Books is coming in at about 92,000 words, and I think it’s one of the best works of long fiction I’ve ever written. I had a momentary “YAY” moment, and now…I get the sheer drudgery of writing the query letter, then the synopsis. It’s a necessary evil, I know that. And I’ll work at it until I craft one that works–however long that may take. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s still an evil.
The days are warming up again, but the nights and evenings are staying deliciously cool and non-humid. It’s “windows open” time, and I’m enjoying this so very much. This afternoon, the sound of leaves crunching outside my office alerted me to what became an amazing sight: two anoles repeatedly attacking one another, rolling into balls of frenzied action before one would throw the other 3 or so inches away. Then a standoff, and they’d do it again. This went on for some time, eventually moving out of my view (no, I’m not sure who won).
I’d never seen anoles do more than posture at one another, doing their “menacing push-ups” and flashing their throat sacs. I didn’t know they’d actually fight so viciously, or for so long! Thank you, open window!
Now I’m beginning to work up my ideas for my next novel, and get that rolling, though I can hardly believe it. I’ve got a few thoughts, but they need more work and expanding. This is the truly fun part, where everything and anything is possible! Wheeeeee!
New Release Radar: Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories
Shannon Rampe is joining us today to talk about his new story collection, Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories. Here’s the description of the book:
In Assistant to a Judge of Hell, San Guan finally has a crack at reincarnation after a thousand years as a bureaucrat in hell, but only if he can convince a slanderous, insubordinate, and recently-deceased Pan Xiaojian to take the job.
In Babies, Bradley notices that his wife Anne is acting strangely after he finds a litter of babies in the street.
In Warniks, Nimit Okeke, the Speaker of the Solar System, is facing the worst crisis of his administration, and it isn’t the teddy bear-shaped aliens who just gravity-bombed Jupiter.
In Bad Soul, Jade Blossom laments how nothing ever changes, but when he enlists a crude and charismatic poet to push his radical ideas, he unwittingly unleashes a force of nature along with some questionable poetry!
These four stories from the warped brain of Shannon Rampe are darkly twisted, using unexpected violence, vicious snarkiness, and wanton chaos to wildly comedic effect. Terrible, nasty people get their comeuppance and good people—okay, slightly superficial and moderately selfish people—come out on top.
But what does Shannon love most about the book? Let’s find out:
This collection contains some of my favorite stories that I have written, and certainly the most fun. The jokes always crack me up. (I know, what’s worse than laughing at your own jokes? But these stories are populated with exactly the sort of people who laugh at their own jokes… and worse!)
Really, these stories are about bad people getting their just desserts and slightly less bad people putting those bad people in their place, and those are the most satisfying moments in the stories. But I really love the stories behind the stories.
For example, the title story was written while I was living in London, working 80+ hour weeks as a contractor for a global banking megacorp while my soul was slowly ground to dust. One day, I took an actual lunch break and walked to the British Museum, where I encountered a Ming Dynasty-era sculpture of a green-faced porcelain bureaucrat, the Assistant to the Judge of Hell, and this story sprang to life in my head. At the time, being trapped in the gears of a nightmarish bureaucracy that felt like it was stretching out before me for a thousand years gave me a very personal insight into the sense of desperate insanity in the story.
Babies was written at Viable Paradise in a single, frenzied five-hour rush. This story gets laughs and cringes in equal parts whenever people read it. I love the fact that everyone who reads this story has a strong reaction to it—usually laughter and disgust! I’ve written four full-length novels but this story remains one of the pieces of writing that I am most proud of because the imagery and descriptions are so shocking and visceral.
Finally, one of the things that happens when you put together a project like this are the happy accidents. You only discover them later when reading through the text. For example, in Warniks, Nimit Okeke accuses his political opponent of eating babies. In the next story, we encounter babies who eat people.
I think anyone who has a twisted sense of humor will really enjoy these stories!
Shannon Rampe is a writer and project manager living in southern California. He has attended the Viable Paradise Writing Workshop, the Taos Toolbox Writing Workshop, and Paradise Lost, amongst other programs.
His works have appeared in Speculative City, Abyss & Apex, and The Gallery of Curiosities podcast, amongst others. His first book, When Stars Move and Other Stories is also available on Amazon. His hobbies include yoga and craft cocktail-making, though not usually at the same time.
Shannon is represented by Susan Velazquez Colmant at JABberwocky Literary Agency.
Yes, that’s right! My story is up now at Nature: Futures, and you can read it here. And as usual, the artwork paired with the story is perfect. ❤
I promised you a wee bit more info on the story, even though there’s the “story behind the story” bit at the end. So, what have I got?
This story, like so much of my flash fiction, is the result of a flash fiction writing contest over on Codex. And it wasn’t the first niggling story idea, or even the second one, that developed into this story, but the third one! Which just goes toward proving that one’s first idea isn’t necessarily the best. It can be hard to press on after story ideas, especially with a fast deadline for a contest, but it pays off. My first ideas are usually not right, either too expected and unoriginal, or just not interesting. But around idea 3, or 5, I start getting the hang of it, and my creativity shows up, having been woken at long last.
After the contest, the story went through a couple more rounds of editing to prune out words and fit Nature’s tight wordcount requirements, and to hone in on the point of the story and clear up confusion. And then, sucking in a great breath, I formatted it, exported it, and submitted it–it’s still a hard thing to do, hitting that “send” button. Even after all this time.
So many times, a story comes back rejected. But once in awhile, like this time, you get that wonderful acceptance, and the day turns golden and rosy-hued, and you know once again why it is you’re writing. Because somewhere out there, someone actually likes what you’re saying. Maybe they need to read it, the way I used to “need” the books and stories I read as a kid, and the ones that sometimes even today punch into a topic or trope that I’ve been grinding my teeth over. And having read those words, I feel lighter. Seen, and understood. The world begins to make sense as my outlook changes, hopefully for the better.
Thanks for reading, and looking at the world from my point of view.
This story started out, as so many do, as a Codex contest story. One of the prompts was, quite literally, the first line: who figured it out first? And then, all I had to do was figure out what they figured out, and who they were. And why it mattered. You know, the little stuff 😉
Oh, and one more tiny little secret about it? The name Jancy? It came from a vet’s office nearby. I’d always liked that name, wondered about it–and for this story, it simply popped into my head. It’s one thing that never changed, through all the edits.
Anyway, I’m really pleased with this one. It’s one of my favorite stories that I’ve written, so I hope you enjoy reading it. And if you can, go ahead and tip DSF a little bit, okay? The reason the story is there is because they paid me for the right to publish it. Thanks, and happy Monday to you, too!
At the bottom of the story’s concluding page, there’s a spot explaining the inspiration behind the story, which covers what I’d normally do here on the olde blogge on publication day. So, what to do, what to do? Well, I can expand a wee bit on that inspiration, and give you more!
Like this: What You Do for a Friend was also written during a Codex flash fiction writing contest. We’re given prompts, and 52 hours to write a story of 750 words or less. I picked two of the 6 prompts given, and got to writing. The published story was my third attempt at “finding” the story I wanted to write, before I truly began. The first two ideas fizzled out completely, (sometimes I’ve gotten “extra stories” from these contests, but not this time) but I latched onto this one and immediately loved the vibe, and the ideas I could explore with it. I’m pretty sure this is the first time that one of my story’s first drafts and its final version looked so similar!
Oh, a final bit of fun: one of the prompts I used was to utilize x number of words from a list of unrelated words. Not all those words made it into the final story, but Seeker’s name certainly did!
I’m back from my trip to London, where I stayed with friend and Taos Toolbox roommate, Mel Melcer. We had a great time, and ended up nearly walking our feet off. And hey, I discovered some things about the UK.
For starters, all that “rain and dreary gray” nonsense was just that–nonsense–during my trip. It was hot. I mean, I packed the wrong clothes! I ended up buying a sleeveless top, and wished I’d brought a pair of shorts, or a skirt. Whew! We sought out the shade, and changed plans one day to avoid London due to the heat (well, that and our tired feet…).
Also, Big Ben isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Photo proof here:
OK, in reality, the trip was awesome. I saw so many amazing things, ate and drank great things, and on top of all that, 3 of my Taos Toolbox classmates and I got together one evening, and had a great time.
Instead of blathering on, let me share a few photos with you. But first, other amazing things not pictured: visiting Forbidden Planet; attending a reading/meeting of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club; touring Westminster Abbey, walking St. James Park; my first British tea house tea, including my choice of really superb gluten-free cakes; riding the Tube; meeting Mel’s cats, and tonnes more!
Because I know a lot of my readers (like me) love gardening and herbs and doing stuff with that produce in addition to reading, I just have to share a link to Frances Silversmith’s website with you. She has introduced a great section there. Called “The Herbwoman’s Arts,” she talks here about herbs in fiction, especially SFF. So far, she’s discussed things like laudanum, healing salves and what goes in them, and how St John’s wort might stop not only depression but also nasty Fae trolls! It’s a lot of fun, and pretty interesting too. Go take a look!